Viel to spend 10-15 years in prison

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — A Hagar Township man has been sentenced to 10-15 years in prison for his role in the death of 29-year-old Taylor Elzey.

Stevie Viel, 50, had pleaded guilty in January to a felony charge of manslaughter and was later granted 157 days time served.

Berrien County Trial Court Judge Charles LaSata handed down sentence Friday, telling Viel he reached his decision based on how the victim’s body was discovered.

“It was hard looking at photos of the victim’s body,” LaSata told Viel. “… You treated the victim worse than a wild animal in this instance. People bury their pets when they pass away. Hunters properly dispose of carcasses when they harvest animals. You just dumped her in a field as if she was nothing.”

In a plea deal with prosecutors, a charge of delivery of a controlled substance causing death was reduced to manslaughter. The delivery charge would have carried a penalty of up to life in prison.

Viel was accused of providing heroin and cocaine to Elzey, who died Oct. 3, 2014, at an apartment in Hagar Township. He has since admitted to providing the cocaine, but not the heroin.

Her body was found in a field in Benton Township after Shannon Barber – a Benton Harbor resident and associate of Viel – went to police five days later. Barber told police he and Viel had removed a woman’s body from an apartment after she’d overdosed on drugs.

Berrien Assistant Prosecutor Patricia Ceresa made the argument for the maximum sentence after pointing out the severity of the crime.

“There was not a call at any time for assistance. We will never know whether one phone call would have saved Taylor’s life,” Ceresa said. “Then what did they do? They took her to a field and they dumped her body out there.”

Family members for Elzey and Viel were present for sentencing.

Elzey’s mother, Jill, stood in front of the judge and read a letter from her oldest daughter on how Taylor’s death affected her family.

“She will never get to walk down the aisle at her wedding. She and I won’t get to grow old together. And most of all, our parents will have to live with the loss of a child,” Jill Elzey said through her daughter’s words. “I will think about these things for the rest of my life. I strongly encourage the court to punish this man to the fullest extent of the law.”

When given the chance, Viel told Elzey’s family he was “truly sorry” for what happened.

Viel’s attorney, Michael Oakes, pushed for a lighter sentence, referring to previous testimony that after Elzey lost consciousness, Viel had moved her to a bathtub with cold water in an effort to revive her.

“This was not something Mr. Viel set out to do. He was friends with Miss Elzey,” Oakes said. “He’s served his country. He came home with a disability and a drug addiction. He’s been battling his drug addition for many, many years and has sought treatment.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Feb. 13, 2016)

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