A Gagetown man was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison in a case identified by Tuscola County Circuit Court Judge Amy Grace Gierhart as the worst one she’s seen in her career.
Chris Harp, 43, Gagetown, was sentenced to between 80 months and 120 months in prison after he pleaded no contest to six counts of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder.
Because of the plea agreement, a trial wasn’t held and many of the details were only seen by Judge Gierhart, Mark Reene, prosecutor, Tuscola County, and individuals from the many organizations involved in the investigation, including the Tuscola County Sheriff’s Office and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Graphic details of the case file — many involving sexual abuse and multiple victims — were reflected by Judge Gierhart’s comments made immediately prior to her sentencing during which Harp stood before the court and often shook his head in disagreement.
“I have done this for 22 years. I don’t think in 22 years I have ever seen a case that is this bad where one human being has treated other fellow human beings…as worse than animals,” Gierhart said. “You can shake your head all you want. It doesn’t matter because this is my turn.
“If it were up to me, you would never see the light of day ever, ever, ever again. You are an animal,” Gierhart said. “That is all you are.”
Reene said a plea agreement was sought strictly to protect the victims and prevent them from having to recount details of what was referred to in court Monday as a “house of horrors.”
Reene said Harp first came onto the radar of law enforcement last year in connection with allegations of child abuse. Subsequent investigation revealed additional information that ultimately led to the sentencing Monday.
Prior to being sentenced, Harp could be seen smiling at some people in the courtroom – including a baby – and shaking his head as he read through paperwork handed to him by his lawyer, William P. Hackett, of Dearborn Heights.
Reene said that Harp shaking his head “no,” or in disagreement, throughout the sentencing is telling.
“He’s still not accepted responsibility for what he did,” Reene said. “And he was obviously trying to put himself in a better light to his family and supporting cast in the courtroom, which is not going to serve his interest in the long run.
“You have to accept responsibility before you can make any progress,” Reene said.
Prior to sentencing, Harp’s attorney, Hackett, objected to part of a pre-sentencing report completed by officials involved with the case, including one section that Hackett read into the record as, “This is a true account of what can and should be called a house of horrors.”
Judge Gierhart denied the objection.
As part of the process, Hackett then had the opportunity to provide the court with a formal statement on behalf of Harp.
“I’d just like to say, Your Honor, on behalf of my client that he is truly sorry for all of the strife that this situation has caused in this family,” Hackett said. “It’s his hope, Judge, that his family members can move through this and possibly have normal relationship with each other in the future.”
Hackett said Harp’s family has been torn into two sections – those who “believe wholeheartedly that these incidents occurred and those who believe that they never happened, and they’re here today in support of their father, Christopher Harp.”
Hackett also said several members of Harp’s family were in the courtroom and supportive of him and that Harp has indicated he hopes there is “some good that comes from all that’s happened.”
Harp read a prepared statement to Judge Gierhart.
“I am not making no claim to be perfect, but I pray the Lord will guide you to see that all things are not as they may seem so you will be able to give as much mercy as you can because being there for my children has been and always will be all that matters.
“God tells us to take all joy when we fall into various trials knowing that the testing of one’s faith produces patience,” Harp read. “This has been the biggest test, one that I wish not to fail.”
Harp then quoted the Holy Bible, before concluding: “I am here submitting to you trusting in (God) knowing that (God) will make all things right.”
Reene then addressed the court.
“We are oftentimes confronted with difficult cases, Judge. It’s the nature of this business,” Reene said. “But few cases fall on the scale of this particular one.”
Reene praised “the extraordinary courage that’s been demonstrated by the victims” and described what has happened to them as “unconscionable.”
“What they’ve been subjected to, I’m not sure that any report could ever capture adequately,” Reene said.
Reene later told The Advertiser that he was hard-pressed to recall any other cases that had used more resources.
“That was hours and hours from an assistant prosecutor’s standpoint, my standpoint, victim’s advocate standpoint,” Reene said. “But then we also worked with Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, we also had trauma assessment experts that were involved…it is as bad of a case that you can find.”
When addressing the court Monday, Reene spoke to why a plea agreement was sought in this case.
“There are times as we work through the criminal justice process…that the burden that’s placed upon victims becomes such that you have to make decisions,” Reene said. “And this defendant is fortunate that an agreement was reached here to hold him accountable for what he’s done, and obviously those consequences could have been more severe.
“What was decided in this case was done only after careful reflection and consideration and input from multiple sources as this being the best outcome,” Reene said.
During sentencing, Gierhart said the amount of time “is not enough, but it’s all I can do under the laws of the state of Michigan.” Judge Gierhart later explained to The Advertiser that per state statute, the charges Harp pleaded no contest to have a maximum sentence of 10 years and that the minimum is two-thirds of the maximum sentence.
Court documents show that terms of the plea agreement included no requirement to register as a sex offender, which Gierhart said when sentencing Harp she found “extremely concerning because you are a sexual predator.”
Judge Gierhart also said during sentencing that the max allowable sentence “does not provide an appropriate sentence and it is not a proportionate sentence.”
“But I know that for the next 2,376 days you are going to be in fear every day once those gates close behind you that you will be victimized in the same way that you have victimized others,” Gierhart said to Harp. “And so every day when you get up, you will have to worry about who’s coming my way, who knows why I’m here because there is an unwritten code in the prison system that people who have victimized other people including children as you have…are certainly people that tend to be victimized in prisons.
“And so every day when you wake up I hope you’re fearful that you’re going to be victimized in the same way that you victimized these people,” Gierhart said. “In 22 years, I’ve seen a lot of bad things. I’ve never seen one this bad.”
Post-sentencing, victims in the courtroom who were able to witness Gierhart’s sentencing of Harp were allowed to leave first while everyone else was ordered to remain in the courtroom until they had safely left the building.
Harp was led out of the courtroom, bound in chains, and continued shaking his head.
“Keep your head up, dad,” a male voice yelled from inside the courtroom.
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at [email protected]