Botched burglary near Millington nets man 23 years in prison

Daniel Jay Johnson
Daniel Jay Johnson

A 22-year-old homeless man was sentenced Monday to more than 23 years in prison for attempting to burglarize a Millington area home and nearly killing its 73-year-old homeowner with a propane tank.
Tuscola County Circuit Court Judge Amy Grace Gierhart sentenced Daniel Jay Johnson to a minimum of 23 years, nine months in prison (maximum 60 years).
Gierhart’s ruling came about a month after Johnson pleaded no contest to armed robbery involving serious injury, first degree home invasion, and assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder.
As The Advertiser previously reported, Johnson admitted to police that he had fallen on hard times and as a result, tried to burglarize the home of Richard Blakeley Keiter in the Murphy Lake area near Millington in the early morning hours of April 22.
Keiter returned home as Johnson was mid-burglary, and Johnson bashed him in the head with a propane tank and threatened to kill him if he didn’t open a safe before fleeing. Keiter had to spend several days in the hospital and received five staples, 18 stitches and had bleeding in the brain.
Immediately prior to Gierhart’s sentencing, it was stressed several times by different parties that Johnson didn’t run when he was caught mid-burglary.
“You know, (Johnson) made the choice to stay,” said Christopher Keiter, son of Richard Keiter, when given a chance to address the court Monday. “He could have went out the door that was 10 feet away, probably left, never got caught.
“But he wanted money, he wanted guns…he chose to stay and hurt my father and beat him over the head with an iron cylinder, threaten him with his life, that he was gonna kill him if he didn’t let him in that safe.”
Investigators ultimately tracked down and arrested Johnson through a combination of Facebook messages, texts and phone records obtained via warrant from service providers, along with global positioning satellite (GPS) technology and witness accounts that placed his car in the area the morning of the incident.
Johnson had previously known the Keiters as a friend of Christopher Keiter’s daughter – and Richard Keiter’s granddaughter – who was in the courtroom Monday and visibly shaken and upset as her father recounted the impact of the incident on the family.
Christopher Keiter told the court Monday – with Johnson in his orange Tuscola County Jail uniform and bound in chains in front of Gierhart – how his family had “helped Mr. Johnson tremendously”.
“I supplied him with a place to live. I tried to get him back in school. I had him work for me and help me and treated him like a human,” Keiter said. “Probably one of the only people that ever treated him good in his life, and he comes back and does this to us.”
During the investigation, police learned that Johnson had ingratiated himself so well into Keiters’ family that he had spent many nights sleeping within feet of Richard Keiter’s safe.
When Johnson was arrested while on spring break several years ago, it was Richard Keiter who loaned him $900 – money that was never paid back – to get out of jail.
“It breaks my heart that somebody would do that to us. We’ve loaned him money, bailed him out of jail before, and he still treated us as nobody,” Keiter said.
“He makes us…feel scared of bringing anybody, people we know, into the house, people that are our friends. Are they gonna attack us down the road?” Keiter said. “I mean do you even understand what this does to people? I don’t think you do. I honestly don’t.”
Johnson did not address the court when given the chance, but his attorney, Lisa Blanton, said Johnson was “remorseful” and asked Gierhart for the lowest possible sentence, which would have been about 14 years in prison.
Blanton told the court that Johnson had a rough childhood and was actively abusing drugs at the time of the burglary.
“He can finish high school. He can hopefully take college classes. He can understand his substance abuse issues that he’ll have to deal with once he’s released. He can then begin to make amends to the people that he’s hurt, the victim in this case, the victim’s granddaughter, the victim’s family as well as his own.
“I know that he is very remorseful. It’s not very often that I sit with somebody who just says ‘I have to take my punishment, I know what I did was wrong, I know that I need to make amends for it,’” Blanton said.
Tuscola County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Reene said Johnson appears to have been planning the burglary, noting that investigators were able to place his vehicle near Richard Keiter’s home about a week before the botched burglary.
Reene also pointed out that Johnson could have just fled the scene when Keiter returned home.
“It’s one thing to commit a home invasion, but one of the other key facts here, he could have stopped,” Reene told the court. “He had a multitude of choices. He could have run by Mr. Keiter. He could have gone down a hallway and left. But he chose to attack.
“Quite frankly, again, it is only mere fortuity that prevented this case from being a homicide,” Reene said.
Leading up to her sentencing, Gierhart addressed the calculation and severity of Johnson’s crimes.
“If this was simply an issue that you were a drug addict and you committed some sort of possession or property crime, we probably could work with you, but this is something so entirely different than that.
“You knew where you were going, you knew who you were going to victimize, and you chose to engage in assaultive behavior when you were there,” Gierhart said. “When Mr. Keiter came home, you could have just left, but I think you didn’t just leave because you knew that he would know it was you and I think that was your concern.
“I mean but for the grace of God here, we would be imposing a sentence of natural life here today, which means until you die,” she said. “Thankfully Mr. Keiter is still with us. But as indicated by Mr. Christopher Keiter, the long-term impacts of what you have done will be with these people for the rest of their lives.”
Gierhart then went on to sentence Johnson to 23 years, nine months on the count of armed robbery involving serious injury, 11 years on the count of first degree home invasion, and five years on the charge of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder. The sentences are concurrent.
Johnson also was ordered to pay $394 in court fines and costs along with $6,666 in restitution to Richard Keiter.
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at andrew@tcadvertiser.com

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