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Man involved in Dowagiac murder sentenced to 26-50 years in prison

CASSOPOLIS – The man who set in motion the events that led to the murder of a Dowagiac man in January 2020 learned his fate Friday in Cass County Circuit Court.

Jay Vincent Penar, 40, of White Pigeon, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced Friday to 26 years to 50 years in prison. He has credit for 508 days already served and must pay $1,108 in fines and costs.

The incident occurred Jan. 27, 2020, at a home on Louise Street in the city of Dowagiac. Penar and Justin Carlton went to the home to pick up items Penar had left and confronted Michael Collins and others who were there. The home’s occupants were tied up and robbed and Carlton ended up shooting and killing Collins.

Carlton, 41, of Kalamazoo, was sentenced in December to 43 years to 70 years in prison, also after pleading guilty to second-degree murder.

Penar accepted a plea agreement in May. The agreement called for a minimum prison sentence of 26 years and the dismissal of 11 felony charges including counts of open murder and armed robbery in connection with Collins’ death.

Both men had faced a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole if they had been convicted of first-degree murder.

Friday, Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz said Penar did not heed the age-old teachings of all religions to not do bad actions if enticed by others to do bad things.

“When people want to ambush the innocent, don’t do it, when they say they will share the proceeds of a robbery, don’t do it,” Fitz said. “Don’t walk with those types of people.”

“This defendant didn’t heed those words, he even acknowledged that he should have walked away,” he added. “But he didn’t and because of that we have a dead person. It was a violent, highly unnecessary death.”

While Fitz said that Penar later did the right thing by contacting police and turning Carlton in, he said Penar could have done more at the time to stop the murder and later calling for an ambulance.

“When you’re weak in a time of trouble, you’re weak indeed,” he said.

“He did do some things that were smart after the fact, that’s why he’s here today for a 26-year sentence and not a life sentence,” Fitz added. “He did ultimately contact family members who were connected with law enforcement, that’s why he’s getting two decades of his life back.”

Fitz thanked the efforts of law enforcement personnel in Kalamazoo and St. Joseph counties for their work on the case and especially the efforts of Dowagiac police.

“They showed again that they almost always get their man, they’re a great benefit to the community,” he said.

Defense attorney Greg Feldman pointed out some positives his client did including contacting police and keeping Carlton from killing others.

“There was a point shortly after this incident happened when Mr. Carlton mentioned wanting to go back and finish the job and kill the others to leave no witnesses and Mr. Penar talked him out of that,” he said.

For his part, Penar apologized for his actions.

“You did pick up Mr. Carlton, and he told you he was going to rob Michael Collins,” Cass County Circuit Judge Mark Herman said. “You went inside to keep anyone from getting hurt. At some point, he killed Mr. Collins. The others were ziptied and one of them recognized you even though you were wearing masks. You both left, and Mr. Carlton told everyone ‘have a nice day.’”

“This is your first felony at 40 years old. You’re married. You worked at Patrick Industries, and you have a daughter,” the judge added. “What a way to throw it all away.”

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