Church break-in suspect pleads guilty to charges

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published October 2, 2013

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Eric Joseph-Edward Eby, 19, of Sterling Heights, pleaded guilty to 22 criminal counts, which stemmed from 14 cases incurred primarily in Shelby Township, and waived his right to a trial on Sept. 27. His sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 15.

The cases began April 1, with a break-in at St. Therese of Lisieux in Shelby Township. Police said he burglarized more than $40,000 at St. Therese of Lisieux, and altogether, he broke into three churches and multiple businesses.

Eby’s list of criminal counts included breaking and entering with intent, possession of burglary tools, receiving and concealing stolen property, unlawfully driving away a motor vehicle, larceny of a firearm, as well as malicious destruction of property of $20,000 or more.

Judge Mary Chrzanowski accepted all of Eby’s pleas, including a guilty plea to violating probation from a prior breaking-and-entering charge. By pleading guilty, Eby also said he was aware that all of the charges will appear as convictions on his record.

After the hearing, Chrzanowski allowed Eby’s father, mother and sister to come up to the jury box, where Eby was sitting in handcuffs and jail apparel, to speak to him. Each family member hugged and spoke briefly with Eby. It was the first time they made physical contact since Eby’s arrest April 23.

Eby’s two safe-breaking charges carry a maximum sentence of up to life in prison, while most of the other charges carry a maximum sentence of up to 10 years, although a few are a little less, according to Thomas Tomko, Eby’s defense attorney.

Tomko said the Prosecutor’s Office would return Nov. 15 with a recommendation for the length of Eby’s sentence.

Tomko said police recovered a lot of stolen property, checks and some cash through search warrants, but that he does not know how much remains unaccounted for.

As to the reason for Eby’s behavior, Eby’s family said they could do nothing but speculate; Eby does not have a criminal record.

His co-defendant, Logan Gerring, is being tried separately for adult charges and charges incurred while he was a juvenile. His next court date is Oct. 8.

Mark Eby, Eric Eby’s father, said the hearing was the first time he heard the dates of the 14 charges listed and that, while his son lived at home, his family had no knowledge of Eric Eby’s criminal activity.

“It’s mind-boggling, the array of charges,” he said, adding that he mentally tallied the offenses that took place while his son attended Oakland University as a full-time student.

Eric Eby graduated from Utica High School with a good GPA and received a partial academic scholarship from Oakland University, Mark Eby said. He later transferred to Macomb Community College and was a student there at the time of his arrest.

Mark Eby said his son has asked not to be excommunicated from his family’s church and that he sees his son’s restorative efforts in his religious roots as a positive thing.

“No illusions of the wrong he’s done are going to be swept under the table totally,” Mark Eby said. “He’s a complicated person. Aren’t we all? He really is a nice kid, however.”