Wendell Earl Popejoy

Wendell Earl Popejoy (Photo: Ottawa County Sheriff's Office)

Michigan Man Sentenced To Life For Neighbor's Slaying In Snow Blowing Dispute

November 05, 2018 - 5:51 pm

CROCKERY TWP. (WWJ/AP) - A western Michigan man will spend the rest of his life in prison for fatally shooting a neighbor he said was blowing snow onto his property.

WOOD-TV reported Monday that 64-year-old Wendell Earl Popejoy was sentenced Monday after being found guilty last month of first-degree murder.

Sheila Kay-Luke Bonge, 59, was slain on December 26, 2017 outside her home on 104th Avenue in Crockery Township, northwest of Grand Rapids.

Police said Bonge was using a snowblower on an easement that she and neighbors used to get to their driveways when Popejoy sneaked up behind her and shot her in the back of the head. 

Members of Bonge's family found her body hidden beneath snow down a hill behind Popejoy's house.

Initially, Popejoy denied involvement, but shortly after his arrest told police that Bonge was a "nuisance to the neighborhood" and the killing was a "snap decision." MLive reported Popejoy allegedly told investigators ,"I took care of the problem," and "I'm not really sorry she's gone."

Defense attorney Jeff Kortes in opening statements said the victim and his client had a longstanding dispute prior to the killing, and that Popejoy had reached his wit's end.

"Every time for the eight years Wendell lived in that home...she would intentionally crank the snowblower to close (Popejoy's) driveway," Kortes told an Ottawa County Circuit Court jury, according to MLive. "This is years and years of the same type of antagonistic behavior that he finally snapped. He finally had enough. That day was the breaking point."

On Monday, Kortes once more asserted that the killing was not premeditated, quoting a pre-sentence statement by Popejoy saying he was in "a dreamline trance" at the time of the killing and "woke up in a nightmare of panic after the gunshot."

Popejoy himself declined to speak at sentencing. 

In a victim impact statement, Bonge's sister, Val Flaherty, said Bonge was a giver who "would do anything for anyone," adding, "Our loss cannot be put in words."

An obituary described Bonge as "a devoted mother" who was "adored by her grandchildren." 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.