Traverse City Record-Eagle

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March 13, 2013

Man charged in assault takes plea deal

TRAVERSE CITY — A man accused of assaulting a woman at a downtown hotel accepted a plea deal.

A criminal trial for Steven K. Haller, 21, started Tuesday. He was charged with assault with intent to do bodily harm and torture for an August attack on a 19-year-old woman at the Whiting Hotel.

But as a jury prepared to hear the victim’s testimony, Haller entered into a plea deal with prosecutors. The Traverse City man pleaded guilty to assault with intent to do bodily harm and first-degree home invasion.

The torture charge was dismissed.

If 13th Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power remains within sentencing guidelines, Haller will face a minimum of 57 to 95 months and a maximum of 20 years in prison.

Haller and the victim were friends and engaged in consensual sex that turned rough. After they had sex, he twice strangled her to a point of unconsciousness and then threatened to kill her because he’d “gone too far,” said Grand Traverse Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Noelle Moeggenberg.

Haller told the woman, who battles mental health issues, she wouldn’t get out of her Whiting Hotel apartment alive, Moeggenberg said. She escaped to a community bathroom and sought help from a neighbor.

Defense attorney Jason Elmore contested Haller had no desire or intent to kill the woman and pointed to inconsistencies in her story. The two lived in a “fantasy world,” he said, and found danger in sex exciting.

Elmore said the victim engaged in self-inflicted pain in the past. Medical records showed “nothing wrong” with her neck following the assault, he said.

Moeggenberg said the plea agreement guarantees a prison sentence for Haller.

“It’s a sure thing,” she said of the plea agreement, adding “we know he’s going to go away for a significant period of time.”

The prosecution dismissed a charge of third-degree criminal sexual conduct before the trial. The plea deal allows Haller to avoid registering as a sex offender.

“My client Steven made the choice that he felt was best for him under the circumstances,” Elmore said.

Sentencing is expected to take place in April.

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