GRANDVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — A 41-year-old man who was charged with kidnapping a little girl from a Grandville bowling alley in November will soon be a free man after taking a plea deal on Friday.
Donald Zeigler Jr. was facing life in prison, but after 36 days in jail, the Kent County prosecutor agreed with the defense that the incident was just a stupid, booze-fueled mistake.
“I guess in the time I’ve been here, I don’t think I’ve seen anything just like this,” said Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker, following the hearing.
It was the kind of incident fuels a parent’s nightmares — a total stranger picking up an 8-year-old child in a public place and walking out the door with her.
That’s what happened on Nov. 8 at the Fairlanes Bowling Center, near Chicago Drive and I-196.
It led to the Grandville Police department describing the incident as Zeigler being focused on the girl and the prosecutor’s office charging him with attempted kidnapping.
“We’ve gotta do something because nobody wants their child taken outside but when you step back and say, ‘What can you prove about his malicious intent?’ That was a difficult push and we didn’t know if we were gonna reach that level,” Becker said.
But after a thorough investigation and search of the suspect’s history, home, vehicle and computer for evidence, Becker said there just wasn’t evidence that Zeigler intended to kidnap the girl.
Police say Zeigler was drunk with a blood alcohol content of 0.12 and witnesses said as Zeigler was walking with the child, he asked people more than once, “Is this your child?” and he did not try to get away.
On Friday in court, Zeigler apologized to the family as he pleaded guilty to third-degree child abuse and attempted stalking which are both misdemeanors.
“Any pain that I caused you or scared you, it was not my intent,” Zeigler said, turning to face the father who confronted the defendant as he carried his daughter at the bowling alley.
The family was not happy with Friday’s outcome.
“The court has gone forward and argued a plea for him but what we have to deal with doesn’t end,” the girl’s grandmother told the judge.
The prosecutor said Zeigler would likely not have been convicted of kidnapping and even if he was, it would likely be overturned on appeal.
“There’s no child sexually abusive material, there’s no ropes or straps, there’s nothing to indicate what he was gonna do beyond that,” Becker said.
Jail records show Zeigler was released Friday afternoon. However, the plea agreement includes five years of probation and he’ll have to pay for the girl’s therapy.
“In addition to the invasion of privacy and the time in jail, they’re also going to do a psychological evaluation to be sure that this isn’t the type of guy they’re letting off the hook,” said defense attorney Josh Kuiper.
Zeigler lost his job and now will have the word “kidnapping” come up when anyone googles his name. The defense agreed that based on what police knew at the time, the kidnapping charges made sense.
In court, Zeigler agreed his actions could cause the girl psychological harm. The grandmother of the victim said the girl’s suffering continues.
“Unfortunately, at the end of this day, my 8-year-old granddaughter has been severely affected by this as has her family,” she said.
Becker pointed out that while parents fear the danger presented by strangers, a child being snatched by a stranger is almost unheard of.
“Extraordinarily rare, that’s the thing, being involved in the Children’s Advocacy Center, that’s the thing we talk about and everybody worries about, don’t talk to strangers. But it’s usually somebody close to you, somebody that you know,” Becker said.