- Associated Press - Thursday, February 18, 2016

MANISTIQUE, Mich. (AP) - An Upper Peninsula prosecutor on Thursday defended his handling of a triple homicide after a man initially charged with murder was sentenced to about 3 ½ years in prison for obstruction of justice and lying.

Schoolcraft County prosecutor Tim Noble’s skills have been questioned by some relatives of the victims, whose bodies were found in a burned-out car. He’s been prosecutor since 2011, just months out of law school.

Ken Brunke was charged with murder, but the charges were dropped. He was sentenced for lesser crimes Thursday.

Noble said the case against Brunke was “irreparably damaged” when a witness to the killings died in the county jail from a heart ailment and another witness, Garry Cordell, recanted his statements to investigators.

“We did not have admissible evidence that showed Mr. Brunke was present at the murders or that he conspired to commit the murders,” Noble said in a statement.

“I will not ignore the law or my ethical obligations to seek a conviction in a case no longer supported by admissible evidence,” he said.

Defense attorney Michael Bryce Winnick said Brunke didn’t kill anybody.

Noble said the county rejected his request for money to hire a temporary assistant in his one-person office. He said he consulted a lawyer who is a former federal prosecutor and former judge about the Brunke case, sometimes daily.

The bodies of Carrie Nelson, Heather Aldrich and Jody Hutchinson were found last April, in a burned-out vehicle on a gravel road in Doyle Township, about 70 miles southeast of Marquette. Police believe the killings were related to drugs and broken relationships.

Cordell, 47, pleaded guilty to murder and is serving a life sentence with no chance for parole.

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