VIDEO ABOVE: David Walton of Detroit, now 60, spent 43 years since the age of 17 behind bars for a crime in which he was not the shooter. His co-defendant Edward Sanders, also not the shooter, is due for release July 6. They were each re-sentenced in Nov. 2016 to 40-60 years, allowing them eligibility for parole according to current challenged state statutes. Their sentences from day one were declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama (2012) and Montgomery v. Louisiana (2016), which said that “only the rarest child” should face death in prison.
Video Above: EFREN PAREDES, JR. Co-organizer of the Juvenile Lifer for Justice rally on June 18, 2017, speaks from prison to outline the campaign. Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic has recommended that Paredes and all juvenile lifers from that county be re-sentenced to JLWOP. Paredes’ wife Maria Luisa Zavala and daughter at right. Paredes was only 15 when sentenced to JLWOP.
“It is a fact that Michigan incarcerates prisoners longer than any other state in the country.”–Efren Paredes, Jr.
“The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juvenile lifers should receive new sentences in 2012, over five years ago. Since that time only 19% of Michigan juvenile lifers have been resentenced. Around 73 total according to the latest numbers available.”–Velia Kopenhoeffer, Mother of Efren Paredes, Jr.
Organizers ask for signatures on petition to state legislators to change juvenile lifer re-sentencing laws and support a 10-pt. Prison Reform Platform, at https://www.change.org/p/efrenuncaged-gmail-com-support-michigan-prison-reform
By Diane Bukowski
June 22, 2017
DETROIT – “We betray humanity when we condemn people to die in prison because of mistakes they made when they were children,” juvenile lifer Efren Paredes, Jr. told a crowd of over 150 at the Juvenile Lifer for Justice Rally in Detroit’s Erma Henderson Park June 18. “Sentences that seek to extinguish the human spirit and abandon the concept of redemption are diametrically opposed to the will of God.”
Paredes spoke by phone from Michigan’s Handlon Correctional Facility. Originally from Berrien County, which has one of the highest incarceration rates in the state, Paredes Jr. has been in prison for 28 years since the age of 15 for first-degree murder, a crime he did not commit. Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic has recommended that ALL of the county’s juvenile lifers receive renewed life without parole sentences.
Paredes, who co-organized the rally with noted Detroit activist Elena Herrada, stressed that 70 percent of the state’s juvenile lifers are people of color.
“It is also cruel, inhumane, and un-American to keep prisoners incarcerated beyond the time necessary to rehabilitate them,” Paredes added on behalf of parolable lifers and others serving long terms in Michigan. “It is a fact that Michigan incarcerates prisoners longer than any other state in the country. There is no place in a civilized society for sentences that perpetuate human storage in a harsh world in which prisoners are treated as bodies kept alive only to later be disposed of.”
Paredes’ entire talk can be read at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Efren-Paredes-Jr-speaks-from-prison-at-rally-6-18-17.pdf.
Michigan is one of only four states, the others being Louisiana, Florida and Pennsylvania, which held out to the bitter end insisting that Miller was not retroactive. It remains recalcitrant in the face of both USSC decisions.
The state’s county prosecutors are seeking renewed sentences of life-without-parole in 229 cases, 63 percent of juvenile lifers. Most of the cases are from Wayne County, where Prosecutor Kym Worthy is seeking renewed JLWOP in 61 of 153 cases, about 40 percent. Among them are Michael Calvin and Charles Lewis, who have been in prison for over 41 years. Some of their supporters are shown above.
In Oakland County, Prosecutor Jessica Cooper is seeking life without parole in 44 of 49 cases, about 90 percent. These include Ronnie Waters, whose friend Felicia Tyson and numerous others came out in his support, and Sheldry Topp, now 72, the oldest juvenile lifer in the state who has been incarcerated since 1962.
Waters, who is at Handlon with Paredes, sent a message to the rally:
“Thank you from the heart for not forgetting about the difficult fight that juvenile lifers are engaged in across the state. Knowing you are there to support us lifts our spirits during this long, difficult wait. May God be with all of you freedom fighters who never stop beating the drum for justice. We love you all.”
Jennifer Pruitt, 41, is among the four Oakland County juvenile lifers re-sentenced under Cooper. She was 17 when sentenced to life in prison in 1993. She has been brutalized and raped by guards. However, she will still not be eligible for parole until 2022. She was re-sentenced to 30 to 60 years instead of the minimum 25 years allowed under MCL 762.5a.
Prosecutors in other counties, including Berrien, Saginaw and Macomb, have re-recommended JLWOP for 100 percent of their cases, although the Saginaw prosecutor recently withdrew those recommendations for several prisoners.
These included Henry Hill, one of the original plaintiffs in an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit against the state’s JLWOP policies, Hill v. Snyder. Hill was recently re-sentenced to 34-60 years and may be eligible for parole by August.
Attorney Deborah LaBelle has challenged the state statutes on juvenile lifer re-sentencing in that lawsuit, which is pending at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals after U.S. District Court Judge John Corbett O’Meara reversed course on his original stance that all of the state’s juvenile lifers should be eligible for parole after serving 10 years.
Kimberly Simmons, 47, 0ne of two women juvenile lifers who have been released so far, also addressed the crowd. She was incarcerated at the age of 17 and received a 40-60 year sentence and eligibility for parole in January. She was released on parole May 3, 2017.
Above: Kimberly Simmons, one of 2 women juvenile lifers released so far
Simmons noted the small number of juvenile lifers who have been released so far and called on the crowd to mobilize in force to make the state comply with the U.S. Supreme Court rulings.
She went further, saying, “There shouldn’t be a natural life sentence period. That’s unconstitutional to tell anyone that you are unredeemable.” The U.S. was the only country left in the world that sentenced children to die in prison. It is also one of only a handful of countries that impose “natural life” sentences.
This author, also speaking at the rally, pointed out that under Montgomery v. Louisiana, every juvenile lifer’s sentence has been unconstitutional since day one.
She relayed Charles Lewis’ recommendation that any new state legislation should define what is meant by “the rarest child” as well as lay out guidelines for “mitigation hearings” for those facing a proposed new sentence of life without parole.
In Lewis’ case, Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard has dragged out hearings on the complete loss of his court file and the redaction of all events from his Register of Actions for over one year, with no end in sight. Despite his motion citing U.S. Supreme Court and other precedents indicating his case should be dismissed, she has ordered the “reconstitution” of his file, an action unheard of in the rest of the country. He has just filed a new motion asking for dismissal on a multitude of grounds.
The Nation article on his case and that of other juvenile lifers can be read at https://www.thenation.com/article/juvenile-lifers-last-chance/.
This author also addressed the cases of Cortez Davis and Zerious Meadows, condemning the cruel delays in their releases under state statutes declaring minimums of 25-40 and maximums of 60 years for those for whom JLWOP has not been re-recommended.
Davis is a model prisoner and writer for the Voice of Detroit. His trial judge Vera Massey Jones declared that JLWOP was unconstitutional when she first sentenced him to 10-40 years in 1994. But he was resentenced April 27 to 25-60 years, which an Appeals Court earlier ruled was compulsory in the case of Zerious Meadows. He has served 22 years, so he must still wait another three years before parole eligibility.
Meadows, now 62, has served over 47 years in prison. Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Bruce Morrow re-sentenced him to 25-45 years, which should have meant his immediate release, but Prosecutor Kym Worthy appealed and his case was sent back to Morrow.
Darren Cross, incarcerated at the Thumb Correctional Facility, also spoke at the rally by phone, in the video above. He is now 50 and has served 31 years in prison so far. His entire family came out to support him. He stressed the importance of justice for all prisoners including those serving long sentences such as parolable life, which frequently becomes natural life, since Michigan Gov. John Engler’s parole board declared “life means life.”
Rally co-organizer Elena Herrada, a teacher at Marygrove College and radio talk show host, asked all families and friends of people in prison to be sure to visit regularly, to keep up prisoners’ morale and show them their love.
Among the state’s hundreds of parolable lifers is John Alexander, who is scheduled for a public parole board hearing at Jackson Prison June 29 after being incarcerated since 1981. At his sentencing then, Recorders Court Judge Michael Sapala said he never intended for Alexander to serve more than 10-15 years, a statement many judges across Michigan echoed when Engler took office.
This author covered the case of Alexander and other parolable lifers for the now defunct Michigan Citizen. They had launched a class action lawsuit against their lengthy incarcerations which did not succeed.
In the video above, Samantha Jones talks about Flenoid Greer, now 52, who was sentenced to serve 60-90 years in 1999. His earliest release date is in 2040, meaning he will be 75 at the time.
She was followed by Denise Muscoualley who talked about her brother and her fiancé, who also have languished behind bars for 30 years and more, as has John Alexander.
Muscoualley said she was shocked recently while talking to a youth counselor who had just had to cancel an appointment for a 14-year-old client because he had to see his probation officer.
“If you think this won’t happen to you, think again, because they are gearing up for you and your children as well,” she warned.
The mother above, Laquanda Denise Bowles (sp?) spoke on behalf of her son Donald W. Williams, incarcerated for 30 years according to the MDOC website. Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith recommended that all of that county’s juvenile lifers continue serving JLWOP last year.
But according to the Macomb Daily article to which Mrs. Bowles referred, ‘Smith may back down in the case of juvenile-lifer Donald W. Williams, 40, convicted of felony murder as an aider and abettor for a 1993 robbery-murder in Warren . . .Williams attorney, Anlyn Addis, said Payne merely served as the lookout for Payne, who fired the gun.
The article continued, “[Attorney Deborah LaBelle], who also has been involved in the Williams case, said Williams, 16 at the time of the slaying, has been rehabilitated behind bars. He is an ordained minister, hasn’t had a major violation in prison in eight years and is classified as a level II inmate, the lowest security level for a violent criminal, at a Muskegon prison. He is a prison block captain, serving as a liaison between prison officials and inmates, she said. If released, he will reside with his sister and has a job opportunity, she said.
“He deserves to go home, she said. He has wonderful family support.”
See Macomb Daily article at http://www.macombdaily.com/article/MD/20160914/NEWS/160919810
Efren Paredes, Jr.’s mother Velia Kopenhoeffer, of the group T.I.M.E. (The Injustice Must End) also spoke at the rally (see video above.) She and his father have campaigned for his freedom for decades, since the days of the Second Chance parents who stormed the state legislature to demand that Michigan’s laws be changed to outlaw juvenile life without parole, long before the USSC Miller and Montgomery rulings.
Her entire talk is available at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Velia-Koppenhoefer-message-at-juvenile-lifer-rally.pdf.
The Hon. Peter Deegan, retired judge, prosecutor and past president of the Prosecuting Attorneys of Michigan, also addressed the rally. He and former Wayne County Prosecutor John O’Hair, have campaigned strongly against the Michigan state statutes which set mandatory minimums of 25-40 and maximums of 60 years for prisoners not resentenced to life without parole. At their request, The Retired Judges of Michigan passed a strongly-worded resolution calling for change.
At left is John O’Hair’s column denouncing the statutes and calling for the federal courts to step in to override the disastrous treatment Michigan’s juvenile lifers are receiving.
He said, “With the average life expectancy of a juvenile serving life without parole at 50.6 years, 40 and 60 year sentences are virtual life sentences.”
Unfortunately, the State Appellate Defenders Office (SADO), which received a $1.5 state grant to represent juvenile lifers without attorneys, has refused to challenge the statutes, unlike the Michigan ACLU.
Other speakers at the rally included: Dr. Austin Jackson, Director, MSU My Brother’s Keeper Program; Roberto Guzman, The Coalition to Free the Wrongfully Convicted; State Rep. Bettie Cook-Scott; Ken Grunow, President, Amnesty International (Detroit); Rodd Monts, Legislative Department Field Director, ACLU of Michigan; Dr. John Masterson, Board Member, Peace Education Center of Greater Lansing; Mario Bueno, Co-Director, LUCK, Inc., and Elyse Blennerhassett, Columbia University graduate student, New York-based podcast producer, and photographer.
Video above: Eric Alexander of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth and the ACLU urges crowd to continue mobilizing.
AMONG DEMANDS OF THE RALLY ORGANIZERS:
Prosecutors to: – Uphold the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility statement as ministers of justice; – For them to have more than a nominal commitment to rehabilitation; – To stop pursuing LWOP sentences that are at odds with U.S. Supreme Court rulings; and – To stop delaying juvenile lifer resentencing hearings across the state.
Judges to: – Impose the minimum term-of-year sentence allowed pursuant to MCL 769.25 for all juvenile lifers being resentenced and stop imposing LWOP sentences on juvenile offenders.
Lawmakers to: – Pass legislation abolishing LWOP sentences for juvenile offenders; to – Give jurisdiction to the Parole Board to begin reviewing all juvenile lifer cases for meaningful parole consideration annually after serving 15 years; and to – Allow juvenile offenders who are resentenced to receive good time and disciplinary credits, which is currently not allowed.
SUPPORTERS–SIGN PETITION TO STATE LEGISLATURE AT:
Endorsers of Juvenile Lifer for Justice Rally:
Amnesty International, Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), Human Rights Advocates, The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency (MCCD), Voice of Detroit Newspaper, My Brother’s Keeper Prison Outreach Program (MBK-POP), Xica Nation, ACLU (Detroit), Humanity for Prisoners, and ICAN (Incarcerated Childrens’ Advocacy Network), The Injustice Must End (TIME), South Eastern Michigan Indians, Inc. (SEMII), Black Lives Matter, and LaSED (Latin American Social and Economic Development), Peace Education Center of Greater Lansing, My Brother’s Keeper Prison Outreach Program (MBK-POP), National Lifers of America, Inc. (Chapter 1030), Sacred Heart Catholic Church (Detroit), St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Keep the Vote No Takeover, Moratorium Now, Detroit School Board in Exile, Operation Get Down, and others.
For more information, go to:
http://www.facebook.com/events/643683492488946, and http://www.fb.com/Free.Efren.
Email: ElenaMHerrada2@gmail.com; and listen to Elena Herrada’s show on Detroit AM 910 between 7 and 8 am Sunday mornings.
Related articles from VOD, which has been closely covering JLWOP: