Mainstream media covers Lewis hearing
SADO attorney finally calls him back
Federal case challenging state’s JLWOP statutes still alive
Story by Diane Bukowski
Video by Cornell Squires
September 10, 2016
DETROIT – Michigan juvenile lifer Charles Lewis, who has been unjustly incarcerated for 41 years, says he has new hope now. His court hearing September 6 garnered mainstream media attention.
His attorney Valerie Newman from the State Appellate Defender’s Office (SADO) finally called him to consult about his next hearing October 11 at 11:30 a.m. in front of Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard.
“I feel great,” he told VOD by phone. He said he discussed trial strategy with Newman, and came to a partial agreement.
Lewis is on Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s list of 63 county juvenile lifers she wants to die in prison, despite two U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Miller v. Alabama (2012) and Montgomery v. Louisiana (2016). They declared juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) unconstitutional. Only the “rarest” child should be dealt such a fate, they said.
Worthy’s 63 lifers represent 41 percent of the county’s 144 juvenile lifers. They represent the highest number of any county, since Wayne County has 40 percent of the state’s juvenile lifers. Worthy is asking that the remaining juvenile lifers receive a term of years under state statutes which are being challenged as unconstitutional by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Those statutes, MCL 269.25 and 269.25a, say the minimum term for re-sentencing must be 25 to 40 years, and the maximum 60 years. U.S. District Court Judge John Corbett O’Meara recently denied an ACLU motion for an injunction to stop the current hearings, but appears to be negotiating a final ruling as the case continues. He has not yet ruled on the ACLU’s motion for reconsideration.
Juvenile lifer Cortez Davis is being recommended for an unknown term of years.
“I want my attorney to try to get my original sentence re-instated and have the judge give me time served since my original sentence was 10 to 14 years and I am 12 years past that,” he told VOD by Jpay email.
Davis, 39, has been incarcerated since 1994, for 22 years. Recorders Court Judge Vera Massey Jones, now retired, declared JLWOP unconstitutional during Davis’ sentencing, but appeals courts repeatedly overturned her rulings until the U.S. Supreme Court finally weighed in.
Worthy’s motions are being kept in Chief Criminal Court Judge Timothy Kenny’s office. Despite VOD’s repeated requests, the Court’s General Counsel Richard Lynch has failed to produce copies of the motions for review, while admitting they are public records. VOD is therefore filing a Freedom of Information Act request. Lynch has also failed to respond to VOD’s inquiries regarding gross discrepancies in the court’s computer records.
A major issue in Lewis’ case is the “disappearance” of all his court records dating from 1976 to 2000. The first entry on his current online Register of Actions states falsely that he was convicted by a jury in front of Judge Gershwin Drain on April 3, 2000 of first-degree murder. His conviction actually took place in 1977 in front of Judge Joseph Maher.
“I’m probably the only juvenile lifer in prison right now with no sentence,” Lewis said. “At the very least I should be in the County Jail getting a presentence report done because regardless of what happens I will need a presentence report.”
Lewis had asked Newman and his previous attorneys to file a motion to vacate his conviction and sentence due to the disappearance of his records, citing State Supreme Court precedent in People v Adkins, 436 Mich 878; 461 NW2d 366 (1990). Earlier Courts of Appeals found similarly in People v Jones, and People v. Horton.
At Lewis’ hearing Sept. 6 in front of Judge Lillard, Newman said, “I understand that the search for his [Lewis’] file has been going on for some time. We all want to find the file. But at some point we’re going to have to call ‘UNCLE’ and concede the file can’t be found.”
Newman, Assistant Prosecutor Jason Williams, and Judge Lillard agreed to hold a follow-up hearing Oct. 11 at 11:30 a.m.
“If the file hasn’t been found by that date, I will give up,” Lillard said. She said she would “writ” Lewis out of prison to be present in person, and allow one hour for him to consult with Newman beforehand. She asked Newman and Williams to share all their records with each other beforehand.
After the hearing, Lewis’ mother Rosie Lewis passionately pled her son’s case to the media, including Detroit’s Channel 7, the Detroit News, Michigan Radio, and WWJ radio.
“If they can’t find the files, they have to free my son and exonerate him, Lewis said. “ They used him as a scapegoat to cover up for the murder of that police officer.”
She recalled, “He was 17, and the Supreme Court says that because he was 17 they could not sentence him to mandatory life. So they came back with this hearing to see if they could find a file 41 years old, as tall as I am, and I KNOW what happened because I never missed a moment [of the court hearings]. If they don’t have it and they decide they want to go forward, there is no way they can go forward because there were things that happened that I know they have tried to sweep under the rug. The main thing I want to point out is that the police officer that testified, he was an eyewitness and he saw who shot his partner, memorized the license plate number, and they were able to find that person who admitted he WAS there. Then they said, ‘Well, we can’t charge him.’ No one said why.”
Lorenzo Hilliard, Lewis’ uncle, added, “He was never afforded the opportunity to have his witnesses present, and to be able to have their stories heard, the band members he was with.”
A supporter who identified himself as Brother Yohannon, a member of People Against Unjust Sentencing, said, “Under the Sixth Amendment, if there is no record they cannot sustain a conviction, it cannot stand. These courts are being run as a Jim Crow operation. They are attacking our youth before they can even begin their lives.”
Cornell Squires of We the People for the People, who is also a friend of Lewis’ family, declared, “Michigan is extremely hard on young men. This man should be set free.”
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