Judge Ulysses Boykin sentences Burgos to 30 to 60 years
With good time credits, earliest release date June 1, 2017
Burgos a model prisoner involved in numerous corrective programs
Victim Ayman Kaji also addresses the court
By Diane Bukowski
May 5, 2018
DETROIT – Jose Burgos is one of the 247 Michigan juvenile lifers for whom prosecutors recommended continued terms of life without parole. At the age of 16, he shot and killed Omar Kaji, and paralyzed his twin brother Ayman Kaji, twenty-seven years ago, in a drug deal gone bad on Detroit’s southwest side.
Apparently, various prosecutors, including in Wayne County, are beginning to re-assess their recommendations in some of the 247 cases.
On May 3, in a highly emotional hearing packed with Burgos’ family and friends, Wayne Co. Circuit Court Judge Ulysses Boykin re-sentenced Burgos to 30 to 60 years. The sentence made him eligible for parole as of June 1, 2017, according to terms of a U.S. District Court decision that restored “good time” credits to the state’s juvenile lifers.
Burgos’ attorney Michael Dezsi told his family afterwards that five years of such credits were restored to Burgos, and that it is possible he will see the parole board the next time it visits the Thumb Correctional Facility this June.
The sentence was based on a settlement agreement between the prosecution and the defense which gave up Burgos’ right to appeal or file a motion for relief from judgment.
“Until the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama (2012),” Dezsi told the Court, “Mr. Burgos had every expectation that he was going to spend the rest of his life incarcerated. Notwithstanding him knowing that and notwithstanding having that sort of dark shadow over him, Mr. Burgos did the opposite to make himself productive and make himself positive in every way that he could.”
Burgos and his attorney outlined the many programs to which he has dedicated himself to at the Thumb Correctional Facility. They include mentoring of at-risk youth, acting as a monitor for prisoners on suicide watch, and training leadership dogs for disabled people. He also mentors offenders between the ages of 17-24 under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act (HYTA), which allows them to keep offenses off their record if they comply with the program’s requirements.
“I can’t imagine what it’s like for a mother to have twin sons, and every time she looks at her [surviving] son’s face she’s reminded of her other son,” Burgos told the court. “I was 16 at the time. Since then, I have really looked at my crimes and want to give the rest of my life to others.”
He added, “The job I am doing now I will do for the rest of my life. When I was given the opportunity to train service dogs, I hoped to give back the independence I took from [Ayman] to someone else. When I was 13 my mother committed suicide, then my life started going on a downward spiral. Now I’m able to explain to others the impact of taking your own life. I’ll never stop trying to repair the damage I did. I’m really thankful to my family and supporters. My whole purpose in life is to make some good come out of this tragedy.”
Burgos was responding to heart-rending phone call testimony from Ayman Kaji, during which Kaji emphasized that Burgos’ actions had essentially “killed” his entire family.
“My twin brother being killed is one thing, me being paralyzed is another,” Kaji told the court. “What Jose Burgos did was not just kill my brother or paralyze me, but he killed my family, my sisters, my mother. For 27 years my mom has been my caregiver. My mom has got the strength, she is religious and has remained strong. She is the one that feeds me, bathes me, and does everything for me. I heard today that Jose has changed his life and done good. God bless him for that. I didn’t want to call into this court today to try to give him the maximum time or anything like that, but I just want him and his family to understand how it feels when they talk about his grandma—you can just imagine how my nephews and nieces feel when I can’t play with them or do anything for them.”
In an earlier article VOD staff writer Cortez Davis, a re-sentenced juvenile lifer also at the Thumb facility, added to Burgos’ list of achievements.
“Doug Little and Jose Burgos co-founded The Think Tank Bookclub and Workshop,” Davis wrote. “This program is designed to promote reading and critical thinking among those that will one day return to society. The men mentor one another as a representation of positive reinforcement which is something that all people need in their lives. While the program is fairly new to the Thumb Correctional Facility, it has already gained the attention of an author of one of the books explored in the program.”
That author was Shawn T. Blanchard, who wrote “How ‘Bout That for a Crack Baby,” and who spoke to the Thumb’s entire population at the invitation of Little and Burgos.
Below: Interlochen Public Radio interview with Jose Burgos
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