Charles Lewis, in prison since the age of 17 in 1976 for a murder most eyewitnesses testified he did not commit. He will turn 59 May 13, 2018.

Release ALL 247 Michigan Juvenile Lifers being held without sentences, in violation of U.S. Supreme Court rulings and state law

“The guards couldn’t figure out if I should even be in handcuffs, because they had no sentence listed for me.”—Lewis, who will argue his own case

Hearing in courtroom of Judge Qiana Lillard, Rm. 502, Frank Murphy Hall, St. Antoine & Gratiot

Michigan also refuses to grant good time, disciplinary credits, rehabilitative programming to re-sentenced juvenile lifers awaiting release, violating Sixth Circuit Court order

By Diane Bukowski

March 23, 2018

AP Thomas Dawson

Judge Qiana Lillard

DETROIT – Charles (K.K.) Lewis, the standard-bearer for 247 Michigan juvenile lifers being held without sentences, will face off again against Third Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard and Asst. Pros. Thomas Dawson Wed. March 28, to demand that he be released on bond pending a hearing on whether he should even be incarcerated. 

He says he stands for all Michigan juvenile lifers because their trial courts have no authority under state law to hold them indefinitely without sentencing.  The Michigan 247 are those facing new LWOP recommendations from county prosecutors, two-thirds of the total 363 state JLWOPers. 


Supporters of juvenile lifers Michael Calvin and Charles Lewis at June 18, 2017 rally, Juvenile Lifers for Justice. Calvin’s wife Kim Craighead is second from right.

Lewis said that during a recent trip to Jackson Prison for special medical care, “The guards couldn’t figure out if I should even be in handcuffs, because they don’t have a sentence listed for me.”  

Lewis will finally get to argue his case himself March 28, raising thoroughly  researched legal precedents that his previous attorneys Victoria Burton-Harris, Gregory Rohl, Valerie Newman and Felicia O’Connor evidently were too timid or compromised to argue. Lewis has spent his 42 years in prison becoming a highly skilled jail-house lawyer. 

Third Circuit Court Judge James Chylinski; Lewis says he has proper jurisdiction in his case according to records.

His motion reads in part, “Pursuant to People v West, 100 Mich App 498; 299 NW2d 59 (1980), an unauthorised delay in sentencing a defendant deprives the trial court of jurisdiction to sentence; a trial court cannot simply postpone sentencing and retain jurisdiction to sentence.” 

People v. West says in part, The unique factor present in this case which distinguishes it from the others which involve the above statute is that the trial court delayed sentencing. Unfortunately, the trial court had no power to delay sentencing in this instance, since defendant was convicted of armed robbery, one of the crimes excepted by the probation statute, MCL 771.1; MSA 28.1131.” 

Lewis says he has been held without a sentence since Third Circuit Court Judge Edward Ewell, Jr. granted him a sentence re-hearing on Oct. 12, 2012 after the first U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama (2012). The U.S. and Michigan Supreme Courts vacated his life without parole sentence in 2016, after a second USSC ruling that Miller was retroactive (Montgomery v. Louisiana, 2016.)

In his motion, Lewis also says he should have been acquitted and freed in March, 1977, citing a Michigan Supreme Court case that bars judges from independently dismissing juries without formal proceedings involving the defendant. 

“The Defendant is currently being held in prison illegally,” the motion reads. “The Defendant’s first jury was dismissed sua sponte by Judge Joseph E. Maher on March 22, 1977. All subsequent legal proceedings held after March 22, 1977 were double jeopardy barred by People v Benton, 402 Mich 47 (1979).”  

Third Circuit Court Judge Deborah Thomas said in a lengthy written opinion Aug. 12, 2006 that Lewis should therefore have been considered acquitted. MCL 770.1 says that a judge can vacate a conviction at any time, “when it appears to the court that justice has not been done.” 

Judge Thomas also agreed with Lewis’ contention in his current motion that the state’s failure to hold a Pearson evidentiary hearing within 30 days meant that he should have been released in 1980 as well. 

Lewis is also challenging Judge Lillard’s jurisdiction in his case. His motion says that Third Circuit Court Deputy Clerk David Baxter took it on himself illegally to deny a writ signed by Judge James Chylinksi to hold his re-sentencing there on June 20, 2013. He says that violated the separation of powers in the state judicial system. 

In both of Lewis’ trials, the juries heard from Detroit police officer Dennis Van Fleteren and numerous other eyewitnesses that they saw another man, not Lewis, kill off-duty officer Gerald A. Sypitkowski with a shotgun blast July 31, 1976. The Detroit Free Press confirmed those witness statements in an article from the scene the next day. 

During a federal court hearing on the ACLU’s Hill v. Snyder case March 22, lead plaintiff Henry Hill, now free after 37 years in prison, pursuant to U.S. Supreme Court rulings outlawing mandatory juvenile life without parole, spoke to VOD on behalf of the Michigan 247 he left behind. He singled out in particular juvenile lifer Michael Calvin, who he said should never have been sentenced to JLWOP at the age of 15. 

Henry Hill of Saginaw, free after 37 years of unconstitutional JLWOP sentence

“I think the state is violating the U.S. Supreme Court rulings that require a ‘meaningful opportunity for release’ for juvenile lifers,” Hill said. “Many of the 247 don’t even meet the criteria for life sentences. Michael Calvin is one of them. The actual shooter in his case was released over 30 years ago. Michigan doesn’t follow its own laws, only what works for them, not for us.” 

Lewis estimates that at least 20 percent of juvenile lifers are actually innocent, leaving them in a quandary because if they are resentenced, they must face the parole board. 

Michigan’s parole board is notorious for demanding excruciatingly detailed statements of guilt from prisoners, as a chief condition for their parole. 

Attorney Anlyn Addis told VOD that some juvenile lifers absolutely refuse to admit guilt even if it means they will never be freed, while others compromise and lie to re-enter the world. 

Atty. Deborah LaBelle

The federal hearing also considered the plight of 53 juvenile lifers who have been re-sentenced to terms of years, but not yet released, because the state of Michigan is now contesting a U.S. Sixth Circuit Court ruling that good time and disciplinary credits must be applied to reduce their time in prison. They are also being denied rehabilitative programming to prepare for parole. 

Michigan has the second highest number of juvenile lifers in the world, Atty. Deborah LaBelle told U.S. District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith. She added that Michigan has fought viciously against both U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Miller v. Alabama(2012) and Montgomery v. Louisiana (2016). State Attorney General Bill Schuette filed briefs opposing changes in juvenile sentencing in both cases, then the state legislature passed restrictive statutes in 2014 limiting the effects of the Montgomery decision that made Miller retroactive.

She and ACLU attorney Daniel Korobkin also argued for class certification of ALL the state’s juvenile lifers.  The state wants to exclude the Michigan 247 from that certification. Michigan and Louisiana are considered the two states in the U.S. with the most recalcitrant policies regarding juvenile lifers. 

Some of Charles Lewis’ supporters outside Frank Murphy Hall before his hearing Oct. 11, 2016.

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