From Time Magazine at http://time.com/wrongly-convicted/: “For the third year in a row the number of exonerations in the United States has hit a record high. A total of 166 wrongly convicted people whose convictions date as far back as 1964 were declared innocent in 2016, according to a report from the National Registry of Exonerations released Tuesday. On average, there are now over three exonerations per week—more than double the rate in 2011.”
VOD Editor’s Note: The author of the article below is now 60 years old, incarcerated in the MDOC since 1982, serving a parolable life charge for second-degree murder. (In Michigan parolable life is practically equivalent to life, ever since former Governor John Engler’s parole board declared, “Life Means Life.” Previously, parolable lifers began seeing the parole board after 10-15 years.) Mr. Ferrell says he elected to have a jury trial to prove his innocence, rather than take a plea bargain, and this was the result. There are tens of thousands more like him in U.S. prisons, according to a recent article in Time Magazine, and Michigan is one of the worst offenders.
BY RICARDO FERRELL
With Michigan having the highest number of exonerations anywhere in the U.S., more focus to put a spotlight on those who have been wrongfully convicted is needed, who are actually innocent of the crime(s) they’ve been charged, convicted, and sentenced for committing. Also, the practice of severely punishing defendants with harsh sentences who exercise their constitutionally protected right to have a trial is a miscarriage of justice, in that, an individual who refuses, declines, and/or rejects an offer of a plea deal in many cases they go on to receive ridiculously longer and harsher sentences as a result of that very refusal.
While prosecuting attorneys are compelled and expected to vigorously prosecute those who are charged with a violation of a Michigan Compiled Law they are equally obligated to see that justice is done and prevails not simply to obtain a mere conviction out of convenience and the prestige of their office. They certainly have an obligation to make sure innocent citizens aren’t charged and convicted for crimes they are not responsible for, otherwise we will have an out-of-control criminal justice system willing and enabling the blindfold to be removed from the Statue of Justice in a court of law.
The Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School and Western Michigan University Innocence Project at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School have had tremendous success in getting innocent people exonerated. Many innocent individuals are forced to plead guilty despite their innocence to crimes they had no knowledge of let alone committed. However, due to a rigged and lopsided judicial system, its either play ball (enter a guilty plea) or face the harsh ramifications of a lengthy prison sentence if you don’t.
For example, I turned down an offer of a reduced charge of Voluntary Manslaughter from the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office under which I would’ve received a sentence of six to 15 years and two years for the POFF (felon in possession of a firearm). Instead, I elected to exercise my constitutional right to have a jury trial and ultimately received a life sentence and two years. Theoretically speaking, I was unduly punished for exercising that very right which is supposed to be protected by both the State & Federal Constitutions – what a joke our so-called system of justice really is.
And, that brings me to the case of Daniel Maxson, who was charged and pleaded guilty to a crime he didn’t commit. He was charged with an Attempted Second Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct and sentenced to a19-90 months term. He (Maxson) like countless others was forced to succumb to the pressures before them by pleading guilty despite their innocence in order to avoid longer and harsher sentences.
Then we have a stark contrast of an innocent man being offered a short amount of jail time (nine months) if he was to plead guilty to a crime (mind you he didn’t commit). That is the case of Michael Terpening, who was charged with second and third degree Criminal Sexual Conduct. Prior to his trial, the prosecutor’s office offered him a plea bargain with a nine- month jail sentence if he accepted the offer; he nonetheless declined, insisting on proving his innocence.
Terpening was the Director of Earth Services, a program designed to help youth and young adults who in most cases were on probation. Earth Services provided a place for participants to navigate through their difficulties and also help them get their lives back on track; ES also cared for animals. During the course of these services and his duties, Director Terpening often interacted in a professional manner with several of the teens at his farm.
However, some of the teens concocted fabricated and false accusations against him of inappropriately touching them which led to the charges. The assistant prosecutor in the course of building her case engaged in questionable unethical practices by using a social media site to bolster her case. As a result of the controversy this caused and her improper use of Facebook, she was removed from the case. This is but one of the outrageous and inconceivable demonstrations by an overzealous prosecutor in a quest to seek a conviction. She (Jessica Payne) totally disregarded the administering of justice which has yielded an unfair and wrongful conviction on Michael Terpening.
The spotlight needs to be on people like Daniel Maxson and Michael Terpening and other similarly situated individuals demanding that justice be served and administered to all defendants who were wrongfully convicted, have actual innocence claims, or who were punished as a result of exercising their right to a trial.
The Michigan Rules & Criminal Procedures – Gillespie, clearly mandates that an Officer of the Court, e.g., prosecutors, have an absolute duty to seek justice but more importantly assure that innocent people are not convicted, be it by plea, trial, or otherwise. Although Maxson has now served the majority of his minimum sentence and Terpening has served over half of his 10-15 year sentence – still they reserve the right to have their innocence known to the public.
What a ridiculous waste of taxpayers’ dollars having to pay for the cost associated with incarcerating those within the Michigan Prison System who sit day in and day out that are actually innocent. Recent exonerations in Michigan includes: Richard Phillips (45 yrs.), Lorinda Swain (8 yrs.), the Higher Brothers (50 yrs.), Desmond Ricks (25 yrs.), David Gravitt (27 yrs), and Ledura Watkins (41 years) – in total they served 196 years. Let’s be more empathetic to what the innocent ones must be going through every single day they are wrongfully imprisoned. What a sad and pitiful system we have, if it means an innocent person can be in our prisons.