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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Guest Column in Herald Palladium, St. Joseph Michigan

by Arthur Cotter


Commutation fiasco is Granholm’s final insult

The administration of Gov. Jennifer Granholm ended Saturday. In the arena of the criminal justice system, she has been an unmitigated disaster. From the irresponsible release of violent offenders back into the community, to her unwillingness to address the fundamental question of why it costs $32,000 a year in Michigan to house an inmate while in Indiana it only costs $19,000 a year on average, Granholm’s administration has hurt public safety.

Here in Berrien County, a 4-yearold girl by the name of Zaniya Anderson continues to pay the price for this governor’s ill-conceived corrections’ policies. Zaniya was struck and permanently paralyzed by a stray bullet when a recent parolee, Donnell Williams, was shooting up the streets of Benton Harbor. A review of his record at the time of his release reflected a history of drugs, guns and violent assaults, along with repeated failures on probation and parole. While Williams is responsible for the shooting of this child, it is also true that reckless policies of the governor and her political appointees at the parole board and the Department of Corrections put this violent criminal back on the street prematurely after serving only a minimum sentence from a previous conviction involving the stabbing of a victim in Kent County.

Given Granholm’s dubious criminal justice record, I was nonetheless amazed by her handling of the commutation request of a first degree murderer’s case out of Detroit, as outlined in your Christmas Day edition (“Granholm reverses her decision to release killer”). As reported, Granholm had announced that she was commuting the life without parole sentence of Matthew Makowski, which arose out of the murder of a 19-year-old victim, Pietro “Pete” Puma, in 1988. Apparently Makowski, who was a co-worker with the victim, was not present at the time of the victim’s fatal stabbing, but plotted the robbery of the victim with two other people who actually carried out the robbery and murder. In a Machiavellian twist, Makowski was at the hospital at the time of the victim’s death and comforted family members, as well as delivered the eulogy at the victim’s funeral before being arrested for his involvement in the murder. After a public outcry in the media over the commutation of this murderer’s sentence by the siblings of Mr. Puma (who were unaware of any proceedings to release Makowski), Granholm reversed her decision to commute his sentence under the weight of that public outrage.

What is dumbfounding in this case is the casual attitude with which Granholm and her parole board handled the release of a convicted first degree murderer. It apparently never occurred to a single member of the parole board or Granholm’s staff to attempt to reach out to the family of this victim to seek their input on the possibility of releasing his murderer. The family of the victim did not register under the Crime Victim’s Rights Act to receive notice of any future action on Makowski’s case because they understandably believed that his sentence of life without parole meant exactly that.

I find the most troubling aspect to Granholm’s handling of this case is that her reversal only came after the public outcry over her decision. Your paper’s initial article on this matter reflected that the victim’s parents were deceased and it was his siblings who brought their brother’s murder case to the attention of the media and the public. What if Mr. Puma had no siblings to give voice to the injustice that was about to occur in the unwarranted release of his murderer? The rendering of fair and equitable justice, like character, is not demonstrated best by what one does when everyone’s eyes are upon you, but rather by what you do when no one is looking.

If the commutation of Matthew Makowski’s sentence was truly righteous and just and it had been carefully considered, as it should have been given the gravity of the offense in question, it should not have mattered that the case subsequently received public scrutiny. Granholm owed the citizens of Michigan and a young man by the name of Pete Puma, who was murdered at much too young an age, a far more serious and thorough review of his murderer’s case before deciding to release this first degree murderer back into the community.

I am sad to say that the handling of this case epitomizes her supervision over the criminal justice system during her final term in office.

Arthur J. Cotter is prosecuting attorney for Berrien County.