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Friday, January 28, 2011

Cotter’s criticisms are ironic, given his record

By Scott Elliott


In his Jan. 2 guest column, Berrien County Prosecutor Art Cotter says former Gov.
Jennifer Granholm’s criminal justice record was an unmitigated disaster. While I don’t entirely disagree with him, someone should point out that his own record has been far worse. He cites her last minute reversal of the commutation of Matthew Makowski’s sentence from a 1988 murder conviction as the final insult. Last year alone, Cotter was forced to reverse an astounding 43 convictions handled by his office. Cotter also continues to waste taxpayer money by meddling in areas he is neither qualified nor paid to deal with.

He is engaged in a campaign to discredit the Michigan Department of Corrections in the apparent hope of influencing appointments to top positions. I would not be surprised if he is pushing a promotion for his longtime crony, the infamous Steve Marschke, who is currently in charge of internal affairs for the state prison system.

Marschke was Cotter’s campaign manager in his failed run for a judgeship several years ago. Questions still linger about his involvement in what many believe to be the wrongful death of Eric McGinnis, a black Benton Harbor teenager whose 1991 drowning was described in Alex Kotlowitz’s book, “The Other Side of the River.”

Another mystery is Marschke’s interest in the case of Efren Paredes Jr., who was 15 when he was convicted in 1989 of robbery and murder and sentenced to three life terms, two without possibility of parole. His accusers all admitted their involvement in the crime, given leniency for their testimony and were all later imprisoned for other crimes. Neither Marschke nor Cotter was directly involved in the case, yet both attended the hearing for Efren’s commutation request in December 2009. Granholm denied the request late last year. Cotter must have spent many thousands in preparing his presentation against Efren, and even treated the audience to his own rendition of a 1980s rap song which supposedly reflected the boy’s state of mind at the time of the crime.

In a recent telephone conversation with Barbara Sampson, chairwoman of the Michigan Parole and Commutation Board, I asked what she thought Marschke was doing at Efren’s hearing. She told me that, given her knowledge of politics in Berrien County, partly from having read the Kotlowitz book, she would have been surprised if Marschke had not been there.

At least Cotter’s motives are less puzzling. He does not believe in rehabilitation, especially when it comes to juveniles. At the recent sentencing to life without parole of 14-year-old Dakotah Eliason, who inexplicably shot his grandfather, Cotter absurdly overdramatized the danger to the community if Dakotah were ever to be freed. He said the public would have to sleep with one eye open. I can just see Cotter cringing under his covers at the thought of marauding 14 year olds stalking the quiet hamlets of Berrien County.

Sleep tight, Art, and don’t let the bedbugs (a more real threat) bite.

Scott Elliott Benton Harbor

Please See Art Cotter's Guest Column Below

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.