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