State high court rules Granholm wrongly revoked commutation

 By David Eggert and Corey Williams

Associated Press
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned one of Jennifer Granholm’s last acts as governor and gave an inmate an opportunity for release after 25 years in prison.
The court ruled 6-0 that Granholm exceeded her constitutional authority in 2010 when she first commuted the life sentence of Matthew Makowski but then changed her mind when relatives of a murder victim complained.

It’s an unprecedented case in Michigan. Lower courts let Granholm’s decision stand, but the Supreme Court said she went too far.

“The language of the (state) Constitution confers only the power to grant commutations. The fact that the Constitution specifically provides that the Governor may grant a commutation implies that the Governor’s power is limited only to that ability,” Justice Michael Cavanagh wrote for the majority.

Makowski was convicted of first-degree murder for arranging the robbery of a Dearborn health club co-worker in 1988. Makowski didn’t know the robbers would be armed and wasn’t present when Pietro “Pete” Puma was fatally stabbed.
The state attorney general’s office defended Granholm, arguing that courts can’t review how a Michigan governor uses constitutional authority to change an inmate’s sentence.

And even if courts do, state attorneys said, Granholm was free to change her mind, especially since Makowski never had a commutation certificate in his hands, 110 miles away at prison.

The AP left a message Tuesday afternoon with a spokeswoman for Granholm seeking comment from the former governor. A message seeking comment also was left with Makowski’s attorney.

In November 2010, the state parole board had recommended 8-7 that Granholm change Makowski’s no-parole sentence, a step that would have cleared the path for his eventual release on parole.

He told the board he was sorry for Puma’s death. Supporters said Makowski, now 47, has become a devout Roman Catholic behind bars and led many inmates to Christianity.

Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling sends Makowski’s commutation back to the state parole board, according to Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan.

However, the current board members were not among the 15 that made the 2010 recommendation that Granholm change Makowski’s sentence.

“He could be paroled, but whether or not this parole board will parole him is something we’ll have to wait and see,” Marlan told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “That’s just the way the process works. The parole board members now may have a different opinion than the parole board at that time.”

The board next meets on June 13. “I would assume this case would be on their agenda,” Marlan said.

Any decision the current board makes will not require the issue going to current Gov. Rick Snyder, he added.

Makowski is being held at the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater.