Lawsuit likely over governor's switch on clemency

By Ed White

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- The lawyer for a convicted killer whose release from prison was granted and then reversed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm said Tuesday that a lawsuit challenging the dramatic about-face is "almost a certainty."

John Schlinker said Granholm's decision last week was "very disturbing," especially after the Corrections Department and the parole board spent hundreds of hours on Matthew Makowski's application for release.

"The governor has accomplished nothing by taking this back. A decent man is still in prison. Nobody's any safer," Schlinker told The Associated Press.

Makowski, now 43, was convicted of first-degree murder in the fatal robbery of a friend in Dearborn in 1988. He admits setting up the robbery but says he wasn't present during it and insists he didn't know the thief was carrying a knife. Pietro "Pete" Puma, 19, was killed.

Granholm commuted Makwoski's life sentence last week, following the recommendation of the state parole board. But she changed her mind two days later after Puma's outraged siblings told the AP they didn't know about an October public hearing and were never consulted.

Schlinker, a former parole board member, said he's had offers of help from other attorneys.

"I think we'll take people up on it. It's almost a certainty there will be a challenge" to Granholm's decision, he said. "It's such a unique legal issue. There is very little authority to point to."

Schlinker believes the commutation decision was firm once the documents were signed and filed with the secretary of state's office on Dec. 22.

Granholm spokeswoman Liz Boyd, however, said the Michigan Constitution gives governors wide discretion over the commutation process.

"The certificates were rendered null and void upon the governor's rescission," she said.

Detroit lawyer Margaret Raben, who has represented prisoners in commutation requests, said a court challenge would be tough.

Until the parole board actually sets parole and a prisoner is released, "the inmate still is an inmate," she said. "Legally, you can say his sentence has not been commuted."

But another attorney, Sandra Girard of Jackson, believes Granholm's reversal was "completely illegal."

"I think once it's filed, it's final," said Girard, former director of Prison Legal Services of Michigan.

During a parole board hearing in October, witnesses praised Makowski as a stellar inmate who had become a Roman Catholic and urged other prisoners to embrace Christianity. There is no dispute that he did not stab the victim.

"Truly from the bottom of my heart I am sorry, you know, for all the things that I did. I can never make any excuse or justifications for it," Makowski told board chairwoman Barbara Sampson.

Assistant Attorney General Charles Schettler Jr. wasn't moved. His office opposed the commutation request, as did the Wayne County prosecutor's office in Detroit.

"If you could set up a friend for a robbery, what could you do in regards to a stranger? The way you come across to me, you're still the egocentric, narcissistic person who committed this felony murder," Schettler said in October.

Published: Thu, Dec 30, 2010

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