Traverse City Record-Eagle


June 21, 2014

Inmate asks court for help in Michigan parole case

DETROIT (AP) — An inmate who won a major case at the Michigan Supreme Court over a governor’s power to change prison sentences is asking the court for additional help because the state’s interpretation of the groundbreaking decision could block his release.

The court recently said Gov. Jennifer Granholm acted illegally in 2010 when she revoked a commutation of Matthew Makowski’s mandatory life sentence before leaving office. Makowski had thought the decision would clear the way for his release after 25 years in prison for first-degree murder.

But state attorneys note that the court said Makowski should now be treated as an inmate with a “parolable life sentence.” The Corrections Department and parole board are interpreting it to mean that he must get in line for a hearing, a process that doesn’t carry any guarantee of freedom.

That isn’t how dozens of commutation cases have been handled in the past, Makowski’s attorneys said as they asked the Supreme Court to change the last few lines of its June 3 opinion.

“The commutation is signed to release the prisoner, which occurs 100 percent of the time, absent death or fraud,” Paul Reingold and Charles Levin wrote in a court filing Thursday.

“To ensure a complete remedy ... the court should modify its opinion or enter an additional order,” they said.

State attorneys declined to join the request.

Makowski, now 47, was convicted of first-degree murder for arranging the robbery of a health club co-worker in 1988. He has said he didn’t know the robbers would be armed and wasn’t present when Pietro “Pete” Puma was fatally stabbed.

The controversy began in 2010 when the parole board, which had different members at the time, recommended that Granholm commute Makowski’s sentence to time served.

She signed an order with just days left in her term, then changed her mind when Puma’s family learned about the decision through an Associated Press story and complained that they were never informed about the process.

The Supreme Court said Granholm’s reversal was illegal. The justices said her decision was final once she signed the commutation document and filed it with the secretary of state.

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