What’s it going to take to improve chances of clemency in Michigan?
Just before Christmas, then Governor Rick Snyder announced the names of 61 prisoners to be freed. To many observers, this number was far too low.
James Hicks, good friend of ours, was among the 61. But here’s the deal: If the bar stays that high for clemency consideration, very few will ever get out!
James was sentenced to 50-200 years for alleged involvement in an armed robbery in 1986.
Then the story gets interesting.
Just 3 years after going to prison, he made a conscious decision to turn his life around. He was hearing and seeing too many things that were pricking his conscience. So, he began working with authorities to help solve cases. I personally know of at least 8 cases where he helped state and federal agencies in making numerous arrests for bribery, auto theft, stolen property, telephone fraud, narcotics and murder.
Prisoners don’t like snitches, and James didn’t get adequate protection. He was stabbed on at least 4 different occasions. A corrections officer shoved him down a flight of stairs, he was beaten, and he was poisoned. In addition, someone firebombed the home of his mother in Detroit. Still her persisted in doing what was right.
In an earlier attempt to free him, we put together a strongly persuasive application for clemency. We even included a 4-page letter from Les Bowen, Chief Trial Attorney for the Muskegon County Prosecutor’s Office in 1986. Bowen, now retired, stated that for the first time in his career he was recommending commutation! There were additional letters of support from federal and state officers.
A quick review of this application, and one might think that Mr. Hicks should get an award, let alone having his sentence commuted! But nope. A routine rejection. We were flabbergasted. By all appearances, our documents weren’t even read by the Parole Board and the Governor’s Office.
In a last-ditch effort, Hicks’ frustrated legal counsel made a Hail Mary pass, going directly to a personal friend on the Governor’s legal staff. Finally, someone in authority got to see all of this evidence and the rest is history.
But back to my original question, if that’s what it takes, is that fair? There won’t be many cases as extreme as that of Jimmy Hicks. But there are hundreds of Michigan prisoners deserving of clemency whose applications never got to see the light of day. Too many didn’t get the review they deserved. And that’s not right.
We beg our new Governor to adjust the system.
It can’t come down to who you know.