Lansing Granholm and the power of clemency Man convicted in teen's slaying will be released

By Ed White

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- Gov. Jennifer Granholm commuted a life sentence Tuesday, agreeing to release a man who has repeatedly declared his innocence in the 1983 rape and strangulation of a teenage girl near Battle Creek.

Granholm's decision will allow Thomas Cress, 54, to be granted parole after spending 25 years in prison for first-degree murder.

Cress, who delivered newspapers and performed other small jobs, was convicted in 1985 of killing 17-year-old Patricia Rosansky. Her body was found in a wooded area in Calhoun County's Bedford Township, 50 miles southwest of Lansing.

Despite no physical evidence against Cress and the subsequent confession of an Arkansas prisoner inmate, the Michigan Supreme Court in 2003 refused to grant a new trial.

The state Parole and Commutation Board held an hours-long public hearing last March and subsequently recommended that the governor commute Cress' sentence to time served, said Granholm spokeswoman Liz Boyd.

There was a "compelling demonstration that he was wrongly incarcerated, essentially an inmate who has mental disabilities who has served 25 years for a murder he didn't commit," Boyd said.

Cress' plea for mercy had many supporters, including U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan law school.

"This is a brave decision on the part of the governor," clinic co-director Bridget McCormack said. "It's difficult for executives to make clemency decisions in innocence cases, but I think she really dug in and did her homework. We are elated."

Calhoun County Prosecutor Susan Mladenoff said she was disappointed, calling the decision "an injustice to Patty Rosansky and the surviving members of her family." Mladenoff was not in office at the time of trial.

Cress was convicted mostly based on testimony from people who knew him and said he had admitted abducting and killing Rosansky. Another person's hair was found in her hand, though it was not his.

Evidence in the case was destroyed in 1992 without being tested for DNA.

Jon Sahli, who was prosecutor when evidence was destroyed, said Granholm's decision was "ridiculous." He declined further comment.

Dennis Mullen, now a retired Battle Creek police detective, became convinced of Cress' innocence while investigating two unsolved homicides in the 1990s. He traveled to Arkansas to interview Michael Ronning, a convicted killer with roots in Battle Creek.

Ronning eventually gave a videotaped confession to three killings, including Rosansky's, and was temporarily housed in the Calhoun County jail while authorities tried to complete the cases. He was never charged, however, and eventually was returned to an Arkansas prison. Mladenoff has said his statements had many holes.

When told about the decision to release Cress, Mullen said: "It's about time."

The commutation is one of Granholm's final acts as governor as she prepares to leave office Saturday after eight years. She has commuted the sentences of 180 prisoners during her two terms, including 60 in 2010.

Last week, Granholm similarly commuted the life sentence of a convicted killer in the Detroit area but changed her mind two days later when the victim's relatives said they were never told about the process.

Published: Thu, Dec 30, 2010