Long road for Michigan inmate who won big case

By Ed White

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) - A Michigan inmate might not be released for years - or ever - despite winning an unprecedented case at the state Supreme Court that challenged a governor's ability to alter his sentence then change her mind.

The court recently said Gov. Jennifer Granholm acted illegally in 2010 when she reversed her decision to commute Matthew Makowski's no-parole sentence in the fatal stabbing of a co-worker in Dearborn 26 years ago.

But after analyzing the court's opinion, the state parole board has determined that Makowski doesn't automatically qualify for freedom. The board believes he must get in line like other inmates and start the parole process from scratch.

It means the board or a judge could veto any parole consideration - and make him wait years for another look at his case, the Corrections Department said last Friday.

"It's a lengthy process, and he's starting from the beginning. The game has changed," spokesman Russ Marlan told The Associated Press.

Makowski's attorney, Paul Reingold, declined to comment.

Marlan said the last two lines of the Supreme Court opinion are crucial. The court said Makowski should be treated as an inmate with a "parolable life sentence."

"It was a bit of a surprise," Marlan said. "The language of the order is what changed the direction of the case."

Instead of simply voting to release Makowski, based on Granholm's commutation of the sentence, the board will take a slower approach.

A board member will interview Makowski, and the 10-member board then will decide whether to open the case. If a majority says yes, the rules call for seeking permission from a judge in Wayne County where Makowski was convicted.

That judge, however, could stop the process with a stroke of a pen.

If there is no objection from a judge, the board likely will hold a public hearing at which Makowski and others, including the victim's family, would testify about whether he deserves to be released. The prosecutor is opposed.

"It is with confidence that we say inmate Makowski will become a menace to society or a risk to the public safety," Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a letter last Tuesday.

Makowski, now 47, was convicted of first-degree murder for arranging the robbery of a health club co-worker in 1988. 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 a different parole board held a public hearing and 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 AP 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 document and filed it with the secretary of state.

Makowski, who has been in prison for 25 years, has expressed remorse for Puma's death. Supporters said he has become a devout Roman Catholic and led many inmates to Christianity.

Published: Tue, Jun 17, 2014


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