June 3, 2014 at 4:29 pm

High court says Granholm wrongly revoked commutation of a life sentence

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

Lansing — The Michigan Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Gov. Jennifer Granholm didn’t have the power to revoke her commutation of a murderer’s life sentence shortly before she left office in 2010.

Its precedent-setting 5-1 decision says governors can commute sentences but aren’t empowered to revoke commutation orders, including their own. Justice Bridget Mary McCormack didn't take part because of prior involvement in the case.

As a result, former Detroit-area resident Matthew Makowski becomes eligible for parole. He has served 25 years in what had been a life sentence with no possibility of parole.

The full 10-member state parole board next meets on June 13 and could decide that day whether Makowski will be released from prison, said Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan.

The former Dearborn health club manager has been serving a life sentence for first-degree felony murder and armed robbery in a 1988 homicide.

Based on recommendations from the state parole board, Granholm agreed in December 2010 to commute Makowski’s sentence.

Her commutation order had gone through the official process that includes stamping with the state seal when the murder victim’s family members protested. Granhom then withdrew her commutation and had her official order destroyed.

Makowski, whose dream of freedom was granted and dashed within a 48-hour period, has since battled to have the commutation reinstated, arguing that it was final and in effect as soon as Granholm signed it. The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld Granholm’s revocation of her order.

Makowski, who was 20 years old at the time, was convicted in February 1989 of setting up a robbery that resulted in the death of Pietro Puma, according to a Supreme Court synopsis.

As health club manager, Makowski sent Puma out for cash and tipped off an accomplice who was to rob Puma and split the cash with him. Puma resisted the robbery attempt and was stabbed to death.

The Supreme Court synopsis says Makowski was a model prisoner and applied to the parole board for a commutation of his sentence in 2010.

The parole board scheduled a hearing and notified the prosecutor and judge in the case but not members of Puma’s family, who hadn’t registered for notification under the state crime victim’s rights act.

With no opposition at the Oct. 21, 2010, hearing, the parole board decided to send Granholm a commutation order with a favorable recommendation.

She signed the order two months later on Dec. 22 but her office was contacted the next day by an attorney for the victim’s family, who said family members opposed parole for Makowski.

After Granholm revoked her commutation order, the parole board reversed its earlier decision. It sent a new recommendation — against Makowski’s release — to Gov. Rick Snyder, who had taken office by then. Snyder went along with the recommendation.

Marlan said it is uncertain what the parole board will do now.

“It’s a different parole board that didn’t decide this case and is unfamiliar with it,” he said.

Before Granholm left office, the parole board was made up of 15 governor’s appointees. The current board has 10 members appointed by Corrections Director Dan Heyns.

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This undated photo provided by the Michigan Department of Corrections ... (AP/Michigan Department of Corrections)