Worthy seeking resentencing of juvenile lifers

Oralandar Brand-Williams, and Mike Martindale

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has filed motions that could allow for the chance of parole for many of the county’s 145 juvenile lifer cases, the prosecutor’s office announced Friday.

Worthy wants the prisoners to be resentenced to terms measured in years instead of mandatory life sentences. But she wants to keep at least 60 felons, convicted of murder, to be kept behind bars for the rest of their lives without the possibility of release.

Motions to have the sentences of the teenage killers reconsidered were filed late Thursday and early Friday with the Wayne County Circuit Court in response to U.S. Supreme Court rulings that required the resentencing considerations.

“We spent a significant amount of time analyzing each case. Although we had a short amount of time under the statute, we gave a considered and thoughtful review,” Worthy said in a statement Friday.

“We combed trial transcripts, prison records and numerous other documents. We sought input from victims’ families, when they could be located during this short window of time.

“Without commenting on my personal opinion, we have fulfilled our obligation to protect the public and to follow the spirit and intent of the Supreme Court decisions.”

In their decision in January, justices voted 6-3 to extend a ruling from 2012 that struck down automatic life terms with no chance of parole for teenage killers. Now, even those who were convicted long ago must be considered for parole or given a new sentence.

The Michigan Court of Appeals, meanwhile, had been asked to decide whether a judge or jury should consider whether to give the young offenders new sentences. On Friday, the court ruled a judge “is to determine whether to sentence a juvenile to life without parole.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled four years ago that sentencing a person younger than 18 to life in prison without parole constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment.” The court justice ruled youngsters lack maturity and cited a lack of responsibility and maturity in their actions leading sometimes to recklessness and impulsive decisions and actions.

But the high court upheld life without possibility of parole in “rare” cases in which the crimes committed by juveniles showed they are permanently incorrigible.

The decision potentially affects more than 360 cases in Michigan dating to the early 1960s. Wayne County’s oldest case dates back to 1963.

“Our work on these cases is far from over, and we have a monumental task before us. In many of the cases where there is a term of years, we will be seeking more time than the minimum sentence of 25 years,” Worthy said. “The public should rest assured that we will aggressively pursue life without possibility of parole in 60 other cases.”

The names of the defendants were not revealed Friday by the prosecutor. Worthy said her office is continuing attempts to locate families of the crime victims.

“WCPO has diligently attempted to locate and notify as many family members of homicide victims as they could during the brief period allotted,” Worthy said.

Prosecutors must provide a list of cases that may require resentencing to their chief judges.

Wayne County has the largest number of cases in Michigan, at 145. Oakland County follows with 49, followed by Genesee with 26 and Kent counties with 24. Macomb County has about a dozen cases for resentencing.

Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper said Friday her office filed 44 cases Thursday for resentencing. But she said her office plans to ask for a stay on each case once they are presented to a judge to maintain the life terms. She added prosecutors have to file their motions by the end of August.

Cooper called the cases in which the teenage killers received a life without parole some of the most “heinous, heinous” crimes she’s seen as a prosecutor and former judge.

“We’re talking about people who have stabbed, drowned, electrocuted ... triple murders, serial murders,” Cooper said on Friday. “This is the stuff nightmares are made of.’’

One of the cases Cooper pointed to is the 1989 murders of General Motors executive Glenn Tarr and his wife, Wanda, of Rochester Hills. The convicted killers in the case, Bruce Christopher Michaels, now 43, and his accomplice, Joseph Andrew Passeno, 44, were 16 and 17 when they were convicted for the crime and sentenced to life for the kidnapping, robbing and shooting of the couple.

In Macomb County, prosecutor Eric Smith filed 10 cases earlier this month requiring resentencing.

“Make no mistake, in these cases, we’re talking the worst of the worst,” Smith said in a statement. “These were not mischievous kids caught with a BB gun. These are 10 brutal first-degree murderers; and many of these convicts raped and tortured their victims beforehand.

“Our concern, first and foremost, is for the families of the victims, who are now forced to relive these terrible crimes through a new round of evidentiary hearings.”

Michigan Appellate attorney Valerie Newman, who is handling some of the juvenile lifer cases up for expected judicial review, said the process for resentencing is an arduous one.

“It’s a double ordeal,” said Newman of the Michigan State Appellate Defender Office on Friday. “It’s unlikely that people will just be released. People think the prison gates will open and a flood gate of 200 people will come out.”

The parole board will help to decide if an inmate will be released once they are resentenced.

“The parole board will make a decision and do a review to see if they are fit to be released back into society,” Newman said.

Worthy, meanwhile, encouraged relatives of a homicide victims involving a defendant convicted for a crime in adult court at 17 years old to contact Wayne County Prosecutor Office Detective JoAnn Kinney by mail (1441 St. Antoine, 12th Floor, Detroit, MI 48226), phone (313-224-5781) or email (Jkinney@waynecounty.com).


Staff Writer Mike Martindale contributed.