Juvenile lifer, supporters plead case for resentencing

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — A 57-year-old Michigan prisoner appeared before a Wayne County judge Tuesday in his effort to be freed from prison for a crime he was convicted of as a teenager.

Charles Lewis was convicted four decades ago for the robbery and fatal shooting of an off-duty police officer in an east-side bar in 1976. On Tuesday, Lewis’ case got its first review for possible resentencing. He is serving a life term without the possibility of parole.

“... the best years of my life are behind me,” Lewis said in a statement from the Campaign to Free Charles Lewis, Michigan Juvenile Lifers. “So, I fight to make things better for those coming behind me. Hopefully, if I play my part they won’t have to go through what I’ve gone through.”

A couple of supporters carried posters before Lewis’ hearing Tuesday in front of Wayne Circuit Judge Qiana Lillard asking for him to be released. Lewis appeared via video before Lillard.

Cornell Squires demonstrated outside Frank Murphy Hall of Justice on Tuesday with a sign asking for Lewis’ release.

“Michigan is extremely hard on young men,” said Squires, who is with the community group We The People For the People. “This man should be set free.”

Lewis had sought to have his case dismissed on the grounds that former Wayne County Judge Gershwin Drain, now a federal judge in Detroit, had signed an order vacating his conviction. But Lillard said Tuesday she would not rule on the matter since a higher court already had ruled it would not vacate his sentence since Drain has denied that he signed an order in 2000 for Lewis’ release.

Also at issue is locating Lewis’ court files, which are estimated to fill about three carts. Lillard said she will keep pushing for the files to be found.

Lewis, a Detroiter and former member of a local band, is incarcerated at Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater. His case goes back to court Oct. 11.

Squires was joined by Voice of Detroit editor Diane Bukowski, who has written stories on the case.

Friends and supporters claim he is innocent and say his sentence should be reviewed after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that sentencing juveniles to life without parole is unconstitutional.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy wants to keep at least 60 felons convicted of murder behind bars for the rest of their lives without the possibility of release.

Rosie Lewis said “my son doesn’t belong in prison” and is innocent.

“They have to vacate (the conviction),” Rosie Lewis said after Tuesday’s court hearing. “If they have to, they should bring Drain’s court clerk before the court.”

She said she didn’t have money to get an attorney when her son was charged years ago.

Appellate attorney Valerie Newman, who represents Lewis and others in their bids for new sentences, said, “This is a very exciting day.” But Newman warned that those who receive new sentences still will have to go before the state’s parole board, which will decide when inmates will be released.

Lewis’ hearing was among at least two others dealing with juvenile resentencing cases Tuesday in Wayne County Circuit Court. Prosecutors around the state were to look back at cases in their counties and determine which ones they would seek resentencing for and which they would argue to keep in prison without parole.


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