Sunday, July 18, 2010

Berrien County "Legal System:" Benton Harbor 16-year-old in Solitary Confinement

Wrongful conviction an example of corrupt system

Editor,

I hope your readers took time to read about Devontae Sanford, the special-ed boy who at 14 made a false confession to four drug-related Detroit murders and received a sentence of at least 38 years in prison. Now that Timothy Smothers has confessed to the crime and said that Devontae had no connection with it, and Devontae has recanted his confession, you would think that his mother could expect him home soon. She and Kim McGinnis, the appellate lawyer, believe Devontae wanted to feel important by bragging to the police, without any real understanding of the consequences. McGinness was stunned to find that the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office insists that the guilty plea should stick despite Smothers' confession and the lack of any evidence that Devontae was involved. "They've got an emotional commitment to the result they've already obtained," stated a former Detroit prosecutor. "It's part of the culture." (It's a culture that we see in Berrien County too often.)

It's a tragic result for Devontae, as young men in prison are apt to be raped and beaten by adult prisoners. (A 16-year-old from Benton Harbor, sentenced to adult prison for stealing a TV, is now confined in isolation for his protection after suffering brain damage from a battering by three adult prisoners wielding a sock with a padlock in it.)

Devontae and his mother are not the only losers from the prosecutor's refusal to have justice done. Taxpayers will be footing the bill for at least 38 years of imprisonment which, at today's rate of $32,000 a year, will saddle us with an expense of well over $1 million. Let our public servants hear your voice. Wrongful convictions should bring no sense of job satisfaction for prosecutors with a conscience.

Joyce Gouwens

St. Joseph [from Herald Palladium, July 9, 2010]

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