Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cotter is too quick to throw the book at children


Berrien County Prosecutor Art Cotter thinks he is Inspector Clouseau, Dr. Freud and Grand Inquisitor Torquemada all rolled into one. It seems the only job he isn't doing is the one he is being paid to do by the taxpayers.

Cotter is usually at the scene of a crime even before a warrant has been issued by the sheriff, which is the normal procedure. Recently, Cotter has decided to charge a 14-year-old boy as an adult for killing his grandfather, a decision he made within one day of the tragedy without the benefit of a psychiatric examination or, presumably, even a thorough investigation. If convicted, the boy could be sentenced to life without possibility of parole. Hopefully, an evaluation will take place before it is too late, and Cotter should have his head examined at the same time.

Cotter also has now taken it upon himself to usurp the roles of the Michigan Parole and Commutations Board, the Department of Corrections and the governor's office. When a prisoner is considered for parole or commutation, a prosecutor may weigh in on the matter by sending a letter of objection or approval. Instead, Cotter has decided to lead a crusade opposing the governor's early release program, even where it applies to juveniles convicted as adults.

Last year Cotter and his second in command, Mike Sepic, took the unprecedented step of personally attending the commutation hearing for Efren Paredes Jr., who was prosecuted at the age of 15 by Sepic in 1989 for armed robbery and murder on weak circumstantial evidence and the word of criminals who were given leniency in exchange for their testimony. Efren was sentenced to three life terms, two without possibility of parole. He has always maintained his complete innocence. The sheriff and virtually every police chief in the county were there at Cotter's bidding. They put on quite a show, again at the taxpayers' expense. Cotter even recited the lyrics to a popular rap song found in Efren's school locker to demonstrate his state of mind at the time. Sorry, but rap artist is one job Cotter can forget about.

Now Cotter and Sepic are engaged in an extensive propaganda campaign against Efren and others who are being considered for parole or commutation. I have retrieved hundreds of their anti-Efren letters and e-mails through the Freedom of Information Act. Cotter personally told me that he spent three days blacking out names and whole paragraphs he did not want me to see. Guess who paid for his time?

The consequences to the community of prosecutorial irresponsibility are too serious to ignore. Cotter knows he is virtually unaccountable. He recently said to me that he's "giving the voters what they want." I hope no one wants someone who would condemn a child, especially without having all the facts.

Scott Elliott, Benton Harbor