A letter from Anthony L. Johnson
Berrien County trial court Judge Charles LaSata believes he is above the law. Judge Douglas J. Shapiro would grant the application for leave to appeal as this case raises an issue that merits plenary review on the grounds presented.
I am 62 years old and I have been in prison for nearly 40 years for the crime of second degree murder. It is not a question of guilt or innocence, I was found guilty by a jury of my peers of second degree. Since coming to prison I have received many certificates of completion in academic and vocational programs ranging from an apprenticeship Chef program through the US Department of Labor and an Associates Degree in Dietary and Food Technology from Northern Michigan University, as well as many letters of recommendation for parole by the very correctional professionals that the taxpayers have hired to work with prisoners.
I admit my guilt and express from the innermost part of my heart my sincerest apologies and sorrows for the victim and his family members for the pain and suffering I have put them through, as well as my own family for the pain and embarrassment that I have put them through. If there was some way I could turn back the clock and give the victim his life back I would have done so back in 1973 when I committed the crime.
Every attempt by the parole board to release me on at least 3 occasions has been met by opposition from Berrien County trial court successor Judge Charles LaSata, former Berrien County prosecutor Arthur Cotter (now a trial court judge), and the victim's family. I understand the anger of the victim's family, but not the anger of the judge and the prosecutor. Cotter even attended a public hearing in 2009 and stated on the record that if I was paroled, it would be justice for the victim's family to murder me and that he did not understand why there aren't more crime victims taking justice into their own hands. At that time Cotter was the chief law enforcement officer of Berrien County and although he has freedom of speech, he had no right to violate my civil rights and suggest that someone murder me. It is a crime if John Q. Citizen made that statement and he would have been prosecuted.
Judge LaSata has vetoed my release several times and when I brought a legal challenge to his biased decisions he has tried to justify his decisions by first stating that when the original sentencing judge (William S. White) sentenced me to natural life, that was an indication that he never intended for me to be released, or that I could not accomplish anything in prison that would allow him to allow the parole board jurisdiction to parole me.
In any case, I filed in the trial court a request before the Chief Judge of Berrien County, Thomas Nelson, and he agreed with LaSata's explanation as to why he was constantly vetoing my release. I found that LaSata and Nelson both knew or should have known that it is an illegal sentence for anyone to be sentenced to prison for the rest of their natural life for second degree murder. That is just ane xcuse they gave for the criminal acts they are committing against me. When I complained about the conflict of interest in the case between Judge LaSata and a member of the victim's family being friends, Judge Nelson referred to the victim's family member as “a young lady who no longer works in the Berrien County court system.” I later found out that she worked under the direct supervision of the Berrien County prosecutor Arthur Cotter and she also worked in the court with Judge Nelson for several years prior to resigning her position in Berrien County and relocating to Cass County.
Furthermore, Judge LaSata stated to the parole board in an explanation as to why he was vetoing my release that he had talked to the prosecutor and the other people who remember the case and found that there was nothing stated that would change his mind about my release. I found that reasoning to be highly erroneous, a miscarriage of justice and an abuse of discretion and power because the parole process is about my parole, but LaSata never attempted to contact the Corrections Department and request my prison files to see what I have accomplished. Instead he talked with members of the victim's family and the prosecutor and other people without the benefit of me being present, and I know that he did not talk with any of those people with the benefit of my attorney being present, because I don't have an attorney. I have been told that this is what they call in legal terms ex parte communication which is something that is never supposed to occur. Later, after I brought all my accomplishments to Judge LaSata's attention he changed his opinion from having made “some progress” to stating that he felt that I should not have to participate in any “further programming” in prison because I had obviously done enough, but he still would not change his decisions to back my release.
I believe there is something wrong with this type of justice where the victim's family has gone directly to the deciding judge and prosecutor to voice their opposition, especially where there is a law that allows them to come to a public hearing and voice their opposition. That is what the public hearing is for, and the law even provides for the family of the victim to be represented by the office of the Attorney General and not the office of the Berrien County Prosecutor. Money, time and resources were wasted to do a job that Cotter is not required or designated to do by law and the taxpayers of Berrien County paid his salary while the taxpayers of the state paid the salary of the Assistant Attorney General to do the same job. It seems to me there is something wrong with that picture also.
For 40 years I never wanted to play the race card even though I know that racism exists within the Berrien County criminal justice system. But in my case it is quite evident that I am being discriminated against because the victim in my case was white. There are cases where a prisoner was convicted in Berrien County of conspiracy to commit murder and was given a life sentence. In one case an African American mother and her 6-year-old son were gunned down by a hired assassin with a sawed-off shotgun for insurance money, and in another case a man gunned down his black victim with a shotgun as he laid-in-wait to murder him. In my case, I (along with three others) was attempting to pawn a shotgun to the victim and while showing him the gun it accidentally discharged and we panicked and ran away from the scene of the shooting and did not call for an ambulance or the police or any other help for the victim.
Judge LaSata speaks about my case as brutal, but aren't those other cases far more brutal? The difference is whether the victim was black or white. In one of the other cases, we shared the same trial and sentencing judge, trial by jury, both had shotguns as weapons, and were both sentenced to a parolable life sentence. He served 16 years and paroled and I have served nearly 40 years and no parole in sight. His victim was an African American and mine was white. I have committed a serious crime that can never be changed, but there has been a serious transformation in my life. A judge is supposed to be fair and impartial and not act as an executioner for the victims.
To complicate things even more, a paralegal in the Office of the Attorney General retrieved false and inaccurate information from a dead file that was ordered expunged by a federal judge and attached that information to my commutation recommendation that was made by the parole board at the eleventh hour so that the Governor would deny my commutation request. I am not suggesting (without proof) that Cotter and/or LaSata were responsible for that criminal act, but I do not ignore the possibility.
Anyone wishing to offer comments or assistance of any kind to reverse the above acts of abuse and chains of bondage and hatred can do so by writing to me at:
Anthony L. Johnson, #125208, Lakeland Correctional Facility, 141 First Street, Coldwater, MI 49036, or log onto J-Pay and send me a letter by email. I thank you in advance for your concerns.
-Anthony L. Johnson