Sentencing Children to Die in Michigan?
Sunday, March 30, 2008

By Joyce Gouwens

Sunday, March 16, 2008 a week-long fast for justice began for Efren Paredes, Jr., the 300 Michigan juveniles serving life without parole sentences (LWOP), and the 2,000 juveniles throughout the U.S.A. sentenced to LWOP.  There was support for the fast from all over the globe.

Paredes, a Latino and former high school honor student from Berrien County, was  arrested at the age of 15 and sentenced to two LWOP sentences and one parolable life sentence.  He remains incarcerated and will turn 35-years-old on April 4.

Paredes was accused of murdering a grocery store manager and robbing the store in St. Joseph (Berrien County) on March 8, 1989.  There were no eyewitnesses to the crime.  The murder weapon and vehicle used to commit the crime were found in possession of the perpetrators who admitted guilt in the crime, yet Paredes was still convicted of the same crime.

According to those supporting Paredes there is overwhelming evidence that the  case was based on judicial, prosecutorial, police misconduct, perjured testimony, the jury foreman a co-worker of the victim's aunt by marriage, and the testimony of co-defendants who plead guilty to the same crime in exchange for lenient sentences.

One of Paredes' co-defendants claimed he picked Paredes up after work the night of the crime and drove him home.  Paredes, however, was driven home by the store manager, who returned to the store and was later murdered.  Paredes' mother observed the store manager drop him off from work at their home that night.

Another contributing factor to the Paredes conviction was ineffective assistance of trial counsel.  Paredes received detrimental legal advice, counsel failed to conduct a complete investigation, called no character witnesses on Paredes' behalf, and failed to call any expert witnesses.

Paredes was tried only three months after his arrest.  There was incessant adverse television, radio and print media coverage about the case which frequently reported false and misleading information that was never corrected.

World renowned wrongful convictions expert and private investigator, Paul  Ciolino, is part of the effort to free Efren.  Ciolino is lead investigative advisor to North University Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions, the Medill School of Journalism, and DePaul University Center for Justice in Capital Cases. In 2003, when former Illinois governor George Ryan granted clemency and pardons to 167 death row inmates, he cited Ciolino's investigative work, which helped free five innocent men, as one of the reasons for the en masse commutations.

According to Ciolino, "There is not one shred of credible evidence to suggest that Efren was involved in the murder.  No weapon, no eyewitnesses, no physical evidence, no motive, no prior conduct to suggest that a 15-year-old student athlete, and honor role student with zero criminal background, would have planned, participated or committed this murder.  The community and jury were sold a bill of goods based on the words of drug dealers and thieves."
February 28, 2008 The Injustice Must End (TIME) Committee to Free Efren Paredes, Jr.  filed a commutation request to Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm's office requesting Efren's release.  The request was accompanied by over 50 support letters, over 200 postcards of support, over 1,200 petition signatures requesting Paredes' release, and an impressive array of accomplishments documented.

In January 2008 a hearing was convened by the House Judiciary Committee regarding House Bills 4402-4405.  If passed, the bills would abolish the imposition of LWOP sentences on juveniles in this state.  A few hundred supporters attended the hearing and many participated by speaking at the hearing and signing cards supporting the legislation.  The bills remain in committee awaiting a vote.

The imposition of LWOP sentences on children violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the world's most widely supported treaty.  The CRC expressly prohibits the death penalty and imposition of LWOP sentences against juveniles.  As of last month the United States is the only country in the world that imposes LWOP sentences on children.

Last month a workshop about the Paredes case was presented at the Dia de la Mujer Conference which is held annually at Michigan State University.  A PowerPoint presentation about the case was shown and dozens of people learned about the case, and how they could help.  As is often the case, TIME Committee members displayed a large banner and posters of Paredes, and passed out business cards and information about the Paredes case.

Groups created to support Paredes' release have spawned across the state, including in California and Texas, and he enjoys the support of citizens throughout the international community.  Much of this support has been garnered through persistent efforts of concerned citizens of our state.  The TIME Committee has created a web site, forums, blogs, MySpace pages, Facebook pages, petitions, and other forms of online presence to educate people about the facts surrounding the Paredes case.

Locally residents have joined the TIME Committee to generate support for Paredes in the Lansing-area.  Meetings have been convened at the NorthStar Center, Peace Education Center, and presentations have been hosted by Chicanos y Latinos United (CLU).  The TIME Committee vows to make presentations about the Paredes case until he is released.

Kathie Kuhn and Tom Rico, co-chairs of the Peace Education Center, in a letter to Gov.  Granholm, recently wrote, "Clearly, there is adequate evidence showing that Efren did not receive a fair trial ...  and there was a lack of credible evidence to convict him."

Paredes' last appeal was denied in mid-2007.  An appeal for clemency now rests with the Michigan Parole Board who will review the request and make their recommendation to the Governor's office.  There is no timetable on how long a decision may take to be rendered on the case.

The life of an innocent man sentenced to die in Michigan prisons when he was a mere child begs for justice and mercy.  Even if the House Bills to abolish juvenile LWOP sentences pass, Paredes still must wait for intervention from the Governor's office if he is to ever realize his return to society.

Not only is Paredes' life and future unclear at the moment, the lives of the other 300 children who were sentenced to die in Michigan prisons are as well.  The international community has condemned JLWOP sentences.  It is now time that the State of Michigan join the rest of the civilized world as well.  It is long overdue.

To learn more about the Paredes case you are encouraged to visit www.4Efren.com.

 

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