Inmate serving life asks Michigan gov. for freedom
By DAVID EGGERTAssociated Press Writer
The Associated Press
updated 4:37 a.m. ET, Thurs., Dec. 18, 2008
BLACKMAN TOWNSHIP, Mich. - Efren Paredes Jr. wasn't old enough to drive when he was sentenced to life in prisonwithout parole for murdering his boss.Now 35, he has an outside chance at freedom after proclaiming his innocence for almost two decades.The possibility is a nightmare for the victim's family, who thought his killer would die behind bars. But it means hopefor Paredes and supporters who say he was wrongfully convicted because of a rush to judgment, an unfair trial andslanted media coverage.The decision rests with Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who under the state constitution can commute criminal sentences.She likely will give weight to whatever recommendation comes from the Michigan Parole Board, which recently heldan emotional, nine-hour public hearing on Paredes' clemency request."I will not take responsibility for a crime I did not commit," Paredes told parole board members. "I never will dothat even if it meant I could leave today."Grocery store manager Rick Tetzlaff, 28, was shot to death March 8, 1989, during a robbery at Roger's Foodland inSt. Joseph, in southwestern Michigan. Paredes was a 15-year-old part-time bagger at the store who had no criminalrecord before his arrest.The hearing before the parole board drew more than 140 people. Somber police and prosecutors who worked thecase, along with Tetzlaff's tearful family and friends, traveled hours to testify against Paredes' release.A large group of supporters came out for Paredes, including family, a Lansing radio host, Michigan State UniversityLatino students, peace activists and a private investigator who has helped free innocent people from prison.While commutation proceedings have become more common in the governor's second term, few — if any — havegained as much attention.More than just about Paredes' guilt of innocence, the case has become a referendum of sorts on whether convictsshould get mandatory life sentences without parole for crimes committed before age 18. Paredes is among morethan 300 juvenile lifers in Michigan's 49,000-inmate system.Advocates see Paredes as an inspirational figure who made the best of prison by earning a GED, becoming ateacher's aide, writing poetry and transcribing textbooks into Braille. Paredes wants to start a Braille transcriptionbusiness if he is freed."Please don't sacrifice this man's future to cover up the mistakes of the justice system," said Joyce Gouwens, whohas served on a county juvenile justice task force.Opponents see Paredes as a cold-blooded monster with a comfortable upbringing who would be a threat to society."I'm angry I have to be here," said Tina Tetzlaff, Rick's wife, who was pregnant with their second child when herhusband was killed.She acknowledged Paredes is making strides in prison but told the parole board her two sons grew up without theirdad, afraid of the world and in need of psychological treatment. She said Paredes should serve his full sentence.Prosecutors argued that mandatory life without parole for first-degree murder is Michigan's promise to victims'families, a trade-off for not having the death penalty.Chairwoman Barbara Sampson said the parole board has no authority to exonerate Paredes. Instead, it will addressquestions typical in parole and clemency cases: Does the punishment fit the crime? Does a prisoner pose a risk tosociety? Has he or she made progress in prison?Board members usually want to see remorse. But Paredes has repeatedly said he's innocent, leading an assistantattorney general and board members to spend much of the hearing probing evidence.They heard competing versions of Tetzlaff's death.
Inmate serving life asks Michigan gov. for freedom- MSNBC Wire Serviceshttp://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28291795/print/1/displaymode/1098/ 1 of 212/19/2008 11:08 AM