DETROIT – Hard choices are coming in the next few weeks for prosecutors across Michigan as they decide the fate of 350 convicts who are serving life sentences for first-degree murder.
What they all have in common is that they killed and were convicted while they were under the age of 18. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that if someone was convicted of first-degree murder when they were under 18, they should get a special sentencing hearing to review it. The idea is to prevent people who deserve a second chance from spending decades imprisoned.
More than 200 metro Detroit families who lost loved ones decades ago are being notified that they might have to appear in court to face a killer, and re-live the shock of losing a loved one.
Claire DeCoster’s son was killed in 2012 as he walked to work.
“We had a son, his name was Dillon. He was 26, tall, handsome, smart and kind,” DeCoster said at a National Crime Victims’ Rights event. “He was attacked and shot by three men. They were looking for smart phones. They got nothing, but they shot my son anyway.”
After Dillon’s death, DeCoster said she and her husband spent weeks in bed, paralyzed by their loss.
“I can’t be who I was, and I’ve quit apologizing and feeling guilty about that,” DeCoster said.
Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper said she has the “gut-wrenching duty” to contact the families whose cases are being reviewed.
Prosecutors must declare by next month which cases they want to argue for life sentences.
Cooper said most of the first-degree murder cases are heinous crimes committed by people who are now in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Most, Cooper said, have not done well in prison and are not good candidates for release.
“A defense attorney’s job is to his or her client, my duty is to society and the protection of the community, what is safe, who is safe to be released,” Cooper said.
Cooper said she’s grateful to area police agencies who have shared the burden of tracking down files and family members in dozens of cases that are under her jurisdiction.
It has not been decided if judges or a jury will have the final say if the convicts will be released. Cooper said her office will proceed as if they are going to trial.