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Supporters want freedom for Detroit "juvenile lifer"

Charles Lews
Michigan Department of Corrections
Charles Lewis

A 59-year-old Detroit man convicted of murder at age 17 deserves a new sentence, his supporters argued Tuesday before a hearing in Wayne County Circuit Court.

Charles Lewis is one of 367 “juvenile lifers” in Michigan — prisoners who were sentenced to automatic life without parole as minors.

The U.S. Supreme Court has recently ruled that unconstitutional in most cases, and ordered juvenile lifers a meaningful chance at meaningful parole. 

But in Michigan, county prosecutors have resisted new sentencing,recommending that life sentences be upheld in most cases.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has done that in only about 40% of the county’s 145 juvenile lifer cases, by far the most of any county in the state.

But that number includes Lewis, who was found guilty of taking part in the 1977 robbery-murder of an off-duty police officer at a Detroit bar.

Cornell Squires says Lewis, whose case is plagued with problems, should be re-sentenced. He thinks Lewis’s guilt is “questionable."

“There’s a lot of young men incarcerated today that shouldn’t be incarcerated. That are innocent,” Squires said. “And I think that we should have, not only compassion, but we should look at all the facts. He [Lewis] did 41 years, and he should have his day of freedom.”

Lewis’s case is also complicated by decades of missing court files, says independent journalist and Lewis supporter Diane Bukowski.

Bukowski, who has researched and written extensivelyon Lewis’s case, said that “all records of arrest, charging, trial, sentencing, and subsequent records until 2000 have been lost.”

State courts have ruled that if there are “no records of your conviction and sentencing, you should be freed” or re-tried, Bukowski said.

Wayne County Judge Qiana Lillard, who’s handling Lewis’s re-sentencing, declined to overrule a higher court’s refusal to vacate his conviction.

In the meantime, Lillard did tell Lewis, who appeared in the Detroit courtroom via video from prison, that she will push the court to find his missing case files.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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