Oh, my darling clemency

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Fat chance that our rotund governor will grant clemency to several women serving life sentences for killing their abusers. But the Michigan Battered Women’s Clemency Project, which rallied on the steps of the state Capitol last week, hasn’t given up hope. The group is asking lame-duck Gov. John Engler, who has rejected all clemency pleas in the past, to free 13 women from prison.

“Gov. Engler has not shown any concern for these most forgotten survivors of domestic violence before,” says Carol Jacobsen, Clemency Project coordinator. “We are hoping he shows some compassion before he leaves office. And it won’t cost him politically.”

In 1992, the Clemency Project, sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washtenaw County, surveyed Michigan women prisoners sentenced to life for murder. Of the 800 or so surveyed, more than 100 said they had killed their batterer in defense of themselves or their children or aided in a killing under duress. The Clemency Project helped free two women serving life sentences in 1999; the original trial judge in those cases granted the requests. Both women had killed their abuser in self-defense and served about 20 years in prison, according to Jacobsen.

“We only represent women who exhausted all appeals,” says Jacobsen. “Some of these women that we are petitioning for now have served 15 to 25 years.”

Thirteen petitions were submitted on behalf of the women to the state parole board, which has more than 90 days to make a recommendation to the governor. One of the petitions is for Delores Kapuschinski, whom the governor denied clemency in 1998 (“Double Jeopardy,” Metro Times, Nov. 13-19, 1996). She has served 14 years of a life sentence. The governor has rejected all nine of the past clemency petitions submitted, says project attorney Kammy Mizga, also a coordinator.

According to Engler spokesperson Susan Shafer, the governor will not rule on a case until the board issues a decision. “That is the way we have always handled it,” she says. “This could play out beyond the time we are in office.”

Even if the board’s recommendations were to reach Engler’s desk before he leaves office, it is not likely that he would grant the women clemency since he hasn’t done so in the past.

“I can tell you that as far as our history with the governor’s decisions on this, he is very reluctant to overturn a jury’s and judge’s ruling,” says Shafer.

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