Free Horace Peterson

Free Horace Peterson

 

  By Gabe Gutierrez

(05/20/09)–A Flint family is fighting for a man they say has been wrongfully locked up for decades.

Horace Peterson’s relatives rallied in Lansing on Wednesday as part of group called Fundamental Fairness First!  It argues 178 state inmates are in legal limbo.

To the Michigan prison system, he is inmate number 136503.  To Jacqueline Peterson, he is the brother she’s been missing for 36 years.

“I remember him very well,” she said.  “He was my big brother.”

“He may have been living a fast life, but he was not a murderer,” Jacqueline said.

Seven years later, the Michigan Supreme Court reinterpreted the law, ruling prosecutors needed to prove “malice” for felony murder convictions.

But that ruling wasn’t retroactive.

Peterson’s family argues he — and many other inmates — have been locked up too long.

“I just miss him,” said his father, David Peterson.  “And me and his mother, we’re getting up in age. We just hope he gets a chance to get out while we’re alive.”

Some of the families have been fighting the legislature for more than 20 years.

A House bill failed last year.  The group is also organizing an online petition drive.

“He left when I was three years old,” said Peterson’s daughter, Onquette Woodyard.  “Seeing him every day and then just not seeing him at all. That’s just traumatizing for a child.”

The group argues releasing these 178 inmates would save Michigan taxpayers several million dollars a year.

A Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman says the department is merely carrying out the sentence imposed by the courts.

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Free Horace Peterson

Free Horace Peterson

*This story has nothing to do with sports or entertainment but it is the story of my grandfather who has been wrongly incarcerated for over 30 years! Read the story that the The Flint Journal ran and if you would like to help please sign the petition for him at www.petitionsite.com/2/fundamental-fairness-! click on the pic to view the story at mlive.com.

by Shannon Murphy | The Flint Journal More than 35 years ago, Horace Peterson was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder for his part in a Flint robbery that turned into murder.

Thursday May 21, 2009, 3:14 PM

FLINT, Michigan —

Now, his family says that charge violates Peterson’s constitutional rights and they are fighting for his release.

 

It was 1973 and Peterson, then 18, tagged along with a friend to a local music store.

His sister Jackie Peterson said her brother didn’t know there was a robbery planned and never even saw anyone get shot and killed.

“Because my brother was there, he was convicted,” she said.

But when he was convicted, the prosecution didn’t have to prove malice or intent on felony and first-degree murder charges. It wasn’t until seven years later, in 1980, that the Michigan Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to issue those charges without intent.

The change, called the Aaron Ruling, wasn’t retroactive and anyone charged prior to that remained incarcerated.

“We believe he’s being held unconstitutionally against his rights,” Jackie Peterson said.

Nearly 200 other Michigan people remain in prison on what the Detroit-area group Fundamental Fairness First calls unconstitutional charges.

The Peterson family has joined the group and on Wednesday participated in a march and protest in Lansing. Another march is planned for mid-June. The family does not have a lawyer, but Jackie Peterson said they are looking into filing a lawsuit.

But getting prisoners freed under the Aaron Ruling has not been popular with law enforcement officials.

Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said just because someone was convicted under the wrong charge doesn’t mean they are innocent and should be freed.

“I always think about the victims in these matters,” he said. “The victims have rights too, you can’t overlook them.”

Jackie Peterson said having her brother in jail for most of his adult life has taken its toll on her family. She said her brother tries to stay positive, but believes he should have been released.

Horace Peterson has a daughter when he was incarcerated and now has two grandchildren he doesn’t see often.

Jackie Peterson said she understands law enforcement concerns, but thinks the sentences are too harsh. She points to the fact that her brother now is in his 50s and the odds of him committing a crime once released are slim.

“He was my big brother,” she said. “I always looked up to him. He was caring and a protector. He would be a great mentor to his nieces and nephews by telling them his story and helping them stay out of trouble.”