Group Pushes for Release of 10 Women In Prison for Murder

By: Shannon Kantner Email
By: Shannon Kantner Email

"These are women who pose no threat. They were simply in a terrible situation that was deadly for them, and they survived."

-Carol Jacobsen, program director of Michigan Women's Justice and Clemency Project

Convicted murderers serving life sentences in Michigan, and one group is fighting to get them released.

The Michigan Women's Justice and Clemency Project has filed petitions with Governor Rick Snyder for the release of 10 Michigan women.

The group says the women were victims of domestic abuse, and didn't get fair trials. Carol Jacobsen is the program director and a women's studies professor at the University of Michigan. She says the 10 women in prison for murder are not murderers at all.

"These women are survivors," Jacobsen said. "They acted in their own defense, and now they're paying, and they're being punished."

Most of them have already served 20 years for murder convictions of their husbands or boyfriends. But the clemency program argues they were protecting themselves against their abusers and deserve their freedom.

"These are women who pose no threat," Jacobsen said. "They were simply in a terrible situation that was deadly for them, and they survived."

One of those is Ingham County woman Christy Neff. She's facing a minimum of 40 years after her first husband brutally murdered her second husband, and she didn't notify police. Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth remembers the case well, and says a jury convicted her -- and the others -- for a reason.

"That ought to mean something in this country, not that the system is perfect," Sheriff Wriggelsworth said. "What I'm saying is, there's other alternatives than murder."

But Jacobsen says the evidence of abuse often isn't presented well in court, and now some judges and jurors are regretting old decisions.

"Sometimes the juries did not understand the evidence," Jacobsen said.

Legal experts say the defense attorneys didn't have it easy in these cases, and getting clemency will be just as tough.

"Knowing how many of these cases involve brutal killings with multiple hits or shots or cuts or whatever else, that's a tough row to hoe," said Patrick Corbett, criminal law professor at Cooley Law School.

In a statement, the Governor's office said all applications go to the parol board first and get a thorough review, and "the state looks at every application equally."

Jacobsen said she's hopeful and will keep filing petitions.

"I just want to see them out," Jacobsen said. "They don't deserve life sentences."

The clemency group helped free four women during Governor Granholm's term.

The latest petitions are now in the hands of the Michigan Parole Board, and will eventually be handed over to the Governor with a recommendation to deny or grant clemency.

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