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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher February 18, 2020

Prosecutor releasing 90 murderers in Michigan? That's misleading

If Your Time is short

  • A county prosecutor in Michigan said she’s reviewing the cases of 90 convicted murderers who are serving life sentences without parole to consider whether to recommend them for release.
  • In Michigan, only the governor can commute inmates’ sentences if they are recommended for release by the state parole board.
  • The prosecutor indicated to a local newspaper that only a few inmates are likely to be recommended for release.

A Facebook post links to an article that makes an alarming claim about convicted murderers being released from prison:

"Michigan prosecutor looks to release 90 convicted murderers serving life sentences" reads the headline on a website called "Law Enforcement Today."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

We’re going to sound an alarm of our own about this post.

Overstating prosecutor’s intent

The article is about Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon, a Democrat elected in 2016 who campaigned on making progressive changes in the criminal justice system. She previously served for 11 years as an assistant prosecutor in the office.

The headline of the article, which blasts Siemon as being "on a mission to empty her community’s local prison," suggests that the prosecutor wants to free the 90 killers and is moving to do so. 

But the article itself says only that Siemon will begin a review of the 90 cases.

The article is based on a story from City Pulse, a news operation based in Lansing, the state capital, which is located partly in Ingham County. (The county seat, Mason, is about 15 miles away.) 

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But the article’s headline goes further, suggesting that the prosecutor is seeking the release of 90 inmates.

City Pulse reported:

"Siemon — with pro-bono help from former Assistant Attorney General Ron Emery — this year plans to begin a formal review of the 90 convicted murderers serving life in prison without parole in Ingham County. And for a select few, she said she plans to seek a gubernatorial commutation that could get them back out on the streets.

Siemon makes a clarification

In Michigan, only the governor has the power to commute the inmates’ sentences, if they are recommended for release by the state Parole Board, according to Siemon and news reports.

Several days after the City Pulse story was published, Siemon released a statement saying she regretted not speaking beforehand to the families of people who could be affected by her decision to review the cases. But she said she would go ahead with her review, which would focus on cases from the 1970s and 1980s.

"I regret that I did not fully take into account the impact on victims and their families when I prematurely discussed the concept of reviewing older cases of life-without-parole," Siemon said. "My intent has always been that the victim’s families or their representatives would get their first notice from trained professionals in our office after any review and before offering support or opposition to any application to commute a sentence.

Our ruling

A Facebook post links to an article with a headline that claimed: "Michigan prosecutor looks to release 90 convicted murderers serving life sentences."

The county prosecutor has said only that she would review the 90 cases and suggested it’s likely that only a few of the inmates could be recommended to the state for possible release.

For a statement that contains only an element of truth, our rating is Mostly False.

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Prosecutor releasing 90 murderers in Michigan? That's misleading

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