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Published: Monday, 1/18/2010

Granholm's commutation rate since '08 outpaces last 4 decades

ASSOCIATED PRESS

LANSING - Gov. Jennifer Granholm has granted clemency to 100 inmates held in Michigan's prisons over the last two years - a pace of commutations far higher than any in the last four decades, according to state statistics.

The Lansing State Journal reported yesterday that during Ms. Granholm's first five years in office, the onetime federal prosecutor approved 18 commutations. All those prisoners had medical issues, and many died within months or even days of their release.

But in 2008 and 2009, the governor commuted the sentences of 100 prisoners, according to statistics from the Michigan Department of Corrections. That is far more than any two-year period in the last four decades.

Officials told the newspaper the reasons for the increase stem from the state's budget crisis and a state-commissioned report that said Michigan is keeping people in prison too long and spending too much money on its $2 billion-a-year prison system.

"The report and the fiscal crisis facing the state are factors that caused the governor to reconsider the manner in which she considers commutation requests," state corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said.

The governor's office forwarded all questions regarding clemency to Mr. Marlan.

Last year, the state parole board added five members and was renamed the Michigan Parole and Commutation Board as part of an overhaul to help reduce the size of the prison population. About 13,000 prisoners were paroled in 2009 - the most ever.

Of the 100 clemencies Governor Granholm granted in the last two years, about one-third were listed as medical cases, records show. Thirty-two were first-degree murder convictions.

A man serving a life sentence for the 1986 slaying of a Charlotte grocery store manager hopes to be among those obtaining clemency.

Roger Ruthruff, one of two people convicted of first-degree felony murder in the beating death of John Hubbard, 37, has a commutation hearing Jan. 25.

The hearing helps the 15-member board determine whether Ruthruff, 42, is a threat to society.

The board later will vote on whether to recommend clemency to Ms. Granholm.

Corrections officials say Ruthruff has been a model prisoner.

But a powerful contingent of people oppose Ruthruff's release, including the Eaton County prosecutor who sent him to prison, the county's current prosecutor, and state Rep. Rick Jones

(R., Grand Ledge).

"If you're going to commute [Ruthruff's] sentence, then virtually anybody that's in prison for first-degree felony murder, who's done 20-plus years, should get out," said attorney G. Michael Hocking, who prosecuted Ruthruff and his co-defendant 24 years ago.

Ruthruff has applied for commutation twice. In 2003, the board determined his request had no merit and Ms. Granholm denied the application.

Officials said the board is acting on Ruthruff's August, 2007, request, after a multistep process that has led to the hearing.



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