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Old 05-25-2005, 05:21 PM
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Default Judge wants governor to commute woman's sentence

Judge wants governor to commute woman's sentence

May 25, 2005


The chief judge of Wayne County Circuit Court has urged Gov. Jennifer Granholm to commute the life prison sentence of a former Westland woman who was convicted in 1993 of killing her boyfriend as he slept.

"Unfortunate cases such as this bring home the fact that our legal system is not perfect, as well that the appellate process does not cure each imperfection," Judge Mary Beth Kelly wrote Monday in a two-page letter to Granholm.

Kelly said Kylleen Hargrave-Thomas was the victim of poor representation from lawyers who failed to investigate her case or call witnesses or present evidence at trial. It is the first time Kelly has urged a governor to grant clemency since becoming a judge in 1999.

A spokeswoman for Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy declined to comment Tuesday. Granholm's spokeswoman said only that the commutation request is under review. The trial judge, Wayne County Circuit Judge Wendy Baxter, didn't return a phone call seeking comment.

Hargrave-Thomas' appellate lawyer, Andrea Lyon, a DePaul University law professor, said she is elated.

"I'm amazed that a judge who has such a powerful and important position is willing to publicly step forward," Lyon said. "There is absolutely nothing for her to gain other than she feels compelled to do something about an injustice."

Hargrave-Thomas, 53, who is free on bond, was convicted of first-degree murder in a bench trial in 1993 for stabbing Joseph Bernal, 42, through the heart in the bedroom of his Westland home in 1991. A prosecutor argued that Hargrave-Thomas was enraged because Bernal had changed his mind about marrying her.

Baxter sentenced her to mandatory life in prison without parole.

In 2002, U.S. District Judge Paul Gadola of Flint overturned her conviction and ordered her release from prison, saying her lawyers "were manifestly and flagrantly ineffective." She now lives with her sister in Bloomfield Hills.

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Gadola last year partly because Hargrave-Thomas had waited too long to raise the lawyer ineffectiveness issue. The U.S. Supreme Court declined last month to hear the case.

Lyon asked Granholm in December to commute Hargrave-Thomas' sentence.

Lyon also filed a second appeal with Gadola last month addressing the issue raised by the 6th Circuit. Gadola asked the 6th Circuit last week for permission to hear the latest appeal "given the egregious circumstances of this case."

Meanwhile, Gadola has set a hearing for June 22 to consider the prosecution's request to revoke Hargrave-Thomas' bond and order her return to prison.

Contact DAVID ASHENFELTER at 313-223-4490 or ashenf@freepress.com.

I'm curious to see how Ms. Granholm responds to this request.
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