PORTAGE, Mich. (WOOD/AP) — The state Supreme Court says former Gov. Jennifer Granholm had no legal right to revoke her commutation for a man serving life without parole for killing a co-worker.
That means Matthew Makowski will get a parole hearing.
Concetta Kern, the niece of victim Pietro “Pete” Puma, said her family is disappointed with the decision and hopes the current parole board doesn’t repeat a past mistake.
In 1998, Makowski came up with a plan to steal cash from the health club he managed in suburban Detroit. He sent Puma — who was on leave from the U.S. Navy and picked up a courier job to earn some extra cash — to the bank with cash to get a money order. Makowski got another employee and that employee’s roommate to rob Puma when he was en route to the bank. The plan was to split the money.
But the strong-armed robbery turned violent when Puma fought back. The men recruited by Makowski stabbed and killed Puma.
Concetta Kern lost her favorite uncle that day.
“It destroyed my family, and it’s still really hard for my family up to this day,” Kern, who lives in Portage, said.
Makowski and the others were caught and sent to prison for life with no parole.
By all accounts, Makowksi was a model prisoner. Supporters said Makowski has become a devout Roman Catholic behind bars and led many inmates to Christianity.
In 2010, he applied for a commutation. The parole board set a hearing and sent out notices to all the interested parties, except the ones with perhaps the most interest: The victim’s family.
The state claimed they had not filed the paperwork to be notified of changes to his case.
“I believe that was there cop-out. I believe that they didn’t try,” Kern said.
So the hearing went forward. Makowski told the board he was sorry for Puma’s death.
The parole board recommended commutation and then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed the order.
Then the family found out. After a call from the family lawyer, Granholm rescinded the order.
It’s an unprecedented case in Michigan.
Makowski’s lawyers argued the governor didn’t have the power to rescind a commutation. Two lower courts disagreed.
But this week, the Michigan Supreme Court agreed with Makowski.
“The Michigan Constitution does not grant the Governor the power to revoke a valid commutation, and that plaintiff’s commutation was valid and irrevocable when it was signed by the Governor and the Secretary of State and affixed with the Great Seal,” the justices wrote in their ruling.
That means Makowski, now 47, will get a parole hearing. The parole board would still have to agree to grant parole.
The victim’s family hopes they’ll do their homework and keep Makowksi behind bars.
“Hopefully when he goes before the parole board and they deny him that, he won’t get anymore chances,” Kern said.
A Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman says while parole board members may review Makowski’s case, they will still set a hearing at a later date to hear from family members and others before making a decision.
The parole board — which is now made up of people not involved in the 2010 commutation recommendation — meets twice a month. The next scheduled meeting is June 13.
“I would assume this case would be on their agenda,” MDOC spokesman Russ Marlan told the Associated Press.
Makowski is being held at the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, about 100 miles west of Detroit.
David Eggert and Corey Williams of the Associated Press contributed to this report.