YESTERDAY, I told you I'd ask what District Attorney Seth Williams had to say about the case
of Marcus Perez.
It turns out, Williams is on vacation, so his office released a statement.
Its two pages can't be reprinted here, but, basically, it says that Perez is lying, that the judge didn't say what he told me he said, and that if you read the judge's entire statement in context there is an "ambiguous statement."
Is ambiguous a good thing in a court of law?
It also knocks down a "typographical error," which I didn't mention yesterday but will cover today.
The D.A.'s office did nothing wrong in prosecuting this case - and winning a conviction. It's what happened next that is the problem.
I reported the basic facts of Marcus Perez's case yesterday: that in 1989, at age 18, he murdered a man while he and a buddy were collecting a $150 debt. It was his first conviction, according to the Graterford prison spokeswoman.
After Common Pleas Judge Theodore McKee explained sentencing options, Perez pleaded guilty. McKee erroneously told him that he could expect a sentence of 17 1/2 to 35 years, but Perez got life without possibility of parole. In an interview, McKee candidly admitted that his instructions were "dead wrong."
Now, Perez is paying for that mistake. Perez is not seeking release. He wants only the sentence to which he agreed - 17 1/2 to 35 years. Under current rule-of-thumb standards, if he had that, he'd be eligible for parole about now.
But he's not eligible because of McKee's mistake, and that's where justice sliced into the woods.
"I clearly said to him he would not die in prison," McKee told me. As things stand now, he will - unfairly.
The issue is not Perez's guilt. He's guilty. He admits it.
The issue is not whether he should have been sent away for a long time. He was.
The issue is, solely, did he get justice? He did not.
Perez did the crime at 18, went "inside" at 19. He's been filing appeals ever since, and the D.A.'s been opposing them - former D.A.s and now, it seems, Seth Williams, unless he has a change of heart.
While in Graterford, Perez got his GED, completed a variety of courses and earned numerous certificates.
Graterford Public Information Officer Jennifer Daneker says that Perez had a "couple of very, very minor" incidents when he first arrived. For the last decade he's been as clean as a surgical suite.
Before he was locked up, Perez had an out-of-wedlock, 1-year-old daughter named Shannon, now 23. While in jail, he has remained in touch with her - she visits monthly with her 1-year-old daughter, Khylei. We all know of irresponsible men who have no contact with their children. Perez is not one of them.
"I'm in her life, even though I'm not there physically, I've been writing her and calling her and have had an impact," he says.
When I ask what he'll do if he gets out, Perez has a double answer. "Work - and take care of my daughter and granddaughter."
One legal point of contention is what McKee is quoted as having told Perez when he explained the plea bargain and sentenced him.
The original transcript quoted the judge as saying, "Life implies 17 1/2 to 35 years. I'm not saying you would receive that, but I'm saying that is the most you could receive . . . " (Italics added.)
However, after Perez started his appeals, a member of the D.A.'s staff, Jerome Teresinski, contacted the court recorder, Kenneth Brown, and brought an "error" to his attention.
So, four years after the sentencing, at the prompting of the D.A.'s office, the court recorder submitted a "correction," changing "implies" to "plus," significantly changing what the judge said.
The court recorder has retired and couldn't be found. Teresinski left the D.A.'s office and is now with the U.S. Department of Justice. I emailed him some questions about the correction he requested. A spokesman replied that Teresinski is "in the midst of an ongoing federal prosecution in Texas" and can't provide details of the case.
I make no accusation here. I am just curious about how the record was conveniently "corrected" to undercut Perez's basis for appeal. Who asked for it? Why?
I asked several sitting judges if having the record corrected, other than routine typos, was common or uncommon in their personal experience. They all said "uncommon." Having it changed four years later? Extremely rare.
Whatever legal explanations I get from the D.A., I am left with the admission of the highly respected Judge McKee that he got it wrong.
I believe him. I also believe that Marcus Perez was treated unjustly and plan to seek a deeper explanation from Williams - who knows his job is to enforce the law, not just seek convictions - when he returns from vacation.
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