County prosecutor candidates clash over criminal rehabilitation

Challenger says incumbent Carol Siemon is too lenient

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WEDNESDAY, Oct. 21 — George Platsis recognizes that Greater Lansing’s leftward lean isn’t helping as he looks to block Ingham County Prosecuting Attorney Carol Siemon from her second term this November. But he also contends that Siemon is too lenient, even for more progressive crowds.

Case in point, Platsis argues, is Siemon’s opposition to life in prison without a chance of parole for convicted first-degree murderers. Siemon contends that decades in prison can lead to genuine rehabilitation.

Contends Platsis: “Siemon is totally off base.”

“I just don’t think she’s qualified to understand rehabilitation because, for one, she refuses to recognize that some people are unrehabilitatible. Their genetic makeup simply condemns them to bad practices that are just uncontrollable.”

Siemon made waves earlier this year when City Pulse first reported on her internal policy that offers nearly all murder defendants the chance to plead to a lesser charge like second-degree murder.

Siemon believes that while only some defendants can be reformed, everyone deserves the opportunity.

And because first-degree murder convictions carry a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole in Michigan, Siemon actively uses her prosecutorial discretion to make that legislatively prescribed punishment optional in Ingham County by usually always offering a deal.

Last month, Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemary Acquilina rejected a plea deal Siemon offered to alleged killer Kiernan Brown. The judge described the twin killings Brown is accused of as “textbook first-degree, premeditative murder” and accused Siemon of trying to be “creative to get around the judge and the Legislature and, quite frankly, the law.”

Despite that slap from the bench, Siemon is sticking to her position.

“It’s a humane thing to do. I think it’s the right thing to do. And when I ran in 2016, I promised that I would always do what I think is the right thing,” Siemon said. “It’s not always popular, but I can’t care about that. It’s not that I don’t care about the victims, their families or what people think, but I can’t let it influence me to do the wrong thing.”

Siemon has long pointed out that the United States makes up 5% of the world’s population but about 45% of the world’s prisoners. The American justice system is also responsible for about 40% of the world’s life sentences and 83% of those that offer no opportunity for eventual release. Siemon said she wants to reduce those numbers, but only in cases that deserve it.

“Our common goal is to have safe, thriving communities that are fair and just,” Siemon said.

Siemon, 63, is a first-term Democrat who was born and raised in Lansing. She worked 11 years as an assistant prosecutor before garnering 42% of the vote in a four-way primary, paving the way for her election in 2016. She also serves on the board of directors for the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, the State Bar Association of Michigan’s Prisons and Corrections Council and a variety of other community-centered roles in Lansing and beyond.

Platsis, 82, graduated from the University of Michigan in the ‘50s, has lived in Okemos since the ‘60s, served as Michigan’s assistant and special assistant attorney general in the ‘70s and ‘80s under Gov. William Milliken and is retired after decades at his own civil and appellate law firm.

He touted lifelong experiences in education and training — having both studied and also taught medicine — and said that his family’s long tradition of public service also extends back to the 1800s when the citizens of Crete fought for their liberation from the Ottoman Empire.

Platsis also describes himself as a Trump-supporting advocate for law and order and a devout orthodox Christian who believes in the rule of law, broad federalism and the U.S. Constitution.

He argued that Siemon is “not qualified to understand rehabilitation” because the “genetic makeup” of certain defendants makes the repetition of criminal behavior statistically impossible. He said those convicted of sex crimes against children, for example, can never be reformed.

Platsis also argued that the frequency of Siemon’s watered-down plea deals for those that should be charged with first-degree murder makes others more likely to commit crime locally.

“Some people score in the bottom 10% of IQ scores and they’re not educatable or employable. They can’t maintain a job, and that’s not because of discrimination. That’s because of a genetic process that hasn’t developed in the mind of that particular person,” Platsis added. “You can’t rehabilitate those people. You just have to deal with it. Clearly, Siemon doesn’t understand this.”

Platsis maintains Siemon’s plea deals also only work to circumvent state lawmakers who set the harsh punishment. State law says first-degree murderers get locked away forever. Platsis wants to keep it that way.

“Every case is determined by the law and the circumstances,” Platsis added. “My philosophy is unimportant. I don’t have an agenda. I believe that all lives matter, and if that makes me unqualified to be a prosecutor, then so be it. I will do what research and justice requires.”

Siemon, for her part, tripled down on her controversial approach. She knows that some defendants will never be able to rejoin society after the heinous nature of their crimes; she just refuses to shut the door to the possibility that some people can make meaningful reforms.

“We just have a different philosophy, and we’re going to have to leave it at that,” Siemon said.

“The truth is, we just don’t know who can be rehabilitated, and just because someone is eligible for parole doesn’t mean that I won’t oppose it,” she added. “While I don’t disagree that some people are too dangerous to let out, retribution doesn’t need to drive the whole conversation.”

During an interview with City Pulse, Platsis spent several minutes emphasizing his support for Donald Trump, his fondness of Attorney General Bill Barr and his disdain for Black Lives Matter.

“I’m not so sure it’s a civil rights movement at all,” Platsis added. “It’s an excuse to be violent, and that’s what the anarchists want — an excuse to be violent. I have a different philosophy. No crime would go unreported, unrecognized and without some type of appropriate action.”

Siemon said voters should reelect her next month because of her extensive prosecutorial experience and willingness to use research and data to transform the local justice system. Platsis also said his experience makes him deserving of the job because he’s willing and able to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of the office with no agenda other than enforcing the law.

  • KYLE KAMINSKI

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