Preface to Suicide

My Letter to the Michigan Parole Board

By Lacino Hamilton

Why maintaining innocence ensures that you will not get paroled

When one of my cell mates looked over my shoulder and saw the title of this article, he freaked out. "What is a preface?" "Are you really going to kill yourself?" "Don't do it, you like the strongest person I know!" His concern was making me nervous.

After I calmed him down a bit, I began to explain what I was writing and why. I shared with him that a "preface" is a preliminary statement, usually in a book, written by the author or editor setting forth the book's purpose. Or in this instance, the purpose of my letter to the Michigan parole board. I emphatically assured him I had no plans on killing myself. Then detailed for him how detective James Fleming and serial witness Oliver Cowan already had.

I pointed out how "suicide" is not just the intentional taking of one's own life, but is also the destruction of one's own interests or prospects, and that's what makes my letter to the parole board a "suicide letter."

There is an unwritten, but very well known Michigan parole board policy, that if a prisoner does not accept responsibility for the crime he or she has been convicted of, the parole board will deny parole. It doesn't matter if the prisoner has served decades, like I have, or has an exemplary prison record, the parole hearing will end the second he or she asserts innocence. And since I will never take responsibility for a crime I'm 100% innocent of, it "kills" my prospect of being granted a parole.

Truth is, if a prisoner admits to committing the crime they were convicted of or not the parole hearing will last no longer than five minutes, most of which will be spent with the interviewer thumbing through the interviewee's file grunting and sighing. I mean it's no stretch of the imagination to assume that prior to a parole hearing a decision has already been made to deny or grant parole. Still, giving the parole board the benefit of doubt (something it never gives), let's assume the parole board can be persuaded to grant parole, is five minutes enough time to demonstrate that a mistake has happened, and I should be released immediately?

Is five minutes enough time to explain that there was no justifiable reason to arrest me? There was no physical evidence linking me to the crime. Is five minutes enough time to explain that after being arrested and placed in an isolation cell for five days detectives never asked me one question? A practice so unusual, dozens of law enforcement agents said "it never happens." Is five minutes enough time to explain that the entire case hinged on the testimony of a jailhouse witness? A man I did not know from Adam. Not only did he allege I stopped him while he was sweeping a floor and just confessed to him (records prove his timeline of events did not happen), but records prove that this serial witness testified in numerous cases where he alleges to have received unsolicited confessions.

Is it enough time to explain that professional witness Cowan testified I confessed to him three or four days after arrest, even though records prove he was with detective Fleming hours after I was arrested signing a statement. Is it enough time to explain that three witnesses have come forward? One who knows the real perpetrator; one who was present when detective Fleming gave Cowan a pre-written statement to rehearse and say I confessed; and one who admits detective Fleming tried to pressure him to give false testimony?

Is five minutes enough time to ask for the opportunity to show the parole board a recently discovered memorandum from the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office admitting that Cowan was part of a small cadre of jailhouse witnesses suspected of fabricating testimony in exchange for illegal favors and deals?

Is five minutes enough time to explain that according to Northwestern Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions, 45.9 percent of documented wrongful convictions have been traced to false informant testimony? Making jailhouse informants one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions. Of course, five minutes isn't enough time to explain one, let alone all of these critical factors.

As of July of 2017, I will have been incarcerated 23 years. The parole board seems to want a pound of flesh, hear me say uncle, and doesn't seem concerned with using its power to right an obvious wrong.

I was just informed by facility staff, like seconds ago, that the parole board is not interested in interviewing me. Seeing I was sentenced 52 to 80 years, the parole board does not have to meet with me for another 29 years, when 52 years are up.

I'm still sending this letter to the parole board. Changing this letter will make little difference seeing that any letter where I lie and accept responsibility for a crime I didn't commit, did not have knowledge of, is, in effect, a suicide letter.