Siemon: Justice requires second chances — even for murderers

Prosecutor doubles down on offering plea deals to first-degree killers

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Siemon isn’t backing down from her fervent belief that nearly all murderers deserve a second chance at freedom, regardless of the heinous nature of their alleged crimes. And that philosophy isn’t sitting too well with the families of their alleged victims. 

Authorities arrested 27-year-old Kiernan Brown, of Delta Township, in May in the killing of Kaylee Ann Brock, 26, of Holt, and 32-year-old Julie Ann Mooney, of Williamston. Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth said their deaths were the “most gruesome homicides” he’d ever investigated.

Brock and Mooney reportedly died from blows to the head with a blunt object. Wriggelsworth said Brown was on a “killing spree.” Siemon said it was among the more “hideous and heinous” homicides to pass by her office. The incident meets all of the factual elements of first-degree murder, a charge that carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole, she said. Michigan does not have the death penalty. 

But Brown doesn’t have to face that possibility. Siemon’s office offered him a plea deal this month to second-degree murder, a charge that could theoretically net life in prison but would at least ensure him an opportunity to appear before a parole board, perhaps in a few decades. 

He hasn’t accepted the deal, Siemon said. And if Brown and his lawyers reject it, there’s always the possibility that a first-degree murder charge could be handed down by a jury after the trial. But Wriggelsworth (and reportedly Brock’s family) want to see him locked behind bars forever. 

Anything else is a miscarriage of justice, Wriggelsworth contended. After learning of the plea deal, he petitioned Attorney General Dana Nessel to take over the prosecution of Brown’s case, though officials at Nessel’s office — after consulting Siemon — have since rejected the request. 

“I tried to sit down with the prosecutor but it didn’t really get anywhere,” Wriggelsworth said. 

“I absolutely think that there are some people that commit heinous crimes where the only option is to lock them up for the rest of their lives. I understand some people may disagree with that, but what Kiernan Brown did to those two girls was absolutely horrific,” he added. “I try to stay in my lane. I really do. I’m not the prosecutor, but this would not bring justice to these families.” 

Kaylee’s father, Roger Brock, also pleaded with Siemon to reconsider, he told the Lansing State Journal. His only ask: “Justice as the state of Michigan allows for murder in the first degree.” But Siemon will keep the plea deal on the table, she insisted in an interview Tuesday.

“I’m not in any way saying this is a case where I’m supporting a reduced sentence because of my compassion for the defendant,” Siemon explained. “This is a philosophical approach, and I want to be consistent, but at this point in time, this isn’t a case where we’re questioning the facts. This is a clear-cut first-degree murder by all elements of the crime. It’s factually strong.” 

Siemon’s arguably lenient approach to prosecuting murder cases made waves earlier this year when City Pulse first reported on her second-chance prosecutorial policies and plans to review decades-old Ingham County cases of convicted lifers and make efforts to set some of them free. 

The basic idea: everyone, even murderers, deserves a second chance for redemption in Ingham County. Decades in prison can be a powerful rehabilitator. Only some people can be reformed, but everyone deserves the opportunity. After Siemon was elected in 2017, nearly all murder defendants have had the chance to plead to a lesser charge to second-degree murder. 

“I think 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 told City Pulse. “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 apologized to families of murder victims shortly after announcing plans to possibly seek commutations for some of the lengthier sentences from Ingham County, promising to be more “considerate” to victims and their families as she proceeds with her plans. 

“My apology was not for saying that this policy makes sense. It was for saying that I don’t want to hurt family members and victims,” Siemon added. “That holds true. Families of victims carry a great deal of weight, but it’s not dispositive. I also have a separate obligation to try to do justice.” 

Siemon pointed out that the United States comprises 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 life sentences that offer no opportunity for eventual release, Siemon said. She said she wants to reduce those numbers. 

Siemon believes Brown, like others charged with murder, will still need decades in prison, even though the possibility of a lesser charge like second-degree murder. She recognizes that her predecessors and others might not be so lenient, but it’s what she was elected to do, she said.

“I’ve also had a lot more positive feedback on this approach, ultimately,” Siemon added. “The backlash that came up publicly was there, and I believe people have a right to discuss their thoughts and their anguish, but I did get many, many positive remarks about this philosophy.” 

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