Open letter to Carol Siemon, Ingham County Prosecutor

Subject: Open letter to Carol Siemon, Ingham County Prosecutor
From: Karen Jackson, Ingham County Resident
Date: 20 Feb 2021

February 20, 2021

Dear Ms. Siemon,

This letter is written to raise public awareness and in protest of your two office policies as noted here that impact both murder victims and public safety in Ingham County.

1) Your across the board, blanket policy to offer plea deals to all offenders, including those who commit violent crimes ranging from animal abuse to outright pre-meditated murder, whose cases come before you as Ingham County Prosecutor.

2) Your review of past first-degree murder cases for ultimate possible commutation by the governor that were duly prosecuted, convicted and sentenced under Michigan law before you took office.

It’s hard to know where to begin when addressing a prosecutor who favors leniency for brutal murderers over the safety of the public and justice for the murder victims and their families. I don’t wish upon anyone ever, including you, the excruciating pain and heartbreak of having your child brutally murdered. However, if you could just walk in my shoes even for a minute, I’m sure you would develop a profound empathy for the victims of violent crimes and reconsider your philosophical, “second chance” approach to prosecuting the most violent of offenders. As the mother of Jeffrey Ballor and friend of Kristin Pangman, both victims of a brutal, double homicide in 2017 that occurred under your watch in Ingham County, I speak here as having firsthand experience with your policies as Ingham County Prosecutor.

I believe that offering across the board plea deals rather than basing cases on merit is an egregious betrayal of the public’s trust in the prosecutorial system, a dereliction of your duty as a prosecutor, and a total injustice to the victims and their families and friends. Also, reviewing past first-degree murder cases that were duly prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced under Michigan’s automatic life in prison without parole (LWOP) by previous prosecutors is equally as outrageous. As prosecutor, you can’t single handedly rewrite the current Michigan law, so instead you are finding more creative ways to evade the law.

Under “Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office Values” on the Ingham County Prosecutor web site, you state “We evaluate each case on its merits to promote justice being administered fairly and without bias or favoritism” and “We are open and forthright with each other and our community” but nowhere on the Ingham County Prosecutor’s web site, Facebook site nor your Facebook election site do you share with the public the above policies which are completely contrary to your proclaimed written “values”.

Case in point is your plea bargain that was accepted by Kiernan Brown, a heinous killer who calmly sat in front of a Zoom camera during his plea hearing on July 23, 2020, and admitted to Judge Aquilina that he intentionally went to two separate residences across town from each other where he then killed Kaylee Brock and Julie Mooney for no reason, both with a hammer and that he planned to kill before he arrived. But then you knew the details of these premeditated, brutal murders, by a repeat offender out on parole, from the detailed police reports provided to you before you offered the plea deal.

“He freely admitted that he was going to kill random people until he got caught. If there ever was someone who deserves to be in jail for the rest of his life, Kiernan Brown is it,” said Sheriff Scott Wrigglesworth, WILX TV, 01 Jul 2020, Kellan Buddy.

You said yourself prior to offering the plea deal, "This is the most clear-cut first-degree murder case (I've seen) since I’ve been in office." Lansing State Journal, 30 Jun 2020, Kara Berg.

Kiernan Brown did not ask for a plea deal and even turned it down until his attorney advised otherwise. Ignoring the evidence and advice of law enforcement, the advisement of your peers, and the appeal of the victims’ families for justice that this case be prosecuted on its merits for first-degree murder, you instead pushed your agenda and literally force offered this heinous killer a plea deal. Did you forget your own published “values” of evaluating cases on merit?

I understand you are an advocate for progressive criminal justice reform, and I don’t dispute that the criminal justice system could use some reform, but I take issue that you appear to be using your position as a public prosecutor to promote your own beliefs, philosophy and agenda while standing firmly in the way of justice for victims for the most severe of crimes. You are not basing your directives on laws, facts, merits or concern for public safety, but rather your own personal agenda.

“I just don’t like to exclude the possibility that someone can be rehabilitated,” Siemon said. “Families don’t always like it, and it can be very unpleasant — especially with victims’ families — but these people deserve it. Some don’t like that we offer it. We take those views into account, but it doesn’t mean they drive the decision.” City Pulse, 29 Jan 2020.

Can you please tell me how you believe a brutal, premeditated killer like Kiernan Brown deserves consideration over a victim?

“While I personally believe there are some people who should be in prison forever, like the Jeffrey Dahmer type of people, I just don’t believe in the death penalty,” Siemon explained. “I think life in prison without parole functions in a similar way, and I think everyone should have an opportunity to be able to get out some day.” City Pulse, 29 Jan 2020.

To this statement, I ask what qualifies you to determine who is a “Jeffrey Dahmer” type? Shouldn’t that be left up to a jury? How do you see life in prison functioning as a death sentence? Prisoners incarcerated under Michigan’s automatic penalty of life in prison without parole (LWOP) are allowed to breathe, eat, dress, sleep in a bed, get medical care, go outside, read a book, watch a movie, use a computer, and have conversations with their loved ones – all activities they permanently took from their victims. How can you possibly equate LWOP with the death penalty?

Because you are not walking in my shoes, I offer you some additional questions and perspective you may not have considered from a victim’s and community point of view.

1) Is it unreasonable for the public to have a general expectation that a prosecutor would prosecute an offender to the extent that Michigan law allows whenever the merits of a case warrant it? How do you feel justified in legislating your philosophy and beliefs by going around Michigan’s automatic penalty of life in prison without parole (LWOP) for first-degree murder when the merits of the case demand it?
2) Please tell me what experience you have that lead you to adopt your belief that even brutal killers deserve a second chance and that no one should spend their life in prison. Have you ever had a close family member or child murdered? As Ingham County Prosecutor, have you ever participated directly in the courtroom as the first or second chair in a first-degree murder case where you could see and feel the terror and anguish of victims’ families as they had to listen to and see the evidence of the bloody massacre of their loved ones through pictures, videos, and actual murder weapons?
3) A killer does not just take the life of a victim. He kills whole families by stealing their sense of security and stability which can result in broken families, divorce, PTSD, lifelong anxiety, and physical ailments resulting from stress. Instead of looking at statistics, have you ever made a personal phone call to a family member a year or several years after your work to inquire about the impact a murder and what your participation has on the mental and physical health of the family?
4) Your prison statistics are some cold hard numbers. I know our prisons are overburdened and how you might have a desire to play a part in criminal justice reform and lower incarcerations in Michigan, but why would you choose to do that by giving across-the-board plea deals to the most violent of offenders instead of ranking cases based on their severity and merits saving the plea deals for the lesser, non-violent crimes?
• Have you given any thought to the more obscure and immeasurable issues listed below that lead up to the prosecution and ultimate impact on public safety and how these issues might affect the process and people involved?
• Public trust in the prosecutorial system is broken when the concerns of violent offenders are placed above innocent victims and public safety.
• Victims’ families and friends (the co-victims) are revictimized at their most vulnerable time suffering even more irreversible emotional damage at the hands of their prosecutor as they beg and fight for proper representation for their dead loved ones. Just the thought of a brutal killer being released from prison evokes a lifetime of fear.
• Law Enforcement Officers who risk their own lives and often suffer PTSD themselves in apprehending offenders and collecting and providing proper evidence in these gruesome cases are slapped in the face and while their efforts are demeaned.
• Assistant Prosecutors who work tirelessly to assemble a case and expected to vigorously argue in the courtroom are disincentivized when they are told they must offer plea deals rather than prosecute a case on its solid merits to the extent that Michigan law allows.
• An incentive for witnesses to come forward is lost when they must sit across from a violent offender in a courtroom fearing retribution should the offender return to society.
• A vigilante approach is encouraged when people know they can’t count on the prosecutorial system to protect society and exact justice.
• More crime is invited into a known “soft on crime” community.
• A sense of community protection and security is lost when your concern of rehabilitation of violent offenders is held above ensuring brutal murderers are kept off the streets in Ingham County.

I am speaking here for myself, my family, and other victims with whom I have been in contact. We don’t agree with your policies and we don’t believe the public should be left to discover your insidious methods of conducting business through personal experiences with your office or haphazard reports from the media.

In the ACLU 2020 campaign questionnaire you answered Question 21 as follows.
ACLU: Will you publish all office policies and protocols online?
Siemon: “Yes”
ACLU: Please explain.
Siemon: “We make our current policies widely available but I don't know that they are currently actually linked on our website. I will commit to doing that. Also, we do not have a revised policy and procedures manual yet in my term due to significant time limitations to create a new manual, but I do commit to do so and making it available to all.”

What time limitations? You were elected to your position in 2016 and have been in office for over 4 years during which you have been practicing your policies. We request that you immediately follow through on your latest promise and provide transparency in the form of an updated policy and procedures manual and written policy statement including the nature of and current status of both policies and publish them forthwith on the Ingham County Prosecutor web site and all Ingham County Prosecutor social media sites. In addition, you have a moral obligation and duty to provide a complete list, made available to the public, of all the names of all violent offenders to whom you have offered plea deals (not just those accepted) since you took office.

More importantly, I have recently learned through the mother of two more murder victims that you are about to offer yet another plea deal to the repeat offender Zachery Diederichs who is currently charged with open murder in the double homicide of her son and step-son. We request that you suspend your two manipulative policies noted above concerning the prosecution of murder in Ingham County in this and all future violent offender cases and allow the current laws passed by the voters of Michigan to direct your actions.

Ms. Siemon, thank you for reading this letter. I look forward to a written response to my questions and comments above (my address is in your files).