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Domestic violence series: Interview with an abuser

Posted: December 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off on Domestic violence series: Interview with an abuser

(Originally published Dec. 3, 2009 in the Pioneer. This story was part of a series that won third place in the Michigan Press Association’s Enterprise Reporting contest in 2010. It was a finalist for the MPA’s public service award as well.)

A local man, convicted of domestic violence, talks about trying to change his life

By Lindsey Wahowiak

Pioneer Associate Editor

Editor’s note: “Mike,” a Big Rapids man in his 30s, is a father of several children, a lifelong resident of the community — and a repeat domestic violence offender. In one county alone, he has been found guilty of at least seven violent crimes, including a domestic violence charge in November. Growing up, he said his family had issues with alcohol and anger. He wants to break that cycle of violence, but isn’t sure how — and he may not be ready to do that yet. He agreed to talk about his criminal and family history with the Pioneer, which will keep him anonymous in order to protect his and his family’s privacy.

BIG RAPIDS — At 19, Mike didn’t expect to be a husband or a father. That was his life in the early 1990s, however. He was taught not to hit women. He wanted to provide for his family. But his frustration was growing.

One afternoon, his 16-year-old wife, fed up with him sleeping in after working second shift, planted her feet into his back. She yelled at him to wake up. Mike snapped.

“I grabbed her by the throat. I told her ‘Never do that again,’” he said.

Then he went to jail.

Years ago, Mike said, it didn’t matter who had started a physical fight between the two; if the police responded to his home he was going to be arrested. In all his record of domestic violence spans more than a decade, with nearly a dozen convictions for domestic violence, assault and battery, eluding police and drunken driving.

He doesn’t deny hitting, choking or otherwise injuring his wife. Nor does he deny becoming physical with his current girlfriend. Now that he’s on medication for bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression, he said, he believes his family life will be much better.

There’s a lot of history he needs to work through first.

Today, Mike lives with his parents. He can’t go home to the house he bought for his family, because the court system has placed a no contact order against him for his girlfriend. It’s part of his most recent arrest for domestic violence. He rarely sees his children, to whom he seems devoted.

Before his 2009 arrest, Mike was a stay-at-home dad who looked after the couple’s younger children while the older ones were in school. His girlfriend went to school and work, trying to earn more for the family. Eventually, she’ll have a college degree; Mike dropped out of high school.

He doesn’t mind “switching roles” with his girlfriend; he said he likes to spend one-on-one time with each child.

He doesn’t want to be a bad dad — and he doesn’t think he is. But he’d sure like to see his kids more often.

“It’s such a mess,” he said. “My kids have seen a lot. We have a lot of problems, but things were looking better. Even though violence isn’t good for them to see, now it’s hard on them, too.

“I don’t like to have my kids visit me in jail.”

In their years as attorneys and on the bench, Circuit Court Judges Scott Hill-Kennedy and Ron Nichols have seen the devastating effects domestic violence can have on families. Even when children aren’t abused themselves, witnessing abuse can have lasting effects on them, the judges said.

Sometimes, witnessing that abuse manifests itself in children becoming abusive, perpetuating a cycle of violence. Others react by drawing inward, setting themselves up for abuse, local school officials said.

If you want to spend time in jail, keep it up, otherwise it’s not working. Hill-Kennedy said.

“That’s the thing I see that’s most striking,” he said. “One individual has children, and how clueless they are at times to allow that person to spend a lot of time or move into that home. Folks that are otherwise loving, conscientious parents invite that predator in.

“I don’t know how to give them a better set of glasses to see the situation better.”

In his most recent arrest, Mike is accused of domestic violence against his girlfriend, and assault against several other people who were in their home. He said a family argument escalated. He said he tried to remove his girlfriend from the home, when her mother stepped between them. He grabbed his girlfriend, possibly knocking into other people in the room, Mike said.

The police were called. Mike was arrested, another domestic violence charge added to his rap sheet.

Despite his domestic violence history, Mike said he never wanted to hurt his girlfriend.

“My intentions were not to hit her,” he said. “It’s not like I’d go home and say, ‘I’m thinking about beating up my old lady.’”

Regardless of his intentions, he hit her anyway.

After his first domestic violence arrest, Mike’s parents posted his bond to get him out of jail – a cycle that keeps repeating.

In court for his first domestic violence trial in the early ‘90s, he said, he was found not guilty. He was free to go home, back to his wife and young child, where financial troubles and tension were escalating. When things got too stressful, when he was drunk, Mike said he would explode. He can’t remember how many times he hit her, or how many times he was arrested for it — at least three, he said.

His file in Mecosta County District Court includes other violent crimes as well: Resisting a police officer, assault and battery, disorderly conduct.

Small things set him off: Drivers cutting him off, his children not listening to him.

“Without even thinking about it, I would turn to violence,” he said. “I would just grab somebody.”

Even though he was raised to believe hitting women was wrong, Mike remembers his home life as a child was fraught with tension and violence. He described his father as a “weekend alcoholic.” His mom would “wig out,” throwing anything she could reach at her husband and children. He said that behavior carried over into his own home life, though he never hit his children or threw anything at them.

After he and his wife divorced, Mike met his current girlfriend. They’ve been together, on and off, for six years, and for nearly all of that, he said, they’ve had physical confrontations. He doesn’t like to talk about every instance; there are more than he can remember. He said with everything he’s done, he probably should have done “major time,” but because he’s taken plea deals (sometimes, he said, when he thinks he should have pleaded “not guilty”) he hasn’t been to prison.

In Michigan courts, first-time domestic violence offenders are charged with a 93 day misdemeanor. If the same offender is found guilty again, he or she faces a one-year sentence. If the offender is convicted a third time, he or she will face a two-year felony sentence in prison.

Mike hasn’t spent time in prison, but he’s spent months of time in jail and on probation. He said court officials have scared his girlfriend, telling her he’ll be sent to prison for years. In turn, he said, she tries to convince him to take a plea deal for a shorter sentence.

Law enforcement and Department of Human Services officials hoped those guilty pleas and jail time would help Mike accept responsibility for his assaults. Until now, he said, he wasn’t ready to do that.

Part of Mike’s sentence, and the sentence for many domestic violence offenders in Michigan, was anger management group therapy. Right away, Mike resisted. The program he was assigned to was held in a church, with a former state trooper leading discussions.

Mike didn’t want to pray about his problems. He was tired of police telling him what to do. He said he left the classes feeling belittled, and angrier than before.

“It made it worse,” he said. “They didn’t want to find out what’s causing (the violence), with as many violent crimes as I’ve had. You’d think they’d want to know I didn’t want to be that way.”

Mike also resisted intervention with his girlfriend. Because of his prior violent crime convictions, the Department of Human Services has intervened with Mike’s family. DHS workers are concerned about his children and their safety. One official told Mike that one of his children is afraid of him because of the way Mike treats his girlfriend. He doesn’t believe that.

His girlfriend also has been visiting Women’s Information Service Inc., which counsels victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Mike doesn’t think his girlfriend needs WISE’s services.

“They’re telling her she’s staying with me because she’s insecure,” he said. “But she’s not insecure. We’re together because we care about each other.”

Nichols has attended these anger management classes to see what his clients, and later, his convicts, go through in the program.

He believes these programs, and women’s support systems like WISE, help families work through their issues.

“It’s a structured program with excellent results,” Nichols said. “It doesn’t stop all people from repeating (their crimes) but it cuts down on recidivism.”

However, both judges noted that not everyone is willing to learn from the anger management classes, just like not every victim wants to receive assistance from WISE or other victims’ advocates.

Hill-Kennedy said he’s seen plenty of victims who just aren’t able to leave their abuser; they don’t have the support of WISE, police or friends. When victims find themselves in these situations, he said, it’s a recipe for continued control and abuse.

“(The victims we see) seem to get under complete control, and need someone to lean on,” he said. “They don’t seem to have any ability to pull themselves out from under that.”

And, he added, some offenders aren’t willing to change, either.

Though he didn’t want to admit it, Mike knew his incarcerations, his time away from his family, all came back to his violent outbursts. So after his most recent arrest, he decided to get help.

Mike sees a counselor, one-on-one, who is helping him sort out why he let his anger bottle up and explode.

It took him a long time to get here. Mike said for years, he promised his girlfriend he would get help, promised he’d sort himself out.

He never did. This time it’s going to be different, he promises.

“Even I’ve had enough,” he said. “I finally quit lying about it. I think about my family … I want my kids to be in a good spot. I really want to get right.”

He understands why the courts have split up his family for the time being, even if he doesn’t appreciate it. He said he’s using this time to get himself together. He’s stopped drinking. He’s trying to find a job, so he can raise money for his court fines and for his kids.

He’s looking forward to when he can spend more time with his kids, fishing or just hanging out. He said he feels a lot better now that he’s not lashing out. Mike is trying to grow up into a different man.

“I’m a better me,” he said.

While he appears to be willing to take some responsibility for the actions that landed him in jail and took him away from his family, he blames the court system, and society, for some of his problems.

His time in jail has taught him to identify fault in others, and allows him permission to project his guilt on others.

Despite all its efforts to help him and his family, Mike still harbors some resentment for the court system. He doesn’t believe jailing someone in a domestic assault helps a family situation. He said inmates become twice as irritated, wondering what their girlfriends or wives are doing “…or who they’re doing,” he commented.

Some 30 or 40 years ago, he says he probably would never have been arrested for domestic violence in the first place. It wasn’t until the mid 1990s that police were required to arrest someone if there was evidence of a physical altercation.

Mike called domestic violence a “family issue” back then. He believes in some instances, it still is. All assaults in a romantic or family relationship are considered domestic violence: Hitting, choking and slapping, but also verbal abuse, threats and intimidation as well.

If someone is arrested, Mike said, that means the family will have to pay bond fees, court costs and other fines, affecting the whole family.

He believes there should be levels of domestic violence, describing how severe each act is, much like homicide or criminal sexual conduct.

It’s a struggle he seems to know this all too well.

“Putting a woman in the hospital should be a lot different than a woman who threw a knife at her husband and he hit her,” he said. “But if I was in the court’s shoes, I’d probably do the same thing.”

Judges Nichols and Hill-Kennedy are quick to point out that domestic violence is, in fact, a crime that is punished at different levels. Repeat offenders get more and more jail time; a first or second offense is a misdemeanor while a third offense is a felony. Aggravated assault (when the victim is  gravely injured) also calls for a longer jail sentence.

Law enforcement officials, from police to attorneys and judges, hope the increasing punishments will offer an incentive for abusers not to hit their partners again.

But for those repeat offenders who don’t respond to anger management, probation, hundreds of dollars in fines and court costs, even jail and prison time — the judges said there’s just no getting through to them.

Even as an attorney, Nichols said, for some of his clients, there was nothing he could do to protect their partners, or to convince them not to be abusive.

“They’re idiots,” he said. “They’re stupid. If you want to spend time in jail, keep it up, otherwise it’s not working.

“An abuser’s an abuser,” he added. “The next relationship might not have the chemistry where the partner would tolerate it. But they won’t stop.”

This story can also be found behind a paywall on the Pioneer’s website, http://www.pioneergroup.com/articles/2009/12/02/the_pioneer/news/local_news/doc4b159e29770a8853342666.txt

The end of an affair.

Posted: November 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

(Originally published on Oct. 31, 2010, at www.michagone.com)

Dear Michigan,

I wanted to be true to you. I really did.

When everyone took off after college – to DC, to San Francisco, to Chicago, to New York and Alabama and Oregon and Minnesota and even Kansas, I stayed with you. More accurately, I burrowed deeper into you, away from family and friends and concerts, so sure that anything you had to offer was exactly what I needed. I was going to make a life for myself Up North, and it was going to be glorious.

And honestly, it was. All that bullshit my professors told me about “paying your dues” and “working your way up the food chain” was totally true. I had found a job I loved, in a small town I adored. Sure, it was almost an hour’s drive to the nearest Target. I could hardly pay my rent. And while my friends were off having wild adventures, I was falling into a familiar work-beer-bed, work-beer-bed routine. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t how I pictured my life at 23. Or 24. Or 25.

I don’t know when it happened, Michigan, but at some point, I felt like you didn’t have anything left for me. And not long after that, I didn’t have anything to give you, either.

I look back on it now and it seems like the end of our affair was so obvious. Like that time your high school boyfriend breaks up with you because you wouldn’t sleep with him, and within a week he’s fucked your best friend and everyone knows it but you. We were no good together anymore, Michigan. So I had to go.

Now that we’re apart, we’re so much better to each other. I speak of you fondly in my new town. I hold my right hand palm-up, and show new friends and acquaintances where I’ve lived: “This area is Downriver; it’s where my family lives … I spent a summer in the Thumb – you could drive 20 minutes any direction and be on the Lake Huron beach … I lived in Big Rapids for three years; you wouldn’t believe how much I learned there, or how nice the people are…”

I’m sorry it took leaving to appreciate the best things about you. Little things that are only you, Michigan, impress a lot of people. I win over my dates when I tell them I drove Model-Ts for two years at Greenfield Village. It’s shocking how many people will sit, rapt with attention when I describe how a sugar beet refinery smells, or the tasty, tasty microbrews you can get, in a mug with your name on it, at Shorts Brewery. People like the Great Lakes, they like Sleeping Bear Dunes, they like shipwreck museums and Tahquamenon Falls. I like all that, too.

But even more than that, I like walking into my grandma’s kitchen that smelled like frying onions for so many years, just so I can see her. I miss walks in downtown Wyandotte with my mom, and I miss meeting my baby sister in Grand Rapids for ladies’ shopping days. I can do just about anything where I am now, or wherever I’ll go, but Michigan, you’re my only home.



Exit interview

Posted: April 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off on Exit interview

(Originally published in the February 2010 issue of Fusion)

By Lindsey Wahowiak

Fusion Editor

Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the author in Granholm's office.

The last eight years have been tumultuous ones in Michigan, and perhaps no one knows that better than Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Since her election in 2002, Granholm has been forced to acknowledge the state’s annual billion-dollar deficits, nationally increased focus on homeland security and a tanking economy. During that time, she says she’s tried to “steer into the wind” and confront each issue as it came up.

The Canadian-born, University of California Berkeley- and Harvard-educated attorney has always been one to take a challenge head-on, from being elected Michigan’s first female attorney general and governor, to serving on President Barack Obama’s transition team after his election. She’s also a wife and mother of three active children.

Granholm’s tenure in the governor’s office has been marked by difficulties: The state plummeted into poverty as American automakers went broke. And though she boasted a “go-anywhere, do-anything” attitude to bring foreign jobs to Michigan, Granholm has been criticized for not doing enough to help the state’s out-of-work employees. She also was rumored to be on the short list for a spot in the Obama cabinet and Supreme Court, though neither

position was offered.

Despite all that, Granholm maintains her stance as Michigan residents’ advocate — for jobs, for education and for economic stability. While meeting with Fusion in her office in Lansing’s Romney Building, Granholm was energetic, straightforward and optimist about Michigan’s future. She shared what it’s been like to try to right the ship of state government, and what residents can look forward to in the future.

FUSION: We’re taking a look at women in business, so what can you tell us about what it’s been like to run the biggest business in the state: Michigan government?

GRANHOLM: Clearly, being CEO of a $40-plus billion organization with over 50,000 employees, obviously at a time when things are very challenging has been a great privilege and a great challenge. There’s no doubt that Michigan’s been in an unprecedented transformation moving from one economy to another, and managing both state government as an organization as well as being responsible to our customers, the citizens of Michigan, in the middle of this turmoil, has been a tremendous, tremendous challenge and opportunity for me, personally. But the organization itself, if you’re talking about business, we’ve really had to do a huge amount of what the business community has done, to try to lead through change. So, (we focused on) downsizing, restructuring, leveraging technology to be able to serve Michigan.

Since I’ve been governor, there have been a couple of organizations that have evaluated state governments and compared them to one another, all 50. And the Pew Center on the States and Governing Magazine, which compares for management, has ranked Michigan in the top three or four states two times in a row because of our ability to manage through change, even though it’s been very, very difficult. We are dealing with 45-year lows in terms of revenues to the state. I’ve cut departments by 25 percent, cut over 300 boards, commissions and agencies. State employees, who we are again at the bargaining table with, have given $650 million worth of concessions. …

Michigan’s government as an entity, our structure was set up in the ‘60s. I’m sure it was fine when it was set up, but the world has changed so much. We need to turn it in and get a new, sleeker model of state government that is more efficient and leverages technology better.

Because we have had such a phenomenal head of our Department of Information Technology (Ken Theis), our ability to reach citizens through technology has given us the designation as the most technically advanced state government in the nation. We’ve been repeatedly found to be the top by the Center for Digital Government and Governing Magazine, because we recognize the possibility and the opportunity of citizens being able to access 24/7 government, and making it more efficient that way.

Obviously you’ll always need to have state employees to be able to serve our most vulnerable families. … You’ll always have to have people in nursing homes, or in state homes, making sure that people are cared for. You’ll always have to have state government that is “high-touch,” but having state government that is high-tech is extremely important in reducing the cost and improving efficiency.

Our desire has been to eliminate the bureaucracy associated with permitting, and any interaction with state government that businesses have to take on. What we want to do is to set up a one stop-shop for businesses. Anybody setting up a small business, wanting to pay their taxes, can go into our business one-stop shop and do any of the hundreds of transactions that someone might have to engage in with state government, whether it’s getting a permit, getting a business permit changed, you name it; it’s all through our one-stop shop, and we’ve assigned an ombudsman to make it extremely simple to interact with state government. And second, with respect to citizens, we’ve allowed them, through our Helping Hand Web site (www.michigan.gov/helpinghand), to see what they’re eligible for, in terms of state benefits. So if somebody wants to get onto the unemployment system, they can do it online. If they want to renew their benefits, they can do it online. If they want to see if they’re eligible for Medicaid … sign up for food assistance, (it’s all there).

So any process that can be automated, we are continually improving. All of that is to say that we are striving in a state that’s been historically considered a “rust belt” state – we’re transforming the inside and the outside of the state, moving from the rust belt to the green belt.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your term as governor, and what advice would you give to other business owners facing similar challenges?

GRANHOLM: The biggest challenges have been moving people through change. It’s very difficult when change is upon us, but recognizing that the world has changed, and transitioning people into the new world, is by far the biggest challenge. Whether that’s state employees inside of the organization or whether it’s your customers — if you will, Michigan citizens — Michigan’s economy has changed. It’s difficult for people to recognize that we’re not changing back. So, making sure that you’re able to transform citizens through this economic change, making sure that you’re able to transform state government, and the pockets of resistance that naturally occur whenever change is brought to bear. That’s the toughest thing.

You have to be completely and brutally honest about the fact that change is here. And you have to, in fact, steer into the wind. Sometimes you have to become that thing you most fear, and address that change and fear head-on.

In Michigan, because of our automotive industry, we have often feared international competition. So instead of being afraid of competing, our motto on the economy has been to go anywhere and do anything to bring jobs to Michigan. So instead of seeing our jobs go to Asia or China or India, why not go to those places and bring those jobs providers here to Michigan? That’s steering into the wind, to become inviting to that competition. The auto industry has historically resisted increased fuel efficiency, the CAFE standards that have been fought for years. Instead of fighting it, lead! And so now Michigan is going to become a leader in producing vehicles that are electric, that are completely energy-efficient so we can lead world in energy independence, rather than being viewed as luddites, as the anchor.

We have to, and any business has to, recognize what’s your biggest threat, and how to steer right into it and not just embrace the threat but become and respond directly to the thing that has most threatened your existence.

Who are some of your female role models in government and


GRANHOLM: I’m a great fan of Hillary Clinton. She’s tough, and no-nonsense, and understands the importance of working in a bipartisan fashion to get things done.

I think that, I know that I have to say, one of my role models that I’ve often said, even though she’s not in business or government is my mom (Shirley). She’s so no-nonsense. She’s got a great sense of humor but she is the most frugal person around. Those lessons of frugality have certainly been important for us here in state government. The idea of leading by example is something my mom always taught me.

In business there’s a great, first person who comes to mind, her name is Ann Marie Sastry. … (CEO and cofounder of Sakti3, an automotive battery engineering company). She’s professor at the University of Michigan who has spun off her business and has become an entrepreneur. The idea of taking on a great idea and taking on the risk of becoming an entrepreneur, I really admire her courage that’s associated with that. She’s a woman in an all-male business, because her business is generation-two lithium ion batteries. She’s been in charge of a section of the engineering department at U-M. To be a woman in a traditional male field like engineering, in a traditionally male sector like automotive, to be able to take the further risk of starting your own business, of striking out on your own, I really admire that courage and that resolve.

On that note, you’re a woman in what’s certainly a male-dominated business: State government. So after your term ends, what are the chances we’ll see another female governor in Michigan? And who might it be?

GRANHOLM: We’ll have to see who runs. There’s certainly Alma Wheeler Smith who’s running for governor. She’s declared, but no other woman has declared. I do think that in general women are pragmatists. I don’t want to stereotype, but often women are great multi-taskers, not so worried about who gets the credit but worried about getting things done. I think that’s why women make great leaders. They haven’t been given as much of a chance as men, obviously, but I think as more come into power, in government and in business, certainly people have recognized our abilities in the judiciary. I think it becomes less of a story, and more of an understanding. I also think women often are less susceptible to the personal temptations that men have experience in leadership. I think that’s a thing, you don’t need ethics challenges on top of running an organization in a challenging environment. I just think, for women, that’s much less of an issue, and I think it’s something for voters to consider.

My last question: What will you do once you’re done in the governor’s office?

GRANHOLM: I don’t know.

Really? You haven’t even thought about it?

GRANHOLM: Oh yeah, I’ve thought about it, and I’ll be fine. But what I’ve thought about most, really, is how we can get as much done as possible in this short time that I’ve got left.

Granholm highlighted some of her “to-do” list during her State of the State address in early February. She said in the coming months, the state must pass a balanced budget on time (something the state has failed to do twice in the past three years), reform government so jobs and education become the focus and continue to bring jobs to Michigan.

She said that she believes six new sectors of business will all need to flourish in order to keep Michigan afloat. Granholm hopes to encourages businesses to set up shop in Michigan, focusing on clean energy, like solar and wind power; life sciences, such as bio-economy and medical devices; advanced manufacturing, including nanotechnology and robotics; film; tourism and homeland security and defense.

It’s an ambitious plan — especially when many of the key decision-makers will be campaigning for election, and some campaigning against her own track record. However, Granholm remains focused on the possibilities of her last year in office.

“Everything we do in these next 11 months should be linked to the economic plan we have followed these seven years: Diversifying the economy; educating our people and protecting citizens in a time of transition,” she said. “With your commitment and mine, and by the grace of God, let us go forth.”

Good kid gone bad

Posted: April 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

(Originally published on Nov. 25, 2009 in the Pioneer. This story was part of a series that won first place in the Michigan Press Association’s Enterprise Reporting contest in 2010.)

Jonathan Good was a typical child growing up in suburban Detroit. This is the story of how he became a murderer — and how he was released back into the public.

By Lindsey Wahowiak
Pioneer Associate Editor

On April 3, 2006, Jonathan Good stepped out of the Brooks Correctional Facility a free man. So many things had changed since he entered the prison system 18 years ago: His mother, his closest family member, had died of a heart attack. His father was in stage four of his lung cancer. It had been 18 years since he murdered Pierre Compeau in the man’s Riverview home.
Good had no education, other than the GED he picked up in prison. He had no work experience and no place to call home. He also had a lengthy criminal history, all racked up before he turned 18. But he was nothing if not driven. The kid who represented himself in a first-degree murder trial at just 19 years old, the young man who got that sentence overturned and pleaded to second-degree murder, offering him the possibility of parole: This was the guy who could find a way to make things work, inside the prison system and out.
When the Wayne County parole board saw him just a few days prior to his release, it didn’t see a stone-cold teenager killer. The board saw a man with a troubled childhood, with overall good conduct while incarcerated, who tried to better himself by learning about computers in the joint; a man who was devastated when his mother died.
The board saw all of that, and so it released the man who would go on to commit dozens of robberies across the state, leading a gang of teenagers to rob, assault and even try to kill a couple in Morley.

Jonathan Good grew up in Riverview, a quiet suburb just south of Detroit. There, he attended public schools through middle school. Court records show he was a troubled child, being placed in special classes for the emotionally impaired when he entered the sixth grade. He also had a juvenile criminal record, robbing a local business when he was just 11 years old.
In junior high, Riverview police and Seitz Middle School administrators remember he threw a desk at a teacher.
By the time he reached high school, he was attending school for special-needs students. He failed every class in eighth grade, despite being of average intelligence. When he wasn’t in school, Good was tinkering with motor bike engines and other small machines in his family’s home.
A moped crash in his early teens left him in a body cast for months. His family told lawyers it also left him with an addiction to painkillers, which opened the door for even more drug abuse.
As Good began to experiment with marijuana and LSD, he became more involved with an older man named Tim Lester — a friend and father figure to Good, who was seeking adult approval he didn’t get at home. His parents, who were separated and about to divorce, saw Lester as trouble; Good’s dealer and a negative influence on their son. Ultimately, the courts saw him as Good’s co-defendant in a pizza shop robbery.
But his short history of juvenile crime, the shady characters he associated with, his tendency toward violent and angry outbursts — none of it prepared his Downriver Detroit community for what he would do as a teenager.
“Jon never learned how to not do stupid things,” Riverview Police Det. Royal Williams said. “He could have made something of himself, too. But with Jon, it was always, ‘Somebody else did it.’”

Carrying a stolen rifle, Good walked into a Pizza King franchise in Dearborn on Feb. 18, 1988, and ordered three employees to lay on the ground. Then, he robbed the business and shot all three employees before fleeing the building.
Good blamed Lester for the shootings, but eventually pleaded guilty to the entire robbery. Lester was found guilty of lesser charges in the robbery; he did not take part in the shooting.
Good was 16 years old. He was in 10th grade.
He had just attempted to murder three people.
It was only the beginning of his two-day crime spree.

The next night, Feb. 19, 1988, Good walked into the home of Robert Wetherington, where he knew his ex-girlfriend’s step-father, Pierre Compeau, would be. Just a block from his own home, his plan, court documents indicate, was to steal Compeau’s truck. However, when he walked into the home at 17038 Mathews St. in Riverview, he was carrying a rifle.
He stepped into the kitchen and fired a shot into Compeau’s chest. Compeau leapt up and ran to the front porch, collapsing into a snow bank on the front lawn.
He was dead.
Good demanded the keys to Compeau’s truck from Wetherington. He jumped into the truck and drove away.
At 16, he was now a murderer — and he wasn’t done yet.

Just 40 minutes later, Good backed the stolen vehicle up to a door at a Radio Shack in the next town over. Court records show he walked into the store with his gun brandished, and ordered employees to the back of the store, where he handcuffed them to a pole.
An unsuspecting customer walked in, and Good ordered him to lay on the ground. Instead, the customer ran back toward the door. Good tried to shoot him, but missed. Undeterred, he began to load up his truck with speakers, radios, stereo equipment, anything he could get his hands on. Then he took off, driving away with the stolen merchandise, the employees still handcuffed in the store.
At that time, no one knew these three crimes were related. As investigators began to dig into evidence, however, all signs would point to Jonathan Good: A 16-year-old petty criminal who had graduated to felony murder.

Williams, a juvenile officer working at the Riverview Police Department, said Good had been named as a potential witness to the murder from the beginning, but he wasn’t a suspect. Investigators didn’t know what might cause someone to shoot Compeau as he drank beer at his friend’s kitchen table that night.
It wasn’t until a young boy, accompanied by his pastor, walked into the department that police began to suspect Good in the murder.
“We considered him a witness,” Williams said. “(The boy told us) he saw Jonathan Good with a rifle in his coat walking down the street. So we went looking for him.”
Officers called Good in for questioning. He was taken to a Michigan State Police post, where, accompanied by his mother, he was supposed to take a polygraph test. While there, police said he confessed to Compeau’s murder.
During the informal interview before his polygraph test, Good confessed to shooting Compeau. His mother was notified, and after being read his rights, Good dictated his full confession to Lt. Harold Raupp. Williams was notified of the confession and took Good’s fingerprints.
Police reports showed Good’s fingerprints were identified on the back door of Radio Shack. All shell casings submitted by the police departments involved in the case were fired by the same gun.
Good was arrested and charged with first-degree, pre-meditated murder in Wayne County Trial Court. He was lodged in Wayne County Jail. There, he began to plan how he would get himself out of this mess.

As Good was implicated in the Radio Shack and Pizza King robberies, he worked with a string of court-appointed attorneys, as he and his family could not afford to hire one on their own. He pleaded guilty to all of the charges. In court, he told judges, including Judge George Crockett III, who would eventually oversee his murder trial, that he was high on LSD during the robberies, which affected his behavior during the crimes.
For the biggest case, his first-degree murder charge, Good chose not to rely on court-appointed attorneys; at 16, he decided to represent himself in circuit court. Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Augustus Hutting said that in more than 30 years practicing law, he has never seen such a young defendant attempt to represent himself.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had another (juvenile represent himself),” Hutting said. “We don’t see very many people represent themselves, period. But by the time we got to trial, he was an adult. Good didn’t have any mental issues; he was just Jonathan Good.”
It took nearly three years of hearings, legal wrangling and back-and-forth over evidence, particularly Good’s confession to police, but the murder trial finally got underway. Good, supported by stand-by counsel (much like he had in Mecosta County), represented himself at just 19 years old, with a 10th grade education.
Good defended himself and the murder during the trial, saying he was trying to protect his girlfriend, who he said was being molested by her step-father. Williams said Compeau was never accused of abusing his step-daughter. Twenty years later, she said she wasn’t Good’s girlfriend at the time of the murder and that she was never molested.
Throughout the trial, Good tried to educate himself about the court system. He questioned witnesses, police officers and even his own family. Each witness, including Wetherington, identified him as the robber and murderer.
After several weeks, all of Good’s efforts were in vain. He was found guilty of first-degree murder — a conviction with a maximum life sentence, with no possibility of parole. Still a teenager, Good was going to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Or so it seemed.

Not long after Good’s sentencing, he began sending letters to Judge Crockett. The letters weren’t much at first, just notes letting the judge know how he was progressing in prison. Good told the judge when he got his GED; for each certificate he earned, he sent the judge a copy. He wanted Crockett to know he was trying to turn his life around.
Then Crockett started writing back.
Crockett said he didn’t usually correspond with defendants he had sentenced, but he felt he ought to write back to Good.
“Essentially (my letters were) telling him I was proud of his attitudes and achievements,” Crockett said.
Then, in the late 1990s, Crockett decided to overturn Good’s sentence and grant his request for a new trial. Good believed his police confession should have been thrown out of the trial, though it was approved in a 1990 Walker Hearing. Apparently, Crockett agreed.
Today, Crockett said he has no recollection of overturning Good’s sentence — or if he even overturned his sentence at all.
“I must say, I don’t recall,” he said. “It’s not unusual because judges are human and can make mistakes, or erroneous rulings unsupported by the law, facts or both.”
Mecosta County Prosecutor Peter Jaklevic disagreed. He said the process to reverse a conviction, after a defendant already has been sentenced, is so rare, everyone involved should remember it.
“Jon manipulated the judge, and the judge was dumb enough to be manipulated,” Jaklevic said. “If he was still a judge, I would certainly be notifying the Michigan Supreme Court.”
Hutting said as the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office was preparing to try Good for Compeau’s murder, again, both parties reached a plea agreement: Good would plead guilty to second-degree murder, which has a sentence of 25 years to life in prison, with the possibility of parole.
That possibility became a reality in 2002, when the Michigan Department of Corrections Parole Board agreed that because of his exemplary behavior in prison, and because he said he was “not the same person (he) was,” Good deserved a second chance. He was released from prison after nearly 24 years of incarceration.
Not long afterward, Hutting received a phone call from Good, now a free man.
“I think the last time I heard from Good he called me,” Hutting said. “He told me we’d never see him again in the criminal justice system.”
That was the last time Hutting heard from Good — until he saw his face on television: He had escaped from Mecosta County Jail.

‘Death waiting to happen’

Posted: April 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off on ‘Death waiting to happen’

(Originally published June 6, 2008 in the Pioneer)

By Lindsey Wahowiak

Pioneer Staff Writer

REED CITY — Tina LaGrow will spend 10 months in jail for causing her friend’s death in a drunken driving crash.
LaGrow, 34, of LeRoy, was sentenced Thursday in Osceola County’s 49th Circuit Court for causing the Oct. 28 crash that killed Mishelle McQuestion, 32, of Tustin.
“You were driving so, so fast. It was just death waiting to happen,” said Judge Scott Hill-Kennedy.
According to Michigan State Police reports, LaGrow was driving down Mackinaw Trail at speeds of 144 mph before she crashed the vehicle into a tree at 107 mph, pinning the three injured passengers inside. McQuestion, the front-seat passenger, was pronounced dead at the scene. LaGrow’s blood alcohol content was .22 at the time of the crash. The legal limit is .08.
State sentencing guidelines recommend a minimum prison term of two to five years for the charge, but the judge deviated from that substantially.
Hill-Kennedy said that while he usually has a penalty in mind before the sentencing, he was still unsure on the appropriate punishment for LaGrow. The court had received numerous letters asking for mercy, he said, and letters asking for a harsh sentence. Other factors, including LaGrow’s status as a single mother of three daughters, the fact that she and all the passengers were drinking, McQuestion’s “souped-up” car that LaGrow drove after allegedly being encouraged by the passengers and that LaGrow knew her victims all played a part in his decision.
“Frankly, I’m torn,” Hill-Kennedy said. “There’s no excuse for the loss of a life here, but there were many people partying together. It’s clear there wasn’t any opposition to someone driving.
“(LaGrow has children) and that matters. And it matters that Ms. McQuestion is no longer here,” he added. “That loss has to be reconciled by someone taking responsibility … (but) I’m not convinced a three, five, 10 or 15-year prison sentence … is going to make anyone any safer.”
In addition to her 10-month jail sentence, Hill-Kennedy also ordered LaGrow to spend 10 months wearing an alcohol-monitoring tether, serve five years of probation, pay restitution and perform 300 hours community service. A third of that service must be spent in area schools, talking about the crash, the death of her friend and how it changed her life, Hill-Kennedy added.
Prosecutor Sandra Marvin did not offer a sentencing recommendation, stating she was “deferring to the wisdom of this court.”
LaGrow entered a no contest plea to operating a vehicle while intoxicated, causing death, on May 7. A no contest plea is not an admission of guilt, but is used as such for sentencing purposes.
People on both sides of the packed court room were crying as McQuestion’s sister, Lisa Peedle, read a statement at the hearing. She said she had moved back from Arizona to Michigan to help her family run The Rose golf course, which McQuestion co-owned. She and her family are living in McQuestion’s house. Peedle told the court her whole family and community are still suffering.
“I am a reminder of Mishelle,” she said. “It’s horrible to be around people who don’t want to be around you because they are uncomfortable. They don’t know what to say.”
LaGrow addressed the court and the McQuestion family during her sentencing. Stopping often to choke back tears, she apologized.
“I’m really, really sorry,” she said. “Not because I’m in trouble, but because we lost Mishelle. If I could change places with her, I would.”

He’s no average Joe

Posted: April 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off on He’s no average Joe

(This story was originally published on Nov. 15, 2008 in the Pioneer)

D.A.R.E. and liaison officer Joe Marshall is head of the class

By Lindsey Wahowiak

Pioneer Staff Writer

MORLEY — Deputy Joe Marshall will never forget it: He was called to a domestic assault one winter night. A man had spent the last of his family’s money at the bar and on marijuana, and came home — drunk and high — to beat his wife. 9-1-1 dispatchers sent Marshall and his partner to make the arrest. As Marshall was searching the home, he saw something that made his blood run cold.
Two children, wearing snowsuits, were huddled under a pile of blankets. Marshall recognized the older child: He had the student in a recent D.A.R.E. class. The child explained that their father was supposed to fix the home’s furnace with the money he spent on alcohol and drugs, so the kids stayed warm the only way they knew how.
It broke Marshall’s heart.
That’s why he shares that story with middle school students in D.A.R.E. and eighth-grade health classes.
“These kids are being the adults, trying to survive,” Marshall told Morley Stanwood Middle Schoolers on Wednesday. “It’s all about making good choices, even when other people don’t.”
When Marshall sees people making poor choices, especially at the expense of children, it makes him that much more emotionally invested in his job. He’s a father of two (with a third on the way this spring), but Mecosta County students are all “his kids,” to the point where his supervisors have cautioned him about becoming too involved.
“Joe’s doing very well,” Sheriff John Sonntag said. “(He’s shown) the law enforcement officer is not your enemy; he can be your friend or a mentor.”
As a Mecosta County Sheriff’s deputy and school liaison officer, Marshall sees plenty of adults and children making bad choices, but as the county’s D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer for the last five years (currently in Big Rapids and Morley Stanwood schools), he’s taught hundreds of kids to make better ones.
It’s not an easy task. Marshall has to walk the fine line between confidante and enforcer on a daily basis, for hundreds of kids. In the last few weeks, he’s seen an influx in kids bringing prescription pills into school — to sell, to use, to show off. There’s a steady stream of middle schoolers huffing because they don’t have access to other drugs.
“I’ve had problems with kids bringing in Vicodin at the high school and middle school levels,” he said. “And Oxycontin. They bring that to school, to sell or use it here. Medical marijuana — that’s next.”
When D.A.R.E. was taking off in the early 1990s in Mecosta County, Sonntag (the county’s first D.A.R.E. officer) said law enforcement officials hoped it would stop kids from experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Studies have shown that the program might not stop kids from trying drugs or alcohol, but it has delayed experimentation among local students from sixth grade (in the late 1980s) to eighth grade (today). The longer role models can delay kids’ use of drugs and alcohol, Sonntag said, the better chance students have of avoiding addiction and speeding recovery.
It doesn’t help that some parents are resistant to the D.A.R.E. program and police in general. Stereotypes about cops are so pervasive they show up in elementary school classrooms. “I remember you,” more than one first-grader has told Marshall. “You arrested my daddy.” Others talk flippantly about parents or other family members in jail.
It takes its toll on Marshall. It also motivates him.
“It’s discouraging,” he said. “The biggest stereotype is kids don’t like police officers. Their parents don’t. So I try to break the stereotype. I eat lunch with them, play basketball. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Marshall knows law enforcement officers aren’t always welcomed with open arms. He’s had parents who smoke marijuana pull their students from his D.A.R.E. class. Some have complained about the informational videos he shows in class being too graphic or too informational.
So he makes himself available to talk throughout the day. He plays basketball with seventh-graders at lunch, running the court in full uniform, plus a Morley Stanwood reversible jersey. He snacks in the cafeteria, finds some of the kids he sees more frequently and makes sure they’re staying out of trouble.
“He has a way of talking with kids,” marveled MSMS Principal Kim Colby. “He’s not their dad, not a friend, but he’s able to communicate with them and zero in on what’s helpful for that individual.
“Most important is the relationship he has with students, particularly in the D.A.R.E. group in sixth grade,” she continued. “He really wants the kids to see him as a helpful resource.”
Many do. Shane Platt and Andrew Groot, both MSMS seventh-graders, have had plenty of interaction with “Deputy Joe,” and they’re fond of him.
“Sometimes we play basketball with him, but he cheats,” Groot laughed. “He’s too tall!”
“He taught us about alcohol and drugs and weed and pot and all that,” Platt added. “But he’s a pretty normal guy. He’s awesome.”
Platt and Groot both said if their friends or family had problems with drugs or alcohol, they were confident Marshall would be able to help them.
“He’d probably try to find something so they wouldn’t be able to smoke,” Groot said.
Part of helping students, though, is making sure they can help themselves. Karen Bailey, a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at St. Peter’s Lutheran School, said Marshall’s work with kids continually impresses her.
“His love for the kids is evident,” Bailey said. “He so wants to affect their lives. He teaches them to think ahead and have a response ready (if and when they are asked to use drugs or alcohol). He fits in wonderfully with what I’m hoping for my kids.”
Marshall’s use of true stories, both about drugs and alcohol and his job as a deputy, helps kids view him as a person, rather than just a police officer, Bailey said. Those stories can help shape the kids’ lives for the better.
Marshall remembered one student who came to class with a bad attitude and struggled to read. After talking with the boy, Marshall learned he was having problems at home and in school. They developed a rapport.
“We’d talk sometimes out of school,” Marshall said. “His family didn’t have money, and he had to deal with lots of stuff. I told him the trick was, you just have to make things better for yourself. He turned things around and even got a job to help his family with money.”
Those success stories are Marshall’s rewards for a job well done. He said he knows many cops couldn’t do what he does — after all, who would envy having to answer a cancer-stricken child’s question, “Does God still love me?,” or dozens of kids who have talked to him about their parents fighting — but sometimes what they don’t say can be even sadder. More than once, Marshall has met with school counselors to contact Child Protective Services for his students.
He tries to remind his students about that when he teaches about bullying and picking good friends.
“Some kids come to school with so much baggage, they have enough to deal with before they even get there,” he said. “I want you guys, when you get out of school, to do whatever you want to do. If you make bad choices, that takes away opportunities.
“If we make responsible choices with our friends, that’s something we don’t have to worry about.”

Hello world!

Posted: April 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off on Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!