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Claiming Unfair Trials, 10 Imprisoned Women Seek Clemency

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DETROIT (AP) – Ten Michigan women convicted of murder deserve to be freed from prison because they were subjected to domestic violence and didn’t get fair trials, according to a group working on their cases.

The Michigan Women’s Justice and Clemency Project is filing petitions for clemency with Gov. Rick Snyder for the women, who were convicted of first- or second-degree murder and have been behind bars for years.

“These women are not a threat to anybody,” project director Carol Jacobsen, a University of Michigan professor in women’s studies, told the Detroit Free Press. “The whole social understanding of battery and abuse has changed since the 1980s and 1990s, when many of these women were convicted.”

Snyder’s office told The Associated Press that such applications go to the parole board at Department of Corrections for review and then get a review by the governor’s office. The office said the state looks at every application equally.

All of the women have sought clemency before and have been denied.

One of the cases is that of Nancy Seaman, a Detroit-area teacher who hacked her husband to death in 2004. She killed Robert Seaman by striking him with a hatchet 16 times and stabbing him at least 21 times in their garage in Farmington Hills. She is serving a life sentence.

A jury in 2005 convicted Seaman of first-degree murder, but the Oakland County trial judge reduced it to second-degree murder. A state appeals court later reinstated the jury’s verdict. She said she was a victim of emotional and physical abuse and was threatened again that day.

At her trial, the defense presented experts who talked about battered spouse syndrome and had argued for such a defense.

Nancy Seaman’s former defense attorney, Lawrence Kaluzny, said he’s hopeful that Snyder will consider her case.

“I never thought she should do life,” Kaluzny said. “I believe she was abused.”

Four of the 10 cases set for review, including Seamen’s case, occurred in Oakland County. Prosecutor Jessica Cooper said her office is monitoring the petitions.

“We’re aware of them, and we will monitor them for the victims, just as we monitor paroles,” she said. “We are hopeful cases like these are decided thoughtfully, with reason, and not by passion.”

Snyder spokesman David Murray said such clemency requests get careful consideration.

“Every prisoner has the right to apply for a commutation, and there is a process spelled out in statute that must be followed,” David Murray said in an email to AP. “The process involves the Michigan Parole Board reviewing every application and making a determination if the case has merit. …

“Being that the commutation process apparently just began with these prisoners, it would be inappropriate for the governor’s office to comment on these cases at this time.”

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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