Inmate who helps authorities asks for freedom

Target 8

IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — A Michigan prison inmate who has fought crime from behind bars is asking the governor to commute his 50- to 200-year sentence for armed robbery.

James Hicks had a hearing in front of a Michigan Parole Board member at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia Tuesday. He detailed a life of crime in his youth and said he is proud of the man he’s become while serving his sentence the last 32 years.

During that time, Hicks has helped law enforcement build criminal cases for murder, fraud and corruption. He’s also helped put crooked prison officials behind bars. It has gained him the backing of powerful law enforcement people, including the former head of the Detroit FBI office and even the Muskegon County prosecutor who put him behind bars.

His work with law enforcement has also made him a target. He’s been beaten, poisoned and stabbed. He said he spends 23 hours a day in a cell by himself for his safety.

He told the parole board member that he has “come a long way from living that (criminal) lifestyle” and is trying “to live my life in a more decent and respectable way.”

His lawyer, former U.S. Attorney John Smietanka, said he is “cautiously optimistic” about Hicks’ petition.

“I think the parole board member gave it a very serious look and it took her quite a while to get satisfied she had all the facts,” he said. “And I think Jim responded fairly, accurately and openly.”

Hicks had support from family members and friends at the hearing.

“I know there’s a list of things what he did in the past in his younger days, but he did change his life,” Carol Dunn, who has known Hicks since they were children, said. “Everything he said, he was sincere at it.”

The parole board member, Barbara Sampson, explained the public hearing was the first step in building a record that will eventually go to the full Parole Board, which will make a recommendation to the governor. The governor would then make the final decision whether or not to commute Hicks’ sentence.

The commutation wouldn’t forgive Hicks’ past crimes, as a pardon would. Rather, it amounts to a decision that he has already served enough time for his crime. 

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