He has done nothing to address the mental deficiencies that put him into prison. He can't. He won't admit he's done wrong. He's defective. He's a killer.That's Ian English, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor quoted by Blade reporter Jennifer Feehan about Michael Ustaszewski, convicted of a murder he claims (and has always claimed) to have had nothing to do with.
The crime was, of course, horrible. 74-year-old Henry Cordle was apparently a good man, a widower with 6 children. Feehan says he was staying at the Y in downtown Toledo while work was being done on his house because he didn't want to burden his children by staying with one of them.
Michael Morris, then 19, perhaps along with Ustaszewski, went to his room to rob him. Cordle ended up dead. He'd been stabbed ("sliced and slashed," in Ian's words to Feehan) 37 times. None of the wounds was fatal. He bled to death. Morris said that Ustaszewski was the killer. They were both convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, both eligible for parole after 15 years. Both remain in prison.
Morris has his next parole hearing in about 18 months. In October, after reviewing prison records and meeting with Ustaszewski, the Parole Board recommended that be paroled. But the prosecutor's office and some surviving members of Cordle's family objected, so the Board will hold a full hearing.
Mr. English said Ustaszewski has offered no sympathy and expressed no remorse, nor has he admitted guilt. If Ustaszewski is released, he will kill again, the assistant prosecutor said unequivocally.He'll kill again if he's released.
I suppose that's possible, though whether he'll kill again depends a whole lot on whether he killed before. And whether he'll kill at all if he's released? Ian's been a prosecutor for a number of years now, but he's not a seer. Nor is he a psychologist or psychiatrist. And even the shrinks don't mostly know what they're talking about when they make predictions on future dangerousness.
The truth is that people change. Kids of 17 and adults of 53, they're not the same people. 35 years in prison changes people, too. It's not always change for the better, of course, but that's a different point. Whoever Michael Ustaszewski is now, he's a different person than he was then. And that's true whether he killed Henry Cordle or not.
Ustaszewski, who was a juvenile deliquent and had done time before Cordle was killed told Feehan that Ian's prediction is just wrong.
He really doesn’t know me. Thirty-five years is a long time from being a juvenile, and I believe I’ve grown up a whole lot, and my thinking is not the same. My mind-set is totally the opposite of what it used to be.I have no idea whether Ustaszewski is factually guilty. I don't know what happened that day in August 1977 when Henry Cordle was murdered. I don't whether Ustaszewski ever killed anyone or is likely ever to kill anyone in the future. I do know, though, something about pop nostrums.
I know that the idea that you can predict what someone will do after the age of 53 based on whether he admits or expresses remorse for something he denies having done when he was 17 is a fantasy. Yet that's the prosecutor's position. Oh, and that the crime was really awful.
The family's is different. For them it's not about danger. It's about, well, you can call it what you want. Feehan again.
Mr. Cordle’s six children have all since died. Shannon Orosco, 41, said she and her older sister will travel Thursday to Columbus on behalf of their mother, and more importantly for their grandfather, who died in such a horrible way. She said she does not think 35 years is enough for the man convicted of his murder. No amount of time is enough.The Parole Board claims its only interest is public safety which would make Orosco's position irrelevant. It's not. Oh, I'm not saying the Board doesn't care about public safety. Convince them you're harmless and you've gone a long way toward getting a recommendation of release. But you've also got to convince them you've paid sufficiently for your crime.
“He murdered somebody. He does not deserve to walk out through [the] gates,” Ms. Orosco said.Which has nothing to do with public safety but has an awful lot to do with how the Board will rule. Just ask Bret Vinocur. Feehan did.
Bret Vinocur, a victims’ advocate who runs the Web site blockparole.com, routinely works with victims’ families to keep their loved ones’ killers in prison.Notice it's not about danger. If he was sure Ustaszewski did it, he'd be fighting to keep him in prison. Instead, he's hoping the Board will do the right thing. Which is?
He said he took a look at Ustaszewski’s case in October, as he does with most aggravated murder cases that come before the Ohio Parole Board. He decided it wasn’t one he could put his heart into because he didn’t feel absolutely certain of Ustaszewski’s guilt.
“Based on the facts of the crime, and what I’ve read and the research I’ve done, this is a case where I’m going to put my faith in the parole board to make the right decision,” Mr. Vinocur said. “This is one of the rare cases we’re not taking a position on.”
Here's how it works. Ustaszewski has a sentence of 15 years to life. The Parole Board gets to decide how much of that time he should serve. He was first eligible for parole when he'd served considerably fewer than 15 years. Because he'd been convicted of murder, it was a given that he would be denied. Not because he was dangerous. That wasn't even a serious consideration. Because the Board doesn't think even 15 years is a long enough for murder. After that?
According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, the average prison stay for Ohioans convicted of aggravated murder ranged from 25 years to 27 years for inmates paroled between 2000 and 2010.Of course, most of them fess up at some point. Factually guilty or not, they know that an admission can be a ticket home. Some folks, though, out of stubborness, pride, stupidity, whatever, won't board that bus. Sometimes, of course, it's out of honesty. You know, they really are innocent and just won't lie about it.
When asked what he’d say if the parole board told him he could go free today if he admitted his guilt, he didn't hesitate. “I’m not guilty,” he said quietly.Which can be something of a problem.
The Parole Board hearing is scheduled for this Thursday.
H/t M. S. Embser-Herbert