Stu Bykofsky: D.A. should do right by inmate - by doing nothing

Marcus Perez
Marcus Perez
Posted: June 10, 2011

WRONGED Graterford lifer Marcus Perez has filed an appeal, based partly on fresh reporting on his case in the Daily News.

The motion, to correct a mistake in sentencing, was filed by attorney Daniel McGarrigle, who cited other causes for relief, especially the mysterious change in the official court transcript made four years after Perez's hearing and sentencing. A "correction" coming years after a hearing is extremely rare, and the motion says the change was made without Perez's knowledge.

The appeal asks the court to allow Perez, 40, to find out who asked for the "correction" - and why. That is a question I've asked the District Attorney's Office in vain.

"We're not playing procedural 'gotcha,' " McGarrigle told me, referencing a recent spanking the state Supreme Court gave a local judge after she had a transcript changed. Transcripts must be "sacrosanct," McGarrigle said, echoing the high court.

As I've reported previously, Jerome Teresinski of the D.A.'s staff contacted court reporter Kenneth Brown and brought an "error" to his attention. Teresinski is now with the Justice Department and has not responded to requests for an interview.

The "correction" involved a single word, one that significantly changed what Judge Theodore McKee had told Perez - and undermined Perez's basis for appeal.

In the original transcript, McKee tells Perez, "Life implies 17 1/2 to 35 years. . . . That is the most you could receive if you go to trial" for murder. In the "corrected" version, McKee offers Perez "life plus 17 1/2 to 35 years." Logic screams this question: Why would Perez take a plea bargain of life plus more time? It makes no sense.

Court reporter Brown may hold the key. After he did not respond to my voicemail and email messages, I asked a mutual friend to ask Brown to speak with me, in the interest of justice.

Now retired, Brown told my friend he knew I was trying to reach him. "I'm not allowed to say anything at all, period," he said. "I can't say nothing."

I trust my friend to have correctly repeated what Brown said.

Who muzzled Brown? This smells like a coverup.

D.A. Seth Williams evades the question of how the "correction" came about. Instead, he pretends I am trying to spring Perez, who has served 21 years, from jail.

I am not. I am trying to get him the sentence he was promised by McKee.

Williams wasn't running the D.A.'s office when the transcript was changed. I can understand his wanting to shield his staff, but you don't protect your own people at the expense of others, like Marcus Perez.

When Judge McKee, with his excellent reputation, says he was mistaken in what he told Perez, I find that convincing.

With Perez's sixth appeal now filed, Williams has a chance to do the right thing, and he doesn't have to lift a finger. All the D.A. has to do is . . . nothing.

If the D.A. doesn't oppose the appeal, the door would be open for Perez to get the correct sentence. He would not be handed a "Get Out of Jail Free" card because the parole board would still have to decide whether to release him and when.

For justice to have our respect, it must be fair, and what happened to Perez was not. With no reason to lie, Judge McKee says, "I clearly said to him he would not die in prison." Perez trusted what the judge said, as you or I might. But the judge got it wrong and Perez got burned.

To serve justice, all Williams has to do is . . . nothing, and not oppose Perez's appeal.

That would be just. That would be honorable.

Email stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. See Stu on Facebook. This column normally appears Mondays and Thursdays. For recent columns:

www.philly.com/Byko.

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