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Family wants daughter's convicted murderer released from prison

“This is one of my favorites where she was in her Flag Corps uniform.”

Ellen Machemer and her son David look over old family photos to remember their daughter and sister Sue Ellen. They say she was a girl who stuck out among the rest at Lakeshore High School.

“She was quite an active…. And she was in the same school as Michael,” said Ellen Machemer.

Michael Johnson was the 17-year-old classmate convicted of second degree murder for Sue Ellen’s death in 1980 and sentenced to life with the possibility of parole, but he’s has never had a parole hearing.

After a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life without parole, a Berrien County judge took a look back at Johnson’s now 38-year-old case and says his sentencing is now invalid, even though he was sentenced with the option of parole and 17-year-olds are considered adults under Michigan law.

Now, Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic is appealing the ruling, calling the judge’s application of the Supreme Court decision to Johnson’s case flawed.

 “It is the opinion of this prosecutor’s office that when a judge makes an error in the legal analysis of a case and that decision may affect other cases, the prosecutor has a responsibility to make sure the law is followed,” said in a press release to ABC 57 News Tuesday.

But the victim’s family disagrees.

“Sometimes I think we get so bogged down in the technicalities we forget what it’s all about,” said David Machemer.

The Machemer’s have grown to forgive Johnson and become friends with his family, even visiting him in prison.

“After the whole incident happened, it gradually sunk in, ‘oh my gosh.. I know that family,” said David.

“Our relationship with his family has been one of the good things that’s come out of it.” said Ellen.

In a conversation with ABC 57 reporter Andrea Alvarez, they say that it took a long time to get to this place.

“There was many years that you would’ve asked me and I would’ve said ‘I’ve forgiven him, but I think he should stay in there’,” said David.

But they’re ready for Johnson, who’s become a model prisoner and talented artist, to be released.

“Over the years I’ve seen the progress he’s made, the steps he’s taken,” said David Ellen Machemer.

“It’s been 38 years and now when we think of Sue Ellen, it’s more with the good things,” said Ellen. “We happen to believe she’s in heaven and we’ll see her again and that helps a great deal... we just think it’s time.”

The two families have become so close, they were on their way to have dinner together Tuesday night after the interview.

As far as the appeal, stick with ABC 57 News for the latest on the final decision.


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