Efrén Paredes, Jr. was arrested at age 15 and wrongly convicted in 1989 for a murder and armed robbery he did not commit; a crime to which others have admitted guilt. He has been imprisoned now over 20 years. The crime occurred in St. Joseph, Michigan (Berrien County), USA.
Efrén had no criminal history previous to his arrest and was a high school honor student at the time. He was tried and convicted only three months after his arrest on March 15, 1989 and convicted by 11 White jurors and one Black juror in a city whose racial composition was 95% White. The judge, prosecutor, and all the investigating police were also all White.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Berrien County ranks among the top 25 most segregated metropolitan areas in the country. It is also important to note that all the youth in Berrien County who have received life without parole (LWOP) sentences have been children of color. Efrén is also the only Latino youth in Berrien County history to receive a LWOP sentence.
The case against Efrén was entirely circumstantial and based primarily on the statements of other youth who received reduced charges and sentences from the prosecutor in exchange for their incentivized testimony.
Asst. Prosecuting Attorney Michael Sepic knowingly committed professional misconduct when he allowed a man, who would later become the jury foreman, to be seated on the jury who worked with the aunt of the victim's widow in Efrén's case.
The information about the juror's connection to the aunt was brought to Sepic's attention on two occasions, once before the trial began and once after it began by the victim's widow. Sepic has openly acknowledged that he knew this information, most recently at Efrén's December 4, 2008 public hearing. Appellate courts have held these acts of unprofessional and conspiracy by Sepic were "harmless error."
There was no physical evidence linking Efrén to the crime, no eyewitnesses to the crime, and Efrén was home with his parents and two brothers when the crime occurred. Despite all this Efrén was sentenced to two life without parole sentences and one parolable life sentence. He is now 36-years-old.
The Berrien County Prosecutor's Office and police investigating the crime provided false and erroneous information to the media in an attempt to convict Efrén in the media before trial. Their unethical conduct and betrayal of the public trust infected every level of the legal process and contributed to Efrén's unlawful conviction.
Efrén has the support of several notable scholars and activists across the country including Dr. Elizabeth "Betita" Martinez, Director, Institute for MultiRacial Justice, author, and activist; Dr. Carlos Muñoz, Jr., Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley, author and activist; Dr. Rodolfo Acuña, historian, educator and Chicano studies scholar; Dr. Jorge Chinea, Director of Chicano-Boricua Studies Department, Wayne State University, author and activist; Juana Alicia, muralist, printmaker, educator, and activist; Favianna Rodriguez, political printmaker, digital artist, activist; Dr. Martha Grace Duncan, Professor of Law, Emory University, and author; Dr. Walter Garcia-Kawamoto, Journal of Adolescent Research, Manuscript Consulting Editor; Elena Herrada, Director of Centro Obrero, activist, and writer; Elisha Miranda aka E-Fierce, filmmaker, writer, and activist; and others.
Efrén also enjoys the support of world renowned wrongful convictions expert Paul Ciolino, a veteran private investigator.
Ciolino is the author of numerous articles in professional publications and the book "In the Company of Giants: The Ultimate Investigation Guide for Legal Professionals, Activists, Journalists & the Wrongfully Convicted". In addition he co-wrote the best-selling and critically acclaimed textbooks "Advanced Forensic Criminal Defense Investigations" and "Advanced Forensic Civil Investigations".
Ciolino is chief investigative advisor to Northwestern University Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions, the Medill School of Journalism, and DePaul University Center for Justice in Capital Cases.
According to Ciolino, "There is not one shred of credible evidence to suggest that Efrén was involved in the murder. No weapon, no eyewitnesses, no physical evidence, no motive, no prior conduct to suggest that a 15-year-old student athlete, and honor role student with zero criminal background, would have planned, participated or committed this murder. The community and jury were sold a bill of goods based on the words of drug dealers and thieves."
Tuesday, February 10, 2009, the Berkeley City Council (California) voted to condemn the life without parole sentences imposed on Efrén as human rights violations in contravention with several international treaties. They join the 192 nations in the world who have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and universally condemned the imposition of life without parole sentences for children. City councils in other municipalities will now begin following the model set in Berkeley. Click here to read more about this historic resolution and read our press release.
Efrén appeared in the 2004 study released by the ACLU of Michigan about life without parole sentences for youth in Michigan titled, "Second Chances," p. 16 and appeared on the cover of the 2005 national life without parole sentences for youth study released by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International titled, "The Rest of Their Lives." His case was also presented to the United Nations Human Rights Commission twice. Once by the University of San Francisco School of Law Human Rights Advocates and once by the ACLU of Michigan.
Life without parole (LWOP) sentences for youth contravene several international treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (which has been ratified by every country except the U.S. and Somalia), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which the U.S. has signed) and a 2007 U.N. General Assembly resolution calling on all nations to abolish the death penalty and LWOP sentences for youth (the vote was 176-1, the U.S. dissenting).
It is noted that a 2005 Wayne State University School of Social Work study entitled, "Juveniles Incarcerated for Natural Life Within Adult Prisons: Public Opinion in Michigan," found that 95% of Michigan residents surveyed are opposed to life without parole sentences being imposed on youth.
By signing this petition you can express support for Efrén's release and ask that the Hon. Governor Jennifer Granholm grant his commutation request.
People can also learn more about Efrén and our efforts to free him by visiting our web site at http://www.4Efren.com. You can also visit our blogs at http://Free-Efren.blogspot.com and http://4Efren.blogspot.com. Additionally, you can follow our campaign in real-time on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/Free_Efren.
*This petition was created 7-23-09.
Efrén Biographical Information
During his incarceration Efrén has accomplished many things. At age 16 he earned his GED and began attending Montcalm Community College where he earned 30 credits before the college programming was removed from Michigan prisons. He is a Literary Braille Transcriber certified by the U.S. Library of Congress, lecturer, educator, human rights activist, and writer. He actively works to effectuate positive change in many areas of society.
Efrén's work has been featured in newspaper articles and on web sites, blogs, Facebook and other social networking sites. He has appeared on various radio stations and podcasts across the country (i.e., Kentucky, Michigan, District of Columbia, and California), including in Toronto, ON Canada. He has also conducted workshops via phone at the University of Oregon, University of Southern California, and Michigan State University on the subjects of juvenile life without parole sentencing, community development and empowerment, leadership, and Latino culture, history and identity.
Within the past couple of years Efrén has founded the End Latino Youth Violence Initiative which has over 2,200 members. He has also founded the groups Abolish Juvenile Life Without Parole Sentences in the USA (with over 2,700 members), Demand an End to the I.C.E. Raids and Support Comprehensive Immigration Reform (with over 7,600 members), I Pledge to Help Young Xicanas/Latinas Graduate (with over 1,800 members), and Honor Xicana/Latina/Indigenous Mothers (with over 1,100 members).
Additionally, Efrén has participated in University of Michigan Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) workshops for creative writing and art. He is a poet laureate whose writings have appeared in the books "A Crack in the Concrete" (University of Michigan, 2005) and "Immortal Verses" (International Society of Poets, 2006). He was nominated as poet of the year by the International Society of Poets in 2006.
Students at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Yale University, University of Southern California, Penn State University, Loyola University, and Knox College have used Efrén's case and powerful writings as part of class assignments in social work, criminal justice, and adolescent development classes.
When released, Efrén plans to own and operate his own braille production center, create employment opportunities for other Michigan residents, continue mentoring youth and college students, volunteer with service organizations, work to stem the tide of youth violence, promote education and higher learning, support human rights, and work to prevent incarceration and reduce recidivism.
Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter Users
If you use any of the social network platforms we ask you to please post a link to this petition, ask others to sign it, and invite them to do the same. We encourage you to also share this petition link with people via e-mail and word of mouth. A short link people can use to access this petition is http://tinyurl.com/FreeEPJ.
Members of the International Community
Members of the international community whose addresses do not conform to the template of this petition can send a message to Gov. Granholm via e-mail. You can copy and paste the text from the petition below and address it to "The Hon. Governor Jennifer Granholm" and e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.