A Battle Creek man serving a life sentence for murder is asking Gov. Jennifer Granholm to release him from prison.
Thomas Cress, 53, is asking that his sentence for the 1983 rape and murder of Patricia Rosansky be commuted, or that he be pardoned.
The Michigan Parole and Commutation Board this week notified prosecutors and defense attorneys in the case that it may set a hearing in the case to determine a recommendation for the governor.
Granholm has the power as governor to order Cress released.
A petition for Cress was filed with the Department of Corrections about a year ago, according to Bridget McCormack of the Michigan Innocence Project at the University of Michigan. She said Thursday her office was notified that the parole board will hold a hearing, tentatively scheduled for March 16.
"He is innocent. He didn't do it," she said.
However a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections, John Cordell, said a hearing date has not been set and might not, depending on responses by prosecutors and others who might oppose the petition.
Calhoun County Prosecutor Susan Mladenoff said her office has been notified about the petition and has 30 days to object.
Mladenoff declined to discuss the petition before she notified Rosansky's family, who live in another state. However, she said, "We will be filing an objection."
She doesn't believe the parole board will schedule a hearing before all objections are considered.
Cress was convicted in 1985 in the murder of Rosansky, a 17-year-old Battle Creek Central High School student who was found raped and strangled on April 6, 1983, in a wooded area near the Kalamazoo River in Bedford Township. She had been missing for about two months.
Three witnesses came forward about a year after the murder, claiming Cress made statements to them about killing Rosansky. No physical evidence or eyewitness testimony linked Cress to the murder, and Cress maintained he was delivering newspapers on Feb. 3, 1983, the day Rosansky disappeared.
Cress always has maintained his innocence.
In their petition, defense attorneys argue that the testimony of the three people was inconsistent and lacked detail, and that the witnesses later recanted or admitted to others they accused Cress to collect a reward.
The case was further muddied in the mid-1990s, when Michael Ronning, formerly of Battle Creek and serving a life sentence in Arkansas for murder, testified he killed Rosansky and two other women, Maggie Hume and Carrie Evans. Those women were both killed in the Battle Creek area in the early 1980s.
Defense attorneys also argued that evidence at the scene, which could have been tested for DNA, was destroyed years after the trial. Prosecutors at the time argued it was a routine destruction of evidence, and they said they didn't know the case was still under investigation.
Testimony from Ronning was initially enough to convince Calhoun County Circuit Court Judge Allen Garbrecht to grant a new trial for Cress, but after another hearing -- and evidence that Ronning was unable to find the crime scene -- the judge reversed his decision.
The Michigan Court of Appeals then granted Cress a new trial, but the Michigan Supreme Court overruled that decision.
Two retired investigators, Commander Joe Newman and Detective Dennis Mullen of the Battle Creek Police Department, both have argued Cress is not guilty of the Rosansky murder. They are supporting the petition to commute his sentence or pardon him.
"I gave testimony as part of a video presentation (The Innocence Project) was going to provide," Newman said Thursday, "because Cress is innocent, because he was wrongfully convicted and the prosecutor's office has taken an adversarial position, so we are left with no alternative than to request a commutation."
Both Newman and Mullen believe Ronning killed Rosansky, Hume and Evans. No one has been convicted in the Hume and Evans cases.
Cress remains a prisoner at the Richard Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia, where a hearing, if granted, would be held.
Trace Christenson can be reached at 966-0685 or firstname.lastname@example.org.