Senate candidate speaks out
Published 2:44 am Tuesday, October 26, 2010
For the time being, the sentencing of 15-year-old Dakotah Eliason brings to an end a case that has captivated the community since March.
But outside the Berrien County South County Courthouse Monday, Eliason, sentenced to life without parole after being tried and convicted of first-degree murder, served as part of the political platform for one state Senate candidate.
Democratic candidate Scott Elliott spoke to members of the press following the Eliason sentencing.
With Eliason’s father, Steven, and his grandmother, Jean Miles, standing behind him, Elliott questioned the restrictions imposed on children in such instances as voting rights and military draft, while an absence on restriction appears when it comes to trying a juvenile as an adult and delivering an adult sentence like life without parole.
“For over six years, a large coalition, which includes organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the Michigan Catholic Conference, have worked tirelessly in our state’s capitol to abolish such dangerous laws that do not take into account a child’s cognitive and emotional development and their tremendous ability to be rehabilitated,” Elliott said. “Unfortunately the Michigan legislature has not taken advantage of its many opportunities to correct this terrible injustice. Today, as a father, grandfather and a concerned citizen, I implore our elected officials to do better and abolish these harsh sentences.”
While some of Eliason’s family stood behind Elliott, others stood against him.
Vickie Hartz, daughter of Jesse Miles, whom Eliason shot and killed in March, Miles’ sister, Mary, and niece, Angie, along with a few others, chose to picket Elliot’s press conference.
Hartz questioned supporting parole for juvenile murderers when she said there were statistics regarding the commonality of habitual offenders.
“Our prison system does not rehabilitate,” she said.
Elliott, however, spoke of the Eliason sentencing as a “tragedy” and claimed the state needed to “be a leader and innovator in its commitment to human rights for our young people…”
“A society that fails to uphold basic human rights for young people is not a society where I want my grandchild to grow up,” he said. “A society that fails its young people by sending them a clear and direct message that they are forever banished to a life behind bars is not a society where, I believe, anyone would want their child to grow up. Children are the very definition of hope for society and deserve to be given a second chance when they, like many children — and adults — make mistakes.”
A long, hard fought battle on both sides
For Hartz, the murder of her father was not viewed as a mistake but an act that has forever changed her life and the lives of those who knew and loved her father.
Life, she said, would “never be the same. It has split the family.”
When asked if she felt her family had been fractured permanently she answered, “pretty much.”
“How would they feel if they were the only one left in their family?” asked Miles’ sister, Mary, who is now the only living member of her own.
As he watched Elliott and Steven Eliason address members of the press, defense attorney Lanny Fisher reflected on a case that has consumed all involved for the past eight months. For him, he said, it was a “long, hard-fought battle.”
“For the last eight months I’ve seen, I’ve been in the middle of this devastated family,” he said. “It’s just… I know how remorseful Dakotah is.”
Fisher said his client never told him what he planned to say in court on Monday but did not hesitate at the decision to speak.