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Maurice Carter

Maurice Carter

Maurice Carter: Convict had sentence commuted

GARY, IN -- An Indiana native whose life sentence in a Michigan prison was commuted for medical reasons was remembered by friends and family at his funeral Wednesday as a man able to forgive and love, and some vowed to keep fighting to prove his innocence.

Maurice Carter, who died Oct. 25 at age 60, was convicted of shooting and wounding an off-duty Benton Harbor police officer in 1973. Gov. Jennifer Granholm commuted his sentence in July because Carter suffered from hepatitis and needed a liver transplant. He died of complications from the disease and a damaged liver.

Mourners gathered Wednesday at Genesis Center in Gary, Ind., for the funeral, and Carter was buried at Fair Oaks Cemetery in Griffith, Ind., according to the Post-Tribune of Merrillville.

Grand Rapids attorney Carole Bos said she hopes to reopen the investigation into the shooting with evidence that points to a new suspect.

"I made a promise to Maurice that even when he isn't here, we are all going to work to clear his name," Bos said.

Keith Findley, an attorney with the Wisconsin Innocence Project who handled Carter's final appeal for a new trial, said Carter "will be a guiding inspiration for us as we fight for the unfairly convicted."

The Benton Harbor police officer, Thomas Schadler, was shot six times. He recovered and died two years ago of cancer. His family opposed Carter's release.

Ex-inmate dies of liver disease, but fight goes on
Supporters will continue their efforts to clear his name in shooting of police officer

Maurice Carter

Maurice Carter spent 28 years behind bars for shooting and wounding Thomas Schadler, an off-duty Benton Harbor police officer

GRAND RAPIDS - Maurice Carter's death from the liver disease that gained him an early but brief release from prison will not end his supporters' efforts to clear his name, they said.

Carter, 60, spent 28 years behind bars for shooting and wounding a police officer before Gov. Jennifer Granholm commuted his life sentence because of his illness.

He died Sunday at Spectrum Health-Butterworth Campus of complications from hepatitis C and liver damage, friend Doug Tjapkes said.

"He was in the hospital every two weeks, but he had some wonderful experiences as well," Tjapkes said.

Carter's death came three months to the day after that he was released from prison. The Gary, Ind., native spent the last several months of his sentence as a patient at the Duane L. Waters Hospital inside the Jackson prison complex.

He had hoped to receive a life-saving liver transplant and remained optimistic until the very end, but a staph infection acquired during his incarceration prevented him from being evaluated for the operation, Tjapkes said.

Tjapkes led the effort to free Carter and said he will continue to try and clear his friend's name.

A jury convicted Carter in 1976 of shooting and wounding Thomas Schadler, an off-duty Benton Harbor police officer.

Schadler was shot several times as he and his wife, Ruth, were shopping at a Benton Harbor store on Dec. 20, 1973. Though injured, the officer returned fire at his assailant outside the store.

The motive for the shooting never was established, but the Schadlers identified Carter as the gunman. Thomas Schadler died in March 2002.

Carter claimed he was innocent, but his efforts to get a new trial were denied. As his health declined in recent years, Tjapkes and others started a grass-roots movement to get him freed from prison.

Ruth Schadler wrote a letter to the Michigan Parole Board requesting that Carter be kept in prison. But this year, the board recommended that Granholm commute his sentence for medical reasons, which she did in June.

Carter received the support of several individuals and organizations, including the University of Wisconsin Law School's Wisconsin Innocence Project and Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions.

Rob Warden, executive director of the Northwestern center, is convinced of Carter's innocence, saying "he had absolutely nothing to do with" the shooting.

Warden called his death "a gross, gross tragedy. The state of Michigan should be ashamed, and the county of Berrien should be ashamed of what they did to Maurice Carter. He's gone, most of his supporters would agree, to a better place."

Berrien County Prosecutor James Cherry said Warden "is entitled to his opinion and his perspective."

"We don't get any satisfaction out of the fact that Maurice Carter died, but the fact remains that Maurice Carter was convicted and he failed in appeal after appeal after appeal," Cherry said

After reviewing the case this year, Cherry recommended that Carter's prison sentence be commuted because of his state of health and the length of time he already had served.

"In considering the sentence commutation, the governor was not revisiting the merits of the case and determining Mr. Carter's innocence or guilt. Her role was strictly to evaluate the request for a sentence commutation and in the end, she honored his request," said Liz Boyd, Granholm's press secretary.