Capital Cases in Michigan: When Life in Prison is at Risk

While Michigan abolished the death penalty in the state constitution in 1964, the term “Capital Case” now has a new meaning in our state, and this is life in prison. While many advocates, including those of the ACLU (, stand against the death penalty, many feel that a life sentence in the Michigan Department of Corrections ( is a penalty far worse than death. For those charged with a capital case, choosing the attorney to fight for their freedom becomes the most pivotal of decisions. Today, we spoke to several of the top lawyers in the State of Michigan to discuss how to combat a capital case.

Matthew McManus is the Managing Member of McManus and Amadeo ( in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and his firm has over 100 capital cases currently in litigation. McManus spoke on the subject when he said, “The capital case is a concept where the stakes could not be higher. We often get a private polygraph done with retired Michigan State Police Officer Andrew Longuski ( to see if the defendant can pass a test. If you can pass a Longuski test, we then ask for a police test. Sadly, many prosecutors on a case such as this do not care about polygraph results, but the test certainly has value in other aspects of litigation.”

Jennifer Kelley is a Senior Associate for McManus and Amadeo and one of the top family law attorneys in Michigan. Kelley stated, “When we have this type of case, we often research the surroundings of the defendant. If the alleged victim is a family member or a former relationship product, we find out if there is a motive. In many of these cases, there is limited or no physical evidence, and the prosecutor is simply taking the word of someone.”

William Amadeo is a partner at McManus and Amadeo and a Senior Associate for Grabel and Associates. Amadeo is known as one of the top criminal defense lawyers in Michigan and added his thoughts on the subject. Amadeo said, “These cases are not made for everyone. Expectations are very subjective, and the reality is how you approach these cases in Washtenaw, Wayne, Jackson, or Shiawassee County is completely different. The defense lawyer needs to have the courage to fight like hell at trial or push for a plea deal that will protect their client. If the prosecutor knows that you truly do not want to go to trial, that will compromise your negotiations. Having successfully tried many of these cases, you need to understand that the community’s pulse is essential. This is something that Joe (Brugnoli) and I review when we tag team a case.”

Joe Brugnoli is a Senior Associate for Grabel and Associates ( and is known as one of the top criminal defense lawyers in the northern part of Michigan. Brugnoli added his thoughts on the topic when he stated, “A lot can be established at the preliminary examination.  Sometimes running a strong prelim can set the tone; other times, waiving the prelim is the move. Of course, this defense on the county, if I am working a CSC 1 in Wayne County, the APA will want to run the test. You truly do need someone that knows that court, or you will set yourself up for failure.”

Nancy Eaton-Gordon is a partner at Jackson Eaton-Gordon & Associates ( and has evolved into one of the top litigators in Lenawee County, Michigan. Eaton-Gordon added, “In Lenawee County, there are two circuit court judges who are far different from a Wayne County where you never know who you may get on the blind draw.  This gives you an understanding of how to proceed in our court, and this is critical to protecting your client in such a contested manner.”

While being charged with a capital case is not an experience that anyone wants ever to have to endure; having a lawyer that knows your court and the community is essential to success.  Success in criminal law is a very subjective term. When one’s freedom is on the line, the attorney’s oath and the efforts they make will determine the future of the defendant.

Justia Lawyer Rating
Contact Information