ALPENA - Alpena County Prosecutor Ed Black and August primary election opponent Don Dowling Jr. both believe they are the best person suited for putting Alpena's criminals behind bars for as long as possible. The difference is how each says they are going to do it.
Black said the criminals who have been convicted in Alpena County over the last 3 1/2 years have been backed into a corner because of the strength of cases made by him and his staff that many times they accept long prison terms voluntarily. Dowling said he thinks Black offers too many plea deals, and more extensive punishments can be handed out.
Black said in his first term in office he has sent many people to prison for 20 years or more. He said several individuals made pleas that required them to spend the rest of their lives behind bars. Black said he will accept a plea if the guidelines clearly indicate the prison time will be the same and to protect the victim of the act.
"Although some cases have been resolved via plea, and I'm not sure what is wrong with that when you have four people go to prison for life via plea, three of them were for criminal sexual conduct," Black said. "I think those are good results, and to get those without having to put a child who was a victim on the stand during trial is even more important. There are guidelines you have in place for sentencing, and if I can get the same amount of jail time from a plea that I would get from a trial and save the victims the anguish, then I really can't see how that is a bad thing."
Dowling, who was an assistant prosecutor in Alpena County and worked in district court, sees things a little differently. He said too many deals are made that lead to softer sentences. He said if he is elected, more crimes will be decided in trial, and he won't have as many plea bargains as Black.
"He has plea bargains for almost every case," Dowling said. "There are very few cases that go to trial, including violent offenses that didn't go to trial since he has been in the office. We have to focus on violent crimes and criminal sexual conduct cases, and I think those types of cases have to go to trial."
Dowling said he has been involved in law for 28 years in Alpena and believes he can step in and get right to work. He said his work with the court earlier in his career will help smooth the transition.
"I think my biggest asset is experience, and I think I was effective while I worked at the district court," Dowling said. "The prosecutor's job is to convict people who have committed serious crimes, and I believe I can do that."
Black said when he was elected, he promised to divide his time between putting people behind bars and helping victims involved in the crimes. He said showing compassion and simple things like telling them what to expect throughout the process helps ease any pain or frustration they feel.
"The cases I feel the most strongly about are cases involving children. Those are aggressively pursued no matter what, because in many of them a person's innocence has been destroyed," he said. "The whole office is here to help the victims. That is what my office is here for. They're the ones stuck in a situation they don't understand the process. We want to help them through it."
The primary election is on Aug. 7.
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.