Resentencing of Man Convicted of Murder Put on Hold by Michigan Court of Appeals

Leo Terlisner, a man who is now 65 years old, was convicted in 1977 for a murder and robbery that occurred in 1971. Another man, James Wayne Wilson, was also convicted; both are currently serving sentences of life in prison without parole in the murder of Joe Swetay. In March of this year, Terlisner’s conviction was overturned by the Michigan Court of Appeals. On Tuesday, his resentencing was put on hold according to a news article at

Terlisner’s attorney and Circuit Judge Paul E. Hamre determined that Terlisner’s conviction is unjust according to a 1980 ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court due to the fact that the common law felony murder doctrine is now defunct. Attorney Kathleen Sutton said in her motion that the law is now contradictory because the doctrine was abolished. The judge agreed, and issued a decision on March 21 saying that, “The court finds that the common law felony murder rule that the intent to commit the underlying felony satisfied the mental element for first-degree murder, which was abolished by the Michigan Supreme Court . . . resulted in the unjust conviction of Defendant Terlisner.”

Joe Swetay was killed in his home on May 1, 1971. Swetay owned a grocery store, bar, and gas station in Covert, and frequently took the proceeds from the business to his home where he locked it in a safe. Swetay was found stabbed and beaten following the robbery which took place in his home, although the safe was unopened but damaged.

An emergency appeal of Judge Hamre’s decision was filed by Van Buren County Prosecutor Michael Bedford and the Michigan Attorney General with the Michigan Court of Appeals to halt a May 6 resentencing hearing. Hamre is expected to resentence the defendant on a charge of unarmed robbery at the hearing, which could ultimately mean he would walk away from prison considering he has been incarcerated for 36 years.

Now, the Michigan Court of Appeals has put the resentencing hearing on hold; news reports do not indicate when it may take place.

Michigan criminal appeals attorneys know that while in many cases individuals may be wrongly convicted, there are also situations such as the one above in which rules of the law change or become defunct.

If you are considering an appeal of your conviction or sentencing, it’s important that you speak with a Michigan criminal appeals lawyer who is knowledgeable and experienced in the process, as obtaining a good outcome is not a simple task to accomplish.

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