Ex-Con Resigns as Law Clerk for Michigan Justice Before He Began -- Who is Peter Martel?

Tracy Stengel

Peter Martel.Photo byThe University of Michigan

After taking office Sunday, The Detroit News reported Justice Kyra Bolden, appointed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer, chose Peter Martel, an ex-convict as her key aide. Just hours after the announcement, The Detroit News reported Peter Martel resigned.

This was after scathing criticism from Justice Bernstein, fellow member of the court. Berstein said, “I’m all about second chances. But there are certain jobs you should never be allowed to have after you shoot at a police officer, and one of them is clerking for the highest court in the state.” He continued with, “I’m completely disgusted by this.”

Peter Martel served 14 years in prison — 10 of them in solitary confinement — from 1994–2008. His family stood by him and sent him books to read, wrote letters, and visited often. They also paid for college correspondence courses while he was incarcerated. 

Martel did his undergrad at Mott Community College and UM Flint. By 2013 Martel was working as program associate with AFSC’s Michigan Criminal Justice Program. He guided prisoners through the steps needed to get out of prison and stay out, while encouraging them to use their experiences to change the system. In 2013, AFSC posted the story of Martel’s transformation on their website.

“My friends and I had been stealing things for a while. We started off stealing car stereo equipment, then progressed to stealing cars and breaking into homes. Eventually we began committing armed robberies. We intended to rob banks. Before we got to that point, we were arrested. We had just robbed a convenience store, and a police officer ran across us as we were fleeing the scene. When he turned on his lights to pull us over, I started shooting at the cruiser. The chase continued with more police and more shots. In the end, we were arrested, and no one was injured,” Martel said.

Martel was twenty years old when he was put behind bars. He said, “I was sent to prison, tried and failed to escape, and then sent to Michigan’s super-max prison, where I would begin serving a 10-year stretch in ‘administrative segregation,” i.e., solitary confinement. I knew I had dug a very deep hole because of my poor decisions, which I traced back, at least in part, to high school. I graduated with a 1.05 GPA and knew that I had not learned much of what I was supposed to have learned.”

Somehow, he developed a thirst for knowledge. Martel said, “So early on in my incarceration and in segregation, I decided to start reading all of the books I was supposed to have read in high school.” He added, “As I read, I began to think about my relationships with others and the world, and how my decisions and actions might have affected others in my past. I realized how I had harmed others by stealing from them or shooting at them, or by disappointing those who loved me.”

He attributed his turnaround to his family’s unwavering dedication and education. “Love, support, and knowledge are more effective in creating a better world than punitive, retributive actions will ever be,” he said.

Martel graduated from Wayne State University in 2015 and became a mitigation specialist. He passed his bar exam in 2017 and joined the lawyers at the State Appellate Defender Office.

Last month, Martel spoke out about the conditions of Macomb Correctional facility in Lenox, Michigan after two aspiring rappers filmed a rap video from their prison cell. Martel told Fox 2 Detroit prisons have been in decline for years. As to how inmates got a hold of a cell phone to make a video, Martel speculated, “All signs for me point to staff bringing things in.”

How do you feel about Martel’s resignation? Do you think he did the right thing? Do you believe he deserved the honor in the first place? I’d love to see your opinions in the comments!

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Tracy explores the world with a positive eye, an open heart, and a sprinkling of humor. Without laughter, she would be lost.

Onsted, MI

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