Benton Harbor’s most prominent political activist will spend a minimum of two and a half years behind bars for crimes he insists he did not commit.
“I’ve committed no crime and unfortunately, if I was anybody else, I wouldn’t be here,” said Rev. Edward Pinkney today in court. “I can’t say if any dates were changed, but unfortunately I’m here.”
The 66 year old Pinkney was sentenced to spend a minimum of 30 months in prison—and a maximum of 120 months on five felony counts related to election forgery. The convictions stem from a petition drive that sought to force a recall election for mayor.
“So how can you convict a man without evidence? I ask that question today to Judge Schrock, and Berrien County.
All I know is it was racism: that was the deciding factor of Reverend Pinkney,” said protestor Marcina Cole, who lives in Detroit.
Cole was among some 50 or so protestors who chanted “free Pinkney” in the courthouse parking lot after today’s sentencing.
The Benton Harbor election fraud case was held out as yet another reason for minorities to mistrust the judicial system at a time when confidence already appears low.
“The sentencing, the ruling by the jury reflects that this was a kangaroo court,” said Benton Harbor City Commissioner At-Large, Marcus Muhammad. “So for Rev. Pinkney to be convicted and sentenced to prison on this day only reflects that the justice system is in shambles.”
In the courtroom, Pinkney was adamant and unbending: “I've committed no crime and unfortunately if I was anybody else I wouldn't be here.”
As the judge mulled over the possibility of prison time, Pinkney’s attorney, Tat Parish, pleaded for leniency. “We have to be careful that we don’t give the impression that we’re punishing people excessively because we don’t like them, or because we don’t like their political views or what they’re doing.”
In the end, the same judge who oversaw Pinkney’s probation after his previous election fraud conviction in 2007 was in no mood to do it again.
Berrien County Fifth District Judge Sterling Schrock imposed a sentence with a minimum of 30 months in prison, and a maximum of 120 months. “With the verdict on the five counts of forgery today that gives you 12 felony convictions, nine of which are related to attempts to unlawfully, according to the convictions, to interfere with the election process. That’s troubling.”
In both cases, Pinkney was convicted of meddling in Benton Harbor recall attempts. In court today, it was stated that Pinkney does not live within the city limits—but rather in Benton Township.
While the judge received more than 100 letters in support of Pinkney, said only one was from Southwestern Michigan, and that most came from other states.
Pinkney’s attorney pointed out that it’s easy to see why whoever altered dates on the recall petitions--did what they did.
“Those signatures would have been valid, perfectly valid, if it wouldn’t have been for the unanticipated and unforeseeable event of a snowstorm. That closed the courthouse and made it impossible to file on Friday when they would have been perfectly valid,” said Tat Parish.
It’s alleged dates were changed on five petition pages to make it appear that the signatures were gathered within the sixty day period required by law.