TRI-CITY AREA — Christmas came a little early for the family of John Topie, a former teacher and award-winning coach who was sentenced in March, 2017 to 5-15 years in prison for armed robbery.
Lapeer County Circuit Court Judge Nick Holowka issued the sentence after Topie admitted to walking into the Baldwin Rd. Pharmacy in June of 2015 with a BB gun and demanded their supply of the pain killer drug Fentanyl. Topie, who turned himself in shortly after the crime, has been jailed ever since.
On Friday, Dec. 21, the 68-year-old learned that Governor Rick Snyder approved a recommendation to commute his sentence. He is expected to be released in early 2019.
A commutation does not nullify Topie's conviction, but it does reduce the time of an individual's sentence. Along with Topie's commutation, Snyder decided to grant some 61 requests for clemency.
Topie said he became addicted to pain killers, which were prescribed to him following two separate back surgeries. At the time of his sentencing, Topie's attorney—John Lengemann of Imlay City—advocated that his client be placed in a rehabilitation program rather than prison.
Friday's commutation is good news, Lengemann says.
"It's nice to see an injustice corrected. He should have been placed in rehabilitation, not in prison," he says.
Topie's family is also thrilled about and grateful for Snyder's decision on Friday.
"We are beyond thrilled to announce that John has been granted a commutation by Governor Snyder today," Topie's daughter Annie Cicotte stated in a Facebook post on Friday.
"This act of mercy wouldn't have happened without the support, love and prayers from all of you over the last 3.5 years. We do not have a release date for him yet, but it will be sometime in early 2019...On behalf of him and all of us, thank you for your support through this long and challenging journey. God bless you all."
Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.