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Jason Sadowski

Other Michigan Exonerations Where No Crime Occurred
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In the early morning hours of July 2, 2013, police in Ishpeming, Michigan responded to a 911 call made from a woman who said she was being held prisoner in the basement of a mixed martial arts studio. As they arrived, they confronted 43-year-old Jason Sadowski, owner of the studio, as he left the building. Police said he denied there was a basement and protested that police needed a warrant.

Officers entered the building, which also served as Sadowski’s residence, and said they discovered 30-year-old Angel Paris and 44-year-old Becky Bressette in the basement. The women were hysterical and claimed that they had been tortured, beaten and duct-taped to poles after they stole money from Sadowski’s wallet. Police arrested Sadowski and 65-year-old Charles Cope, who also was in the basement, after the women said he had helped Sadowski.

During an interview with police, Cope said he only participated because he did not want to “go against” Sadowski and did not want to “get in trouble” with Sadowski, a mixed martial arts fighter.

In February 2014, Sadowski and Cope went to trial in Marquette County Circuit Court. Defense attorneys and the prosecution knew that Cope’s statements to police were admissible against Cope, but would only be admissible against Sadowski if Cope testified at trial. If Cope did not testify, Sadowski’s lawyer would be unable to cross-examine him about the statements, which would violate his constitutional right to confront witnesses against him.

Rather than order separate trials, Judge Jennifer Mazzuchi ordered the prosecution and defense to edit Cope’s statement to eliminate all references to Sadowski so that (in theory) the jury would not realize he was talking about Sadowski.

Paris testified that she and Bressette approached Sadowski behind Hickey’s bar and asked for a lighter to smoke cigarettes. During their conversation, Paris expressed an interest in mixed martial arts and so she and Bressette agreed to go to Sadowski’s studio. Bressette did not testify at the trial because she had died of an accidental overdose of prescription medication. Instead, her videotaped testimony at a preliminary hearing was played for the jury.

Paris and Bressette could not agree on what happened at Sadowski’s studio, and what they said was contradicted by physical evidence. Both claimed they stole money from Sadowski’s wallet, but gave different amounts. Bressette said Sadowski struck her and she grabbed some curtains and yanked them to the floor—but police crime scene photos showed that the curtains were undisturbed.

Bressette said that Sadowski forced Paris to digitally search Bressette’s vagina for the missing money. Paris denied that ever happened. Both women said that Sadowski pulled out a sword and forced them to go down to the basement where Cope was awakened. They said they were duct-taped to poles and beaten and choked.

Bressette said Sadowski burned her with a cigarette and both women said Sadowski bashed their heads into the poles. Paris said that at one point, Sadowski told her to kill Bressette. Ultimately, according to Paris, she gained Sadowski’s trust and he freed her from the duct-tape. That’s when she found her jacket and dialed 911on her cell phone.

Despite the judge’s order to edit Sadowski’s name out of Cope statements, the prosecution elicited that information from police officer witnesses, over the repeated objections of Sadowski’s defense attorney.

One police officer testified there were no cuts or bruises on Sadowski’s hands.

Sadowski testified in his own defense and told a vastly different story. He said he was in his truck behind the bar, getting ready to leave when the women approached. He said Paris expressed interest in signing up for classes at the studio. Sadowski said that when he told them he was a licensed medical marijuana provider and had a grow room in his basement, Bressette said she had a medical marijuana card and wanted to purchase some marijuana. So they went to his nearby studio, Sadowski said.

He said they went to the residential portion of the building where he lived. He made drinks for Paris who did not smoke marijuana and smoked marijuana with Bressette. Sadowski said he was in and out of the room several times during the next few hours.

At one point, he said Paris asked to use the bathroom and when he showed her where it was, she admitted that she and Bressette had been stealing from him each time he left the room. Paris first said she took $3, then changed that to $13, but then took out $60 in cash from her pants and handed it to him. Bressette, who Sadowski said he found rifling through a filing cabinet when he returned from the bathroom with Paris, denied taking any money. Paris accused Bressette of lying and the women began to quarrel and started punching each other, Sadowski said.

Sadowski said he broke up the fight and Bressette then pulled $20 out of her pocket and handed it to him. Sadowski testified that his wallet, which had contained $250, was empty. When he asked for the rest of the money, the women began fighting again and eventually Bressette handed him back some more of his cash.

Sadowski said he attempted to calm them down and because he was out of alcohol, suggested they move to the basement where Cope rented living space to see if Cope had cigarettes and alcohol.

Sadowski said they drank vodka with Cope and that he made several trips up and down the stairs trying to investigate whether anything else was missing. He said he discovered some of his jewelry in Paris’s purse and suspected that some of his marijuana was missing as well. Sadowski testified that he told the women he was going to call the police unless they returned everything they had stolen. He said Paris denied taking the jewelry, even though it was in her purse.

At about 5 a.m., Sadowski’s ex-wife, Sarah Pietro, arrived to go to breakfast with Sadowski. Although no longer married, Pietro continued to help Sadowski run his martial arts business and she trained there as well. Sadowski said he was making tea and that Pietro came downstairs with him, and saw the women and Cope.

Sadowski said he walked Pietro out to her car and when he came back to the basement, he was shocked to see Bressette taped to a pole and Paris winding tape. Paris said no one was leaving until the money was found and returned, Sadowski said.

Sadowski told the jury that he cut the tape off and told the women he wanted them to leave. At that point, Paris offered to kill Bressette for him, Sadowski said. Astounded and convinced the women were too intoxicated to drive, Sadowski said he left the building to get coffee and as he stepped outside, he was confronted by the police.

Pietro testified for the defense and said she went to the basement when she came to the building and that Paris and Bressette were drinking alcohol and appeared unharmed.

Dr. Lyle Vanderschaaf, who examined Paris and Bressette at a hospital after police arrested Sadowski and Cope, said the women had injuries that were consistent with the story they told and also were consistent with Sadowski’s account—that the two women fought each other over the stolen money. There was no evidence that Bressette was burned by a cigarette, Vanderschaaf testified.

While swords were found in the building, they were not taken as evidence. A handgun was found under a pillow in Sadowski’s bedroom, which he said belonged to his wife. Pietro, in her testimony, said the gun was hers.

During closing argument, Cope’s defense attorney likened Sadowski to Darth Vadar, the evil, manipulative figure of Star Wars fame, and told the jury that Cope was controlled by Sadowski. Sadowski’s defense attorney argued that Cope’s lawyer had effectively become a second prosecutor in the case.

On March 4, 2014, the jury convicted Sadowski of one count of solicitation to commit murder, two counts of torture, two counts of unlawful imprisonment and two counts of assault by strangulation. He was acquitted of one count of criminal sexual conduct that related to the claim that he had forced Paris to search Bressette’s vagina for missing cash. Cope was convicted of two counts of unlawful imprisonment and two counts of torture.

Sadowski was sentenced to 40 to 80 years in prison. Cope was sentenced to 25 to 40 years in prison.

Peter Van Hoek, an attorney in the Michigan State Appellate Defender Office, was appointed to handle Sadowski’s appeal. In December 2015, the State of Michigan Court of Appeals vacated Sadowski’s convictions and ordered a new trial. Cope’s convictions were upheld.

The court ruled that the Sadowski had been deprived of a fair trial because the prosecution and police had violated Judge Mazzuchi’s order to prevent the jury from hearing Cope’s statement accusing Sadowski of imprisoning and attacking the two women. Instead, the prosecution allowed the jury to hear that Cope (who did not testify at trial) told the police during which that he participated in those crimes out of fear of Sadowski.

The appeals court also ruled that Judge Mazzuchi had erroneously allowed the Cope’s defense attorney to elicit testimony from police that the handgun had been found in Sadowski’s bedroom, even though there was no evidence it was ever displayed or involved in the incident in any fashion.

Sadowski went to trial a second time in March 2017. Prior to the trial, the defense discovered that Paris was interviewed by Ishpeming police officer Brent Zaborowske, who had not written up the interview and had not disclosed the interview to the defense.

In that interview, Paris said that she had no injuries to her neck—a very different description than her trial testimony, in which she said that Sadowski had violently choked her.

Zaborowske testified that he didn’t recall interviewing Paris. However, the defense played audio taken from a dashboard camera in Zaborowske’s car during which Paris said her neck was “okay.” The defense noted that Zaborowske spent about an hour talking with Paris.

Defense attorney Tony Ruiz asked Zaborowske, “If you had an hour-long interview with (Paris), is that something that you should have documented in a report?”

“I guess I just assumed it was just drinking a cup of coffee, calming the victim down,” Zaborowske replied. “That’s what I was treating it as.”

Paris testified and during cross-examination admitted that she had been using drugs at the time of the incident. She also admitted that years earlier, she pled guilty in Florida to lying to a police officer.

Sadowski again testified in his own defense and once again described the events as he had in his first trial.

On March 17, 2017, the jury acquitted Sadowski. Before he could be released, he was arrested by federal authorities on a charge of illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He was subsequently released on bond pending resolution of that charge.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/3/2017
State:Michigan
County:Marquette
Most Serious Crime:Other Violent Felony
Additional Convictions:Assault, Other Violent Felony
Reported Crime Date:2013
Convicted:2014
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:40 to 80 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:43
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No