Tuesday, May 28, 2013

John Norman Collins - Verdict and Sentence

 On Friday, January 16, 1970, the people's case against John Norman Collins finally went to the jury. 

They had been sequestered in a hotel for a full month during the trial proceedings. Now, after lunch at an undisclosed Ann Arbor restaurant, they returned to the jury room to begin deliberations at 1:10 PM. They retired for the evening at 9:30 PM.

On January 20, 1970, after four stressful days, one-hundred and one hours and thirty minutes since the jury began deliberations, the jury foreman informed the bailiff that they had arrived at a verdict. 

The jury had weighed the evidence for a total of twenty-seven hours, heard five and a half hours of trial testimony read back to them, and listened to the judge's instructions for a second time. The jury brought a murder in the first degree verdict against John Norman Collins for the wrongful death of Karen Sue Beineman.

Collins' mother Loretta audibly gasped when she heard the words no mother should hear, but many other Michigan mothers felt some level of relief at the headlines screaming out from the newspapers: Collins Found Guilty

Washtenaw County District Court Judge John W. Conlin set the date for sentencing as Wednesday, August 28th, 1970. 

On the appointed day with a courtroom packed mostly with press, the defendant and his family heard Judge Conlin pass the mandatory sentence: "Life in prison without possibility of parole at hard labor in solitary confinement." 

One hour after the court proceedings, Collins was in a prison van headed for Jackson State Prison.

As imposing as that may sound, Michigan Department of Corrections spokesperson told the press that the hard labor and solitary provision had not been enforced in Jackson State Prison for "the past fifteen years or so." It is impossible to do both at the same time, he said, so other inmate management plans were in place.

The press also learned that new prisoners are eased into the prison population for the first thirty days. Collins would be quarantined for testing and an adjustment period. 

Physicals, aptitude, intelligence, and psychological tests (which Collins has tacitly refused to take) are given to new arrivals. This helps prison committees determine the best placement for offenders and eligibility for parole.

Collins managed to work a number of menial jobs until he secured a job tutoring other inmates, which his supervisors thought he was good at, particularly with difficult inmates. In that job, he was able to meet people from many different areas of the prison.

While working at a food service job, a large amount of sugar was found missing from the kitchen pantry. When some inmates were caught with "spud juice" one evening. Collins was implicated in the sugar theft and the making of potato vodka. He soon lost all of his job privileges.


Today, John Norman Collins is on Administrative Segregation at Marquette Prison and spends most of the day in his cell with the exception of a one hour exercise period. Weightlifting, a life long interest, is difficult these days because of  knee and back injuries. To complicate matters, rumor has it that Collins had a mild stroke in the early spring of 2012.

Prison reports have it that Collins has taken to feeding birds during his exercise breaks, and he has in fact been reprimanded by prison officials for that. The birds recognize him when he is in the yard earning him the sobriquet, "the bird man."

Because of several attempts over the years to escape from prison, Collins has earned a Level Five security classification. He can not be trusted to work any prison job, but he has his own cell with a television, a prison bed, a small writing area, a bookshelf, and a toilet. So at least the solitary confinement part of his original sentence is being served - sort of.

In the early 1980's, John Norman Collins quietly changed his name to John Norman Chapman and started to engineer another way out of serving his full prison sentence. He hearkened to his Canadian roots.