Detroit-area man convicted of drowning his 4 children in car in 1989 seeks release from prison

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A man convicted of driving into the Detroit River and drowning his four children in 1989 pleaded with the Michigan parole board for a shorter prison sentence Thursday, insisting the deaths were an accident.

Lawrence DeLisle, 63, said during a public board hearing that a leg cramp caused him to hit the gas pedal and plunge the vehicle into the river in Wyandotte.

“The next thing I know I’m in the water, coughing, trying to locate the vehicle. … A wave of despair came over me,” DeLisle said.

He and his wife were rescued, but their four children, ages 8 and under, died. DeLisle, who has been in prison for nearly 35 years, is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder and attempted murder.

Only Gov. Gretchen Whitmer can commute, or shorten, DeLisle’s prison term. The state parole board will review a transcript of the hearing, discuss the case and give an opinion.

The Wayne County prosecutor’s office said it opposes DeLisle’s request, The Detroit News reported.

He hasn’t committed any misconduct while in prison, which is “very rare” for someone locked up for decades, state Corrections Department spokesman Kyle Kaminski said.

Parole board member Anthony King, who led the hearing, said it’s “hard to believe” that DeLisle didn’t slam on the brakes after the vehicle jerked forward.

The Innocence Clinic at University of Michigan law school and the law school at Northwestern University are supporting DeLisle and say the crash was an accident, not a crime, the News reported.

“He’s not a danger to anyone, and there’s no reason to keep him in prison,” said retired attorney Peter Van Hoek, who was involved in earlier appeals.

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