Same crime, different outcomes: One twin killer leaves prison, the other stays and stays

By Barton Deiters

For three decades, the Samel twins dreamed about leaving prison.

Thirty years ago this fall, they were stoned, drunk and looking to steal marijuana and cash from an 18-year-old maintenance worker, asleep in a Grand Rapids pool hall basement.

The next day, David and Michael Samel were $50 richer and the worker was dead — strangled by nunchucks and beaten with a hammer.

“I walked out the door and vomited,” David Samel says. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Today, David is inmate No. 170197, one of 359 prisoners in Michigan serving life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles.

His brother Michael is free. He was released on Jan. 28, 2009.

In some ways, the Samels embody an argument by reformers that justice can be uneven: identical twins, the same victim, yet unequal outcomes. A federal lawsuit pending in Detroit seeks to require juvenile lifers at least be considered for parole at 21, and every five years after.


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