ANN ARBOR (WXYZ) — "I would be homeless, sleeping out on the streets or in a shelter," said Machelle Pearson about a woman who began paying her rent not long after Pearson was released from a Michigan prison in August 2018.
In 1984, when Pearson was 17, she was convicted in the robbery and murder of Nancy Faber. Nancy was fatally shot not long after Machelle asked her for a ride on Green Road near Plymouth Road in Ann Arbor.
Pearson testified at her own trial that she had been threatened by an abusive, older boyfriend to carry a gun as he followed behind her in Nancy Faber's car.
"In the beginning, I felt like this is my hero, my protector. And he ended up being my worst nightmare," said Pearson from her modest apartment in southwest Detroit where she lives with her emotional support dog, Lil Mama.
"When I'm depressed... that dog loves on me when nobody else will," Pearson said. "So, that's my lifeline. That's all I got right now."
She has been trying to find a job after being released from prison as a result of a Supreme Court decision several years ago that found that mandatory life sentences for people under the age of 18 resulted in cruel and unusual punishment.
"Should I have been given life? No," Pearson said. "Should I have been given some years? Yes."
She served 34 years behind bars. The man who was her boyfriend at the time of the deadly robbery received a life sentence and remains in prison.
Action News spoke to the woman who began paying Pearson's rent not long after she was released. She served on the jury in Pearson's case. However, after all of the testimony in the case, she was selected to be an alternate and did not deliberate on the verdict.
That woman, who did not want her name used in this story, said she always wondered what happened to Pearson. And, in 1999, 15 years after Pearson began serving time in prison, that alternate juror began writing to her.
The woman told 7 Action News Thursday that she was upset with the guilty verdict for first-degree murder, and thought manslaughter would have been more appropriate because she believed the teenager on trial for murder was under duress from her abusive boyfriend. She said they listened to people who had been at the safe house where Perason sought refuge, testify about her fear and the threats from her then boyfriend.
Pearson said the man threatened to blow up the safe house if she didn't return to him.
"He told me I had an option to go with them or he would kill my little brother," Peason said.
She added that the man entered her life when she was vulnerable. Her mother had died when she was 12, and she began bouncing between the homes of relatives and foster homes.
"After losing (my mother), everything fell apart," Pearson said.
Then, at 15, she met the man, she said, who would lead her down a dark road.
Pearson now takes opportunities to talk to young people about domestic violence.
"I don't want to see young girls and young boys in abusive relationships or out here on the streets, selling their body and end up where I ended up,"Pearson said. "And if I can stop just one from going down that road that I went down, I feel like I've accomplished something in my life."
Pearson said she is so grateful for everyone who has helped her begin to build her life outside prison, but finding a job has seemed impossible.
She said fast food places and restaurants have turned her down because of her conviction of a violent crime.
"I don't have a car but I'm willing to catch as many buses as I have to catch," she said. "I will give you my all. I will be diligent. If I don't know, I'm willing to learn. I'm a team player. I'm very trustworthy. Just give me that chance to show you that I can be beneficial and an asset to whatever level you expect me to do."
"I'm asking somebody to believe in me," Pearson said. "Please, don't throw us away. Trust in me and believe that I will give you 1,000 percent on my job."
If you think you have an employment opportunity for Machelle Pearson and would like to contact her, please email 7 Action News reporter Kimberly Craig at email@example.com.
As for the juror who has continued to support her, that woman says she and her husband want Pearson to succeed and she just doesn't have the money to make it on her own yet. But she has faith that one day she will.
"I want to show her that I wasn't a waste of her time, her investing in me," Pearson said. "I want to be that story that says lifers and juvenile lifers are redeemable. They can come out here and be successful."