Keith Kushion set to retire after 38 years in Gratiot County prosecutor’s office

By Ralph Echtinaw

Keith Kushion chuckles when he remembers perhaps the funniest crime in his 38 years in the Gratiot County prosecutor’s office.

The owner of a bar on the corner of Lincoln and State hired a singer more than 25 years ago who said he was the son of country singer Johnny Horton.

“The owner of the bar put him up at the motel, paid for his room, paid for his food,” Kushion said. “And in exchange he was supposed to perform in the bar, which he did. But he was so bad that people began to question if he could really be Johnny Horton’s son. We found Johnny Horton’s widow in Texas. I called her. She confirmed to me that she only had daughters. So the sheriff’s department set up in the bar, and when he got on stage and announced he was Johnny Horton’s son and began to perform they jumped up, placed him under arrest, handcuffed him, and the whole bar stood up and cheered because he was so bad. 

“So we prosecuted him for defrauding an innkeeper. Then the Kiwanis had a law enforcement banquet, and they presented me with a Johnny Horton album. I’ve held it all these years. It makes me laugh every time I see it.”

Kushion, 70, will take that memory and many more with him when he retires on March 31 after 38 years in the prosecutor’s office (26 years as chief prosecutor).

“I wouldn’t have believed that I would do 38 years,” he said. “But it is the only job, after I got in, that I wanted. I’m fortunate to have been elected seven times. I didn’t think I’d work until I was 70, but here I am.”


Kushion grew up in Gratiot County, graduating from Alma High School and Alma College. He taught school in Breckenridge from 1974-78 before attending Cooley Law School in Lansing. He passed the bar exam in 1982 at the same time his first son was born and joined the law firm of Pat Harris in St. Louis. In 1984 he went to work as assistant prosecutor under Mark Gates.

Gates retired in 1996, and Kushion was appointed to replace him. Since then he has been elected prosecutor seven times.

His first big case as prosecutor was a December 1996 homicide for which he got a life sentence conviction.

Then in February 1998 he convicted a 17-year-old St. Louis High School student of murder for killing a substitute teacher. (That perpetrator’s life sentence was later rescinded, and he was paroled in December 2021.)


Kushion’s two biggest regrets are that two other homicides on his watch remain unsolved. The first was the probable murder of Glenn Hustin Jr., who has been missing since Feb. 5, 2001. He was supposed to testify in a trial. Is that why he disappeared? Kushion doesn’t know.

Then Seville Township (legal) marijuana grower John Erskin was beaten to death in his home in October 2016. Sheriff Mike Morris told the Morning Sun in 2021 that he knows who committed the crime but can’t prove it.

“I’m sorry I won’t be here when the people who did this are caught,” Kushion said. “They will be caught someday.”

The times are changing

Kushion has seen many changes during his time in the prosecutor’s office.

“When I started we had IBM Selectric typewriters, carbon paper and white out,” he said. “Over the years the next thing the office got was word processors. And finally we went to computers.” Five hours of legal research can now be done in 30 minutes. “That’s a huge advantage we have now,” he said.

Drug crimes explode

Unfortunately, drug crimes have proliferated almost as much as computers.

“When I started we didn’t have the drug problem we have now,” Kushion said. “Once in a great while you might have a cocaine case. Then over time we started to see more cocaine. Then we started to see heroin. And then we heard methamphetamine was coming from the west coast. And now that’s our biggest drug problem. Methamphetamine has taken over. And the problem with that is that (meth, cocaine and heroin) are being mixed with Fentanyl.”

On the bright side, it’s been a few years since a meth lab was busted in Gratiot County.

Prisons add work

The St. Louis prisons were built after Kushion joined the prosecutor’s office, and they added quite a bit to the workload, as every felony crime committed in a St. Louis prison is adjudicated in Gratiot County. “It amounts to a huge part of our workload,” he said. “Fifty plus felony cases a year that we handle are coming out of the prison.”

Specialty courts

One positive development Kushion has seen is the advent of specialty “courts” that focus more on rehabilitation of non-violent offenders than punishment and confinement.

Specialty courts for drunk driving, mental health and military veterans help probationers deal with underlying issues that cause them to commit crimes.

“There’s been a change in philosophy,” Kushion said. “It used to be you were simply going to look at punishment of the offender and probation to monitor them. Now it’s more intensive depending on what the particular problem might be.”

And a drug court program is on the way, Kushion added. 

Circuit Court Judge Cori E. Barkman is behind it. “If (defendants) are desirous of trying to break that habit they will be able to participate in the drug court, which will be intensive supervision, go through all kinds of steps and educational process to try to keep them from going back to drugs,” Kushion said. “Otherwise you’re just housing people. You’re not addressing the problem.”

Kudos from defense attorney

Bruce Moss is one of Gratiot County’s public defenders and has crossed legal swords with Kushion and his assistant prosecutors for many years. Indeed, Kushion and Moss go back to Alma College together, where Moss played basketball.

“Keith Kushion is one of the very best trial lawyers I have ever seen,” Moss said. “He has a very sound philosophy about how the business of Gratiot County and the People of the State of Michigan should be carried out in his office. He is consistent, he is just, and he is honest. In 1935, the US Supreme Court ruled in the case of Berger v US, broadly defining how a prosecutor should behave. The Court famously stated that a prosecutor ‘may prosecute with earnestness and vigor — indeed, he should do so.’ The Court said that the prosecutor ‘may strike hard blows’ on behalf of The People he represents, as long they are fair.’ I found that Keith always followed this standard.”

Conversely, Kushion has nothing but praise for Moss, too. “Bruce is over here (in the courthouse) almost on a daily bases,” he said. “He does a good job representing his clients. He cares about his clients. He’s very diligent. I watched him play basketball (in college). He was a good player. I enjoyed watching him. He played point guard. Very smooth. Fun to watch.”

Recommendation for successor

Kushion’s current term doesn’t expire until Dec. 31, 2024, so 29th Circuit Court judges Shannon Schlegel and Barkman will appoint a placeholder who won’t face the voters until November 2024.

Kushion hopes the judges will chose Laura Bever, 53, one of his two assistant prosecutors. An Alma resident, Bever has been an assistant prosecutor since 2021. “She has extensive experience in a lot of areas,” Kushion said. “Laura was in private practice for a while, so she has experience on the defense side. She also worked as a hearings officer friend of the court type matters. The staff here loves her. 

Chief Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer Shephard didn’t get Kushion’s recommendation because she lives in Midland County (which disqualifies her) and doesn’t want the job anyway, Kushion said.

Applications for the appointment must be received by Jan. 31.

Taking it easy

Kushion expects to major in taking it easy during retirement. He will move to the Houghton Lake area and start fishing again after a long layoff. “I plan to not do anything except what I want,” he said.

Categories: Uncategorized

3 replies »

  1. About time you retired…After 36 years of a practice limited to criminal defense, you will find, as I have, going about every day without the office a cell phone call, text or email away will be something that is wonderful. Despite my being on the dark side I think we would still make a good doubles team…However, at what I don’t know.


  2. Best wishes on your retirement! Fishing sounds great and relaxing. You deserve it.
    Congratulations on all your hard work and accomplishments.
    Your cousin, Bruce Kushion (and Wendy)
    PS why aren’t you retiring in Tawas? There are lots of lakes…..and Kushion’s there


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