In a ruling granting a new trial to two Ecorse men convicted of a 2000 shooting that left a man paralyzed, Wayne County Circuit Judge Patricia Fresard went beyond simply agreeing with their claims that "newly discovered evidence" should make them eligible for new trial.
"There is a significant possibility that the defendants are innocent of the crimes in which they now stand convicted," she wrote last week.
Given that possibility, the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office could spare them the ordeal of a new trial or an appeal of Fresard's order and simply set them free. Whether that will be done, though, is still an open question.
From a Detroit prison, one of the defendants, DeShawn Reed, had a simple analysis of Fresard's ruling, which granted him and his uncle, Marvin Reed, new trials.
"She saw through the bull crap," Reed told News Hits hours after learning of Fresard's opinion. "I'm happy and thankful for that. The lies didn't override the truth this time."
It is a case we've been following closely for more than a year, because it seems pretty clear the Reeds are the victims of a gross miscarriage of justice.
The men are nearly nine years into a 20-year minimum sentence in the March 2000 shooting that they have always maintained they had nothing to do with. The Ecorse men were convicted in a bench trial before Wayne County Circuit Judge Michael Hathaway, primarily on the testimony of the victim, Shannon Gholston.
A high school friend of DeShawn Reed, Gholston was shot in the back of the neck as he drove through his neighborhood, leaving him a quadriplegic. He first told police immediately after the shooting that he didn't see who shot him. Hours later, temporarily unable to speak because of his injuries and medical treatment, he responded to another investigator's questions by blinking and then identified the Reeds.
In an award-winning story titled "In the blink of an eye," MT reporter Sandra Svoboda dug into the case and found there was good reason to believe the Reeds were indeed innocent.
Gholston testified at the Reeds' 2001 trial that he saw the Reeds in a car next to him: Marvin Reed drove, DeShawn Reed shot at Gholston from the passenger window, Gholston said then.
But two witnesses at trial testified they saw a man standing in a nearby alley fire at Gholston.
Judge Hathaway said he took it upon himself to go to the crime scene and concluded that it wasn't possible for a gunman to hit his target from the spot where the witnesses said the man stood. That opinion, which now seems likely to have been tragically mistaken, also played a role in Hathaway's finding of guilt.
One of the witnesses went so far as to identify the shooter as Tyrone Allen, who was killed by Detroit police in an attempted carjacking between the time of Gholston's shooting and the Reeds' trial. At the request of the Reeds' then-attorneys, the Michigan State Police lab analyzed one of the guns found on Allen when he died.
But Hathaway refused a request to delay sentencing until the test results came in. He sent the Reeds to prison without waiting to learn that the bullet that hit Gholston was fired by the gun found on Allen.
That fact was also presented to Judge Fresard.
In addition, the Reeds later discovered, Allen told his girlfriend he had shot Gholston. Her uncle, a Wayne County Sheriff's deputy, passed that information along to Ecorse police, but it never reached the officer in charge of the Gholston investigation, according to testimony at evidentiary hearings earlier this year.
In their unsuccessful appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals, the Reeds' former attorneys did not adequately raise the evidence related to Allen, the Reeds' current attorneys say. That was part of their motion for new trial filed last year.
Gholston, meanwhile, has recanted his testimony, which was the "newly discovered" basis for the Reeds' motion for a new trial. In 2005, Gholston taped an interview with a private investigator — hired by the Reeds — in which he said he didn't actually see who shot him. Last year he met with law students and attorneys at the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic, asserting he wanted to tell the truth. He told them the same thing he told the private investigator.
Earlier this year, he testified likewise in an evidentiary hearing before Judge Fresard on the Reeds' motion for a new trial. That testimony played a significant role in her opinion.
"The recantation deposition of the complainant and evidentiary hearing testimony demonstrate that the complainant, Shannon Gholston, did not have knowledge of who actually shot him and raises serious concern as to motive of his original testimony," Fresard wrote.
Without Gholston's testimony, the Reeds could not be convicted, the Reeds' attorneys say.
One of the Reed's attorneys, David Moran, co-director with Bridget McCormack of the Innocence Clinic, says that it would be ludicrous to subject the Reeds to another trial or for prosecutors to even try.
"There's just no way, with the overwhelming evidence we have that Tyrone Allen did it," Moran says. "The only evidence was the testimony of Shannon Gholston, which is gone now. Given that, I don't think anyone can, with a straight face, claim there is any possibility of a retrial. We want to get these men out as quickly as we can."
Wayne County Prosecutor's Office spokeswoman Maria Miller says a decision will be made in the next few weeks about "what course of action will be taken."
A bond hearing is scheduled with Fresard on July 31.
The Reed family quickly planned a party Friday evening just hours after learning of the new trial ruling. Dozens of cousins, siblings, aunts and other relatives gathered for a barbecue at the home of Alycia Reed, Deshawn Reed's mother.
Her phone had been ringing all day with friends and family who learned of the ruling. "They've been calling me all day, crying, 'Is it true? Is it true?'" she says.
Tienail Reed, DeShawn Reed's brother, was the first family member to talk to DeShawn after he heard of the ruling.
"He was just crying and shaking, thanking his lawyers. There were just tears on the phone, tears of joy," he says. "I'm still in shock. I can't believe it's over with. It was a strain on the whole family."
DeShawn Reed is at the Mound Correctional Facility in Detroit. Marvin Reed is at the Saginaw Correctional Facility. DeShawn has already begun cleaning out his cell, sending home letters and other personal items.
"He wants to do all the moving so he can walk right out," Tienail Reed says. "When I see him come out, it will really be the end of it."News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]