News Hits aficionados have been reading regular installments here about the highly questionable murder conviction of Vidale McDowell, who’s in prison serving a life sentence.
Here’s yet another: The Michigan Court of Appeals has ordered a new trial for McDowell, who was convicted in the murder of Detroit resident Janice Williams.
The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office filed a “confession of error” in the case in late April. The appellate court’s May 10 ruling ordering a new trial is the formal signal that it agrees.
McDowell’s appeal centered on the fact that the judge who presided over his murder trial, Ulysses W. Boykin, allowed a confession given by McDowell’s teenage friend, Antoine Morris, to be read to the jury. Antoine, who is Williams’ son, implicated McDowell after 11 hours of interrogation by Detroit police over two days. Soon after he gave those statements, he recanted, claiming they were coerced by investigators who allegedly told him that if he didn’t implicate McDowell he would go to jail, where he would become “sombody’s girlfriend.”
McDowell’s attorney was never able to cross-examine Antoine, who was granted probation. That’s because if Antoine had taken the stand, he would have disavowed his confession.
McDowell’s case was the subject of a Metro Times exposé (“Confessions & recantations,” Jan. 21, 2004). He was convicted at age 18 in 2003.
Jeffrey Taylor, who represented McDowell during his murder trial, says of the appellate ruling: “It’s a great day for justice, though justice was delayed.” Taylor says he looks forward to hearing what the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office will do next.
Maria Miller, spokeswoman for the county prosecutor, says no decision on whether to retry McDowell has been made.
McDowell’s appeal relied in large part on a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that reaffirms the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right … to be confronted with the witnesses against them.”
Timothy A. Baughman, chief of research for the Prosecutor’s Office, told News Hits recently that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling should have prohibited the admission of the confession.
“The only way it could have been admitted is if it was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, and we couldn’t argue that with a straight face,” explains Baughman.Contact News Hits at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]