May 28, 2012 Source : http://www.wxyz.com
DETROIT – There has been another setback for a man serving life in prison for a Mother’s Day murder he says he did not commit. A judge has denied Justly Johnson’s fourth appeal, despite a new witness uncovered by the 7 Action News investigators.
Johnson’s lawyers from the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan said they are disappointed but determined to press forward to the Michigan Court of Appeals.
Last December, the 7 Action News Investigators tracked down a new witness in the 1999 Mother’s Day murder of Lisa Kindred , the crime Johnson is serving a life sentence for. Investigator Scott Lewis located her son, C.J. Skinner, who was with his mother in her minivan when a man walked up and shot her.
Skinner, who was eight years old at the time, talked with Lewis in a phone interview from Pennsylvania, where he is also serving time in prison. Skinner told Lewis that he saw what happened the night his mother was murdered and he would never forget the gunman’s face.
Did the police ever question you?” Lewis asked Skinner.
“Never,” he replied.
“Never looked at a photo line-up?” Lewis asked.
“Never,” Skinner said.
Skinner described a lone gunman who looked nothing like Justly Johnson or the second man convicted, Kendrick Scott.
Lawyers from the Michigan Innocence Clinic took that information and other new evidence they uncovered to Judge Prentiss Edwards asking for a new hearing. But the judge rejected their request as he has three times in the past.
Judge Edwards has declined to be interviewed about the case.
“Suffice it to say we don’t think the judge gave any legally adequate reason to not at least hold a hearing on all of the evidence, and especially the new testimony from C.J. (Skinner),” said attorney David Moran, co-director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic.
Lawyers from the Innocence Clinic have stated in court records that police overlooked the most likely suspect back in 1999, Lisa Kindred’s husband Will who had a history of domestic violence and threats against his wife and kids.
Detroit police never discovered Kindred’s history of violence. It was uncovered years after Johnson and Scott’s convictions by lawyers from the Wisconsin Innocence Project. The Wisconsin lawyers originally took on Johnson’s case and are still involved in efforts to win a new trial for him.
Will Kindred has denied any involvement in the murder during conversations with 7 Action News Investigator Scott Lewis.
In their latest appeal lawyers from the Michigan Innocence Clinic also argued Johnson’s conviction was tainted by what is known as a Brady violation. A Brady violation occurs when the prosecution withholds important information from the defense during a trial.
In this case, attorneys argued, police were given information by Lisa Kindred’s sister that pointed toward Will Kindred as a suspect, but that information was not passed on to Johnson’s defense attorney.
Judge Edwards rejected that claim as well, saying that while police did not turn the information over to defense attorneys they did not share it with the prosecuting attorney either.
“That’s a mistake because under the law if the police have the information it has to be turned over to the defense even if they haven’t turned it over to the prosecutor,” Moran said.
Innocence lawyers from Michigan and Wisconsin have been on this case for years and have now taken on an appeal for Scott , the second man convicted. Both men were convicted primarily on testimony of two young men who later recanted and said they were pressured by police to implicate Johnson and Scott in the murder.
A series of reports in the Detroit Free Press documented how police were using pressure tactics to solve homicides during the 1990’s and the news reports became a factor in the U.S. Justice Department taking control of the Detroit Police Department in a consent decree that is still in place to this day.
Moran said the evidence of Johnson and Scott’s innocence is compelling and he believes the two men deserve a judicial review of new information that has come to light.
“We just want to get a hearing in some court so we can present this new evidence and let a judge, any judge, decide whether this merits a new trial,” Moran stated.
Moran said if the Innocence Clinic eventually exhausts all of its appeals in state court they will take the case to the Federal District Court for a last-ditch effort known as a habeas petition.
Meanwhile, 7 Action News Investigator Scott Lewis, who has been looking into the case for nearly two years, continues to search for new evidence.
Lewis is currently trying to locate a man who lived on the Bewick Street where Lisa Kindred was shot and killed back in 1999 . The man is known only by his street name, Tone.
Witnesses told Lewis that Tone was on the street shortly before Kindred was shot telling people to get back in their houses because “something was about to go down.”
According to witnesses, Tone was related to Antonio Burnette, one of two
prosecution witnesses who implicated Johnson and Scott in the murder. There is no evidence in the hundreds of police records reviewed by 7 Action News that Detroit Police ever questioned Tone.
Lewis was told by people who lived in the neighborhood that the man known as Tone left the State of Michigan shortly after the murder and never returned.
The 7 Action News Investigators are trying to find out Tone’s first and last name hoping to track him down and find out what, if anything, he knows about the 1999 murder.
If you have any information on this case, contact The Investigators by calling 248-827-9252, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org .