Rare in Michigan: Feds in Detroit set to seek death penalty against gang members

January 8, 2018

Federal prosecutors filed a rare “Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty” on Monday in Detroit in the case of a gang suspect who is charged with a raft of murderous crimes.

And Billy Arnold, 31, likely won’t be the only member of the Seven Mile Bloods to be fighting for life in U.S. District Court in Detroit, according to court officials.

Arnold is one of several members of the gang facing charges where the death penalty may be applied, officials said Monday. The Department of Justice is reviewing those cases to determine whether the death penalty should be invoked, they said.

Although Michigan was the first state to ban the death penalty in state courts — in 1847 — capital punishment can still be sought in federal cases. Arnold was charged in March 2016, along with six other gang members, with murder in aid of racketeering, attempted murder, RICO conspiracy and other crimes. The Seven Mile Bloods gang has been linked in court pleadings to trafficking in prescription pills and to using violence to protect their sales turf.

Arnold, in particular, “has demonstrated a lack of remorse (and) participated in the killings of more than one victim,” U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said in blunt language filed Monday in the case. Prosecutors say Arnold is known by nicknames “B-Man” and “Killa.” He was released in March 2015 from state prison, after serving several years for convictions in state courts on assault and gun charges.

CALIFORNIA : Man gets death penalty in 1988 murder of pregnant woman – Jason Michael Balcom

february 7, 2014 (latimes)

A man who raped and murdered a pregnant woman in her Costa Mesa home a quarter of a century ago was sentenced to death Friday.


Jason Michael Balcom strangled and stabbed 22-year-old Malinda Gibbons in the chest on July 18, 1988.

Her husband, Kent Gibbons, found his wife dead in their apartment, bound and gagged with his neckties. Police said she had been sexually assaulted.

At the time of the crime, Balcom, then 18, was living with his mother and aunt in a Costa Mesa motel less than a mile away from the apartment. He had been  released from juvenile hall just weeks before the murder.

Investigators cracked the cold case more than a decade later when DNA evidence linked Balcom, now 43, to the crime.

Balcom’s DNA was entered into a nationwide database in 2004 after he was convicted of rape in Michigan, where he and his mother moved after the murder.

He was serving a 50-year prison term when Orange County prosecutors extradited him  to stand trial.

In 2012, an Orange County jury convicted Balcom of first-degree murder with sentencing enhancements for murder during commission of sodomy, rape, robbery and burglary. But jurors deadlocked on whether to recommend the death penalty.

A second jury recommended the death penalty last year, a decision that was affirmed in Superior Court on Friday.


US – Prosecutors help set record number of exonerations in 2013

February 4, 2014 (dallasnews)

ST. LOUIS — A nationwide push by prosecutors and police to re-examine possible wrongful convictions contributed to a record number of exonerations in 2013, according to a report released Tuesday.

The National Registry of Exonerations says 87 people falsely convicted of crimes were exonerated last year, four more than in 2009, the year with the next highest total. The joint effort by the Northwestern University and University of Michigan law schools has documented more than 1,300 such cases in the U.S. since 1989 while also identifying another 1,100 “group exonerations” involving widespread police misconduct, primarily related to planted drug and gun evidence.

The new report shows that nearly 40 percent of exonerations recorded in 2013 were either initiated by law enforcement or included police and prosecutors’ cooperation. One year earlier, nearly half of the exonerations involved such reviews.

“Police and prosecutors have become more attentive and concerned about the danger of false conviction,” said registry editor Samuel Gross, a Michigan law professor. “We are working harder to identify the mistakes we made years ago, and we are catching more of them.”

Texas topped the state-by-state breakdown with 13 exonerations in 2013, followed by Illinois, New York, Washington, California, Michigan and Missouri.

District attorneys in the counties containing Dallas, Chicago, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Santa Clara, Calif., are among those to recently create “conviction integrity” units. The International Association of Chiefs of Police also is pushing to reduce wrongful convictions, joined by the U.S. Justice Department and The Innocence Project, an advocacy group that seeks to overturn wrongful convictions. The association’s recommendations to local departments include new guidelines for conducting photo lineups and witness interviews to reduce false confessions.

Fifteen of the 87 documented cases in 2013 involved convictions obtained after a defendant pleaded guilty, typically to avoid a longer prison sentence. Forty of the cases involved murder convictions, with another 18 overturned convictions for rape or sexual assault.

The number of exonerations based on DNA testing continued to decline, accounting for about one-fifth of the year’s total.

“It’s extremely valuable to use,” Gross said. “But most crimes don’t involve DNA evidence. … DNA hastaught us a huge amount about the criminal justice system. Biological evidence has forced all of us to realize that we’ve made a lot of mistakes. But most exonerations involve shoe-leather, not DNA.”

In Illinois, Nicole Harris and Daniel Taylor each received certificates of innocence from a Cook County judge in January after their respective murder convictions were tossed out in 2013 — a designation that allows both to receive financial compensation from the state. Harris had been convicted in 2005 of strangling her 4-year-old son, who had an elastic band wrapped around his neck. Taylor was released after spending more than 20 years in prison for a fatal robbery that occurred while he was in police custody for an unrelated incident.

In Missouri, former death row inmate Reginald Griffin went free in October 2013 after a small-town prosecutor declined to refile murder charges in connection with a 1983 prison stabbing for which Griffin spent nearly three decades behind bars. Griffin denied his involvement but was convicted after two inmates claimed to have seen him stab the prisoner. One of those inmates later recanted, saying he had not seen the attack. An appellate attorney also discovered that prosecutors had withheld a report that guards had confiscated a sharpened screwdriver from another inmate as he was attempting to leave the area where the attack took place.

Ryan Ferguson, convicted in 2005 in the beating death of a Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune sports editor, was freed in November 2013 after a state appeals court panel ruled prosecutors had withheld evidence from his attorneys and that he didn’t get a fair trial. The state attorney general’s office decided not to retry Ferguson, who had received a 25-year prison sentence.

Like their counterparts across the country, Missouri prosecutors are reviewing not just questionable individual convictions but also the broader issues that lead to exonerations, from coerced confessions to contaminated crime labs.

“It’s the duty of police and prosecutors to protect everyone in the community, including victims and defendants,” said Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight. “We want the process to be as fair and transparent as possible.”


As fourth appeal is lost Scott Lewis asks for your help finding a new witness in 1999 murder case

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 tips@wxyz.com .