- Child, shot to death at 7, would have been 10 this year
- Court, prosecution, defense delay trial of officer Joseph Weekley
By Diane Bukowski
October 30, 2012
DETROIT – “We are coming out here as long as it takes,” Aiyana Jones’ grandmother Mertilla Jones said before Detroit police officer Joseph Weekley appeared in court Oct. 29 for a second hearing on a motion to dismiss charges against him.
“It is frustrating that this is dragging on for so long, but it is more frustrating that Weekley is not locked up for murdering a seven-year-old girl,” Jones said. “He was supposed to protect and serve. But all he served Aiyana with was a bullet to the head. Many people in Detroit have forgotten about Aiyana by now, but I am still getting messages from people all over the country and all over the world expressing support.”
Weekley shot the child as she slept with her grandmother May 16, 2010, during a horrific military-style midnight raid on her home, as cameras from A&E’s “First 48” show rolled.
Jones spoke during a press conference called by the newly-formed Coalition for Justice for Aiyana Jones.
“The police were showing off for the reality show,” Aaron Petcoff, a representative of the Coalition, said. “They feel they can get away with this in a poor Black neighborhood, and the justice system is working to let them get away with it.”
Although he was charged with involuntary manslaughter and reckless use of a firearm a year ago, Weekley has yet to face trial. It has become apparent during a series of pre-trial hearings that the court, prosecution and defense want the child’s father Charles Jones tried on first-degree murder charges in a separate case first.
“Her daddy can’t even grieve with his family for his daughter, because he has been locked up for a year while Weekley is free with his family,” Jones added. “I have lost two sisters waiting for justice. One of them was in the room with me when my grandbaby was shot, and both just gave up hope on living after that.”
Weekley has been free on personal bond while Aiyana’s father and her aunt’s fiancé Chauncey Owens are in jail awaiting trial. They are accused in the killing of 17-year-old Je’Rean Blake two days before Aiyana’s death. Detroit police used that incident as a pretext to stage a midnight raid with grenades, tanks, and assault weapons on the Jones’ home, while cameras for A & E’s “The First 48” rolled.
Police had a warrant for Owens, but did not obtain an arrest warrant for Jones until one and a half years later. Owens did not live with the Jones family, but in an upstairs flat with a separate entrance. He surrendered voluntarily and could have been arrested earlier when he left the house while police were surveilling it, according to nationally-renowned attorney Geoffrey Fieger.
Weekley’s defense attorney Steve Fishman and Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Gray Hathaway expressed surprise at the extensive presence of TV cameras and reporters in the courtroom, claiming the hearing was minor.
“I tried to tell the media not to bother,” Fishman said, “but it was like talking to my wife and children.”
At the first hearing Sept. 28 on the Weekley motion to dismiss, Judge Hathaway said she could not rule on it without reviewing extensive files. She asked Assistant Prosecutor Robert Moran and Fishman to produce those documents, including those from a one-man grand jury hearing conducted by Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Kenny. Judge Hathaway has had the case since November, 2011.
On Oct. 29, the two attorneys said they had compiled records they agreed would be needed, consisting solely of transcripts of testimony by police officers, detectives and two family members. Everything related to the grand jury hearing has been sealed from public view, and both attorneys agreed it should continue to remain so.
“We didn’t provide photos, evidence technician reports and sketches, firearms reports and the autopsy report because we felt they were not important to the theory of gross negligence,” Moran told the judge.
“One exhibit is a disc of 150 photos,” he added. “We don’t think the court needs to see those. The court doesn’t need to review the entire transcripts. The court might want to focus on the testimony of the Detroit police officers, all the police on the Special Response Team, and the homicide detectives. A number of civilians were not in the room. Just two were there, and the court needs to read those.”
During the raid, numerous members of the Jones family were present in the small flat, including Aiyana’s father, aunt, and younger siblings and cousins, and Owens’ 15-year-old daughter. Her adult cousin Mark Robinson was first detained by police outside the home. He said he warned them that children were present in the house before they fire-bombed it and entered shooting.
According to court records, police also brought Owens into the lower flat, seating him on the couch where Aiyana died, with her blood and body fragments still there.
The Wayne County Medical Examiner’s office said in its first autopsy report that Aiyana had been shot through the throat, but later concurred with a second autopsy report by forensic pathologist Daniel Spitz which showed she was shot through the top of her head, with the bullet exiting her throat.
(See video below, in which Fieger explains how the autopsy report is key to the theory of the crime. Channel 7 reported in print, “A Wayne County spokesman is confirming to Action News that the cause of death on the death certificate for Aiyana Stanley-Jones was changed from ‘gunshot wound to the neck’ to ‘gunshot wound to the head.’ The spokesman says it was changed on Friday after the Wayne County Medical Examiner spoke to the Macomb County Medical Examiner, Dr. Daniel Spitz.”
Fishman said, “I feel the same way as Moran as far as the exhibits go, although if the court wants to see them we can have them there.”
Hathaway appeared not to be interested in the exhibits, stating, “I would assume the exhibits were included in the probable cause motion to indict.” Judge Kenny granted that motion to indict Weekley on the limited charges, and reviewed those exhibits secretly.
Ron Scott, also working with the Coalition for Justice for Aiyana Jones, questioned why Judge Hathaway would not want to review the same exhibits if she is considering dismissing the case.
Hathaway asked about what she termed “the companion case, for lack of a better term.”
Moran said the hearings on Jones and Owens have been postponed until the beginning of 2013. He said the state Supreme Court should decide by then on an application for leave to appeal filed by Jones’ attorney. An appeals court earlier overturned a ruling by Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Richard Skutt that the testimony of “jail-house snitch” Jay Schlenkerman could not be used against Jones.
Hathaway subsequently said she would not be ready to rule on the motion to dismiss the charges against Weekley until “early next year.”
The “companion case” to Weekley’s is actually that of Allison Howard, an Arts & Entertainment (A & E) producer who has been charged with perjury and obstruction of justice for her alleged actions related to A&E’s taping of the raid. Her trial has since been severed from Weekley’s.
Jones said that when she was deposed during the grand jury proceedings on possible charges in her granddaughter’s death, the court was most interested in details pertaining to the earlier killing of Je’rean Blake.
“Ralph Godbee [who just resigned as Detroit police chief] said I interfered with Weekley and that made his gun go off,” Jones said after the hearing. “But if I had, I would be dead too.”
Hathaway set Nov. 30 as the date for the next hearing on Weekley’s case. She set the same date for a demonstration of the effects of the “flash-bang” grenade which was thrown through the window above the sleeping child and her grandmother just before Weekley entered and shot the child to death.
The contention has been that the detonation “dis-oriented” Weekley, although Moran said that officers in the SRT are specially trained to function while it goes off.
That demonstration was earlier scheduled for July, but Hathaway said Sept. 28 that she was the only person who showed up for it.
“This is a total miscarriage of justice,” Ron Scott, who is also working with the Coalition for Justice for Aiyana Jones, said after the hearing. “Since when have you heard of a case of this magnitude being postponed for this long? In this kind of case, the forensic evidence is placed up front and first, but rhere are certain things they don’t want the public to hear or know. The entire Special Response Team, which is a paramilitary unit, and everyone in the police command who told Weekley what to expect and do need to be indicted as well. It will be a travesty if Weekley and all these others walk.”