Hearing in case in front of Judge Qiana Lillard set for May 26, 2016, 9 am
Lewis has long fought for his freedom, claiming actual innocence and citing recent USSC court decisions in Miller v. Alabama, Montgomery v. Louisiana
‘Pure Pleasure’ band alibi witnesses were never produced during his trial
Judge Drain claims his signature was forged on April 3, 2000 order freeing Lewis, but says nothing about clerk’s signature and stamp on same order
Lewis’ court files conveniently disappeared after he filed to have Drain satisfy his judgment
Lewis fighting in Sixth Circuit Court as well
By Diane Bukowski
DETROIT—Rosie Lewis has grieved every day for 41 years, as she fights for her son Charles Lewis, now 59, a Michigan juvenile lifer in prison since the age of 17. He is currently undergoing post-conviction hearings in front of Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard, with the next hearing set for Thurs. May 26 at 9 a.m.
Mrs. Lewis nearly breaks into tears after every discussion of her child, yearning for him to return home to the comfort of his family’s arms.
“People do not know what a mother suffers every day knowing their child is unjustly locked up,” Mrs. Lewis told VOD. “I need to write a book about it.”
His attorney Felicia O’Connor of Foley & Lardner is set to argue her motion for withdrawal from Lewis’ case on May 26, allegedly due to differing opinions with her client on trial strategy.
Officials who have testified so far said they have been trying to locate three cartons of Lewis’ court records, which mysteriously went missing after a prison counselor gave him a copy of an April 3, 2000 order from Judge Gershwin Drain quashing his conviction and sentence, ten years after the fact, and he filed an “application for satisfaction of judgement.”
At a hearing May 5, documents written in 2012, from then Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Timothy Baughman and then Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Gershwin Drain denying the validity of the April 3, 2000 order and making general allegations of forgery were read into the record. Baughman and Drain did not appear to testify and face cross-examination.
On Jan. 5, 2012, Baughman wrote to Drain, “I am writing in response to your order that we respond to defendant’s ‘application for satisfaction of judgment.’ Defendant attaches an order purportedly signed by you in 2000, more than 11 years ago, granting a motion for relief from judgment and vacating his conviction. This order must be fraudulent.”
Baughman then related the history of Lewis’ numerous court filings since 2000, asking why he would be filing them if he had been freed.
Baughman concocted the infamous scheme which landed Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s former top drug attorney, Karen Plants, in prison for conspiring with the late Judge Mary Waterstone to conceal the name of an informant from the defense. He has also written numerous pleadings in favor of juvenile life without parole sentences.
“This court has no recollection of signing such an Order nor of handling the Defendant’s Motion for Relief from Judgment,” ruled then Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Gershwin Drain on Jan 18, 2012. The order, ironically, has no copy of his signature. Even the rubber stamped signature used is barely visible.
“Although there are other judges who have handled the Defendant’s file, I did not see my name anywhere in the file as handling anything. . . .This Court believes that the signature on the order submitted by Mr. Lewis is a forgery. . . .More importantly, if in fact this Court had ordered his release back in 2000, why would Defendant have waited 12 years to be released pursuant to that order. It just doesn’t add up. Additionally, a fraudulent register of actions has been prepared or someone has entered our computer system and manipulated entries.”
Apparently Judge Drain had not read Lewis’ account of how he obtained the order, ten years after it was issued. Since Lewis’ court files have mysteriously disappeared, there is currently no way to trace his original motion for relief from judgment and the events which led up to it.
U.S. President Barack Obama appointed Drain to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on August 8, 2012, not long after this order. Drain’s clerk told VOD that Drain still believes the order is fraudulent and has ordered that an investigation be opened.
“What I want to point out for the record is the fact that there are two signatures on the order, Judge Drain’s and a Deputy County Clerk’s signature,” Lewis told VOD in a Jpay email May 23. “The Deputy County Clerk’s signature and stamped certification made the order a valid Court Order. An Order does not become valid until it is signed by the Clerk’s Office, certified by the Clerk’s Office and entered on the Register of Actions. I also want to point out that counsel never read MCR 8.119 or Lapeer County Clerk’s v Lapeer Circuit Court Judges. The Michigan Supreme Court in the Lapeer County Clerk’s case spelled out the duties and responsibilities of the County Clerk. The County Clerk’s office is a gatekeeper for the Court’s they are part of the check and balance system that is in place to ensure that what happened to me does not happen to anyone else.”
Determined and unbowed throughout the last 41 years, Lewis has filed hundreds of extremely well-written and legally researched court pleadings in state and federal couts providing substantial evidence that he is actually innocent of the crime that put him in prison. But meanwhile he has lost the major part of his life “in the world,” as prisoners call it, and a budding musical career.
Lewis was 17 on the Saturday evening of July 31, 1976, when off-duty Detroit Police Officer Gerald A. Sypitkowski, 27, was shot to death outside Oty’s Bar on at Harper near Barrett, east of Conner.
Lewis was eventually charged with Sypitkowski’s murder, and tried twice in front of Recorders’ Court Judge Joseph E. Maher. Jurors from his first trial were dismissed without explanation. He was found guilty of first-degree murder in the second trial and sentenced to life without parole.
The late defense attorney Kenneth Cockrel, Sr. called Judge Maher a “racist monkey, a honky dog, a racist pirate, and a bandit,” under his breath, outside the courtroom, in 1969. Maher was hearing the case of Al Hibbitt, one of four defendants in the famous 1969 New Bethel Baptist Church police raid, during which two police officers were killed and all 142 people in the church were arrested.
Maher charged Cockrel with contempt of court, a charge Cockrel, Sr. fought and won after gathering a massive following and using linguists and other experts to prove the accuracy of his words.
At both of Lewis’ trials, the most direct eyewitness, Sypitkowksi’s partner, laid-off officer Dennis Van Fletering, testified that the shots that killed Sypitkowski came from a white Lincoln Mark IV travelling at a high rate of speed with its headlights off. According to transcipts from the second trial, in Rosie Lewis’ possession, he said he saw gun flashes from the car and memorized its license plate number, which he cited in his police report. He also testified that he did not recall seeing any other cars driving on Harper at the time.
“The automobile [came from] west on Barrett at a high rate of speed and I tried to stop him by waving my hands and the car kept going even faster,” Van Fleteren testified. “We were crouching down and I was trying to direct my full attention toward the license plates.”
He said he then went over to his wounded partner, who had a gunshot wound in the left side of his head. When a police medical transport vehicle arrived at the scene, he rode with his partner to the hospital after a brief disagreement with Officer Lorraine Williams in the car.
The Lincoln Mark IV belonged to Leslie Nathanial of Detroit, reported to be a loan shark in the plant where he worked. Newspaper accounts of the period said Nathanial complained of police harassment and brutality, after police raided his home, arrested its occupants, and destroyed his car, erasing any evidence from that source. Then he got an apology, and was inexplicably released.
Afterwards, Detroit police focused on Lewis and three younger friends, claiming they drove a yellow Gran Torino and shot Sypitkowski in an attempted robbery, either of the bar itself, or of the officer personally. Later the teens testified against Lewis at his trial, bargaining for their own freedom.
But international bass player Chuck Jackson, a founder and member of the musical groups Soulful Sonics and Pure Pleasure, recalls Lewis sitting in with his band all that night of July 31, during an engagement at the UAW Local 212 hall, until the early morning hours. Back then, the hall, whose local originally represented Briggs plant workers, was located at Mack and St. Jean. It was approximately two miles from the site of Sypitkowski’s death. (UAW Local 212 has since relocated to Sterling Heights.)
Jackson said he had a contract with Local 212 for that date.
Lewis’s sister Wendy Lewis, a disabled veteran and mother, was 12 years old when her brother went to prison.
“I was very close to Charles,” she told VOD earlier. “I looked up to him, he was my idol. I tried to follow him everywhere he went. He was a musician who played with various groups back then. Our basement was full of musical instruments. I would sit on the basement steps and listen as so many people practiced with him.”
Jackson told VOD, “[Lewis] wasn’t a band member. He would bring his guitar and amplifer, come to see our guys, and sit in and play. A lot of kids stayed out of trouble that way, following us around, coming to rehearsals and gigs. I still run into a lot of them. We used to play for a lot of clubs.”
But, he said, “I never testified at his trials. No one ever contacted me. I never even knew about his arrest at the time.” He said he was horrified to find out about Lewis’ fate after being interviewed by a private investigator for Lewis’ former appeals attorney.
No other members of the band were called in Lewis’ trial as alibi witnesses although Lewis said he told his court-appointed trial attorney M. Arthur Arduin, who he has called a “mob” lawyer in court filings, to contact them. He unsuccessfully asked Judge Maher to remove Arduin.
A 1992 U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals unpublished ruling in Lewis’ case said Lewis’ due process rights were violated by the failure to hear alibi witnesses.
“Lewis is entitled, however, to further review of his claim that trial counsel failed to investigate potential alibi witnesses,” says the Sixth Circuit. “If Lewis is correct when he alleges that his attorney unreasonably failed to investigate alibi evidence, then a constitutional violation may well have occurred. . . .The District Court failed to address this claim in the proceedings below. On remand, the District Court should permit Lewis to present this claim. He appears to have raised it in the state court proceedings although he has not had any ruling.”
Arduin’s original family name was Arduino, and he was a member of the Italian-American Lawyers Club, according to his obituary. At the time, Detroit’s Italian mob was heavily involved in loan-sharking, the purported sideline of Leslie Nathanial.
It is clear from the transcripts of Lewis’ second trial that Arduin did everything he could to sabotage his client’s case, grilling Van Fleteren unmercifully on cross-examination about his drinking the night of his partner’s death, as if to discredit his testimony. Detroit police officer Lorraine Williams, who was at the scene after the killing, testified that Van Fleteren was too intoxicated at the time to have made accurate observations.
However, during a 1981 “Pearson” evidentiary hearing in Lewis’ case, five other officers at the scene who were not called to testify during Lewis’ second trial all agreed that they noted nothing abnormal about Van Fleteren’s behavior, other than his grief over his partner’s death. One said Williams tried to prevent Van Fleteren from accompanying his partner to the hospital.
“When Van Fleteren testified at the first trial,” said Mrs. Lewis, “he had me in tears because it was clear that his partner’s killing had affected him deeply.”
See transcripts of those officers’ testimony at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Charles-Lewis-transcript-1-1.pdf and http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Charles-Lewis-transcript-2-1.pdf
If he had not been incarcerated for life, Lewis likely would have followed Jackson’s path in carving out a career in the music industry. At Ionia Reformatory, he played in a prison band called the “Gospel Cavaliers,” and later expanded his interests to include the study of journalism. He has written wrote for several prison newspapers, and continues to hone his writing skills, authoring a book and essays in addition to his pro se court pleadings.
Meanwhile, Chuck Jackson and his group became successful and traveled world-wide, with Jackson known as “CJ Styles.” Jackson’s bio under a YouTube video he produced describes the world in which Lewis might have grown up.
“In the early 70’s ‘The Soulful Sonics’ changed their name to ‘Pure Pleasure’. . . .Playing in the ‘chitterlin’ circuit’ like Henery’s Palace, Phelps Lounge, Ben’s High Chapparal, and Ernie D’s Ballroom to name a few, the group soon . . .recorded their first song ‘By My Side,’ which was released in 1983, produced by Charles Jackson and Roderick Brewer on their label QC(Quick Cash) Records.
“The group soon started touring as the opening acts for such acts as Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Bar-Kays, the Dramatics, Al Hudson and Soul Partners, and Enchantment to name a few. Pure Pleasure also embarked on the 1980’s Air Force Tour, in Atlanta, GA , Texas, Okalahoma, Kentucky and Florida. Shortly after, the group broke up. Charles continued on with his musical career, by joining the local band Destination Love. . . .He now tours with the band T.F.O as the backing band for such acts as The Temptations, The Platters, The Jones girls, Jr. Walker and The All-stars, The Floaters and Carl Carlton to name a few….”
No matter the outcome of the hearing in Judge Lillard’s court May 26, Lewis still has other avenues of relief. The U.S. Supreme Court remanded his case back to the Michigan Supreme Court (MSC) effective April 6, 2016, for reconsideration under Montgomery v. Louisiana. The Michigan Supreme Court, however, only put a placeholder “miscellaneous order” in place on its website April 8. The Clerk of the state Supreme Court informed VOD that it is not known when the MSC will take up the case.
In the recent juvenile lifer case of Raymond Carp, 15 at the time of the alleged crime, the MSC remanded his case back to St. Clair County. Whether that will help or hurt him remains to be seen.
Lewis additionally has hearings ongoing in Federal court. In response to Lewis’ Motion for Relief from Judgment filed Feb. 11, U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds issued an order April 26 granting his motion to lift the stay on his case pending the Montgomery decision, and also requiring to state to reply to his contentions regarding the April 3, 2000 court order and other declarations of innocence.
The state filed a motion to dismiss Lewis’ claims regarding Montgomery because it is still pending at the Michigan Supreme Court, stating he has not exhausted his state court remedies. They also attached copies of Baughman’s and Drain’s documents regarding the April 3, 2000 order to dismiss Lewis’ case.
Lewis, who is representing himself in Federal Court, has until the end of the week to answer their claims and a ruling will eventually ensue from Judge Edmunds.
The saying goes, however: JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED! Justice for Charles Lewis has been delayed for 41 years–how much longer? When he and other juvenile lifers return home to their families, AREN’T REPARATIONS DUE?
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