Change.org petition to Judge Qiana Lillard, Chief Judge Kenny initiated
Judge Lillard freed Bernard Young, on likely innocence grounds, last week
Lewis’ lawyer and SADO to withdraw during hearing
Lewis will argue his own case, based on multiple court precedents
By Diane Bukowski
February 12, 2017
DETROIT – Family and friends of Charles Lewis, imprisoned for 41 years for a killing committed by another man, on the basis of a court file declared lost last year, are asking supporters to come to court Wed. February 15 at 9 a.m. Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard, who last week ordered the release of Bernard Young, citing the likelihood of his innocence, will hold a post-conviction hearing on Lewis’ case.
Meanwhile, they are also asking supporters to sign a new Change.org petition for Lewis’ freedom, at https://www.change.org/p/third-judicial-circuit-court-judge-qiana-denise-lillard-free-innocent-detroit-juvenile-lifer-charles-lewis-now?recruiter=1925993&utm_source=share_for_starters&utm_medium=copyLink.
Lewis’ current state-appointed attorney Valerie Newman of the State Appellate Defenders Office has given notice that she plans to withdraw from the case. She cites Lewis’ contention that she violated the attorney-client privilege by providing documents he gave to his previous attorneys to the prosecution, after Judge Lillard ordered his official court file re-constituted Nov. 11.
“. . .the Court is unconvinced the loss of the Defendant’s file requires the dismissal of his case or . . . mandates a term of years’ sentence,” Judge Lillard said in that order. She said a juvenile lifer re-sentencing hearing required under the U.S. Supreme Court decision Miller v. Alabama (2012) can be held without the original official file.
Lewis, an accomplished jail-house lawyer, calls events in his case an example of “Rogue Justice.” He plans to present his own arguments at the hearing, based on an extensive synopsis citing numerous court precedents he authored Dec. 17, 2016. He is asking again that his case be promptly dismissed.
Lewis cites the following ruling in People v. Hyatt, a July, 2016 decision by a seven-judge Michigan Court of Appeals panel:
“. . . .Miller requires a hearing at which a court can receive evidence about, among other matters, the circumstances of the homicide offense, including the juvenile’s role in the offense. Such a hearing will almost inevitably produce conflicting evidence about the extent of the offender’s role, with the prosecution likely seeking to maximize the juvenile defendant’s involvement in the homicide and the juvenile defendant seeking to minimize that role. A sentencing judge tasked with weighing the offender’s role in the offense, when faced with conflicting evidence, will necessarily have to make a determination about which evidence to believe, i.e., a factual finding.”
See ruling at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/PEOPLE-v-HYATT.pdf .
Lewis says consideration of the circumstances of the offense will force the judge to decide which of two stories to believe.
“The defendant’s case will present a more complex factual determination than most juvenile cases. . . .,” Lewis says. “This case involves the murder of off-duty officer Gerald Sypitkowski. It also involves two conflicting versions of how one man was killed on July 31, 1976 on the corner of Harper and Barrett Streets. One version is a lie and one version is the truth.
“The three juveniles that testified against the defendant made several different statements to the police. Without the files and records, those statements cannot be evaluated. . .There is a second version of the murder of Gerald Sypitkowski that involves four college students [eyewitnesses], a bouncer for Oty’s Saloon, William Eichman, and the deceased officer’s partner, Dennis Van Fleteren. Dennis Van Fleteren . . . testified that he was talking to Gerald Sypitkowski when a shotgun blast came from the driver’s side of a white Mark IV that struck and killed his partner.” See Lewis’ full letter/motion at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/CLlettermotion.compressed-1.pdf
The named witnesses backed up Van Fleteren’s account of the case. Van Fleteren obtained the license plate of the Mark IV, and police arrested its owner, Leslie Nathanial. However, then Detroit Police Sgt. Gil Hill released Nathanial after several hours under suspicious circumstances. “White Boy Rick” Wershe, a drug dealer and police informant in prison for nearly 30 years says he repeatedly told the FBI that Hill of took bribes in homicide cases, and a hitman said Hill asked him to kill Wershe. (See video below.)
Hill and the mainstream media tried to portray Lewis and the three juveniles as part of a vicious street gang called “The Kilbourne Killers.” However, Lewis recently wrote VOD, “All we did was went to parties together, skating, and occasionally we would have fist fights with other gangs. I only actually remember one gang fight.”
In a 2006 opinion on the case, Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Deborah Thomas said in part, “It is hard to fathom that a jury would summarily dismiss the testimony of a police officer who was also the partner of the deceased in favor of three juveniles. I also have some questions as to how four juveniles in two cars could be missed by everyone on the scene of the crime.”
Judge Thomas also cited numerous profound irregularities in Lewis’ trials. She said a thorough reading of the first trial transcript (which is not available in complete form in the reconstructed file) shows Recorders Court Judge Joseph Maher dismissed the jury after testimony without a motion for a mistrial by either the prosecution or the defense. Thomas said that meant that Lewis should have been considered acquitted.
Instead, the “reconstructed” file includes only a listing of jury members on a ballot form, with a notation that there was a motion for a mistrial, in unknown handwriting, with Maher’s name printed in.
Under the double jeopardy rule in capital cases, Thomas said, Lewis should not have been re-tried, but been free as of March, 1977.
Lewis, however, said that a second trial was convened before Judge Ollie Bivins, Jr., a visiting judge who was the first African-American judge appointed to the Genesee County Circuit bench.
But, Lewis said, Maher quickly intervened and took the case over again. This time, Lewis recalled, there were no jury selection proceedings. When he walked into the courtroom, the jury was already seated and ready to hear the trial. That jury found him guilty despite the testimony of Sypitkowski’s partner. The only document existing in the “re-constructed” file is an MDOC document with no signature indicating he was convicted. There is no signed jury ballot.
There is no record of the Bivins trial on the Register of Actions (ROA), which only includes events beginning with April 3, 2000. It still claims Lewis was convicted in front of Judge Gershwin Drain, who has vehemently denied any involvement in Lewis’ case.
State court rules emphasize the vital importance of a valid Register of Actions in maintaining criminal case files. There is no way to properly evaluate what happened in a case unless the ROA exists.
Lewis’ prosecutor and defense attorney both had documented ties to mob figures. The real killer of Officer Sypitkowski, likely Leslie Nathanial, was known to be a bookie during a time when the mob controlled book-making throughout the city. Lewis says Sypitkowski’s killing was really a mob hit, and he was the fall guy rousted up by Sgt. Gil Hill to take the blame and cover for the mob.