Prosecution tried unsuccessfully to introduce a police “Facebook expert”
On habeas appeal, defense also cited confession to murder by Tyree Washington, trial judge’s failure to give ‘deadlocked jury” instruction
Trial judge allowed social media evidence in state’s case against Joseph Weekley, killer of Aiyana Jones; Weekley walked free
By Diane Bukowski
November 27, 2017
Photos provided by Darrell Ewing
DETROIT – U. S. District Court Judge Denise Page Hood struck down the first-degree murder conviction of Detroiter Darrell Ewing, 29, on November 20. Her frank opinion exposes unconscionable practices employed by the Detroit Police and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office under Kym Worthy to obtain convictions “by any means necessary.”
Ewing and his co-defendant Derrico Searcy were convicted of murdering J.B. Watson Dec. 29, 2009, in an allegedly gang-related shooting at Harper and Van Dyke. They have been in prison since 2010. Afterward, another prisoner, Tyree Washington, came forward repeatedly to declare under oath that he, not Ewing and Searcy, committed the murder.
District Court Judge Hood threw out Ewing’s conviction based on a sole aspect of the habeas appeal, related to jury contamination, terming two other issues including Washington’s confession moot. She ordered Ewing’s release “forthwith,” unless the state grants Ewing a new trial within “ninety days of either the date of this opinion or the date when any appellate review becomes final, whichever date is later.” See full opinion at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Darrell-Ewing-USCOURTS-mied-2_15-cv-10523-0.pdf
Ewing’s attorneys Phillip Comorski and Byron Pitts contended in the appeal, “Petitioner was denied a fair trial and impartial jury under the federal constitution where, during jury deliberations, the jurors brought in extraneous information from Facebook and the internet about petitioner Ewing, Mr. Watson, gangs, and gang pecking orders, and the jurors used this information to convict petitioner Ewing.”
Comorski told VOD, “It’s the proper ruling; unfortunately the Michigan Courts didn’t do it the first time and we had to go all the way to the federal courts. It’s quite clear based on the facts that information being brought into the jury room from outside the courtroom is certainly not permitted. Hopefully the Attorney General does the right thing and let’s it go back to state court, instead of appealing to the Sixth Circuit.”
Ewing’s mother LaSonya Dodson has been campaigning vigorously for her son’s release since his conviction. She told VOD she sold her house and exhausted her 401k to pay Ewing’s trial and appeals attorneys. She added that one daughter in the service retired early at the age of 26 due to severe headaches from the stress of her brother’s case, while the rest of the family ceased “living the active lives we used to.”
“I’m very happy with the ruling,” Dodson told VOD. “I think the prosecution’s tactics to try to bring in gang signs were to defuse what the case was all about. What I learned is that they bring a lot of “experts” in to brainwash the jurors. How do you become a Facebook expert? What school do you go to?”
Dodson has also sponsored protests outside the Federal Courthouse, and been active with various coalitions against wrongful convictions.
In her opinion, Judge Page Hood noted that prior to the trial, the assistant prosecutor Kam Towns tried to qualify Detroit Police Officer Terri Graves as an expert on gangs and gang signs based on internet research she had done from Facebook and other social websites.
The prosecution alleged that Ewing was a member of a gang called the “Hustle Boys” while Watson belonged to a gang called “The Knock-Out Boys.” The Detroit Police Department has a long history dating back to the days of Gil Hill and others in the 1970’s who characterized loose assortments of Black youth from poor neighborhoods as “gangs.”
According to Judge Page Hood, trial court judge Carole Youngblood denounced and denied the attempt to have Graves testify.
“On October 8, 2010, the trial court judge issued an opinion and articulated detailed findings on the record denying the prosecutor’s request to add Officer Terri Graves as an expert witness or a lay witness,” Hood says in her opinion.
“The trial court judge denied the proposed trial testimony due to ‘an overwhelming amount of Officer Graves’ ‘facts and data,’ [that] are based on unreliable principles and methods. Officer Graves’ data is based on information that people have told her.’ The Court proceeded to find her testimony ‘hearsay within hearsay, within hearsay…not scientific and it is closer to gossip than scientific or reliable data.’”
Although Graves was stricken from the witness list, social media information on gangs was discussed in the jury room, according to Judge Page Hood.
“On January 10, 2011, Juror # 4, Kathleen Frances Byrnes, filed an affidavit informing the court that during deliberations Juror # 13 (Michelle Chesny) brought in Facebook information regarding petitioner’s past history and information pertaining to an online eulogy for J.B. Watson. Ms. Byrnes also informed the court that Juror # 5 (Karen James) had googled gang information and brought up information pertaining to gang codes and gang activity that she found on the internet. This Court notes that the jurors brought into jury deliberations the same type of information that the trial court excluded prior to petitioner’s trial.”
Byrnes’ affidavit also says, “Ms. James also said during deliberations that gangs have a pecking order according to information she googled at home. She went on to say that Darrell Ewing was at the top of the pecking order. That would put Tyree Washington at the bottom and the gang decided to sacrifice Tyree Washington by setting him up as the fall guy for the murder. According to Ms. James, the above information was based on what she had read on line regarding the history of gangs on the google web site.”
Additionally, says Judge Page Hood, “The affidavit of Kathleen Francis Byrnes states that ‘contrary to her indication to the trial court, her vote to convict ‘was not [her] honest verdict.’ Byrnes alleged, in relevant part, that she was pressured into agreeing with the verdicts and that other jurors engaged in internet research regarding Watson, Ewing, Searcy, and gangs.”
See Byrnes’ affidavit at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Byrnes-affidavit.compressed.pdf.
Youngblood denied a motion for an evidentiary hearing to determine exactly how much discussion the jurors had related to the internet discussions. Judge Page Hood says such a hearing would have been needed, since the jurors came back with a conviction only a day after they told Judge Youngblood in a note that they were deadlocked.
“Considering the serious difference of opinion of the jurors, brought to the court’s attention the day before . . . It would appear more likely than not, that the additional information, pertaining to gang codes, may have been discussed in order to break the jury deadlock,” Judge Page Hood says.
Judge Youngblood died while post-conviction proceedings were ongoing, and the case was transferred to Judge Cynthia Gray-Hathaway.
(Gray-Hathaway allowed the defense to introduce Facebook evidence in the trial of Detroit Police Officer Joseph Weekley, accused of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Aiyana Jones, 7, during a 2011 Special Response Team raid on her home.
It included undated, unsourced and unrelated Facebook photos of some of Aiyana’s older relatives allegedly brandishing guns and giving gang signs. The defense even tried to introduce a Facebook photo of Aiyana and her two little brothers giving an alleged “gang sign” which signified only “east side,” as opposed to “west side.” Weekley walked free after three mis-trials.)
Meanwhile, the Court of Appeals upheld the convictions of Ewing and Searcy Sept. 24, 2013, claiming the jury discussions constituted “harmless error” and trial court post-conviction proceedings ceased. See COA opinion at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/COA-Darrell-Ewing-Derrico-Searcy.pdf.
But Judge Page Hood found, “This Court cannot conclude that the jurors’ use of extraneous information was harmless error. Lengthy deliberations by a jury preceding the jury misconduct and a relatively quick verdict following the misconduct strongly suggests prejudice.”
She cites numerous opinions from the Sixth Circuit Court to the U.S. Supreme Court backing her ruling.
Below is Scott Lewis’ interview with Tyree Washington, who confessed numerous times to dozens of officials that he was the perpetrator in the murder of J.B. Watson. VOD spoke with him and he confirmed that he wanted this tape published. He refers to Adrienne Jackson, who testified to officials during Ewing’s trial that she was present when Tyree Washington shot J.B. Watson. Tyree Washington is serving a sentence of 7 to 25 years in the MDOC for crimes of car-jacking and felony firearm. His first out-date is 4/14/2019, and his final outdate is 3/14/2037. He is subjecting himself to a possible life sentence if he is charged and convicted in the Watson murder case.
His description of the crime is typical of many tragic killings occurring among the youth. He says he, his daughter and her mother were shot at the day before by Watson, and he went after Watson essentially for their protection. He also condemns the entire criminal “injustice” system for its unchecked practices of mass incarceration by any means possible. Tyree Washington’s affidavit is at Tyree Washington Affidavit.
Ewing added in a letter to VOD, “Believe it or not, U.S. Federal Agents were given information by a top informant who testified in front of multiple grand juries concerning this matter and who was the actual culprit responsible for the crime I was being charged with and ultimately convicted of.
“Armed with this information, these same federal agents, in the interest of justice intervened by presenting their exculpatory proofs to Prosecutor Kym Worthy and the assistant prosecutor over my case, Kam Towns, who both, in turn, dismissed the evidence without investigation. . .Because of this disclosure, my first trial date was postponed by the now deceased honorable Carole Youngblood, who told the attorneys to further investigate this matter, and as a consequence of these instructions, I was advised by my then trial counsel, David Cripps, to take a polygraph test . . . I passed the polygraph test with flying colors, however, Prosecutor Kym Worthy refused to consider the polygraph results, ultimately refusing to drop the charges against me.”