By Diane Bukowski
March 13, 2018
Vincent Smothers repeatedly confessed on tape and in written affidavits to the murder for which Searcy has served 14 years
Searcy has fought for exoneration during all those years, also based on police use of “snitch” witness and false crime lab reports
Send letters of support for Thelonious Searcy, #535985 to Presiding Criminal Judge Timothy Kenny, at Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, #602, 1441 St. Antoine, Detroit, MI 48226
DETROIT–A long-awaited evidentiary hearing during which Thelonious Shawn Searcy, a/k/a “Skinnyman,” and his court-appointed attorney Michael R. Dezsi will challenge his 2004 first-degree murder conviction is currently set for Mon. March 19, 2018 at 9 a.m. in front of Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Timothy Kenny.
“An ever present peril for the criminal justice system is the conviction of an innocent person,” Searcy says in his July, 2016 motion and brief asking for the hearing.
“Under our judicial system, two propositions are clear: Justice is the search for truth and the judicial system is staffed by fallible human beings who inevitably err. As a consequence of these two conflicting propositions some means must exist to exonerate those legally guilty but actually innocent—balancing the interests in finality and efficiency with the interest in fundamental fairness.”
Searcy, 38, has been in prison for 14 years for the murder of Jamal Segars and the wounding of Brian Minner during a crowded “Black Party” Labor Day weekend event in the streets around Detroit City Airport. He and his family have always maintained his innocence, testifying that he was with them at a family barbecue at the time of the killing. But it was not until his grandmother Edna Richardson hired private investigator Scott Lewis, formerly a well-known investigative news reporter, that a break in his case finally came.
Lewis interviewed Vincent Smothers, a self-confessed hitman who committed the four Runyon Street murders in 2007 for which Davontae Sanford was wrongfully convicted. Smothers admitted on tape and in affidavits that he also killed Segars, that Searcy was not involved.
Since Smothers’ attorney Gabi Silver has advised him to invoke the Fifth Amendment, Lewis told VOD that attorney Dezsi expects him to take the stand to testify to the validity of his taped interview with Smothers, as well as the affidavits and other evidence he obtained in the case.
“Dezsi has held the title of Metro Times Best Attorney since 2011,” says his website. “He has been called upon to handle some of the highest profile and complex cases seen in the courts. Dezsi has appeared and argued cases all over the country in both state and federal courts. Dezsi has trial expertise in both high stakes criminal and civil trials with a reputation for aggressive strategies for his clients. He has recovered millions of dollars on behalf of his clients.”
Lewis interviewed Smothers on tape as below.
Searcy, who had no previous criminal record, had been fighting his case without success on a pro per basis since his incarceration. After filing numerous motions, he received a letter from Smothers sent through an intermediary, dated Aug. 22, 2015, stating that he had just become aware that Searcy was charged with a crime Smothers committed.
Later, Smothers executed a notarized affidavit dated Dec. 21. 2015 in which he said, “I’m coming forward with this information about the murder of JAMAL SEGARS, because I heard it’s a innocent man sentenced, for this crime. I want to tell the truth about every vile murder I committed in the city of Detroit. I want to give all my victims’ family closure for their loved one’s death.”
Smothers sent letters confessing to the Segars murder to Detroit police and prosecutors, along with several media outlets, without a response. He said he and a partner, Jeffery Daniels, who was killed two weeks after the Segars murder, were responsible.
Davontae Sanford is not the only common link between his and Searcy’s cases.
Detroit Police Investigator Dale Collins, known for his use of “jail-house snitches,” was involved in both, and Assistant Prosecutor Patrick Muscat prosecuted both Sanford and Searcy. Searcy’s current prosecutor is listed as Thomas Chambers.
Meanwhile, Searcy filed a motion for an evidentiary hearing and new trial based on “newly-discovered evidence” July 22, 2016, citing Smothers’ confession as well
as allegations that the prosecution’s chief witness was actually a “snitch” whose charges in a gun case were dropped in exchange for his testimony. He says the “snitch’s” uncle executed an affidavit swearing that he heard a conversation between his nephew and a young woman offering to pay her for testimony that she saw Searcy commit the murder.
Neither of two Detroit police officers who engaged in a shoot-out with Smothers’ accomplice, nor Segars’ friend Brian Minner, who was in the car with him, could identify Searcy as the shooter in the case.
Searcy also contends that ballistics evidence used at the trial was faulty, produced by Kevin Reed, the Detroit police officer whose error-ridden work in the Detroit crime lab led to its shutdown in 2009. Reed was not qualified as a forensic ballistics expert at the time.
But Searcy’s motion lay dormant in his file until Judge Kenny belatedly ordered the prosecution to respond to the motion on June 8, 2017. The prosecution agreed in its response that an evidentiary hearing was in order and recommended that the court appoint attorneys for both Searcy and Smothers.
Kenny was still reluctant. His assistant told a family member of Searcy’s that he planned to issue an order without a hearing. Later, however, an official with the Office of the General Counsel confirmed that the evidentiary hearing would indeed be held.
Smothers was at a prelude to the full evidentiary hearing Jan. 29, 2018, during which the final date of March 19 was set. But Lewis told this reporter that Smothers’ attorney Gabi Silver recommended that he invoke his Fifth-Amendment rights when he takes the stand March 19. Therefore, Lewis said Searcy’s attorney Michael R. Deszi plans to put him on the stand to testify regarding the taped confession and affidavits given by Smothers to Lewis.
Smothers did not testify in Davontae Sanford’s case, either, despite his offer to do so and earlier, Silvers’ offer to testify in his stead. But the Michigan State Police investigator’s report on the Sanford case, which cited Smothers’ confession, as well as broad publicity and an ongoing campaign led by Sanford’s family, eventually forced Pros. KymWorthy to withdraw the charges against Sanford “without prejudice,” and Judge Brian Sullivan to agree. Both officials, however, continued to support their original findings in the Sanford case, Worthy in a live-streamed press conference and Sullivan in his order, which questioned the validity of Smothers’ confession.
Later, Sanford’s devoted stepfather Jeremaine Tilmon was killed in a highly questionable case, and Sanford himself was shot in the leg while at the Martin Luther King Apartments.
So it is clear that public support for Searcy will be vital during his hearing March 19 in front of Judge Kenny, Room 602 of the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, 1441 St. Antoine at Gratiot.