Final mitigation hearing after 3 ½ years Tues. Oct. 15 9 a.m—Judge Qiana Lillard, Rm. 502 FMHJ
Defense says Lewis is not “the rare child” who is irredeemable, files a stunning 87 pp. brief including expert testimony and research
Brief attests to extreme racist hostility that existed in Lewis’ neighborhood during his youth, Lewis’ efforts to succeed as student, musician in its face
By Diane Bukowski
DETROIT – After 44 years of incarceration, and over 3 ½ years of juvenile lifer resentencing hearings, Charles Lewis may finally see his “light come shining” at his mitigation hearing Tues. Oct. 15 at 9 a.m. in front of Judge Qiana Lillard.
He said he is focused on building a bright future for himself and his loved ones, including a promising, likely brilliant musical career that was brutally cut short when Detroit police arrested him Aug. 1, 1976 for the alleged murder of an off-duty police officer.
“I don’t have any hate in my heart toward anyone for what has happened,” Lewis told VOD. “In fact I am glad that the three teens who testified against me didn’t have to go through what I have gone through in prison, because it is very hard for ANYONE to survive in here.”
Lewis was convicted on the strength of the teens’ testimony, elicited under threat they would also be charged. But numerous eyewitnesses at the scene, including the officer’s partner, testified that they saw someone else shoot the officer. Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Deborah Thomas noted in a 2006 opinion that the teens’ version of the shooting was “a scientific impossibility,” and that none of the eyewitnesses said they saw a group of Black teens at the scene.
One of the witnesses expected to testify at the Oct. 15 hearing is Michael Hollis, Lewis’ childhood friend who has had a long musical career and even played in front of two sitting U.S. Presidents. He says in his witness statement that he did not know what had happened to Lewis until his band played at one of the prisons where Lewis was incarcerated.
Hollis told defense investigators, “It makes me cry to think of my best friend who is every bit as good as I, maybe better, but for a twist of fate ended up in such a different place.”
Lewis’ attorney Sanford Schulman filed a stunning, moving 87-page brief for this hearing, with affidavits from expert witnesses including a polygraph examiner, a psychiatrist, a mitigation expert, a sentencing expert, and others. They state emphatically that Lewis was not “the rare child” who deserves to die in prison, described in Supreme Court rulings outlawing juvenile life without parole. (Miller v. Alabama 2012 and Montgomery v. Louisiana 2016.)
The polygraph examiner, a former police officer himself, reported that while results of lie detector tests about the crime Lewis was convicted of were “inconclusive” due to Lewis’ various heart-related ailments, he strongly believes Lewis is innocent.
The brief includes a lengthy history of the times and location where Lewis came of age, compiled by the various experts. It cites multiple newspaper articles describing extreme racist hostility toward Black families moving into the predominantly white Northeast side where Lewis and his family lived, and toward Black children, who were constantly harassed, threatened and robbed by white children.
“White children would chase Black students with cars, jump out of cars with canes, sticks, throw bricks, and chase Black students with dogs,” says the brief. It describes numerous instances of police harassment of Black children as well, stops during which police told them they were not supposed to “be there.”
Ruby Kennedy, the mother of Mark Kennedy (one of the teens who testified under duress against Lewis) told defense investigators that Black mothers recruited Vietnam veterans to defend their children.
It says white children in the area formed a gang called the “White Knights.” Robert Lathan, a neighborhood child at the time, said that a loose-knit association formed by Black children called the “Kilbourne Kapones Killers” was “an alliance against racism. I joined so I wouldn’t have to take the bullcrap.”
Other neighbors who were children at the time said they adopted that name as a means of frightening off their white attackers but denied that the group was a “gang.”
Some newspaper articles on the killing of off-duty police officer Robert Sypitkowski on July 31, 1976 described Lewis as a leader of the “Kilbourne Killers” gang. However, the brief says that after Lewis’ arrest, two adult prisoners in the Wayne County Jail threatened him with rape, but another adult prisoner read out loud a newspaper article about Lewis’ arrest for killing a police officer, to frighten them off.
That prisoner told Lewis to use the nickname “KK” to stave off future threats. Lewis is still known across the MDOC and among many former prisoners as “KK.” Many MDOC prisoners are known only by such tags.
The first newspaper article on the killing of Sypitkowski, done at the scene directly after the murder, identified only Sypitkowski’s partner and other white eyewitnesses to the killing, and their account of the perpetrator in a white Lincoln Mark IV. No Black teens were identified as present.
The next day, the Freep completely changed the story, with no by-lines, abandoned the white Lincoln Mark IV issue, and substituted Sgt. Hill’s version. White Boy Rick has said Hill covered up many murders.
Later, the Freep published an article on Lewis’ arrest and identified him as a member of the “K.K. Kapones” gang without substantiation.
The brief also describes vicious attacks by Detroit police on Lewis’ family after his arrest.
In one instance, it says, during a police invasion of the Lewis home on Kilbourne, police slit the throat of the “seeing-eye” dog belonging to Lewis’ younger blind brother, in front of his young siblings, 13, 12, 9 and 5, and hung it from a revolving ceiling fan so that its blood sprayed the entire family.
The home was thoroughly vandalized by police, forcing the Lewises to move and scattering the family.
The brief also cites the testimony at Lewis’ second trial of Officer Sypitkowski’s partner Dennis Van Fleteren, who said the two were off-duty, in street clothes, and had been drinking at Oty’s Bar on Harper and Barrett, off East I- 94.
“Van Fleteren testified that sometime before 1:30 a.m., Sypitkowski left the bar and headed down Harper Street,” says the brief, citing page numbers of the testimony.
“Van Fleteren testified further that he was talking to Sypitkowski when a white Mark IV pulled up on Harper with lights out next to Sypitkowski. He further testified that he saw Sypitkowski fall into the street and simultaneously heard a shotgun blast coming from the driver’s side of the white Mark IV. Van Fleteren testified that he ran into the street and attempted to stop the Mark IV by waving his hands and the driver of the Mark IV sped up and nearly ran him down. Van Fleteren testified that he crouched down . . .and memorized the license plate number. Van Fleteren testified that at the time of the incident he thought that the shot that killed his partner came from the white Mark IV. And, that there was no other traffic in the streets.”
The brief adds that Van Fleteren “stands by his testimony today.”
The brief says further that even if the testimony of the three juveniles was true, their actions that night were typical of the “impetuosity of youth,” and showed no intent to murder anyone, constituting only a “botched robbery.” It stresses that Sypitkowski “was off-duty that day and on vacation for two weeks. He was in civilian clothes, an orange shirt and blue pants. It would have been impossible for any stranger to identify him as a police officer.”
It notes further that weaknesses in the prosecution’s case included the fact that the three juveniles were originally co-defendants and served no time for the crime, and that no gun was ever found.
The brief says Lewis was turned in to an attorney, Gerald Lorence, by an aunt, for representation, but instead was confronted by then Detroit Police Sgt. Gil Hill and arrested. It says Lewis was never interviewed, never admitted to the crime, and never had his alibi witnesses checked out.
Ominously, it says that one of the juvenile’s stepfathers sent a note to Rosie Lewis through her foreman at the Mack Stamping Plant, where they both worked, the Friday before the officer’s killing but that she did not find it until Monday. Over the weekend, the stepfather was shot to death by his wife, Bernice Warren.
The prosecution’s brief is at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Prosecution-brief-on-Lewis-resentencing.pdf.
AP Tom Dawson does not include the testimony of Sypitkowski’s partner Dennis Van Fleteren or anyone else who testified that his killer was driving a white Lincoln Mark IV, focusing solely on the three juveniles’ statements to police. It does not include any interviews with those who best knew and know Charles Lewis. It cites Lewis’ disciplinary record while in prison but does not cite MDOC Corrections Specialist Richard Stapleton’s report that Lewis’ disciplines were typical of youthful offenders who are placed in an extremely hostile adult environment, and over the years find ways of coping, leading to fewer disciplines. Stapleton recommended Lewis’ release and said he does not represent a threat to the community.
Parroting the Michigan Supreme Court’s disastrous ruling last year in Hyatt/Skinner, Dawson says:
“Neither the statute or Miller requires that the court make a specific finding of fact or that the People prove a specific fact prior to the imposition of a sentence of life without the possiblity of parole. “Indeed, there is language in Montgojmery that suggest that the juvenile offender bears the burden of showing that life without parole is not the appropriate sentence by introducing mitigating evidence.” People v Skinner, 502 Mich 89, 131 (2018). MCL 769.25 and Miller simply require that the sentencing court consider the factors enumerated in Miller as well as any other relevant criteria prior to deciding whether to sentence a juvenile offender to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Ultimately, the court’s decision to impose life without the possiblity of parole is not a factual finding, but a moral judgment which is based upon a careful and considered review of the Miller factors and any other elevant consideration. see People v skinner, 502 Mich 89 (2018).”
Attorneys for the two defendants in that case are pursuing all available appeals, citing the Hyatt-Skinner’s deliberate defiance of the provisions of Miller and Montgomery.
Dawson says without proof that Lewis and the three juveniles who testified against him were members of “The Kilbourne Killer,” despite the fact that one disavowed any such membership, and others of Lewis’ contemporaries say the “gang” was actually an “anti-racist alliance.”
Dawson says also that Judge Joseph Maher declared a “hung jury” in Lewis first trial, but there is no existing transcript that says that. Judge Deborah Thomas said she “thoroughly reviewed” the first transcript and found no evidence that either the defense or the prosecution had called for a mistrial, or any evidence that the jury itself reported it was hung.
The prosecution relies only on “clerk’s notes” in the scraps of the first transcript that are left, which state a hung jury was declared, with no evidence from the transcript.
The prosecution says, “The evidence shows that the Defendant was the leader of the criminal gang in his neighborhood. The evidence further demonstrates that the Defendant is the one that suggested that the group commit a robbery on this fateful night and that he directed the other young men and told them what to do. Thus, the Defendant’s family and home environment does not mitigate in favor of a term of years sentence.”
However, the defense’s statement completely contradicts that, giving a clear history of the origins of the so-called “Kilbourne Killers/Kapones” with two other youths in the neighborhood, and its purposes of self-defense against racist attacks.
Dawson paints Lewis’ early life as a storybook childhood, but interviews the defense conducted with his family show that it was far from that, with Lewis subjected to constant violence from his stepfather as well as enemies on the street and in the schools, and constant illnesses. The prosecution did not talk directly to any family members, all of whom are anticipating Lewis’ release with joy. Even his stepfather, in his witness statement, says he regrets his treatment of Lewis and his neglect of acting as a father figure for him.
THE VOICE OF DETROIT HAS BEEN COVERING CHARLES LEWIS’ RE-SENTENCING HEARINGS AND RESEARCHING HIS CASE SINCE MARCH, 2016, PUBLISHING RELATED STORIES LISTED BELOW. VOD EDITOR DIANE BUKOWSKI HAS ALSO SUBMITTED AN AFFIDAVIT ADVOCATING FOR CHARLES LEWIS’ RELEASE TO ALL COURT OFFICERS INVOLVED, AT http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/AFFIDAVIT-OF-FACT-RE-CHARLES-LEWIS-BY-MDB.pdf
#TAKETHEKNEE! FRI. OCT. 6; FREE CHARLES LEWIS, INNOCENT, IN PRISON 41 YEARS; COURT FILES DESTROYED