Video above is from October 28, 2016 hearing where Wayne County Deputy Court Clerk David Baxter testified that Charles Lewis’ official court file could not be found after months of searching. It has still not been found, although Judge Qiana Lillard ordered it “re-constructed.” Lewis contests the validity of that order, and says his case must be dismissed, based on U.S. Supreme Court and numerous other precedents.
SADO withdraws as Charles Lewis’ representative; had insisted on 40-60 yr. sentence despite innocence, complete loss of official court file
Lewis: Judge Lillard’s order to re-construct lost file “an abuse of discretion,” violation of attorney-client privilege, case must be dismissed
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DETROIT – “Ninety percent of juvenile lifers are in prison because they had really bad attorneys,” Charles Lewis, who has served 41 years in Michigan’s prisons, said during a court hearing February 15. “One of the biggest problems juveniles have is finding competent counsel. I’d rather just represent myself. Nobody knows my case like me. I’ve been researching it since I was 17.”
He spoke at a hearing in front of Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard called to allow his state-appointed defense attorney, Valerie Newman, and the State Appellate Defenders Office (SADO) to withdraw from the case. Lillard issued an order approving the withdrawal.
Present in court to support Lewis were Ron and Darleen Hereford, owners of Doll’s Go-Kart race track at Oakman and Grand River. They fought a nine-year battle to free their son Darron, who was falsely convicted of robbery charges.
Evidence of the false conviction included photos of the guilty party raiding the cash register at Hungry Howie’s in Southfield, an individual who looked nothing like their son. The Herefords have always said their son was targeted as part of a land-grab scheme by realtor Herb Strather, who is seeking to amass properties along the Grand River corridor in Detroit.
Lewis was convicted of killing off-duty Detroit police officer Gerald Sypitkowski on July 31, 1976, after three separate trials. Numerous eyewitnesses at the scene including Sypitkowski’s partner Dennis Van Fleteren testified that the gunfire which killed the off-duty cop came from a white Lincoln Mark IV, driven by Leslie Nathanial, not from Lewis.
None of them said they saw Lewis or three Black juveniles who testified against him at the scene. Then Sgt. Gil Hill, a notoriously crooked cop, released Nathanial and concocted the case against Lewis.
Recorders Court Judge Joseph Maher dismissed the jury without cause after testimony was completed in Lewis’ first trial in March, 1977, according to Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Deborah Thomas.
Judge Thomas said in a 2006 opinion that she had “thoroughly” reviewed the transcript. She said the dismissal should have meant Lewis’ acquittal and the state’s inability to re-try him under double jeopardy provisions.
But that full transcript and Lewis’ official court file were irrevocably lost at some point about five years ago according to testimony from Court Clerk staff. On Nov. 11, 2016, Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard ordered the file “re-constructed” by the prosecution, defense and Clerk’s office, an order Lewis contends is unconstitutional. (See Judge Lillard’s order at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Judge-Lillard-order-reconstructing-Charles-Lewis-file-1.pdf.
“That order was an abuse of discretion,” he told Judge Lillard. “The Court Clerk didn’t have my record. Ninety percent of those documents in the [re-constructed] file came from my foot locker. I turned them over to my previous attorneys Foley & Lardner who then gave them to SADO. I did that so I could get legal advice from SADO. I didn’t give permission to turn them over to the prosecution.”
Below: Lewis’ family and supporters discuss their sons’ cases
Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Dawson and Lewis’ court-appointed attorney Valerie Newman of SADO called Lewis’ depiction of the re-constructed file a “lie,” claiming other documents were included.
Newman claimed, however, that she did not have a copy of the re-constructed file. But Wayne County Deputy Court Clerk David Baxter told this reporter earlier that he was making a copy for the defense, after which this reporter could also review the file, which is considered public information.
Judge Lillard agreed with Newman and Dawson on the file’s contents, saying the only thing missing was the Court Clerk’s official file. She said she intended to certify the file herself, a likely violation of state court rules which give that responsibility to the Court Clerk. (See box at left.) There is additionally no accurate Register of Actions for the case. The ROA begins at the year 2000, with an inaccurate entry showing that Lewis was convicted in front of Judge Gershwin Drain on April 3, 2000.
“If I’m wrong, somebody will have to tell me,” she said. VOD has requested comment from Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett on Lillard’s order. Due to the holiday, she was not available before press time.
Newman and SADO officially withdrew from the case during the hearing, citing Lewis’ contention that the “attorney-client privilege” had thus been violated.
Newman asked Lillard to allow Lewis to argue as a pro se motion a letter that he sent to SADO in December laying out his legal grounds against Lillard’s Nov. 11 ruling, but Lillard refused to do so. She said she would not allow Lewis to argue his case pro se, but would consult with Chief Criminal Court Judge Timothy Kenny to have him appoint another attorney to “assist” Lewis. (See Lewis letter/motion at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/CLlettermotion.compressed-1.pdf.)
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Faretta v. California (1975), however, was “the case that established that defendants have a right to represent themselves,” according to the Nolo.com Legal Encyclopedia. The USSC said,
“The Sixth Amendment as made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth guarantees that a defendant in a state criminal trial has an independent constitutional right of self-representation and that he may proceed to defend himself without counsel when he voluntarily and intelligently elects to do so, and, in this case, the state courts erred in forcing petitioner against his will to accept a state-appointed public defender and in denying his request to conduct his own defense.” (See full ruling at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Faretta-v-California.pdf.)
Lewis told VOD that he was encouraged by the hearing, because both Newman and Judge Lillard put it on the record that attorney-client privilege may have been violated, and once again that they believe his official court file can be re-constructed, without any valid legal grounds. He is still asking for immediate dismissal of his case, and his release from prison, based on the loss of the official court file first. Then he said he will engage in a fight to prove his innocence of the charges, for which he said he has substantial evidence.
“There were four points during the time I’ve been in prison when my case should have been dismissed,” Lewis said. “The first time was after Judge Maher dismissed the jury from my first trial without cause. The second time was when there was no official record of the jury’s vote after my last trial under Maher in 1977. The third time was when Judge Edward Thomas refused to grant me a Pearson evidentiary hearing within 30 days of my request for one. The fourth time was when Judge Gershwin Drain issued an order dismissing my case on April 3, 2000 because of the Pearson violation.”
Lewis was not made aware of that order until 10 years later, by a prison official who gave him a copy. He and his family remain adamant that he has been unjustly incarcerated for over 41 years and said they will not stop fighting for his freedom.