THELONIOUS ‘SHAWN’ SEARCY WINS NEW TRIAL; MICH. APPEALS COURT CITES HITMAN’S CONFESSION, BALLISTICS

(L to r) Thelonious ‘Shawn’ Searcy today; daughter LaShyra with relative and Searcy grandmother Edna Richardson at court hearing in 2018; Searcy with LaShyra as toddler, 2004

Panel says 3rd Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Kenny “abused discretion” in nixing Smothers’ confession, committed legal errors

Finds that court repeatedly withheld key ballistics evidence identifying murder weapon  from Searcy jury 

Defense attorney Michael Dezsi calls on prosecution to dismiss charges

By Diane Bukowski 

February 14, 2021

DETROIT—Seventeen years after Thelonious ‘Shawn’ Searcy, now 41, was sentenced to life without parole for murder, a Michigan appeals court has granted him a new trial. A confession by Vincent Smothers, an admitted hit man, to the Sept. 2004 murder of Jamal Segars near Detroit City Airport, and ballistics evidence withheld from Searcy’s jury were key to the unanimous ruling handed down Feb. 11.

“When considering the trial evidence in light of the other evidence that would be presented at retrial, we conclude that Searcy has a reasonably likely chance of acquittal,” the Appeals Court said. “Therefore, the trial court abused its discretion by denying Searcy’s motion for relief from judgment with respect to Searcy’s claim of new evidence relating to [Vincent] Smothers.” See:  http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/COA-Thelonious-Searcy-20210211_C349169_62_349169.OPN-3-1.pdf

Chief Judge Timothy Kenny

Timothy Kenny, now Chief Judge of Wayne Co.’s Third Judicial Circuit Court, presided over Searcy’s trial in 2005 and at his evidentiary hearing in 2018, which Kenny ordered based on Searcy’s own pro se motion for a new trial filed from behind prison walls.

“I can’t thank God enough for his everlasting mercy and grace for my life,” Searcy reacted. “As I stood in the midst of my storm of affliction, He never left me. He bound up every wicked and evil principality scheme that the enemy had for my life, through multiple angels that he surrounded me by on my day of judgment.”

Searcy, a father of two daughters, has earned outstanding grades in paralegal courses during his time in prison. He worked closely with defense attorney Michael Dezsi, who represented him at the 2018 hearing and during multiple appeals of Kenny’s denial of his motion.

“I’m happy the Court of Appeals examined the overwhelming new evidence showing that Mr. Searcy didn’t commit the murder for which he has now served almost 17 years in prison,” Dezsi said. “Indeed, the Court of Appeals noted in its decision that my client would likely be acquitted upon presentation of this new evidence.”

COA hearing Thelonious Searcy Feb. 4, 2021 on Zoom/top: Judges Mark Cavanagh, Deborah Servitto, Thomas Cameron; below, (l) WCPO AP Thomas Chambers, (r) defense atty. Michael Dezsi

He said “glaring questions” remain about how the prosecution misled the jury on the bullets found in Segars’ body. “We now know it doesn’t match the gun presented at trial as the murder weapon. Given these obvious problems with the prosecution’s case, it is my sincere belief that the prosecution should dismiss the charges against Searcy.”

Appellate Judges Mark J. Cavanagh, Deborah A. Servitto, and Thomas C. Cameron ruled  per curiam that Judge Kenny “abused his discretion” in his ruling on the evidentiary hearing, which called Smothers’ confession unbelievable. They said that determination is up to a jury, not the judge. They reviewed Smothers’ testimony at that hearing at length in their opinion, and found it

“As our Supreme Court made clear in Johnson, ‘a trial court’s credibility determination is concerned with whether a reasonable juror could find the testimony credible on retrial,” the panel said.

Exonerees Justly Johnson (l) and Kendrick Scott (r) with PI Scott Lewis at Proving Innocence conference in 2019.

We conclude that, when considering Smothers’s testimony in its entirety, it is clear that his testimony is not wholly incredible, as the trial court found, and that a reasonable juror could find his testimony worthy of belief on retrial. Consequently, the trial court clearly erred when it concluded that Smother’s testimony was entirely incredible.”

The Michigan Supreme Court’s ruling, at People v Johnson, 502 Mich 541 (2018), involved the convictions of Justly Johnson and Kendrick Scott in 1999 for the murder of Lisa Kindred. See ruling at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/MSC-People-v-Johnson-People-v-Scott.pdf

The Michigan Innocence Clinic and private investigator Scott Lewis, who also interviewed Vincent Smothers on his confession to the murder for which Searcy was convicted, succeeded in obtaining the exonerations of Johnson and Scott.

Searcy’s appeals panel also found that Kenny and the prosecution repeatedly withheld ballistics evidence from his trial jury in 2005, or misinterpreted it.  Asst. Prosecutor Patrick Muscat introduced a .45 caliber gun found in the home of Searcy’s grandmother as the murder weapon. Kenny told the jury that the only bullet casings in “physical” evidence were two from that gun, and that the caliber of the bullets found in Segars’ body “could not be determined.”

“The jury was very interested in information concerning the casings, the type of gun that was recovered, and the type of bullet that was found in the murder victim,” the panel said.

“Importantly, the jury was informed that ‘the gun that is in evidence is a .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun’ and was then informed that the bullet that was removed from the murder victim could not be tested because it was ‘too deformed.’ However . . . .the type of bullet was able to be discerned and had been accurately described as a .40-caliber bullet before trial. Without this important evidence, the jury was left to decide whether, based on the location of the .45-caliber casings and other record evidence, Searcy committed the crimes.”

The court’s opinion clearly showed that it thoroughly examined the transcripts and briefs submitted by Attorneys Dezsi and Chambers, but it stopped short of saying that the judge and/or the prosecution deliberately suppressed ballistics evidence or misled the jury with regard to it.

AP Patrick Muscat, DPD Detective Dale Collins

AP Muscat also handled the trial of 14-year-old Davontae Sanford for murdering  four adults in a house on Runyon St. where drugs, primarily marijuana, were allegedly sold, in 2007. Vincent Smothers told Detroit police and prosecutors shortly after Sanford was sentenced that he had committed the murders and provided a clear, detailed description of the crimes in affidavits submitted during Sanford’s trial. DPD Detective Dale Collins also played a major role in both convictions.

Vincent Smothers recounts details of 2004 murder of Jamal Segars during Thelonious Searcy evidentiary hearing in 2018.

But Smothers’ confession was withheld from Sanford’s defense attorneys just as his confession to the murder of Jamal Segars in 2009 was withheld until the Innocence Clinic received an affidavit from Smothers confessing to the crime, and forwarded it to the Michigan State Police for investigation. Smothers testified that  he withdrew that confession after being told that it might hold up Sanford’s release, but never signed an affidavit to that effect.

He confessed under oath in great detail again, during the 2018 evidentiary hearing in Searcy’s case. He said he had repeatedly submitted additional affidavits regarding the Segars murder. The appeals court noted that he even testified in person against the advice of his attorney.

In Sanford’s case, Judge Brian Sullivan blocked any direct testimony from Smothers, likely further delaying Sanford’s release. Despite that, an appellate court ruled in Sanford’s favor. But that ruling was overturned by the Michigan Supreme Court, which said they would reconsider if Sanford’s attorneys filed a motion for relief from judgment instead of a motion to withdraw his confession. That was later done, finally leading to Sanford’s release.

During his sentencing in 2005, Searcy said on the record, “I would like to say for the record–NO, I’m not guilty of these charges that were brought against me. These charges are false. I didn’t kill Jamal Segars and I didn’t shoot Brian Minner. I thought justice would prevail. But still as a young Black man in the system I didn’t have a chance.” – Thelonious “Shawn” Searcy, of Detroit, statement May 23, 2005, prior to being sentenced to life without parole.

Over 20,000 have signed Change. Org petition for Searcy’s freedom at Petition · Michigan Attorney General: FREE WRONGFULLY CONVICTED THELONIOUS SEARCY!!!! · Change.org.

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RELATED DOCUMENTS, MAINSTREAM AND VOD STORIES 

Thelonious Searcy Atty. Grievance against Patrick Muscat

http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/TSearcy-grievance-PMuscat.pdf

Atty. Michael Dezsi’s Brief on Remand to Court of Appeals:

http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/TSSearcy.COA_.3.27.2020.pdf

Michigan Supreme Court’s remand of Searcy case to Court of Appeals:

http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Thelonious-Searcy-MSC-remand-to-COA-3-18-20.pdf

Michigan Court of Appeals denial of Searcy application for leave to appeal:

http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/TSearcy-COA-denial.pdf

Judge Timothy Kenny’s order denying Searcy motion for relief from judgment Dec. 3, 2018:

http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Searcy-Thelonious-Opinion-Order-12-03-18-compressed-1.pdf

Searcy’s pro se motion for new trial, filed July 22, 2016:

http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/TS-motion-for-new-trial-7-22-16.compressed-2.pdf

Part one of Searcy brief with Motion:

http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/TS-brief-7-22-16-part-one.compressed-1.pdf

Part two of  Searcy brief with Motion:

http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/TS-brief-7-22-16-part-two.compressed-1.pdf

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Voice of Detroit is a pro bono newspaper. VOD’s editors and reporters, most of whom live on fixed incomes or are incarcerated, are not paid for their work. Ongoing costs include quarterly web charges of $380, P.O. box fee of $150/yr. and costs for research including court records, and internet fees, as well as office supplies, gas, etc.

Please DONATE TO VOD at

https://www.gofundme.com/donate-to-vod

*********************************************************************************

Mainstream media coverage:

Appeals court rules murder convict should get retrial in hit man case (detroitnews.com)

New trial granted; prisoner says man was wrongly convicted – Washington Times

Michigan man gets new trial after prisoner claims he committed 2004 murder (mlive.com)

Another wrongful conviction — and a chance for Worthy to step up – The Appeal

VOD STORIES ON THELONIOUS SEARCY’S WRONGFUL CONVICTION IN 2005, EVIDENTIARY HEARING 2017-18, IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER:

FALSE DETROIT CONVICTION: VINCENT SMOTHERS SAYS HE, NOT THELONIOUS SEARCY, KILLED JAMAL SEGARS IN 2004 | VOICE OF DETROIT: The city’s independent newspaper, unbossed and unbought 

IS EXONERATION NEAR FOR THELONIOUS SEARCY, SERVING LIFE FOR MURDER VINCENT SMOTHERS CONFESSED TO? | VOICE OF DETROIT: The city’s independent newspaper, unbossed and unbought 

SEARCY WINS EVIDENTIARY HEARING; SMOTHERS EXPECTED TO TESTIFY HE WAS THE KILLER IN 2004 CASE | VOICE OF DETROIT: The city’s independent newspaper, unbossed and unbought 

RALLY TO FREE DETROIT’S WRONGFULLY CONVICTED, OUST KYM WORTHY SAT. OCT. 21 2-6 PM | VOICE OF DETROIT: The city’s independent newspaper, unbossed and unbought  

PACK COURT TO STOP WRONGFUL CONVICTION OF THELONIOUS SEARCY MON. MARCH 19, 9 AM; JUDGE KENNY | VOICE OF DETROIT: The city’s independent newspaper, unbossed and unbought 

VINCENT SMOTHERS TAKES STAND TO EXONERATE THELONIOUS SEARCY IN 2004 DETROIT MURDER | VOICE OF DETROIT: The city’s independent newspaper, unbossed and unbought 

SMOTHERS’ CO-DEFENDANT MARZELL BLACK BACKS CONFESSION TO SEGARS MURDER, AT SEARCY HEARING | VOICE OF DETROIT: The city’s independent newspaper, unbossed and unbought 

TESTIMONY AT 2 MARCH HEARINGS SHOWED SEARCY LIKELY INNOCENT; NEXT HEARING DELAYED TO MAY 9 | VOICE OF DETROIT: The city’s independent newspaper, unbossed and unbought 

FAVORABLE SIGNIFICANT EVIDENCE SURFACES AT SEARCY HEARING ON INNOCENCE CLAIM | VOICE OF DETROIT: The city’s independent newspaper, unbossed and unbought 

TRIAL EVIDENCE VS. THELONIOUS SEARCY IN 2004 CITY AIRPORT MURDER DISCREDITED AT MAY 15 HEARING | VOICE OF DETROIT: The city’s independent newspaper, unbossed and unbought 

PROSECUTORS, COPS, TECHS LIED, FALSIFIED EVIDENCE VS. THELONIOUS SEARCY, ATTY. SAYS IN FINAL HEARING | VOICE OF DETROIT: The city’s independent newspaper, unbossed and unbought 

JUDGE KENNY STRIKES DOWN THELONIOUS SEARCY BID FOR FREEDOM ON ‘ACTUAL INNOCENCE’ OF 2004 MURDER | VOICE OF DETROIT: The city’s independent newspaper, unbossed and unbought 

THELONIOUS SEARCY TARGETS WAYNE CO. PROS. PATRICK MUSCAT IN ATTY. GRIEVANCE COMMISSION COMPLAINT | VOICE OF DETROIT: The city’s independent newspaper, unbossed and unbought

SUPREME CT. GRANTS REHEARING TO THELONIOUS SEARCY: HITMAN CONFESSED; JUDGE, AP LIED TO JURY | VOICE OF DETROIT: The city’s independent newspaper, unbossed and unbought

MICHIGAN PRISONERS NEED COVID-19 VACCINES NOW, SAY ADVOCATES; A.M.A., OTHERS DEMAND 1st-TIER PRIORITY | VOICE OF DETROIT: The city’s independent newspaper, unbossed and unbought

APPEALS COURT TO HEAR SEARCY CASE FEB. 4: HITMAN CONFESSED TO MURDER, LIES TOLD ABOUT FATAL BULLETS | VOICE OF DETROIT: The city’s independent newspaper, unbossed and unbought

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