Lifer Burt Lancaster, now 60, has served 28 years in prison for killing his girl friend in 1993 with the gun he planned to use to commit suicide
A Detroit police officer for a brief period, Lancaster had long history of mental illness and family suicide
1st conviction in Oakland Co. in 1994 overturned due to racial bias in jury selection
Judge denied “diminished capacity” defense in 2nd trial, citing MSC’S controversial ‘Carpenter’ ruling in 2001; original crime occurred in 1993
6th Circuit Court overturned 2nd conviction, ruling that Lancaster had been denied ‘due process’ by the retroactive application of ‘Carpenter”
U.S. Supreme Court overruled 6th Circuit, found against defendant in 2012
By Diane Bukowski, VOD Editor
with Ricardo Ferrell, VOD Field Editor
DETROIT–Burt Lancaster has renewed his battle to reduce his first-degree murder conviction, for which he is serving life without parole. His attorneys say that he should have been convicted of the lesser included offense of second degree murder based on the real facts of the case.
He is now 60 years old and has served 28 years in prison, well over the 20 year limit that advocates who rallied in Lansing Oct. 14 are calling for as part of a national “Second Look” movement to end mass incarceration. A forensic psychiatrist who examined him in 2016 concluded that he presents a “Low Risk to the safety or the welfare of the community.”
Since 1993, Lancaster, a decorated Detroit police officer for two years before his arrest, has said that he never planned to kill his girl friend.
“I have had very deep remorse for causing the death of my beloved girlfriend Toni King,” Lancaster said. “She did not deserve for that to happen and she did not have the chance to raise her only son Lawrence King,” Lancaster told VOD. “I am remorseful because her son did not have the opportunity to have his mother’s love during his growing up as a child.”
Lancaster was first tried in 1994 on the charge, in majority-white Oakland County, where the crime happened, although all parties involved were from Detroit. The wealthy county’s current population is still only 13.9 percent Black. Attorney Kenneth Mogill got that conviction overturned based on racial bias in jury selection.
Trial testimony and forensic reports on Lancaster also showed that he was diagnosed much earlier with major depression and bipolar disorder, attempted suicide several times, and was hospitalized for his illness at least eight times between 1987 and 1993, and multiple times during his incarceration. His uncle and his younger brother both committed suicide, with Lancaster identifying his brother’s body at the medical examiner’s office while he worked for DPD.
Lancaster’s mother called Detroit police after her son took her gun planning to commit suicide in front of his girl friend. After police did not respond to her call, his mother testified under oath that the only reason she called the police a second time, saying he also planned to kill his girlfriend, was to get a faster response from police.
“I told them that because I figured that if I magnified it they would come out right away and get to him before he could leave the house,” Mrs. Lancaster testified at trial. “Well, that was the era where the police were not doing too good in Detroit. And they made runs when they felt like making runs and they would be quite a long time coming to your house.”
When Lancaster first drove up to Ms. King and her coworker at their Southfield work location, he exchanged pleasantries with them and even offered to buy them lunch, so they all could sit down and enjoy lunch together. But in the process a heated argument involving money ensued. Lancaster lost control and before he knew it, shot Ms. King to death.
Nevertheless, Oakland County Asst. Prosecutor Paul T. Walton pushed for the more serious conviction of first degree premeditated murder. At his second trial in 2005, the judge cited a Michigan Supreme Court ruling in People v. Carpenter 464 Mich. 223 (2001), which overturned the state’s long-time “diminished capacity defense.” The Sixth Circuit Court vacated Lancaster’s conviction for that reason because the statute was still in effect in 1993, but the U.S. Supreme Court later reinstated it.
Now with the help of his newly hired appellate attorney Phillip Comorski, he’s setting out to challange his faulty first degree murder conviction. He still wants to submit to a polygraph examination on his intent to kill his girl friend, which he’s agreed to take for the past several years. Atty. Comorski also believes that Lancaster is only guilty of second degree murder and intends to soon begin working on filing a MCR 6.500 Motion for Relief from Judgment to challenge the unsubstantiated first degree murder conviction.
He and his client are hoping that Kathleen McDonald, Oakland County’s newly-elected Prosecutor, now with a record of challenging false and unjust convictions, will give him a SECOND LOOK when his motion gets to Oakland County Circuit Court.
Lancaster has garnered the support of Kathleen Schaefer, Parole & Probation counselor who has worked for the past decade to get him released through the commutation process.