Michael Hicks serving life without parole for murder since 1993; prosecutor falsely told jury at beginning of trial that he had confessed to a cellmate
“YEP, YEP”–AP claimed Hicks used those words to tell jail-house informant he killed Shawn Stalworth, but informant did not testify at trial
USDC Judge Arthur Tarnow ruled that Hicks’ 6th Amendment right of confrontation was violated, other evidence likely not enough to convict
Hicks has written three books, including award-winning “The Nat Turner Papers,” works with U-M’s Creative Arts Project, studies constitutional law
By Diane Bukowski
with Ricardo Ferrell, VOD Field Editor
December 15, 2021
Battle Creek, MI — In his opening statement, Calhoun County Asst. Prosecutor Daniel Buscher told Michael Hicks’ jury 28 years ago that Hicks had confessed to a jail-house informant, saying “Yep, yep” when asked if he killed Shawn Stalworth in Battle Creek on July 25, 1993. The following words from Buscher likely have kept Hicks in prison ever since.
But the alleged informant, Lorenzo Brand, did not testify at trial. U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow ruled on Jan. 7, 2003, that Hicks was denied his Sixth Amendment right to confront his accuser.
“Petitioner was deprived of the opportunity to cross-examine Lorenzo Brand.” Judge Tarnow said. “Not only was Mr. Brand’s incrimination devastating to Petitioner, Mr. Brand’s credibility as a jail-house informant is suspect at best.” Tarnow said other testimony at the trial was likely not sufficient to convict Hicks. He ordered a new trial or Hicks’ release within 90 days.
But the State of Michigan appealed, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Tarnow’s ruling, citing a “procedural default of his Confrontation Clause claim,” saying, “petitioner, thus, cannot establish that he suffered actual prejudice flowing from such a violation.”
“I was pulled over miles from a homicide that occurred in Battle Creek,” Hicks told VOD. “The police claimed they were looking for a dark complected male 5’7″ – 6’2″, 150 lbs. – 225lbs and driving an SUV or Green Cadillac. I was arrested and interviewed. I told the police I didn’t have anything to do with the shooting and that I was innocent. I thought this would all be cleared up at the line-up they said they were conducting.”
But Hicks said no line-up ever took place. Instead, an officer took a polaroid photo of him.
Two weeks later, the morning of the preliminary exam, he recalled, “I saw Detective Scott Metzgar and Asst. Prosecutor Daniel Buscher in the hallway talking to a kid who was crying. When I walked by, they stopped talking.”
Then, he said, Lorenzo Brand, 17, walked in to testify. Judge Michael Kingsley called a long recess during which his attorney and Buscher went into his chambers prior to the testimony, which led to his case being bound over. Brand, however, never testified at Hicks’ trial.
‘Now almost 30 years later, I’m still sitting in prison an innocent man,” Hicks said. “I had never met Lorenzo Brand before, let alone confessed to committing a homicide to him. Although Brand told my attorney that he would come into his office and swear in an affidavit that he lied, he never held to his verbal commitment.”
Hicks and his girlfriend Latrina Porter, who was with him that day, testified at trial that they were stopped miles away from 66 Kendall in Battle Creek, the scene of the crime, by Emmett Township police. Hicks said he ran because he was driving without a license and had drugs in the black Bronco he was driving.
Entire 33 pp. opinion from USDC Judge Arthur Tarnow linked below story.
“Shortly after the shooting, approximately two and a half miles away from the site of the shooting, police began following a black Bronco driven by Petitioner, because it matched the description given of the suspicious vehicle near the shooting site, ” Judge Tarnow wrote.
“Defendant pulled into the driveway of a house on Golden Avenue and then fled into a swamp behind the house. Police officer Robert Corbin testified that he chased Petitioner into the swamp and apprehended him there. . .The police did not see Petitioner with a weapon or throwing one away. . . No gun was recovered from the area.”
Eyewitnesses interrogated by police, according to police records reviewed by VOD, gave substantially conflicting accounts of the killing. These included descriptions of cars they saw outside of 66 N. Kendall other than the Black Bronco police claimed was involved.
No murder weapon was ever produced. Police found a .380 shell casing on the floor of the Bronco, but the two bullets later retrieved from Stallworth’s body were from a 9 mm. gun according to police records. No positive gunshot residue tests were conducted.
Hicks was 23 years at the time. He grew up in Detroit, graduated from Mumford High School and was attending Highland Park Community College at the time of his arrest.
Hicks told VOD that he has kept his spirits alive in prison by writing and studying constitutional law and psychology. Prior to his 1993 arrest, he said, he studied psychiatric nursing for two years at Highland Park Community College and served an internship at the now shuttered Detroit Psychiatric Institute in the Herman Kiefer Complex on Taylor.
“I have written three books,” he told VOD. “I got a second-place award in 2009 from a Pennsylvania writers’ group for ‘The Nat Turner Papers.’ I’m an active member of the PCAP—Prison Creative Arts Project [sponsored by the University of Michigan].”
He said he met and spoke with Judge Tarnow during an educational visit the Judge made to one of the facilities he served time in.
“It was like meeting Yoda,” he said. “My lawyer told me Judge Tarnow is the smartest man in the world.” Hicks was represented in that habeas appeal by Attorney Carole Stanyar, who also argued it at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Hicks is one of four sons of Jacqueline Degreaffenried, a retired nurse who spent most of her career at Detroit Receiving Hospital.
“Michael is the oldest of my four sons,” Mrs. Degreaffenried told VOD. “He was studying nursing as a career because I told him more men are choosing nursing and that would be a good field for him. He did not get a chance to realize his dream of a nursing career.”
Mrs. Degreaffenreid lamented, “Our system is broken, but we cannot fix it by breaking those that are innocent.”
NEW HOPE FOR HICKS APPEAL: Brother of “Informant” comes forward, swears brother told him he was “forced” to testify at preliminary exam.
Hicks told VOD that on October 7, 2019 (his birthday) he was getting his hair braided by another prisoner who turned out to be Colbert Brand, the brother of Lorenzo Brand.
“As he was braiding my hair, we started a conversation about the law,” Hicks said. “I told him I had just gone back to court to address the fact that prior to the jailhouse informant testimony at the prelim there were no witness statements, evidence or identification of me, so how was the process even initiated? This was all confirmed by an affidavit from private investigator Timothy Gilbert who personally went to the Battle Creek Police Department, Calhoun County Prosecutor’s Office and the District & Circuit Courts.”
Hicks said Brand mentioned he was from Battle Creek, and he asked him if he knew Lorenzo Brand.
“Lorenzo Brand is my brother,” Colbert Brand responded.
“I then told him I’m Michael Hicks,” Hicks said. “He told me he had called his brother on the phone and asked him does he need to be on the lookout for anybody he may have wronged in the past? He said his brother told him when he was about 17, the police forced him to lie on a guy named Michael Hicks in court by falsely saying that Hicks confessed to committing a murder.”
Colbert Brand has submitted the sworn affidavit below to Hicks.
Hicks told VOD that his case has been submitted to State Attorney General Dana Nessel’s Conviction Integrity Unit for review.
“…It’s a jailhouse informant’s dream to be able to use a get out of jail-free card.” — Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, former MI State Representative
By Ricardo Ferrell, VOD Field Editor
The day after the Nov. 2nd election, I had the honor of interviewing Sherry Gay-Dagnogo for comment to this story, where a 17-year-old teenager was pressured by police detectives to become a jailhouse informant, a practice that’s commonly used in a lot of homicide cases where there’s a lack of sufficient evidence linking suspects to the crime.
In Wayne County some 30 people have been exonerated through its Conviction Integrity Unit. In over half of those cases, a trained jailhouse snitch was used by homicide detectives and prosecutors to secure statements/testimonies. Its a fact that Wayne County isn’t the only jurisdiction where this practice has been utilized. As noted in this story, it occurred nearly 30 years ago in Calhoun County.
Longtime Detroit resident, advocate and politician Sherry Gay-Dagnogo shares her point-of-view with VOD:
“Where is the justice? When we have police & prosecutors engaging in practices that can remove innocent citizens from our society, based on concocted and fabricated lies leading to them being wrongfully convicted and sent to prison for the rest of their lives to die for a crime they didn’t commit, solely for the purpose of obtaining a conviction and advancing their careers, then we have a serious problem in our judicial system, especially when it’s a jailhouse informant’s dream to be able to use a get out of jail-free card,” states Sherry Gay-Dagnogo.
Full NRE Report: “Government Misconduct and Convicting the Innocent” at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Government_Misconduct_and_Convicting_the_Innocent2.pdf
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U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Tarnow’s ruling on Hicks habeas appeal
Michael Hicks habeas petition filed by Atty. Carole Stanyar
Michael Hicks 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling