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Boyhood memory leads to new trials in Detroit murder case

July 24, 2018
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This undated photo provided by the Michigan Department of Corrections shows Kendrick Scott. Scott has been granted a new trial by the Michigan Supreme Court after a man who witnessed his mother's murder at age 8 said the wrong men are in prison. Charmous Skinner Jr. is now in his late 20s. He was never interviewed by police or defense attorneys, despite being with his mother when she was slain in Detroit on Mother's Day 1999. The court said Monday that Skinner's description of the shooter is different to the details offered at trial. Scott and Justly Johnson have been in prison for 18 years. (Michigan Department of Corrections via AP)

DETROIT (AP) — The boyhood memory of a man who witnessed his mother’s murder at age 8 is leading to new trials for two people who claim they were wrongly convicted in a 1999 Mother’s Day slaying in Detroit.

Charmous Skinner Jr., now 27, was never interviewed by police or defense attorneys, despite being in the van with his mother, Lisa Kindred, when she was shot.

The Michigan Supreme Court said Skinner’s recollection of the shooter — mid-30s, big nose, short hair — is vastly different from the description offered by others at trial. Justly Johnson and Kendrick Scott are serving life sentences and have been in prison for more than 18 years.

The “convictions were based on shaky grounds,” the court said Monday in a 4-1 decision. “Consequently, when Skinner’s testimony is considered in conjunction with the other evidence presented at the original trials, we find that a different result is reasonably probable on retrial.”

The case now returns to Wayne County where new trial dates will be set. Skinner now lives in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

Johnson and Scott were convicted mostly on the testimony of two people who were under the influence of alcohol and drugs on the night of the killing. They later recanted, according to the University of Michigan law school’s Innocence Clinic.

Scott Lewis, now a private investigator, began investigating the case for Johnson when he was a WXYZ-TV reporter in 2009. He interviewed Skinner in 2011, and that prompted efforts to reopen the case.

After listening to Skinner, a Wayne County judge had rejected a request for new trials, saying the boy probably was asleep in the van and that his testimony was “almost impossible to believe.”

But Michigan’s highest court said Judge James Callahan made the wrong call.

“When considering Skinner’s testimony in its entirety, it is clear that his testimony is not wholly incredible,” said Justice Richard Bernstein, writing for the majority.

In dissent, Justice Brian Zahra said the court should have given more deference to Callahan’s conclusions.

The new evidence, he said, is “implausible.”

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Follow Ed White at http://twitter.com/edwhiteap

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