In 1996, a 12-year-old girl named Christina Brown was found dead in a Detroit apartment. She had been beaten to death with a toilet tank lid; she’d also been stabbed. Lamarr Monson — who had been living with and dealing drugs with Brown thinking she was older — came home and found her dead. He called for the neighbors to dial 9–1–1.
Monson became an immediate suspect. Authorities thought Brown had been stabbed to death, so they tried to connect Monson to the knife found in the apartment. “This case can be closed with a confession from Monson,” one police report read. Police somehow coerced Monson into giving some inconsistent statements incriminating himself by supporting their original (and wrong) theory of the crime. Monson went to trial and was convicted of first-degree murder.
The Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School, led by David Moran, fought for Monson’s freedom based on DNA evidence found on a knife used to murder Brown. The DNA belonged to Robert Lee Lewis, who had actually been the original suspect identified by his girlfriend, who said that Lewis had confessed to her at the time of the crime. The witness had come forward previously, but then changed her mind because Lewis had threatened to kill her and her family. She recently came forward again to affirm what Lewis had said at the time.
In January, Monson won a new trial based on the testimony of the girlfriend, a bloody thumbprint belonging to Lewis, and evidence that Monson’s original “confessions” had been coerced. Last week, Wayne County prosecutors decided to drop the charges, citing destruction of evidence and “passage of time.” Key pieces of evidence had never been tested for DNA at the time of trial, including the toilet tank lid with a bloody print that turned out to be Lewis’s. The police also did not disclose that several anonymous tips had been called in pointing to Lewis. (Monson’s lawyer had previously asked the Wayne County Conviction Integrity Unit to intervene. According to Monson’s briefs, they refused, with Wayne County District Attorney Kym Worthy writing that the Conviction Integrity Unit “is not staffed with any attorneys.”)
Perhaps most notable, however, was the prosecution’s reaction. Worthy, who assumed her position in 2004, blamed everyone else for Monson’s exoneration, all in an effort to avoid admitting a mistake by her office. She said that she had contacted Lewis, who denied involvement, and she blamed the policies of the Detroit Police Department for their “failure…to retain critical evidence.” Her comments never conceded that Monson was likely innocent, instead preserving the illusion that he could be tried again if only the police had done a better job: “Due to the destruction of evidence, issues surrounding the way the police obtained Monson’s confession and the passage of time, we are unable to re-try this case.”
This wishy-washy behavior isn’t unusual for Worthy. When Davontae Sanford was exonerated in 2016 Worthy gave a long press conference complete with PowerPoint slides where she doggedly explained that the arrest, prosecution and sentence were somehow reasonable and fair. Sanford — who is legally blind and suffers from developmental disabilities — was wrongfully convicted at the age of 14 for a shooting that another man had confessed to at the time. Sanford had given a coerced confession. When asked about an apology for Sanford, Worthy refused to respond.