Judge tosses $100 million Oakland County Child Killer case

By: Jeremy Selweski | Woodward Talk | Published April 10, 2013


BERKLEY — A federal judge recently dismissed a $100 million lawsuit against investigators from the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office, the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and the Michigan State Police, as well as Oakland County itself, that was submitted by a woman 35 years after her daughter’s murder.

Deborah Jarvis, a former Berkley resident who now lives in Petoskey, had originally filed the complaint in U.S. District Court in April 2012. Her daughter, Kristine Mihelich, was killed in 1977 at the age of 10 and is believed to be one of four known victims of the Oakland County Child Killer.

On March 28, U.S. District Court Judge Denise Page Hood granted a motion from county and state officials to dismiss the case, asserting that the lawsuit from Jarvis and her attorney, Paul Hughes, lacked merit and presented no proof of its numerous allegations.

Hughes had requested that Hood order law enforcement officials to turn the case over to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. According to Hughes, who specializes in police misconduct litigation, state and county investigators have been deliberately denying Jarvis — as well as other family members of the Oakland County Child Killer’s victims — the right to access information related to the murders.

However, Hood contended in her 18-page opinion that Jarvis’ allegations “are devoid of factual support; she provides the court with nothing more than conclusions. … Jarvis simply states that there was an unlawful custom, practice or policy and leaves the court to guess what exactly it was.” Page also stated that Jarvis “fails to provide any support for why the court should hold (the) defendants liable for the death of her daughter when they, with the exception of Oakland County, were not personally involved with the case until (the) year 2000 or later.”

When reached for comment, Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper was pleased but unsurprised about Hood’s dismissal of what she called a “bizarre, absurd and frivolous” case.

“When you look at this lawsuit,” she said, “there is nothing based in fact and nothing based in the law. They’re looking at a murder that happened 35 years ago, so the investigation now involves completely different people. Mr. Hughes’ insistence on turning the investigation over to the FBI is especially strange because the FBI has always been involved in this case, and they continue to be involved.”

Hughes was disappointed by Hood’s ruling and “strongly disagree(d)” with her analysis of the case. He added that he and Jarvis are considering filing an appeal of the court’s ruling.

“We are obviously very frustrated that we were not able to present our case before the court,” he said. “We feel that we would have been able to show that there was a deliberate cover-up about the Oakland County Child Killer, or at least a gross mismanagement of the investigation. We felt that we could have taken a huge step toward solving the case — we just needed more time to make it happen.”

The Oakland County Child Killer is believed to have kidnapped and murdered four children over a 13-month period in 1976 and 1977. Kristine Mihelich was abducted on Jan. 2, 1977, near a 7-Eleven store in Berkley, and her body was found 19 days later. The other victims were Mark Stebbins, 12, of Ferndale; Jill Robinson, 12, of Royal Oak; and Timothy King, 11, of Birmingham.

In the lawsuit, Hughes identifies an anonymous investigator, known only as “Bob,” with whom he and Jarvis have sporadically communicated. He states that Bob has inside information about the murders that he would be willing to share with the FBI, if county and state officials agree to turn the case over to them.

However, Cooper and others have expressed strong doubts about Bob’s credentials and accusations, noting that no one has ever met him face-to-face, and even Hughes and Jarvis have only communicated with him via phone and email. When asked if he had spoken with Bob recently, Hughes said that he had no comment.

Hughes also accused county and state officials of hiding behind the federal governmental immunity doctrine, which protects public officials from liability when they believe that their conduct fully complies with the law.

“This is a very complex area of the law,” he said, “and the problem is that governmental immunity makes it very difficult to sue people like this. It also doesn’t help that we were facing a defendant with unlimited resources at their disposal, and by that, I mean taxpayer dollars.”

Cooper fired back by accusing Hughes of taking advantage of Jarvis, who is now elderly, and convincing her to make a huge financial commitment toward a lawsuit that never stood a chance.

“It’s so sad that Ms. Jarvis is being exploited in this way,” she said. “For him to take this poor woman’s money is just cruel. As an attorney, you have to have some sort of substance to your case before you move forward with it, but there’s just nothing here — zero, zip, nada.”

Cooper added that she hopes the families of the victims of the Oakland County Child Killer will eventually find closure to their decades of grief.

“I can only sympathize with Ms. Jarvis and her heartbreaking story,” she said. “She wants so desperately to find some answers about what happened to her daughter, and now it’s 35 years later, and her pain and agony have only increased with age. But there is still hope that someday, we will be able to bring an end to this case.”