Murder conviction vacated after racist statements discovered

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published August 20, 2019

 Terry Lamont Wilson

Terry Lamont Wilson

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — A Clinton Township man convicted of first-degree murder will get a second chance at a fair trial after a local judge vacated the previous ruling due to a juror’s racist statements.

Terry Lamont Wilson, 26, was found guilty of first-degree murder by a Macomb County Circuit Court jury in 2014. He claimed self-defense throughout his trial.

His charge stemmed from a May 5, 2013, incident in which a 24-year-old man was shot in the chest on a basketball court at Prince Drewry Park on Quinn Road, east of Gratiot Avenue, in Clinton Township.

At the time, Wilson was 20 years old. He was tracked down by U.S. Marshals and was eventually found in a housing complex in Battle Creek, where he was reportedly staying with his cousin.

 

New revelations
On Aug. 6, defense attorney Wade Fink, of Wade Fink Law in Birmingham, issued a press release stating that Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Faunce vacated Wilson’s conviction due to a juror making “racist statements while he was deliberating guilt or innocence.”

The juror was described as a middle-aged white man from Macomb County. Wilson is black.

Fink was not the original trial attorney for Wilson, whose entire trial was centered on first-degree or second-degree murder, or whether he acted in self-defense.

Following Wilson’s conviction and subsequent life sentence without parole, another attorney was hired to file an appeal with the Michigan Court of Appeals.

That attorney, whose name was not provided, lost two appeals.

“Then, (Wilson’s) family approached me and asked if there were any other options,” said Fink, who was retained in the summer of 2017.

Fink exhausted the family’s options, which included filing a grievance in federal court while raising state-based issues. Or, he could have filed another state appeal with new evidence. The deadline for a federal appeal was in December of that year.

He resorted to a last-ditch effort for a motion for relief from judgement — known in law circles as a “6.500 motion,” pursuant to Michigan Court Rules.

The motion is either a method for defendants who have exhausted previous appeals to raise additional issues, or to make direct appeals after missing filing deadlines.

Since time was of the essence, Fink looked for anything related to evidence or witnesses that may have been contrary to the jury’s verdict. He also delved into the jury pool, due to being cognizant of past jurors discussing ongoing cases and trials on social media platforms like Facebook.

As time was winding in the appeal process, Fink made contact with a juror.

“I could have never predicted what I found,” he said.

A juror in the Wilson murder trial reportedly came forward and divulged information related to another juror. Fink said “inappropriate racial comments” were allegedly made by that juror, including this comment: “Terry was a black ghetto guy, and this is what ghetto guys do, they kill people.”

Later, three other jurors in the trial reportedly corroborated the information relating to the juror’s racist statements. Fink said that one of those corroborating jurors said that the juror in question used the N-word in relation to Wilson.

Due to nuance in law and transcripts, about a year passed after Fink filed the motion for relief from judgement, with language cited from past cases involving the Supreme Court of the United States.

The juror made “comments about Terry’s race and his propensity for violence because of his race,” Fink said, and he made “several comments to different people at different points.” The comments were believed to be made during jury deliberations.

Faunce wrote that Wilson was denied a fair and impartial trial, and that not offering him a new trial would be “offensive to the maintenance of a sound judicial process.”

 

‘A very embarrassing history of racial prejudices’
Now, Wilson is being treated as an innocent man due to his guilty conviction being vacated. The assumption is that he is no longer a convicted felon.

Wilson is still incarcerated and unable to post bond. Fink believes he will eventually be transferred back to Macomb County.

Fink said “the ball is in the prosecutor’s court,” referring to the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office and whether it will choose to appeal Faunce’s decision. The defense attorney said his “gut” is telling him it will not appeal.

Another option would involve bringing forward new evidence to light so another trial can proceed in good faith. Evidence would have to support the charge for a new trial, he noted.

Wilson’s situation is a microcosm of a national issue, Fink said. Although hypervigilant cases should be endeared to facts, he said it may be more difficult than ever to identify people’s true intentions.

“This country has a very embarrassing history of racial prejudices in the criminal justice system. … It’s not often that racial bias or racial prejudice is going to be this overt or this obvious,” he said. “People try to hide their biases in 2019 for several reasons.

“We’re very lucky we were happy to find this prejudice and extinguish it so Terry gets another trial. It’s also a reminder racial prejudice and racial bias still exists, and it won’t be this overt in most cases.”

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