On Tuesday, Oakland County Judge Jeffrey Matis ruled a man who has spent 15 years in prison for a fire that killed five children was deprived a fair trial and overturned Juwan Deering’s murder and arson convictions.
This is a significant. The prosecutor retained a special prosecutor to investigate the investigation and prosecution of Mr. Deering, to avoid any conflict of interest. The prosecutor herself appeared, rather than an underling, and bluntly explained what was reported by the special prosecutor. This included newly discovered evidence concerning the prosecutor’s use of and the credibility of three jailhouse informants who testified against Deering in 2006, and an interview with one of the children who was in the house when the fire started. The interview, conducted during the investigation, was recorded on video shortly after the fire. Only part of the recorded interview was found in the prosecutor’s file; the second half was missing. The second half was missing.
The report further explained that “The jury was materially misled about all three jailhouse informants’ relationships with the (Oakland County Sheriff’s Office) and (Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office), their motives and their credibility.” A little sunshine, a mea culpa and perhaps hope that Karen McDonald is cleaning house. That will be a big, big job. Let’s hope it can continue.
Judge Matis rejected both the prosecutors and defense attorneys’ arguments that Deering should be freed on bond, as well as the prosecutor’s statement that “[g]iven the current lack of evidence, every additional day Mr. Deering spends in prison furthers that injustice [of being denied his constitutional right to a fair trial].” Deering will remain in prison pending the decision by the prosecutor, expected next week, whether or not to retry him.
The judge’s ruling on bond, in the face of both sides arguing in favor of it, does not diminish the significance of a prosecutor acknowledging and accepting responsibility for the misconduct of her predecessors. That is a good sign.