After 28 years wrongly imprisoned for child molestation, man's case dismissed
Tresa Baldas, Detroit Free Press Published 11:09 a.m. ET Dec. 13, 2017 | Updated 6:03 p.m. ET Dec. 13, 2017
After serving 28 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, Bernard Young sat in a courtroom Wednesday wearing a silver cross as a symbol of his faith, beaming as he heard the words he has long waited to hear: Your case is dismissed.
And he wasn’t bitter, or angry.
Rather, the mild-mannered man who was wrongfully convicted of child molestation smiled, hugged his lawyer, then walked over to his sister — the driving force behind his years-long fight for justice who brought him to this day.
“It's all over. It's all over. Thank you my angel. God is with us," Young said to his crying sister as the two embraced in the courtroom.
Before the hearing, the mostly gray-haired Young stressed that he harbors no ill will toward anyone.
“There’s nothing to be angry about,” Young told the Free Press while sitting next to his fiancee in the courtroom. “I feel good. I feel blessed.”
He added: “God always told me, ‘Be happy.’ He’s got me in hand.”
As Young spoke, his big sister sat nearby, smiling and marveling at her brother’s kind heart and positive attitude. Young noted that it was big sister who made freedom possible for him as she fought for years to prove her brother’s innocence.
“That’s my angel right there,” he said of his sister, Joyce Holman, 65, of Detroit.
Young also said that he harbors no anger toward his accusers — who were 5 and 6 years old when they accused him of molesting them, only to later recant and confess that it was their mother’s boyfriend who harmed them, not Young. They were afraid of the boyfriend, records show, so they accused Young instead.
Young said the victims — now grown men — have since apologized to him. And that he only looks forward to moving on.
“I couldn’t fault them — they was children. They know I would never have done nothing to them,” Young said.
Young was convicted in 1989 of multiple criminal sexual conduct charges and sentenced to 60 to 100 years in prison. His accusers told a therapist that Young, a neighbor, had molested them while he was babysitting.
But an attorney working on behalf of Young's family obtained documents that show that the boys, about a month after accusing Young, told a police sergeant that it was their mother's boyfriend who abused them — information that never made it to Young or his original attorney before the trial, according to court records.
That information was the basis of a civil suit that was filed in federal court Wednesday, just hours after the case was dismissed. The 59-year-old man whose hair turned gray in the prison system sued the City of Detroit and police Sgt. Shelley Foy, claiming they are both responsible for letting him serve 27 years and 179 days in prison for molestation when they knew another man had committed the crime.
Young's lawsuit alleges that Foy knew early on that Young's two young accusers had recanted their story and outed their real abuser — their mother's boyfriend — but she withheld this information from Young and his lawyers and cost him decades of freedom.
"Mr. Young was forced to endure close to three decades of psychological torture while physically incarcerated for a crime he did not commit," Young's lawyer, Solomon Radner, told the Free Press. "Had he had a fair trial, he would have remained free. Though monetary damages cannot return his lost time to him, it can compensate him to the extent possible and act as a deterrent to law enforcement officials considering in engaging in similar unlawful violations of people’s civil liberties."
According to Young's lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court, Foy supressed two key pieces of evidence:
- Signed affidavits in which the boys stated that they "falsely accused Mr. Young because they were afraid of their real abuser, William Clark, who had threatened to kill them if they told the truth." Clark was their mom's boyfriend.
- Written police statements taken from the victims before the 1989 trial. The statements implicated Clark, but were not made available to Young until 2016.
The lawsuit also accuses Foy of intentionally steering prosecutors in the wrong direction by not urging the prosecution to redirect its focus from Young to Clark.
"As a result of defendants' conduct, Mr. Young spent 27 years and 179 days wrongfully imprisoned for a crime he did not commit," states the lawsuit, which alleges numerous civil rights violations under the U.S. Constitution.
Foy could not be reached for comment. John Roach, spokesperson for the city of Detroit, declined comment, citing policy not to discuss pending litigation.
Young's freedom can be traced to the efforts of his sister, who worked for years to prove his innocence.
About five years ago, Holman — the sister — contacted Claudia Whitman, who runs the Colorado-based nonprofit National Capital Crime Assistance Network. Whitman began investigating a sexual assault case involving the boys' mother's boyfriend, a man named William Clark. Shortly after Young was sentenced, Clark was accused of molesting the same boys and pleaded guilty to reduced charges. He got probation.
Young's attorney asked for a new trial in May 2016. Then, more information came to light — police reports from 1989 that showed about a month after the boys had accused Young, they told Foy in an interview that Clark had molested them.
"I think it was clearly a case of prosecutorial misconduct," Wayne County Circuit Judge Qiana Denise Lillard said in court Wednesday, noting the prosecutor in Young's case — Kelly Ramsey, who is now a judge — had a duty to learn about the other evidence and disclose it to the defense.
But that new evidence, Lillard theorized, "was probably never meant to be found out."
"So today you have your freedom," Lillard said. "You have been given an opportunity to live the rest of your life ... without this hanging over your head."
Staff writer Ann Zaniewski contributed to this report.