Desmond Ricks is Found Innocent After 25 Years In Prison
Desmond Ricks was released on bond Friday, May 26, 2017 from the Handlon Correctional Facility, Ionia, Michigan - ending 25 years of wrongful incarceration. His conviction was overturned by the presiding judge but the prosecution could have retried him. Appearing before that same judge today, the prosecution said that Mr. Ricks will not be retried. Mr. Ricks is a free man. He was wrongfully convicted in 1992 and now is exonerated.
By 2011 Mr. Ricks had run out of normal judicial appeals so he reached out to Claudia Whitman to review his case and get it back into the courts. After talking with him and evaluating the case materials, Ms. Whitman became convinced that he was wrongfully convicted, So she organized all of the facts and presented them in a concise report to the Michigan Innocence Clinic.
Below is the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic’s report:
The University of Michigan Innocence Clinic is very pleased to announce the exoneration today (June 1, 2017) of our client, Desmond Ricks, who served 25 years for a murder he did not commit because the Detroit Police Department (DPD) Crime Lab committed forensic fraud and then covered it up.
On March 3, 1992, Mr. Ricks rode with his friend, Gerry Bennett to a restaurant in Detroit where Bennett was to meet a man for a drug deal. Mr. Ricks stayed in the car in the parking lot while Bennett went inside. A few minutes later, Bennett emerged from the restaurant with another man, who then pulled a gun and shot Bennett twice, killing him. The man then noticed Ricks, and so Ricks jumped out of the car and fled as the man opened fire on him. In the process of running away, Ricks dropped his jacket.
The police found the jacket, with Mr.Ricks' ID, in the parking lot. They then drove to the home where Ricks lived with his mother and arrested him. The police searched the house and found a .38 Rossi special in Ricks' mother's nightstand.
Two days later, a Detroit Police firearms examiner declared that the two bullets recovered from Gerry Bennett's body matched bullets he had test-fired from Ricks' mother's gun. Ricks insisted that this match was not possible, so his lawyer got the court to appoint an independent firearms examiner, David Townshend, who confirmed the DPD's result. So both Pauch and Townshend testified for the prosecution at trial. There was no evidence of any kind against Ricks other than the bullets which allegedly matched his mother's gun.
In 2008, however, the DPD Crime Lab was shut down after the Michigan State Police found massive "irregularities" in the ballistics unit. After hearing of the scandal, Mr. Ricks wrote David Townshend, who drove to the prison to meet Mr. Ricks, where he revealed that he had been suspicious for nearly two decades of the "autopsy" bullets he had analyzed in 1992.
Mr. Townshend told Mr. Ricks that he now believed the bullets the DPD gave him were too "pristine" and intact to have been removed from Bennett's body. Mr. Townshend concluded that the DPD had given him the test-fired bullets and passed them off as the bullets from the autopsy so that Townshend would declare a match between those bullets and his own test-fired bullets, thereby confirming the DPD's result.
To make a long story short, The Michigan Innocence Clinic took the case in 2011, spent years looking for the original autopsy bullets, eventually found them, and then got a court order to have them analyzed by the Michigan State Police Crime Lab. That analysis was completed last week and shows that David Townshend was correct: the bullets from the autopsy were far too mangled to be matched to any particular gun, but one of the bullets did have a faint pattern of 5 lands and grooves, which affirmatively excluded it as having been fired from a .38 Rossi (which has 6 lands and grooves).
The conclusion, then, is that the DPD Crime Lab in 1992 fabricated a match of the autopsy bullets to Ricks' mother's gun and then switched the autopsy bullets with test-fired bullets so that the independent examiner (Townshend) would not discover the fraud. Upon receiving the Michigan State Police report last week, the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office immediately stipulated to overturn Mr. Ricks' conviction and to not oppose his release on bond. Today, the prosecutor agreed to dismiss all charges.
Mr. Ricks was 26 when he was convicted and is now 51. He has spent time the last few days with his two daughters, both nurses, and met his six grandchildren for the first time. He looks forward to getting a job and, as he said at a press conference, "becoming a taxpayer."
Over six years, we had seven different attorneys and about 15 law students work on this case. Our former staff attorney Caitlin Plummer had the case the longest and did the lion's share of the work to get this result. A special shout out goes to the incomparable Claudia Whitman, who heard about this case before we did, and very forcefully convinced us to accept it. (She laid the groundwork for the case, and worked with the students as the case progressed. As an investigator, she turned up pertinent documents, and found the ballistics expert for the case.) Also, we are extremely grateful to David Townshend, who came forward with the truth when he realized that he had been duped into confirming the DPD's "match" and didn't waver even when the prosecutor initially called his claim "outlandish" and a "conspiracy theory."
Mr. Ricks is just one more wrongfully convicted prisoner released after extremely long incarcerations; 25 years.
A donor has provided a financial grant to Mr. Ricks (as an official exoneree) so that he can restart his life. Michigan passed a compensation bill which the governor signed in December that will compensate wrongfully convicted people at the rate of $50,000 a year for every year of imprisonment. A settlement will take many years.
Laird Carlson, National Capital Crime Assistance Network
Dave Moran, University of Michigan Innocence Clinic
To read story from the Detroit News, click Here.