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Wrongfully Convicted Detroit Man Who Spent 25 Years in Prison Files $125M Suit Alleging Detective Falsified Evidence

by Chad Marks

 The cards were stacked against Desmond Ricks when he went to trial for the 1992 murder of Gerry Bennett outside a Detroit Top Hat restaurant.

Detroit detectives got on the stand testifying that bullets taken from Bennett’s body belonged to the revolver belonging to Ricks’ mother.  Arlene Strong, a restaurant employee, also testified that Ricks might have been the shooter. In addition, a state police firearms’ expert hired by the court testified that the bullets had been fired from Ricks’ mother’s gun based on the evidence given to him by detectives.

It was not long before Ricks was found guilty. He was sentenced to 32 to 62 years in prison, and that is where he spent the next 25 years of his life. That was, until attorneys with the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic stepped in, helping him gain a second chance to reclaim his life.

The cards stacked against Ricks slowly began to flip over when the Innocence Clinic lawyers started investigating. That investigation led to a motion for a new trial.

State police reports indicated that the bullets recovered from the victim’s body were too mangled to have determined which gun was used to fire them. Another test showed convincingly that at least one bullet was not even fired from the revolver belonging to Ricks’ mother.

David Townshead, the expert hired by the court in 1992, recanted his testimony in 2015, stating that the bullets he examined related to the 1992 murder were likely not taken from Bennett’s body.

Arlene Strong, like Townsend, recanted her testimony saying that police pressured her to testify against Ricks even though she knew he was not the triggerman.

The motion for a new trial was granted in May 2017 by then-Wayne Circuit Judge Richard Skutt. Within weeks, prosecutors declined to prosecute, dropping all charges.

Ricks’ attorney Wolfgang Mueller wanted to play the cards his way now that the case was dropped: he did so by filing a $125 million lawsuit in 2017 against the city of Detroit and former detectives David Pauch and Donald Stawiasz. The state of Michigan, meanwhile, awarded Ricks more than $1 million under its Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act.

Mueller said, “This case is as bad as it gets, not only did my client lose 25 years in the prime of his life, but his daughters were 5 days old and 7 years old when he got arrested. Now they’re grown women. How do you put a value on that relationship?”

With the evidence now stacked against the city, which shows that detectives fabricated evidence in order to get a conviction, will they fold or simply push the chips to Ricks?


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