From an email from David Moran of the Michigan Innocence Clinic (with permission):
The Michigan Innocence Clinic is very pleased to announce the exoneration today 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. 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 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 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, Ricks wrote David Townshend, who drove to the prison to meet Ricks, where he revealed that he had been suspicious for nearly two decades of the “autopsy” bullets he had analyzed in 1992.
Townshend told Ricks that he now believed the bullets the DPD gave him were too “pristine” and intact to have been removed from Bennett’s body. 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.
Long story short, we 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 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. And 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.”
Michigan Innocence Clinic