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Vidale McDowell

Other Michigan Cases with Perjury or False Accusations
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On January 24, 2002, 37-year-old Janice Williams was murdered in her Detroit, Michigan home. Williams’s friend, Terry Thompson, who was with her at the time, told police he was smoking marijuana with Williams in the basement and when she went upstairs to get a drink, he heard gunshots.

Thompson said he tried to call police from the home, but the line was dead. He said he went to a neighbor and police were summoned. When police arrived, they found Williams at the foot of the basement staircase. She had been shot and stabbed.

Williams’s 13-year-old son, Antoine, who was known as “Twan” and had a hearing problem, was upstairs asleep at the time.

Although Thompson showed deception when questioned about the shooting during a polygraph examination, and gunshot residue was found in his car, police quickly decided that neither he nor William’s ex-husband or ex-boyfriend, with whom she had recently fought, were suspects.

A month later, on February 25, 2002, Thompson told police that he had heard someone say “Twan, get the knife.” As a result, police questioned Antoine for 11 hours, outside the presence of his father for much of the time.

The following day, Antoine was arrested. He had been summoned to the police station for a polygraph examination. However, Detective Andrew Sims said that Antoine gave a willing confession. Antoine would later say that after he was threatened with rape in prison if he did not confess, he signed a written confession saying that he and an 18-year-old friend, Vidale McDowell, had killed his mother.

According to the confession, McDowell shot Williams twice—although in fact, Williams was shot six times. The confession also said that the night before the murder, Williams had grounded Antoine for being out late with McDowell.

The night of the crime, the confession said, McDowell came to the house to pick up some CDs and when he went into the kitchen, Antoine’s mother asked why he was there. When McDowell said he wanted his CDs, Williams said she would get them and when McDowell started to go to Antoine’s room, Williams grabbed his wrist.

“Then they started fighting in the kitchen,” the confession said. “Then Vidale pulled the gun from his hip and shot at her. Then he shot her again and she fell down the steps to the basement. I was just standing there. A minute-and-a-half later, he came back. He came in through the rear sun porch. Then I heard banging on the rear door. I walked back there and that’s when I heard the glass break. Then Vidale came in my room and knocked over the fish tank. Then he left out. I went upstairs and tried to play it off like I was [a]sleep,” the confession said.

Antoine immediately recanted his confession, but both he and McDowell were charged with murder.

During a pretrial hearing, Antoine testified that he falsely confessed to the murder because he was terrified of going to jail and wanted to go home. He said that detective Derryck Thomas told him that he would be “somebody’s girlfriend” if he went to prison. Antoine’s father and stepmother testified that Antoine was taken from them by police and interrogated outside of their presence. Detective Thomas denied that he threatened Antoine with being raped in prison or that he questioned the boy alone.

Defense lawyers were skeptical of Thompson’s statement about “Twan” because there was no mention of it in his 911 call on the night of the murder and believed that Thompson had given a different statement on the night of the murder. However, police said they only took one statement from Thompson and the one dated February 25 was misdated—that it actually was taken on the night of the crime.

Prior to trial, prosecutors sought a plea agreement with Antoine, but they were rebuffed.

In April 2003, on the first day of trial in Wayne County Circuit Court, the prosecution offered to allow Antoine to plead no contest to being an accessory after the fact for a sentence of probation and his immediate release from custody. In return, Antoine would not be required to testify against McDowell.

Antoine refused the deal, on the advice of his father and lawyer. However, the trial judge then appointed a guardian ad litem who advised Antoine to take the prosecution’s offer. As a result, Antoine’s written confession was read to the jury and there was no mention made of his pretrial recantation.

Detective Thomas confiscated McDowell’s coat, saying he did it while wearing gloves (a claim that McDowell said after the trial was not true). William Steiner, a forensic chemist at the police department crime lab, testified that gunshot residue was found on the coat. McDowell’s stepfather testified that he had purchased the coat from a stranger several months before, and forensic experts testified that residue can remain on objects for an indefinite period of time.

Two boot prints found behind the house did not match McDowell’s. However, one print partially matched Antoine’s, according to Steiner, who evaluated them. Antoine did not mention going outside in either confession. However, Detective Sims testified that Antoine told him that he had loaned McDowell his boots so he could go outside and cut the phone wire—although there was no explanation for why McDowell needed the boots. In addition, McDowell wore a size 10 shoe and Antoine wore a size 8½.

On April 22, 2003, the jury convicted McDowell of second-degree murder and he was sentenced to life in prison.

Subsequently, police admitted that Thompson’s statement dated February 25, 2002, was actually given on that day and was not misdated. Police conceded that Thompson’s statement on the night of the murder had been lost.

In March 2004, the United States Supreme Court ruled that written statements to police by co-defendants, like Antoine’s confession, were not admissible in court because they deprived a defendant of his constitutional right to confront and cross-examine the witness. As a result of the ruling, in May 2004, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office filed a confession of error with the Michigan Court of Appeals requesting a new trial for McDowell.

In June 2004, the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned McDowell’s conviction and granted him a new trial. Two weeks later, on June 18, 2004, prosecutors dismissed the charges against him and he was released. McDowell filed a lawsuit against the city of Detroit, which settled for $1.5 million.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 4/23/2020
State:Michigan
County:Wayne
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2002
Convicted:2003
Exonerated:2004
Sentence:Life
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:18
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No