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Gerald McKenzie

Other Michigan Exonerations with Inadequate Legal Defense
In the early morning hours of March 7, 1984, with the temperature in the single digits, a construction worker coming to work in downtown Detroit, Michigan was approached by a woman who directed him to enter a nearby vacant building. The worker did so and found a three-year-old girl lying unconscious on the floor clad only in a T-shirt and overalls, without a coat, socks or shoes. A pool of blood from her head had frozen, sticking her face to the floor.

The child, Quattura Sutton, was alive. She was taken to a hospital suffering from hypothermia and several severe bruises to her head. An emergency room physician said the injuries were new and suggested abuse rather than an accidental fall. The physicians believed that Quattura was emotionally traumatized and was in an “acutely deranged abnormal condition.”

A day later, the girl’s grandmother, Juanita Horton, came to the hospital. She told police that when she asked Quattura how she was feeling, the girl replied, “See Grandma, what my daddy did to me.”

Almost immediately, police arrested 24-year-old Gerald McKenzie, who was living with the child’s mother, Elena Carter. Family members said that Quattura referred to McKenzie as “daddy” even though he was not the girl’s biological father.

McKenzie was charged with attempted murder and went on trial three months later in Wayne County Circuit Court.

Elena Carter testified that on the night of March 6, she and McKenzie were home and consumed drugs with a friend, Darrell Reed. They walked Reed to a bus stop and returned home at 1 a.m. where, according to Carter, she told McKenzie that she was going back out to borrow money to buy more drugs.

Carter testified that McKenzie said he was going to lie on the living room couch with Quattura and that he would lock the door until she returned. Carter testified that she had no intention of returning, because she planned to meet another man, Johnny Williams, to do drugs. She said that she spent the rest of the night with Williams and that when she called her mother at 11 a.m. on March 7, she learned that Quattura was in the hospital.

Patricia Carter, who was Elena Carter’s aunt and lived in the same house with Carter, McKenzie and Quattura, testified that she arose at 7 a.m. on March 7 and discovered McKenzie in a bedroom making a crying noise. Patricia Carter testified that McKenzie said that Quattura was not in the house. The door was unlocked, she discovered.

A physician who examined Quattura testified to his medical findings. Quattura herself was not called as a witness because she was ruled incompetent to testify.

Over the objection of McKenzie’s defense attorney, Juanita Horton, Quattura’s grandmother was allowed to testify to the girl’s statement about what “my daddy did to me.” But hospital records were presented that contained a notation by a nurse who was present in the room with Horton. The nurse thought she heard Quattura say “Donna” rather than “Daddy.”

The defense also sought to present the testimony of the same nurse that two or three days later, Quattura said, “Will did it.” The defense argued that the statement “Will did it” cast doubt on the prosecution’s claim that she had earlier identified McKenzie as her attacker, and that her identification of McKenzie was accurate. The trial judge barred the testimony, however, on the ground that it did not impeach Quattura’s earlier “Daddy” statement.

The jury heard testimony from numerous family members that McKenzie had never been seen to strike Quattura. McKenzie did not testify, but the jury heard that during questioning by police, McKenzie denied harming the girl or removing her from the house. He did admit to using drugs earlier in the evening and he said he slept upstairs—not on the couch with Quattura as Elena Carter testified—and that he did not become aware that Quattura was missing until he arose at 6:30 a.m.

The jury deliberated for two days and reported that they could not reach a unanimous verdict. The trial judge rejected a defense request to declare a mistrial and instructed the jury to continue deliberating. Four hours later, on June 26, 1984, McKenzie was convicted of attempted murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In 2003, 19 years later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit granted a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus brought by McKenzie. The court ordered McKenzie’s conviction vacated and the case dismissed because there was insufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict.

The appeals court said it had “grave doubts” about the trial judge’s ruling to allow Quattura’s statement about “what Daddy did to me” and not to allow the statement that “Will did it.” The court also said it had “substantial misgivings” about the failure of McKenzie’s defense lawyer at trial “to address the confrontation issues inherent in the trial court’s decision” to permit introduction of the “Daddy” statement while ruling inadmissible the “Will” statement.

The court wrote: “given the circumstances of the child’s out-of-court statement and the lack of any corroborating evidence, we hold—upon the record as a whole—that (McKenzie’s) conviction is not supported by constitutionally sufficient evidence.”

McKenzie was released on bond in August 2003 while the prosecution appealed. In March 2004, after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the decision, the charge against McKenzie was dismissed.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 9/5/2014
State:Michigan
County:Wayne
Most Serious Crime:Attempted Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1984
Convicted:1984
Exonerated:2004
Sentence:Life
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:24
Contributing Factors:Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No