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Michael Holmes

Other Missouri Federal Exonerations
Michael Holmes and attorney David Owens (photo by Robert Patrick/St. Louis Post-Dispatch
On December 9, 2003, police officers in St. Louis, Missouri arrested 44-year-old Michael Holmes and charged him with possession of more than 200 grams of cocaine base and two loaded guns: a rifle and a shotgun.

Holmes was arrested in a boarding house where he had gone to visit members of his family. He later said that he parked his car across the street, went inside and just minutes after, as he was leaving a third floor bathroom, was confronted by St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officers. Holmes also said that he told the officers he was innocent and even signed a form indicating that he had nothing to do with any of the drugs or weapons the officers claimed they found at the home. Holmes was released that night and learned he had been indicted weeks later during a routine traffic stop.

The case was pending in the state court for two years before it was dismissed and turned over the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri.

On September 15, 2005, Holmes was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of possession of more than 50 grams of cocaine base with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

He went to trial in U.S. District Court in June 2006. Officer Shell Sharp testified that a confidential source told him that “Big Mike” was selling cocaine from the boarding house. Sharp told the jury he set up surveillance and saw three “hand-to-hand” transactions between Holmes and other black males. Sharp could not provide any other details, and his police report did not identify the vehicles, the license plates or any further description of the customers.

Sharp testified that he radioed standby officers to approach and he knocked on the front door. According to Sharp, Holmes’ grandmother, 85-year-old Maetta Griffin, answered and consented to a police search.

Sharp said that when he and another officer were in a stairwell, they saw Holmes come down the stairs and drop a brown paper bag which Sharp claimed contained the cocaine base. Sharp also said that Holmes told him he lived on the third floor and showed the officers his bedroom. In the room, Sharp said they found $4,000 in an open safe, along with a shotgun, a scale and other paraphernalia associated with drug dealing. He admitted that there were two other black men in the building that day, neither of whom was asked whether he lived in the building.

Officer Bobby Garrett testified that he was not part of the surveillance or the search, but that he was present outside the building. He testified that in 1995, he arrested Holmes for trafficking cocaine base and that Holmes admitted at that time that he was a drug dealer.

Holmes testified on his own behalf and maintained his innocence.

On June 28, 2006, the jury convicted Holmes of both charges and he was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

In 2008, Sharp, Garrett and other fellow police officers came under investigation for falsifying search warrants, stealing money and drugs from drug dealers and falsely accusing innocent people of possessing drugs and money from drug transactions. Sharp resigned.

Garrett was indicted by a federal grand jury and pled guilty. He admitted that he and his partner, Vincent Carr, stole money and drugs from drug dealers. Garrett admitted that he and Carr had a warrant to search a first floor apartment, but illegally searched a second-floor apartment in the same building and found cocaine, $32,000 in cash and a gun in a second floor apartment. They let the drug dealer, who lived on the second floor, go and kept all but $3,710 of the cash, which they planted, along with the drugs and the gun, in the first floor apartment. Garrett and Carr then charged the building owner, who lived in neither apartment, with possession of the drugs and paraphernalia they’d put in the first floor apartment even though they knew he was innocent.

Garrett and Carr both pled guilty and were sentenced to prison.

Holmes then filed a motion to vacate his conviction and on September 26, 2011, U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson granted the motion and found that the testimony of Sharp and Garrett had been completely discredited. The judge held that Holmes had “consistently maintained that he is innocent and that Sharp and Garrett lied.”

On November 30, 2011, the prosecution dismissed the charges and Holmes was released.

Holmes subsequently filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the officers accusing them of fabricating evidence and framing him. The lawsuit said that the 1995 arrest by Garrett also was a false charge and that he never admitted to Garrett that he was a drug dealer.

In March 2016, the case went to trial. The evidence illustrated how Sharp’s prior claims were inconsistent with his own police report and actually impossible, given the layout of the boarding house. Garrett, who also testified, gave testimony that directly conflicted with Sharp. In the end, a federal jury awarded Holmes $2.5 million, and found that the evidence against Holmes had been fabricated and that he was prosecuted without probable cause. It was the second case involving Sharp and Carr. In 2014, Stephen Jones, who was framed by the same officers in a separate drug case in which they also claimed Jones “dropped” the drugs in front of them, was released after 12 years in prison and settled his lawsuit for $1 million.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/28/2016
State:Fed-MO
County:(Eastern)
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:Gun Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:2003
Convicted:2006
Exonerated:2011
Sentence:25 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:44
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No