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Konrad Montgomery

Other Michigan Cases
On December 11, 2012, 44-year-old LaVince Marks Jr. was shot and robbed of $400 in cash and his iPhone while in the driveway of his home in Detroit, Michigan.

Marks’s son tracked his father’s iPhone using a program on his phone and the following day learned that the stolen cell phone was at a location in Southfield, Michigan. Police went to the location and found a Metro PCS store. The store owner, Ali Bazzi, said that 29-year-old Konrad Montgomery, who had sold Bazzi phones in the past, had sold him the iPhone.

About two weeks later, police showed Marks a photographic lineup and he selected the photograph of Montgomery as the man who robbed him.

In January 2013, Montgomery was arrested on charges of armed robbery, felony assault with intent to commit murder, and illegal use of a weapon.

He went to trial in Wayne County Circuit Court in December 2013. Marks testified that he arrived home around 6:30 p.m., when it was dark. He said a man wearing a hooded jacket approached, pointed a gun at him, and threatened to kill him if he made any noise. Marks said he handed over $400 in cash and his iPhone.

Marks said the gunman ordered him to walk to the side of Marks’s truck, which faced a vacant house. Believing he was going to be shot, Marks grabbed the gun with one hand and the gunman with the other hand. They struggled and Marks was shot three times before the gunman fled. Marks identified Montgomery as the man who robbed and shot him.

Bazzi testified that he bought the phone sometime between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on December 12—about 24 hours after the crime occurred.

Montgomery testified in his own defense that he made a living buying and selling used electronic equipment, including cell phones. He said that he purchased the iPhone that was taken from Marks on the night of December 12, 2012 from Sherrell Lewis in a transaction that was arranged by his roommate, Lajuan Pruitt and his then-girlfriend, Sharell Luambano. Pruitt and Luambano testified and supported Montgomery’s account. Lewis was not called as a witness, however.

Montgomery told the jury that he was at a gentlemen’s club in another area of Detroit at the time of the crime. Records from his cell phone were presented and Montgomery’s defense attorney claimed that the records showed that Montgomery was in the area of the club and not in the neighborhood where Marks was shot and robbed.

The prosecution presented an analysis of Montgomery’s cell phone conducted by John Jaehnig, a senior inspector for the U.S. Marshal’s Service and an expert in cell phone analysis. The report said that Montgomery’s cell phone was “active in the general area of Interstate 75 and McNichols Road, also known as Six Mile, in the city of Detroit” and “was not active in the area of (Marks’s home) at the time of the offense.” Marks’s home was about 11 miles from Six Mile. Jaehnig did not testify, so Montgomery’s attorney agreed with the prosecution that the report would be admitted as evidence without objection. Montgomery’s attorney did not contest the analysis or retain an independent expert to review Jaehnig’s report.

During closing arguments, the prosecutor argued that the cell phone records did not eliminate Montgomery because he was “pretty savvy when it comes to telephones” and suggested that it was possible that he left his cell phone at the gentlemen’s club (where he was a frequent customer and had many friends) or had his calls either forwarded to another phone or sent directly to voice mail to make it appear that he was at the club when he was actually committing the crime at a different location. There was no evidence introduced at the trial that backed up any of these assertions.

In addition, the prosecutor argued that Montgomery and his witnesses were not credible because they falsely claimed the phone was sold to Bazzi on December 13—a day later than Bazzi said he purchased it.

On December 6, 2012, Montgomery was convicted of armed robbery, felony assault with intent to commit murder and illegal use of a weapon. He was sentenced to concurrent terms of 10 years to 25 years in prison on the armed robbery and assault charges and an additional two years to be served consecutively on the weapon charge.

On appeal, Montgomery, represented by the Michigan State Appellate Defender Office, sought a hearing on a claim that his trial attorney had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to retain an expert to conduct an independent analysis of Montgomery’s cell phone and by failing to call Lewis—the woman who sold Marks’s iPhone to Montgomery through Pruitt and Luambano.

A hearing was granted and in September 2015, Lewis testified that she got the iPhone from her brother and sold it to Montgomery.

An expert testified for the defense that—contrary to what the prosecution argued—Montgomery’s cell phone’s calls could not have been forwarded at the time of the crime and were not going into voicemail. Moreover, the expert said that all of the defense testimony at the trial about Montgomery’s whereabouts - not only at the time of the crime, but during the two days after the crime - were supported by cell phone data.

The expert said that the prosecution misrepresented facts to the jury about the call forwarding and voicemail—an error which the prosecution conceded.

Montgomery’s trial defense lawyer said she did not hire an independent expert—even though she did not understand the cell phone data—because it was too expensive.

The trial judge, however, denied the motion to vacate the convictions.

In March 2016, the Michigan Court of Appeal reversed Montgomery’s convictions and ordered a new trial. The court held that “reversal is required because of misstatements by the prosecutor during his closing argument pertaining to the telephone records and inferences that could be drawn from those records.”

The appeals court said that the prosecutor’s argument “not only lacked record support, but defendant presented expert testimony at the post-trial evidentiary hearing that indicated that the prosecutor’s argument was factually incorrect.”

On July 14, 2016, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the charges and Montgomery was released.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/19/2016
State:Michigan
County:Wayne
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:Assault, Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:2012
Convicted:2013
Exonerated:2016
Sentence:12 to 27 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:29
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No