Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Matthew Holbrook

Other Michian Exonerations with False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Wayne_County_Michigan.jpg
On July 1, 2005, 20-year-old Lavaile Manciel was fatally shot in Detroit, Michigan. Five months later, in December 2005, Detroit police arrested 35-year-old Matthew Holbrook and charged him with second-degree murder.

Holbrook went to trial in June 2006. Kyrice Higgins testified that he was sitting on front of a house when a vehicle driven by Holbrook arrived. Higgins said that Holbrook fired a shot that struck Manciel. He told the jury that Manciel was not carrying any weapon that night and denied that Manciel shot first.

A medical examiner testified that Manciel was found face down in the driveway. The medical examiner told the jury that the bullet that struck Manciel paralyzed him, causing him to fall down immediately after being shot. He therefore could not have been on the porch when he was shot.

Holbrook testified that on the day of the shooting, his friend Chris Wirth called him and said that several young men had attacked him after someone threw a rock at his truck near the Americana Motel.

Wirth told Holbrook he was getting a gun and planned to return to confront the person who threw the rock. Holbrook said he advised Wirth to forget about it. But when Wirth insisted he was going back, Holbrook contacted another friend, Mark Brown, and they drove to Wirth’s home, where they found him loading a pistol. They then got into Holbrook’s car. When Wirth said that he did not believe any of the young men who attacked him had guns, Holbrook removed the magazine containing the bullets from Wirth’s gun and put the magazine in the glove compartment.

Holbrook then drove to the area where Wirth had been attacked. As they drove near the Americana Motel, Wirth recognized Higgins, who was sitting in front of a house, as one of the men who had attacked him.

Wirth got out of the back seat and approached Higgins, while Holbrook remained standing by his car. As Wirth got close to Higgins, Holbrook said he heard movement on the porch, heard a “pop,” and saw a “muzzle flash.”

Holbrook, who had a concealed weapon permit, told the jury he fired in the direction of the muzzle flash.

Holbrook then heard Wirth say he had been shot. Holbrook told Wirth to get into the car and they drove off. Holbrook later pulled over, and they found a bullet hole in Wirth’s ankle.

Atlhough Brown did not testify, prior to the trial he had given police a version of events similar to the account given by Holbrook.

On June 9, 2006, the jury convicted Holbrook of second-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. He was sentenced to 17 to 27 years in prison.

Holbrook's appellate attorney, Michael Skinner filed a motion for a new trial arguing that Holbrook had received inadequate legal assistance because the victim had not been tested for gunshot residue. The motion was denied, but the Michigan Court of Appeals ordered the testing to be done. In 2007, the tests were performed on Manciel's clothing and were positive for the presence of gunshot residue.

In July 2008, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling and ordered a new trial. “Because defendant’s self-defense theory depended…upon the jury believing that Manciel fired the first shot, and because defense counsel had the means to support the theory by conducting a simple test, the failure to conduct the test was not reasonable,” the court said.

The court noted that police had conducted gunshot residue tests on Wirth and Higgins, but did not conduct a test on Manciel even though Wirth had been shot.

“We conclude that the result of the trial would likely have been different had (Manciel’s) clothing been tested for gunshot residue before trial and the positive test results presented to the jury,” the appeals court ruled. “The evidence would have provided support for defendant’s theory of the case. Additionally, the evidence would have contradicted the testimony of the prosecution’s only eyewitness, Kyrice Higgins, an admitted drug dealer and convicted criminal.”

Holbrook, who had been released on bond in April 2009, went to trial a second time in June 2009. While preparing for trial, Holbrook's new attorney, Joseph Arnone noticed that in photographs taken of the scene of the shooting, the front porch steps of the house—the location where Holbrook claimed the shot came from—were wet. Arnone called an evidence technician who testified that upon arrival, the steps appeared to have been recently washed down, but that blood was still evident.

During cross-examination, the medical examiner conceded that based on the testimony that blood was on the porch steps, it was more likely that Manciel was shot on the porch and not in the driveway where he was found.

On June 30, 2009, the judge declared a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. The jurors later disclosed that 10 jurors voted to acquit Holbrook and two voted for conviction.

Holbrook went to trial a third time, and on October 8, 2009, the jury acquitted him.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 7/5/2017
State:Michigan
County:Wayne
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:2005
Convicted:2006
Exonerated:2009
Sentence:17 to 27 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:35
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No