Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Lamarr Monson

Other Wayne County, Michigan Exonerations
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Lamarr_Monson%20(1).jpg
At about 2 p.m. on January 20, 1996, 12-year-old Christina Brown was found murdered in an apartment at 2752 W. Boston Blvd., in Detroit, Michigan. Brown used the apartment to sell marijuana and crack cocaine on behalf of 23-year-old Lamarr Monson, who also sold drugs from the apartment.

Monson discovered Brown’s body and called neighbors for help. Detroit Police detectives saw a bloody knife, a broken bathroom window, and cuts all over Brown’s body. They decided that she must have been stabbed to death, and a preliminary report said “this case can be closed with a confession from (Monson).”

Police took Monson in for questioning, and later said he gave two statements. In the first, Monson said he last saw Brown alive at 11:30 p.m. on January 19, 1996. He said he returned to the apartment at 1 p.m. on January 20 and found her dead. Sometime between 5 and 5:30 a.m., a different officer, Sgt. Charles Braxton, began questioning Monson.

At about 8 a.m., Lt. Joan Ghougoian, the acting commander of the Detroit Police Homicide Section, began going to the interview room to speak with Braxton. After each of her several visits, Braxton would type information onto a piece of paper. Eventually, Ghougoian told Monson that if he signed the “information summary,” he “would be home by this time tomorrow.” Ghougoian told Monson that “right now you are arrested, you are held under Murder 1,” but that he “would probably get out on a personal bond.”

Monson signed the statement, which said he had stabbed Brown to death during a quarrel. Monson was not released on bond—he was charged with first-degree murder. He denied confessing to the crime.

At that time, Ghougoian was under investigation after being accused of promising suspects that “they could go home in return for signing confessions.” She was under investigation for making these improper promises in at least a half-dozen murder cases. Ultimately, two months after Monson was convicted, Ghougoian was removed from the homicide unit.

On March 3, 1997, shortly before Monson’s trial began, the prosecution reported that the Detroit Police crime lab had just disclosed that a fingerprint belonging to Monson had been found on a mirror in the bathroom where Brown’s body was found. The prosecution agreed that was insignificant because Monson was in the apartment frequently.

A fingerprint on a toilet tank cover was identified as Brown’s. The report said that palm prints from the shower walls and one usable fingerprint from the toilet tank cover were unidentified.

At the trial in Wayne County Circuit Court in February 1997, a medical examiner testified that the autopsy, which was conducted several days after Monson signed the statement, determined that the cause of death was not the stab wounds, but rather blunt force trauma. In fact, the examiner testified, Brown had been beaten to death with the toilet tank lid.

Linda Dyer Woods, a resident of the building, testified that she had initially told police that that she had been partying with some people until 7:30 a.m. on the morning of the crime. She said she looked out her apartment window and saw Monson drive into the building parking lot about that time, and that he left about 30 minutes later. However, when confronted with evidence that her apartment window did not have a view of the parking lot, Woods admitted that she didn’t actually see the car. Rather, she said, she knew Monson came into the parking lot because she recognized the sound of his car’s engine. When the defense suggested that police coerced her into giving her initial statement, Woods admitted that she never saw Monson enter or leave the building, and that she may have told police the wrong information because she was on drugs and nervous.

At the end of the second full day of the trial, the prosecution and Monson’s lawyer presented an agreed statement that fingerprints had been found at the scene. One, found on the toilet tank cover, was Brown’s. Another, on a mirror in the bathroom, was Monson’s. The agreed statement said that a usable fingerprint and palm prints remained unidentified. The statement did not mention—as the actual report of the analysis did—that the unmatched fingerprint was on the toilet tank lid.

The statement that Monson signed was presented to the jury. Sgt. Braxton testified that Monson provided the information and signed it. In the statement, Monson said that he came to the apartment about 4 a.m. During a quarrel, Brown, who was tall and looked to be the 17 years of age that she claimed to be, came at him with a knife. The statement said Monson first grabbed her arm and pushed her head through the bathroom window.

However, the statement said, she managed to get free and during a struggle, he hit her “a couple of times to try and keep her away.” When she came at him again with the knife, he again grabbed her arm. The knife bent back and “stuck her in the neck.”

Tawanna Crawford, who has a daughter with Monson, testified that Monson spent the night with her. Crawford said that Monson called her at 11:30 p.m. A photograph of Crawford’s caller identification display showed Monson’s mother’s telephone number with the date of January 19 and a time of 11:31 p.m. Crawford said Monson arrived at her residence shortly after midnight and did not leave until noon on January 20, 1996—two hours before Monson reported finding Brown’s body.

On March 7, 1997, after three days of testimony, the jury convicted Monson of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 30 to 50 years in prison.

The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld Monson’s conviction. Over the next 15 years, he filed several petitions for new trial—one of them in federal court—all without a lawyer. All were dismissed.

In 2012, the University of Michigan Law School Innocence Clinic began re-investigating Monson’s case.

That same year, in July, Shellana Bentley walked into a Detroit police station and said that her former boyfriend, Robert Lee Lewis, had confessed to her at the time that he killed Brown. At that time, Brown was selling drugs from a first floor apartment and Lewis was living with Bentley on the fourth floor of the same building.

Bentley said that Lewis went to buy drugs from Brown and returned at about 4 or 5 a.m. covered in blood. She said that he said he had killed her because “she scratched me.” Bentley said Lewis threatened to kill her and her entire family if she ever told anyone.

She said she had not come forward in person because Lewis threatened to kill and her family. She said she did, however, anonymously call police three times before Monson’s trial to report that Lewis was the real killer. Police, however, apparently never acted on that information, and it was never communicated to Monson’s defense attorney. Bentley said she finally came forward because she learned that Lewis had moved away from Detroit.

Subsequently, Bentley took a polygraph examination and was determined to be truthful.

In November 2014, the Michigan Innocence Clinic wrote to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and requested the usable print from the toilet tank cover be submitted for comparison. That request was denied in April 2015.

After multiple further requests to the prosecutor’s office and to the Detroit Police Department, the prosecutor’s office reported in August 2015 that police had matched the print on the tank to Lewis.

In December 2015, the Innocence Clinic filed a motion to vacate Monson’s conviction.

In September 2016, two University of Michigan law students and Dave Moran, founder of the law school innocence clinic, personally inspected the toilet tank cover in the presence of the prosecutor. They discovered that it was still bloodstained, and there were obvious prints in the blood. That led the Michigan State Police to re-examine the tank and find ten prints on the lid. Most of the prints were embedded in presumed blood, and all matched Lewis.

In January 2017, Wayne County Circuit Judge Shannon Walker vacated Monson’s conviction. Judge Walker noted that the evidence had been re-examined with more sophisticated fingerprint methods, and that the additional fingerprints on the toilet tank cover matched Lewis’s prints.

On February 1, 2017, Monson was released on bond pending a retrial. On August 25, 2017, the prosecution dismissed the charge.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 8/26/2017
State:Michigan
County:Wayne
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1996
Convicted:1997
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:30 to 50 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:23
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No