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Ryan Lewis

Other Michigan Exonerations
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In October 2014, police in Detroit, Michigan arrested 45-year-old Ryan Lewis on charges of breaking into a home, and stealing various items as well as two vehicles from a woman and her grandmother for whom he had performed odd jobs.

The arrest followed four 911 calls made by 44-year-old Neferteria Gray. Gray said that Lewis had forced his way into the home where she took care of her 89-year-old grandmother, Odessa Wash.

Gray told police that Lewis was a neighborhood resident who occasionally did yard work and home repairs. Over the course of three days beginning on August 22, 2014, she said, he stole a fur coat, a tool box, lawn care equipment, and two vehicles—Gray’s truck and Wash’s car.

Lewis was charged with home invasion, larceny from a building, and two counts of unlawfully driving away with a vehicle.

In February 2015, Lewis went to trial before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Ulysses Boykin and chose to have his case heard by the judge without a jury. By that time, Odessa Wash had died. Gray testified that for a period of time prior to the summer of 2014, Lewis had helped care for her grandfather while he was in hospice care in the two-story home on LaSalle Street. She said that although she and Lewis attended the same mosque, they knew each other only casually through his work in the neighborhood and for her grandfather.

Gray said that on the afternoon of August 22, 2014, Lewis came by asking for work, but she sent him away because there was none. She said that she was in the home and was awakened at 3 a.m. by the sound of Lewis downstairs yelling at her to fix him something to eat. She said she went to the bathroom, locked the door, and called 911. She said she heard the door to the house open and close several times, causing the house alarm to go off. She looked out of the bathroom window and saw Lewis carrying a fur coat, a toolbox, and other items from the house. She said he put them in Gray’s truck, which he then drove away.

Gray said that the following afternoon, August 23, 2014, she heard noises outside and saw Lewis by the garage. She said he put a lawn mower in her truck and left. She went to the garage and discovered that several lawn implements were missing.

Sometime between 11 p.m. that night and 1 a.m. on August 24, 2014, Gray said, she heard a noise and looked outside to see her grandmother’s car pull out of the driveway and drive off. She called 911 and the police came to the house to investigate. Gray testified that later that day—during the afternoon of August 24—she spotted Lewis walking around her grandmother’s yard. She said that he left when she threatened to call police. When she went outside to investigate, a ladder was leaning against the house near one of the first floor windows and she believed Lewis was planning to break into the house.

Gray testified that she had met Lewis’s mother once, when she gave Lewis a ride to her house on the east side of Detroit. She denied accompanying Lewis on any trips out of town. Gray admitted she was on parole for convictions involving dishonesty and that she had used false names occasionally to avoid arrest. She denied knowing that Lewis also was on parole at the time of the alleged break-ins—claiming she found out only after she accused him of the break-ins—but acknowledged it would have been a violation of her parole to associate with another convicted felon.

Recordings of Gray’s four 911 calls were admitted at trial. In the first call, Gray said that Lewis had come into the house and assaulted her. Although she had testified that she had locked herself in the bathroom, she is heard saying that he entered the room and approached her when she was on the phone to 911.

No evidence was presented that any of the items or vehicles Lewis allegedly took were located or ever linked to Lewis, and he was not charged with assaulting Gray.

Lillian Newbern, Lewis’s mother, testified that she lived in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Over the July 4th holiday in 2014, she testified, Lewis came to visit and spent the night with a woman whom he appeared to be in a relationship with. Newbern said she saw the woman only once, and she was unable to identify Gray as the woman who accompanied her son.

Johnny Davis, a friend of Lewis, testified that he lived in Benton Harbor and that he met Gray on that July 4th weekend in Benton Harbor. He said that Lewis introduced her as his wife.

Lewis testified in his own defense that he met Gray shortly after her release from prison in 2013. He said they lived in the same neighborhood and eventually developed a romantic relationship that culminated in a wedding at the mosque.

Lewis said that during the summer of 2014, he and Gray went to Benton Harbor to meet his mother, riding back and forth on a Greyhound bus.

On the night of August 21, 2014, Lewis and one of his friends went to Wash’s house to ask Gray to make some Muslim prayer caps for them. Lewis said Wash had given him keys to the house and that he had standing permission to enter.

Lewis testified that when he came into the house, a man whom he believed was homosexual was sitting at the kitchen table. He said that because homosexuality is against his religious beliefs, he confronted Gray and they argued.

Lewis said he left the house to cool off and returned three hours later. Gray let him in, but he left again after the quarrel resumed.

Lewis denied breaking into the home, taking any property from the house and garage, or taking the vehicles.

On May 5, 2015, Judge Boykin convicted Lewis of first-degree home invasion, larceny from a building, and one count of unlawfully driving away Gray’s automobile. Boykin sentenced Lewis to 10 to 25 years in prison.

While preparing to appeal the conviction, Michael Mittlestat, deputy director of the Michigan State Appellate Defender Office, discovered that the friend who accompanied Lewis the night Lewis and Gray quarreled—Shareef Ali—had come to the trial to testify in support of Lewis. Ali was prepared to testify that Lewis and Grey were married—not just casual acquaintances—and he was at the home with Mr. Lewis the night of the first alleged break-in. Ali would have testified that he witnessed the couple having a stormy argument that night just before Gray made her accusations against Lewis.

Mittlestat argued on appeal that Lewis’s trial had been constitutionally unfair because his trial lawyer had failed to interview Ali or call him as a witness.

In December 2016, the Michigan Court of Appeals rejected that argument and upheld Lewis’s convictions. While a further appeal was pending in the Michigan Supreme Court, Mittlestat got records from Greyhound Lines showing that tickets in Lewis’s and Gray’s names had been purchased in July 2014. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office then agreed to remand the case back to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing.

Gray was interviewed prior to the hearing and denied taking the trip. She claimed that Lewis went with another woman and that she bought the ticket in her name because the woman didn’t have any identification.

However, in December 2017, just prior to the evidentiary hearing, State Appellate Defender Office investigator Linda Borus obtained records from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services showing that Gray had made purchases with her food assistance benefit card in Benton Harbor during the July 4th holiday, which corresponded with the dates of the Greyhound tickets.

The prosecution agreed to vacate Lewis’s convictions. On December 14, Judge Boykin vacated the convictions. Lewis was then released on bond pending a retrial.

On February 28, 2018, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/18/2018
State:Michigan
County:Wayne
Most Serious Crime:Other Violent Felony
Additional Convictions:Theft, Other Nonviolent Felony
Reported Crime Date:2014
Convicted:2015
Exonerated:2018
Sentence:10 to 25 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:45
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No