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Michael Winston

Other Milwaukee Exonerations
On May 29, 2012, 26-year-old Sidney Thomas, Jr., called 39-year-old Tory Mason, to arrange to purchase marijuana in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Later that day, Mason met with Thomas and after the purchase was completed, he was attacked as he was walking away.

Mason later told police that one man pulled out a handgun and another man grabbed a chain off Mason’s neck. Mason said the second man tried to put a cloth over his head and that during the struggle, the gunman dropped the pistol. The man picked up the weapon, Mason said, and shot him in the knee.

Mason said he was shoved into the back seat of a car, and Thomas got behind the wheel and drove off. Mason said he continued to fight and tried to get the gun. Thomas drove into an alley, stopped the car, got the gun, and shot Mason in the arm. Mason said his attackers then got out of the car and left him in the back seat.

When police arrived, they saw three men near the car and gave chase. Sidney Thomas was arrested a short distance away.

Police determined the car belonged to 29-year-old Michael Winston and put his photograph in a photographic array. Mason identified him as the person who shot him in the knee. Subsequently, Mason identified Winston’s half-brother, 22-year-old Terrance Rowe, as well as Sidney Thomas and 21-year-old Steven Lamar Thomas as being involved in the attack.

Rowe initially admitted to police that he and the others were all involved in the crime, including Winston. All four were charged with attempted murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, and reckless injury.

Just prior to trial in 2013, Rowe pled guilty to robbery and agreed to testify against the others. In return, he was sentenced to four years in prison.

Winston, Steven Thomas, and Sidney Thomas went to trial in Milwaukee County Circuit Court on June 10, 2013. Mason identified them as being involved in the crime.

Rowe testified that he had committed the crime with Steven and Sidney Thomas. He said that he had borrowed Winston’s car to commit the crime, but that Winston was not involved.

The prosecution presented testimony that tests identified Winston’s DNA on a black cloth found at the scene. The prosecution contended it was the cloth that Mason said one of his attackers attempted to put over his head.

Winston testified and denied he took part in the crime. He said his brother, Rowe, had borrowed the car on the day of the crime and that the cloth had been in the vehicle prior to that day.

Winston testified that Rowe told him about the crime. He said that Rowe told him someone “got shot” and that Winston’s car had been “shot up.”

Winston told the jury that he spent the rest of the night trying to find his car. A few days later, he said he was driving a different car that ran out of gas on the highway. A police officer stopped to offer help, and arrested Winston after discovering that an arrest warrant had been issued.

On June 13, 2013, the jury acquitted Steven Thomas. The jury convicted Winston and Sidney Thomas of attempted murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, and reckless injury. Winston and Thomas were each sentenced to 26 years in prison.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals allowed Winston additional time to pursue a post-conviction motion for new trial. After Winston filed a motion for new trial without a lawyer, attorney Michael Plaisted was appointed to represent him.

In December 2016, following a series of hearings on the motion, Plaisted filed a revised post-conviction motion claiming that Winston’s trial defense lawyer, Diane Caspari, had provided an inadequate legal defense. The motion said Caspari failed to call Winston’s girlfriend, Natasha Rodefer, as a witness at the trial. Prior to the trial, Caspari’s investigator, Rick McClusky, had interviewed Rodefer, who said Winston was with her at the time of the crime. McCluskey said in his report that Rodefer was a very credible witness.

In addition, the motion said that Caspari knew that both Winston’s mother and another of his brothers, Bobby Irby, wanted to testify that Rowe told them that Winston was not involved in the crime.

By that time, the Wisconsin Supreme Court had suspended Caspari for 60 days for several improper acts, including submitting a false billing to the Milwaukee County public defender’s office for a meeting with Winston’s mother and Irby that never occurred.

In November 2017, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge T. Christopher Dee granted the motion for a new trial and vacated Winston’s convictions. The judge noted that the only evidence directly linking Winston to the crime was the identification by Mason, a drug dealer whose credibility was questionable.

“This court finds that, given the nature of the proceedings, and the fact that only Mason, with his nine convictions, identified Winston as being part of the incident, Rodefer’s testimony would have been very powerful,” Judge Dee ruled.

In April 2018, Winston was released on bond with an electronic monitoring device while awaiting a retrial.

Rodefer, meanwhile, had died in September 2017. Prior to the retrial, Judge Dee ruled that Plaisted could call McCluskey, the investigator who had interviewed Rodefer, to testify to what she told him about being with Winston on the night of the crime.

On September 17, 2018, the prosecution said that Mason could not be located to testify and dismissed the charges.

Winston filed a claim for the maximum $25,000 in compensation with the Wisconsin Claims Board, but in 2019, the claim was denied.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 9/21/2018
Last Updated: 10/11/2019
Most Serious Crime:Attempted Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery, Assault, Kidnapping
Reported Crime Date:2012
Sentence:26 years
Age at the date of reported crime:29
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No