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Darrell Siggers

Other Wayne County, Michigan exonerations
Shortly before midnight on February 16, 1984, 25-year-old James Montgomery was gunned down as he walked with two friends on Phillips Street on the east side of Detroit, Michigan.

Montgomery’s friends—Derrick Lawson and Ranard Jackson—told police they recognized the gunman as 20-year-old Darrell Siggers, whom they had seen earlier in the evening at a gathering at the home of Christine Hooks, the mother of Siggers’s two children. Montgomery, Lawson, and Jackson came to the gathering, but were kicked out because they were highly intoxicated.

On February 22, 1984, Siggers was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

In July 1984, Siggers went to trial in Recorder’s Court in Detroit. Lawson and Jackson identified him as the gunman—although both admitted they were as much as 100 feet away from the gunman, the lighting was poor, and they had been drinking and taking drugs.

Detroit Police Sgt. Claude Houseworth, a firearms analyst, testified that seven shell casings found at the scene had been fired from the same weapon—likely a rifle. He said that a bullet removed from Montgomery's body, a bullet found at the scene, as well as shell casings and a bullet that had been recovered from wood molding in an apartment across the hall from Siggers’s apartment, came from the same weapon. The murder weapon was never recovered.

On July 19, 1984, the jury convicted Siggers and he was sentenced to life in prison.

In 1987, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld his conviction and the Michigan Supreme Court denied him leave to appeal in June 1988.

In 1989, Siggers filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus, but that was denied. In 1996, Siggers filed another federal petition for habeas corpus, but that was denied as well. In 1998, Siggers made an additional federal filing, which was denied in 1999.

In the fall of 2000, when Siggers was incarcerated at the Mound Correctional Facility in Detroit, Michigan, he contacted a lawyer who agreed to review an appellate brief and file concerning his criminal conviction for $300.

Siggers needed authorization from David Barlow, his resident unit manager, to withdraw funds from his prison account to pay the lawyer. When Siggers went to Barlow with the disbursement form, Barlow noted that Siggers was using the surname of Siggers-El.

Barlow asked whether Siggers's attorney was black, and if she was a part of his religious organization. After Siggers responded affirmatively, Barlow stated, “I don't mean for this to sound racist, but you would probably have a better chance with a white lawyer.” When Siggers asked why he believed this, Barlow replied, “Since most crimes are committed by blacks, judges tend to associate black lawyers with crime. I know these things. My brother-in-law is a lawyer.” Siggers ignored the comments and insisted that he wanted the lawyer in question. Barlow refused to authorize the disbursement.

A few hours later, Siggers saw Barlow’s supervisor and told him of Barlow’s refusal. The supervisor called Barlow on the phone and instructed him to process the funds withdrawal. Barlow later told Siggers, “If you ever go over my head again, your ass is out of here.”

A few months later, in early January 2001, Siggers required another $300 withdrawal to pay the lawyer. He made the request of Barlow, who said it was approved, but in fact it had been rejected. Siggers reached out to the warden’s administrative assistant to try to get approval. A day later, Barlow confronted Siggers, told him “Didn't I tell you what would happen if you ever [went] over my head again?” and kicked Siggers out of his office.

Two days later Barlow designated Siggers for transfer to Adrian Regional Facility, near Adrian, Michigan, more than seventy miles from Detroit. As a result, Siggers lost his high paying job at Mound that he needed to pay his lawyer. In addition, the transfer to a more remote prison made it more difficult for Siggers's attorney to visit and represent him.

In July 2001, Siggers filed a federal lawsuit accusing Barlow of violating his First Amendment rights. In January 2003, the Clinical Law Program and the University of Michigan Law School was appointed to represent Siggers.

In March 2004, while that federal lawsit was pending, Siggers filed a motion for a new trial in Wayne County Circuit Court alleging that newly discovered evidence established his innocence.

At an evidentiary hearing, Darryl Dulin testified that he was on the street on the night of the murder and that he saw a man named Toby Red shoot Montgomery. In addition, Richard Braxton testified that he later heard Toby Red admit that he shot Montgomery.

Siggers also presented a sworn affidavit from Bruce Spearman saying that Ranard Jackson, his cousin and one of the witnesses at Siggers’s trial, admitted that he falsely identified Siggers after police threatened to arrest him.

Another witness, Jack Fuqua, testified that Toby Red came to his house carrying a rifle and admitted that he just shot someone. Fuqua said he told police about the conversation, but he never told anyone else about it after police threatened to arrest him.

William Arnold testified that he heard Toby Red come to Fuqua’s door on the night of the murder and admit to having shot someone. Arnold said he did not volunteer this evidence at the time of the trial because police threatened to have public benefits withheld from his sister and her children.

In the fall of 2004, the judge ruled that the witnesses were not credible and denied the motion for a new trial. The denial was upheld on appeal.

In November 2005, following a trial in federal court, a jury awarded Siggers $219,000 in damages against Barlow and the Michigan Department of Corrections, of which $200,000 was punitive damages. In August 2006, the state of Michigan agreed to settle the case by paying $75,000 to Siggers and $25,000 to the Clinical Law Program.

In 2008, the Detroit police crime lab was shut down after an audit performed by the Michigan State Police exposed widespread errors in firearms testing.

Siggers subsequently contacted Claudia Whitman, founder of the National Capital Crime Assistance Network, a nonprofit organization that provides services to the incarcerated, including investigating cases of wrongful conviction. Whitman connected Siggers to David Townshend, a firearms expert who had concluded that Detroit police firearms testimony in the prosecution of Desmond Ricks had been false. Ricks was exonerated of murder in 2017.

Townshend reviewed the testimony from Siggers’s trial. In 2015, he issued a report severely criticizing Sgt. Houseworth’s testimony linking the shell casings to bullets found at the scene and at the apartment across the hall from Siggers’s apartment. Townshend said Houseworth’s testimony was “unbelievable.” He said, “It is highly unlikely that a positive identification of the three bullets…would have been possible” even if the police had recovered the actual weapon used in the shooting.

Townshend’s report noted that Houseworth testified about comparing bullets that weren’t even logged in the original reports of evidence recovered from the scene of the shooting and the apartment across the hall from where Siggers lived.

Ultimately, Siggers wrote to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office requesting that the conviction integrity unit review his case. Whitman also arranged for David Balash, a retired Michigan State Police firearms examiner to review the firearms evidence. Balash concluded Houseworth’s testimony was “both confusing and at times totally inaccurate.”

The original evidence in the case was destroyed years earlier and so could not be retested or re-examined.

On July 19, 2018, Siggers’s lawyer and the prosecution presented a joint motion to vacate Siggers’s conviction. Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Shannon Walker granted the motion. On August 30, 2018, Siggers was released after spending more than 34 years in custody.

On October 19, 2018, the prosecution dismissed the charges. In August 2019, Siggers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking damages for his wrongful conviction. Siggers also filed a claim for compensation from the state of Michigan and in 2019, he was awarded compensation pursuant to the state statute.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/23/2018
Last Updated: 1/21/2022
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:1984
Sentence:Life without parole
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No