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Darrell Siggers

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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 ballistics 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 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 March 2004, 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.

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

In 2008, the Detroit police crime lab was shut down after an audit performed by the Michigan State Police exposed widespread errors in ballistics 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 ballistics expert who had concluded that Detroit police ballistics 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 ballistics 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.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/23/2018
State:Michigan
County:Wayne
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:1984
Convicted:1984
Exonerated:2018
Sentence:Life without parole
Race:Black
Sex:Male
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