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Mubarez Ahmed

Other Michigan Exonerations with Innocence Organization Involvement,%20Mubarez.jpg
On the afternoon of February 9, 2001, 24-year-old Lavelle Griffin and 28-year-old LaTanya White were shot to death at the intersection of Kirkwood and Lumley streets in Detroit, Michigan. Witnesses said a burgundy or red car pulled up alongside their car and a person in that car began shooting.
During the investigation, friends and family of the victims told police that they suspected a man with the nickname of “Little Jay,” because he had previously threatened Griffin. Separately, the officer in charge of the investigation, Sergeant Ernest Wilson, received an anonymous tip that a man of Arab descent with the nickname of “Spaghetti” might have been involved. Wilson said he learned from local and federal drug task forces that Spaghetti was the nickname for 31-year-old Mubarez Ahmed, who had a prior federal drug conviction.

Izora Clark was the only person who said she saw the shooting. In her initial statement to police, she said the man she saw driving the car appeared to be Hispanic. Although Mubarez is of Yemeni descent, he was brought in for a police line-up on February 15, and Clark identified him as the shooter. Ahmed was charged the next day with two counts of murder.

Before his trial, Ahmed moved to have his charges dismissed, claiming police had lacked probable cause to place him in the line-up. During a hearing in Wayne County Circuit Court, Wilson testified that after he learned that Ahmed had the nickname “Spaghetti,” his investigation showed that Ahmed had a girlfriend named Julie Wheeler who owned a red car. Wilson said that relationship gave Ahmed access to a vehicle like that seen in the shooting. In his investigative notes, Wilson wrote that Wheeler had brought her car to the homicide division, where it was tested for gunshot residue. While Ahmed’s attorney cross-examined Wilson during the hearing, he never challenged the underlying assertion that Wheeler had a connection to Ahmed. After hearing Wilson’s testimony, the judge denied the defense motion.

Wheeler did not testify, and her name was not mentioned at the trial. Clark was the prosecution’s principal witness, and she identified Ahmed as the gunman. In closing argument, the prosecutor told the jury, “If you don’t believe Ms. (Clark), you have to find him not guilty.”
 On March 25, 2002, a Wayne County jury convicted Ahmed of two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. The judge called the killings “senseless” and sentenced Ahmed to 44 to 60 years in prison. At his sentencing, Ahmed said, “I disagree with that verdict and say to the court that I did not kill those people or have anything to do with the killing of those people. My only hope is that I can successfully appeal and have my verdict overturned.”

The following year, a man named Sobhi Neme reported to police that he had a conversation with “Little Jay,” whose real name was Roderick Tolbert. Neme said that Tolbert bragged about killing two people because one of them had “messed up over his dope.” Neme went to police a few days later after he learned that a man named “Spaghetti” had been arrested for the shootings. Neme said in a 2016 affidavit that the officer told him to keep quiet, as they had already convicted someone for the crimes. In 2005, after meeting Ahmed’s brother, Neme again went to the police. This time, he was told the case was closed.

On October 13, 2008, after being arrested and charged with home invasion, Larry Evans told the police that he had information about the murders of Griffin and White. He said that he had seen the shooting but wasn’t able to identify the shooter. Evans said that a few months after Griffin and White were killed, he was drinking with some family and friends, including Tolbert. When someone asked Tolbert why he had killed White, Tolbert claimed that White and Griffin had been killed as payback for a robbery done by Griffin. Later, Evans said, Tolbert tried to sell him the gun he had used in the shootings, telling him it was “hot” and “had bodies on it.” He declined the offer.

Tolbert was later convicted of an unrelated murder and was sentenced to 26 to 50 years in prison.

The Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School, which had had been investigating Ahmed’s case since 2009, discovered Evans’s statement to police through a public records request in 2015. A year earlier, the clinic had located Wheeler. In an affidavit, she said that she didn’t know Ahmed and that contrary to police records, she had never talked to Wilson or brought her car in for gunshot residue testing. In addition, her license plate bore no resemblance to the partial plate number that witnesses had given for the gunman’s car.

On February 20, 2016, Ahmed’s attorneys interviewed Clark and she recanted her identification of Ahmed. She said that she had not seen Ahmed at the shooting and that she identified him only after Wilson showed her a photograph of Ahmed prior to the line-up. She said she felt pressured to help the police and feared that if she did not identify Ahmed, police would retaliate against her son, who was incarcerated at the time.

A motion seeking to vacate Ahmed’s conviction was filed in Wayne County Circuit Court on October 17, 2017. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit re-investigated the case.

During a hearing on the motion to vacate, Valerie Newman, an assistant prosecuting attorney and the director of the Conviction Integrity Unit, revealed new details of the events leading to Ahmed’s arrest. Newman said that Wilson had interviewed a woman with a red car whom Ahmed had dated six months earlier, but that the woman was a police informant. Her name was not mentioned in the investigative notes. She didn’t know whether that woman’s name was kept out of the report to protect her identity or how Wheeler became involved, but she said that, “It turns out that it’s all completely untrue.”

In addition, Newman said that at the time of the shooting, Ahmed had been under surveillance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Her team reviewed DEA investigation notes, which “talked about the cars he drove, the girlfriends he had … And nowhere are either of the women, or the car mentioned, at all, in any of the detailed DEA notes.”

On August 15, 2018, Ahmed’s conviction was vacated, and he was granted a new trial. He was released from prison September 5 on a $250,000 bond. On October 26, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the charges. Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement, “After an exhaustive review and investigation we have determined that we are unable to re-try this case, and for this reason it was dismissed today.”

Speaking to reporters after the charges were dropped, Ahmed said, “I wanted to tear up, but I held it in. I’m just happy they finally did it.”

On December 12, 2018, Ahmed filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Wilson and the city of Detroit, seeking $105 million in damages. The lawsuit went to arbitration and in July 2021, a panel awarded Ahmed $10 million. Ahmed also filed a claim for compensation from the state of Michigan and in 2019, he was awarded $548,782. As required by Michigan law, Ahmed repaid the state compensation to Michigan from his civil rights settlement.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 10/31/2018
Last Updated: 1/3/2024
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:2001
Sentence:44 to 60 years
Age at the date of reported crime:31
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No