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George Clark

Other Wayne County, Michigan Exoneatinos
The body of Michael Martin was found on September 27, 2002, in a field near the Parkside Apartments in Inkster, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit.

Bearia Stewart lived in an apartment near where Martin’s body was found. She called the Inkster Police Department to report the death, and the police took her in for questioning. At first, Stewart said she knew nothing about the shooting that killed Martin and had not heard any gunshots.

But she also said that she had seen Martin, who went by the nickname “Cheeseburger,” hanging out on the afternoon on September 26 with 31-year-old George Clark. The police continued their questioning. Detective Anthony Abdallah told Stewart that she wasn’t going anywhere until she told the truth and that her children might have to go to social services if she didn’t make it home that evening.

Stewart eventually told police that she had seen Clark and 20-year-old Kevin Harrington attack Martin, kicking and punching him, as well as hitting him with a pipe before he was shot just before midnight on September 26. She implicated only Clark during an audiotaped interview but implicated both men in a videotaped interview. Police arrested Clark on September 27 and charged him with first-degree murder. They arrested Harrington on October 19, 2002, when he arrived home on a Greyhound bus from New Mexico.

There was no evidence that Harrington and Clark knew each other beyond name or reputation, but they were tried together in Wayne County Circuit Court, beginning on January 29, 2003. Clark was an acquaintance of Martin’s, but Harrington had no apparent connection with the victim. Police had no physical or forensic evidence tying either man to the shooting. They also lacked a clear motive. That made Stewart’s testimony central to the state’s case. But Stewart testified that she didn’t remember many sections of the testimony she had given at a pre-trial hearing for Clark held on October 23, 2002.

Judge Diane Hathaway ruled that Stewart be considered unavailable due to loss of memory. In lieu of her live testimony, prosecutors were allowed to read her testimony from the hearing into the record. The defense was not allowed to cross-examine Stewart. Also during the trial, Harrington’s attorney, Marlon Evans, made some unprofessional remarks to Prosecutor Demetria Brue that jurors overheard.

On February 11, 2003, the jury convicted Clark and Harrington of first-degree murder, and Hathaway later sentenced both men to life in prison. They each appealed, arguing that Hathaway’s ruling on Stewart’s testimony had violated their rights to confront a witness.

Besides the issue with Brue, Evans had also clashed with Hathaway during the trial, and Harrington’s appellate attorney was able to get her recused from considering his client’s motion for a new trial. Instead, Judge Michael Hathaway (no relation) ruled on the motion and granted Harrington a new trial on January 8, 2004. He said that the trial judge had erred in disallowing any cross-examination of Stewart and that Evans’s courtroom conduct had harmed Harrington’s defense. Hathaway said, “There is no question in my mind that this trial was a complete wreck, in extremely basic and fundamental ways, and that the defendant didn’t get a fair trial as a result of it.”

Clark’s trial attorney had not had the same issues with Brue or Judge Hathaway, so Clark did not seek a recusal in his motion for a new trial. Judge Diane Hathaway rejected his motion, and her ruling was later affirmed by the Michigan Court of Appeals in 2005. The appellate court said that Harrington’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel didn’t bleed into Clark’s case and that the restrictions Hathaway had placed on Stewart’s testimony were supported by both her inability to remember and her stated fear of testifying.

Judge Michael Hathaway presided over Harrington’s second and third trials, which both ended in hung juries. He recused himself from the fourth trial.

Harrington’s fourth trial began in 2006, presided over by Judge Vera Massey Jones. On the stand, Stewart recanted her testimony implicating Harrington and Clark. She said she had not seen the murder nor any events leading up to it, but had named the men because she was scared that Abdallah would follow through on his threat to take away her kids. She said she had lied in the pre-trial hearings for both men.

Prosecutors were allowed to introduce transcripts of those exams as well as the videotaped police interview into evidence.

Dr. Cheryl Loewe, with the medical examiner’s office, testified for the state that Martin was killed by a gunshot wound to the head. She also said that contrary to Stewart’s pre-trial statements, there was no evidence that Martin had been dragged or kicked. Dr. Werner Spitz, a forensic pathologist, testified for Harrington. He also said there was no evidence that Martin had been kicked, beaten with a pipe, hit in the face, stomped, or dragged.

The state’s attorney framed Stewart’s recantation as an instance of witness intimidation. Brue, the prosecutor from the first trial, testified that Harrington, Clark, and Evans had stared Stewart down during her testimony and also made unspecific threats. Brue said, without any objection from the defense, that Stewart told her that “she knew the defendants were serious when they threatened her life because she had already seen them take somebody else’s life.”

Harrington’s attorney wanted to use Evans as a witness to rebut Brue’s testimony, but Jones said that would require Harrington to waive his attorney-client privilege. “I don’t care whether he happened to hear Christ speak,” Jones said. “I wouldn’t let him testify unless his client waived the attorney-client privilege.”

As Harrington’s appellate attorneys would later argue, “Mr. Harrington was thus left with a choice between two constitutional violations: he could either lose his Sixth Amendment right to confidentiality in his privileged communications with his former attorney, or he could lose his Due Process Clause right to rebut the noxious and false assertions of witness tampering.” Evans did not testify.

Harrington’s attorneys wanted to introduce testimony from the owner of the Rancho Motel, who had found a registration card for Clark on the night of the murder. This would have undercut the credibility of Abdallah, who had testified at Harrington’s third trial that he had not found a registration card. But Jones disallowed the motel owner’s testimony as irrelevant and hearsay. Abdallah testified at the fourth trial that he had sent a piece of PVC pipe found near the crime scene for DNA testing. Although there were no records of that request, Harrington’s attorney was not allowed to question Abdallah about the discrepancy.

The jury convicted Harrington on January 20, 2006, and Jones later sentenced him to life in prison. He appealed his conviction through the state courts and then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in 2013. By then, Harrington was being represented by attorneys with the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School.

Harrington’s petition asserted that Jones’s rulings precluding meaningful examination of Abdallah and requiring Evans to waive attorney-client privilege had violated Harrington’s constitutional rights to a fair trial. The petition also asserted a claim of actual innocence. Other than Stewart’s pre-trial testimony, the petition noted, there was nothing tying Harrington to the murder of Michael Martin.

Harrington’s petition was denied in 2014.

Two years later, on May 31, 2016, Clark filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus, also in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. His petition was based on a potential new witness. Kaneka Jackson said in an affidavit dated August 10, 2015, that she had been taking out the trash on the night of September 26, 2002, when she saw Martin being forced into the nearby woods and field by another man. A few minutes later, she heard three shots. She said the man with Martin wasn’t Clark. Jackson’s stepfather, Gregory Hill, was a detective with the Inkster Police Department. Jackson wrote, “after I explained everything in detail to my father, he told me to keep my mouth closed, and don’t mention what I saw to anybody, because he would take care of the situation and he did not want me placing my life in danger.”

Without holding an evidentiary hearing, Judge Victoria Roberts granted Clark’s petition on July 3, 2018 and ordered a new trial. The state appealed Roberts’s ruling, and Clark sought release from prison on bond.

On February 20, 2019, Roberts held a bond hearing that also provided a chance to assess Jackson’s credibility. She testified that she had come forward years after the killing and after her stepfather died in 2014 because it was the right thing to do. She said she was scared then and scared now. She said she knew Clark before the murder, but only as a neighbor.

But Jackson had declined to cooperate with the Conviction Integrity Unit of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office because she thought its investigators had been disrespectful and portrayed her as homeless. In addition, attorneys for the state questioned Jackson’s motives, noting that she had spoken by telephone with Clark 10 times in the year after making her affidavit in 2015.

Roberts granted Clark’s release on bond on February 28, 2019. Three weeks later, on March 22, 2019, he was returned to prison, after the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed Roberts’s order granting the petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The appellate court didn’t say Clark’s claims were invalid, just that Roberts had been wrong to grant the petition without holding an evidentiary hearing.

While Roberts scheduled and then rescheduled these evidentiary hearings, the Wayne County CIU continued to investigate the innocence claims of Clark and Harrington. These claims were largely centered around three affidavits presented by the Michigan Innocence Clinic.

In two of the affidavits, new witnesses said they had seen the shooting, and that it had happened on the morning of September 27, not on September 26, as Stewart had initially told police and Jackson had stated in her affidavit. They also said the man who shot Martin was Sherrod Miller, a drug dealer who died in 2009 and went by the nickname “Fester.”

“I did not come forward to tell the police that they had arrested the wrong man because I was scared for my safety and the safety of my little brother, who I was raising at the time,” said Nicole Williams, who said she saw the shooting on September 27 and had only spoken up after encouragement from her pastor. “I feared that Fester, or people close to him, would retaliate against me if they heard that I was talking to the police. I knew Fester saw me right before shooting. I was the only person who would know first-hand that Fester killed Cheeseburger.”

In another affidavit, Montez Murphy said he was close friends with Miller’s little brother, Rodney, and that Sherrod Miller had told Murphy in either 2002 or 2003 that he had killed Martin. “Because Rodney was my best friend and Sherrod was his older brother, I did not report this information to the police,” Murphy said.

At a status conference on March 17, 2020, Valerie Newman, the director of the Wayne County CIU, told Roberts that her office was nearly finished with the investigation and would be recommending to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy that Clark either be exonerated or receive a new trial. Two weeks later, on March 30, Clark’s attorneys filed an emergency motion for his release on bond. They noted that the COVID-19 pandemic was sweeping through Michigan and striking particularly hard at prisons, where conditions and regulations made it nearly impossible to practice social distancing. Clark, they argued, was a low flight risk; he had behaved properly during his brief release in 2019 and returned voluntarily to prison after the court of appeals ruled against him.

Roberts held a Zoom bond hearing on April 8, 2020, the day after an inmate at Clark’s prison died from the coronavirus. At the hearing, Newman outlined the potential police misconduct and other problems with the case. Stewart had testified repeatedly that Abdallah had coerced her into falsely accusing Harrington and Clark. In addition, CIU investigators had interviewed a woman named Tyrhonda Moore who was with Clark during the time when Martin was killed. After Clark was arrested, Moore went to the police and gave a statement that accounted for much of Clark’s activities during the time of the murder. Abdallah held her in jail and threatened to arrest her for lying. Clark’s attorneys had tried to use Moore as a witness at the fourth trial in an attempt to discredit Abdallah’s testimony, but Jones had not allowed her to testify.

“We’re just tying up loose ends at this point,” said Newman, “but we believe based on Miss Moore and Miss Williams and some of the other things we found in the files, what appears to be a pretty pervasive pattern by Detective Abdallah to intimidate and coerce people in this case, that even if you believe anything Miss Stewart said at this point in terms of implicating them, it's certainly not credible enough to sustain the current conviction, let alone to have a new trial where she would be your key witness.”

Roberts granted Clark an emergency release on bond on April 9, 2020. On April 21, 2020, Judge Shannon Walker of Wayne County Circuit Court approved an order agreed to by prosecutors and attorneys for both men that vacated their convictions and dismissed their charges. Harrington was released from prison that day. Both men went into self-imposed quarantine upon their release.

Harrington told the Detroit Free-Press that he was offered a plea deal to serve seven years before the start of his fourth trial. He turned it down.

“My mother always told me something when I was a child: ‘If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything,’” Harrington said. “That was something that I could never agree to knowing that I was innocent of this crime.”

Clark said, “I always just held on because I knew one day the truth would prevail.”

After their exonerations, Clark and Harrington filed claims for state compensation. In October 2020, Clark was awarded $853,859, and Harrington was awarded $753,171. In early 2021, he and Harrington jointly filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against the city of Inkster, Abadallah and another detective, seeking compensation for their wrongful conviction.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 4/30/2020
Last Updated: 1/5/2021
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2002
Sentence:Life without parole
Age at the date of reported crime:31
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No