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Desirae Glatfelter

Other Kent County, Michigan exonerations
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Desirae_Glatfelter.jpeg
At about 10 p.m. on November 15, 2016, police were called to a domestic dispute at a home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There, police discovered 35-year-old Aaron Hollowell holding a grape-sized piece of his tongue. He said that 29-year-old Desirae Glatfelter, his live-in girlfriend, bit off the end of his tongue during an argument.

Glatfelter told police that they were arguing over Hollowell’s infidelity when he grabbed her. She said when she felt something in her mouth, she thought it was his finger and she bit it.

Although Glatfelter said that Hollowell had previously attacked her and that she reacted spontaneously when she felt she was being assaulted, police took her into custody. She was charged with criminal mayhem, a crime which carried a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Glatfelter went to trial in Kent County Circuit Court in July 2017. Prior to the trial, Glatfelter’s attorney sought to present evidence relating to Hollowell’s prior convictions for assaulting other girlfriends. That motion was denied, although the prosecution agreed to allow the presentation of evidence relating to Hollowell’s convictions for felony home invasion and misdemeanor domestic violence several months earlier against Glatfelter.

Hollowell testified that on November 15, 2016, Glatfelter accused him of having an affair. He denied it and during the dispute, he attempted to calm her down by physically restraining Glatfelter in a “bear hug.” Hollowell testified that while doing so, he also gave her a French kiss, something he claimed that he had done previously during what he described as sensitive moments in their four-year relationship. However, Glatfelter responded to by biting off part of his tongue, he said.

During questioning by the prosecution, Hollowell minimized his physical interaction with Glatfelter. But during cross-examination, he admitted that he put his hands on Glatfelter’s body, including onto her face and shoulders. He also admitted that Glatfelter had not been calm when he kissed her. Hollowell also admitted that about eight months prior to this night, he pled guilty to felony home invasion and misdemeanor domestic violence charges for breaking into the home and dislocating Glatfelter’s shoulder by forcing her to the floor.

The prosecution also called three of the police officers who came to the scene. The jury was shown body camera video footage. Despite redactions, two of the videos were 17 minutes long, one was 14 minutes long, and the fourth was 11 minutes long.

Glatfelter’s defense attorney objected to the admission of the videos because the prosecution only turned them over to the defense on the morning of their intended use. The trial judge asked whether the defense wanted further redaction and the lawyer said, “We’d like none of them used.” However, the lawyer agreed to allow the videos to presented and did not object that the videos were unfairly prejudicial to Glatfelter.

The videos—much of them duplicative—showed Glatfelter becoming enraged when police said they were arresting her and taking her away from her children. She protested that Hollowell was the aggressor, and said that he had attacked and injured her shoulder months earlier. She told the officers that Hollowell made undesired sexual advances toward her that evening and put his hands all over her and in her face. She explained that when something came into her mouth, she believed it was Hollowell’s finger and she “just bit.” The videos also showed Glatfelter as she was being taken to the jail and placed in a cell.

Prior to the trial, Glatfelter’s attorney sought to call an expert in domestic abuse and sexual assault victim behavior. However, the trial judge ruled the expert could not be called as a witness because the defense had missed the deadline for disclosing the names of experts.

After the prosecution presented its evidence, the defense asked the judge to allow such an expert to testify in rebuttal. The judge denied that request, ruling that the testimony would not differ from the testimony of the expert that had been barred from testifying because of the pretrial failure to give proper notice to the prosecution.

During closing argument, the prosecution played nine segments of the videos which showed Glatfelter in an unfavorable light. On July 27, 2017, the jury acquitted Glatfelter of the felony criminal mayhem charge, but convicted her of a lesser offense of aggravated domestic violence, a misdemeanor. She was sentenced to a year in jail.

On appeal, the Michigan Court of Appeals remanded the case for a hearing on a claim that Glatfelter’s attorney had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to properly notify the prosecution of the expert prior to trial and by failing to object to the videos on the ground that the recordings were unfairly prejudicial to Glatfelter.

Following a hearing, the trial court ruled that Glatfelter had received a fair trial and her lawyer had provided an adequate legal defense.

On May 25, 2018, Glatfelter was released after serving her sentence.

In August 2019, the court of appeals reversed that ruling, vacated Glatfelter’s conviction, and ordered a new trial. The appeals court ruled that the defense should have provided the proper notice to call the expert on domestic abuse and that the trial judge was wrong to deny the defense motion to call such a witness after the prosecution completed its evidence. “We also find that the trial court abused its discretion by not permitting defendant to present the testimony of an unlisted expert rebuttal witness to assist the jury to understand how victims of domestic violence act under certain circumstances so that they could be fully enabled to decide whether defendant acted justifiably in self-defense or committed the charged offense,” the court said.

“The proposed expert witness testimony could have enabled [defense] counsel to argue to the jury how victims of domestic violence act counterintuitively in some circumstances, a particularly important component of defendant’s theory of defense,” the appeals court said. “Presentation of such expert testimony likely would have enabled the jury members in this case to understand how and why [Glatfelter] acted as she did under the circumstances.”

The appeals court also said the defense should have objected to the videos as prejudicial. The court noted that portions of the videos did show Glatfelter’s side of the story “when she told the responding officers what precipitated her action, which supported her self-defense theory at trial, that Hollowell assaulted her first and she bit him in response to his aggressive unconsented actions.” The court said that other parts of the videos showed that Glatfelter “properly responded to directions from the officers by respectfully calming down when asked to do so” and also showed her “expressing her primary concern for her children’s welfare.”

Glatfelter’s demeanor “only changed when the officers indicated that they intended to arrest her and not Hollowell. The record reflects that defense counsel emphasized these positive features as part of presenting defendant’s defense.”

But, the court said that Glatfelter was prejudiced by the admission of repeated portions of the videos that showed Glatfelter’s “escalated emotional response long after the commission of the charged offense and her transport to jail.” Those videos injected considerations “extraneous to the case highly likely to invoke the jury’s bias, sympathy, anger, or shock,” the court ruled.

The appeals court also ruled that aggravated domestic violence was not a lesser included offense to criminal mayhem and that the trial judge should not have allowed the prosecution request to instruct the jury that it could convict Glatfelter of that charge.

On February 10, 2020, the prosecution dismissed the charge.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/13/2020
Last Updated: 7/13/2020
State:Michigan
County:Kent
Most Serious Crime:Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2016
Convicted:2017
Exonerated:2020
Sentence:1 year
Race:Black
Sex:Female
Age at the date of reported crime:29
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No