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Quinn Poindexter

Other Wayne County Exonerations with Inadequate Legal Defense
At around 2 a.m. on January 11, 2000, Timothy Huff was shot several times near his house as he walked back from a liquor store in Detroit, Michigan.

Huff was left blind by the shootings, and he was writhing on the ground and bleeding heavily when police arrived. The officers asked Huff who shot him, and he pointed across the street and said, “It’s the third house.”

Quinn Poindexter, then 29 years old, lived in that house. Huff would later testify that he didn’t know why Poindexter shot him; he said they had never had a dispute.

Police searched the crime scene for clues. They found a .45-caliber shell casing. A few weeks later, police questioned Poindexter and another man, Walter Petty, about an unrelated shooting. Petty told the police that Poindexter came to him after the shooting and said that he had found three men trying to break into his car. He said that he fired at them; they fired back. Petty said that Poindexter told him that the two men ran away, and one ended up getting shot.

Petty also told police that Poindexter had asked him to go talk to the police at the scene of the Huff shooting and find out what happened. When Petty returned, he said that Poindexter confided in him that he shot someone with an AK-47 rifle. Police later recovered a rifle at a house occasionally used by Petty. There’s no indication from available court records whether any ballistics testing was done with the weapon.

Poindexter was arrested on January 31, 2000, and charged with assault with intent to commit murder, assault with intent to commit great bodily harm less than murder, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony for the shooting that injured Huff.

Poindexter’s bench trial before Judge Patricia Perez Fresard of Wayne County Circuit Court began on February 5, 2001. His attorney was Robert Slameka.

Huff testified that as he returned from the liquor store, Poindexter came running down the porch steps of his house, waving a long gun and shooting “with no consideration, whatsoever, about who he shooting at.”

Huff testified that after he was shot twice, he fell to the ground. A neighbor named Cecilia Bettis came out and asked Huff who shot him. Huff testified that he did not mention Poindexter to Bettis at the time because he was worried he would return and shoot him again.

During cross-examination, Huff said he had drunk two 40-ounce beers that night. He also said that Poindexter had been at least 10 yards away from him when any shots were fired.

Bettis testified that she heard approximately six gunshots, then heard Huff’s voice. Bettis said she went outside and saw Poindexter on the front porch of his house with a phone in his hand. She said that Poindexter told her that he had called the police.

Petty was the state’s final witness. His testimony was confusing and often contradictory. He admitted to owning an AK-47, but also said that Poindexter had brought that weapon to a house about a mile from the shooting where he occasionally stayed. Other testimony suggested that he lived in the same house as Poindexter that Huff had pointed to. Petty said both that he and Poindexter weren’t close and also that Poindexter had access to everything in his other house.

At the close of the prosecution’s case, Slameka stipulated to the admission of Huff’s medical records, which mentioned a “tattooing amalgam” on his face. It was Slameka’s contention that this term indicated Huff had been shot at close range, contradicting his testimony about a shooting from at least 10 yards away.

Slameka did not present any expert witnesses to better explain this evidence, but in closing arguments he noted the medical report and asked the judge to make her own determination on the importance of the “tattooing” reference. Poindexter did not testify.

On February 6, 2001, Fresard convicted Poindexter of the lesser assault charge and the weapons charge. She sentenced him to between 15½ years and 22 years in prison. In her ruling, Fresard highlighted the problems with the case, noting that there was a strong possibility that Petty was the shooter.

Poindexter appealed, arguing that Slameka had provided ineffective assistance of counsel. First, he said that Slameka had failed to call two alibi witnesses – including his fiancée – who would have testified he was home at the time of the shooting. Second, Poindexter said that Slameka had failed to call two other witnesses who would have testified that Huff – as he lay on the ground bleeding – mentioned a man named “Red” as the shooter. In addition, Slameka should have presented expert testimony about the medical report to better explain the significance of the “tattooing amalgam.”

Finally, Poindexter noted that Slameka had a conflict of interest, because he had represented Petty in a previous case.

After a hearing on this evidence, Fresard rejected these claims. Poindexter then appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals, which also rejected his claims on October 21, 2003. The court said that Slameka’s decisions not to call the two defense witnesses and the alibi witnesses were both legitimate trial strategy. “Indeed, the alibi witnesses were residents in defendant’s home and had a motive to lie for defendant,” the court wrote.

The court also said that Slameka acted appropriately when not calling an expert to testify about Huff’s medical records. The appellate court said Poindexter was unable to show how the absence of this testimony harmed his defense.

In 2005, after exhausting his state claims, Poindexter filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, again asserting that Slameka provided ineffective assistance of counsel. His petition was later amended to include a supporting memorandum prepared by an attorney.

On May 30, 2007, Judge Avern Cohn granted Poindexter’s petition, vacating his conviction and ordering a new trial. He said the Michigan Court of Appeals had unreasonably applied the case law on ineffective assistance of counsel.

Cohn wrote that Slameka was wrong not to call the alibi witnesses, and his reasoning that their relationship with Poindexter made them flawed was unsound. “Excluding alibi witnesses based solely upon their close relationship to a defendant is unreasonable given that, by their very nature, most alibi witnesses have a relationship with the defendant,” Cohn wrote. “Trial counsel did not forego the alibi defense in favor of a better defense. An attorney’s decision not to a call a witness is protected as trial strategy only ‘to the extent the decision followed a reasonable investigation.’”

Cohn’s ruling criticized the Michigan Court of Appeals for misreading the evidence with regards to the potential defense witnesses who said that Huff said a man named “Red” shot him. The appellate court said these witnesses were ambivalent in their testimony. They weren’t, Cohn said. They were ambivalent about testifying, and Slameka should have worked harder to get them onto the witness stand.

Cohn also said the appellate court erred in its decision on the medical records, confusing the term “tattooing amalgam” with “amalgam tattoo,” which refers to a dental procedure. But he said it wasn’t clear that Poindexter would have been able to present better evidence than what was in the records about the distance between Huff and the gunman.

Following Cohn’s ruling, Poindexter was released from prison on September 24, 2007 on a $50,000 bond.

His retrial, this time before a jury, began on June 15, 2009 in Wayne County Circuit Court. He was now represented by Lillian Diallo, who presented evidence from Poindexter’s alibi witnesses and the other witnesses, as well as expert evidence about Huff’s injuries. The jury acquitted Poindexter on June 22, 2009.

Slameka was disbarred in 2018. He was also the trial attorney for exonerees Marvin Cotton and Davontae Sanford, who each said Slameka provided an inadequate legal defense.

After his acquittal, Poindexter successfully filed a claim for state compensation for his wrongful conviction.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 1/19/2021
Last Updated: 1/19/2021
Most Serious Crime:Assault
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:2000
Sentence:15 1/2 to 22 years
Age at the date of reported crime:29
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No