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Herbert Alford

Other Ingham County, Michigan exonerations
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Herbert_Alford.jpeg
A few minutes before 3 p.m. on October 18, 2011, 23-year-old Michael Adams was shot once in the back as he ran through a parking lot of a strip mall at 3434 Pleasant Grove Avenue in Lansing, Michigan.

When police arrived, a small crowd had gathered around the body. Officers attempted to interview them, but with little success. However, one witness who declined to be interviewed, provided a slip of paper with a license plate number from a vehicle the gunman had entered after the shooting. A computer check identified the vehicle as a green 2002 Dodge Durango registered to Willine Pentecost.

A police bulletin was broadcast with a description of the car and a description of the gunman as a Black man with braids. Later, at the hospital where Adams was pronounced dead, his mother told police she suspected the gunman was a man named “Herb,” a Black man with braids.

Meanwhile, police said that Jessie Bridges, a police informant, reported that he saw the shooting and that the gunman was 38-year-old Herbert Alford. Bridges later denied that he saw the shooting. Police determined that Alford had been living with Pentecost, but officers were unable to locate him. A photograph of Alford was sent to Crime Stoppers and it was shared with local media.

The following day, Shalissa Kittle reported to police that she was in a car in the parking lot and saw Adams get shot. Kittle said that she was watching the evening television news and recognized the photograph of Alford as a man she saw run toward a Green Durango in the parking lot after the shooting. Kittle was a passenger in a car driven by Curtis Lewis and they were at the lot to buy drugs. Their dealer was in the back seat when Adams was shot and bailed out. Kittle said she and Lewis had left the parking lot immediately.

In October 2011, the Durango was found in a parking lot in Lansing. There were no license plates on the vehicle. Police dusted for fingerprints and swabbed several locations in the interior of the vehicle for DNA testing.

In May 2015, the case remained unsolved when police arrested Gilbert Bailey on charges of selling drugs and firearms violations. Bailey, who was Pentecost’s son, immediately cut a deal with police. He provided information on Alford’s whereabouts and in return, he pled guilty to one charge and five other felony charges were dismissed.

On May 26, 2015, Alford was arrested. He was charged with open murder, felon in possession of a firearm, and use of a firearm during commission of a felony.

During a preliminary examination, Bridges recanted his identification of Alford and claimed police had offered him $1,500 to falsely implicate Alford. The lead detective in the case, Lee McCallister, said that Bridges not only said he saw Alford shoot Adams, but he also identified Alford in a photographic lineup. McCallister denied he offered Bridges $1,500.

Prior to Alford’s trial, his defense attorneys, Jamie White and Alexander Rusek, attempted to obtain rental car records from Hertz Corporation. The lawyers said that Alford was at Capital Region International Airport in Lansing renting a car at 3 p.m., just minutes after the shooting.

At a pretrial hearing in January 2016, White reported that he had served a subpoena on Hertz in June 2015 for records, but Hertz had never responded. At a hearing in April 2016, Rusek reported that although Hertz had been ordered to appear in March, company officials had failed to appear. Although the judge said he would not hold Hertz in contempt of court, he said he would order Hertz to produce the records.

On November 30, 2016, White reported that Hertz still had not complied. Although White said he was not requesting a delay, he also said he needed the records for his defense. The trial started five days later on December 5 in Ingham County Circuit Court without the records.

There was no physical or forensic evidence connecting Alford to the crime. A Michigan State police crime lab analyst testified that one swab from the Durango was tested. Three DNA profiles were isolated, one of which was Alford’s. The analyst told the jury that “it was at least 1.9 septillion times more likely that the observed DNA profile from the front driver's side door swab originated from Herbert Alford and two unrelated unknown contributors than if the data originated from three unrelated unknown contributors.”

Alford’s attorneys contended the test results were meaningless because Alford regularly drove the vehicle since he was in a relationship with Pentecost, the vehicle’s owner.

Curtis Lewis testified that he and Kittle drove to the parking lot to buy crack cocaine. After the dealer from whom Lewis was going to buy drugs got into the back seat, Lewis said, he saw an argument erupt between two people on the sidewalk in front of a barber shop that was located near Von’s Market.

Lewis said he then saw a short man, who turned out to be Adams, run past the car and a taller slim man chasing him. Lewis said the taller man shot Adams in the back. The gunman, Lewis said, then got into the rear passenger seat of the Durango. Another man was waiting in the driver’s seat. Another man got into the front passenger seat and the vehicle sped out of the lot. Lewis said he did not recognize any of them. Lewis said the dealer bolted from the back seat. Lewis said he drove out of the lot. He admitted he was unable to identify the gunman from a photographic lineup that included Alford’s photograph. He also admitted that he had been free-basing cocaine since 2 a.m. and was there to buy more.

Kittle testified that she was in the passenger seat next to Lewis. She maintained that they were there to buy marijuana, not cocaine. She said she saw Adams run past the car at a distance of about two car lengths. He said she heard gunshots and saw Adams grab his back and fall. She said the gunman got into the Durango, which sped off.

She testified that Alford was the gunman and that she recognized him after seeing his photograph on the television news.

Lansing police detective Damien Manson testified that in May 2015, he was investigating Gilbert Bailey for drug trafficking. After making controlled undercover purchases of cocaine and heroin, Manson and other officers executed a search warrant at Bailey’s house. During that search, Bailey told Manson that he knew where Alford was living. On May 26, 2015, based on Bailey’s information, Alford was arrested, Manson said.

Bailey testified and gave varying accounts of his activities on the day of the crime. He said that Alford drove him to True Styles and Fades barber shop in the strip mall and then drove him back home. He said he subsequently went to attend a business class at Phoenix University on Lake Lansing Road. Later, while getting a ride home, he said he began getting text messages from his cousin saying that Adams had been killed.

Bailey gave different times and different accounts of how he got from place to place. He admitted that Pentecost was his mother and that he did not get along with Alford. He said that Alford refused to contribute to the rent and that Alford was having an affair with a different family member—Bailey’s aunt.

Bailey testified that on the morning of the day of the crime, he heard Alford telling Pentecost that he had been robbed of 50 pounds of marijuana and that he was trying to identify the thief.

Bailey told the jury that on the day of the crime, Alford suggested he get a haircut and offered to pay for it. Bailey said Alford drove him to the barbershop in a rental car. He said Alford was outside talking to people while Bailey was getting his haircut.

Later that afternoon, according to Bailey, he saw Alford driving the Durango and the Durango was “flying.”

Bailey said immediately after learning of the murder, his mother and other family members moved to Detroit—they were gone by the time he got home from school. He said he assumed they feared retaliation from the family of the victim, Michael Adams. Two months later, while in Detroit at Pentecost’s house, Bailey said Alford was there briefly and left. He had cut his braids, Bailey said.

Six months later, Bailey said he saw Alford again with another man at Pentecost’s home. The man and Alford went into the basement. Bailey said he overheard Alford talking about the crime.

“I heard him say he had to kill him because even though it wasn't his stuff, he still had to pay somebody back for it,” Bailey testified.

Bailey also said that he heard Alford talk about the shooting at a barbeque at Pentecost’s home on another occasion. Bailey quoted Alford as saying “that he just confronted the guy. And the guy said he did have some weed or whatnot. And it went from there. He just wanted to get back what was his.”

“Do you recall him saying anything else?” asked the prosecutor, Michael Cheltenham.

“He wanted to get back what was his,” Bailey testified. “He shot [Adams] because [Alford] wanted his stuff.”

Bailey admitted that he had made a deal with the prosecution to testify against Alford. In exchange, he was allowed to plead guilty to maintaining a drug house, which was the least serious charge he faced. Five other felonies, including possession of a firearm, manufacture and sale of cocaine, possession of marijuana and distribution of marijuana, were dismissed.

“There was a couple more,” Bailey said. “The agreement that I recall was [the prosecution] would give me probation as long as I came to all the court proceedings…regarding this case.”

During closing argument, defense attorney White told the jury that Kittle’s identification was suspect because she saw Alford’s photograph during a television report saying he was wanted for the shooting. White said Bailey was “a pathological liar…And the only honest thing you heard from him, ladies and gentlemen, over the course of the last week is when Mr. Cheltenham asked him, ‘Are you a criminal?’ And he looked up and said, ‘Yep.’”

On December 13, 2016, the jury convicted Alford of second-degree murder, using a firearm in the commission of a felony, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to 32 years and five months to 62 years and five months in prison.

Attorney Daniel Bremer filed an appeal on behalf of Alford and asked that the Michigan Appellate Court remand the case back to the trial court for a hearing so that Hertz could be forced to disclose the records relating to Alford’s rental.

In February 2018, the motion to remand was granted. Bremer again sought the records from Hertz. The first response, in a letter dated March 7, 2018, was from Carolyn Fry, a senior legal assistant. Bremer said Fry said a search was conducted and no records were found. Bremer said Fry claimed that the records would have been purged since they were from 2011. Bremer insisted that a representative of Hertz appear at a hearing on the motion for new trial. A few days before the hearing on March 16, Hertz finally produced the records.

Bremer than filed an amended motion for new trial saying that the records showed that Alford rented a car at the Hertz facility at the airport at approximately 3 p.m.

“This was five minutes after Officer Richard Thomas said that he was dispatched to 3434 Pleasant Grove in Lansing concerning a shooting incident,” the motion said. “According to Google Maps, the airport is 7.9 miles from 3434 Pleasant Grove and the driving time is 19 minutes by the fastest route.”

In June 2018, the prosecution opposed the motion, claiming that records from Alford’s cell phone, which were not introduced at the trial, showed his phone pinging off cell phone towers near the shooting at approximately 2:29 p.m. and traveling north to the airport, pinging off towers along the way at 2:58 p.m., 3:04 p.m. and 3:06 p.m. “Had [Alford] been at Hertz at 3:06 or 3:07 p.m., that would have been sufficient time to travel from the location of the shooting to Hertz at the Lansing airport,” the prosecution said.

On August 6, 2018, Circuit Court Judge Clinton Canady III granted the motion for a new trial and vacated Alford’s convictions.

“This Court finds that the new evidence makes a different result probable on retrial because it could have significantly aided Defendant in refuting the prosecution’s contention that Defendant was the man who chased and gunned down the victim,” Judge Canady declared. “The newly discovered evidence could serve to create new suspects, could serve to impeach witnesses’ testimony, and render all the other evidence less than enough to convict beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In response to the prosecution argument that cell phone records showed there was enough time for Alford to kill Adams and get to the airport, Judge Canady said, “This Court finds that this is a question of fact for the jury to decide.”

Attorneys White and Rusek, who represented Alford at the first trial, were appointed to handle a second trial. On February 19, 2020, Alford was released on bond pending a retrial. On December 8, 2020, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

Defense attorney White issued a statement saying, “We believed in his innocence the entire time, and we‘re happy prosecutors finally conceded there wasn’t proof of his guilt.”

Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon said in a statement to the media, “We do not believe that we can prove Mr. Alford’s legal culpability by the ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard….We have an ethical burden not to present cases that we do not believe can be proven at trial, regardless of any ambiguity about what happened on October 29, 2011.”

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 1/29/2021
Last Updated: 2/1/2021
State:Michigan
County:Ingham
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Gun Possession or Sale, Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:2011
Convicted:2016
Exonerated:2020
Sentence:32 years five months to 62 years five months
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:38
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No