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Waleed Isho

Other Wayne County, Michigan CIU exonerations
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Waleed_Isho.jpeg
A few minutes after 10 p.m. on July 27, 1989, a man tossed a dynamite bomb through the open front door of a Total gas station at Seven Mile Road and Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan. Four people were inside and managed to escape, three with non-fatal injuries and one unharmed. A man sitting in a car outside the building suffered cuts from flying glass when the blast blew out all of the windows and rocked the foundation. The building was declared a total loss.

On August 16, 1989, Detroit police arrested 21-year-old Waleed “Tony” Isho and charged him with conspiracy, assault with intent to commit murder, and placing explosives with intent to cause injury.

In February 1990, Isho went to trial in Wayne County Circuit Court. The prosecution presented evidence that residue recovered from the bomb crater, which was six inches deep and 18 inches by 20 inches wide, contained components found in dynamite.

Michelle Brown, who was 19, testified that she was a friend of the station cashier, Felicia McCalvin, and was at the station waiting for McCalvin to give her a ride home. She said she was standing in the doorway when the bomb was lobbed over her head. She said she saw sparks coming from the bag and yelled that it was a bomb and ran outside. Seconds later, the bomb exploded. She was unable to identify Isho as the bomber, although she said he “looked like” the bomber.

McCalvin, who was 19, testified that she was behind the protective glass shield that surrounded her office when she saw Isho throw a bag into the station. When Brown yelled there was a bomb, she ran out a rear door. The bomb went off when she was outside. She said that as she came out, a car almost hit her.

McCalvin, who had worked at the station for about a month, said that she didn’t know Isho by name, but recognized him as the bomber. She said he came into the station several times a day to buy cigarettes, soda and other items. During cross-examination, Isho’s defense attorney noted that Isho didn’t smoke and in fact worked in his brother’s party store where he could get all of the items for free that McCalvin said he came in to purchase.

The gas station manager, 27-year-old Charles Naji, testified that he was at the station before the bomb went off. Naji said that he drove there with his cousin, 30-year-old Martin Nwosu and Nwosu’s 25-year-old wife, Marsha. Naji said he was putting gas in his car while Marsha Nwosu went inside to use the employee bathroom at the rear of the station. Naji said that while he didn’t see the face of the bomber, he recognized Isho from the rear as he ran after tossing the bomb.

Naji, a native of Nigeria, said that he had clashed with Isho in the past over a pay telephone that once was next to the station. Naji said that Isho and other youths from the neighborhood—known as Chaldean Town—were constantly using the phone and causing disturbances. As a result, he had the phone removed.

Chaldean Town was a neighborhood historically populated by Chaldean Catholic immigrants from Iraq and Turkey. Relations between Chaldeans and Black residents in Detroit had been a source of tension and violence in the aftermath of the 1967 riot, which had been triggered by a police raid on an after-hours bar. The riot lasted five days and resulted in more than 40 deaths, more than 1,000 people injured, and more than 7,000 arrests.

Marsha Nwosu testified that she was covered in debris in the bathroom when the blast occurred, but was not seriously injured and managed to get out of the building on her own.

Emmet Williams was a 67-year-old security guard who worked at the station to prevent shoplifting and to ensure the premises were safe. He said he was inside the station when the bomb came sailing in. When he saw the sparks, he ran outside. He suffered cuts from flying glass.

Isho’s defense attorney presented four witnesses who testified they were with Isho on the night of the bombing. Rafid Maya told the jury that he worked at a video store and had rented “Kinijite,” a movie starring Charles Bronson. Maya said that his girlfriend, Margaret Neuville, picked him up after work. She was accompanied by her sister, Patricia, as well as Isho and his girlfriend, Kara Struski. After getting takeout food, they went to Maya’s house where they watched the movie.

After the movie ended, the television news came on, Maya said. It was a repeat of the 10 p.m. news broadcast and the lead story was the bombing of the gas station. Maya said everyone there was stunned because it was a station where they had purchased gasoline in the past and was located only about three miles from where Isho lived.

The prosecution noted that when Maya was first questioned, he said he saw the news broadcast of the bombing at noon the day after the bombing. In addition, he never mentioned that he was with Isho, saying only that he was with Struski and Margaret Neuville on the night of the bombing.

Maya said that he didn’t immediately recall that night when police showed up at his door and began asking him questions. He said that later that day, he called Margaret and she reminded him that they were together with Isho and saw the news report at 2 a.m. Maya said that he and Margaret then drove to the police station and gave another statement. Maya said he knew that he, Isho, and their girlfriends had gotten together, but just didn’t recall it immediately.

Margaret and Patricia Neuville, as well as Struski, also testified. Margaret said she and Patricia also picked up Isho from his brother’s store in Frasier, Michigan, before driving to Maya’s house in Berkley, Michigan. Margaret and Patricia recounted how they watched the movie and saw the news broadcast. Margaret testified that after they watched the news, she and Patricia drove home, dropping Isho and Struski off at their homes along the way. She said she was home by 3 a.m. Margaret also described how Maya had called her and she had refreshed his memory about the night of the bombing.

The defense presented telephone records showing calls made to the video store from Margaret’s phone, as well as a call made to Maya after 3 a.m.—which she said she always made when she got home to let Maya know she was safely home.

Margaret said the date also was memorable because she had purchased a new car a day earlier on July 26, 1989. She presented the purchase papers for the car to corroborate her testimony.

During closing argument, the prosecution contended that Maya and the other defense witnesses had collaborated to provide an alibi for Isho. Maya’s initial statement—that Isho was not with him on the night of the bombing—was correct, the prosecution declared.

On February 12, 1990, the jury deliberated for 20 minutes before convicting Isho of conspiracy and placing an explosive with the intent to cause injury. He also was convicted of four counts of assault with intent to commit murder of Marsha Nwosu, Felicia McCalvin, Michelle Brown, and Emmett Williams. He was sentenced to eight to 20 years in prison. Isho was released on parole on September 28, 2002. By that time, he had been denied parole six times because he refused to admit to being the bomber.

In 2019, a nurse who attended a Bible study group asked another member of the group, attorney Marvie Neubauer, if she would help the nurse’s friend—Isho—who was fighting the the government's effort to deport him to Iraq because of his conviction. Although Neubauer did not do criminal defense work (she was a probate lawyer), she agreed to look into the case. Neubauer, who also was a biomedical engineer, began researching not only the case, but the geographical area where the bombing occurred.

She discovered that during the 1980s, a fierce battle was being waged over drugs by members of two Chaldean families seeking to control certain territories. At the time, there were nine bombings of businesses, including the gas station, and five of the bombings occurred after Isho had been arrested.

As part of her investigation, she located Michelle Brown. Brown gave a sworn affidavit saying that McCalvin was not physically able to see the bomber from her location inside the cashier’s office behind the bullet-proof glass. Brown also said that McCalvin told her that Naji, the station manager, paid McCalvin $2,500 to identify Isho as the bomber.

In 2020, Neubauer asked the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) to re-examine Isho’s case. During that investigation, McCalvin admitted that she had been paid $2,500. The CIU investigation uncovered evidence of other bombings with the same type of explosive devices as was used to bomb the Total gas station. Two other individuals had been connected at the time to those specific explosives. Neither was associated with Isho. In addition, residents of the Chaldean community told the CIU that Isho was not involved in the crime, and that there was a major war involving murders and bombings going on at the time between the two Chaldean families.

On November 24, 2020, Valerie Newman, the head of the CIU, filed a motion asking that Isho’s convictions be vacated. The motion was granted and the charges were dismissed. With the dismissal of the case, the convictions that prompted federal authorities to seek Isho’s deportation were erased.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/16/2021
Last Updated: 2/16/2021
State:Michigan
County:Wayne
Most Serious Crime:Attempted Murder
Additional Convictions:Other Violent Felony, Conspiracy
Reported Crime Date:1989
Convicted:1990
Exonerated:2020
Sentence:8 to 20 years
Race/Ethnicity:White
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:21
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No