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Terance Calhoun

Other Wayne County, Michigan CIU exonerations
In the fall of 2006, the sexual assault prosecution of 19-year-old Terance Calhoun was wrapped up quickly by Detroit, Michigan police. After two victims of sexual assaults committed about a month apart identified him, Calhoun confessed, pled no contest, and was sentenced to 17 to 32 years in prison.

Case closed.

Except Calhoun was not guilty. His confession was false. And the proof was sitting in a file at the Detroit Police Department where it remained, unnoticed, for more than a decade.

Tragically, the evidence of his innocence—a DNA exclusion—was sent to the Detroit Police Department less than three months after Calhoun was sentenced to prison. For reasons that may never be explained, that report was not disclosed to Calhoun’s defense attorney.

On April 27, 2022, Calhoun was finally exonerated and released from prison as the result of the work of attorneys at the Michigan State Appellate Defender Office (SADO) and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU). At the same time, the CIU said the two crimes were committed by two separate men, one a serial rapist currently facing charges and the other currently in prison for sexual assaults.

The DNA report that excluded Calhoun was discovered in 2019 during a years-long project to eliminate a backlog of more than 10,000 untested rape kits. During an audit, the DNA test, dated June 15, 2007 was found.

Calhoun had pled no contest on February 21, 2007 to charges of criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping, attempted kidnapping and carrying a firearm in the commission of a felony. On March 28, 2007, Calhoun, who had no prior convictions, was sentenced to prison.

"A series of unfortunate events and a lot of very hard work by quite a few people led to my decision to exonerate Mr. Calhoun," Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement. "The decision, in this case, was the culmination of years of long work on this and unrelated cases. We will leave no stone unturned to get justice for defendants like Mr. Calhoun."

Valerie Newman, CIU director, declared, "Today is about the myriad of things that went wrong, that caused the wrongful conviction of an innocent person. There are so many things that happened in this case that are troubling, and while this is ostensibly a DNA exclusion case, there is a lot more going on here that supports Mr. Calhoun's innocence than just the exclusion from the condom."

The prosecution of Calhoun arose from two separate sexual assaults in Detroit.

On September 26, 2006, a 15-year-old girl was grabbed and sexually assaulted by a man near Fenkell Avenue and Blackstone Street. The victim said her attacker wore his hair in braids and had a “puzzle” tattoo on his arm.

On October 27, 2006, a 13-year-old girl was attacked less than a half mile away, near Fenkell Avenue and Patton Street. She said she was raped at gunpoint in an alley. She said the rapist used a condom. Police recovered a condom at the scene. Biological material was swabbed from inside and outside of the condom. The evidence was sent to ReliaGene Laboratory for DNA testing.

Based on descriptions from the victims, police created a composite sketch which was circulated within the department. At about noon on November 3, Calhoun, who had cognitive deficits, went to a liquor store to buy lottery tickets for his father. A police officer spotted him, believed Calhoun resembled the composite sketch, and took him into custody.

About 3 hours later, at 3:15 p.m., Detective Robert Kane reported that Calhoun had given a statement confessing to both crimes—although his hair was not in braids and he did not have a puzzle tattoo. About five hours later, the two victims viewed a photographic lineup, and both identified Calhoun as their attacker.

That same day, Calhoun signed a consent form to give his samples for DNA testing.

On November 5, he was arraigned on charges of criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping, attempted kidnapping and felony firearm. Court orders in both cases were signed requesting a forensic examination of Calhoun. On February, 21, 2007, the Center for Forensic Psychiatry issued a report concluding that Calhoun had cognitive deficiencies, but was legally competent to stand trial.

That same day, Calhoun pled no contest—meaning that he did not admit guilt, only that the prosecution had evidence sufficient to convict him. He pled no contest to attempted kidnapping in the September crime and was sentenced to 11 months to five years in prison. He pled no contest to criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping and felony firearm in the October crime and was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison. Both sentences were to be served concurrently, but an additional two year sentence was added for the firearm charge, resulting in a total sentence of 17 to 32 years.

On June 15, 2007, ReliaGene completed its DNA analysis of the biological samples taken from the condom. Calhoun was excluded. The report was addressed to the Detroit Police Department Forensic Sciences Section.

A few months later, in September 2007, Calhoun agreed to dismiss his appeal based on a lack of merit.

In January 2019, as part of the sexual assault kit review, a prosecutor reviewed Calhoun’s case. After finding the DNA test report, the prosecutor forwarded it to the state appellate defender. SADO attorney Michael Mittlestat arranged for Bode Technology to conduct additional DNA testing of the condom. By September 2019, Bode had confirmed the 2007 result of ReliaGene.

On January 10, 2022, the Michigan State Police reported that a search of the FBI DNA database linked the DNA profile from the condom to a man who “is currently charged with other sexual assault offenses in the Detroit area that are alleged to have occurred between 2007 and 2014.”

Ultimately, the CIU began re-investigating the case. The Cooley Innocence Project at Western Michigan University, which had partnered with the CIU on a grant-funded DNA project, reviewed the DNA test results along with the CIU.

Based on the description provided by the victim in the first of the two crimes, the attacker had braids and a puzzle tattoo. There was no DNA to test in this crime. The CIU conducted a national search of law enforcement databases. The CIU reported that the search “turned up only one individual with a puzzle tattoo on his arm. That individual is currently incarcerated in the Michigan Department of Corrections [for] sexual assault convictions.”

On April 22, 2022, satisfied that Calhoun was factually innocent of both crimes, Mittlestat, Newman and Cooley attorney David Williams, appeared in the courtroom of Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Kelly Ramsey with an agreed motion to vacate both convictions and dismiss the cases.

Justice, delayed by nearly 15 years, was at last within Calhoun’s grasp.

However, at the last minute, Detective Kane—who had taken Calhoun’s statement back in 2006, showed up and told Judge Ramsey he had “new evidence” of Calhoun’s guilt. Over the protests of Mittlestat and Newman, Ramsey postponed the dismissal until April 27.

Judge Ramsey said Kane met her in her courtroom that morning. He gave a binder and, according to Judge Ramsey, said: “Judge, you’ve got to look at this before you dismiss this case, you have to look at this evidence here.” Judge Ramsey said she referred Kane to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and did not review any of the documents.

Mittlestat said in a statement issued after the postponement: “Mr. Calhoun is innocent. DNA testing exonerates him and instead points to a suspected serial rapist. Mr. Calhoun should have been freed today. Instead, because a police officer acting alone with no authority could not face the facts, Mr. Calhoun remains wrongfully incarcerated, which is unconscionable. We have been informed that the information that the officer attempted to present to the judge today is nothing new and has already been thoroughly investigated.”

Newman said, “I just want to apologize to Mr. Calhoun and his family who traveled in from out of state to be here today to assist him and to all the defense attorneys because it just happened this morning…I had been diligently trying to deal with this by contacting the Detroit Police Department chief himself because this is so highly inappropriate. It has never happened before. And to me, I just have to say it is absolutely outrageous conduct on behalf of this police officer."

On April 27, when the parties convened again, Newman reviewed the entire case and all of the evidence. She again chastised Kane for attempting to derail the case. At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Ramsey signed the order vacating the convictions and dismissing the cases.

Calhoun was released into the arms of his family, some of whom had traveled from Tennessee, where Calhoun, now 35, said he intended to restart his life as a free man.

Calhoun filed a claim for compensation from the state of Michigan in November 2022. He received $754,815 in compensation in March 2023. In January, 2024, Calhoun filed a federal lawsuit against the Detroit police department.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/2/2022
Last Updated: 1/26/2024
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:Kidnapping, Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:2006
Sentence:17 to 32 years
Age at the date of reported crime:19
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False Confession
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes