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Mark Craighead

Other Michigan Exonerations with False Confessions
At about 2:35 a.m. on June 27, 1997, police in Redford Township, Michigan, a western suburb of Detroit, responded to a call of a vehicle fire and found a Chevy Tahoe in flames.

The vehicle belonged to 26-year-old Chole Pruett. Later that day, police found Pruett’s body at his apartment near downtown Detroit. Pruett had been shot four times with a .44-caliber weapon, and police recovered the slugs from Pruett’s apartment. There were no signs of forced entry. Police found two other sizes of ammunition in the apartment. They also found a .38-caliber gun in the Tahoe.

Detectives with the Detroit Police Department interviewed Pruett’s friends and family, including 38-year-old Mark Craighead, one of Pruett’s closest friends. Craighead said he and Pruett had drinks at a restaurant on June 25 or 26, just before Craighead started his job working the nightshift at the Sam’s Club in Farmington Hills, a northern suburb. Officers interviewed Craighead again in 1999, and he told them the same thing. The Sam’s Club was about 12 miles away from Redford.

Nearly three years later, after the officer in charge of the investigation had moved to another position, other detectives took over the case. Reading through the files, they would later testify, they saw what they considered to be inconsistencies in Craighead’s statements.

On June 20, 2000, two officers went to Craighead’s home and asked him to come to police headquarters for a third interview. Craighead had just come off of a shift at an auto plant, and he asked the officers if he could talk to them at the station tomorrow. The officers said they preferred to do the interview without delay.

There is disagreement about what happened next. The officers would later testify that Craighead went willingly. Craighead, his brother, and a friend would later testify that Craighead had no choice; they said the officers indicated that if Craighead didn’t comply, they would send an unmarked cruiser, known as a “scout car,” to pick him up.

Craighead arrived at the police station around 7 p.m. and was kept overnight. At 11:17 a.m. on June 21, Investigator Barbara Simon began interviewing Craighead. At the time, Simon was seen as one of the police department’s best interrogators, with a reputation for getting suspects to confess and witnesses to name names. Simon would later testify that Craighead quickly confessed to shooting Pruett.

According to the statement that Simon wrote down, Craighead said, in part: “We got into an argument. I can’t recall what the argument was about. Chole had a gun. We got to fighting over the gun. I got the gun away from Chole. I panicked and I fired the gun. After Chole was shot, I didn’t know what to do. I ran out of the apartment. I went home. I was scared. I didn’t know what to do.”

Craighead said in the statement that he took Pruett’s Tahoe and drove it to Redford. He didn’t know what happened to the gun and said he and Pruett had never fought before.

Pruett’s statement, as written by Simon, was done in question-and-answer form. Craighead initialed each section. The interview ended at 11:50 a.m. Craighead was charged with murder.

Craighead’s jury trial in Wayne County Circuit Court began on June 20, 2002, with Judge Vera Massey Jones presiding. The state’s case was built around Craighead’s statement. Craighead’s defense was two-fold. First, he said that Simon had tricked him in a moment of weakness to sign a false statement. Second, he couldn’t have shot Pruett because that night he was working at Sam’s Club, 24 miles away from Pruett’s apartment.

At the trial, a medical examiner testified that Pruett had been shot four times: in the neck, twice in the back, and once in the right thigh. The medical examiner also testified that she found no evidence of “stippling” or “tattooing” on Pruett’s skin, which suggested Pruett had been shot from at least two feet away.

During her testimony, Simon said she saw Craighead on June 20 but did not speak with him until June 21. She testified that Craighead quickly volunteered to give her a statement, which she said she recorded verbatim. She read the statement to the jury.

On cross-examination, Craighead’s attorney, Steven Fishman, asked Simon whether she had developed skills in interviewing people. Simon said yes.

“And sometimes people bring you in where somebody else has talked with someone, and for whatever reason, they’re not satisfied, they bring you in to talk to them, isn’t that true?” Fishman asked.

“Correct,” said Simon.

Fishman walked Simon through the questions she said she asked Craighead, the answers she said Craighead supplied, and the lack of follow-up questions. Simon acknowledged that she didn’t ask Craighead how many times he shot Pruett, what he did with the gun, or whether he had set fire to Pruett’s SUV.

“When he said that he panicked and he fired the gun, did you ever ask him how many times did he fire the gun?”

“He said he fired the gun. No”

Wouldn’t that have been something you would have been interested in; did he fire it once, did he fire it ten times, or not?”

“Yes, but I didn’t ask him.”

There was no evidence introduced at trial indicating why the police circled back to Craighead three years after Pruett’s death. James Fisher, a homicide investigator, testified about going to Craighead’s home on June 20, 2020, and asking Craighead to come to the police station for an interview. He said that no officer threatened to send an unmarked car to pick Craighead up if he didn’t cooperate.

Randle Craighead and a family friend, Michael Heslip, were both present when police arrived at the house, and each testified that the officers made it clear that Mark Craighead had to go to the police station. Randle Craighead testified that the officers would not allow his brother to change out of his dirty work clothes.

Heslip testified that Craighead asked whether he needed an attorney, and the officers said that wasn’t necessary.

Martin Ryzak, a manager of the Sam’s Club, testified that Craighead was working the night shift Tuesday-Saturday at the time of Pruett’s death, which was a Friday morning. In addition, Ryzak testified that the company locked the doors on the overnight shift as a way to combat theft. No one could come in or leave without triggering an alarm. Ryzak was unable to say for sure that Craighead worked the night in question; The time cards for that period had been destroyed after the sprinkler system malfunctioned.

Craighead testified and said that he met with Pruett either on June 25 or June 26, prior to going to work. He testified that Pruett told him he was unhappy about where he was living. Craighead also testified that he was aware that Pruett had received or was about to receive money from the settlement of a lawsuit. Craighead testified that he didn’t know the amount of the settlement.

Craighead testified that he did sign the statement but that the facts in the statement, including that the shooting happened after a fight between the two friends, came from Simon. He testified that Simon had briefly interviewed him on June 20, after he was brought to the police station.

He testified that he signed the statement because Simon told him that if he confessed to a self-defense killing, he could be released and fight the charges from the outside, rather than “staying in.”

“When you say ‘staying in,’ what gave you the impression you were staying in?” Fishman asked.

“They wouldn't let me go. I was there for two days,” said Craighead.

“Was there any conversation about how long you might stay if you didn’t sign anything?”

“Yeah,” said Craighead. “She said for the rest of my life.”

During deliberations, the jury sent out a note, asking “Is there a paycheck stub or solid evidence that a forty-hour week was worked?” There wasn’t, and the jury convicted Craighead of voluntary manslaughter and felony possession of a firearm on June 25, 2002. He was later sentenced to between five years and four months and 17 years in prison.

Craighead appealed his conviction, arguing that his statement should have been suppressed because it was the result of an unlawful arrest.

The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the conviction in a split decision on December 22, 2005. Judges Henry Saad and Peter O’Connell said that Craighead was not under arrest at the time he accompanied the police downtown. The arrest only came later, they wrote, after Craighead allegedly gave inconsistent statements. The appellate judges said that this issue had been argued at a pre-trial hearing, and that Judge Jones had found Craighead’s testimony about these events not to be credible.

In his dissent, Chief Judge William Whitbeck said the arrest was unfounded and that it contaminated any subsequent information obtained by officers.

He wrote that it was clear that Craighead was required to accompany the officers to the police station and that he was held incommunicado from the moment he arrived, unable to talk to his brother, who followed him downtown. He said there was very little to “sustain a finding that the prosecution sustained its burden of showing probable cause for a warrantless arrest at Craighead’s home on the evening of June 20, 2000.”

Even if Craighead wasn’t under arrest at his house, Whitbeck wrote, he was under arrest the moment he arrived at the police station. “It appears that Investigator Fisher first read Craighead his Miranda rights, then talked with him, and then reached the conclusion that Craighead’s information did not add up because it was not consistent. If this is so, then Investigator Fisher had no probable cause to arrest Craighead prior to their ‘talk.’”

In 2009, Craighead, now represented by the University of Michigan Law School Innocence Clinic, moved for a new trial based on new alibi evidence, which consisted of telephone records of outgoing calls from the Sam’s Club on the night Pruett died. Craighead had not mentioned these records to his trial attorney; it was only while incarcerated that he remembered that he occasionally used the phone in the Sam’s Club breakroom to call friends.

The motion identified four calls. Two calls, at 11:01 and 11:02 p.m., were to Randle Craighead’s telephone, and two other calls, at 12:19 a.m. 2:27 a.m., were to Isaac Griffin, Mark Craighead’s friend and a local radio personality. At an evidentiary hearing, Randle Craighead and Griffin, testified that Mark Craighead was the only person they knew who worked at Sam’s Club, much less anyone who might call them at these odd hours.

Judge Jones denied the motion. In an oral ruling on July 14, 2010, she said, “I have to tell you, I was singularly unimpressed with all of these phone records, and I’ve gone over them with a very fine-tooth comb.” She said the records didn’t match the testimony at an evidentiary hearing, when Randle Craighead and Griffin said that Craighead frequently called them from the Sam’s Club. “So, people are exaggerating, and I get uncomfortable when people exaggerate. I want to have confidence in what they're telling me that I can believe them.”

By the time of Judge Jones’s ruling, Craighead had been paroled from prison, released on November 3, 2009.

On February 24, 2020, Craighead again moved for a new trial, now asserting that Simon had a documented history of misconduct that would have undermined her credibility as a witness.

Simon had coerced a false confession out of Lamarr Monson, who was later exonerated after the physical evidence at the crime scene didn’t match his statement, the motion said. In addition, the motion said that Simon had been involved in the interrogations of two witnesses against Justly Johnson and Kendrick Scott. These witnesses later recanted and said Simon and other officers had threatened them if they didn’t provide statements.

“The new impeachment evidence shows that Investigator Simon has repeatedly engaged in precisely the same behavior that Mr. Craighead alleged at trial,” the motion said. “Because Monson, Johnson, and Scott have all been exonerated by Michigan courts, they could testify as free men to the exact pattern of illegal and unconstitutional conduct that cost them decades of their lives.”

Coupled with the new alibi evidence, the motion said, this creates a “reasonable probability of a different outcome upon trial.”

On February 4, 2021, Judge Shannon Walker of Wayne County Circuit Court vacated Craighead’s conviction and ordered a new trial. She said that Simon “has a history of falsifying confessions and lying under oath” and that the jurors may have reached a different verdict had they known about Simon’s history.

Prosecutors appealed, and the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Walker’s ruling on October 28, 2021. “The newly discovered evidence presented by defendant undermines the validity of defendant’s confession, which served as the most damaging evidence in the case,” the court wrote. “The newly discovered evidence also indicates that Investigator Simon’s interrogation tactics demonstrated a scheme, plan, or system to obtain false confessions.”

Prosecutors dismissed the charge on August 5, 2022, stating that it was impractical to retry the case.

Craighead, now 63 years old, told the Detroit News, “I think the process took too long … but I feel like justice was finally preserved because at the end of the tunnel, I’m finally seeing the light.”

David Moran, a co-director of the Innocence Clinic, said Craighead should have been exonerated based on the telephone records alone.

“We came back years later with evidence that the detective who tricked Mark into signing a statement that implicated himself had been completely discredited,” he told the Detroit News. “There’s no way a jury would credit the testimony of Detective Barbara Simon, given that she’s done the same thing in numerous other cases and falsely convicted numerous other people.”

In August 2022, Craighead filed a compensation claim with the state of Michigan. He received $362,750 in compensation in June 2023. In August 2023, Craighead filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Detroit and police officers in his case seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 8/17/2022
Last Updated: 9/2/2023
Most Serious Crime:Manslaughter
Additional Convictions:Weapon Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:1997
Sentence:5 years and 4 months to 17 years
Age at the date of reported crime:38
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No