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Kainte Hickey

Other Wayne County, Michigan exonerations
In the early morning hours of September 28, 2007, 19-year-old Donteau Dennis and 35-year-old Bennie Peterson were on their way to commit a robbery at the Cabana Motel in Detroit when, instead, they were shot. Peterson died. Dennis survived. From his hospital bed, Dennis identified 29-year-old Kainte Hickey as the man who shot him. Dennis said that 26-year-old Quonshay Mason and 22-year-old Andre Jackson shot Peterson.

On October 12, 2007, police arrested Hickey, Mason, and Jackson on charges of first-degree murder of Peterson, assault with intent to commit murder of Dennis, and the use of a firearm to commit a felony.

In March 2008, they went to trial together in Wayne County Circuit Court.

Dennis was the primary prosecution witness. He testified that he was at Peterson’s home when Mason came by and invited them to participate in a planned robbery of a drug purchaser at the Cabana Hotel. Mason told them that the purchaser would be carrying a large sum of money.

Peterson and Dennis agreed to go, and they left with Mason in Peterson’s van, with Mason driving. Jackson followed them in a Jeep. According to Dennis, Jackson positioned himself in the Jeep to prevent Dennis from seeing another occupant in the Jeep. Instead of driving to the hotel, Mason drove to Malcolm Street, where he instructed Dennis to purchase drugs from a drug house, saying that the drugs would be used as bait in the planned robbery. As Dennis began walking toward the drug house, he noticed that Mason and Jackson had positioned their vehicles so that Peterson’s van was trapped between the Jeep and another parked car.

Dennis said Hickey, to whom Dennis owed $50 for a drug deal, then approached, apparently having come from Jackson’s Jeep. Dennis testified Hickey shot him. During this same time, Dennis said he saw Mason and Jackson get out of their vehicles carrying guns, and one or both of them fired into the van. Peterson died from multiple gunshot wounds. Dennis was shot several times, but fled to the backyard of a home nearby.

Detroit Police Officer Frank Senter testified that he found Dennis lying in the backyard of the home. Dennis told Senter that Hickey had shot him over a drug debt, but did not say anything about Peterson, Mason, or Jackson. Over the next few days, Sergeant William Anderson interviewed Dennis at the hospital. Dennis reiterated that he was shot by Hickey and also reported that Mason and Jackson had killed Peterson.

On March 25, 2008, Hickey, Mason, and Jackson were convicted of first-degree murder, assault with intent to murder, and using a firearm to commit a crime. Each was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Hickey appealed his conviction and sentence to the Michigan Court of Appeals. While that appeal was pending, Hickey filed a motion to remand for an evidentiary hearing and determination as to whether he should be granted a new trial on the basis of newly discovered evidence—namely, a post-trial affidavit from Mason. The allegations in Mason’s affidavit refuted Dennis’s trial testimony and exculpated Hickey.

Mason alleged that he and another man, Hoseia “Man-Man” Turner, had waited outside the Cabana Hotel while Peterson robbed a drug addict and Dennis stole a gun from the robbery victim’s car. Mason claimed that when the group reconvened on Malcolm Street, Dennis and Peterson began arguing over the division of the robbery proceeds and struggled over the stolen gun. According to Mason, Dennis shot Peterson, jumped out of the van, and began to shoot at Mason and Turner, prompting Mason to shoot back in self-defense. Mason said that Jackson and Hickey were not present at the time of the shooting.

Turner also submitted an affidavit roughly corroborating Mason’s account. Hickey argued that Mason’s affidavit and proposed testimony was newly discovered evidence entitling Hickey to a new trial.

The Michigan Court of Appeals granted Hickey’s motion to remand. A two-day evidentiary hearing was held in 2009.

Mason testified that Dennis’s account of the shooting was false. Mason said that he picked up Dennis and Peterson from Peterson’s house in a white Montana van. The three went to get gas. At the gas station, they picked up Turner. Peterson was in the passenger seat at the time. Mason said Hickey was not present at the house or with them at the gas station.

The four of them drove to the hotel. There, Dennis and Peterson robbed a white man. Peterson robbed the man for his money, Dennis took a gun from the victim’s car, and they left.

Mason said that while driving away, Dennis, who was behind the wheel, began arguing with Peterson, who was in the passenger seat, about the split of the robbery proceeds. Peterson attempted to take the stolen gun from Dennis, and it went off.

Mason said he and Turner were in the backseat. Mason said Dennis, who still had the gun, stopped the vehicle, got out and began firing at the van. Dennis dropped the gun, and Mason said he picked it up and shot Dennis. Mason said he then fled the scene.

Turner testified that he knew Hickey from the neighborhood and also knew Mason, Peterson, and Dennis. Turner said that Hickey was not in the vehicle when he was riding with Peterson, Mason, and Dennis. Turner said Peterson, Mason, and Dennis were arguing over money when he heard shots. Turner said he got out of the van and ran. He said Hickey was never there.

The judge concluded that the evidence was not newly discovered, but was rather “newly available” evidence that Hickey did not attempt to secure before trial. The motion to remand was denied. Hickey returned to the Michigan Court of Appeals, where his initial appeal was pending. In 2011, that court denied Hickey relief and affirmed his convictions.

Hickey then sought leave to appeal from the Michigan Supreme Court, raising, for the first time, claims that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to call Hickey’s sister, Talonda Haley Johnson, and her fiancé, Willie Johnson, as alibi witnesses and for failing to call Turner, who had never been charged in the case, and Mason, as exculpatory witnesses. The Michigan Supreme Court summarily denied Hickey’s application in a one-sentence order.

Rather than pursuing state post-conviction relief, Hickey then filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus, raising his claims regarding his trial lawyer’s failure to call Haley, Johnson, Mason, and Turner at trial. The U.S. district court denied Hickey’s petition. He was granted a certificate of appealability and sought review by the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

In June 2017, the federal appeals court reversed the lower court and remanded the case. Hickey subsequently filed a motion to stay those proceedings in order to allow him to return to Michigan Supreme Court to pursue post-conviction relief based on the claim of his lawyer’s failure to call the exculpatory witnesses.

In October 2019, the Michigan Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court for a hearing regarding the defense attorney’s failure to call alibi witnesses and failure to raise alleged ineffective assistance of trial counsel on direct appeal.

The case was paused again, this time to allow for a review by the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. Following that review, which involved interviewing the alibi witnesses as well as Mason and Turner, the CIU concluded that Hickey had been wrongly convicted. The CIU recommended that Hickey’s convictions be vacated and the case dismissed. However, Kim Worthy, the chief prosecutor, declined to accept that recommendation.

As a result, a post-conviction hearing was held during which Talonda Johnson testified that on the day of the shooting, Hickey had his Cadillac towed to her house. She opened the garage, and the car was pushed inside. The bumper was dragging from the car. Johnson’s now-husband, Willie, a Detroit police officer at the time of the shooting, who was still on the force, testified that on the day of the shooting, Hickey and his girlfriend showed up at the door after Hickey’s car had been towed to the house. Johnson said he went to the door with Talonda to greet them. He said he had a short conversation with Hickey and then went back upstairs to bed. He said Hickey and his girlfriend left the next morning. He did not recall what happened to Hickey’s car.

Elainda McClain testified that she was with Hickey and his girlfriend on the night of the shooting at a nightclub called “Blue” in downtown Detroit. When they left, Hickey’s Cadillac had a flat tire. She said Hickey called a tow truck, and the car was towed to Hickey’s sister’s house. Hickey wanted it towed there because the car had custom rims and a custom paint job. The car was pushed into the garage. The three of them stayed there until the morning, McClain said.

In August 2023, Hickey’s convictions were vacated, and he was granted a new trial. He was released to house arrest on August 4, 2023.

In March 2024, Hickey went to trial a second time in Wayne County Circuit Court. By that time, he was back in custody after the trial judge ordered him returned to the jail on March 5, 2004. Mason and Turner refused to testify, but Talonda and McClain testified to Hickey’s whereabouts on the night of the crime.

On March 8, 2024, a jury acquitted Hickey of all of the charges and subsequently, he was released.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/13/2024
Last Updated: 5/13/2024
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempted Murder, Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:2007
Sentence:Life without parole
Age at the date of reported crime:29
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No