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Lloyd Prevost

Based primarily on circumstantial evidence, 24-year-old Lloyd Prevost was found guilty of first-degree murder in Macomb County, Michigan, in the summer of 1920. A failed appeal affirmed the conviction. However, when new evidence was brought to light during a reinvestigation that was untaken nearly a decade after Prevost’s conviction, Prevost received a full pardon and was released.

On December 24, 1919, two farmers discovered a body hunched over the steering wheel of a car near “Dead Man’s Hill,” just outside Mount Clemens, Michigan, about twenty miles northeast of Detroit. The victim, J. Stanley Brown, had sustained four fatal gunshot wounds to the head and neck. Experts later determined the wounds had been inflicted in the late hours of the prior evening.

The son of a wealthy deceased cigar manufacturer, Brown was discovered in possession of his jewelry and some currency, leading experts to doubt theft as a likely motive for his murder. The farmers who found the crime scene also noted a trail of footsteps leading away from the vehicle and into town.

Having recently separated from and petitioned for divorce from his wife, 19-year-old Ruth Prevost Brown, J. Stanley Brown had been living at the Edison Hotel in a room he shared with his close friend, Lloyd Prevost. Prevost, who was a cousin of Ruth Brown, was employed as a truck driver. Due to their close affiliations with the victim, Prevost and Ruth Brown were soon contacted and held by authorities for questioning. While they were in custody, a farmer, who lived near the spot where J. Stanley Brown’s body had been found, told authorities that he had seen J. Stanley Brown on the night of his murder operating his vehicle with both the suspects in the backseat. Both Prevost and Ruth Brown vehemently denied the farmer’s account. Rather, Prevost contended that he had taken a short drive with J. Stanley Brown at approximately 9:00 p.m. on the night of the murder. Prevost also said that he and Brown visited with friends for a short time, but that he had walked back to the Edison Hotel, alone, at approximately 9:30 p.m.

On December 27, Prevost and Ruth Brown were released, and Prevost claimed that the sheriff and prosecutor had abused him in an attempt to gain a confession from him. His room had been searched for bloodstained clothing and the murder weapon, neither of which was located.

Conflicting tales involving the night of the murder, plus rumors that a romantic relationship existed between Prevost and Ruth Brown, establishing a motive for the murder, encouraged Attorney General Alex Groesbeck to initiate a grand jury proceeding against Prevost. The record shows that Prevost refused to testify in order to avoid self-incrimination, while Ruth Brown offered two hours of testimony. Additional testimony by Prevost’s nephew indicating that he had visited his uncle at the Edison Hotel, where he had given Prevost a revolver and some ammunition, added to the collection of circumstantial evidence, and Prevost was charged with the first-degree murder of J. Stanley Brown.

At trial, an investigator testified that a revolver had been discovered at the office of Prevost’s older brother, Frank. A ballistics expert then testified that the four bullets found in J. Stanley Brown’s body had come from the gun found in the Prevost offices. A second investigator testified that a set of men’s footprints found in the snow by the victim’s car had matched Prevost’s boots. No mention was made at trial of the woman’s footprints that had also been found in the snow.

The defense provided its own ballistics expert who denied that the bullets had come from the gun at issue. Another expert testified that the footprints in the snow did not match Prevost’s boots in size or the design of the soles.

After three hours of deliberation, Prevost was found guilty of murder in the first degree, and on June 5, 1920, he was sentenced to life in prison. His subsequent appeal to the Supreme Court of Michigan was denied, and for the next decade, he was an inmate of the Michigan State Prison at Jackson, where he worked in the prison’s hospital ward.

In 1928, Reverend James Downey, an elderly priest, contacted the office of Michigan Governor Fred W. Green. Downey reported that he had just visited a friend and fellow priest who was on his deathbed in Mount Clemens, Michigan. This friend told Downey that a man – who was himself on his deathbed at the time – had confessed to him that he had murdered J. Stanley Brown. Although the priest knew that another man was serving time for this murder, he felt he could not report this information because of the obligations of his professional privilege. However, he had done some investigating into the confession and believed it to be the truth. Now on his own deathbed, he wanted this information to be known so that justice could be served for Lloyd Prevost. As the priest had requested of him, Downey pleaded with the Governor to investigate the murder further, since Downey felt ethically unable to reveal the name of the true killer, and the Governor agreed to initiate an investigation.

The Michigan Department of Public Safety handled this investigation. A report prepared in 1930 by the State Commissioner of Pardons and Paroles, Richard W. Nebel, questioned the merit of the witness testimony offered at Prevost’s trial and stated that many of the witnesses were repeatedly subjected to lengthy interviews at all hours of the night, a practice considered to be an unscrupulous investigative method. Nebel stated that the ballistics evidence presented by the prosecution also crumbled upon reexamination. Additional suspects, several of whom had financial and personal motives, had been overlooked. The lengthy reported by Nebel stated, “There are few cases of the hundreds claiming innocence which have merit. In the number of cases claiming miscarriage of justice, the conviction of Prevost stands alone as bearing out this contention…there is but little evidence disputing the fact that Lloyd Prevost is innocent.”

After the facts revealed in Commissioner Nebel’s report indicated Prevost was, in fact, innocent of the murder of J. Stanley Brown, Prevost received a full pardon from Governor Fred W. Green on December 29, 1930.

– Researched by Jordan Galassie
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Reported Crime Date:1919
Age at the date of crime:24
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation