On December 29, 2009, J.B. Watson and his girlfriend LaRita Thomas, were riding in Thomas' van down Harper towards Hamtramack, where Thomas worked, with Watson's cousins Phillip Reed and Willie Williams. As they pulled up to a light, at the intersection of Harper and Van Dyke, a turquoise vehicle pulled alongside which had two black men in it. One of the men, the passenger, got out and went to the back of the van, firing "many shots" into the rear of the van. He got back into the vehicle and it took off. J.B. Watson was killed as a result of the gunfire, and Phillip Reed was hit in the left hand.
During the investigation, the driver of the vehicle, was eventually identified as Rico Searcy by Raymond Love, who purported to have witnessed the incident, and subsequently, the passenger/shooter was identified as Darrell Ewing.
It was learned that the three cousins, Watson (the decedent), Reed (shot in the left hand) and Williams were members of a Detroit street gang called the "Knock Out Boys". It was also claimed that Searcy and Ewing were allegedly members of a gang called "Hustle Boys". Searcy denied this at trial, and no evidence was introduced to support this assertion. The shooting was, thus presented to the jury, as an incident of "gang violence".
Searcy was at home alone, during the time of the offense, and is understandably unable to provide any confirmation of this fact. Nevertheless, based upon the state of the evidence, as set forth in this narrative, his actual innocence is sufficiently established without it
On December 29, 2009 Ewing was attending the Celebration of Life for a family member, Gloria Chestnut, along with a plethora of other family members, including his mother and several aunts. Ewing’s mother and several of his aunts testified to this at trial. In addition, the obituary and photographs of the gathering were introduced at trial to prove this. He was nowhere near the intersection of Harper and Van Dyke, and has no personal knowledge of the incident.
Ewing did not know Watson, and had only met Reed and Williams in passing, but had never had any direct interactions, conflicts or issues with either of them. (Reed and Williams both testified to this fact at trial).
During the pre-Trial investigations, Ewing happily took a polygraph test, which he passed with flying colors. He was charged, along with Searcy, with First Degree Murder and three counts of Assault with Intent to Kill.
Rico Searcy #341463
Bellamy Creek Facility
1727 Bluewater Hwy
Ionia, MICHIGAN 48846
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Ewing and Searcy were tried together. During the trial, as noted above, Ewing’s mother and several of his aunts testfied that he had been at a repast, celebrating the life of a departed family member, at the time of the shooting, and could not have been there. The only evidence suggesting guilt, was the questionable identification of Searcy by Love, and the subsequent purported link to Ewing through Searcy.
The Prosecutor worked to shore up his lack of evidence, by playing up the purported gang connection to the shooting, continually harping on the claims that Ewing and Searcy were "opposing gang members" to Watson, Reed and Williams. Although there was no evidence of this alleged gang connection.
During Trial, the testimony of Christopher Richardson was presented. He was a documented Confidential Informant (CI) for the FBI and testified at Trial that Tyree Washington and Richardson’s cousin, William Beal, had been responsible for the shooting, with Beal driving and Washington having been the shooter. Informant Richardson had testified in front of four Federal Grand Juries, and was found to be truthful in these matters, before the Feds even alerted the Wayne County Prosecutor that a mistake was being made. However, bull headed and unwilling to admit she made a mistake, she kept moving forward, despite the numerous red flags.
Washington also gave a sworn Affidavit to the Prosecutor who was prosecuting Ewing and Searcy, Ms. Kam Towns, attesting that he was the shooter and that Ewing is innocent. The response from Prosecutor Towns was that they had who they wanted, and that she did not need Washington to testify at trial. Based on the lack of the evidence, it is not surprising that during deliberations, the jury were unable to reach a verdict, and reported to the Judge that they were deadlocked. The Trial Judge responded by giving a faulty instruction ordering them to continue deliberations. (There is standardized Jury instructions to be given when a jury cannot reach a verdict, known as the "Allen" charge. The judge did not give this instruction, deviating substantially from the carefully crafted and judicially approved version).
Upon being erroneously ordered to continue deliberating, the Jury eventually came back with a guilty verdict on all counts. Ewing and Searcy were sentenced to life in prison for murder, plus additional sentences for the other charges.
Subsequent to the verdict and sentencing, a Juror, Kathleen Francis Byrnes, came forward to state to the court that this was "not her honest verdict". Juror Byrnes further exposed the fact that, after being ordered to continue deliberating by the Judge, several Jurors decided to conduct internet searches on Ewing, Searcy and on information relating to "gang codes" in general. The information on the internet, which was discussed heavily during the additional deliberations, indicated that gang violence is a way to advance in rank within the gangs, and that this includes killings. They also ran across a photo of Ewing with a gun. It was solely upon this additional internet information that several of the Jurors changed their votes and ultimately, a guilty verdict was rendered. Juror Byrnes, however, was never comfortable with this, and exposed it to the court.
Upon these facts being exposed to the court, the Trial court refused to conduct a proper hearing, or to order a new Trial.
THE APPEAL PROCESS
After presenting the Juror Influence and Misconduct information to the Trial court, and the Trial court denying relief, a subsequent Appeal was unsuccessful. However, upon presenting the issue to the Federal Court on Habeas Corpus Review, the Court issued the Writ and ordered the Release of Ewing, if a retrial was not conducted. (2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 191023). The Prosecution, through the Michigan Attorney General's office, appealed this decision to the Federal Appellate Court, which reversed and sent the case back to the Federal District Court to modify the granting of the Writ, to compel a Hearing on the Juror misconduct issue, using the correct legal standards which they had held, the Trial court did not do the first time. (6th Circuit, 2019) 914 F3d 1017). On Remand, the District Court re-issued the Writ, modified accordingly. (2019 US. Dist. LEXIS 72393, April 4, 2019).
The Trial court conducted the required Hearing over a three month span and, on October 24, 2019 granted Ewing and Searcy a new Trial. The Prosecutor has appealed this decision, despite the clear state of the evidence, proving that these two men are innocent.
UPDATES ON THIS CASE
Actual Innocent Prisoners will keep this webpage updated with progress on Appeals, Court Decisions.