Nearly nine years ago, Leroy Moon shot Shawn Johnson to death after discovering the 36-year-old school janitor urinating outside his fish market on Detroit’s east side.
Moon was convicted of the February 2009 slaying in December 2011, but six years later has yet to be sentenced after the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office “lost track of the case,” according to a department spokeswoman. During that time, he has been a free man.
That delay is expected to end next month when Moon, now 78, is scheduled to be sentenced to a year in jail for manslaughter under a 2011 sentencing recommendation. But the long wait between his no-contest plea and sentencing has surprised legal observers.
Maria Miller, spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office, said Moon’s sentencing slipped through the cracks after a series of delays caused in part by the defendant’s medical issues.
Miller said Moon was scheduled to be sentenced May 6, 2014, and that he had a “serious” medical situation that caused him to be hospitalized. A pretrial hearing was scheduled for Moon two weeks later, on May 21, but didn’t take place.
She said the prosecutor’s office would periodically contact the defense and the court about rescheduling. “While this matter was pending the (assistant prosecutor) handling the case left the office, and at some point we lost track of the case,” Miller said. “Also, there were no further dates that were scheduled by the court.”
The trial judge, Cynthia Gray Hathaway of Wayne County Circuit Court, could not be reached for comment.
Miller said the prosecutor’s office became aware of the delay when it received an inquiry from The Detroit News about the case.
“Once it was confirmed that defendant Moon had not been sentenced, (the prosecutor’s office) requested a new sentence date,” she said. That date is Jan. 9.
Efforts by The News to reach Moon or obtain a comment from his defense attorney, Marlon Blake Evans, were unsuccessful.
Moon’s first trial ended with a hung jury in October 2010. A retrial was scheduled twice for the following year but canceled both times before Moon entered his no-contest plea in December 2011.
He was to be sentenced in April 2012 but the hearing was canceled. Moon was scheduled for a post-conviction competency examination in June 2012 and found competent at a hearing later that year.
In a letter to Wayne County Circuit Court in July 2012, a social worker for the John H. Dingell VA Medical Center wrote that Moon, who served in the U.S. Air Force, suffered from “adjustment disorder with depressed mood” as well as post-traumatic stress disorder.
The case grew out of an incident on Feb. 17, 2009, outside Moon’s Asian Fisheries market on Gratiot.
According to testimony from Johnson’s wife, Mildred Bryant, at a preliminary exam in 2009, her husband drank a pitcher of beer before police stopped the couple as they drove home. Officers confiscated their car, so the couple prepared to walk home.
Before they started, Johnson stopped in the front doorway of the fish market and began relieving himself.
Bryant said Leroy Moon started yelling at Johnson not to urinate on his property. She testified her husband cursed at Moon, and she begged him to leave, saying, “Come on. Let’s go.”
Johnson’s wife said Moon told another man in the store to “go get it,” and the man came outside and handed a gun to Moon. Bryant testified she pulled out a black baton.
She said Moon pushed Johnson from behind. Johnson finished and turned to start swearing at the armed shopkeeper. Moon fired twice when Johnson patted his right pocket, where Bryant said he kept a knife.
She said Johnson put his hands up, but fell when Moon fired a third time. She said the store owner stepped closer and fired two more times.
Moon’s son, Michael, also was charged in the case and sentenced to probation for giving his father the .40-caliber handgun used in the shooting.
High-profile attorney Arnold Reed, who has practiced before judges in the Third Circuit Court, said such an oversight in sentencing is surprising.
“In this particular court, it is somewhat unusual that it would completely fall through the cracks,” said Reed. “It’s a very unfortunate situation. I don’t think it happens all that often. Judges, especially in Wayne County and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, are very thorough about those kinds of things.”
Reed and University of Michigan law school professor David Moran pointed to a 2016 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that a delay in sentencing does not violate the “speedy trial” clause of the Sixth Amendment. But, said Moran, the justices left open the question of whether the delay could violate a person’s due process.
Moran added that Moon could seek credit for the time he was awaiting sentencing. “If I was his lawyer, I would ask for at least some credit,” said Moran, adding that bond is a form of restraint on a person’s freedom.
Former federal prosecutor and Wayne State University law professor Peter Henning said the mistake should have been caught.
“More than one officer was in error here,” he said. “The prosecutor’s office should have seen this and brought it to the court’s attention, and the judge should have seen it. In a busy court system these kinds of mistakes happen. Thanks (that Moon) wasn’t being held. That would be the true injustice.”