No relief for 2 convicted of murder despite new witness
Detroit — A man who said he witnessed his mother’s murder when he was 8-years-old insists the wrong people are in prison, but his testimony hasn’t swayed two Michigan courts.
A Wayne County judge declined in August to set aside the first-degree murder convictions of Justly Johnson and Kendrick Scott, and the state appeals court affirmed that decision in a 3-0 opinion released Wednesday.
Charmous Skinner Jr., now in his 20s, was a young boy when his mother was shot in a van in Detroit in 1999. He didn’t testify at trial but stepped forward in 2011 and spoke to an investigative reporter and the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan law school. A hearing was held last year.
“Skinner offered a description of the shooter that differed from the physical characteristics of defendants and definitively testified that neither defendant was the man he saw outside the van that night. ... Skinner testified that he would tell the truth to catch his mother’s killer,” the appeals court said in summarizing the testimony.
But Judge James Callahan found the testimony unreliable, noting Skinner’s age at the time and the many years that had passed, among other reasons. The appeals court said the judge’s concerns were understandable, and that the only light that night was from the van’s dome light.
Skinner has a conviction for perjury in an unrelated matter. But appellate Judge Deborah Servitto said it shouldn’t be given much weight in determining his credibility in a case involving his mother’s death.
Johnson, 41, and Scott, 37, are serving life sentences with no chance for parole. The Innocence Clinic says they were convicted mostly on the testimony of two people who were drunk at the time Lisa Kindred was killed and who later recanted.
The clinic now plans to ask the Michigan Supreme Court to take a look at the case. The Supreme Court reopened it in 2014 by ordering lower courts to consider Skinner’s testimony.