Supreme Court rejects Kwame Kilpatrick’s new trial bid

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected disgraced former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s appeal of his public corruption conviction, putting a final end to Kilpatrick’s bid to overturn his 28-year prison sentence.

Kilpatrick, 46, was convicted of using his position as mayor of Detroit and state House representative to execute a wide-ranging racketeering conspiracy involving extortion, bribery and fraud.

The High Court issued its decision on Kilpatrick’s case along with dozens of others Monday without comment.

He and Bobby Ferguson, 47, a former city contractor and friend of Kilpatrick, were found guilty of running a criminal enterprise out of the mayoral office in a five-month trial in 2013.

Kilpatrick was sentenced to one of the longest prison terms ever handed down in a corruption case. He is serving his time at a federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma, and will be eligible for release in 2037.

His family has expressed interest in requesting a presidential pardon, but Kilpatrick won’t get one from President Barack Obama. That’s because federal prison inmates must wait five years before requesting a pardon. Kilpatrick was convicted and sentenced to prison in October 2013.

Kilpatrick’s attorney, Harold Gurewitz, said on Monday he sent Kilpatrick a message about the decision not to hear his case, but he has not spoken with Kilpatrick.

“I’m disappointed,” Gurewitz said.

Asked whether Kilpatrick wants to appeal his case on other grounds, Gurewitz declined comment.

Peter J. Henning, professor of law at Wayne State University’s Law School and a former federal prosecutor in Detroit, said Monday’s Supreme Court decision to deny further review is the end of the first phase of Kilpatrick’s appeal but not the end of the case.

Kilpatrick still can challenge his conviction through a federal statute, Section 2255, that permits what is known as a “collateral attack” on the conviction, Henning said.

“It is similar to a habeas corpus challenge to a state conviction. So he can argue that he is being held in violation of his constitutional rights. The most likely ground for this will be that his attorney was ineffective, and therefore violated his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel,” Henning said.

This likely would include issues related to an alleged conflict of interest of his trial attorney, James Thomas, and other decisions during the case, Henning said.

Thomas could not be reached for comment Monday.

One thing to note about this type of appeal, Henning said, is there is no right to appointed counsel, so Kilpatrick will have to pay for a lawyer or have an attorney take it pro bono.

U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade and her team of prosecutors called almost 100 government witnesses and offered up more than 700 exhibits, producing 10,000 pages of transcripts, for the six-month-long jury trial in Detroit.

“Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court brings closure to the conviction and sentence of Kwame Kilpatrick,” McQuade said. “With this decision, our nation's highest court has confirmed that justice has been served.”

In the appeal, Gurewitz, said last week the court should consider Kilpatrick’s case because the role of law enforcement lay opinion testimony at the six-month trial went beyond introducing and publishing evidence to the jury by two agents who testified 23 times.

In his appeal, Kilpatrick also argued he was without “zealous” counsel to argue his defense at critical stages of his trial because his trial attorneys were dealing with conflict of interest issues, which Kilpatrick objected to before his trial began.

Gurewitz said the trial court rejected Kilpatrick’s request for new counsel after a hearing without witnesses and without examining the counsel relationship his attorneys created with the law firm representing the plaintiff simultaneously suing Kilpatrick for money damages based on the identical RICO allegations in the indictment.

In a previous ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals said Kilpatrick was not denied his constitutional right to conflict-free counsel.

The appeals court also rejected his argument that the district court abused its discretion in allowing the agents to give their lay opinions about the meaning of “shorthand” lingo used in text messages, to discuss some of the inner workings of the Detroit government and to explain aspects of the city’s sewer-department contracts.

In their response to the appeal, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. the government’s investigation had amassed about 300,000 text messages and hundreds of thousands of records from the City of Detroit, municipal contractors, accountants and financial institutions.

Due to the volume of evidence, Verrilli said the federal court permitted the government to present its case in “chapters” and federal agents testified multiple times by introducing and publishing documentary evidence that pertained to each chapter, including bank records, documents, calendar pages, emails and text messages.

Kwame Kilpatrick’s 2013 conviction and sentence

Convicted of:

One count of RICO conspiracy

Four counts of extortion

One count of attempted extortion

Eleven counts of mail and wire fraud

Five counts of subscribing a false tax return

One count of income-tax evasion

Sentence: 28 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release and criminal restitution.

Source: Detroit News archives