Convict seeks another trial after new evidence surfaces

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Hours after 12-year-old Christina Brown’s body was found lying in a pool of blood on her apartment’s bathroom floor, Lamarr Monson told police he didn’t do it. The next day, he signed a confession stating he was the killer.

Monson’s attorneys say there’s a problem with his confession to the Jan. 20, 1996, killing: The Wayne County Medical Examiner later determined Brown had died of blunt force trauma, likely caused by blows from a ceramic toilet lid — and Monson never mentioned hitting Brown with the lid.

Defense attorneys also claim a recently-discovered bloody thumbprint which doesn’t belong to Monson on the toilet lid further exonerates him.

Prosecutors, however, insist the print, and Monson’s omission of any mention of the beating in his statement to police, don’t prove his innocence.

Monson, 44, has served 20 years in prison after he was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 30-50 years. His attorneys say someone else killed Brown, and are asking for a new trial. A hearing was held Tuesday before Wayne Circuit Judge Shannon Walker, but no decision was made.

Monson’s case is a twisting tale of drug-dealing, allegations of prosecutors withholding evidence, police coercing a false confession and a woman claiming she’d been kidnapped and held for months by the real killer.

Monson admitted he had a sexual relationship with the underage Brown, which prosecutors say turned deadly when the girl found out he was being unfaithful. Prosecutors say she attacked him with a steak knife, but that he got control of the weapon and stabbed her 18 times before bludgeoning her to death.

Monson, who was 23 at the time of the murder and claims Brown told him she was 17, is seeking a new trial based on recently-discovered evidence: Robert Lewis’ fingerprints on the toilet lid.

Lewis’ prints were discovered in 2015, after his ex-girlfriend Shellena Bentley walked into a police precinct three years earlier and claimed he was Brown’s killer. Lewis has not been charged with the crime, and prosecutors insist Monson’s conviction is solid.

After Bentley’s claim, Monson’s attorneys from the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic had the toilet lid re-examined.

A fingerprint expert testified Tuesday the bloody thumbprint is not Monson’s. Assistant Prosecutor David McCreedy argued the print could have been left there by someone else after the assault. In court filings, prosecutors also said it’s not unusual that Lewis’ prints were found on the lid, since he frequently bought drugs in the unheated first-floor apartment.

Bentley, who lived in Brown’s apartment building at 2752 W. Boston on Detroit’s west side, testified Tuesday that on the night of the killing, Lewis twice bought crack cocaine from Brown and that they smoked it in her apartment upstairs. When the drugs were gone, she said Lewis went back downstairs to ask Brown to give him more crack on credit.

“When he came back up, he had blood on him; it was dripping off his fingernails,” she said. “He said we’ve gotta get out of here. ... (He was acting) frantic ... like he did something.”

Bentley said Lewis then walked her to his duplex around the corner, which he shared with his brother. She said Lewis’ brother said he should have killed her like he killed Brown.

Bentley claims she was held against her will more than a month, but eventually was able to slip away. She said she hid out at her daughter’s house in Detroit before moving to Pontiac and Saginaw.

Years later, Bentley went to a Detroit police precinct and told them she suspected Lewis was Brown’s real killer.

On the day of the killing, Monson told police at about 1:30 p.m. he walked into the apartment where he and Brown sold marijuana and crack cocaine and found Brown’s bloodied, beaten body lying face-up on the bathroom floor.

“He runs into the hallway and yells for help,” Innocence Clinic Director David Moran said. “Then he calls the police, and sticks around to talk to them. That’s not the behavior of a killer.”

Although in his first statement, Monson told police he had nothing to do with the killing, he signed a document the next day which said he’d stabbed Brown to death after she attacked him.

“(Monson) said he was just given a piece of paper and told to sign it without having a chance to read it,” Moran said.

Moran said Monson’s confession was the only evidence presented during his trial linking him to the killing. He was convicted by a jury in March 1997.

An expert on police procedures testified Tuesday that Monson’s confession was a “red flag,” because the statement matches the information police had before finding out how Brown had died.

“Specifically how Ms. Brown died, because of the condition of her body, the most obvious injuries were (stab wounds),” said James Trainum, a former homicide detective. “Based on what I read, that’s what (police) believed was the cause of death, and that’s the only thing mentioned by the suspect.”

Assistant Prosecutor David McCreedy argued the omission of the bludgeoning doesn’t necessarily mean Monson isn’t the killer.

“The person who inflicted the injuries ... it would be reasonable for him to believe she bled to death,” McCreedy said. Trainum agreed.

Trainum pointed out police never checked Monson’s clothing or car for blood.

In previous court filings, Moran said Monson is entitled to a new trial in part because Wayne County prosecutors did not disclose that they’d received anonymous tips from Bentley in 1996 identifying her ex-boyfriend as Brown’s killer.

“This information was only discovered when Bentley came forward in 2012,” Moran wrote in a motion seeking a new trial for Monson. “It is now apparent that the state had in fact suppressed material, exculpatory evidence in violation of Mr. Monson’s constitutional right to due process.”

On Tuesday, McCreedy said Bentley never told police in her statements that she’d tried calling them to report her suspicion that Lewis was the killer.

Another hearing is scheduled for Nov. 17, in which Michigan State Police are expected to testify about the fingerprint evidence.

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN