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Cellphone tower data backed up Konrad Montgomery’s alibi that he was in a strip club when a man was shot and robbed 11 miles away on Detroit’s east side.

Still, Montgomery was found guilty of armed robbery and felony assault with intent to commit murder. He was sentenced to 10-25 years for the 2012 crime. But the Michigan Court of Appeals found Wayne County prosecutors misrepresented the phone evidence during Montgomery’s trial.

Montgomery, 34, was released from prison in July, when prosecutors dropped the charges against him, a decision that came three months after the appellate court in March found misconduct on the part of prosecutors and remanded the case back to Wayne Circuit Court for a new trial.

The court said, “reversal is required because of misstatements by the prosecutor during his closing argument.”

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy dismissed the charges on July 14, and Montgomery was freed from prison.

When asked if Montgomery was innocent, Worthy said: “Not being able to proceed on a case or legally to dismiss because we cannot proceed is not an exoneration.”

Montgomery says he’s been cheated out of years of his life.

“You don’t know what mental toll this takes on people,” he said. “It’s horrific. Someone should have to answer for how they do people. Even if it was an accident, there are consequences to accidents.”

The crime

LaVince Marks Jr. had just pulled into the driveway of his home on Bishop on Detroit’s east side at about 6:30 p.m. Dec. 11, 2012, when a hooded gunman surprised him and threatened to kill him if he made any noise. The robber took $400 cash and an iPhone, and then shot the 44-year-old Marks three times.

Days later, Marks’ son used the “Find my iPhone” app to track the stolen phone to a Southfield Metro PCS store. Police interviewed the store owner, Ali Bazzi, who said Montgomery had sold him the phone.

Marks identified Montgomery in a photo lineup. Montgomery was arrested and charged with armed robbery and assault with intent to commit murder.

Montgomery admitted he sold the iPhone to Bazzi, but said he sold it to him after he’d bought it from a woman he didn’t know, a friend of a friend. He said he had sold dozens of phones to Bazzi.

“That was how I made my money: I bought used cellphones on the street and sold them to stores,” Montgomery said. “They turn around and sell them overseas for a huge markup. It’s completely legal.”

Montgomery said he bought the iPhone from the woman Dec. 12, 2012 — the day after Marks was robbed. He said he paid $150 for the phone, and resold it to Bazzi the next day for $250.

After he was arrested, Montgomery said he was desperate to tell police he was innocent. “I was never even interviewed by a detective,” he said. “I was begging them to talk to me, because I wanted to tell them I didn’t do this.”

The trial

Although cellphone tower data would prove crucial to the case, Montgomery’s court-appointed attorney said she didn’t hire a cellphone expert to testify because it would have cost too much.

Prosecutors presented a written analysis of Montgomery’s personal cellphone by a U.S. Marshal’s Service inspector, who said the phone was “active in the general area of Interstate 75 and McNichols Road, also known as Six Mile, in the city of Detroit” and “was not active in the area of (Marks’ home) at the time of the offense.”

During closing arguments, Assistant Prosecutor John Casey said the cellphone records did not prove Montgomery’s innocence because he was “pretty savvy when it comes to telephones.”

Casey “advanced as one possibility that (Montgomery) could have set up his phone at one location to forward calls to another location,” allowing him to rob the victim, the Court of Appeals said.

The court found that statement was improper, because it was outside the scope of what had been stipulated.

Exoneration?

After appealing his conviction, Montgomery was granted a hearing in September 2015. Prosecutors acknowledged they’d misrepresented the cellphone tower evidence, but argued that misrepresentation didn’t necessarily sway the jury.

Montgomery said the jury was confused about the cellphone evidence. “They asked for clarification (during deliberations),” he said. “That was a big part of my case.

“Prosecutors ping cellphones all the time to convict people, but when my case comes up, they do the opposite and tell the jury to ignore the fact that my phone shows I was nowhere near the robbery.”

The appellate court found the prosecutor’s argument “not only lacked record support, but defendant presented expert testimony at the post-trial evidentiary hearing that indicated that the prosecutor’s argument was factually incorrect.”

Montgomery said the toughest part of putting his life back together after his prison stint was reconnecting with this 8-year-old daughter, Ka’Meia, and 7-year-old son, Konrad Jr.

“Could you imagine getting snatched up away from your kids? As a parent, that’s the worst thing ever. Other people raising your kids. I came home, my kids were not what they used to be like. I’m trying to get that back. Eventually, we’ll get there.”

ghunter@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2134

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