After 20 years, inmate freed for new trial

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — With his mother by his side, Lamarr Monson walked out of jail Wednesday evening after spending more than 20 years behind bars.

For Monson, who was granted a new murder trial earlier this week, the release was “surreal” and the answer to prayer.

“This is something we had been waiting on and anticipating for the longest time and it finally came,” Monson said outside of the Wayne County Jail.

Monson, 44, was released on bond pending his new trial in the 1996 killing of 12-year-old Christina Brown. Wayne Circuit Judge Shannon Walker granted the new trial Monday after a bloody thumb print on what likely is the murder weapon was found to belong to someone else.

Immediately following his release, Monson was greeted with hugs by more than a dozen relatives, friends and supporters, including his mother, Delores Monson, and attorney David Moran, head of the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic, which officially took the case in 2015. Monson spend most of his sentence at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility, which is near Adrian.

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“I knew my son was innocent and somebody else has to pay for this,” she said. “I feel like I’m in heaven.”

Delores Monson said she is grateful for the Innocence Clinic attorneys and other supporters.

“Everybody that prayed for us, gave money for us who didn’t know us — we’re thankful and we’re grateful,” she said.

The judge said Monday that the thumb print on the toilet tank lid prompted her decision to grant Monson a new trial. The lid stayed for years in a Detroit police evidence storage room and was not presented during Monson’s trial.

Monson sought a new trial after the Michigan State Police matched the fingerprints on the toilet lid to Robert Lewis, whose then-girlfriend lived in the apartment building where the killing took place, 2752 W. Boston.

A new trial is scheduled for April 24 and a trial attorney has offered to take the case pro bono, Moran said.

Moran said he’s happy for his client.

“I've gotten to know Lamarr really well,” he said. “He’s a very quiet, soft spoken, humble guy. I really like him.”

Moran said he was a model prisoner with only a handful of misconduct incidents. “Many for being in the library when he wasn't suppose to be in the library,” Moran said.

Moran said Monson plans to work with his uncle, an electrical contractor, which he did before he was imprisoned. He also has an adult daughter in Nevada to reunite with as well as a granddaughter.

“Right now I’m glad to be here at this point in the process,” Monson said. “I’m just looking forward to being home with my family.”

In 2012, Lewis’ ex-girlfriend, Shellena Bentley, walked into a police precinct and claimed Lewis was Brown’s killer. Lewis has not been charged with the crime, and prosecutors through the years insisted Monson’s conviction was solid.

Innocence Clinic attorneys had the toilet lid re-examined after Bentley’s claim. During earlier hearings, a fingerprint expert testified the bloody thumb print did not belong to Monson. 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.

During a hearing in September, Bentley, who lived in the apartment building, testified 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. She testified that when he returned he had blood dripping off his fingernails and that he was frantic.

Monson, who was 23 at the time of the slaying, claims Brown told him she was 17. He told police that 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.

Although in his first statement Monson told police he had nothing to do with the killing, he signed a document the next day that stated he’d stabbed Brown to death after she attacked him. Moran said that Monson was given a piece of paper and was told to sign it without having a chance to read it. He said the confession was the only evidence presented during his trial. A jury convicted him in March 1997.

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

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Staff Writer George Hunter contributed.