Detroiter tries to rebuild life as retrial looms
Detroit — Bernard Young says it’s impossible to put his life back together with the possibility of returning to prison hanging over his head.
After spending 28 years in prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit, Young faces the prospect of losing his freedom a second time on the same allegations — that he molested two young boys nearly three decades ago.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy maintains Young, 58, is guilty, and is pushing for a new trial, despite the victims recanting their stories; the discovery last year that evidence had been withheld from the defense during Young’s 1989 trial; and the judge who freed Young on bond in February saying it was unlikely he’d be convicted again.
Young was released Feb. 8 from the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater amid cheers from prisoners in the yard, and tears from relatives and advocates who for years had pushed for his freedom.
The Detroit man was convicted in 1989 of molesting two brothers, ages 5 and 7, whose parents rented a house from Young’s mother. Young was sentenced to 60 to 100 years.
The victims testified during hearings last year that their stepfather, not Young, had molested them. They said they were afraid of their stepfather, William Clark, who was later charged with sexually assaulting the children. He has since died.
Also last year, the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic discovered police reports showing the boys told a Detroit police sergeant shortly after Young was arrested that Clark was their abuser. The defense was never informed of the reports.
After the new testimony and evidence were presented during last year’s hearings, Wayne Circuit Judge Qiana Lillard in February vacated Young’s sentence, granted him a new trial and ordered him released on $5,000 personal bond.
“The likelihood of conviction is not great,” the judge said “I think it would be a further disservice to force someone to remain in custody pending trial when he’s already served (28 years).”
Prosecutors disagreed. They objected to Young’s release, and when the judge overruled, they asked that Young be fitted with a GPS tether. Lillard denied the request.
Young’s retrial is scheduled for June 5. A pretrial conference is scheduled Monday.
“I’m trying build my life back up after what they took from me the first time,” said Young, a father of five. “But Kym Worthy won’t let it go. I don’t know why she wants another trial.
“The victims said I didn’t do it. The prosecutors withheld evidence (during former Wayne County Prosecutor John O’Hair’s tenure). It doesn’t make sense to put me through all this. They don’t have a case. Who are they going to call as witnesses? They prosecuted the wrong man, but they won’t let it go.”
Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Mark Hindelang said in a statement Friday: “This case is currently in litigation as the trial court’s grant of a new trial is being appealed. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office will argue the case in the appropriate venue. A comment outside the legal process would be inappropriate at this time.”
Claudia Whitman, president of the National Capital Crime Assistance Network in Colorado, said a new trial means the victims will have to testify again.
“They don’t want to deal with this again,” said Whitman, whose organization paid for a lawyer to take Young’s case. “I’ve read all the records, and the affidavits the one boy gave about what happened to him as a child. They were taken from their parents, adopted, and all though this, it’s been a nightmare for them. It’s so callous to make them get on the witness stand again.”
Two months after Young was convicted, Clark was accused of molesting his stepsons. He was charged with nine counts of criminal sexual conduct, but pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of second-degree child abuse and was sentenced to three years’ probation.
“I’m sitting in prison, and the kids come forward and say their stepfather molested them, and he only gets three months’ probation,” Young said. “You’ve got to be kidding me”
Whitman became involved in the case five years ago when she was contacted by Young’s sister, Joyce Holman. Whitman reached out to the two victims, who said their stepfather had molested them, and that Young was innocent.
“They said their stepfather told them he would kill their whole family if they ever said anything,” Whitman said. “They were terrified of him, even as adults. I think they finally were able to tell the truth after he died.”
The victims signed affidavits swearing their stepfather had abused them, and that they accused Young because they feared Clark. Young’s attorney, Solomon Radner, asked for a new trial.
Through a Freedom of Information request, the Innocence Clinic later obtained 1989 police reports showing the boys told Detroit Police Sgt. Shelley Foy their stepfather had molested them. The clinic forwarded the documents to Radner.
“Judge Lillard ruled correctly that exculpatory evidence was inexplicably and unconstitutionally concealed from Mr. Young for over 27 years, during which Mr. Young wasted away in prison for a heinous crime he did not commit,” Radner said.
“The evidence is unequivocal that Mr. Young is clearly innocent but Kym Worthy is fighting her hardest to get him thrown back into prison on a technicality. Tragically, Ms. Worthy seems to be driven by winning, not by the pursuit of truth and justice.”
Holman praised Whitman for helping her brother.
“She was a true blessing,” Holman said. “I had no money, and for years I had been trying to get my brother out of prison. This has been a nightmare for everyone, but God brought us through this whole thing.”
Young said he’d like to ask Worthy why she won’t drop his case. “I want to ask her: What’s the problem? The (victims) came out and said they falsely accused the wrong man. What more do you want?”