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Justice cites ‘concern’ over pair’s murder convictions

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

A Michigan State Supreme Court justice said Wednesday that recanted testimony identifying two men as the killers of a Roseville woman “causes some problems and concern” about their convictions in the 1999 slaying.

Raynette Johnson (second from right), sister of Justly Johnson, listens as attorneys argue "People of Michigan v Justly Ernest Johnson and Kendrick Scott" in front of the Michigan Supreme Court in Lansing  Wednesday.

Justice Richard Bernstein made the remark as he and other justices heard arguments Wednesday that could lead to a new trial for Justly Johnson and Kendrick Scott, who are serving life behind bars for a murder they say they didn’t commit.

Lawyers at the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan say they have new evidence they say justifies a new trial for the two Detroit men in the murder of Lisa Kindred, who was killed on Mother’s Day in 1999.

That new evidence is statements from Kindred’s son, Charmous Skinner Jr., who was in the van with his mom and other siblings when she was shot in the heart.

Skinner, who has a perjury conviction, has testified that Johnson and Scott did not fit the description of the man who killed his mother.

A Wayne County judge in 2015 ruled Skinner’s testimony was not credible during an evidentiary hearing seeking a new trial in the case.

Justly Johnson

Dave McCreedy of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office argued Wednesday it is not the role of the state’s highest court to determine whetehr Skinner’s testimony is credible.

Imran Syed, assistant director of the UM Innocence Clinic, argued Johnson and Scott’s case before the justices, saying it might be better if a new judge and jury looked at the case because of the new information.

“We’re in a situation where the evidence is truly new,” Syed said, citing Skinner’s testimony and the recanted testimony implicating Johnson and Scott.

Sayed told the justices that while Skinner is “not a perfect witness,” a reasonable jury could side with his account of what happened to his mother and who murdered her.

According to court documents, two men, Antonio Burnette and Raymond Jackson, told police that Scott and Johnson murdered Kindred but later recanted their statements, saying they felt pressured to give false accounts. Burnette withdrew his statement during testimony at the pair’s original trials and testified again at a 2015 evidentiary hearing in the men’s bid for a new trial that he had falsely fingered Scott and Johnson as the killers.

Kendrick Scott

Jackson has since died. One of his relatives testified that he told her his earlier statements incriminating Johnson and Scott were false.

Chief Michigan Supreme Court Justice Stephen Markman said he was not “bowled over” by the new evidence nor was he “bowled over” by the evidence that led to Johnson and Scott’s convictions.

Family members of the two men traveled to Lansing to hear the arguments.

Reginald Smith, Scott’s brother, said, “This is the first time (a court) is really looking at the complete case.”

Justices Bridget McCormack and Kurtis Wilder recused themselves from hearing the legal arguments because of McCormack’s prior involvement as counsel for a party in the case and because Wilder was on the Michigan Court of Appeals panel that decided a motion for peremptory reversal in Johnson’s case.

The justices have until July to issue a decision.