Judge to decide bond for 2 men granted new murder trials

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Justly Johnson (left) and Kendrick Scott (right) in Wayne County Circuit Court

A Wayne County Circuit Court judge said Friday he will decide next week whether to grant bond to two Detroit men who insist they're not responsible for the Mother's Day 1999 fatal shooting of a woman who was gunned down within feet of her three children.

The Michigan Supreme Court in July ordered new trials for Kendrick Scott, 39, and Justly Johnson, 43. Both men for years have claimed they weren't involved in the fatal shooting of Lisa Kindred, 35, on the city’s east side.

During Friday's bond hearing before Judge Donald Knapp, assistant Wayne County prosecutor Athina Siringas argued the two men should be treated like any other first-degree murder defendants and denied a personal recognizance bond.

Imran Syed, assistant director of the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic, which is representing the two men, said the state Supreme Court's findings — that their convictions were based on "shaky ground" — should be considered.

The judge said he will rule Sept. 21 after weighing written arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Detroit News clipping from May 10 1999

Kindred of Roseville was killed May 9, 1999, while sitting inside her minivan in the 4400 block of Bewick on Detroit's east side. Someone approached the van about 12:55 a.m. and shot Kindred, 35, in the abdomen.

Kindred's three children -- two infants and Charmous Skinner Jr., then 8 years old, were in the vehicle — but investigators never interviewed the boy.

Lawyers at the Innocence Clinic filed a motion for a new trial based in part on testimony from Kindred's son that Scott and Johnson did not fit the description of the shooter.

Court documents also show Antonio Burnette and Raymond Jackson originally told police Scott and Johnson had killed Kindred, but they later recanted their statements, saying they felt pressured to give false accounts.

In their July ruling, the state justices ruled that "newly discovered evidence of Skinner's testimony in conjunction with the other evidence that would be presented on retrial would make a different result probable and therefore entitled both defendants to new trials."

Justice Richard Bernstein wrote the majority opinion. He was joined by Chief Justice Stephen Markman and Justices David Viviano and Elizabeth Clement.

Justice Bridget McCormack recused herself because of her prior involvement as counsel for a party in the case. Justice Kurtis Wilder also abstained because he was on the Michigan Court of Appeals panel that decided Johnson and Scott's motions for peremptory reversal.

Justice Brian Zahra was the lone dissenter. He wrote the defendants' newly discovered evidence "is not credible."

"Even assuming the evidence was credible, I disagree with the majority that this evidence would have made a difference on retrial, particularly in regard to Scott's jury trial in which the evidence, albeit circumstantial, was just short of overwhelming."

During Friday's hearing, assistant prosecutor Siringas said the two defendants are "in the same position as they would be if they’d been charged with a homicide and been bound over for trial.

"A personal bond on a murder charge, where these defendants had previously been convicted on murder one, is inappropriate," she said.

"At the preliminary examination, the magistrate had an opportunity to listen to the defendants and bound them over," Siringas said. "Then there was a bench trial for one of the defendants, and a jury trial for the other. The jury concluded the defendants were guilty; and (Wayne Circuit) Judge Prentis Edwards made the same decision."

Siringas added that the witnesses were accused during their original trial of trying to intimidate witnesses in the courtroom. 

"The witnesses had to be put into protective custody," she said. "I think if (Johnson and Kendrick) are released, the witnesses would be in danger."

Syed countered that the state Supreme Court decision negates the earlier rulings.

"The argument Ms. Siringas made is the argument that was made before the Michigan Supreme Court — and that argument lost," he said. "The majority decision of the Supreme Court was very strong language that said this conviction is based on shaky ground."

Syed added the allegation that the defendants had tried to threaten witnesses had no merit.

"The witnesses themselves said they were not threatened, and the Supreme Court found that was not credible," he said.

Following Friday's hearing, the defendants' mothers expressed disappointment the judge didn't grant bond — but expressed hope he'd rule in their favor next week.

"We've been waiting all this time; I guess we can wait another week," Tisah Johnson said. "It's just a mess."

Ernestine Kendrick shook her head.

"They just don't want to let them boys out," she said. 

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN