Man exonerated in '84 slaying sues ex-Detroit cop, lab tech's estate
Novi — The lawyer for a man who spent 34 years in prison for a Detroit murder he did not commit has filed a $150 million federal lawsuit against a retired Detroit police detective and the estate of the deceased crime lab technician whose testimony and handling of the case helped put him behind bars.
Darrell Siggers, 55, says that he is not bitter for the time he spent behind bars and prefers to be positive about what happened to him.
"I suffered a lot of harm in prison," said Siggers, the father of three and grandfather of eight who went to prison when he was 20 for the 1984 slaying of James Montgomery. "I'm not the only one (falsely accused). I could be bitter and sad ... I want to be able to be on the other side of life."
Siggers' attorney, Wolfgang Mueller, filed the lawsuit Tuesday against former Detroit police detective Joseph Alex, now an attorney himself, and the estate of Detroit Crime Lab technician Claude Houseworth.
Mueller said Alex and Houseworth hid and fabricated evidence and testimony that landed Siggers behind bars for a murder he did not commit.
A man answering the phone Wednesday at Alex's listed law office number declined to comment.
Siggers was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Montgomery, who was shot Feb. 6, 1984, as he walked on Phillip Street on Detroit's east side,
Montgomery and two others had gone to the home of a young woman Siggers had children with. An argument broke out between Montgomery and his pals with the man believed to be the real killer.
During interrogations with Alex, Montgomery's friends said Siggers was the killer. Mueller said the gunman was described by others in the neighborhood as a fair-skinned African-American man and pointed to a man identified by the nickname "Toby Red." Siggers is brown-skinned.
Alex, according to Mueller, also threatened and coerced Montgomery's pals into naming Siggers as the gunman.
Mueller also said Houseworth testified that a bullet fragment was found near Siggers' apartment. But an earlier police report indicated that Siggers' apartment on Newport Street was a "dry hole," meaning that no evidence was found there. Bullet casings were found at the location on Phillip Street.
Also, according to Mueller, Houseworth indicated that the bullet taken from Montgomery matched a bullet taken from the gun believed to have been recovered in the case, but there was never a match.
Five months after Montgomery's death, Siggers was convicted and sent to prison. He says he was shackled up like a "slave" and entered a Michigan prison facing an uncertain fate.
He said he immediately got to work and educated himself earning a GED and then an associate's degree. He focused, said Siggers, on learning the law and getting out of prison.
Along the way, Siggers got help from appellate attorneys, innocence activists and the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic.
Siggers was released from prison July 30, 2018. In addition to the lawsuit, Siggers is seeking compensation from the state through its Wrongful Conviction Compensation fund for the three decades he spent behind bars.
Mueller said while $150 million might be a lot of money, it doesn't compare to what Siggers went through for a crime he didn't commit.
"It is a huge amount of money, (but) it is a huge amount of harm that happened to him," said Mueller.
Siggers said he wanted the lawsuit filed to bring awareness and "accountability" to similar cases.
“This case is typical of the DPD Crime Lab methods that caused the lab to be shut down in 2008," Mueller said. "Darrell Siggers is just one example of charlatan 'experts' passing their work off as 'good science.' And when detectives hide evidence from the defendant that hurts their theory of the case, society’s trust in our criminal justice system is eroded."
During his time in prison, Siggers' parents, a brother and a sister died. Last year, his daughter died of a seizure in her sleep just as he was getting his freedom.
Siggers said he is moving forward with his life. He has founded a company that helps others like himself.
"I can't surrender my life to an unfair conviction," said Siggers, the owner of Access Plus LLC, a company that helps ex-offenders and others involved in criminal cases get access to court records, court files and other information. "These were the challenges I faced. It enriches my soul to be able to help people."