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Detroit — A 37-year-old man who spent nearly eight years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of murder is free, thanks to new testimony from a witness and cellphone data that showed the accused killer wasn't near the scene when the crime occurred.

The release Monday of Edward Khalil marks the 20th exoneration by the Wayne County Prosecutor's Conviction Integrity Unit since it began work in January 2018.

"Without the Conviction Integrity Unit, this wrong would have never been righted," Khalil told The Detroit News. "But justice is done. Walking out (of prison) after seven-and-a-half years ... it's a great feeling."

Khalil was convicted of killing a man who was stealing copper from a building he co-owned in Palmer Park on Detroit's west side. According to officers who responded to the Sept. 15, 2011, fatal shooting, a security guard who'd been hired to keep scrappers away told them he'd pulled the trigger, but later claimed the officers had lied about his admission.

Though cellphone tower data showed Khalil's phone was miles away from the scene at the time of the shooting, he was convicted of first-degree murder; in 2013, after a new trial was granted on appeal, he was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 14-25 years.

"It's hard to believe anyone would get convicted in this case, given the evidence, but that's exactly what happened," Khalil's attorney Wolfgang Mueller said.

At the time of the killing, Khalil and partner Parminder Soraya owned an apartment building at 931 Covington in Detroit's Palmer Park neighborhood, one of several properties they owned.

Khalil was notified at 4 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2011 that someone had broken into the building, according to court documents. There had been so many previous break-ins from scrappers looking to steal copper, Khalil and his partner hired a security guard, Charles Shavers, to watch the property.

As Khalil drove to the building, he called 911 to notify police, court records show. When Khalil arrived at the building, he, Saroya and Saroya's son, Jason, spoke to officers, who conducted a partial search of the premises. The officers found nobody inside and left the scene at about 5:10 a.m.

After the police left, 51-year-old Anthony Jones, who along with partner Arthur Richardson had hidden in a closet during the police search, was crawling out a first-floor window when someone fired a 12-gauge shotgun, hitting Jones in the neck, according to court records.

Video from a nearby building showed Shavers, the guard, carrying a long gun moments before the shooting. Detroit police Officer Joseph Molinaro testified that when he responded to the scene, Shavers admitted, "I shot him." 

But prosecutors charged Khalil with the killing, arguing that Shavers handed Khalil the shotgun and Khalil pulled the trigger.

"According to the prosecution’s theory at trial, Khalil and his business partner were frustrated by the Detroit Police Department’s failure to arrest scrappers, and this homicide was the result of that frustration," a Wayne County Prosecutors press release said.

Prosecutors brought three witnesses against Khalil during the trial: Shavers, Shantele Henderson, who lived in a nearby apartment building, and Jones' accomplice, Richardson.

Henderson testified that after she heard a single gunshot, she looked out the window and heard a man she described as "Middle Eastern" say "we killed that mother ______." Henderson said the man had a thick accent, which describes Khalil's partner, Saroya, an immigrant from India.

Richardson, who was given immunity from burglary charges for his testimony, testified that he and Jones broke into the building through a bathroom window, intending to steal copper. Once inside, they unplugged the building's security camera and began removing fixtures.

Richardson said he and Jones were on the building's third floor when they saw police enter the building, so they hid in a closet. Once they felt it was safe, they went to the first floor, and Jones shimmied out of a window.

Richardson said he heard a gunshot, and retreated to the third floor to again hide in the closet. He testified he looked out a third-floor window and saw Khalil with a shotgun in his hand, and telling a woman "I got the mother ______."

Prosecutors cut a deal with Shavers that allowed him to be charged as an accessory after the fact in exchange for his testimony. He was sentenced to three years in prison, is listed by the Michigan Department of Corrections as an absconder. 

Shavers testified that after police searched the building and left, he called Khalil's cellphone, and that Khalil's girlfriend answered. Shavers' testimony was used by prosecutors to refute the defense's claim that cell tower data showed Khalil wasn't near the crime scene; prosecutors argued that, while the phone was elsewhere, Khalil was on the premises.

The Conviction Integrity Unit began reviewing the case last year, and determined Khali's conviction was tainted.

"First, cell tower records from the night of the shooting show that Khalil’s phone was seven miles away from the shooting at the time of the killing," the prosecutor's press release said.

"A trial claim by (Shavers) that he heard a woman’s voice when he called Khalil’s cellphone has now been significantly refuted," prosecutors said. "(Shavers) told police at the scene that he was talking to Mr. Khalil, not a woman, on the cellphone.

"Moreover, (Shavers') claim of talking to a woman surfaced nearly a year later, after the cell tower records were discovered," prosecutors said.

"Second, the son of Mr. Khalil’s business partner was interviewed recently by the CIU. He said that at all key moments, Mr. Khalil was talking to him on his cellphone, and that there was no woman on the other end of the line," the release said.

"Third, surveillance cameras near the shooting scene show only (Shavers) coming and going," the release said. "Fourth, the son of the business partner of Mr. Khalil says that he arrived after the shooting, simultaneously with Mr. Khalil, both converging on the window, where they saw Jones’ dead body for the first time."

Prosecutors said the Conviction Integrity Unit investigation found that "several circumstances contributed to flawed fact-finding in this case."

Mueller praised prosecutors for giving the case a second look 

"The Conviction Integrity Unit did a great job correcting this miscarriage of justice," he said. "Kudos to Prosecutor (Kym) Worthy for recognizing the flaws in the system. Now we can find out the root cause so it doesn't happen to another person in the future."

Khalil said he's been "taking it one day at a time" since being freed from prison, and said he's helping run the family restaurant, Mandaloun Bistro, in Bingham Farms.

"We're trying to get through (problems caused by) the coronavirus, and get the business up and running," Khalil said. 

"With the help of the Conviction Integrity Unit and my (appellate) attorney Elizabeth Jacobs, they did the right thing and made sure justice was done for me, and I'm grateful to them. They're a godsend. 

"There are a lot of people in the system who are unjustly there, and it gives a lot of people hope that Kym Worthy and Val Newman have set up this integrity unit. They're helping a lot of families and individuals receive justice."

ghunter@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2134

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN

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