Judge affirms bond for alleged Detroit cop-killer

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — A Wayne County judge denied prosecutors' request Friday to reverse his decision earlier this month to grant bond to a man accused of killing a Detroit police officer, saying the defendant is not a flight risk or danger to society.

Judge Lawrence Talon's April 1 ruling in the case of Eddie Ray-Jr. Johnson prompted protests and sharp criticism from Detroit police; Johnson is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the June 2, 2019, shooting death of Detroit police Sgt. Elaine Williams, his domestic partner.

The department image of DPD Sgt. Elaine Williams is displayed at the vigil. Members of the Detroit Police Department, family members and loved ones hold a prayer vigil, Friday, April 9, 2021, for Sergeant Elaine Williams, who was fatally shot during a domestic violence incident on June 2, 2019.

Talon's April 1 ruling ordered the defendant released on a tether because of an undisclosed medical condition, reducing the defendant’s bond from remand status to a $100,000/10% bond. Police chief James Craig and other officers called the judge's decision "cowardly."

Following a nearly two-hour hearing Friday in Wayne County Circuit Court, the judge denied a motion from Wayne County prosecutors asking him to increase Johnson's bond to $250,000 with no 10% provision.

Wayne Circuit Judge Lawrence Talon swears in murder defendant Eddie-Ray Johnson during a livestreamed court hearing

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Maria Miller said in an email Friday: "A decision will be made about appealing the judge’s ruling in the near future."

DPD Chief James Craig addresses attendees near the department image of Sgt. Elaine Williams.

After Talon rendered his decision to uphold Johnson's bond conditions, the judge said Craig's "personal attack" against him was a "threat to democracy."

Talon said since he granted Johnson's release from jail, protesters have been picketing outside the Wayne Circuit courthouse in Detroit, and outside his Livonia home. He said someone put a picture of Williams and a letter in his mailbox Friday morning imploring him to change his bond decision.

The judge said someone also sent him text messages about the case, including a link  to an April 9 Detroit News story bearing the headline: "Craig at vigil for slain cop: Judge in bond decision 'cowardly.'" 

"I'm not supposed to read about the case, but you couldn't miss it," Talon said. "Right in the headline, it says my decision was cowardly.

"I believe public officials have the constitutional right to call other public officials cowardly ... but I also believe when government officials make personal attacks on judges, that it’s a threat to the independence of the judiciary, and as such it’s a threat to democracy," the judge said.

Craig responded: "I don't deny what I said. I said it on the record because that's what I felt about him. I'm deeply disappointed in his decision."

DPD Sgt. Elaine Williams family members and loved ones, including, her sister, LaKiesha Kemble, seated, attend the vigil.

Mark Young, president of the Detroit Police Lieutenants and Sergeants Association union, who has been picketing outside the judge's house, said after Friday's hearing that the demonstrations will continue in light of Talon's decision.

"I'm just speechless," he said. "This is injustice. What message does this send to domestic violence victims? What message does this send to law enforcement?"

Talon cited several factors that prompted his decision to deny the prosecution's request to increase Johnson's bond, including evidence that suggests Williams shot Johnson first.

"Based on the Medical Examiner's testimony and the state police report, a reasonable conclusion is that the defendant was shot first," the judge said. "He claims Ms. Williams shot him first, and that he got the gun and shot her."

Talon said jurors could find Johnson guilty of crimes ranging from first-degree murder to manslaughter. "I'm not saying those will be the verdicts," he said. "I'm just saying when you look at the likelihood of conviction, they could come up with any number of possible verdicts."

Craig replied: "It sounds like (Talon) is setting up a self-defense claim for (Johnson)."

Williams was a mother of two and a 14-year Detroit police veteran who worked in the Major Crimes Section. Her 12-year-old son was home when she was shot five times, although Johnson reportedly removed his biological son from the home before the shooting.

During his arraignment a week after the killing, Johnson was ordered remanded to the Wayne County Jail. The charges were lowered to second-degree murder following Johnson's two-day preliminary examination, although Talon later reinstated the first-degree murder charge.

"Domestic violence is a terrible thing," Talon said. "But but not all violence between domestic partners means the person accused of the domestic violence is a danger to the public. They are often a danger to the other partner."

Talon said he doesn't take the protests against him personally.

"Based on the Judicial Code of Conduct, I cannot talk to you," he said to the demonstrators. "I cannot come outside. I cannot read your signs or listen to the chants, and I cannot look at the picture of Elaine Williams and the letter that was left in my mailbox this morning.

"In every case that comes before the court, when the court makes a decision, one side is going to be unhappy," Talon said. "No judge is insensitive to the pain and grief we've seen on both sides of the aisle.

"But it's my hope that, even if you disagree with my decision, I hope and trust that you'll feel you received a fair hearing. The defendant is presumed innocent."


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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN