Judge halts hearing to exonerate Detroit man after police officer comes forward

Correction: Terance Calhoun was convicted of raping and kidnapping a girl and attempting to kidnap another girl in a separate incident in 2006. That information was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.

A Detroit man imprisoned for close to two decades had his exoneration hearing halted Friday after the judge overseeing the hearing said she had been approached by a Detroit police officer who urged her to halt efforts to free the man.

Terance Calhoun, 35, was convicted of raping and kidnapping a teen girl and attempting to kidnap another girl in a separate incident in Detroit in the fall of 2006. He was waiting in the Maxey/Woodland Correctional Facility in Whitmore Lake with his attorneys on Friday expecting to have both convictions dismissed.

But Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Kelly Ramsey informed Calhoun, his lawyers and prosecutors Friday that the Detroit police officer showed up at her office earlier Friday.

The officer, who Ramsey said she knows from prior professional work, handed her a note and said she needed to look at it because he said Calhoun had given a full confession in both cases.

Terance Calhoun, center, with State Appellate Defender Office attorneys Michael Mittlestat and Tabitha Harris during a hearing via Zoom before Judge Kelly Ramsey in Wayne County Circuit Court Friday, April 22, 2022. Calhoun was expected to be exonerated on Friday but a Detroit police officer approached Ramsey privately urging her not to free Calhoun, court officials said, and she delayed the hearing until Wednesday.

Ramsey said she ended the conversation and did not look at any of the information because she was "feeling uncomfortable." She said she has consulted with the court's legal counsel about the conversation.

The judge apologized to Calhoun but said she had to adjourn the hearing to "make sure justice is done" in the case. The hearing is now scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday.

"I don't know what (the officer) has to share," Ramsey said Friday.

Val Newman, the chief of the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office's Conviction Integrity Unit, blasted the officer's actions, saying it was "highly inappropriate for a Detroit police officer to go behind the back of the prosecutor's office" and meet with a judge. 

Newman said the officer had come to her office as well but didn't indicate when. Ramsey advised Newman not to elaborate in court.

Detroit police Deputy Chief Rudy Harper Friday evening said the officer should not have approached Ramsey and the department was "working to rectify the situation."

"The events that unfolded in court today in the People v. Terance Calhoun matter were outside of the Detroit Police Department policy and are not how the administration expects our investigators to act," Harper said in a statement. "The officer did not adhere to our policy or procedures to prevent such a situation."

He did not release the officer's name.

Michael Mittlestat, an attorney with the State Appellate Defender's Office, said the officer's discussion with the judge was "unorthodox and inappropriate."

In a later statement, he said, "Mr. Calhoun should have been freed today. Instead, because a police officer acting alone with no authority could not face the facts, Mr. Calhoun remains wrongfully incarcerated, which is unconscionable. We have been informed that the information that the officer attempted to present to the judge today is nothing new and has already been thoroughly investigated."

Chief Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Kenny was also concerned.

"It was inappropriate for the officer to approach the judge and attempt to give her information to influence her decision without first giving it to the prosecutor and the attorneys for Mr. Calhoun," Kenny told The News Friday.  

Kenny added "even after giving the prosecutor and the defense attorneys (the information) the officer should not have approached the judge privately. The information should be shared in an open court during a hearing."

Calhoun has been imprisoned for 15 years. One of his attorneys, David Williams, told The Detroit News Friday that two separate DNA tests cleared his client of the crimes.

Williams is an attorney with the Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School Innocence Project.

Calhoun was convicted in 2007 of raping and kidnapping a 13-year-old girl on Oct. 27, 2006, near a liquor store on Fenkell Avenue, and of attempting to kidnap a 15-year-old girl on Sept. 26, 2006, near Fenkell Avenue and Gladstone Street, both in Detroit.

Both girls identified Calhoun from separate lineups, prosecutors said.

Calhoun pleaded no contest to first-degree criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping and felony firearm in the case of the 13-year-old girl. Charges of criminal sexual conduct and assault with intent to commit sexual penetration were dismissed as part of a plea agreement. He pleaded no contest to one count of attempted kidnapping of the older girl, and charges of kidnapping, criminal sexual conduct, and assault with intent to commit sexual penetration were dismissed.

He was sentenced a month later in the case of the 13-year-old to 15 to 30 years with an additional two years on the felony firearm charge. In the case of the older girl, Calhoun received a concurrent sentence of 11 months to five years in prison.

Calhoun's DNA was tested in 2007 and the test showed he was not involved in the crimes, although Williams said it is not clear why he wasn't exonerated then. His DNA was tested again 12 years later in 2019 with the same result, Williams said. 

Valerie Newman of the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office's Conviction Integrity Unit during a hearing for Terance Calhoun via Zoom in Wayne County Circuit Court on Friday, April 22, 2022.

Calhoun's case was prosecuted prior to the 2009 discovery of a backlog of untested sexual assault kits found abandoned in a Detroit Police Department storage facility, and before the subsequent creation of the Sexual Assault Kit Task Force.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy's office noted that "protocols implemented by the Sexual Assault Kit Task Force to review these kit cases were instrumental in assisting the CIU with the Calhoun case. Recent investigation and evidence in the case has established that Terance Calhoun did not commit the two crimes."

New evidence resulted in the identification of another man, according to a release from Worthy's office. The man has been charged with several other sexual assaults as a result of work completed by the WCPO Sexual Assault Kit Task Force, they said, but prosecutors declined to release his name.

Calhoun is being represented by the State Appellate Defender Office, which collaborated with a Western Michigan University-Cooley Innocence Project.

On Thursday, in announcing that prosecutors would ask Ramsey to free Calhoun, Worthy said: “A series of fortunate events and a lot of very hard work by quite a few people led to my decision to exonerate Mr. Calhoun. The decision in this case was the culmination of years of long work on this and unrelated cases. We will leave no stone unturned to get to justice for defendants like Mr. Calhoun.

bwilliams@detroitnews.com