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Judge: Wayne Co. prosecutors can try Cleaves case

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Flint — A judge blocked an attempt by Mateen Cleaves’ attorneys to toss the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office from the Michigan State star’s alleged sex crimes case and to have his accuser evaluated for competency.

Judge M. Cathy Dowd denied his attorneys’ motion to toss Kym Worthy’s office from the case on Thursday in a hotly debated hearing in 67th District Court in which the judge, the prosecutor and defense counsel repeatedly raised their voices and Dowd occasionally admonished them.

“We should start this exam, and the victim should be the first witness,” Dowd said.

The preliminary exam is 9 a.m. Sept. 15.

Dowd expressed concerns about a documented police incident that defense lawyers say happened two weeks before a court hearing in the case. According to a Flint police report, the female accuser allegedly jumped into the Flint River in a suicide attempt and was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward.

Dowd said she intends to ask the woman in court if she knows the difference between the truth and a lie and the consequences of both. The judge also said it was important to know if the accuser was “fantasizing” about incidents in her life.

“The incident just happening two weeks before the preliminary exam gives the court some concern. There could be a myriad of explanations. If I see a red flag go up, I will call counsel up. I want to see what she has to say about the truth,” Dowd said.

Cleaves, 38, of Grand Blanc was charged in March with the alleged sexual assault of a woman after a charity golf outing on Sept. 15, 2015. The incident allegedly took place at the Knights Inn motel in Mundy Township.

The case is being handled by the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office after Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton recused himself, citing a conflict of interest.

Cleaves’ attorney, Frank Manley, has been pressing for Worthy’s office to be removed from the case, accusing Worthy of trying to build her celebrity image by prosecuting the former basketball great.

Manley said outside court he would probably appeal both of Dowd’s rulings from Thursday and would consider subpoenaing Worthy if necessary.

“The whole idea is to have a fair trial, a fair hearing. A criminal case is not a sprint, it can be a marathon. It’s not about doing it fast, it’s about doing it right,” Manley said.

Cleaves appeared in court with his wife and several supporters. Manley said his client was doing fine and is a mentally tough individual.

Manley also demanded a hearing before the preliminary exam because the alleged victim says on LinkedIn she worked for Wayne County on a sexual/child abuse task force, which should disqualify the prosecutor’s office to avoid the perception of impropriety.

Dowd denied that request as well on Thursday, saying a new state law that look effect in 2003 says the state Attorney General’s Office appoints a new prosecutor in cases of disqualification and Manley must show specific prejudice in that decision.

“That’s on you, Manley. (Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Lisa Lindsey) does not have the burden, you do, and I disagree with you,” Dowd said.

Assistant Prosecutor Maria Miller, Worthy’s spokeswoman, has stated the prosecutor’s office doesn’t have a Wayne County child abuse task force, “nor have we been able to document any program by that name in Wayne County.”

In the past, Manley also said the prosecutor’s office should be disqualified because of the tone of her press releases regarding the case — including a March release that appeared to have angered the judge.

In that statement, Worthy was critical of the district court’s initial handling of the case, which was done without presence of an assistant prosecutor: “I don’t know how they do things in Genesee County, but we try our best to be as transparent as possible when my office is involved. We do not approve of secret proceedings unless it is proscribed by law.”

Cleaves played four seasons at Michigan State (1996-2000), leading the Spartans to the 2000 national championship. The Flint native played parts of six seasons in the NBA, including his rookie season with the Detroit Pistons, who selected him in the first round of the NBA draft.

Manley has said his client is disputing published reports suggesting the former athlete used date rape drugs during the alleged sexual assault.

In July at an earlier court hearing, Dowd mentioned a video in the case and said if it’s entered into evidence “there shall be no broadcasting, rebroadcasting of the parties or still shots derived from the video of the parties’ faces or genitalia.”

Manley also has challenged the original timing of the charges, which were near the start of the NCAA basketball tournament — an event Cleaves has covered as a broadcaster.

JChambers@detroitnews.com