Cleared murder convict sues Flat Rock, ex-officer
A former Flat Rock man who spent nearly five years behind bars before being cleared in a 2010 murder sued the city and an ex-police officer Wednesday in federal court, alleging that falsified and suppressed evidence was used to convict him.
James Terrell Shepherd, 33, was freed after the Michigan Court of Appeals vacated his conviction for first-degree premeditated murder and second-degree murder in December 2015. His suit against Flat Rock and former police Lt. Jeffrey Metz seeks at least $10 million in damages.
Wolfgang Mueller, Shepherd’s attorney, said his client “was robbed of 4 1/2 years of his life in a 10-by-7-foot cage 23 hours a day with a bad bunkie.”
Efforts to reach Flat Rock officials and Metz were not successful Wednesday.
The suit accuses Metz of lying, omitting and ignoring key evidence in the case to get a warrant against Shepherd in the Nov. 9, 2010, slaying of 24-year-old Jesus Cabrera, an alleged drug dealer.
“He flat-out lied to manufacture a probable cause to procure an arrest warrant from a (Flat Rock) judge,” said Mueller. “He didn’t tell the judge that he had solidly verified from James’ employer that he was at work (when the murder occurred).”
Shepherd was convicted of Cabrera’s murder by a Wayne County jury in June 2012 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Christopher Rishard Henderson, 29, an acquaintance of Shepherd and the man whose apartment Cabrera was visiting for an alleged marijuana deal, was tried along with Shepherd and convicted in the slaying.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Shepherd said even though he testified he was not at the murder scene and had nothing to do with the slaying, he believes he was convicted because he was tried along with Henderson. Shepherd had a separate jury.
“That’s what made it so bad. I didn’t know they were going to try us together until (the day of the trial),” said Shepherd, who now lives out of state. “They still found me guilty. (Jurors) felt that it wasn’t enough to say that I was innocent.”
Mueller said there was no physical evidence “of any kind” placing Shepherd at or near the murder scene.
The sole eyewitness, who reported seeing two men enter the apartment building shortly before Cabrera was found dead, “specifically told the officers that James Shepherd was not the second individual,” Mueller said.
“To establish probable cause that James Shepherd was present during the murder, Metz relied on a single text message from Shepherd to Henderson on November 9, 2010, at 1:20 p.m., seven hours before the murder, that stated: ‘They sending me 2 work right now we gotta set it 4 2nite or n the morning,” the suit alleges.
DNA samples from Shepherd tested negative for any evidence linking him to the murder scene, said Mueller.
After his conviction, Shepherd said he went to work in prison using the institution’s law library to set the groundwork for an appeal of his conviction.
“It was hell on earth,” Shepherd said of his time behind bars.
In its ruling overturning Shepherd’s conviction, the appeals court said the guilty verdict was “not supported by sufficient evidence.”
Mueller said such decisions are “rare.”
Shepherd, who was freed from prison April 6, 2016, said he is working in construction and wants to have the murder conviction expunged so he can obtain a “career based” job. He said he hasn’t forgiven Metz.
“I believe in God and we supposed to forgive, but I can’t ... not yet ... not yet,” Shepherd said.
Mueller said witnesses made no mention of Shepherd when police arrived at the murder scene and interviewed witnesses at the apartment building. Shepherd also provided a written statement from his employer that he was at work at a Ford Motor Company plant at the time of the slaying.
Mueller says Flat Rock police did not make a report of their interview with Shepherd’s employer, a contract company, which provided an alibi for him. The attorney said an analysis of Shepherd’s cellphone records indicate that his client was not near the murder scene but that Metz “chose not to make a written report of the exculpatory cellphone tower analysis.”