State high court denies Bashara appeal

George Hunter
The Detroit News

A terse one-paragraph sentence released Wednesday by the Michigan Supreme Court effectively brings an end to one of the most publicized criminal cases in state history.

Lawyers for former Grosse Pointe Park businessman Bob Bashara, who was convicted last year of orchestrating the Jan. 24, 2012, murder of his wife Jane Bashara, asked for a new trial in September 2015. The motion claimed prosecutors and the media portrayed Bashara as a monster.

The state's highest court has declined to hear the appeal for a new trial by former Grosse Pointe Park businessman Bob Bashara, 60, who paid his developmentally disabled handyman Joseph Gentz to kill his wife Jane Bashara on Jan. 24, 2012.

Bashara sought a new trial after his December 2014 murder conviction, claiming his attorneys didn't properly represent him. While on the witness stand during his new trial hearing in 2015, Bashara also claimed a "brood of vipers" in the media had tainted his image as a philanthropist who raised money for charity.

"He had a fair trial," said Lillian Diallo, who was Bashara's attorney during the murder trial. "It was over and above what's given to most defendants. Justice was fairly meted out in this case."

Bashara's appellate attorney, Ronald Ambrose, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday. 

Bashara could file a habeas corpus petition in federal court, although legal experts say it's unlikely to be successful.

"That's good news," said Jane Bashara's great-aunt Barbara Naeyaert, upon hearing about the state Supreme Court's denial. Naeyaert said Bashara's numerous appeals have taken a toll on the family. "We just thought he'd keep on appealing forever."

The Bashara case made national headlines after Jane Bashara's body was found inside her Mercedes SUV behind an abandoned house on Detroit's east side.

Jane and Bob Bashara were well-known throughout the Pointes; she was president of the influential Grosse Pointe South High School Mothers' Club, while he served as president of the Grosse Pointe Rotary Club. The couple also organized numerous charity events, including an annual fireworks show.

Bob Bashara reported his wife missing on Jan. 24, 2012. Her body was found the following day behind a house on Annott Street.

Media interest in the case exploded after it was revealed the man known around the Pointes as "Big Bob" had a secret life as "Master Bob" in Detroit's BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism) scene. He operated a dungeon beneath one of his properties that housed the Hard Luck Lounge on Mack in Grosse Pointe Park, which later burned to the ground.

Prosecutors argued Bashara wanted his wife killed so he could collect her $800,000 in 401(k) savings, purchase a house, and live with his girlfriend Rachel Gillett and at least one other woman, who would serve as his sex slaves.

Days after the killing, Gentz walked into the Grosse Pointe Park police station and confessed to strangling Jane Bashara in the couple's garage. He was sentenced to 17-28 years in prison.

After Gentz's confession and arrest, Bashara tried to pay furniture store owner Steve Tibaudo to kill the handyman in jail. Tibaudo reported the scheme to Wayne County prosecutors, who outfitted him with a secret recording device that captured subsequent conversations about the attempted hit. Bashara pleaded guilty to solicitation of murder, and in December 2012 was sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

Bashara in April 2013 was charged with his wife's murder. After a raucous, protracted trial, a jury in December 2014 found him guilty of first-degree murder; he was sentenced to life in prison.

Bashara filed a request for a new trial, but Wayne County Circuit Judge Vonda Evans denied it. Bashara appealed the ruling, and the Michigan Court of Appeals denied his motion in September 2017. He then submitted his claim to the state's high court.

The Supreme Court issued a brief statement Wednesday: "On order of the Court, the application for leave to appeal the September 21, 2017 judgment of the Court of Appeals is considered, and it is DENIED, because we are not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by this Court."

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Maria Miller said in a statement: "The Michigan Supreme Court correctly denied Bashara’s leave to appeal.  He will  have the rest of his life in prison to reflect upon the cruel murder of his wife, and the devastating consequences for his children, family members, and the many friends of Jane Bashara." 

The decision effectively ends Bashara's chance for appeal, although he could still file a claim in federal court that his constitutional rights were violated, Wayne State University law professor Peter Henning said. 

"But those are difficult to win," Henning said. "I would go so far to say they're very difficult to win. But it's not impossible.

"One of the challenges is, you don't automatically get assigned counsel in a federal habeas claim," Henning said. "You have to pay for your attorney yourself."

Henning said he wouldn't be surprised if Bashara takes the case to federal court.

"That's what prisoners do: They appeal their cases until they've exhausted all possibilities," he said. "That's what (former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick) is doing now. But the chances of winning a federal claim are slim."

Naeyaert said she now hopes Bashara's name will disappear from news reports.

"That ought to take the wind out of his sails," she said of the high court's decision. "Maybe now he’ll just relax and enjoy his time in prison."

Added Diallo: "Bob Bashara always thinks he's the smartest person in the room. Good luck with that."

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN