Michigan lawmakers seek new protections for guardian safety net

Bashara turns to federal courts to try to get out of prison

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Bob Bashara listens to testimony in May 2016.

Detroit — Bob Bashara was unable to get his murder conviction overturned in the state court system, so he's now turning to the federal courts.

Bashara's attorney, Ronald Ambrose, on Friday filed a petition in U.S. District Court in Detroit. The filing claims Ryan Correctional Facility Warden Lee McRoberts is unlawfully detaining the former Grosse Pointe Park businessman. 

A writ of Habeas Corpus petition allows someone to report an illegal detention and ask the court to compel testimony from the jailer to determine if the imprisonment is legal. The filing is Bashara's only available legal recourse since all his state appeals to be released from the Detroit prison have been exhausted.

The federal petition makes the same arguments Bashara presented during his state claims: that his trial was tainted by ineffective attorneys and heavy media coverage of the case; that key evidence was lost or not reported in time to be beneficial to the defense.

Ambrose told The Detroit News on Friday that Bashara, 61, is suffering from "health issues," although he declined to elaborate.

"I'm a little worried about him in that respect, but his spirits seem to be good," Ambrose said. "I'm looking forward to getting some relief in the federal system."

Friday's filing is Bashara's latest attempt to overturn his conviction after he was sentenced to life in prison for paying handyman Joseph Gentz to kill his wife, Jane Bashara, in January 2012.

The case made national headlines after it was revealed that Bashara, former president of the Grosse Pointe Rotary Club, lived a secret life as "Master Bob" in Detroit's bondage, discipline and sadomasochistic (BDSM) community.

Prosecutors said Bashara, who operated a sex dungeon beneath the former Hard Luck Lounge on property he owned near the Detroit-Grosse Pointe Park border, wanted his wife killed so he could collect $800,000 in her 401(k) account.

His plan, prosecutors said, was to purchase a house he dubbed "the cottage," where he would be served by multiple submissive women and live the BDSM lifestyle full-time.

Bashara was charged in June 2012 for trying to have Gentz killed after a furniture store owner wore a wire and recorded Bashara setting up the hit.

Bashara pleaded guilty to solicitation of murder and was serving a 20-year sentence when he was charged with wife's murder.

Following a trial that featured 74 witnesses and 460 exhibits, Bashara was found guilty of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison in January 2015. 

In September 2017, the Court of Appeals affirmed Bashara's conviction after litigation went through lower courts. The matter was appealed to the state Supreme Court, which in May 2018 declined to hear the case.

"Mr. Bashara has exhausted all state remedies available to him," Bashara's 110-page court filing said.

The filing also claims police and prosecutors dragged their feet in presenting the defense a report about small bits of leaves found on Jane Bashara's body.

"The (delaying) tactics of obtaining the report of the leaves found on

Jane Bashara and in her vehicle denied the defense an opportunity to further

research where these leaves were initially located," the filing said.

"At first blush, the evidence of the leaf on Jane Bashara's sock when she is found may seem quite insignificant. Once we dig deeper into the case, we realize it was quite an important part of the case, so much so that an officer falsely declared it came from the Bashara's garage. In an independent test by Michigan State University, the evidence showed, however, it did not."

Jane Bashara's clothing was misplaced after it was taken into evidence, leading to police in Detroit and Grosse Pointe Park blaming each other for the loss. Friday's filing claimed losing the clothing also tainted his case.

"The police and prosecution failed to secure key evidence (Jane Bashara's clothing), and failed to obtain and disclose a report until late into the trial (a leaf found on Jane Bashara' s sock and within her vehicle) — these would have vindicated Mr. Bashara," the filing said.

University of Detroit-Mercy law professor Larry Dubin said courts rarely grant Writ of Habeas Corpus petitions by convicted prisoners.

"It’s a way to attempt to indicate that the constitutional rights he’s alleging were violated in the state courts were not properly decided, and therefore, he’s bringing it into the federal court arena as violations of the federal Constitution," Dubin said.

"In general, it's a tough sell, where you have the issues litigated through the trial and appellate courts of the state, to get relief granted in the federal courts. But it's the only legal recourse that available for him to take."