Judge recuses herself in murder case because she contributed to defendant's family
Detroit — A Wayne County Circuit Court judge on Thursday agreed to remove herself from the trial of a pastor charged with killing a transgender Detroit woman on grounds the judge contributed to a fundraiser for the defendant's wife and daughter.
Judge Tracy Green of Wayne County Circuit Court recused herself during a motion hearing after acknowledging she made a contribution to a church fund for Albert Weathers' wife and daughter to keep them in their home while the defendant was locked up in jail awaiting trial on the murder charges against him.
Green said she was granting the prosecutor's motion to step aside because it was important to avoid the appearance of impropriety since she did make a contribution to the Weathers family, and it was "... made in connection with this case."
Green said she made the donation to the defendant's wife and daughter because "Mrs. Weathers had experienced financial hardship due to the fact that one of the primary earners of the household, that being Mr. Weathers, had been incarcerated."
The judge also attended the fundraiser, according to a motion filed by the prosecutor.
The judge did not say what amount the financial donation was for and when it was made, but it was given before Green was randomly assigned the case. She said she agrees the appearance of "impropriety is something that can't be overlooked" in this case, although Green said she feels she would be fair in her handling of the case.
"To avoid the appearance of impropriety, I have to recuse. I don't take (the recusal) lightly in doing so because I recognize that I'm also responsible for fairly and adjudicating cases," Green said..
Green was assigned the case after the fundraiser and following her transfer to the criminal division of the Wayne County Circuit Court. She previously was a judge in the circuit court's juvenile division before she was transferred.
Green was reassigned in May amid allegations that she covered up evidence of her grandson being beaten by his father. The 11-year-old boy has accused his father, 31-year-old Gary Davis-Headd, of striking him. Headd is the judge's son.
Chief Wayne County Judge Timothy Kenny said in May that he took Green off the abuse and neglect docket until cases of parental rights termination and criminal child abuse involving Davis-Headd are resolved.
In the criminal case, Albert Weathers, 47, of Sterling Heights is charged with open murder in the Dec. 7 slaying in Detroit of Kelly Stough, 36, who died of a single gunshot to her left underarm. Weathers is out on bond until his trial.
Defense attorney David Cripps objected to the judge recusing herself and appealed her ruling on the motion to presiding Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Prentis Edwards Jr., who set a hearing for Oct. 3 to hear arguments on Cripps' appeal.
Cripps told the judge "it was an honest and compassionate thing" in trying to help Weathers' wife. He said recusing a judge for making a contribution to a fundraiser is going down a "slippery slope."
"This was not a legal fundraiser," said Cripps, who added the fundraiser was organized by another church's pastor. "You had no idea you would land in this seat here at the time that you attended this fundraiser. You were in a different division of the court. You had no way in knowing in any way that (the Weathers) would be on a docket that you would be randomly assigned to."
Weathers told Detroit police that he shot Stough, also known as Keanna Mattel, in self-defense. During a portion of a 2 ½-hour-long video of police questioning Weathers about the shooting, the pastor also told investigators the shooting was accidental.
After first telling police "I was protecting myself" when he shot Stough, Weathers said the shooting, which occurred around 6 a.m. near McNichols and Brush, was accidental.
"My intent was not to discharge my weapon," said Weathers. "It went off by mistake.
Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Jaimie Powell Horowitz, who is prosecuting the case for Fair Michigan, said Weathers knew Stough and had frequented the area where the shooting took place.
During Thursday's hearing, Horowitz said while the judge did not know at the time of fundraiser she would be assigned the case, the contribution still did "raise the issue of impropriety" and that to avoid the appearance of impropriety, Green should step aside from hearing the case.
"Any ruling that you make will be perceived as unfair because of the donation," Horowitz said.