Michigan appeals court rules murder convict should get new trial

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

A Michigan inmate deserves the right to a possible new trial for a slaying that a self-professed hit man allegedly confessed to committing, the state Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

Thelonious Searcy, 41, was convicted in 2005 of first-degree murder in connection with the shooting of Jamal Segars as he sat in traffic near the Coleman A. Young Airport on the city’s east side Sept. 5, 2004.

Thelonious Deshane-Ear Searcy

Searcy is serving life in prison at the Thumb Correctional Facility where, his attorney says, he's been infected twice with COVID-19. 

The attorney, Michael Dezsi, said Thursday that whether or not Searcy gets a new trial or the conviction is dismissed will be up to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Maria Miller, the spokeswoman for Worthy, said Thursday: "We are currently determining whether we will seek leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court."

Dezsi said he didn't see "any grounds" for an appeal.

Vincent Smothers had taken credit for Segars’ death and wrote three affidavits in 2015 and 2016 saying he, not Searcy, killed Segars, according to court documents.

In August 2015, Vincent Smothers wrote a letter to Searcy and admitted to killing the victim. In the letter, Smothers admitted that he had killed the murder victim.

In December 2015, Smothers submitted two affidavits, each of which detailed his involvement in the September 2004 crimes. Specifically, Smothers said he shot the murder victim with a .40-caliber handgun.

Smothers, who was in prison, had already confessed to being paid to commit multiple murders in Detroit, wrote a letter to Searcy. In the letter, Smothers admitted that he had killed the murder victim “during a botched robbery on Whithorn and Conners [sic] across from the city airport.”

During an evidentiary hearing in 2018 in Wayne County Circuit Court, Smothers' co-defendant in another murder case, Marzell Black, testified that Smothers admitted to him that he killed Segars. He said the alleged admission came in 2009 during a casual conversation.

“(Smothers) said his motive was to free the innocent,” Black said during the hearing to get Searcy a new trial. Judge Timothy Kenny denied the request.

The Court of Appeals turned down review of Kenny's decision in a 2-1 ruling. However, the Michigan Supreme Court reviewed it and sent it back to the appeals court with instructions that the court hear the case. The case was argued before the Court of Appeals last week.

"In this case, Smothers provided detailed testimony concerning the location of the crimes, the manner in which the crimes were carried out, and the weapons that were used," the appeals court said in its ruling.

Dezsi said Thursday that Vincent Smothers confessed to the crime, and Smothers testified in detail about how the murder took place, what kind of weapon he used, and even how he approached the victim and fired his weapon.

"So between Smothers' confession and the bullet mismatch, it seems the Court of Appeals had justifiable concerns that Searcy was wrongfully convicted," said Dezsi.