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Final arguments for Detroit man who wants new trial in 1996 murder

Lamarr Monson takes notes in court during final arguments to overturn his murder conviction.
Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio
Lamarr Monson takes notes in court during final arguments to overturn his murder conviction.

Lawyers made their final arguments in court Wednesday, but it will take more than a month for a Wayne County judge to decide whether Lamarr Monson deserves a new trial.

Monson confessed to the 1996 murder of Christina Brown, a 12-year-old runaway. The two lived and sold drugs together out of an apartment on Detroit’s west side, though Monson and others say Brown told people she was 17.

But Monson later said that Detroit police tricked and coerced him into confessing. And his lawyers say it bears the hallmarks of a false confession.

“The case against Mr. Monson was not terribly strong to begin with,” said Monson’s attorney David Moran, of the University of Michigan’s Innocence Clinic, during closing arguments. “There was zero evidence, effectively, other than a confession…a confession that didn’t match the crime scene, but a confession that matched what the police believed.”

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In this case, Monson confessed to stabbing Brown to death, Moran said. But in fact, she was also strangled and beaten, and was ultimately killed by a blow to the head—something investigators wouldn’t know until later.

Then there’s the matter of the interrogator who took Monson’s confession, former Detroit Police Lt. Joan Ghougoian. Monson said Ghougoian promised he would be released if he signed what was presented to him as an “information summary.”

Ghougoian was later accused of doing the same thing to several other murder suspects, and was removed from that job.

Monson’s attorneys also say new evidence has emerged that points to another man, Robert Lee Lewis, as Brown’s true killer.

Lewis’s then-girlfriend has now testified that he returned from the murder scene in 1996 covered in blood, and admitted killing Brown. She went to Detroit Police in 2012 to implicate Lewis.

And bloody fingerprints taken from a toilet tank lid at the crime scene, now believed to be the murder weapon, match Lewis. None match Monson.

Moran argued that the weight of this “new evidence of the strongest variety” should be enough to overturn Monson’s conviction and grant him a new trial.

“We don’t have to show 100% that Mr. Monson would be acquitted on retrial. We simply have to show there is a reasonable probability that he would be acquitted on retrial. This standard is met easily by the new evidence,” Moran said.

But Wayne County assistant prosecutor Dave McCreedy argued that new eyewitness testimony isn’t credible, suggesting the witness has a history of “embellishing” in statements to police.

And he said the new fingerprint evidence implicating Lewis can be explained by Lewis’s admitted presence at the crime scene, along with other neighbors who lived in the same apartment complex.

Judge Shannon Walker set another court date for Jan. 30th, indicating she would issue a ruling then.

That disappointed Monson’s friends and supporters in the courtroom, who had hoped she would rule in favor of a new trial from the bench after hearing final arguments.

But Monson’s mother, Dolores Monson, said she’s still “positive” Monson’s conviction will eventually be overturned. “My son’s been in prison for all these years for something he didn’t do. And I know God’s going to bring him home,” she said.

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Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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