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After 34 years in prison, Detroit man's "improbable journey" ends with exoneration

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

After spending 34 years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit, Darrell Siggers was officially cleared of the crime on Friday, as Wayne County prosecutors announced they would drop all charges against him.

Siggers always maintained that he was innocent of the 1984 murder of Robert Montgomery on Philip Street in Detroit. He filed numerous appeals over the years, to no avail. 

But things began to changewhen Siggers and his attorney from the State Appellate Defenders Office, with help from activist Claudia Whitman and others, uncovered information that the Detroit police crime lab technician who presented ballistics evidence tying bullets from the scene to a gun recovered from Siggers’ home wasn’t really a firearms expert.

That former officer, Claude Houseworth, “wasn’t a crime lab examiner at all,” Siggers said. “He was an impostor, a phony, a fraud. He really gave false testimony in terms of his ballistics conclusions, and the evidence that they submitted during my trial was bogus, to put it bluntly.”

“That’s when the ball started rolling downhill,” said Wolfgang Mueller, one of Siggers’ current attorneys. “And we were able to show that the bullet evidence was completely discredited by former Michigan State Police bullet experts, very credible experts. The forensic evidence really fell apart.”

With the evidence of Siggers’ likely innocence mounting, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office Conviction Integrity Office took up the case. After conducting its own investigation, the CIU recommended that Siggers’ conviction be overturned.

That happened in August, and Siggers has been out on bond ever since. But Siggers wasn’t sure if the prosecutor’s office intended to re-try him until he walked into court Friday, and prosecutors announced they were dropping all charges against him “in the interest of justice.”

“As I stood there, my heart was pounding,” Siggers said. “We were very hopeful that they would do that, because we knew what the evidence was, and we knew that I’m innocent. So we were just waiting, praying, and hopeful. So our faith paid off, and all I can say is I’m truly, truly grateful.”

Now that he’s officially cleared, Siggers says he plans to go back to school to further the associate’s degree he earned behind bars, and spend time with his children and grandchildren.

“At this point I just want to live life with my family, enjoy my freedom, and just be thankful and grateful to God and all the good people that helped in this improbable journey,” he said.

Siggers’ case represents the third full exoneration for the Conviction Integrity Unit, which just launched in January to examine historic cases in Wayne County for possible wrongful convictions. It also overturned the conviction of another prisoner released in September, who currently faces the possibility of a re-trial.

“Today, to the credit of [Prosecutor Kym] Worthy and [CIU head] Val Newman and the prosecutor’s office, a wrong was finally righted for good,” Mueller said.

Siggers is the 19th person to be exonerated in Michigan since 2017.

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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