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Has Lamarr Monson spent nearly 20 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit?


The Michigan Innocence Clinic says a wrongfully convicted man has served nearly 20 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit.

Lamarr Monson was convicted of brutally killing a 12-year-old girl in 1996.

But attorneys with the Innocence Clinic say Monson was forced into a false confession, and that new fingerprint evidence points to another killer, who's currently living freely in another state.

A brutal killing 

Lamarr Monson and Christina Brown were both selling drugs out of the same apartment in Detroit in 1996. Monson would eventually tell police their relationship was sexual, but he says he didn’t know she was 12.

One winter afternoon, Monson says he came back to the apartment and found a trail of blood leading to her unconscious body on the bathroom floor.

Monson says he started banging on doors, yelling for someone to call 911.

Police found a bloody knife, and concluded Christina Brown had been stabbed to death.

They brought Monson in as a suspect. At first, he gave a statement saying he didn't hurt her.

But after being held overnight, Monson signed a typed statement saying he stabbed Christina Brown to death.

"There was immediately a problem with that confession," said David Moran, founder of the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan.

Credit Kate Wells / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
David Moran, left, of the Michigan Innocence Clinic, with Delores Monson, right, who's Lamarr Monson's mother.

This, he says, is the problem with Monson’s confession to stabbing Brown to death:

"Christina Brown was not stabbed to death. That's what police believed at the time Mr. Monson was interrogated. But actually, an autopsy that came out revealed that she had been beaten to death, and her skull was crushed."

The probable murder weapon? The ceramic lid of the toilet tank in the apartment.

Police lifted fingerprints from that toilet tank lid, but couldn't identify them.

And Lamarr Monson's family has always said he was tricked into signing that statement – that he was told he could go home if he just signed some papers.

A year later, the homicide inspector who oversaw Monson's interrogation was removed for illegally obtaining confessions. 

Still, with no other suspects in the case, Monson was convicted.

A break in the case: A witness comes forward

Now, fast-forward 16 years, to 2012.

Michigan Innocence Clinic attorney David Moran says the case took a massive new turn when a woman named Shellena Bentley walked into the Detroit Police Department "and revealed that her then-boyfriend was the murderer of Christina Brown."

We're not going to use that man's name, since he hasn't been charged with a crime in this case; and to our knowledge, he doesn't have an attorney representing him.

But Moran says Shellena Bentley has signed an affidavit saying her former boyfriend went to buy drugs from Christina Brown that winter afternoon in 1996.

"And he came back, and he was covered in blood, and revealed that he ‘killed the bitch because she had scratched him,’” Moran recounts.

Bentley says her former boyfriend threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone.

She moved out of state. And when she came back, Shellena Bentley learned her former boyfriend had moved away too. So, she came forward.  

Some time after that, police started investigating the case again. They ran a test on that unidentified print, taken from that toilet tank lid all those years ago.

It matched Shellena Bentley's former boyfriend, who's now living in Pennsylvania.

Innocence Clinic argues Lamarr Monson deserves a new trial 

The Michigan Innocence Clinic has filed a motion, arguing this new evidence is grounds for Lamarr Monson to get a new trial.

It’s been nearly 20 years since he went to prison.

"I knew he was innocent. But everywhere I went, I could get no help. No help. Nobody believed,” says Delores Monson, Lamarr’s mother.

She says the whole family – including his daughter, who's now an adult – is ready for him to come home.

"Even at the Thanksgiving dinner table, I always set a plate for him," says Delores Monson. "When he calls and talks to the whole family, it just makes us all feel good. But we'll feel much much better, when he walks through that front door."

Meanwhile, the Wayne County Prosecutor's office say it's seen the Innocence Clinic's motion, and will respond in court. 

Correction: an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that new DNA evidence had emerged in this case. Rather, it's new fingerprint evidence. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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