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Oakland County judge overturns murder, arson convictions in Juwan Deering case

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald

An Oakland County judge has overturned the convictions of a man who had been sentenced to life in prison.

Juwan Deering was convicted in 2005 of setting a house fire that killed five children in Royal Oak Township. Deering has always maintained his innocence, and his lawyers have raised doubts about whether the fire was an arson at all.

Earlier this year, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said her office had found evidence that jailhouse informants who testified against Deering were offered favors for that testimony. But neither the jury nor Deering’s defense attorney at the time ever heard about that.

McDonald retained a special prosecutor to look into the case. She uncovered a videotaped interview in Michigan State Police files, in which a child witness to the fire explicitly said it wasn’t Deering who had set it.

Armed with this new information, both McDonald’s office and Deering’s attorney with the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic filed motions asking for Deering’s convictions for murder and arson to be overturned.

On Tuesday, Oakland County Judge Jeffrey Matis agreed that Deering’s trial violated his constitutional rights, and granted him a new one. However, he declined a joint motion to immediately release Deering on bond.

McDonald’s office hasn’t yet decided whether to drop all charges against Deering. McDonald has said she will make that call within the next week.

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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