Trouble ahead: Judge dismisses involuntary manslaughter charge against Detroit police officer

Tuesday, October 6, 2014

Good morning:

Last Friday Wayne County Circuit Judge Cynthia Hathaway, who presided over the Theodore Wafer trial, dismissed an involuntary manslaughter charge against Detroit police officer Joseph Weekley who shot and killed seven-year-old Aiyanna Jones while serving an arrest warrant for Chauncey Owens at 4054 Lillibridge Street on the eastside of Detroit. She dismissed the charge during Weekley’s retrial. A jury was unable to reach a verdict during his first trial last summer.

The incident took place on May 16, 2010. Wikipedia describes what happened.

On Friday, May 14, 2010, Southeastern High School senior Je’Rean Blake (other reports call him Je’Rean “Blake” Nobles) was shot and killed near the intersection of Mack and Beniteau on Detroit’s east side. By Saturday night, police had identified Chauncey Owens as a suspect in the shooting and obtained a warrant to search 4054 Lillibridge St, where he was believed to be hiding.


According to press reports, police were on the scene by 12:40 a.m. on Sunday, May 16, 2010. In an attempt to distract the occupants, police fired a flash grenade through the front window.

Police officers, bystanders, and residents of the home disagreed about the events that followed. According to police, Officer Joseph Weekley was the first one through the door. He pushed his way inside, protected by a ballistic shield. Aiyana Jones’ paternal grandmother Mertilla Jones attempted to grab his gun, causing it to fire. The bullet struck Aiyana. “A woman inside grabbed my gun,” Weekley said. “It fired. The bullet hit a child.”

Mertilla Jones was held overnight and released. She said she reached for her granddaughter when the grenade came through the window, not for the officer’s gun. She said she made no contact with them. Geoffrey Fieger, the family’s lawyer, said the police fired the shot that struck Aiyana from outside the home, possibly through the open front door.

After the shot was fired, Weekley reported to his sergeant that a woman inside had grabbed for his gun. Police arrested Mertilla Jones, administered tests for drugs and gunpowder, and released her Sunday morning. Mertilla said that she reached for Aiyana but had no contact with officers. (At Weekley’s retrial in 2014, it was disclosed that Mertilla’s fingerprints were not found on Weekley’s gun.)

[citations omitted]

The prosecution filed an emergency motion in the Michigan Court of Appeals seeking to set aside her order, but the court denied the request and remanded the case to the trial court yesterday.

The lawyers are presenting their final arguments to the jury today on the only charge remaining, which is reckless use of a firearm, a misdemeanor.

The Detroit Free Press describes what happened yesterday:

The three Court of Appeals judges released their order Monday afternoon.

“Because the oral granting of defendant’s motion (to dismiss the charge) and the trial court’s entry of its written order to this effect took place before any appellate review was able to occur, this Court is barred from reviewing the trial court’s decision,” the court wrote.

“The Court of Appeals correctly decided the issue,” Weekley’s attorney, Steve Fishman, said in an e-mail.

Prosecutors disagreed and filed an emergency motion for reconsideration with the Court of Appeals, which was later denied.

One of the appeals judges, Presiding Judge Michael Talbot, concurred with the decision but added: “Although I find that the trial court erred in form and substance in granting defendant’s motion for directed verdict, we are barred from reviewing that decision.”

I write today to discuss Judge Hathaway’s decision, the prosecution’s appeal and the decision by the appellate court.

When a judge grants a motion for a directed verdict of acquittal on a particular charge in a criminal case, that means that she has decided not to permit the jury to decide whether the prosecution proved that charge beyond a reasonable doubt

A judge cannot do that unless she concludes that, even if she assumes that the evidence introduced by the prosecution is true, together with all reasonable inferences to be drawn from that evidence, that nevertheless no reasonable juror could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed that offense. This is a stern test, so defense motions for a directed verdict are rarely granted.

I find it difficult to believe that, assuming Mertilla Jones told the truth, a reasonable juror could not have found Weekley guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Nevertheless, Judge Hathaway has formally acquitted Weekley of involuntary manslaughter and her decision has invoked the Double Jeopardy Clause preventing a retrial on that charge.

When a judge grants a motion for a directed verdict and acquits a police officer in a controversial shooting-death-of-a-child case like this one, she is asking for trouble.

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10 Responses to Trouble ahead: Judge dismisses involuntary manslaughter charge against Detroit police officer

  1. MDX says:

    It took about 48 hours for the Detroit Police to “lose” the $750,000 in drugs and money they confiscated in a raid six doors down from my parents home.

    Or I “could” have got a pilfered leather jacket from the son of a Detroit Police Lieutenant in about 48 hours, if I wanted to pay ten cents on the dollar – I declined, of course.

    Or 48 Hours is the Detroit Police response time, if you call and say a young lady is being beaten on the street.

    Ah, but if you call about a drug dealing house, the response by “the man” will be very quick – except that “the man” will be the dealer tipped off by one of the moles he has in the Detroit Police Department, so 48 hours is the rest of your life span unless you flee.

    Detroit, I know Ye well.

    • Michelleo says:

      In jurisdictions across the country, police are allowed to employ a tool called civil asset forfeiture, whereby they can seize money and property based simply on the assumption that it has been used for criminal activity. No conviction is necessary, and often, the police are allowed to keep some, if not all, of the property for themselves. Sounds like the perfect setup for overzealous policing and corruption, right?

      In a long segment from This Week Tonight, John Oliver takes on the dubious practice and the behavior it encourages and calls for a reevaluation of the system. He also calls for a reworking of Law & Order and its ilk to “make them a lot more representative of what is actually happening,” drawing on the wonderfully deadpan assistance of Jeff Goldblum.

  2. MDX says:

    Why the F’ did they have to come barging in the home is some sort of showy military assault?

    I mean, why not just knock, announce that the home is surrounded, and there is an option to come out with hands up?

    That would save innocent lives that might be in the home.

    I have the answer.

    I was following this event and the police making this bust were being profiled in the TV show – 48 Hours.

    • Your recommendation is too sensible. They prefer to terrorize using unnecessary paramilitary SWAT Team tactics while showing off for the camera.

    • Malisha says:

      Oh, 48 Hours, that explains it. That show’s purpose is to prove to White Americans that African Americans are the enemy and need to be defeated with full military rigor. The show also “proves” to White Americans that the police are a paramilitary force because (a) they have to be to protect us from the big bad blacks; and also, obviously (b) aren’t all heroes?

  3. Malisha says:

    OK so basically, what our country is saying to Detroit is this:

    1. You have no right to water so if you don’t have enough money to be gouged by the exploiters, die;

    2. You have no security even within your homes and even if you are seven years old and innocent of all wrongdoing, so if you happen to be black an/or poor, die; and

    3. If you rise up in protest to the above, many of you will die.

    NICE, HUH?
    Freedom any?

    • Disappointed says:

      I read about this on my local news station. It is disgusting how our justice system is working for the police BUT not for the true victims. Shame on this judge. Smh.

      • Difficult for me to definitively conclude that the judge was right or wrong since I have not been watching the trial. However, based on what I know, I would have denied the defense motion.

        Note that the Court of Appeals did not consider the merits of her ruling. The three-judge panel ruled that it did not have a legal basis to review her decision. Nevertheless, the Presiding Judge went a step further and said,

        Although I find that the trial court erred in form and substance in granting defendant’s motion for directed verdict, we are barred from reviewing that decision.

        In the biz, we call that a polite smack-down of Judge Hathaway’s improper decision.

        Evidently, she wants the police to endorse her in the next election.

        A judge’s desire to avoid offending the police and losing their support during the next election is a big reason why the criminal-justice system is an oxymoron.


        Elisha Anderson ‏@elishaanderson 3m3 minutes ago
        Jury in Weekley trial to he dismissed for the day. Deliberations resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

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