Detroit man freed from life sentence after investigation shows trial was unfair
Brig, Soren and Reidar- this is one of thousands of examples of innocent people in prison. There was never any evidence, and even when people fought for his freedom, they denied the embarrassing reality that there was no evidence. This happens over and over again.
MIRIAM MARINI | DETROIT FREE PRESS
After serving 16 years behind bars, Kenneth Nixon walked out of prison as a free man and was reunited with his family after felony murder charges were dismissed Thursday by a Wayne County Circuit Court judge.
Nixon was granted relief by Judge Bruce Morrow after an investigation found that he failed to receive a fair trial. He was immediately released from Michigan Reformatory in Ionia.
Nixon, 34, was sentenced to two life terms in connection to a Detroit house bombing that killed a 10-year-old boy and an infant in 2005. He was 18 at the time. Nixon and his girlfriend were arrested and charged with murder, arson, and four counts of attempted murder; she was acquitted by a jury.
A dog trained to detect accelerants indicated he smelled one on the second floor of the house that was firebombed. DETROIT FREE PRESS FILE
The key witness in Nixon’s trial was the 13-year-old brother of the children who were killed in the home. He pinned Nixon to the scene of the crime on the 19420 block of Charleston. During the trial, prosecutors’ suspicions were raised against the 13-year-old witness, as his testimonies were inconsistent.
The only other person to testify was a jail informant who, in exchange for sentencing leniency in another case, told investigators that Nixon admitted to the house bombing. In a later interview, the informant said that despite telling police that he had no prior information about the case before Nixon’s admission, he had seen televised news coverage of the fire.
The case was reviewed by the prosecutor’s office’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which collaborated with the Cooley Law Innocence Project and found that Nixon did not receive a fair trial. Nixon maintained his innocence throughout.
WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Staff Attorney David Williams (left) with Kenneth Nixon during a media briefing. Nixon was released after being wrongfully convicted of murder, attempted … Show more PROVIDED BY THE WESTERN MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY COOLEY LAW SCHOOL INNOCENCE PROJECT
“The issues and findings of the (conviction integrity unit) have convinced me that Mr. Nixon did not receive a fair trial,” Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement.
Further muddying the prosecutor’s case was that three witnesses interviewed by the Medill Justice Project said they saw Nixon the night of the fire and he could not have committed the crime. Nixon’s girlfriend was with him that entire night but could not testify in his trial as a codefendant.
The star witness, the 13-year-old boy, gave authorities widely divergent accounts of the events of the night, including where he was in the house and whether he actually saw Nixon throw a Molotov cocktail into the house.
Brandon Vaughn, then 13, gave conflicting accounts of what he saw the night of the fire. In his first interview with an arson investigator shortly … Show more DETROIT FREE PRESS FILE
“The 13-year-old witness was the victim of a devastating arson fire that killed his infant sister and his young brother in their home,” Worthy said. “The statements and testimony by this key witness were inconsistent to support what is basically the sole identification of Mr. Nixon.”
At trial, prosecutors cited the gasoline on Nixon’s clothes as evidence of his guilt. But Nixon, a tow-truck driver, said he often had gasoline on his clothes, and a witness corroborates his account that he fixed a car with a fuel leak either the day of or the day before the fire, according to a report for the Free Press by the Medill Justice Project.
“A vital part of the justice system is ensuring that convictions rest on sound evidence and investigative practices,” said David Williams, an attorney with the Cooley Law Innocence Project, in a statement.
Through tears, the victims’ mother, Naomi Vaughn, urged for a retrial during the hearing for Nixon’s release Thursday, citing conversations with friends pinning Nixon to the scene and her son’s credibility.
“Where’s the justice for me and my children? It’s like a slap in the face all over again,” Vaughn said. “This is so unfair to me, it’s like basically my kids meant nothing. My kids just died for no reason.”
However, Morrow said that part of achieving justice while navigating a system ingrained with biases is ensuring the accused is given the right to present evidence. Much of the evidence found by the county prosecutor’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which was established in 2018, was discovered after the trial.
“There’s nothing that can be done to bring those sweet children back,” Morrow said. “But complicating it by furthering injustice is not the way to deal with it.
“Justice for Mr. Nixon has finally been achieved.”
Contact Miriam Marini: firstname.lastname@example.org