DETROIT – Lamarr Monson has served more than 21 years behind bars, but new evidence cast doubt on whether he was responsible for the death of a 12-year-old girl -- a crime he was convicted of in 1997.
Monson celebrated his freedom Wednesday as he was released in front of Local 4 cameras and headed right over to his family and supporters at the Wayne County Jail.
"It's surreal," Monson said. "I've been dreaming about this time to hug my mom and be free, and my name is being cleared."
Local 4's Jermont Terry spoke with Monson moments after he was released. You can hear the full conversation in the video posted below.
Monson has been granted a new trial after evidence revealed he may be innocent. His mother was elated to embrace the son she believed was never guilty despite the 1997 second-degree murder conviction.
"You might spend time in prison, people may talk and put you down, but don't nobody really know what you've done but God," she said.
Monson believes it was God who allowed the Michigan Innocence Clinic to review his case.
"I knew this day would someday come," he said. "I've been hopeful because I knew it wasn't in my hands, but his hands."
For several years, the Innocence Project argued the conviction and 30-year prison sentence.
"That's the problem with the justice crime system," investigator Bill Proctor said. "It takes, on average, 11 years for a person who claims innocence to actually be heard."
New evidence, with someone else's fingerprints on the murder weapon, allowed a judge to overturn the conviction.
"(I'm) thankful to everyone who's been in my corner all this time," Monson said. "They trusted and knew that I wasn't the person who would do something like that."
While Monson's free now, the freedom could be short-lived.
"It's up to the Wayne County prosecutor to decide where to go from here," David Moran, of the Innocence Project, said. "I'm hopeful ultimately this case will be dismissed."
With the conviction overturned, Monson is also thinking of the 12-year-old's family.
"I hope that they're hopeful that justice will be done for them and the process moving forward because we're looking forward to that, too, and we're praying about it."
For now, Monson is heading home. He's ready to catch up on what he missed for 21 years and 12 days.
More about the case
Monson was arrested in 1996 for the murder of 12-year-old Christina Brown in Detroit. After a three-day trial in 1997, he was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to at least 30 years in prison.
In 2015, new fingerprints were found on the murder weapon. The case was reopened.
Monson was back in court Monday where a judge granted him a new trial, which is scheduled for April 24.
The Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School has been arguing for the conviction to be overturned. The clinic offered this background information on the case:
"The Clinic presented information about the alternative suspect in a December 2015 motion for relief from judgment. In addition to the witness statement and the fingerprint evidence included in that motion, the Innocence Clinic now has additional evidence that vindicates Monson, says David Moran, director of the Clinic.
In September, Moran and two of his students inspected the toilet tank lid, and they noticed a fingerprint, apparently in blood, that was at the same place on the lid as a bloody splotch visible on the lid in photos taken at the crime scene. The fingerprint was not one of the two prints previously lifted from the lid. The Clinic submitted photographs of the newly discovered print to Brent Scrutchin, Detroit Police Department latent print examiner, who testified on Sept. 27 that Monson is excluded from being the source of the bloody print.
As a result of this discovery, the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office and the Clinic agreed to send the toilet tank lid to the Michigan State Police Crime Lab to see if any additional prints could be found. The Michigan State Police Forensic Science Unit on Oct. 12 completed a review of never-before-tested finger- and thumbprints from the toilet tank lid. All seven of the new prints matched Robert Lewis, the alternative suspect identified as the killer by a witness who went to the police in 2012 (and testified on Sept. 27). None of the prints matched Lamarr Monson.
The murder of Christina Brown in 1996 sent shockwaves through the city because of the brutality of the killing and the girl's young age. A runaway, the 12-year-old Brown convinced her new neighbors in a partially burned-out apartment building on West Boston that she was 17. She and Monson both sold drugs from one of the apartments.
Monson entered the apartment on the afternoon of January 20, 1996, to find a bloody scene, and he ran to neighbors' apartments to call 911. Police initially believed the death was caused by stabbing. Monson became their prime suspect.
Under an interrogation supervised by Lt. Joan Ghougoian, Monsonwas told that if he went along with an "information summary" and signed it, he "would be at home by this time tomorrow" and he "would probably get out on personal bond," but "right now you are arrested, you are held under Murder I." Monson maintains that he did not provide the information contained in the typed statement that he signed, nor did he realize that it was a confession when he signed the form, according to the Michigan Innocence Clinic's 2015 motion for relief from judgment. On March 7, 1997, after a three-day jury trial, Monson was convicted of one count of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 30 to 50 years imprisonment and currently is serving this sentence at Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Adrian.
Ghougoian, meanwhile, was accused of routinely violating the rights of suspects by promising that they could go home in return for confessions, the motion points out. She was under investigation for illegal promises in at least a half-dozen murder cases, and she was removed from the homicide unit in April 1997.
In the extracted confession, Monson said that he killed Brown by stabbing her, which police believed at the time to be the cause of death. The medical examiner later determined that the actual cause was a massive head injury: she suffered a fractured skull, bruises on the brain, and also bleeding inside the head due to a beating-rendering the extracted confession from Monson inaccurate. Brown was also strangled, stabbed, and cut.
Brown had apparently been beaten with the porcelain toilet tank lid that had been found, covered in blood, on the floor of the apartment not far from Ms. Brown's body. A fingerprint analysis, conducted by the Detroit Police in 2015, proves that the previously unidentified fingerprint lifted from the murder weapon, matches Robert Lewis, who was living in the building. Lewis was the same man who was identified as the murderer by a new witness who went to the Detroit Police and implicated him in 2012."
Monson has been serving time at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Adrian.