PONTIAC, Mich. – Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said she is “gravely concerned” about potential ethical breaches after reviewing the 2006 murder conviction of Juwan Deering related to a deadly fire that killed five children.
Deering was sentenced on one count of arson and five counts of first-degree murder in connection to the April 2000 fire in Royal Oak Township.
According to a press release, McDonald determined that “evidence bearing on the credibility of three jailhouse informants had not been presented to the jury or disclosed to Mr. Deering’s attorney -- as required by law.”
Officials said materials showed that the informants had cases or charges dismissed, or sentences reduced, based on cooperating with the prosecution. Additionally, McDonald “uncovered evidence of potential breaches of prosecutorial ethics by a former assistant prosecutor on the case, which potentially impacted Mr. Deering’s constitutional right to a fair trial,” officials said.
McDonald reviewed the case at the request of the Michigan Innocence Clinic.
“As prosecutors, we have an ethical duty to disclose information that bears on the guilt or innocence of the accused. We also have a duty to disclose to juries what, if anything, an informant was given in consideration for their testimony. Based on the evidence I reviewed, I am gravely concerned that this was not done in the case against Juwan Deering,” she said.
Officials said after reviewing the conviction, McDonald ordered mandatory ethic training for every assistant prosecutor and met with each of them to discuss the case.
She also requested funding to appoint a special prosecutor to conduct an independent investigation and audit all files in the prosecutor’s office related to the three informants. Additionally, she turned over the new materials to the Michigan Innocence Clinic, including memos and notes recorded by assistant prosecutors over several years.
The request for funding was authorized by county Executive David Coulter.
McDonald also requested agencies to investigate the actions of the former assistant prosecutor.
The case was prosecuted by Greg Townsend, who now works for the Michigan Attorney General’s Office and is part of the team handling Whitmer kidnapping plot case.
The AG’s office said Townsend has been reassigned amid the investigation.
“Fairness and transparency are paramount. We must always do the right thing even if it exposes our own office, even when it’s not easy. If evidence exists that calls into question the credibility of a witness, we are ethically obligated to disclose it. I am committed to doing that in this case and in every case,” she said.
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