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Attorneys hope new evidence will free man convicted in 1992 murder

Jun 2, 2016

Credit Flickr user Jack / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Michigan Innocence Clinic has filed a motion asking for relief from judgment for a man convicted of murdering his friend in Detroit 24 years ago.

Attorneys say new evidence and problems with ballistics testing raise questions when it comes to Desmond Ricks' guilt in the 1992 case.

According to the motion, Ricks rode to the Top Hat restaurant in Detroit with his friend Gerry Bennett in March 1992. In the parking lot, Ricks said he sat in the car while Bennett went inside with another man.

Ricks said after the two men exited the restaurant several minutes later, he watched in the rearview mirror as the man shot Bennett in the stomach with a chrome gun.

He said he then got out of the car and ran, while the man shot Bennett in the head and fired several more shots at Ricks.

During the trial, the prosecution presented ballistic evidence from the Detroit Police Department Crime Lab that linked bullets recovered from Bennett's body with a gun that belonged to Ricks' mother.

The Innocence Clinic wants that evidence re-tested.

DPD closed its crime lab in 2008, after investigations revealed numerous problems with testing and handling of evidence.

Rebecca Haan, a supervising attorney with the Innocence Clinic, says that calls into question the credibility of evidence used in Ricks' case.

"That evidence was used to wrongly convict an individual of murder. Mr. Ricks is serving a life sentence. This evidence was not only relied upon, it was one of the most important pieces of evidence in the prosecution's case against Mr. Ricks. [It] needs to be re-evaluated," Haan said.

Haan says new evidence helps show the bullets recovered from Bennett's body couldn't possibly have been fired from Ricks' mother's gun.

The motion cites an affidavit from court-appointed independent forensic examiner David Townsend. It suggests the bullets he examined before Ricks' trial were not the same bullets that were recovered from Bennett's body.

Another affidavit from Oakland County chief medical examiner Dr. Ljubisa Dragovic suggests the bullets used in the murder were likely smaller than the bullets that were linked to Ricks' mother's gun.

The motion also cites an affidavit from Arlene Strong who was working at the Top Hat restaurant the day of the murder and waited on Bennett.

Strong originally testified for the prosecution that Ricks could have been the shooter. She’s since recanted her testimony and says she saw Ricks sitting in the car just before she heard the first shot ring out, and he couldn't possibly have committed the crime.

Strong says during her original testimony, she felt pressured by the prosecution to give answers they wanted, even though she knew they were false.

A jury convicted Ricks on 2nd degree murder and felony firearm charges. He was sentenced to 32 to 62 years in prison.

The motion to relieve Ricks from judgment was filed in Wayne County Circuit Court this week.