By Vickie Thomas
I have to admit when I walked through the doors at 36th District Court in downtown Detroit with microphone, digital recorder and camera in hand, I thought it would be a “routine” assignment…covering “Constitution Day.” For the last four years, the court has offered free legal advice to the public to celebrate the occasion.
I breezed through the metal detectors on the first floor and headed for the always crowded elevator. I got off on the fourth floor and went to room 422. When I walked through the door, the room was crowded and volunteer attorneys were taking their seats behind tables preparing to serve up advice on a wide range of legal topics.
I first interviewed 36th District Court Judge Katherine Hansen who explained that she started “Law Day” about seven years ago and “Constitution Day” was an out-growth of that program.
After that, I scanned the room looking for potential interviewees. I found one woman who was fighting to get her unemployment benefits because she felt she had been wrongfully terminated. Another lady wanted advice on suing a contractor who allegedly botched a $17,000 roof job. These were some of the issues I anticipated finding along with child support, divorce and landlord-tenant disputes.
After getting the typical cases and comments, I sat down in a chair near the refreshment table waiting for one of the attorneys to be freed up for an interview. Again, it was crowded and the lawyers were all busy with those seeking advice.
A petite, 72-year-old lady walks up to get a cup of coffee and she strikes up a conversation with me. You know, the typical stuff at first: What radio station are you with? Who are you interviewing? I answer politely and she sits down in the chair next to me.
Now it was my turn. I asked what type of legal issue brought her out in the rain Monday. She hesitated for a bit and then spilled the beans. She told me that she knew her son killed a man and she wanted advice on whether or not to tell the police. The problem is that her son has been dead for over a decade. Her husband told her to keep her mouth shut but that dark family secret keeps gnawing at her.
She explained that when her son was killed in a car crash down south, she went to her neighborhood store to deliver the bad news to the owner. He informed her that his son had been murdered and it remained an unsolved case. She asked about the circumstances and he explained that his son was closing up one night and someone shot him in the head.
She walked out of the store dazed. She tells me she put two and two together and knew that it was her son who carried out the murder. She told me that she actually heard her son say he was going to kill the man because during an altercation, he hit her son in the mouth drawing blood. She didn’t believe him then, but she does now.
To make matters worse, she tells me her son may have also killed two people in Flint by strapping them each to a chair and lighting them on fire. The advice the volunteer attorney gave her is to let her son rest in peace and keep it all under wraps.
I asked if she could do that and she said, “As a mother, I think everyone should have closure in the case. He’s not the first son that I’ve lost.” She explained that another son was killed at Cooley High School in the 70’s. “And, I’ve never gotten over that,” she said. “So, I know this parent will never get over the fact that it’s an unsolved case with his son.”
She went on to say, “I may have to wait until my dying day to tell it, but I might have to tell it.” The 72-year-old says she got some relief by sharing the details with me. She added, “You look like someone I can talk to and maybe share something with and I’m glad I met you.”
I’m glad I met her too and I hope she doesn’t suffer for the sins of her son.