DETROIT (AP) – A judge on Thursday threw out the murder convictions of two brothers serving life without parole for a 25-year-old drug house robbery and shotgun slaying in Detroit, after new witnesses came forward to say they saw other men commit the crime.
Then-Detroit Judge Terrance Boyle convicted Thomas and Raymond Highers in 1988 in a nonjury trial. Talon found the men guilty of first-degree murder in the June 1987 death of Robert Karey, 65, at his home near Detroit City Airport. The brothers, now 46, have been in prison since then.
On Thursday, Wayne County Circuit Judge Lawrence Talon dismissed the charges.
“The court finds the newly discovered evidence to be credible and reliable,” Talon said.
The case was reopened in March after John Hielscher came forward. Hielscher was in a carload of 1987 Grosse Pointe North High School graduates who said they were at Karey’s house the night he was shot.
Hielscher said he didn’t come forward at the time out of fear and didn’t learn for two decades that the Highers had been convicted and sentenced to prison.
Four of the ex-classmates testified Thursday before Talon. Two said they went to Karey’s back door to buy marijuana from Karey, known as Old Man Bob. They were interrupted by several armed black men who rushed into the backyard and ordered them to leave; the Highers are white. One witness also testified he heard a gunshot as they fled back to the car.
Assistant Prosecutor Ana Quiroz questioned the witnesses’ credibility throughout Thursday’s hearing, calling them liars and suggesting there was a conspiracy to free the Highers.
Michael Highers, 42, told the Detroit Free Press he hadn’t seen his brothers as free men since he was 17.
“It’s overwhelming,” he said through tears. “I just wish my mom would have been here to see it… It’s the truth. It took 25 years to get here, but it’s the truth… She knew that her boys didn’t do it. She went to her grave believing that.”
The Highers brothers’ mother died about five years ago.
The brothers remain in jail until Monday, at which time their lawyer is expected to seek their release. Prosecutors are expected to ask that they be held until a decision is made on whether to retry the case.
The effort to reopen the case began when Washington lawyer Kevin Zieleniewski learned that the Highers brothers were in prison for Karey’s killing. Zieleniewski said he had roomed with Hielscher and remembered his account of the robbery.
Zieleniewski said it took two meetings to persuade Hielscher to sign an affidavit and testify.
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