Reporting Charlie Langton
DETROIT (Talk Radio 1270) This is the first summer in 25 years brothers Raymond and Thomas Highers are free to stroll in the sun.
And they’re not taking a second of that freedom for granted.
“We’re healthy, we feel good, we’re free, we have so many wonderful new friends and family … There’s been an outpouring of love and support … It’s just been great, something that I never thought possible,” Thomas Highers said to Charlie Langton during a Wednesday appearance on Talk Radio 1270, their first extended on- air interview since they were released.
Staying with an aunt and uncle in Roseville, the Highers are settling into a new routine, one that involves kids they haven’t seen since birth, cousins, aunts and uncles who believed their story of innocence — despite the odds.
The Highers were convicted in 1987, when they were 21 and 22 years old respectively, of killing neighborhood drug dealer Robert Karey, 65, known as “Old Man Bob.” Witnesses at the time said the shooting was carried out by two clean-cut young white boys. The Highers, who fit the description, were known marijuana customers of Old Man Bob and they ended up convicted of the crime in a bench trial, with a judge and no jury.
They protested to anyone who would listen, including lawyers and prison roommates, that they were innocent and hadn’t even been at the scene of the crime that day.
And then a new witness came forward in 2009 based on a Facebook contact between people who were teens at the time of the slaying, customers of Old Man Bob’s. Two of the new witnesses said they saw armed black men rush up to the back of Karey’s house from the garage before a gunshot exploded. Other witnesses said they were in the house when up to five young black men broke in and attacked, holding a gun to the heads of at least one of the young men.
Judge Lawrence Talon held hearings with the new testimony and released the men on bond and tethers; the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office filed an appeal and wants a new trial. A pretrial hearing is set for August 29.
“We’re ready for this challenge,” Thomas Highers said, adding he’s not interested in any kind of plea deal that would allow him continued freedom in exchange for pleading guilty to lesser charges.
“I would not take it, I wouldn’t let them get it (an offer) out of their mouth,” Thomas Highers added about a possible plea deal.
What did they miss most behind bars? “I miss the love and my family,” Raymond Highers said.
“How about women?” Charlie Langton asked. “That’s huge,” Raymond Highers said. “It was about, when you’re home with your family you always miss that physical touch with another person, you always yearn for that. You get used to that, the thing you never get used to is missing your kids, your mother.”
Thomas Highers also missed his two children, and believes his time behind bars marked their lives in a devastating way. His daughter Nicole, who was seven months away from birth when he was convicted, was murdered in 2005.
And his son Ryan Hirth, 25, who’s been in and out of trouble with the law his entire life, turned himself into prison this week on charges of removing his own tether after leaving a court-ordered drug treatment center.
So, one of Thomas Higher’s first orders of business as a parent free from prison was to go back to jail to visit his son.
And he said he was happy to do it. “I thought ‘This is a new beginning for him,” Thomas Highers said, adding that his son should complete a short prison stint on parole violation charges and then start a new life. “I knew what it was like in there. I liked being on the other side of that glass, that’s for sure.”
The Highers, who finish each other’s sentences, both stayed active in prison, working out and connecting with friends and family whenever they could. They were together the first seven years, until the state ruled that co-defendants and immediate family couldn’t be together in jail. From 1994 on, they were apart.
“It was a battle in every sense of the word, it was a spiritual battle, a physical battle,” Raymond Highers said. “Every day you’re in a battle, every day when you swing your feet over, put your feet on the ground, you prepared for it, prepared to battle that day, whatever is coming at you, you have to prepare for it.”
Are they bitter?
“I’m disappointed, I’m not upset, thank God we’re not still sitting behind bars,” Thomas Highers said. “We came to the conclusion we might die there. We’re not angry, we’re not bitter … That’s where we’re at. We’re going to take care of this trial ahead of us and that’s it, we’re done.”
Raymond Highers isn’t even upset at the people who he said falsely testified that he and his brother were at Old Man Bob’s at the time of the killing.
“They were just young,” Raymond Highers said. “They seen something, they were real scared and I think they just wanted to get out of there. I don’t think they knew someone was locked up for this … and then people started finding out.”
Caller Chris from Sterling Heights said, “Too many prosecutors are more interested in getting another notch in their belt than they are in finding the truth.”
Raymond Highers agreed, saying he didn’t always believe it, “but today I have somewhat of that opinion. Prosecutors push cases to somehow further their careers.”