DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – A federal appeals court has overturned the murder conviction of a Detroit man who claimed his attorney did a poor job at trial.
The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office has been ordered to put Jesse Peoples on trial again within 90 days or release him from a life sentence. He’s been in prison for 10 years.
The appeals court says trial attorney Ira Harris was ineffective by failing to raise key issues with two witnesses who testified against Peoples. The witnesses said Peoples was driving and sitting closest to a gun found in a stolen Jaguar.
The court says Peoples provided his lawyer with a police report that showed he wasn’t the driver, but Harris didn’t use the information during trial.
A message seeking comment was left for Harris.
Court documents show Shannon Clark, a drug dealer, was shot and killed outside of his Detroit home on May 18, 2001. According to Clark’s girlfriend, the two had returned home at 11 p.m., and Clark immediately went out again, leaving her in the home filled with marijuana and cash. A couple of hours later, a neighbor went outside after hearing three or four gunshots and found Clark’s body lying on the front lawn. He had been shot once in the chest and twice in the back of the head.
Three months later, police arrested three men — Peoples, Demetrious Powell and Cornelious Harris — after the trio led the police on a chase in a stolen Jaguar that ultimately ended in a car crash. According to a police report written by an officer who witnessed the crash, the driver of the Jaguar was Cornelious Harris. After the crash, police found a nine millimeter Sig Sauer pistol on the driver’s side floorboard of the Jaguar — the same gun used to kill Clark.
At trial, Peoples alone was tried for Clark’s murder. According to court documents, the only evidence connecting him to the crime was the murder weapon found in the stolen Jaguar and the testimony of Powell and Cornelious Harris. The duo testified to two key facts: 1) that Peoples was the driver of the stolen Jaguar and had thus been sitting closest to the murder weapon, which Peoples owned; and 2) that Peoples told them about how he killed Clark.
Both witnesses testified that they admitted to their knowledge of the Clark murder because they did not want to be implicated themselves. During closing arguments, the prosecutor said that Powell and Harris had received nothing in exchange for their testimony, but the judge issued a jury instruction reminding the jury that the two men had received civil immunity.
After some time, the jury announced that it was deadlocked, but the judge instructed the jury to continue. Two hours later, the jury found Peoples guilty of premeditated murder, felony murder, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and felony firearm possession. The court sentenced Peoples to two concurrent life sentences for the murder convictions and shorter sentences for the other convictions.
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