LANSING (WWJ/AP) – The Michigan Supreme Court has overturned the first-degree murder conviction of a man linked to a Flint gang because the prosecution didn’t tell the jury about FBI payments to a key witness.
A Genesee County circuit court jury in 2011 convicted Feronda Smith in the 2005 shooting of drug dealer Larry Pass at Pass’s home.
The now-40-year-old Smith was among about 30 people arrested in 2007 in a federal and local crackdown on the Pierson Hood gang. Smith got the mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.
At trial, two witnesses claimed to have been present when Smith allegedly shot Pass. Tarence Lard testified for the prosecution as part of a plea agreement for his part in the crime. Mark Yancy maintained his innocence with respect to the shooting, but admitted collecting Pass’s drugs, helping dispose of the murder weapon and using cocaine with Smith and Lard after the shooting.
At a pretrial hearing, a special agent testified that Yancy was compensated for his assistance in an FBI investigation into Pass’s murder and a suspected criminal enterprise involving Smith. At trial, however, the jury was never informed that Yancy was a paid informant. Instead, Yancy testified that he had not received any compensation for his cooperation in relation to Smith’s case.
The court issued a split decision Thursday overturning Smith’s conviction. It says jurors should have heard that Yancy received payment for helping the FBI investigate the gang and Pass’s killing. Court records show that Yancy received $4,000 for the information he provided investigators.
“Yancy’s trial testimony undoubtedly left the jury with the impression that he received no payment of any kind for his participation in this case. That overall impression was false. Instead of rectifying this false impression, the prosecutor capitalized on and exploited it,” the court wrote in its opinion.
The decision goes on to say that no physical evidence connected Smith to the crime, and that he was convicted solely on the testimony of two witnesses who had significant credibility issues.
A new trial date has not yet been set.
TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.