After 15 years in prison, man cleared in deaths of 5 kids

Midwest

Juwan Deering gets a hug outside the courthouse in Pontiac, Michigan, on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, after murder charges were dropped in a fire that killed five children in suburban Detroit in 2000. Deering served 15 years in prison. Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald said Deering was the victim of misconduct by law enforcement when he was charged and convicted in 2006. (AP Photo/Ed White)

PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) — Murder charges were dismissed Thursday against a man who spent 15 years in prison for the fire-related deaths of five children in suburban Detroit, the climax of an investigation that found misconduct by police and prosecutors.

Juwan Deering will not face a second trial, Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald said. A judge granted her request to close the case a week after Deering’s convictions and life sentences were thrown out at her urging.

Wearing a three-piece suit, Deering, 50, walked into court shackled at the waist but departed as a free man with no restraints.

“It’s been a hard uphill battle. … The sun couldn’t shine on not a brighter day. This is the brightest for me,” Deering said moments later as family members clung to him on a cloudless morning and other Detroit-area men exonerated of crimes stood nearby.

Deering praised the new prosecutor for her “exceptional” work.

“I told her it took a lot of strength to step up against the status quo,” he said.

McDonald, a former judge who was elected in 2020, took a fresh look at Deering’s case at the request of the University of Michigan law school’s Innocence Clinic.

Favorable evidence, including statements by a fire survivor, was not shared with his defense lawyer before the 2006 trial, and jurors didn’t know that jail informants were given significant benefits for their testimony against Deering, McDonald said.

Deering has insisted he was innocent in a fire that killed children in his neighborhood in Royal Oak Township in 2000. No one could identify him as being at the house. Authorities at the time said the fire was revenge for unpaid drug debts.

The prosecutor said a dozen law enforcement professionals last week unanimously determined there was insufficient evidence to tie Deering to the fire. The investigation between 2000 and 2006 was “totally compromised by misconduct,” McDonald said.

“There is only one ethical and constitutional remedy,” she said in dropping the case.

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Law students earlier had been trying to get a new trial for Deering, arguing that the fire analysis was based on “junk science.” Those requests were unsuccessful in Michigan’s appellate courts.

McDonald said it’s possible the fire was not an arson as Deering’s legal team has long maintained. She said state police are investigating it again.

“Once there was a belief that it was intentionally set, it was solve it at all costs. There was an unchecked culture here,” said Imran Syed of the law school. “Cutting corners has enormous consequences.”

Deering could be eligible for more than $700,000 from the state, under a law that pays $50,000 for every year spent in prison if new evidence is cited in a wrongful conviction.

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