Desmond Ricks, a Detroit man who spent 25 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit, is about to get a taste of justice. Again.
The city of Detroit has agreed to pay him $7.5 million for an egregious police error that convinced a jury to wrongfully convict Ricks for the murder of his friend Gerry Bennett outside a Detroit restaurant back in 1992. During their investigation, police admitted bullets into evidence that were different from those that were extracted from Bennett’s body.
Thirty years ago, police identified a gun belonging to Ricks’ mother as the murder weapon and then gave two rather pristine bullets to firearms experts for analysis. One independent expert, David Townshend, who was involved in the original trial, always had misgivings about the bullets admitted at trial, claiming that neither bullet had any trace of blood, hair, or human tissue often found on bullets removed from a shooting victim.
While serving his prison sentence, Ricks continued to insist on his innocence and reached out to Townshend in 2009. Ricks also partnered with the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan law school, which claims to have “won the release of 26 men and women who had been wrongfully convicted of crimes.”
The team asked to examine the bullets taken from Bennett’s body, which were still in police storage, and these bullets looked nothing like those presented at the original trial. Further ballistics analysis showed that they did not match the gun belonging to Ricks’ mother.
In 2015, the Innocence Clinic asked Judge Richard Skutt to reopen the case, citing the bullet discrepancy as evidence of a wrongful conviction. Skutt agreed, but rather than retry him, Wayne County prosecutors decided to drop his second-degree murder charge altogether.
At the hearing to overturn his conviction, Skutt said to Ricks, “I hope you enjoy your newfound freedom.”
Shortly after his release, Ricks filed a lawsuit against the city of Detroit and police officers David Pauch and Donald Stawiasz, who, according to Ricks, were responsible for the bullet error.
“It was layer upon layer upon layer of police misconduct. It was a truly egregious case,” said David Moran, director of the Innocence Clinic.
At a hearing for the lawsuit, expert witness Jay Jarvis, who spent more than three decades working for the Georgia crime lab, testified: “It’s one of two things. It was a horrible mistake or it was deliberate — I don’t know.”
For the loss of 25 years of his life, Ricks will receive $7.5 million from the city. He had already received $1 million from the state of Michigan, but he may have to return that money because of the settlement with Detroit.
“I’m not greedy. I’m thankful,” Ricks, 56, told the Associated Press on Tuesday.
“It’s a blessing to be alive with my children and grandchildren. It was a blessing to not lose my life in [prison].”