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Law

In the blink of an eye

That's how a paralyzed shooting victim first identified two accused assailants now in prison. He's having second thoughts.

MT Photo: Sandra Svoboda
Eric Hopkins grew up with Shannon Gholston and DeShawn Reed in Ecores.
MT Photo: Cybelle Codish
Attorney David Moran represents the Reeds.
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Published 6/4/2008

DeShawn Reed and his uncle, Marvin Reed, are seven years into 20-year sentences for assault with intent to commit murder in the 2000 shooting of a man DeShawn went to school with in their Ecorse neighborhood.

Like many convicted prisoners, they've maintained their innocence since they were arrested.

The shooting victim, Shannon Gholston, 30, is paralyzed from the neck down. He spent at least a year in hospitals and now lives in the same close-knit Ecorse neighborhood with his parents in a white brick house just two blocks from where he was shot.

The Reeds are in prison mainly because Gholston said they shot him: Marvin drove the car, DeShawn blasted away from the front passenger seat, the testimony went at the Reeds' 2000 preliminary exam and 2001 bench trial.

Other prosecution witnesses identified another shooter in another location. The Reeds' roommates corroborated their alibis. No physical evidence tied the Reeds to the scene or the shooting. Neither had a record of violence or weapons charges.

The Wayne County Circuit Court judge who convicted and sentenced the Reeds said he did so because of Gholston's testimony.

"I'm sort of thrown back on the testimony of really the only witness who is directly involved in the incident whose testimony that has any credibility to me at all and which rings true, very resoundingly true, and that is the testimony of the victim himself," Judge Michael Hathaway said in issuing the verdict.

But Gholston has since cast doubt on his earlier testimony.

He didn't see who shot him, he's told friends and one private investigator on videotape in October 2005. He subsequently told prosecutors that his trial story was true, but his friends discount that as being a statement made under duress.

"Shannon wants to do the right thing," says his friend and next-door neighbor, Eric Hopkins. "He's just scared."

The Reeds and their lawyers say Gholston's recantation along with evidence that wasn't known to or presented by the defense at trial — including finding the gun that shot Gholston in the possession of a man other witnesses identified as the real shooter — should be enough to get them a new trial if not released.

"It's a crazy case from start to finish," says Suzanna Kostovski, a Detroit criminal defense lawyer who represented DeShawn Reed at his sentencing and in his first appeal. "I will always believe that the Reeds are innocent. And I don't say that about many of my clients."

Whether the legal system will do anything with the new evidence remains to be seen.

The Reeds' motions for new trials in the past have been denied. Judge Hathaway, who this week told Metro Times the evidence at trial was "convincing," said deciding when there is enough evidence to merit a new trial or overturning a verdict is a "hard question" to answer.

"The trial evidence that I had sure pointed to these guys, but it's a complicated world out there. If they can make a case for new trial, more power to them," he says. "There's just a host of possibilities here. The possibility that the Reeds are innocent is actually one of them, I suppose."

The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office has been fighting the Reeds' latest petition that seeks to set aside their verdict, but prosecutors refused to discuss the case with Metro Times.

"I think it's very difficult to get a prosecutor's office or an appellate court to acknowledge a mistake," Kostovski says. "All I'm saying in this case on behalf of Mr. Reed is give him a new trial. Give him the opportunity to put forth all of this evidence that was there that should have been put forth."


Shot en route to the mall

Gholston grew up on Ninth Street in a home a few blocks up from a World War II-era housing project in this Downriver suburb. His family was known for its religious dedication — on the day he was shot several of the Gholstons went to church together and then brunch in downtown Detroit.

After they returned that day to their longtime Ecorse neighborhood, near the intersection of Jefferson Avenue and Outer Drive, Gholston, then 22, left for the mall. He was driving his gold-colored Ford Contour with tinted windows about 1 p.m. on March 12, 2000. As he turned left from a stop, a .38-caliber bullet crashed through the back driver's side window of his car and hit him at the top of his spine. Unable to brake, he crashed into a fence. Moments later, a man near the scene who saw Gholston crash was at the car, asking him if he knew who shot him. Gholston shrugged and mouthed, "I don't know," according to court records.

Three hours later Gholston was in the hospital, unable to speak beyond a gasping whisper when an Ecorse police sergeant tried to interview him. Friends had gathered in the waiting room, and family members had been visiting Gholston in those three hours since he had been hit.

Ecorse Sgt. John Anderson feared Gholston would die and wanted to confirm what he'd heard about the shooter's identity from another officer who had talked to residents near the scene: The word was that the Reeds were involved.

In the Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital room, Anderson asked Gholston to shut his eyes twice if Marvin Reed had been involved, once if he hadn't.

Gholston blinked twice.

Anderson asked Gholston to shut his eyes twice if DeShawn Reed had been involved, once if he hadn't.

Gholston blinked twice.

The men were arrested within days and charged with assault with intent to commit murder.

"How can it happen just like that? How can they take me out of my house, make a case out of it and get a conviction?" the now 32-year-old DeShawn Reed told the Metro Times during an interview last week in a prison visiting room. "It's just sad, the way the system is. There's got to be another way to do this. There was so much bullcrap."

At a preliminary examination held at the hospital April 6, 2000, Gholston testified by whispering to an interpreter, a hospital social worker. He said he saw Marvin Reed driving a white car with DeShawn Reed as a passenger. The Reeds pulled alongside Gholston, and DeShawn Reed shot him, Gholston testified. He said DeShawn Reed, who is left-handed, shot with his right hand, according to court records.

Seventeen months later, the Reeds had their bench trial in Detroit's Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, where witnesses' accounts often conflicted with Gholston's. Two men called by the prosecution testified three or four shots actually were fired by a man in an alley behind Gholston's car. One witness identified the shooter in the alley as Tyrone Allen, who lived in a housing project unit just yards from the scene. Allen had died between Gholston's shooting and the trial, shot in Detroit trying to steal a car, according to police records.

No physical evidence tied the Reeds — or the white car they were alleged to have been driving — to the shooting. Some witnesses said there was no white car near the scene. No gun was found with the Reeds. Several witnesses corroborated the Reeds' alibis that they were in their respective homes at the time Gholston was shot.

The motive Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Tom Cameron presented was a spat between Gholston and DeShawn Reed over a girl in high school years earlier. After eight days of testimony and attorney arguments, Hathaway found the Reeds guilty, saying he based his verdict on Gholston's story. Weeks later, as Hathaway sentenced the Reeds to 20 years in prison, he noted there was "a lot more to this ... than meets the eye.

"I have never been satisfied that I knew the whole story. ... I suspect there is a lot more to this," he said at the time.

Now, eight years after the shooting, the Reeds' current attorneys — David Moran, an associate dean at Wayne State University Law School, and Bridget McCormack, an associate dean at University of Michigan Law School — have assembled evidence not presented or not known about at trial that tells a much different and more complex story.

They've been helped by DeShawn Reed's brother, Tienail, who has hired private investigators and led the defense team to find new evidence, including a ballistics report that Moran calls the "smoking gun" of the case.

"After the trial, new defense lawyers came on the scene and asked, 'Whatever happened to Tyrone Allen?'" Moran says. Much of the evidence they collected and testimony never presented at trial points to Allen as the shooter and could have helped raise a reasonable doubt about the Reeds' guilt during the trial, their supporters say. Here are some of the key points:

• The .38 special Allen was carrying when he died fired the bullet that hit Gholston, according to reports from the Michigan State Police lab in Northville. The report confirming the match was issued eight days after the Reeds were sentenced. According to Moran, Hathaway refused to delay sentencing to receive the report.

• Ecorse police failed to pass along a lead: Tyrone Allen's girlfriend, Anitra Dalton, said he told her on the day Gholston was shot that he'd done it. Dalton's statement was reported to Ecorse police a year after the shooting — but before the trial — by her uncle, a Wayne County Sheriff's sergeant at the time. The Reeds' attorneys learned of the report in March 2003 when they were seeking a new trial. Dalton refused to discuss the case with Metro Times last week.

But her uncle's report states that he spoke with an Ecorse supervisor who said, "He would look into the matter further but felt that they had the right suspect and would continue working toward prosecuting him."

Moran says if Ecorse police had reported that information to attorneys before trial — as they are required to do — the trial strategy would have been different.

"Had the defense known about Anitra Dalton before trial, they would have been more likely to follow up on some of the physical evidence," Moran says.

• The Reeds passed polygraph tests in which they were questioned about the shooting and denied being involved. While the results of polygraphs are not admissible in Michigan courts, police and attorneys often use them to guide investigations and theories of cases.

• Gholston has said he never saw his shooter, according to friends, the Reeds' attorneys and a videotaped statement he made in 2005 that was obtained by Metro Times. "At the time I wanted somebody to pay for it, alright, [for] what happened to me," Gholston said.

Attempts by Metro Times to reach Gholston were unsuccessful.

"It's our fervent hope" that Gholston will continue to cooperate with the Reeds' attorneys, Moran says. "The only evidence they had was his testimony. And his testimony is inaccurate."


'Y'all brought hope'

The Michigan Supreme Court in July 2005 refused to hear the Reeds' appeal for a new trial — the Michigan Court of Appeals denied the motion in January 2005 — but Moran and McCormack still believe they have an excellent case. They filed motions earlier this year with Wayne County Circuit Court to set aside the verdicts, and the case is assigned to Judge Helen Brown.

Maria Miller, spokeswoman for the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, says no one there will comment on the case because of the pending motion.

DeShawn Reed says he's as optimistic as he's ever been that something will break for him. "Y'all brought hope," he told Moran in a recent prison visit.

The 32-year-old father of four has professed his innocence all along. During trial, the judge accused him of attempting to intimidate witnesses, which Reed denies.

"I'm not no gangster. As far as talking about retaliation, that's not me. I grew up in the ghetto, but nobody in my family, going back to my grandmother, nobody in the Reed family ever shot anybody," he says.

Reed wasn't surprised no one else came forward to identify Allen as the shooter during the investigation or the trial. "That's how the rules of the neighborhood work with something like this," he says.

He also says the prosecution exaggerated his "bad blood" with Gholston. "I took Shannon's girlfriend from him in high school," he says. "But we never had no fights or anything like that." Reed says they became friends when they were 10 and played football in the neighborhood, and that they last saw each other at church a couple weeks before shooting. "We were all talking," he says, past disagreements forgotten. "We all grew out of it."

Allen, on the other hand, was not as much a part of the group, according to Reed. "He was a man to himself. The only time he had use for you was if you were in his type of business: stolen cars."

Reed has lived in disbelief since he was first identified as a suspect. At times, he's spoken out. Seconds after Hathaway pronounced the Reeds guilty on all counts in 2001, DeShawn Reed begged the judge to follow up with Gholston. He says he'd heard in the neighborhood that Gholston may change his testimony.

"Shannon told his friend he is going to come today and tell the truth. Can you talk to Shannon?" the trial transcript reads.

Hathaway ignored him. "You're remanded to the custody of the Wayne County Sheriff," he said to the Reeds.

Reed has been in custody ever since. He spent some time in an Upper Peninsula prison. "That was tough," he says, shaking his drooped head remembering the distance between Ecorse and the Newberry Correctional Facility. "You're in here for something you didn't do and then they keep you from your family. There ain't no hope up there."

He considers it a blessing to be at Mound Correctional Facility on Detroit's east side, a relatively short drive from his family in River Rouge and Ecorse and close enough to have cheap rates for telephone calls. He still spends between $300 and $400 a month, talking to family every day. He occasionally sees his children, ages 10, 8, 6 and 6.

In prison, Reed has constant reminders of how his freedom is lost. He wears the blue-and-orange prison clothing. He lives on a prison schedule. He makes recorded calls on a prison phone. He sleeps in a prison cell. He runs in a prison yard.

Reed says he feels especially badly for his uncle, 41-year-old Marvin. Convicted of drug possession four years before Gholston was shot, he had kicked a crack habit and gotten married, his nephew reports. Marvin Reed was nearly a decade older than his nephew, Gholston and Allen, who had all gone to high school together.

"Prison is hard for him," DeShawn Reed says of his uncle, who is in the Michigan Reformatory in Ionia. "He's not cut out for prison life."

Mound is DeShawn Reed's fifth facility in his seven years since sentencing. He's been here twice. He was here for a while in 2005 when he had news about Gholston's recanting for the first time since trial.

One day in the yard, Reed heard his name called. It was another inmate from Ecorse, a mutual friend of his and Gholston's. "I heard he was coming to prison. That was a surprise he came here," Reed says.

His former neighbor had a message for Reed from Gholston. "He told me if I run into you to tell you he's ready to tell the truth," Reed recalls. "He'd been trying to reach out to us."

The mutual friend was able to call Gholston from prison. Eventually, Reed talked to Gholston on the telephone, not caring that prison calls are recorded. "I said, 'I forgive you. It's not your fault,'" Reed says.

Reed told his brother, Tienail Reed, about the call and what Gholston said.

Tienail Reed took the news to Kostovski, who was still representing DeShawn. In October 2005, Gholston went to a friend's house where he recanted his trial testimony on videotape with private investigator Daniel Smith.

In a roughly 20-minute interview, Gholston talks about what he remembers of the shooting, how he didn't know Marvin Reed, and that he and Allen were "in business together" and had dealings together with stolen car parts.

"So you never saw DeShawn Reed hanging out the window and shooting you?" Smith asked. "No, I lied," Gholston said.

Smith asked Gholston why he had testified that the Reeds were responsible. "Honestly, in my heart, I kind of believed it," he said. "That's why I feel so bad right now."

And Smith asked why Gholston had asked that his family not be involved in making the tape.

"They backed me for what I said," Gholston said. "They stuck with me. They could have stuck me in a nursing home somewhere. My parents and my family, once I said DeShawn did it, that's who they believe did it, and I don't want to let them down, know what I'm saying?"

Kostovski took the tape to prosecutors, whom she says sent their own investigator to the Gholston's house.

Gholston, who hadn't told his family about changing his account, panicked and told his original story to the prosecutor's investigator, according to Kostovski and Hopkins. The prosecutor's office has cited that in court filings to indicate Gholston's inconsistent testimony but refuses to discuss interaction with Gholston.

"It's not fair," says Hopkins, Gholston's next-door neighbor who is now working with Reed's attorneys. Gholston's parents, Hopkins says, have learned of his recanting and reviewed the polygraph results and state police reports showing Allen's gun was a match to the bullet that hit their son. "They're getting better with it," he says. They refused to speak with Metro Times.

Hopkins says he considers Gholston's mother, Shirley, a second grandmother. Hopkins says if Gholston needed it, he would let Gholston live with him and his nephew in the well-kept house his grandparents used to own.

As Hopkins looks down the street, he says it's simple to explain why the witnesses at trial were reluctant. "Everyone knows everyone."

Hopkins believes Allen shot Gholston, but doesn't think it was intentional, even if they'd had a feud about stolen car parts.

"I don't believe whoever shot Shannon even meant to hit him. Guys take shots at cars all the time down here," he says.

As Hopkins watches his cousins play across the street and waves to many of the cars that drive by that afternoon, he points out the "sad" loss of the three young African-American men involved that he'd grown up with: Allen is dead. Gholston is paralyzed. Reed is in prison.

One could be saved, he believes.

"I told DeShawn I'll cook barbecue for him when he's out," Hopkins says.


The big picture

If their denials are true, the Reeds could be among thousands convicted each year in the United States for crimes they didn't commit, says Marvin Zalman, professor of criminal justice at Wayne State.

"No precise number is known because there's no official way of knowing," Zalman says. "Safe estimates could put it at 10,000 convictions a year. That's based partially on estimates given by public officials, police, prosecutors, judges and defense attorneys."

The most high-profile effort to free the wrongfully convicted is the Innocence Project, the New York-based attorney's group that has used DNA evidence to secure the exonerations of 217 people to date including three in Michigan. Moran and McCormack plan to open a non-DNA innocence clinic at University of Michigan next year.

Work by the Innocence Project and other advocacy groups has raised awareness about wrongful convictions and provided explanations for their causes. In about 75 percent of the Innocence Project cases, eyewitness identification was incorrect. Nearly 50 percent of the Project's first 74 cases involved police misconduct.

"The same things happened here," Moran says. "I place the great majority of the blame in this case on the police department. They withheld key information."

Sandra Svoboda is a Metro Times staff writer. Contact her at 313-202-8015 or ssvoboda@metrotimes.com.

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