DETROIT (WJBK) - Lamarr Monson spent more than 20 years behind bars for murder -- and it turns out he might be innocent. New evidence shows someone else is likely responsible for the death of 12-year-old Christina Brown back in 1996.
A judge granted Monson a new trial earlier this week. Monson took his first steps toward freedom Wednesday night as he walked out of the Wayne County Jail on bond. His mother dared not let him go.
"It's surreal right now for me, it's just surreal," he said. "I've been dreaming about this time to just hug my mom and be free." His mom says she never lost hope that this day would come, because she knew her son was innocent.
A judge granted him a new trial Monday after lawyers from the Michigan Innocence Clinic introduced a new witness who identified a different man as Brown's killer, Robert Lewis. This information played a role in the judge's decision, as well as damning evidence that Lewis's fingerprint was found on a toilet tank lid - which prosecutors say was the murder weapon.
"We discovered there were10 fingerprints on the toilet tank lid, most of them in blood," said David Moran, Innocence Clinic attorney. "All matching this other guy who is still out living in Pennsylvania."
Lewis's ex-girlfriends identified him as the killer. The Innocence Clinic says she told police this shortly after the murder in 1996, but there was no follow up. Sixteen years later she learned Monson had been convicted for the crime.
"So she went to Detroit police in 2012 and gave them a written statement explaining that her ex-boyfriend had committed this murder," said Moran.
"The real forensic evidence of that was in their hands all along," said Bill Proctor.
Proctor, the former Detroit newsman turned criminal justice reformer, says the system failed Monson -- miserably -- from the forensics team that did not follow the blood trail from the murder scene to another apartment; and, potentially, to an investigator who duped an unwitting Monson into signing a confession; to Wayne County prosecutors "steamrolling his case."
"There were too many elements of failure on the part of the criminal justice system that sent a man to prison for more than two decades," Proctor said. "For a crime someone else committed."
"I've done got over me being angry or unforgiving," said Monson. "I understand this is the way the system is right now."
And he's not out of the woods yet. Monson's new trial is set for April 24 but he and his lawyers expect nothing short of vindication.
"I'm definitely thankful for everyone that's been in my corner all this time," he said. "They trusted and knew I am not the type of person who would do something like that, and knew my character and the family I come from, and I'm just thankful that they always backed me and kept me these 21 years."
A statement from the Wayne County prosecutor's office said:
"The court's decision is currently being reviewed for a possible appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals."