(WJBK) - The case against a man imprisoned for 20 years for the 1996 murder of a 12-year-old girl was dismissed Friday.
First granted a retrial based on new evidence, LaMarr Monson was set free after a judge decided to dismiss the case entirely.
On January 20, 1996, Christina Brown was found beaten and stabbed to death in an apartment on the 2700 block of West Boston Boulevard in Detroit. She lived there and engaged in a sexual relationship with Monson, who claims she told him she was 17. Police say the two sold drugs out of the apartment.
Her body was discovered by Monson and a few other people living at the apartment complex. Medical examiners determined the cause of death was blunt trauma.
Monson first told police he wasn't in the apartment but returned home to find the door open, and Brown covered in blood. He then provided a second conflicting statement, claiming Brown attacked him in a jealous rage and he stabbed her to defend himself. He signed a confession.
He was arrested and charged with first-degree premeditated murder. Then at an evidentiary hearing, he testified that an officer told him that if he confessed to the murder, he would be free to go home. Defense asked to throw out the confession, but the motion was denied. Monson was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 30 to 50 years.
Fifteen years later, a woman named Shellena Bentley came forward with a statement that her ex-boyfriend Robert Lewis was the killer. There was little follow up, so she filed a second statement two years later in 2014, as attorneys filed a relief from judgment motion.
Bentley testified before a judge, who granted a motion for a new trial on January 30 of this year based on the issues that Monson's confession may have be coerced and that Brown may have been killed by Lewis.
The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office asked state police to retest for latent prints on the toilet tank lid, the presumed murder weapon. Seven new prints and a palm print were discovered. They belonged to Lewis.
Police found Lewis in Pittsburgh in poor physical health. He admitted to living in the apartment building at the time of the murder, buying drugs from Monson and Brown, and that he had dated Bentley, but denied any involvement in Brown's murder.
As for his prints on the toilet, Lewis said he had visited the bathroom at their apartment a few times prior to the murder. But the prosecutor determined that wasn't enough to bring charges against him.
The case was dismissed instead of a retrial based on three main issues: Monson's confession may have been coerced, evidence had been lost or destroyed, and new fingerprint evidence created reasonable doubt he was the killer.
Prosecutor Kym Worthy released the following statement:
“Christina Brown was a 12-year-old girl who ran away from home and met LaMarr Monson. While living with him, he had sex with her and she sold drugs at his behest. Her untimely death was violent and brutal. Due to the destruction of evidence, issues surrounding the way the police obtained Monson’s confession and the passage of time, we are unable to re-try this case. For similar reasons we are not able to charge anyone else in connection with the murder of Christina.
“The destruction of evidence and the possible coercive conduct of the then-homicide inspector in obtaining the statement of the defendant in this case cannot be condoned. Imprisoned defendants will continue to challenge their convictions.
“The failure of the DPD to retain critical evidence potentially threatens the very foundation of the criminal justice system and the faith placed in it by the people we protect. As a result of this case, and others, I met this year with Chief Craig about the very serious issue of the destruction of evidence in capital cases. I am pleased to say that Chief Craig has agreed to a joint DPD-WCPO workgroup to develop an evidence retention policy.”