On March 3, 1992, 21-year-old Gerry Bennett was shot and killed outside of a restaurant in Detroit, Michigan. He was found with 126 grams of cocaine in his possession. Shortly afterwards, his friend Desmond Ricks would become a suspect, after Desmond’s jacket with his personal items in the pockets was found near the scene.
An eye witness had told the investigating officers that they had observed a man running from the location where Gerry had been shot, taking off and throwing his jacket on the road. Two days following Gerry’s murder, the police arrested Desmond at his mother’s house, finding a .38 revolver inside of the house. Desmond was charged with second degree murder and illegal use of a firearm.
Desmond’s trial began in September 1992. An eye witness testified that she could not be sure, but that it was possible the shooter was Desmond. A medical examiner would testify regarding the bullets used to kill Gerry. He would say that the bullets were consistent with a .38 caliber revolver. Another eye witness would testify that the gunman was a smaller man. A fourth eyewitness would testified that he heard gun shots and saw one man fall to the ground and another man running away, “slipping out” of his jacket as he fled. He could not identify Desmond in photo lineup.Two expert in ballistics witnesses testified. They both stated that the two bullets in evidence were fired from the .38-caliber revolver found at Rick’s mother’s house.
Desmond’s mother Mary Ricks, was in fact the owner of the gun. She would testify for the defence stating that her son did not have access to the gun on the day of the crime or any other day. She told the jury that she had argued with Desmond on the day before the shooting and kicked him out of the house . She testified that the gun was in her hand when she kicked him out of the house and that she slept with it under her pillow that night. That her son did not have a key to the home and could not have returned without her knowledge. She stated that when the arresting officers came to her house, they asked if she kept a gun in the house. She had showed them the gun. She said that one of the officers said that the gun had not been fired recently, before they took it.
Desmond would testify in his defence at his own trial. He stated that on the day of the shooting, Gerry, who was his friend, had been driving Desmond to his girlfriend’s house, when he had pulled into the restaurant parking lot. Desmond said that he had witnessed a yellow Monte Carlo car with three men pull into the parking lot next to Gerry’s car. He said that Gerry and a passenger from the Monte Carlo went into the restaurant. Desmond testified that several minutes later, witnessed this man shot his friend in the abdomen and then in the head. Desmond said he jumped out of the car and yelled and the gunman turned and fired a shot at him as he fled. He said he heard one more shot as he ran. Desmond testified that he shed his coat as he ran to avoid getting caught in bushes. He ran because he was afraid the gunman was coming after him. He hid in the bushes out of fear for life, he would leave the bushes only after he heard police sirens. He would go to a women’s house nearby to use the telephone. The neighbouring woman would testify on behalf of the defence that that Desmond was shaking, crying, and too nervous and upset to make the call to the police.
The prosecution would rely heavily on the expert ballistic evidence as the crux of their case against Desmond. Despite the inconclusive witness testimony an the strength of the defence witnesses, the jury was convinced and on September 23, 1992, Desmond was wrongfully convicted of second-degree murder and illegal use of a firearm. He was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison. He would go on to attempt to appeal his conviction. All motions being denied.
Finally in 2008, the Detroit police crime lab was shut down as it was exposed as having widespread errors in ballistics testing. In 2010, Desmond would get in touch with the other ballistics expert who had testified at his trial. The expert would say that he had been troubled by Ricks’s case, because the bullets did not match the condition of the thousands of bullets he had examined during his career, that their condition was too pristine. He explained that the bullets did not have any of the deformations that normally occur when a bullet is removed from the body of a murder victim, that there was no hair, blood, bone, or any other human materials on them. Upon further investigation, an autopsy report revealed that there were further issues with the ballistic match, and that it was impossible that Desmond’s mother’s gun had been used to kill Gerry. Working on Desmond’s case, the Innocence Clinic, student criminal defence lawyers in training, had been able to attain a recantation of one of the prosecutors eye witnesses. The witness would go on to say that she had been pressured by the police to testify against Desmond and that she had in fact known that the shooter came from the Monte Carlo.
In July 2016, the Michigan Innocence Clinic filed a petition for relief from judgment, and requested that the bullets be subjected to new ballistics testing. The petition argued that the police had manipulated and added false evidence to match the bullets to Desmond’s mother’s gun, framing Desmond for a crime he did not commit. In April 2017, re-examination of the bullets concluded that the bullets from Gerry’s autopsy were not able to be matched with any gun.
On May 26, 2017, the Prosecutor’s Office joined in the defence motion to vacate Desmond’s convictions. Finally, after 25 years Desmond was a free man. The charges against him were then dismissed.