Oakland Circuit Court. LC No. 1989-090203-FC.
For Plaintiff-Appellee: JOSHUA J MILLER, PROSECUTOR-APPELLATE DIVISION, PONTIAC, MI.
For Defendant-Appellant: MARLA L MITCHELL-CICHON, COOLEY INNOCENCE PROJECT, LANSING, MI.
Before: MURPHY, P.J., and SAWYER, J., and TALBOT, C.J.
William B. Murphy, P.J.
[311 Mich.App. 299] Defendant petitioned the trial court under MCL 770.16 for an order directing DNA testing of biological material obtained by the police in their investigation of a 1988 murder for which defendant was convicted. The trial court denied the petition, concluding that simple blood-type evidence presented to the jury at defendant's criminal trial in 1989 had already excluded defendant as the source of collected blood samples, with one sample even producing a blood-type result unlinked to either defendant or the victim, yet defendant was still convicted by the jury. Therefore, according to the trial court, DNA testing [311 Mich.App. 300] would add nothing new for purposes of a retrial and simply confirm that defendant's blood was not present at the crime scene. We affirmed the trial court's decision, not on the merits, but on the basis of the law of the case doctrine in light of the case's procedural history in which prior comparable claims raised by defendant had been rejected in orders issued by this Court and the Michigan Supreme Court. Our Supreme Court then reversed our holding in an order, ruling that the law of the case doctrine did not apply, given that the previous appellate orders did not constitute decisions on the merits. People v Poole, 497 Mich. 1022; 862 N.W.2d 652 (2015). The Supreme Court remanded the case to us for consideration of issues raised by defendant that were not addressed in our original opinion. We now reverse the trial court's ruling and remand for DNA testing.
The extensive history of this case was set forth in our prior opinion and, for ease of reference, we now quote that background here:
Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder, MCL 750.316, in 1989 with respect to the slaying of Robert Mejia, whose body was found in a field in Pontiac on June 7, 1988. There was blood covering Mejia's shirt and pants. An autopsy revealed that he sustained eight stab wounds to the face, neck, and upper chest area. The depth of the wounds ranged from one-half inch to four inches. Mejia also sustained multiple superficial cuts and incised wounds, and he had abrasions and contusions on his arms and back, indicating that there had been a struggle. There was also a bite mark to his right arm. The coroner opined that Mejia had died approximately 48 hours before his body was discovered, plus or minus 12 hours.
Witnesses identified defendant as leaving a bar with Mejia on the night of June 5, 1988. The case went unsolved
for five months until defendant's then-girlfriend reported to authorities that he had confessed the killing to her. According to the girlfriend, on a Sunday evening in early June [311 Mich.App. 301] 1988, she and defendant had a fight about money, after which defendant said he was " going out to get some money" and then left. Defendant did not return until between 1:00 and 4:00 a.m. At that time, she noticed that defendant was " all scratched up and red in the face." When his girlfriend asked defendant what happened, he told her that he had been in a fight. At some point, defendant randomly stated to his girlfriend, " I killed somebody." He then explained that he had gone to the bar where witnesses had placed defendant and Mejia together. Defendant told his girlfriend that he talked with " a guy" in the bar and eventually left with him. According to the girlfriend, defendant recounted how he and the man went for a walk in the woods, where defendant " pulled a knife on the guy and told him to give him all of his money." A fight ensued " with a lot of biting and scratching, and pulling of hair." The girlfriend testified that defendant informed her that he then " held [the other man] down with his left hand and slit his throat and watched him drown in his own blood." Defendant's girlfriend did not initially believe defendant, but he " proved it" to her by retrieving a watch from his vehicle that was covered in dried blood.
At trial, Melinda Jackson, an expert in forensic serology, testified that blood found on Mejia's clothing was type O, which matched Mejia's blood type. There was also evidence that some blood found on stones and grass connected to the crime scene was type O blood. Further, there was testimony presented at trial reflecting that defendant's blood type was AB, a type shared with only three percent of the population, and that none of the testable blood samples collected in relationship to the offense matched defendant's blood ...