Rib Rack Murder Trial Article

December 1, 2009 http://detnews.com/article/20091201/METRO02/912010426

Second Rib Rack jury deadlocked; deliberations to continue

DELORES FLYNN

The Detroit News

Pontiac -- The jury in the second Rib Rack murder trial against Jerome Adam Hamilton will continue deliberations Wednesday morning after remaining deadlocked Tuesday. A request for a mistrial by the defense was denied by Oakland Circuit Judge Leo Bowman.

Some legal experts say it may be difficult to decide on a verdict if the credibility of a key witness is questioned.

"The prosecution has relied upon a primary witness to establish the guilt of the defendant. The witness in question presented some serious credibility issues involving his past criminal history as well as an interest he had in working out a plea deal with the prosecution. Those issues are fertile ground for a defense lawyer to try to convince a jury not to believe that witness," said Larry Dubin, Professor of Law at University of Detroit Mercy.

"Usually a prosecutor tries to strengthen the case if there is a second trial. But apparently calling the defendant's ex-girlfriend was not deemed sufficient by this jury to convince them of the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt," he added. "It's quite possible that a juror could believe that the defendant participated in this crime but simply is not sufficiently convinced by the burden of persuasion that the prosecution must prove."

Hamilton, 16, of Southfield, is accused of shooting Catherine Solinski-Blain in the head as she tried to flee the scene during a botched robbery of the Rib Rack restaurant where she was a manager in Lathrup Village on Oct. 15, 2008. The 21-year-old Waterford Township resident was found slumped over the steering wheel of her car in the parking lot.

His first trial was declared a mistrial after a jury was unable to come to a unanimous verdict in August. Hamilton faces life in prison if convicted.

The 12-person jury has been deliberating since Nov. 23 to determine if Hamilton is guilty of first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree felony murder or a lesser charge of second-degree murder. He is also charged with felony firearm and conspiracy to commit armed robbery.

On Tuesday they sent a note to Judge Bowman stating they are at an "impasse in deciding on guilty or not guilty." Since deliberation began the jury has asked to review witness testimony including Hamilton's ex-girlfriend who received text messages from him and the prosecution's key witness, Brandon Davis.

Davis pleaded guilty in February to a lesser charge of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and as an accessory to the crime in a plea deal. After a day of failed robberies, he places Hamilton at the crime scene jumping back into the getaway car yelling "I shot her. I shot her." His sentencing of 135-225 months was delayed Tuesday in the event Hamilton's case is resolved or tried again. Davis also testified against Deandre Sturges, whose verdict has been sealed until Hamilton's case wraps.

There is no set number regarding how many times a case can be tried if there is a hung jury, according to legal experts. It's at the discretion of the prosecutor's office.

Defense attorneys argued Davis is an admitted liar who changed his statement to the police numerous times. He has a known criminal background. There are no fingerprints, DNA or weapons linking Hamilton to the case.

"If the jury concludes there is a possibility the case is a house of cards built on the word of someone whose credibility is suspect and there is nothing to corroborate what this person has said, it almost becomes inevitable that it constitutes reasonable doubt if they're letting reason guide them. And the law says if that's the case the verdict is not guilty," said criminal defense attorney John Freeman, a former state prosecutor in Manhattan and U.S. attorneys office in Detroit.

He said one suspect's word without more substantial evidence against another defendant can make a prosecutor's case difficult to try.

Assistant Prosecutor Rob Novy has presented cell phone records linking all three suspects around the time of Blain's murder. He also called Hamilton's former girlfriend to the stand regarding alleged text messages sent by the defendant after the shooting including "I hope he (God) gives me a second chance" and "Don't tell anyone about this."

But Freeman notes there could be both an innocent or criminal explanation for the suspect's phone calls since they knew each other, and the messages to the ex do not specifically say Hamilton killed anyone.

"As a prosecutor I never wanted to prosecute unless I had some corroboration of what a cooperating suspect was telling me because I was concerned about being sold a bill of goods. Without it, it's like the story of the three little pigs and the wolf getting to the first house they built and blowing it down," Freeman said.

Dubin said there could be some bargaining leverage by the defense to make a possible plea deal if a second mistrial is declared. If not, the prosecution has to determine whether there is a reasonable possibility of obtaining a conviction if there is a third trial.