State Appellate Defender Office Secures New Trial for Nathan Jacobs in Murder Conviction

A special Crime Lab Unit of the State Appellate Defender Office (SADO), created in response to the closure of the Detroit Police Crime Lab and funded by a federal Recovery Act grant, secured on October 19, 2011 its third appellate victory for a client. Nathan Jacobs, convicted of second-degree murder in 2007 and sentenced to 25 to 47 years in prison, will receive the opportunity of a new trial in Wayne County. Any new proceedings on the case will have to take account of ballistics evidence that now demonstrates the presence of a second firearm, where the original trial theory claimed one.

Two eyewitnesses originally testified that Jacobs shot the victim with an AK-47, once in the head and twice in the abdomen, in front of the victim’s house. Detroit Crime Lab analysis found the bullet fragments too damaged for proper analysis. Through research and investigation, SADO’s crime lab unit discovered that an independent forensic laboratory, Ron Smith & Associates, had analyzed the same firearms evidence as part of the Detroit Crime Lab audit. This analysis materially contradicted the Detroit Crime Lab result, finding that the abdomen bullet fragments were consistent with an AK-47 while the bullet fragments taken from the deceased’s head were consistent with a pistol. This new evidence that the victim was shot with two weapons could not be squared with either the prosecution’s theory of the case or the testimony of the main eyewitnesses at trial, one of whom actually had a pistol on the day of the shooting. The new evidence also explained the presence of a spent pistol shell near the victim, a fact that the prosecution had previously explained as evidence of the victim returning fire.

In its order dated October 19, 2011, the Michigan Supreme Court granted a new trial after an agreement between SADO’s Crime Lab Unit and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. SADO’s Crime Lab Unit:

  • initially secured remand from the Michigan Supreme Court in September, 2010 for consideration of unreliable Detroit Crime Lab testing;
  • advocated for a new trial in the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court - the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction in December, 2010 and the Supreme Court denied leave in June, 2011;
  • secured analysis of the Nathan Jacobs case by an independent Review Committee established by the Conviction Integrity Unit of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office;
  • advocated for a new trial recommendation by the Review Committee – ultimately, the Review Committee recommended a new trial and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office followed the recommendation;
  • moved for Michigan Supreme Court reconsideration after the Review Committee analyzed the case.

“This outstanding outcome is the product of outstanding advocacy by SADO’s Crime Lab Unit, and opportunities provided by the federal grant,” said Dawn Van Hoek, Director of SADO. She gave full credit to the Unit members: SADO Deputy Jonathan Sacks, former Assistant Defender Kim McGinnis, and Special Assistant Marilena David-Martin. “SADO particularly appreciates Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s commitment to the process, and willingness to agree on a just result for Jacobs,” Van Hoek added.

Nathan Jacobs’ case is the third significant success obtained through SADO’s review of the Detroit Crime Lab closure. William Lee was wrongly convicted and received a fifteen-to-thirty-year sentence for a violent rape at the age of 17. He has been completely exonerated of this offense. Orande Thompson was convicted of first-degree murder for the accidental shooting of his girlfriend due to incorrect Detroit Crime Lab analysis. On retrial, he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.