New Trial in First-Degree Murder Case in the 16th Judicial Circuit Court

A defendant won a new trial following an evidentiary hearing in November 2019 before the Honorable Richard L. Caretti, Macomb County Circuit Court Judge. The case – a “cold-case” prosecution for a 1998 death – involved convictions in 2006 of first-degree murder and felony firearm. The convictions were affirmed in an appeal of right in 2007. Judge Caretti issued an Opinion and Order March 11, 2020, ordering a new trial; the prosecution filed for leave to appeal in the Court of Appeals, where the case is currently pending.

The defendant’s wife died from a single gunshot wound to the head in 1998. The medical examiner ruled it undeterminable, and police determined the death was a suicide. The case went cold, and some evidence was destroyed, but charges were brought in 2005 charging the defendant with murder and felony firearm. The defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and the firearm charge, and the Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed the convictions. The primary issue at trial was whether the death was a suicide or a murder. The primary issue in the post-conviction proceedings was whether or not trial counsel’s failure to call an expert, who would have testified about gunshot residue, blood spatter, and of his opinion that the death was a suicide, constituted constitutionally deficient assistance of counsel.

Judge Caretti found that law of the case did not prevent a determination relating to the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel – an issue of which was raised in the appeal of right – because there had been a change in material facts since the matter was addressed in the Court of Appeals. Specifically, the Court had the benefit of an affidavit from the proposed expert witness, which contradicted trial counsel’s representations and testimony in several significant respects, including whether or not the proposed witness – who had been present at court for two days during the trial – had left of his own accord or had been told to leave, without testifying, by trial counsel. The expert, who had died prior to the evidentiary hearing, could have provided “extremely exculpatory evidence” had he been called, Judge Caretti found, and the failure to present the witness constituted ineffective assistance of counsel, prejudiced the defendant, and undermined the fairness of the proceedings, thereby warranting a new trial.

The defendant was represented by attorney Joel Kershaw. A copy of the March 11, 2020, Opinion an Order in People v. Anthony Jerome DeLeon, Case No. 2005-003245-FC, is available from the CDRC here:
This link is to the Court of Appeals September 18, 2007 opinion in the appeal of right:

by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor