In March of 2012, Lorenzo Donnell Relerford was convicted by a jury of armed robbery, first-degree felony murder, and unlawfully driving away an automobile in connection with the murder of Jeanne Hank. Relerford, a Flint resident, allegedly strangled the victim, who was the sister of a Genesee County Sheriff’s deputy, in 2011. Following his conviction, Relerford was sentenced to life in prison by Genesee Circuit Judge Archie Hayman.
Relerford appealed his conviction, arguing that his right to a fair trial was violated because during the murder trial jurors saw that his legs were in shackles. During the trial, the defendant was called to testify; he stood up and made his way toward the witness box, without waiting for the judge to remove jurors from the courtroom so that he could get behind the witness box without jurors seeing the shackles. The judge claimed that courtroom security decisions are left up to the county sheriff, and that he had not been notified that Relerford was shackled. The defendant’s attorney called for a mistrial immediately, however Hayman denied the request. Typically, jurors never see a defendant in leg shackles.
Judge Hayman said that he believes jurors are not influenced by whether a defendant is in leg shackles, and that they generally try to be fair. He went on to say that the evidence against Relerford was “overwhelming,” an opinion prosecutors agreed with. However the appeals court did not agree, saying that while the evidence was persuasive, it was not sufficient to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. DNA evidence presented at trial on a bathrobe belt which was allegedly used to strangle the victim included that of two other individuals in addition to Relerford’s.
Ultimately, the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned Relerford’s conviction on November 19, ruling that his right to a fair trial was violated. David Leyton, Genesee County Prosecutor, said that the matter may have to be retried, and that the Prosecutor’s office is considering an appeal of the appeals court’s decision to the Michigan Supreme Court.
Michigan post-conviction attorneys realize that while it may seem that your fate has been sealed when convicted of a violent crime such as murder, this is not necessarily the case. Mistakes may be made by prosecutors, juries, and even judges. All individuals have the right to a fair trial when accused of any crime, including murder.
If you feel that your rights to a fair trial were violated, or you were convicted due to ineffective counsel or errors, consult with a highly qualified Michigan criminal appeals lawyer right away. Skilled appellate attorneys know how to review your case and court records to determine if you may have solid grounds to appeal your conviction or sentence.