A man who insists he was wrongly convicted of killing five children has been freed from prison. Juwan Deering, now 50, was released on Thursday after spending 15 years in prison. He will not face a second trial, Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald said.
“I’m just so happy,” Deering told family and friends who had gathered outside a courthouse to meet him. “Happy to be free.” Deering has said that he was not behind a house fire in his neighborhood in Royal Oak Township that killed five children in 2000. A jury convicted Deering of arson and five counts of felony murder in 2006, and he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
During a brief court hearing on Thursday, Oakland County Prosecutor McDonald said she was dismissing the charges against Deering. “The case of People vs. Juwan Deering has been fraught with missteps and misconduct,” McDonald said. “He did not receive a fair trial.”
McDonald said that before she arrived at a decision to dismiss the charges, she brought together a group of 12 veteran prosecutors and Michigan State Police investigators and asked the group to “review the file, look at the evidence and consider whether it pointed to Deering’s guilt,” Detroit Free Press reported.
“The group concluded, unanimously, that there was not sufficient credible evidence to charge Mr. Deering,” she said. “And that the investigation had been totally compromised by misconduct that occurred between the time of the fire in 2000 through the trial in 2006.”
Oakland County Circuit Judge Jeffery Matis ordered Deering released from custody. Deering was represented by the Michigan Innocence Clinic, which contacted fire investigators to review the case. Deering’s lawyers said a closer look at the case shows that the fire most likely started inside the house, not on the porch as the government argued during the trial, Detroit Free Press reported. The lawyers also argue that the fire was not arson.
Imran Syed, co-director of the clinic and Deering’s attorney, said Deering was wrongfully convicted of a fire that was probably an accident.
McDonald at a news conference on Thursday said the Michigan State Police is still investigating the case. McDonald said evidence, including statements by a child who survived the fire, was not shared with Deering’s defense lawyer before the 2006 trial. Jurors did not also know that jail informants were given significant benefits for their testimony against Deering, McDonald said, according to the Associated Press.