The murder that happened near the corner of Boston and Lawton in Detroit, on a January morning 21 years ago took the life of a 12-year-old girl. But if you believe the evidence that freed the man convicted of the crime, he is a victim, too — of police and prosecutors.
“We can’t afford to have people that are a part of the justice system who are a threat to innocence,” said Lamarr Monson, who was released from prison in January.
Monson spent more than two decades behind bars for the brutal murder of 12-year-old Christina Brown, a girl he admits helped him sell drugs out of a Detroit apartment building.
Monson says after returning home one afternoon, he found Brown laying on a bathroom floor, covered in blood. She would later die.
“She was in unrecognizable condition,” Monson said. “I believe the only reason I did recognize her was because she called my name out and waived her hands at me.”
Monson called 911, waited for EMS to arrive and was then brought downtown to police headquarters for questioning. That’s where he learned he wasn’t just a witness, he was the prime suspect.
Detroit police arrested him, the Wayne County prosecutor helped convict him and Monson was branded a killer.
“I believe he should get what he deserves, because I feel he took advantage of a naive, 12-year-old child,” said Brown’s mother at the time.
“The cause of the death was multiple stab wounds,” said then-Detroit Police Lieutenant Joan Ghougoian.
But the evidence convicting Monson was far from perfect. For starters, despite his confession, Christina Brown didn’t die from stab wounds.
No, the medical examiner found it was blunt force trauma to the head — from a toilet lid.
Ghougoian, the officer who took Monson’s confession, was later demoted by DPD for promising suspects freedom in exchange for their signed confessions.
Former reporter Bill Proctor covered Brown’s murder for Channel 7 back in 1996. Today he is a private investigator and remembers the call he received from a woman in 2013 saying the real killer was still free.
“She said, ‘You got it wrong. The guy who was in prison didn’t do it, and the guy I was with smoking crack cocaine did,’ “ Proctor recalled.
She was Shellena Bentley, and in 1996 she was dating Robert Lewis, who lived in the same apartment building where Christina Brown was ultimately killed.
Bentley says in the hours before Brown was bludgeoned to death, she and Lewis were using her to buy drugs.
“He said, ‘I’m going to go down there and see if she can get me some more,’” Bentley said. “He was down there a long time. And he came back up, he was dripping with blood and said: ‘We got to go.’ “
According to an affidavit Bentley gave to police, Lewis attacked Brown after she scratched him. She didn’t come forward officially until 2012, but said she’d made a half-dozen anonymous calls to police years earlier, telling them Monson was innocent.
“He doesn’t deserve this,” Bentley said.
But the biggest break of all came in 2015. Further fingerprint analysis of the murder weapon revealed new prints not recovered during trial. Nine belonged to Robert Lewis—none matched Monson.
With the new evidence, Proctor, along with University of Michigan Innocence Clinic, worked to set Monson free. Earlier this year, his conviction was tossed out. Monson was free, but so was Robert Lewis. In fact, 77 days since Monson was let out of prison, Lewis has not been questioned by DPD.
“They have plenty to at least go and at least ask Robert Lewis questions about why his fingerprints are on the murder weapon,” Proctor said.
Chief James Craig wasn’t in charge when Monson was convicted, but says today that he's working with the Innocence Clinic to make sure that the right man is behind bars, whoever it is. While his officers haven’t contacted Lewis, he says investigators with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office have.
Lewis remains free today. Multiple messages left for him were not returned.
“If something was done wrong by this department, I’m committed to it,” said Chief Craig. “If nothing was done wrong, I’m committed to saying that too.”
Recently, Detroit Police assigned a full-time detective to look into the Monson case, working with UM’s Innocence Clinic. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s office says its investigation is ongoing.
Monson says he’s waited 21 years to clear his name, and he may still have to wait. Even though his conviction was thrown out, prosecutor Kym Worthy plans to try him again for Brown’s murder in July.
“Detroit is coming back, and looking to be a world-class city,” Monson said. “It shouldn’t have a third-world justice system.”
Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (248) 827-9466.