New evidence could vindicate man convicted of fire that killed 5 children decades ago in Royal Oak Township

Posted at 4:08 PM, Aug 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-31 18:07:29-04

OAKLAND COUNTY, Mich. (WXYZ) — He was convicted of murdering five children two decades ago, but now the current Oakland County prosecutor says the man sent to prison did not get a fair trial. Prosecutor Karen McDonald is now asking 50-year-old Juwan Deering's sentence and conviction be vacated.

On Tuesday, 7 Action News filed a FOIA request to be able to show viewers what prosecutors say a jury never saw. Key evidence, they say, was deliberately withheld in a murder case.

A just-released interview from April 2020 gives chilling new insight to who could be behind a deadly house fire that killed five children in Royal Oak Township. Captured on video, an older sibling inside the home telling a forensic investigator about two different men both named "Juwan." Clearly indicating the voice of Juwan Deering, who lived next door, was not the one he heard just prior to the murders.

On a recording, the child again is heard saying to a detective he believes the man responsible is a different man from Detroit known as "Little Juwan."

At his trial, Deering, the neighbor to the victims, also maintained his innocence.

“I never had a problem with any of my neighbors on my street,” Deering said.

Fast forward to today, 15 years after Deering's murder conviction, after a new state police investigation and special prosecutors report, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald publicly stated Deering was wrongfully convicted due to prosecutors and detectives at the time deliberately withholding key evidence from the defense and a jury.

“All I know is he didn’t get a fair trial," Prosecutor McDonald said. "The arson science used to convict Juwan Deering was outdated and inaccurate.”

McDonald goes on to say jailhouse informants who testified helping to send Deering to prison were also being rewarded without the jury's knowledge – both unethical and illegal.

“When I reviewed the trial file, I found a letter written by an informant to the trial prosecutor asking for favors," McDonald said. "This was alarming to me and I immediately ordered a review. I discovered two informants had been used multiple times. Those informants got plea bargains, reduced sentences – sometimes by many years – or dismissed for cooperation before and after Deering trial and the jury never heard that.”

Now, McDonald will join Deering's attorneys in asking that his conviction and sentence be vacated as soon as this week, allowing him to go home to his family. Something loved ones and attorneys with the U of M Innocence Project have worked hard for since 2006.

“This is a huge moment. We’ve been fighting for this for 10 years and Mr. Deering since he was suspected of the crime," said Imran Syed with the U of M Innocence Clinic. "He’s wrongfully convicted, he should have never been tried and I’m hopeful we’ll move quickly to having him released.”

7 Action News has confirmed that former Oakland County Assist. Prosecutor Gregory Townsend, who's been working at the state attorney general's office, stepped down from his job one month ago. Oakland County Det. David Wurtz has since retired and works as a part-time crime data analyst for the sheriff's office.

A statement from the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office says, “An internal investigation that started when this was first revealed is ongoing, and won’t be completed until the state police completes their criminal investigation. We have cooperated 100% with the state police, and turned over a complete file to state police.”