(WXYZ) — The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office announced a grant of relief to prisoner Kenneth Nixon, who was 18 when he was convicted of first-degree murder and felony firearm in 2005.
Nixon was previously sentenced to life in prison without parole.
On May 19, 2005, shortly before midnight, prosecutors say a Molotov cocktail was thrown into a home in the 19420 block of Charleston, causing the deaths of a 10-year-old boy and a 1-year-old girl. Their mother and her other children, including her 13-year-old son, were also in the home at the time and sustained injuries.
Nixon and his girlfriend LaToya Caulford were both charged in the case with two counts of felony murder, one count of arson and four counts of attempted murder. Ms. Caulford was charged as a co-defendant for allegedly driving Mr. Nixon to the Charleston house and was acquitted in a separate jury trial on Sept. 21, 2005.
Nixon was convicted as charged on September 21, 2005 and sentenced to two life terms for Felony Murder.
The main issue at Nixon’s trial, prosecutors say, was the identification of the person who threw the Molotov cocktail. The identification of Nixon was based upon the statements and trial testimony of the 13-year-old boy. The only other person that testified that Nixon was responsible was a jailhouse informant.
Prosecutors say the informant told a homicide detective that while he and Nixon were in jail, Nixon admitted to the firebombing of the Charleston street house. The informant testified to this at trial and indicated he had never seen news coverage about the firebombing before he spoke with Nixon. In exchange for a guilty plea in an unrelated case the informant received a one year to three-and-a-half-year sentence.
WCPO's Conviction Integrity Unit says Nixon did not receive a fair trial based upon the following information:
1. Caulford was with Mr. Nixon at a house in the 19380 block of Havana at the time of the crime. She did not testify to this in Mr. Nixon’s trial or her trial.
2. The 13-year-old made inconsistent statements to the police and at trial. As a result of concerns by the prosecutor in the case about the inconsistencies of the 13-year-old’s statements, the police were requested to perform additional investigation prior to trial.
3. There is an inference that because the 13-year-old’s statements were inconsistent that a homicide officer turned to a jail house informant. On August 29, 2005, the informant entered an agreement for special consideration in an unrelated case. On August 30, 2005, the informant gave a statement to the officer incriminating Nixon.
4. Although the informant said that he did not see any media report about the case, in a 2018 interview with the Medill Justice Project, he said that he had seen the case on television before speaking to Nixon. The CIU attempted contact the informant multiple times by phone and by mail without success.
5. There was testimony at trial from a male who knew Nixon and Caulford. He lived with the 13-year-old’s mother and was walking home when he saw the fire in the Charleston house.
Prosecutors say he testified that he had previously dated Caulford and had been verbally threatened by Mr. Nixon regarding windows broken out of Nixon’s car. In a first statement given on May 20, 2005 he said he saw the 13-year-old walking away from the home upset and scared. The man called 911.
There was no mention in that statement that the 13-year-old made an identification. In his second statement, given later in the evening of the same day he said that the 13-year-old told him he saw Nixon drive up in a green Neon, throw a Molotov cocktail, jump back in a car that was driven away from the scene by Caulford.
6. A K-9 unit identified the scent of accelerants at the scene and then on the shoes and clothes of Nixon. However, Nixon worked as a tow truck driver that same day and had been working on cars, which provided an explanation for the smell of accelerants on his clothes.
7. Caulford and two other male witnesses placed Nixon with Caulford on Havana street at the time of the crime. Nixon has maintained his innocence, that he was at home at on Havana at the time of the crime, and that he was not involved.
The case centered on the identification of Nixon as the person who threw the Molotov cocktail, and yet, prosecutors say credible new evidence supports Nixon’s claim that he was not the person who firebombed the house on Charleston.
The CIU will move the court to dismiss his convictions and vacate his sentences and dismiss all charges.Nixon is expected to be released from Ionia Correctional Facility on Thursday after the order is entered by the court.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy issued the following statement:
The issues and findings of the CIU have convinced me that Mr. Nixon did not receive a fair trial. The 13-year-old witness was the victim of a devastating arson fire that killed his infant sister and his young brother in their home. The statements and testimony by this key witness were inconsistent to support what is basically the sole identification of Mr. Nixon. These statements were properly given by the prosecutor to the defense in discovery for use in the case. "What is highly suspect here is the use of a jail informant by a homicide officer to gain a “confession”. The informant testified that he had no knowledge of the case from watching TV to bolster his credibility. Years later he admitted that before Mr. Nixon allegedly confessed to him, the informant had seen details of the case on television. These and other issues support the grant of relief to Mr. Nixon today.