Things were looking grim when Metro Times first wrote about the case of Vidale McDowell more than two years ago ("Confessions & recantations," Jan. 21, 2004). McDowell, 20 at the time, was in prison facing the prospect of spending the rest of his life there for a murder he claimed he didn't commit.
Here's how we described McDowell's plight in a subsequent article ("Sprung," June 23, 2004): "Key to McDowell's second-degree murder conviction was a controversial confession from his friend, Antoine Morris, who told investigators that he helped McDowell kill Antoine's mother, Detroit resident Janice Williams, on Jan. 24, 2002. Antoine, who was 13 at the time, almost immediately recanted that confession, saying it was coerced."
But Morris was never allowed to tell that to the jury deciding McDowell's case.
When that second article appeared, McDowell had just been released after spending two years behind bars. He was let go after the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed his conviction on the grounds that he'd been denied his constitutional right to face his accuser in court. The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office then decided not to seek a retrial.
Last week, the Detroit City Council agreed to pay McDowell a reported $1.5 million to settle a civil suit he filed against the city and two of its police officers.
"I'm so pleased for Vidale and his family," says his attorney, Jeffrey Taylor of Southfield. "Now he has the opportunity to resurrect his life. This is about getting his reputation back, and his life back, and beginning a new chapter in his life. It's a great relief for him."
What's no relief is seeing the cash-strapped city have to relinquish that kind of coin for a case that was clearly mishandled by cops and prosecutors who were more concerned with getting a conviction than seeing justice served. (You really should read the original story by former MT staff writer Ann Mullen to get a full grasp of the injustice done.) Also, it shouldn't help the people of Detroit to sleep any easier knowing that, if McDowell wasn't the one who murdered Williams, then the real killer is still roaming free.News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com