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119-A Firebombing & Wrongful Conviction Revealed Dark Realities of Detroit’s Criminal Justice System

119-A Firebombing & Wrongful Conviction Revealed Dark Realities of Detroit’s Criminal Justice System

In 2005, 18-year-old Kenneth Nixon and his girlfriend were arrested and charged with murder, arson, and four counts of attempted murder in conjunction with a tragic Detroit firebombing that killed two children. While Kenneth’s girlfriend was acquitted by a jury, he was sentenced to two life sentences.

A collaborative review by the Medill Justice Project, Cooley Law Innocence Project, and Wayne County Conviction Integrity Unit would ultimately determine Kenneth didn’t receive a fair trial, citing inconsistent eyewitness testimony, opportunistic jailhouse informant testimony, and poor arson investigation. On February 18th, 2021, Nixon was released from prison, 16 years after his conviction.

In this stunning installment of Open Mike, Kenneth reflects on the systemic biases that contributed to his wrongful conviction and provides updates about his post-release life — including inspiring advocacy work with the National Organization of Exonerees.

Show Notes

[00:01] Welcome to Open Mike!

[00:17] Kenneth Nixon’s background and bio.

[01:43] Welcome to the show, Ken! You’ve been out of prison, almost eight months to the day! What was it like walking out of prison, getting your freedom back after sixteen years?

[02:45] So much has changed over sixteen years… what milestones did you miss the most when you were incarcerated?

[03:28] How many children did you have when you were convicted? Did you get to see them when you were in prison?

[04:44] In 2005 there’s a firebombing on Charleston Street in Detroit, Michigan. 20-month-old Tamyah Vaughn and her 10-year-old brother, Raylond were killed. Where were you when this happened?

[05:36] Later on you found out the crime happened around midnight… where was this house in relation to you? Did you know this family?

[06:27] Why do you think the thirteen-year-old brother of the victims told police he saw you commiting this crime?

[08:22] This young boy’s transcripts showed that he was inconsistent all along; he couldn’t get his stories straight!

[09:01] How did his statement come out at trial? Did your lawyer do a good job in demonstrating the inconsistent statements and impeach him?

[09:45] Your girlfriend Latoya Caulford was also charged, so she was unable to testify on your behalf. What was her charge?

[10:03] Did the boy say he saw her too?

[11:30] Latoya was acquitted… is this your children’s mother? Is she still part of yours and the kids’ lives?

[12:31] Let’s talk about the prosecutor, Patrick Muscat — he’s been a prosecutor on several of these wrongful conviction cases. He framed you to be a jilted lover who wanted revenge. When he said that, what was your reaction?

[13:33] There was testimony at your trial that stated you had gasoline on your clothes. Can you explain why that was?

[14:32] Police brought a dog in to identify fire accelerants at the scene of the crime. Muscat didn’t tell the jury that the dog is trained to detect petroleum-based products — a dog doesn’t know the difference between gasoline and perfume, or motor oil and glue, for example. Ken’s possessions that had gasoline on them were taken for testing at the lab and didn’t match any of the evidence at the scene of the crime.

[15:23] Didn’t a cop, Robert McGee, say that his dog linked your clothes to the crime, and his dog is never wrong?

[15:41] Were you satisfied with how your attorney defended you?

[16:31] We’ve done several wrongful conviction stories here on Open Mike, and one of the lynch pins that convicted many people were jail snitches, which are so problematic for so many reasons. And in your case, you had one who claimed you admitted to the firebombing. What do you know about this guy, and did he get a deal for testifying against you?

[17:52] Outrageous! Did he ever come clean and say he lied?

[18:56] Did the student’s interview eventually lead to your exoneration?

[19:51] Did you and your girlfriend get tried together?

[20:44] When you heard the guilty verdict, what was going on in your head?

[21:52] What did you tell the sentencing judge right before you were handed your sentence?

[22:07] How did the Justice Project at Northwestern University get involved in your case?

[25:24] How did the Brady violations come to light? Did the students identify them or did something else happen?

[26:43] The Wayne County Conviction Integrity Unit and the Cooley Law Innocence Project got involved… I assume Northwestern University got them involved?

[27:28] What information was presented to the judge, and what did he do?

[28:09] One thing that’s a little strange here, is that the victims’ family were upset about your release. What do you think about that?

[28:58] You’re still a young man — what’s in store for you ahead?

[29:48] Ken is part of the National Organization of Exonerees which aims to bring awareness to the wrongful conviction crisis.

[30:27] Ken is the 28th person exonerated by the Wayne County Conviction Integrity Unit.

[31:43] Thank you to Kenneth Nixon for appearing on the show! There are so many similarities between all of these wrongful conviction cases, but thankfully the truth came out and Ken is reunited with his kids. Thank you for watching Open Mike — please subscribe, comment, like, and share the episode, we’d love to hear from you! We’ll see you soon.

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