This article was originally published here by author Andy Hoag
SAGINAW, MI – A judge has overturned a jury’s verdict against one of two men convicted of conspiring to murder Humberto Casas Jr. last year.
For the first time in his 15 years as a judge, Saginaw County Circuit Judge Darnell Jackson on Thursday, March 3, set aside a jury’s verdict in a criminal case, nullifying Dominique A. Ramsey’s conviction for conspiring to commit first-degree murder.
Jackson, however, declined to do the same for Ramsey’s co-defendant, Travis T. Sammons, whom Jackson on Thursday instead sentenced to a mandatory term of life in prison with the possibility of parole for the same charge.
A jury on Jan. 27 convicted Ramsey and Sammons of the conspiracy charge but acquitted them of an open count of murder, which includes first-degree murder, and all other felonies they faced. Their attorneys argued the verdict did not make sense because of the murder acquittal and also argued the evidence was insufficient to support even the conspiracy conviction.
Jackson agreed, at least when it came to Ramsey, in granting his motion for a “directed verdict of acquittal.”
“In my 15 years’ experience as a trial judge, I have never before disturbed a jury’s verdict in a criminal case,” Jackson said. “However, this is an extraordinary case where the evidence presented by the (prosecution) simply did not prove (Ramsey’s) guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“While I am not convinced that he is not guilty,” Jackson added, “I am convinced from the evidence presented that his guilt was not proven.”
Ramsey’s attorney, Alan Crawford, said after Thursday’s hearing that the ruling was the “proper decision.”
“Even though we put our faith in the jury system … even the jury can get it wrong sometimes,” he said. “Judge Jackson simply made the right decision. We’re thankful for the jurors, but we’re also thankful for Judge Jackson in making this decision.”
Ramsey’s mother declined comment other than to say she was “very grateful” for Jackson’s ruling.
Despite Jackson’s ruling, Ramsey will remain jailed for the foreseeable future. The judge ruled that Ramsey will remain jailed without bond pending the outcome of any appeal by prosecutors of his decision. Additionally, Ramsey remains jailed without bond in connection with a March 15 shooting on Saginaw’s South Side in which he faces 10 felonies.
If the Michigan Court of Appeals overturns Jackson’s ruling, Ramsey will receive a new trial on the conspiracy charge, Jackson said.
Crawford said he felt Jackson recognized that the prosecution “never presented a case.”
“The entire motion was based on the prosecution’s not only insufficient evidence but lack of evidence,” he said.
Casas, 43, died after he was shot seven times, including once in the head and three times in the back, about 1:30 p.m. June 21 at 1401 Cumberland south of East Holland on Saginaw’s southeast side.
Testimony in the trial included that of a 17-year-old who denied he identified Sammons to police as Casas’ killer and of Michigan State Police Lt. David Rivard, who told the jury the teen did, in fact, identify Sammons at the Saginaw Police Department about four hours after Casas’ death.
The teen provided descriptions of the shooter and the driver of a silver Jeep that was involved in the homicide. Police about 10 minutes after the homicide stopped a silver Jeep on Dixie Highway in Bridgeport Township, and Ramsey was driving the vehicle with Sammons as a passenger. Surveillance footage from numerous cameras showed the Jeep stop at a house on Baldwin in Buena Vista Township before the traffic stop and showed people getting in and out of the vehicle.
Jackson said that evidence was insufficient to convict Ramsey; as a result, he said, “I am under a legal, moral, and ethical duty to grant the motion of directed verdict of acquittal.”
“The prosecution had no direct evidence to show that (Ramsey) was the driver of the getaway vehicle or that he was otherwise involved in a conspiracy to murder the victim,” Jackson said. “The prosecution’s circumstantial evidence against (Ramsey) consisted primarily of the video and the fact that (Ramsey) was apprehended, along with Sammons, in the silver Jeep Commander sometime after the shooting occurred.”
In upholding Sammons’ conviction, Jackson noted the teen’s possible identification of him as the shooter.
“Even though (the teen) denied making the identification, the jury was still free to believe he did so,” Jackson said. “They were also free to conclude that Sammons was, in fact, the shooter.”
The judge added that the argument that the verdict was “inconsistent or illogical” is “also not a legal basis to set it aside, as our Michigan Supreme Court has held consistently.”
The conspiracy charge carries a mandatory penalty of life with parole, and Jackson handed down that sentence to Sammons. He will become eligible for parole after 15 years, and he received credit for 251 days, or more than eight months.
In addition to acquitting the men of murder, the jury returned not guilty verdicts on a single count of possessing a firearm as a felon and three counts of possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony.
Ramsey, meanwhile, is due back in court March 29 for trial in connection with the March shooting. That also is scheduled before Jackson.
— Andy Hoag covers courts for MLive/The Saginaw News. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @awhoag