Mother's Day murder: 2 convicted despite flimsy testimony, lack of evidence
05/06/2016 11:39 am PDT
As we get ready to honor moms this weekend, the family of Lisa Kindred is left to wonder if this mother of three's real killer is still walking the streets.
Lisa Kindred had every reason to celebrate Mother's Day, blessed with two young children and a beautiful 10-day-old baby. But instead of flowers and a box of candy, Lisa gets a bullet straight to the heart, shot in a minivan with her children just inches away on Mother's Day 1999.
"One shot right through the heart, right through the heart," said Scott Lewis, an investigative reporter turned private investigator.
Within hours cops arrested two young men and charge them with murder. But now a witness surfaces claiming police got the wrong guys.
When Lisa's murder happened it was a very dark time in Detroit. The police department was facing allegations of corruption. Crime was at an all-time high, racial tension was raging, and there were all sorts of allegations of police squeezing suspects to get convictions, and not really solving cases. I know -- I covered crime in that city.
So you can only imagine when a young mother is murdered on Mother's Day, the police were desperate to find a killer.
Lisa's husband Will, who refused an on-camera interview, told Lewis that terrible night started at a drive-in movie theater.
"It's Saturday before Mother's Day," said Lewis. "Will Kindred is going to take his three children and his wife to a drive-in movie in Dearborn. The youngest child is 10 days old. If you're a mother and you've got a 10-day-old baby, do you really want to go to the drive-in?"
Around midnight, as Lisa drives them home, Will asks to stop at a relative's house.
"Will decides that he's going to go to his brother-in-law's house to talk to him about buying a motorcycle," said Lewis. "It's 11:30 at night on a Saturday, and you've got three kids in the car. So they go over to this house, Lisa stays in the car with the three children. Will goes in the house."
It's a dangerous area at night, especially for Lisa, who doesn't know the neighborhood at all.
"Twenty minutes later she's getting antsy, and she goes up and knocks on the door and says 'Come on, we've gotta get going,'" said Lewis. He still doesn't come out.
"Second time, she goes to the door, 'If you're not gonna come, I'm gonna leave with the kids, you're gonna have to find a ride home,'" said Lewis.
But this time, when Lisa heads back to the minivan, someone is waiting for her.
"As she's getting in the car, a man walks up as she's closing the door, raises a .22-caliber pistol, shoots through the glass," said Lewis.
Lisa somehow manages to slam the van in drive and races out of there.
"Will Kindred says he was walking out of the house, he heard what sounded like a car door slam, saw his wife racing down the street in the car," said Lewis. "He sees a guy running through the yard, across the street and down the alley, so he goes and chases the guy."
Lisa Kindred had been shot in the heart, and makes it only three blocks to a gas station. She stumbles out of the car and collapses in a pool of blood with her children screaming inside the van.
Will Kindred tells police after he loses the gunman that he takes off to find his wife, and makes it to the gas station just in time to see Lisa loaded into the ambulance. She takes her last breath at the hospital.
Police immediately scour the area for witnesses. Within hours, 20-year-old Kendrick Scott and 24-year-old Justly Johnson are taken in custody and charged with murder.
Police base their case on the "earwitness" testimony of two men who claimed to have overheard Justly and Kendrick at a party that night talking about "hitting a lick," -- street slang sometimes used for robbing someone.
"As sure as I'm sitting here, they didn't commit that murder. I'm convinced of it," said Lewis.
But if Justly and Kendrick didn't do it, who did pull the trigger?
Justly Johnson and Kendrick Scott sit in prison, slapped with a murder charge. But did Detroit cops get the right guys?
Raynette Johnson, Justly Johnson's sister, says her brother and his buddy Kendrick Scott were party boys, not killers.
"Why, what was their motive? They had no motive," Raynette said. "Both of them boys were mama's boys, so anything that they wanted they could have went to their moms. There was no robbery, they didn't take her purse. They didn't take no money. He knew better, he would've been in trouble -- not from the police, but just from my mama."
Cops claim the motive was a carjacking. But nothing was stolen.
Police say two witnesses, Raymond Jackson and a teenager named Antonio Burnette, fingered Justly and Kendrick after overhearing them talking about a botched robbery.
"That's all the evidence they had. There was no physical evidence," said Scott Lewis. Lewis covered the story for Crime Watch Daily Detroit affiliate WXYZ.
From the very beginning he too wondered if Detroit Police rushed to judgment.
"I was a journalist for 35 years, and I think I'm a pretty objective guy, and I don't see anything that points to these guys," said Lewis.
But a judge and jury believed the witnesses, sentencing Justly and Kendrick to life in prison with no parole
Scott Lewis begins to investigate the case himself. He conducts a jailhouse interview with Justly Johnson, and is shocked when Justly tells him his alibi is actually Antonio Burnette -- the same guy who ratted Justly Johnson out to police.
Scott: "If Antonio was your alibi witness, why didn't he just when the police picked him up say right away 'I was with Justly and Mike?'
Justly: "The only thing I can place to it was intimidation and fear."
Scott: "And so you believe that they put so much pressure on Antonio Burnette and Raymond Jackson that they just lied."
Justly: "Yes I do."
"I think what happened here is the prosecutor and the police took a square peg and pounded into a round hole, and as a result we've got two innocent guys sitting in prison for life," said Lewis.
So Scott Lewis asks a friend, former Detroit homicide detective Michael Carlisle, to look over the 300-page case file and 400 pages of court transcripts.
"My first impression was there's two people that shouldn't be there. This is one of the worst cases I've ever seen," said Carlisle.
Carlisle says it's page after page of shoddy police work, starting with idea Lisa's murder started as a carjacking.
"I laughed when I read that," said Carlisle. "The city of Detroit weapon of choice in all the street crimes that are committed are basically done with a 9mm, .40-caliber weapon, or an assault-type weapon. In my 10 years in Homicide, I only had two cases where a .22-caliber was used, and they were both domestic violence cases."
Michael Carlisle also discovers the earwitnesses, Antonio Brunette and Raymond Jackson, had prior records, and according to the reports had consumed 32 beers and 10 joints between them the night Lisa was murdered.
"I would say this, I can only use myself as an example: If I drank 32 beers, try to wake me up in two days," said Carlisle.
Records also reveal Justly passed a polygraph test.
But Carlisle says the biggest blunder: Police didn't bother to perform a standard gunpowder residue test on either man.
"They could've exonerated Kendrick and Justly with a gunshot residue test, and it wasn't done," said Carlisle. "Shame on the police.
"They went down every wrong turn in this investigation from the very beginning, and why nobody stopped them along the way, very poor police work, and I would tell them to their faces to this day 'cause I know the people involved," said Carlisle.
If police did arrest the wrong men, then who really did kill Lisa Kindred, and why?
Scott Lewis received a letter from Lisa Kindred's aunt that may hold all the answers: "The moment I heard on Sunday morning that Lisa had been murdered, my first thought was he [Will] did it. We begged her not to go back with him after he broke down the bathroom door and beat the crap out of her."
Will Kindred was cleared the night his wife was murdered. But Scott Lewis's investigation uncovers a dark secret: Lisa had filed for divorce a year earlier, and records reveal cops were called to Will and Lisa's house a staggering 17 times for domestic violence.
"He assaulted Lisa in the bathroom, and then when she was on the way to the police station he pulled up next to her in the car and said 'I ought to take you and the entire family out,'" said Lewis. "And on two occasions, the police, when police they went there for domestic violence incidents, confiscated .22-caliber guns. Lisa was murdered with a .22-caliber weapon."
"Lisa has a sister who is a police officer, and she informed the Homicide Section that her sister told her that 'If anything ever happens to me, William is going to be the person responsible,'" said Carlisle.
Sadly, Lisa wasn't Will's only target of abuse. Court records show Will was convicted twice for abusing Lisa's then-8-year-old son C.J.
Will Kindred refused Crime Watch Daily's request for an interview. Scott Lewis did talk to him, but Will would not sit down for a formal interview with him either.
"Of course he denied that he had anything to do with it," said Lewis. "And I said 'Why are they saying that you are the most obvious suspect?' He says 'I get it, I did have some problems with domestic violence, but I have totally changed my life. I am a different person now.'"
Family members say Will was in his mom's house when the fatal shot was fired. Police cleared him immediately after questioning. But Michael Carlisle says they should have done a background check.
"I believe William is involved," said Carlisle. "William did not pull the trigger himself. I believe he supplied a weapon to one of the young kid with a promise of some money."
Authorities refused to talk to Crime Watch Daily about this case, and Will Kindred has never been charged in connection with his wife's murder. In fact, Scott Lewis's investigation found that just 33 days after the murder, Will collected on Lisa's life insurance policy.
Scott is now convinced Justly Johnson and Kendrick Scott got a bum rap, and he's on a mission to set them free.
"I thought there's got to be something in there that I could find that would get these guys out of prison," said Lewis. "And I saw that there was one of the kids in the car, he was actually 8 and a half. I don't see anything in here that says they interviewed this kid."
C.J. Skinner was 8 years old when somebody shot his mother through the heart. He was sitting right beside her in their minivan, but nobody ever asked him if he saw who did it. Until now.
"Nobody ever knew C.J. was awake, nobody knew C.J. saw anything until I contacted him," said Lewis.
"It makes me sad that two people I believe are innocent are paying for it," said Lewis. "And it bothers the hell out of me that at least one person and maybe two who actually did the crime are out there walking around."
Scott Lewis is now on a mission for justice.
Then a huge break in the case: The only two witnesses, Raymond Jackson and Antonio Burnette, recant their testimonies. Both men originally told the court they had overheard Justly and Kendrick talking about a robbery gone bad.
Eugene Jackson says police strong-armed his brother Raymond into falsely testifying.
Attorneys for Justly and Kendrick immediately request a new trial -- but the judge refuses to overturn the ruling.
"It baffles me why the courts would not give these guys a new trial," said Lewis. "I just don't understand it."
Now more determined than ever, Lewis tracks down Lisa Kindred's oldest son, C.J. Skinner, and gets his description of his mom's killer over the phone.
Scott: "How old was this man you saw shoot?"
C.J.: "He had to be in his early 30s."
Kendrick and Justly were clean-shaven and in their 20s. C.J. describes the shooter as having a bushy beard, shaved hair and a very distinctive nose: "Not huge, but I mean like it expanded over his face," he told Lewis.
That description certainly doesn't match either one of these guys.
"He also said if you show me pictures of the two guys in prison, it's them, I'll tell you it's them," Lewis said.
C.J. shocks Lewis, telling him this was not a botched robbery, and that there was only one man, not two.
"C.J. told me that this man walked up to the car, fired one shot through the glass," said Lewis. "He didn't say anything about a robbery, he didn't ask for her purse, he didn't utter a word. To me that's not an armed robbery, that's a hit."
"At that point, given what her son was testifying, what his affidavit said, we knew this was a huge case we had to take," said Imran Syed, supervising attorney with the Michigan Innocence Clinic.
Syed says the first step was to prove C.J. could eliminate Justly and Kendrick as his mom's killers. But there's a problem getting to C.J. He's in jail, convicted of perjuring himself to protect a friend.
Scott: "Can people believe what you would say about your mother's murder if you are jailed on perjury right now?"
C.J.: "I mean, at the end of the day, it's my mother."
The Michigan Innocence Clinic sets up a virtual lineup behind bars using photos on index cards. Among the pictures are Justly Johnson and Kendrick Scott.
"We tried to do this in as unbiased a way as possible," said Syed. "There were 20 photos, even the person who was holding up the photo didn't know which photo they were holding up."
After looking at all 20 photos, C.J. says confidently his mom's killer is not in the group.
Despite sworn testimony from C.J., Judge Prentis Edwards, who presided over the original trial, denies a new hearing.
"One of the reasons the judge said he didn't believe C.J.'s testimony is C.J. said 'I could see the face 'cause the dome light was on,'" said Lewis. "The judge said 'If the dome light is on, you can only see in the car, you can't see outside the car.' Where is the scientific evidence for that? I think what should happen is these guys should get a new trial, they should walk out of prison, and this case should be re-investigated, and find out who really did it. And I know exactly where I'd start. Will Kindred."
But police cleared Will Kindred of any wrongdoing the night Lisa was murdered. He has always maintained he has nothing to do with his wife's murder. Will Kindred has not been charged in connection with this case.
Crime Watch Daily went to talk to the one man who could have some answers, but we were unable to locate him personally.
Scott Lewis says he is still looking for another mystery man in Lisa's murder, whom he believes is the one who actually pulled the trigger.
"A few minutes before Lisa was shot, a guy who went by the name 'Tone' was walking down the street a few houses down," said Lewis. "There's two teenage girls sitting on the porch, and he said 'Y'all better get back in the house 'cause some ----'s about to go down.' A couple minutes later the girls hear a gunshot."
And C.J.'s description was a match.
"I think if we could figure out who Tone is, we could get the real killer in this case," said Lewis.
It's a small glimmer of hope for Justly's and Kendrick's families, who have gone 17 Mother's Days without any answers.
"This is on my 'bucket list,'" said Lewis. "I am going to see these guys walk out of prison. I'm going to be there when they open the doors and these guys walk out to freedom."
Johnson and Scott have filed an appeal in federal court.