Judge-detective love affair could derail double-murder conviction
06/07/2017 2:10 pm PDT
Rumors of a secret affair turn real when a judge's own divorce leads to intimate revelations about the lead detective in a double-murder trial.
May 1, 2008: On a Thursday afternoon, an adult son stops by to check on his mother and stepfather. When he walked through the door of their Livingston County home in rural Michigan, there's blood everywhere. Richard and Brenda Kowalski had been shot to death. He called 911 to report the murder.
His shock quickly turned to outrage. Right then the Kowalskis' son has a suspect in mind.
"I wonder if my uncle and him got into a dispute over my grandmother's estate. I'll bet you my uncle did this, dirty [----]," the caller tells the 911 operator. "So help me God if he did, I will beat him to a pulp."
Michigan police were soon knocking on his uncle Jerome Kowalski's door. Nine years later Jerome Kowalski is sitting behind bars, speaking with Crime Watch Daily on a prison phone, revealing what he says happened that night.
"I was drinking and taking Vicodin and stuff, and my head was spinning," said Jerome.
The retired auto worker says he'd battled alcohol addiction his entire life and he admits he'd fallen off the wagon after the death of his mother two weeks prior to the double murder.
"I was totally discombobulated," said Jerome.
The surprise police visit and shocking news about the murders of his brother and sister-in-law left Jerome stunned.
"They informed him of his brother's death and, you know, he was upset," Jared Kowalski, Jerome's son, tells Crime Watch Daily.
Upset, scared and drunk. Without thinking much about it, Jerome submitted to questioning for about 90 minutes.
"Police were interrogating me in my house and going through all my files," said Jerome.
"They ask him 'When was the last time you were at your brother's house?'" said Jared.
Jerome told them it had been about 10 years.
The questions kept coming.
"'Jerome are we ever gonna find any DNA of yours at the scene?' And he's like 'absolutely not,'" said Jared. "They eventually ask him if he's got a registered gun."
"I told them I had my 9-millimeter Smith and Wesson with me," said Jerome.
Detectives took the gun as evidence, and when they left around midnight, Jerome drowned his trauma, fear and grief with more alcohol.
"He starts drinking heavily again, and this is what he's telling me, that he starts, you know, questioning himself, like 'Why did the police take my gun?'" said Jared.
The next day Jerome and his sons called an aunt for more details about the murders.
"Where the bodies were, how they were killed in the house," said Jared.
The men then started piecing together what might have happened.
"We're trying to role-play how the person must have came through the house," said Jared. "My dad goes home that night and starts to drink. Everything is marinating on his mind."
Before heading to bed, police call, telling Jerome they need him at the station for more questioning.
It was not a good night's sleep.
"Then I dreamt about my brother and sister, and I dreamt that -- oh boy, yeah, I dreamt that I had killed them," said Jerome.
The next morning, Jerome claims he started confusing his dream with reality.
"I woke up and said 'God I hope I didn't do that,'" said Jerome.
He wondered if maybe he had committed the murders while blackout drunk.
"Now he's thinking, you know, 'Maybe I did do this. Maybe I did,' so he ends up trying to -- he takes Vicodin and alcohol," said Jerome's son Jared Kowalski.
Believing he may have possibly committed the murders, Jerome contemplates suicide. He then writes a note to his family in which he seems to confess. His son Jared finds it.
"The note says 'I may have killed Rick and Brenda, I have no recollection of driving out there, I don't you know how I would have got out there.' So it's all these 'may haves,' 'not sure,'" said Jared.
After reading that note did Jared think his dad was a killer?
"Absolutely not," said Jared. "I mean there still was that doubt, I mean, I'm shaking, there's confusion, but I kept reading those words in my mind: 'I think I may have.'"
The letter was turned over to police, and for the next two days Jerome Kowalski was interrogated by detectives.
Jared Kowalski gave Crime Watch Daily a portion of the interrogation recorded by police.
"He first explains the scene exactly the way we talked about it at my home when we were, you know, role-playing," said Jared.
Jared also believes some of the details his dad provided were from his dream.
The interrogation was recorded on video: "All I can tell you is that I walked in, walked down the hallway, and Rick looked at my gun in my pocket, he said 'What are you going to [----] do with that?' I said 'I'll show you what I'm going to do.' And I don't know the sequence of events, but I shot, shot, shot," Jerome tells Michigan State Police Detective Sean Furlong.
But some of the things Jerome recalled didn't match the crime scene.
"There are a lot of things in that scene that no one knows, no one at the funeral home knows, at all," Det. Furlong tells Jerome in the interrogation. "The only person who knows it is the detectives and the person who did this. Which is why I go and tell you your details don't make sense."
As Jerome learned more about the murders during his interrogation, he asks: "Why are you interrogating me if my gun didn't kill them?"
He started to believe that maybe he wasn't the killer.
"All of a sudden you didn't do it?"
"Why didn't you do it?"
"Why didn't I do it?"
"Yeah, all the sudden why you changing your story?"
"Because you just told me the Smith and Wesson didn't do it."
Michigan State Police Detective Sean Furlong then tried a new approach.
"Your boy [---] up, made a mistake, went over there and killed Uncle Rick and Aunt Brenda. You know about it and you say 'You know what, son, I've lived my life and you lived yours. I'll take the hit for you,'" said Furlong.
Furlong started accusing Jerome's sons of committing the murders. Jerome denies this. Furlong then threatened to bring them in for questioning.
Jerome Kowalski claims he didn't want his sons to go through what he was going through, so he finally gave police a signed confession.
"I just basically signed that to get them off my back," Jerome tells Crime Watch Daily.
It's a decision he would soon regret.
"I know I shouldn't have," Jerome said.
Jerome Kowalski recalls the night he killed two people. But did it really happen, or was it just a dream?
Five years after confessing to a detective that he killed his brother Richard and sister-in-law Brenda, Jerome Kowalski finally had his day in court.
"There's nothing that ties my dad physically to the scene," said Jerome's son Jared Kowalski. "There is absolutely nothing."
His confession was essentially the case against him. And with that, Jerome Kowalski's trial got underway, with Livingston County District Court Judge Theresa Brennan presiding.
"This was her first homicide case, let alone double-murder homicide," said Jared.
Prosecutors had very little evidence to work with. In court, prosecutors alleged money was the motive for the murders, an accusation the victim's son made in his 911 call.
Jerome's son denies the accusation.
"That's just an absolute lie," said Jared.
Despite what Richard and Brenda's son told the 911 operator, Jerome's own son says there was never a dispute over his grandmother's inheritance.
"We have the check that was cashed that my uncle wrote from my grandma's estate to my dad," said Jared.
Days before the murders, Jerome and Richard met to divide their inheritance. Jerome says everything went great. He even gave Richard his phone number so they could keep in touch.
"He wrote it on this little yellow sticky and I remember after he gave me the check for the distribution, he put that sticky in his checkbook," Jerome tells Crime Watch Daily.
Detectives found that Post-it note covered in blood at the crime scene. But they never found any trace of Jerome.
"They have no DNA of my father's, no hair follicles or forensic evidence for that matter, fingerprints, no footprints," said Jared Kowalski.
They also never found the murder weapon.
"They checked my house four times," said Jerome. "They checked my well, they checked the creek behind my house."
During his interrogation, Jerome was surprised to learn that Richard and Brenda were shot with a .38-caliber pistol. Jerome says he had never owned a .38-caliber pistol.
"I think the time of death was very important. The one he came up with was when my father was at work," said Jared.
Renowned forensic pathologist Werner Spitz testified at the trial. He was hired by Jerome's family to determine a time of death.
"He gave a time of death at 2:30 a.m. to 4:30 a.m., give or take an hour or two here and there. But he said definitely in the middle of the night," said Jared.
Jared says on the night of the murders his father worked security on the graveyard shift at a military base. There's no way Jerome could have been there, according to Dr. Spitz, Jared says.
But Jared says prosecutors put their own pathologist on the stand who gave a much broader time span, making it possible for Jerome to be the killer.
"Three days, April 29th to May 1st," said Jared.
As expected, the entire case really came down to Jerome's confession, which his attorneys tried to get completely thrown out -- without success.
"It was vital to this because the confession was really a critical piece of evidence that led to the guilt as I understand it to the defendant, and this judge heard the hearing and denied it," said attorney Thomas Kizer.
And when they petitioned for an expert to explain why some people give false confessions, again they were denied by the judge, who called the witness "unreliable and irrelevant."
After two weeks the jury found Jerome Kowalski guilty on two counts of first-degree murder. Five weeks later Judge Brennan sentenced him to life in prison.
Judge Brennan had easily won a conviction in her first murder case, and a year later she easily won re-election to the bench.
"She wanted to make a name for herself, 'Look at me,' and at this point I think it's like 'I put this murderer away, I helped do this,' and you know, she wanted that vote," said Jared Kowalski.
But now four years later, that conviction could be in jeopardy. And it all comes because of a bombshell revelation: explosive allegations that the judge was having a secret love affair with the lead investigator in the Jerome Kowalski murder trial.
Jerome Kowalski has been tried and convicted for the murders of his brother and sister-in-law and has been sitting behind bars for nine years.
But now there is a bombshell development that some say could change everything -- and it has nothing to do with the murders. It's an explosive revelation about the lead detective in the case, and the judge who sentenced Jerome Kowalski to life in prison.
The judge and the cop were lovers.
"What she told us was that Judge Brennan admitted to her that she had kissed Officer Furlong," said attorney Thomas Kizer.
Did their romance affect the outcome of the trial?
"Whether he is guilty or innocent, I think he has been denied the most fundamental of our rights," said Kizer.
And now, will it be the judge herself in the hot seat of the law?
"It absolutely would be a crime," Kizer said.
"Judge Brennan was more than full of herself. She really enjoyed the power that she had," said Kizer.
He claims the judge he once supported changed after putting on the black robe.
"Judges actually do come to believe they're just a little bit better than you and I," said Kizer.
But Kizer, who didn't represent Jerome Kowalski, claims it was nothing personal when in 2013 he tried to get Judge Brennan to recuse herself from the Kowalski double-murder trial, claiming she couldn't be impartial.
"What I knew was that there was just too much contact," said Kizer. "The rumor also was that they were having a relationship."
He's talking about her rumored affair with the lead detective in the case, Detective Sean Furlong, the man who got Jerome's fate-sealing confession.
"We had admissions that she had made to others, so I knew where we were going," said Kizer.
Four years later Jerome Kowalski was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
Judge Brennan's husband filed for divorce and hired Tom Kizer as his lawyer.
"I think I was also hired because there was the belief that I would have the willingness, if you will, to ask the tough questions," said Kizer.
As part of the divorce proceedings, Tom Kizer was allowed to depose Judge Brennan and Detective Furlong. Both of them admitted to an affair.
"The question will always be, and we will never know because I don't know that the honesty will ever come in there, the date when the sex started is the only issue," said Kizer.
The couple claims they started having sex months after the trial, in late 2013. But during her sworn deposition, a close friend of the judge said the two locked lips long before that.
"What she told us was that Judge Brennan admitted to her that she had kissed Officer Furlong on about Judge Brennan's 50th birthday, which would have been in about 2008," said Kizer.
But in 2013, Judge Brennan had refused to recuse herself from the Kowalski trial, claiming she and Furlong were just friends.
"To me this kiss established intimacy," said Kizer.
As her husband's divorce attorney, Kizer also now had the judge's cellphone records.
"They revealed 231 calls for the 13 months prior to the trial between Furlong and the judge for over 1,147 minutes," said Kizer.
Phone records also show the two talked three times during the trial, and 34 more times between the verdict and sentencing.
"You would think that a judge in a capital murder case would at least have the -- I think integrity is the right word," said Kizer. "The integrity to stay away from her friend while the trial is pending until the sentence is rendered. But she is unable to do that.
"I think [Jerome Kowalski's] rights to due process and to equal protection of the law has been denied to him," said Kizer.
Tom Kizer says it's possible that Judge Brennan's relationship affected her ruling, which allowed Jerome Kowalski's confession to be used as evidence in the trial.
"The judge had to rule upon the credibility of the detective. Did they ever have pillow talk about that in any of their trysts before he testified? I don't know. Did she have such an affection for him that she determined his credibility was better than the credibility of the defendant, who was claiming this was not voluntarily given?" said Kizer.
So Judge Brennan allows the testimony of Furlong, who elicited that confession, but same judge doesn't allow the defense to bring their own expert witness on that confession.
"That's exactly correct," said Thomas Kizer.
Kizer believes that is what ultimately led to Jerome's conviction.
"Certainly had she ruled the other way, that this expert or experts could have testified, could have turned this whole confession upside down, and could very well have led to an acquittal of this defendant," said Kizer.
Crime Watch Daily tracked down Detective Sean Furlong. He would not comment on the affair.
"I think they are investigating potentially to see what other connections maybe with Furlong, maybe other cases involving Furlong," said Kizer. "I think they are also, when they took their computers, I think they are looking at things she might have erased from the computers, or had her staff erase from the computers, that dealt with personal items and personal things and misuse of public resources for personal gain."
Is that a crime in Michigan?
"It absolutely would be a crime," said attorney Thomas Kizer.
Crime Watch Daily also reached out to Judge Theresa Brennan by phone, but got no response. She has yet to comment on the state police investigation, and has never been charged with any wrongdoing.
For now she remains on the bench hearing cases in Livingston County, Michigan.
As Jerome Kowalski continues to sit in a cell, he tells us in a phone interview he's the only suspect police ever looked at after their initial interviews and the confession.
"I don't feel sorry for her, she created her own mess," said Jerome Kowalski. "You know, I could say karma will catch up with you."
Jerome Kowalski has filed appeals that have been denied all the way to Supreme Court.
In light of the affair, attorneys for Jerome Kowalski are now working on filing a motion for a new trial.
Attorney Tom Kizer believes he deserves one.
"I believe in the jury," said Kizer. "I believe a jury that hears all the facts and has an impartial judge sitting on the bench and no influence over the jury, no influence over what's led up to the jury trial, I think they will make the right decision."
That's what Jerome Kowalski and his son Jared are hoping for -- if they get another day in court.
"It is time to get him out," said Jared. "It is time."