Detroit man freed pending possible murder retrial seeks 'normalcy'

Oralandar Brand-Williams, The Detroit News
·3 min read

Apr. 21—Thelonious Searcy said Tuesday's light snowfall was humbling as he stepped from a Hamtramck prison into the waiting arms of his family and supporters.

Searcy, 41, has been locked up for 17 years for a murder his lawyer says he was wrongfully convicted of and one that a self-professed hitman has confessed to committing.

"I can't get back the 17 years I lost," Searcy said after leaving the William Dickerson Correctional Facility. He said he wants to re-establish his relationship with his daughters, who are 23 and 24, and his 77-year-old grandmother, whom he says he almost lost to illness brought on by his incarceration.

"I just want to get back to a sense of normalcy," he said.

Searcy was convicted in 2005 of first-degree murder in connection with the shooting of Jamal Segars near the Coleman A. Young Airport on the city's east side Sept. 5, 2004. Vincent Smothers has taken credit for Segars' death and wrote three affidavits in 2015 and 2016 saying he, not Searcy, killed Segars, according to court documents.

Searcy said he plans to finish a paralegal program he almost completed in prison and hopes to go to law school to help others who are behind bars.

Right now, Searcy is in a holding pattern as he and his lawyer await to see if the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office appeals a ruling from the Michigan Court of Appeals that he should receive a new trial. The case could be retried or charges dismissed.

"It will be a very difficult case to retry when you have someone else confessing to the crime," said Searcy's attorney, Michael Dezsi. "The evidence is overwhelming and shows that Mr. Searcy did not commit this crime. When you have that kind of evidence, I don't know how you retry a case."

Dezsi said "we would be hopeful" that the case is dismissed but that it could take months for a hearing at the Michigan Supreme Court, where an appeal by the prosecutor would be heard.

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Maria Miller said Tuesday that the prosecutor's office filed its leave to appeal Monday.

"Mr. Searcy is being released, but he has conditions of bond that have been put in place by the court," said Miller.

Last month, Judge Thomas Hathaway of Wayne County Circuit Court ordered Searcy be released on home confinement while the court weighs his request for a new trial.

Deszi said he doesn't think there are grounds for an appeal.

The Michigan appeals court ruled in February that Wayne County Circuit Court should take a second look at Searcy's conviction.

After an evidentiary hearing in 2018 that included Smothers' confession in Wayne County Circuit Court, Judge Timothy Kenny denied Searcy's bid for a new trial.

During the hearing, Smothers' co-defendant in another murder case, Marzell Black, testified that Smothers admitted to him that he killed Segars. He said the alleged admission came in 2009 during a casual conversation.

"(Smothers) said his motive was to free the innocent," Black said during the hearing.

In August 2015, Smothers wrote a letter to Searcy admitted to killing the victim.

In December 2015, Smothers submitted two affidavits, each of which detailed his involvement in the September 2004 crimes. Specifically, Smothers said he shot the murder victim with a .40-caliber handgun.