July 29, 2012— -- Two Detroit brothers, convicted of murder 25 years ago, have now been granted a new trial, but a judge declined today to release them from prison.
In 1987, Robert Karey, an elderly marijuana dealer, was murdered at the back door of his Detroit home. Two brothers, Raymond and Thomas Highers, both now 46, were convicted of the killing in a three-week trial the following year.
But last Thursday, Circuit Judge Lawrence Talon threw out the convictions and ordered a new trial after a 2009 Facebook post prompted new witnesses to come forward. Two of those witnesses said they saw Karey being shot by two black men at the back door of his house. The Highers brothers are white.
At a hearing today packed with friends and relatives, Talon was expected to release the brothers on bond as they await their new trial.
But he delayed a ruling on their release for two weeks while he seeks a recommendation from pretrial services based on their behavior while in prison. Meanwhile, prosecutors are appealing his decision to overturn the original conviction.
"It's been terrible, absolutely horrible," Scott Highers, Raymond and Thomas's little brother told ABC's Detroit affiliate WXYZ. "We've lost both of our parents. They're deceased. Growing up without your older brothers -- you know, I'm the baby, they're someone to look up to -- I never had the chance to do that."
During their 25 years in prison, the Highers brothers committed several offenses, including drug possession and starting fights.
The key witness in their 1987 trial was Thomas Culberson, a security guard who went to Karey's home to buy marijuana on the night of the murder. Culberson said he saw two white men fleeing the scene in a car, and later identified Raymond Highers as the driver and Thomas Highers as a passenger.
After a former Detroit resident, Kevin Zieleniewski, came across a Facebook post by Mary Evans about the men's life sentences in 2009, he reconnected with a former law school friend, John Hielscher, who told him decades ago that he had been at Karey's that night, and that Karey had been killed by black men, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Hielscher agreed to testify at an evidentiary hearing in March along with his friend James Gianunzio, who was also at Karey's when the shooting happened.
Hielscher and Gianunzio testified that they were at Karey's back door when they saw armed black men approach them and heard a gunshot before they fled, according to the Free Press.
Their testimony raised doubts over whether the Highers brothers were the white men Culberson saw fleeing.
On Thursday, Assistant Prosecutor Ana Quiroz argued in court that there was a conspiracy to free the Highers brothers, and that the new witnesses were not credible, according to the Free Press. Prosecutors argued in the original trial that the Highers brothers, who had bought marijuana from Karey before his murder, killed him in a dispute over money.
Judge Talon set a new hearing date of Aug. 13, when he said he would issue his decision on the brothers' release, WXYZ reported.