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AG Nessel Conviction Integrity Unit Announces New Trial in Kalamazoo County

LANSING — Resulting from the work of the Michigan Department of Attorney General’s (DAG) Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) and Criminal Trials and Appeals Division – in conjunction with the Kalamazoo County Prosecutor’s Office and thanks to the work of the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic – the identification of previously undisclosed evidence has resulted in a new trial for 71-year-old Jeff Titus.

United States District Court Judge Paul D. Borman signed the Order granting Mr. Titus a new trial and ordering his immediate release Friday morning. 

Mr. Titus was convicted in 2002 on four felony charges: two counts of first-degree premeditated murder and two counts of felony firearm. After the AG CIU’s launch in 2019, the unit was contacted by the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic to conduct a review of Mr. Titus’s innocence claim. Following its own thorough investigation across multiple states and involving numerous law enforcement agencies, the AG CIU confirmed the existence of new evidence that was not turned over to the defense prior to Mr. Titus’s 2002 trial, thereby undermining the original convictions. The AG CIU relayed the new evidence to the DAG Criminal Trials and Appeals Division, and to Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting, who both agreed that the appropriate remedy was to stipulate to a new trial in the interest of justice.

"There is new evidence which undermines the integrity of the original conviction, and justice requires that Mr. Titus be granted a new trial," Nessel said. "I commend Assistant Attorney General John Pallas as well as the members of the Conviction Integrity Unit for their hard work in a multi-state, multi-victim investigation which involved the meticulous review of decades of documents.”

The Titus case is the first in which the AG CIU has identified  new evidence that undermines an original conviction, leading to a new trial. Four previous cases of wrongful convictions have been overturned through the efforts of the AG CIU: Gilbert Poole, Jr., Corey McCall, George DeJesus, and Melvin DeJesus

Kalamazoo County Prosecuting Attorney, Jeff Getting, expressed his thanks to Attorney General Dana Nessel and the CIU team for the work done in this case. “I appreciate the thoroughness of the investigation and the opportunity to work with the Attorney General’s team to corroborate its findings,” Getting said. “While it is difficult to admit when a legal error has occurred, being a Prosecutor requires that we always find it within ourselves to do the right thing. Jeff Titus did not receive a fair trial in 2002. When that happens, we have to act.”

CASE BACKGROUND

On November 17, 1990, two hunters were found dead in the Fulton State Game Area (FGA) located in Kalamazoo County. There were no witnesses to the murders, and the perpetrator left no physical evidence at the crime scene.  

Mr. Titus was initially ruled out as a suspect, and the original investigation eventually went cold. The case was then resurrected by the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office Cold-Case Unit, leading to Mr. Titus’s 2002 conviction on two counts of first-degree premeditated murder and two counts of felony-firearm. He was sentenced to life in prison. 

Over the course of multiple years, an investigation by the AG CIU confirmed the existence of a previously undisclosed file in the original Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office homicide materials. This file contained approximately 30 pages relating to an alternate suspect, Thomas Dillon – a serial killer who was convicted of killing multiple hunters and outdoorsmen. Dillon was arrested in 1993 and ultimately pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree murder in Ohio in order to avoid the death penalty. Dillon was a suspect in multiple other cases in addition to the five murders to which he confessed. 

The AG CIU investigation collected and confirmed additional information identifying Dillon as an alternative suspect in the Titus case. Police reports indicated that two witnesses had gone to Ohio and identified Dillon as having been near the FGA crime scene on the day of the murders. One witness identified the car allegedly driven by Dillon as the same model owned by Dillon’s wife. Two co-workers said that Dillon had borrowed a gun from each of them to use while hunting on November 17, 1990, and the victims in this case were killed with two different types of ammunition. 

The AG CIU also highlighted occasions documented by law enforcement in which Dillon would drive hundreds of miles to perpetrate his offenses. Documentation shows that Dillon would pick up his shell casings after every murder, and that he never left any evidence behind. Dillon confessed to killing two hunters close together. He also confessed to murders occurring a week prior to the FGA murders and again roughly a week after the FGA murders. Dillon passed away in 2011 while in the medical wing at Corrections Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio.

“I am grateful to the AG’s Conviction Integrity Unit for conducting a thorough investigation and agreeing that Mr. Titus did not receive a fair trial because of undisclosed information.” Dave Moran, co-director of the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic and defense counsel, said. “At the time of the killings, Mr. Titus was hunting with a friend nearly 30 miles away from the Fulton Game Area. But several people saw a man who had driven his car into a ditch near the FGA shortly after the shots were fired and who behaved suspiciously. When Mr. Titus was convicted, the jury never learned that the man in the ditch had been identified by two witnesses as Thomas Dillon and other evidence connecting Dillon to the FGA murders.”  

Mr. Titus is in the process of being released from the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, Michigan.

Released prisoners are eligible for up to a year of reentry housing and two years of access to other MDOC resources, including job placement assistance, job training, transportation assistance, work clothing or tools, vital documents assistance and more. Individuals are presented information regarding these services when they are released.

To date, the AG CIU has received more than 1,800 requests for assistance. The CIU is comprised of Director and Assistant Attorney General Robyn Frankel, Assistant Attorney General Lori Montgomery, Special Agent Khary Mason, Special Agent Gentry Shelby and Legal Secretary Shantel Word. 

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