Innocence Clinic asks for new cold case murder trial

Jeff Titus. (Courtesy the Michigan Department of Corrections - Aug. 8, 2014)
Jeff Titus. (Courtesy the Michigan Department of Corrections - Aug. 8, 2014)


KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Innocence Clinic is working to exonerate a Kalamazoo County man convicted of murdering two hunters nearly 24 years ago.

The clinic has filed a motion for a new trial for Jeff Titus.

After a day of hunting with a friend in November 1990, Titus returned home to find police investigating the murders of Jim Bennett and Doug Estes, which happened in the Fulton State Game Area next to his property.

Titus had an alibi — he had been hunting miles away all day, he told police — and detectives quickly cleared him.

In 2000, a cold case team revisited the case and investigators accused Titus. He was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in 2002 and sentenced to life in prison.

The Innocence Clinic claims the witnesses to Titus’ alibi had aged and couldn’t testify, and says Titus’ attorney didn’t call the original detectives who could testify.

“And the remarkable thing for us is that his attorney at the trial in 2002 never consulted with or called as witnesses detectives (Royce) Ballett and (Bruce) Wiersema, who would have contradicted key elements of the prosecution’s case,” Prof. David Moran of the Michigan Innocence Clinic said in a Tuesday phone interview. “And the most important thing was at the time of the killing, which was late on the afternoon of Nov. 17, 1990, Mr. Titus was hunting in Calhoun County, a good half-hour away.”

In the motion for a new trial, the clinic called the prosecution’s theory that Titus left the Battle Creek-area farm where he had been hunting, drove back to his property, murdered Estes and Bennett, “stole the decedents’ deer to pass off as his own,” and then went back to the farm to pick up his hunting buddy “highly implausible.”

The Innocence Clinic also says all the evidence against him was circumstantial.

The next step is to try to get a new trial. The Innocence Clinic would then defend Titus and try to get him acquitted.

Titus remains held at the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections.

==Above, watch a Target 8 special on the murders of Bennett and Estes.==

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Online:

The Michigan Innocence Clinic

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