THESE ARE OUR WITNESSES?
Written by David Sanders
THESE ARE OUR WITNESSES?
Written by David Sanders
(Background: Fredrick Freeman was wrongfully convicted of the murder of Scott Macklem, who was shot in a Port Huron Community College parking lot on November 5, 1986. He was sentenced to the mandatory term of life in prison without parole and has now served 32 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Every impartial and professional assessment of his case has concluded that Freeman is wholly innocent.)
Reliable witnesses are an important element for the defense or the prosecution in any crime. As you will see in the following, witnesses for Freeman provide a solid, virtually unassailable alibi, while the prosecution’s witnesses offer no reasonable argument that Freeman was anywhere near the murder scene.
Consider the following:
Witnesses for the Defense
Around the time of the murder nine (9!!), disinterested witnesses place Fredrick Freeman in the Escanaba area of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan about 450 miles from the crime scene in Port Huron, Michigan. At the specific time of the crime (about 9 am), one additional alibi witness actually places him another twenty miles farther north in Rock/Perkins, Michigan. (That alibi witness, never called to testify, passed two polygraph examinations). None of the nine witnesses were ever discredited or impeached at trial or since.
Witnesses for the Prosecution
What about the witnesses presented by the prosecution? Well, they either did not identify Freeman or were totally unreliable.
To begin with, the prosecution likes to suggest that there were three “witnesses” that identified Freeman as being Scott Macklem’s killer. That is completely misleading. Though several people in the parking lot heard the shot that took the victim’s life, no one actually saw that shot.
The three prosecution “witnesses” offered by the prosecution were Cathy Ballard, Richard Krueger, and Rene Gobeyn.
First, Cathy Ballard did not pick Freeman from the photo or in-person line-ups and, in fact, picked a James Loxton who looks nothing like Freeman! Note that Cathy Ballard again in 2008 stated that she did not pick Freeman as the suspect in the crime.
Second, Richard Krueger not only did not pick Freeman from the in-person line-up but he also picked James Loxton! More astounding, Krueger was never in the parking lot in question but actually in a lot farther away near the McMorran Arena – and Krueger saw his “suspect” an hour before the murder! Krueger saw no crime take place, and his alleged "suspect" was likely nothing more than a college student who had every reason to be there. However, at trial under pressure from the prosecutor, and without any objection from Freeman’s drug addicted lawyer, Krueger indicated it was Freeman he saw in another parking lot.
These two are “witnesses”? Really?
Third, Rene Gobeyn, was the prosecution’s primary witness. He claimed he saw Freeman in what he admitted was only “a few seconds glance” at a vehicle in motion leaving the parking lot with a driver who “had a hat down to his eyes, collar up to his chin, and his head down”. Gobeyn’s “identification” was finally made only after illegal and improper hypnosis and after being shown a series of manipulated and suggestive photos highlighting Freeman among the others presented. In the in-person line-up, Gobeyn admitted actually knowing two members, meaning that Freeman was the only one left as the “brown-haired male” police were seeking.
Often overlooked in evaluating Gobeyn’s credibility (or, more accurately, lack thereof), is his totally unreliable “identification” of the suspect vehicle leaving the parking lot. Gobeyn gave the police at various times different vehicle models, makes, manufacturers, and colors. He changed the suspect vehicle dramatically from a “pinkish-tan Mazda RX 7” (pre-hypnosis) to later a “metallic-gold to light brown Ford Escort station wagon” (post hypnosis)! In other words, he first saw a sports car and later remember it as a station wagon. And this is a guy who was in a "Small Auto Body Class" and would have been very familiar with the different body styles common then.
This man can claim to ID a suspect obscured in a car but cannot even ID in any consistent and reliable way a vehicle? (Of course, no vehicle was ever tied to Freeman.)
Gobeyn was even more equivocal and unreliable when it comes to license plate numbers. He gave twelve wildly differing alleged “plate numbers”. Of the license plates Gobeyn identified, the prosecution focused on 882-DHH, which was then found to have been destroyed by Rinke Cadillac almost a year and a half before the murder when Freeman was living in Washington State.
It’s important to note that, though Gobeyn claimed to “really look at the car” and to “write the plate number down on his notepad in the parking lot”, the two witnesses right there with him (Cathy Ballard and Bob Mervich) both noted that Gobeyn did not write anything down, did not even seem to notice the vehicle, and did not comment to them whatsoever. Neither Mervich nor Ballard had any reason to lie "for" Freeman; neither of them knew him.
Gobeyn was, in fact, a young man in a college criminal justice program seeking to impress and ingratiate himself with the Port Huron police department, of which he actually knew some of the personnel. Rene wanted to be both a “star witness” in a high-profile case and, by his own admission, “a cop”. That explains a lot of his testimony.
To sum up:
Freeman’s defense has nine unimpeached witnesses placing him at least 450 miles from the murder scene. (Note: Herbert Welser, former 31-year Port Huron Police Detective and now professional investigator, recently located police reports demonstrating that another critical alibi witness, Beth Stier, was interviewed by the police but that information was never revealed to the defense. She was with Freeman on a date in Escanaba just a few hours before the murder in Port Huron).
The prosecution offers two witnesses who identify another man as the suspect in in-person line ups, and a third who was hypnotized and can’t tell the difference between a sports car and a station wagon, yet is expected to reliably identify Freeman obscured within a moving automobile.
Dubious prosecution witnesses Krueger and Gobeyn are important because they are the only two people to indicate that Freeman was even in Port Huron at the time of the crime. No one else did.
Which set of witnesses is truly believable?
Finally, because the prosecution’s witness testimony was so weak, Prosecutor Cleland realized that he had to divert the jury’s attention from Freeman’s solid alibi. So, what did he do? He speculated before the jury, with absolutely no evidence, that an indigent Freeman, (who must have had help from others) conspired to undertake a costly airplane flight to Escanaba and back to kill Macklem – a conspiracy involving a pilot and ground transportation providers and dependent upon Freeman having intimate (and really unknowable) understanding of the victim’s schedule and habits. But that’s another story.
David Sanders, August 30, 2019