Rare federal case may put defendant on death row in Michigan

Paul Egan / The Detroit News

Detroit — Jury selection begins this morning for a type of trial rarely seen in Michigan — one in which the defendant could face the death penalty.
Timothy Dennis O’Reilly, 36, is charged with murdering Norman “Anthony” Stephens during a Dec. 14, 2001, holdup of an armored truck at the Dearborn Federal Credit Union.

Michigan was the first state in the union to ban capital punishment, in 1847, but death can still be imposed in Michigan for federal capital crimes such as murder during a bank robbery.

Tony Chebatoris of Hamtramck, the last person executed in Michigan, was hanged at Milan in 1938. His crime was similar to the one O’Reilly is charged with. Chebatoris shot and killed 50-year-old truck driver Henry Porter while escaping a bank robbery in Midland in 1937.

Nobody’s been executed in the state since, though Marvin Gabrion has sat on death row at a prison in Indiana since 2002, when a federal jury in Grand Rapids sentenced him to death for the brutal murder of Rachel Timmerman. Her handcuffed and chained body, weighted with cinder blocks, was found in a lake in a national forest, making Gabrion eligible for the death penalty. Gabrion’s case is being appealed.

Now, O’Reilly is the first of three defendants in the Dearborn robbery to go to trial in front of a jury and U.S. District Judge Victoria A. Roberts. The case wasn’t charged until 2005 and complications related to capital cases resulted in it taking longer than normal to get to trial. Since a jury must be picked on which everyone is open to the idea of capital punishment, jury selection could take close to a month — also much longer than normal. The entire trial could take three months.

Two co-defendants, Norman Herbert Duncan and Kevin C. Watson, also face possible death sentences when they go to trial.

Another defendant, Earl L. Johnson, was sentenced to life in prison after a jury convicted him of conspiracy, bank robbery, and aiding and abetting a murder.
The 2001 Dearborn robbery, which netted more than $200,000 in cash and remained unsolved for years, was the first of three similar armored truck robberies. The other two happened at a Comerica on West Chicago in Detroit in June 2003 and February 2004.

At the last robbery the guard fired back, killing robber Eddie Cromer. The other man fled, but Detroit police arrested Duncan near the scene.

About six months later, the FBI received a letter from an inmate at Ryan Correctional Facility, saying O’Reilly, an inmate there, was bragging that he, Duncan, Watson and others had committed the Dearborn robbery.

According to documents filed in the case, O’Reilly later made taped admissions after the FBI helped the inmate conceal a tape recorder inside a radio in the prison yard.

O’Reilly and Duncan had worked for Guardian Armored Security Services, the company targeted in the 2003 and 2004 robberies.
Stephens, the victim in the Dearborn case, left a wife and young children and 12 brothers and sisters.

“They didn’t give him a chance,” his sister Mary Scott said in a 2007 interview. “I just can’t explain it to you, the hurt of the whole family.”

From The Detroit News: http://www.detnews.com/article/20100608/METRO/6080311/Murder-suspect-faces-death-penalty-in-rare-Michigan-case#ixzz0qHoEzzgi

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