Dateline   |  April 05, 2014

Graduation Night, part 5

A Detroit judge issues his decision regarding the conviction of Tommy and Ray Highers.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> by the summer of 2012 , tommy and ray highers had been fight to go clear their names for 25 years. and now judge lawrence talon had heard all the new evidence. this was the moment.

>> this is the court's decision on the defendants' motion for relief from judgment.

>> with all the history, the legalese, the new evidence, the witnesses.

>> the prosecutors were meticulous in pointing out inconsistency and differences in testimony.

>> it took the judge two full hours to explain the basis for his decision. the reasons, he said, he had no choice but to rule a particular way.

>> oh, my nerves were like shaken.

>> as tommy and ray, their courtroom full of family and friends and attorneys agonized, some felt almost ill.

>> just sitting through the ruling almost killed me. i'm thinking oh, my god we're losing. oh, my god we're winning, oh, my god we're losing.

>> until the judge finally said the words.

>> this evidence meets all the requirements for this court to grant the requested relief by the defense. [ applause ]

>> all right. --

>> a weight full off my shoulders. it was just finally, thank you. thank you.

>> everybody was hugging.

>> it was a joyous scene.

>> you would think, looking at this, that tommy and ray highers had just been declared innocent of the murder of old man bob. but that is not what happened. not even two weeks later when the judge decided to release the brothers on bond to await trial. [ applause ]

>> and tommy and raymond highers walked out of jail for the first time in more than 25 years.

>> it certainly felt like victory, looked like victory.

>> it was like someone had hit a grand slam at the ballpark.

>>> oh, my god.

>> oh, man.

>> here's my wonderful attorney. i'll tell you now.

>> hey, she is the bomb.

>> but tommy and ray highers were merely men on bail awaiting trial for murder. a trial the prosecution gave every indication it was especially determined to win. and thus send these two men right back where they came from, state prison .

>> what's it like to be sitting here talking about what's happened to you?

>> you can't even put it into words, the feeling that goes through you.

>> which gave us a chance to talk to them as they prepared for their biggest fight yet for exoneration and they hoped, permanent freedom.

>> we'll fight and we'll face whatever has to come.

>> here they told us their version of what happened the night old man bob was killed.

>> we got involved in things we shouldn't have been, buying drugs.

>>> that was the main thing.

>> and that night, june 26, 1987 , the brothers did, indeed, go over to bob's house they said. saw the police were there and assumed --

>> we figured he was being raided.

>> that's exactly what we thought. he was being raided.

>> never even stopped. there was so much police out there, we kept going.

>> it never occurred to us that he was murdered.

>> a week later, they were under arrest.

>> walked in there and never walked out.

>> they were 21 and 22 when they went in. but now they said they are not the same men as they were then and that that is a good thing.

>> i'm not ashamed of being in prison because prison made -- that's who i am today. prison made this man. my more or less, my integrity.

>> i mean, in a way a positive experience and yet one you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy?

>> right, exactly.

>> you still hold on to the light and you push forward every day.

>> what's on the agenda today, guys?

>> after their release, they moved in with their aunt jan and wore electronic tethers to monitor their whereabouts, mandated by the court. they were like rip van winkles awakened to the real world . learning to use cell phones, getting their drivers licenses.

>> waiting to get that all my life. first one i've ever had.

>> and getting up in the morning and going to work. ray at an industrial heating and cooling company. tommy head of maintenance at an apartment complex. at the very same time, the wayne county prosecutor's office was preparing its case against them to put them back into prison for life. preparing it as we sat here talking. though, as the brothers told us here, the d.a. has put an offer on the table, they can keep their freedom if they agree to one condition.

>> what plea are they offering?

>> for us to plead guilty and we get time served .

>> would you?

>> no.

>> we stood on our innocence and we screamed it from the top of our lungs for 25 years. for the people that got behind us and believed in us, for us to do that would just be like a slap in their face and then it would just tear my integrity right out of my body. so we're innocent. nothing is going to change that.

>> there will be people in the audience who will still believe you did it.

>> sure. i mean, you can't convince everybody.

>> you're kind of used to that now.

>> sure. all we want to do is convince 12.

>> those 12 would be the jurors sitting in judgment at their upcoming retrial for murder. tommy and ray highers were going back to court to see if free men they would remain.

>>> coming up -- a courtroom