Two homeless men beaten to death last year were "easy prey" for a group of teenagers, a prosecutor said Thursday as the murder trial for two of the teens began. But their lawyers said there was no witness or physical evidence linking them to the crimes.
Opening statements were presented in the trial of Thomas McCloud and Dontez Tillman, both 15 and from Pontiac. They are charged with first-degree felony murder in the death of Wilford "Frenchie" Hamilton, 61, who was found beaten in downtown Pontiac in August 2008.
They face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
McCloud also is charged in the death of Lee Hoffman, 61, another homeless man beaten in Pontiac last year. Prosecutors have said there is not enough evidence to charge Tillman in that case.
Two juries have been seated before Oakland County Circuit Judge Steven Andrews, one to determine Tillman's guilt or innocence and the other for McCloud.
Hoffman and Hamilton "died ... not because of their lifestyle," Gregory Townsend, assisting prosecuting attorney, told jurors. "They died because they were weak, because they were vulnerable, because they were easy prey."
The men were beaten by a group of three or four teenagers, including Tillman and McCloud, Townsend said. He said theft was a motive.
'Not one witness'
Howard Arnkoff, defense attorney for McCloud, called that a theory that wasn't backed up by hard evidence.
"You won't hear one witness in this trial that says, `I saw Thomas McCloud on the 21st (of August 2008) kill or do anything to Mr. Hamilton," Arnkoff told jurors. "Not one witness. And there won't be any forensics either."
Arnkoff and Marsha Kosmatka, who represents Tillman, said the prosecution's case is based on police interviews with the teenagers, who were 14 at the time of the attacks. Townsend described the interviews as confessions, but Kosmatka and Arnkoff said their clients were confused and believed they were speaking about a pair of unrelated assaults.
"The only thing that will be clear in this case is that nothing is clear," said Kosmatka, who claimed that the prosecution's case was based on "an inaccurate and misleading police report."
The interviews with Pontiac police were videotaped and will be shown to the juries later in the trial.
Prosecutors say a third teenager, Darrin Higgins III, is wanted on a murder warrant in Hoffman's death.