Man freed of charges plans to sue police
by Staff Writer
by Josh Lanier
CORNELIUS – Michael Cherry said this week he intends to sue the Cornelius Police Department, and all of the investigators who worked on his case, claiming he was wrongly imprisoned for 27 months on bad evidence and faulty police work.
Cherry, 40, was released from jail last month after the Mecklenburg County District Attorney dropped several charges against him, including rape, kidnapping, robbery with a dangerous weapon and burglary, saying the evidence collected by police wasn’t strong enough to take to trial. Cherry was accused of a September 2009 Cornelius home invasion where two people were robbed and a third person was raped, forced inside a stolen car and driven to Huntersville.
Cherry, who is black, claims investigators targeted him because of his race and history with Cornelius police. Those dealings include several previous convictions of breaking and entering, theft and assault charges.
“I was (Cornelius police’s) Moby Dick. I am their great white whale – their great black whale is what I call it,” he said. “They went after me because they just don’t like me and because of my race. I wasn’t involved in this act.”
One of his attorneys, Sam McGee, of the Jackson & McGee law firm, couldn’t release many details about any potential lawsuit, but said his office is still investigating Cherry’s claims.
“Right now, we’re investigating it,” McGee said. “… What I’m most concerned about right now is he was held for such a long period of time, and his bond was raised at one point, in a case that has now been thrown out because of lack of evidence.”
Police: Cherry’s claims ‘unfounded’
Cornelius Police Chief Bence Hoyle said Cherry was a target of the police investigation because the evidence pointed to him.
“His accusations are unfounded,” he said. “The DNA evidence pointed to Cherry, and a magistrate upheld our findings.”
Hoyle said Cherry became a suspect after a vodka bottle found at the scene had Cherry’s DNA, and the steering wheel of a truck stolen from the home had Cherry’s prints. But, in its filings, the Mecklenburg County District Attorney said police hadn’t properly upheld the chain of custody with the bottle, leaving open the possibility someone could have tampered with it or Cherry could have left his DNA on the items at another time before the crime took place. Cornelius police have since changed how they process crime scenes to prevent problems like this.
Cherry said he had never been to that house before and that it was transfer DNA investigators found on the bottle and steering wheel. He said someone who had recently handled an object after him must have picked up DNA and that’s the person who left it on the bottle.
Dr. LiLi Johnson, Associate Dean of Public Safety at Central Piedmont Community College, said a DNA transfer was statistically possible, but would most likely be too contaminated to get a match to a suspect.
“For instance, if I put my finger in your mouth and rubbed it on your cheek, there is a chance I would have your DNA on my finger, but I would also have nine other fingers with only my DNA,” she said. “Technically, your DNA on my finger would likely end up contaminated with my DNA.”
The fact that fingerprint were left behind by the criminals was also a sticking point with the district attorney, as the suspects allegedly wore latex gloves during the robbery.
Cherry said his attorneys would have been able to prove he had nothing to do with this crime, and that, as he claims, was at home with his children when the attack took place.
“There is nothing linking me to this,” he said. “All the evidence – the DNA, the identification by one of the victims – all of it has been proven wrong.”
But Hoyle stands by the work of his detectives and how the case played out, and investigators have said Cherry is still the prime suspect in the case.
“To say we targeted anyone for any reason other than our investigation pointed that way is untrue,” Hoyle said. “The standard of evidence for arrest is far different than at trial. … The fact that we dropped the charges because we noticed a deterioration of evidence shows our dedication to making sure we’re doing what is best for the case and the suspect. That’s how our system is supposed to work.”
Cherry to pen book on experience
A little more than a month after his release, Cherry said he intends to write a book, presently titled “27 Months of Constant Pressure,” detailing his time in prison and dealings with police.
“Everything is going to be in that book,” he said. “The whole experience starting from when I grew up in this area.”
He said he has also been asked to write a monthly column for “Gutter Magazine.”
Cherry said he hopes the book and his lawsuit help clear his name since he was unable to during a trial.
“I wanted my trial,” he said. “… I want to prove I had nothing to do with this crime. To put me in jail then release me without the chance to give my side is unfair … in a way, they’ve already won.”
But one of the alleged victim’s fathers said Cherry is trying to cash in on the press coverage surrounding his release.
“This is deeply troubling to our family that Michael Cherry is making this a racial issue considering the victims in this case never positively identified the suspects. They could not know the race of the people who committed this crime,” the father said. “And it’s deeply troubling that the people responsible have not been punished.”
The Herald Weekly is withholding the father’s name to protect his daughter’s identity.
Cherry said he hopes his experience will become a cautionary tale for police.
“At the end of this, I did 27 months in jail for nothing,” Cherry said. “I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to somebody else.”