Two teens who killed homeless man get life sentence

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PONTIAC, Michigan (AP) — Two teenagers will spend the rest of their lives in prison for beating a homeless man to death, while a third accused in the attack faces charges that could also put him behind bars for life.

A jury convicted Dontez Tillman, 15, of first-degree felony murder on Wednesday in the death of 61-year-old Wilford “Frenchie” Hamilton, a homeless man who prosecutors say was beaten by a group of teenagers in Pontiac in August 2008. The charge carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole.

The Oakland County Circuit Court jury reached the guilty verdict a day after beginning deliberations.

Tillman hung his head and wiped away tears as he was shackled and led from the courtroom.

The verdict came a day after a separate jury found Thomas McCloud, also 15, guilty of two counts of first-degree felony murder for attacking Hamilton and a second homeless man, Lee Hoffman, also 61. There wasn’t enough evidence to charge Tillman in Hoffman’s death, prosecutors said.

Both men were beaten by a group of young people, authorities said.

Sentencing for McCloud and Tillman was scheduled for Nov. 13.

A third teenager suspected in the attacks, Darrin Higgins Jr., was arraigned Wednesday on two charges of open murder. He will return to district court in Pontiac on Nov. 3 for a pre-exam conference. He didn’t have an attorney on record with the court.

Higgins was taken into custody Tuesday evening, Pontiac police Detective Steve Wittebort said. If convicted of first-degree murder, which is an option for a jury considering open murder, Higgins also would go to prison for life without any possibility of parole. A conviction on the lesser charge of second-degree murder carries up to life in prison but allows for parole.

Lawyers for the teens assailed the prosecution as weak, lacking direct physical or witness evidence, and called the police interviews confused. Tillman will appeal his conviction, defense attorney Marsha Kosmatka said. Howard Arnkoff, McCloud’s lawyer, said he hadn’t discussed an appeal with his client.

Gregory Townsend, the assisting prosecuting attorney in the case, declined to comment.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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