After 25 years, Michigan man wrongfully convicted in arson deaths on brink of freedom

In a phone conversation from behind bars, Anthony Kyles told the Free Press he's looking forward to seeing his kids and grandchildren and visiting his parents' graves.

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An investigation has concluded that a Michigan man was wrongfully imprisoned for 25 years after he was found guilty of murder in connection with a Pontiac, Michigan, house fire — and his day of freedom may be coming soon.

According to the Detroit Free Press, prosecutors re-examined the case in which Anthony Kyles was convicted of murder in the death of one adult and three young children and decided he should be released.

Beth Greenberg Morrow, director of the prosecutor office’s Conviction Integrity Unit, said in a statement to the Free Press a thorough investigation was conducted and it is obvious that Kyles was wrongfully convicted. The newspaper reports that Morrow’s observations also came after its investigation into the case, which cast doubts on Kyles’ culpability. 

Black man wrongfully convicted
New information has come to light revealing that a Michigan man was wrongfully convicted in 1997 of a September 1995 arson in which four people died. (Photo Credit: Adobe Stock)

In her conclusion, Morrow relied heavily on the findings from an independent fire investigator and information concerning the witness who claimed to have seen Kyles start the fire.

“First, an independent fire investigator determined that the fire was not arson and that the fire did not originate on the front porch,” Morrow said of the findings. “Second, the sole eyewitness lied when he testified that he saw Mr. Kyles start the fire.”

Robert Perry, 37, Demetrius, 1, Mercedes, 2 and Albert, 5 all died in the September 1995 fire. Perry is said to have returned to the burning house in an effort to save the three children. None of them survived. Three other children, along with their mother, managed to escape.

Kyles has consistently maintained his innocence. In a phone conversation from prison, he told the Free Press that he is looking forward to seeing his kids and grandchildren and visiting his parents’ graves. They passed away during his incarceration, one in 2005 and the other in 2006.

“I haven’t been to sleep in a couple of days,” Kyles said of the recent developments.

Kyles’ family is just as eager to reunite with him. Ashley Johnson, his oldest child, was 12 at the time of his conviction. She told the Free Press that she is looking forward to embracing and catching up with her father. “We’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” she said.

During Kyles’ 1997 trial, the prosecution believed that the fire was purposely set and started on the porch area. Jurors were told that Kyles and the mother of the children argued about drugs and that Kyles had thrown a Molotov cocktail at her house, which a witness saw. A detective from the now-defunct Pontiac Police Department also testified that he believed an accelerant had been sprayed on the front porch. 

Kyles was found guilty of four charges of second-degree murder and given a life sentence.

Earlier this year, however, a Free Press investigation revealed multiple problems with the case. For instance, Keith Hollimon, the eyewitness who claimed that he saw Kyles start the fire, retracted his testimony, admitting that he lied to the jury. 

For years, the case has weighed heavily on the heart of fire investigator Robert Trenkle. Scott Lewis, a TV reporter-turned-private-investigator, was brought on in 2015 to assist Kyles’ family in proving his innocence. Lewis enlisted Trenkle, who has investigated thousands of fires and, in turn, launched his own inquiry.

Trenkle said the initial investigators made a huge mistake in determining that arson caused the fire. He concluded that the fire was accidental, originating in a bedroom and was probably caused by a space heater cord that had been incorrectly rewired. 

As a sign of support for Kyles, Trenkle stopped cutting his hair and beard in March, asserting that he will let his hair continue to grow until Kyles is freed. He noted that Kyles had been imprisoned for 50 times longer than his hair had been growing.

“I always think what if it happened to me, what if it happened to one of my family members, so I owe somebody I’ve never met, never spoken to, the same as I would do for my own family,” Trenkle said, explaining the importance of the case to him.

Kyles’ legal representatives from the Michigan Innocence Clinic and Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald will petition a judge to overturn the conviction and release him from prison.

“Twenty-five years lost is something he could never get back and nothing can ever fix that,” said Imran Syed, co-director of the Innocence Clinic and Kyles’ attorney, according to the Free Press. “But what we can ask here is when mistakes are found, we don’t look the other way.”

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