My name is Ricky Rimmer-Bey and I was convicted based on the testimony of crooked Detroit cops who have since been arrested and put in prison. James Harris was a dirty cop. He wanted me to sell drugs in the neighborhood for him and I refused . . . I knew that he would set me up or kill me. He did both when he put me in here for the rest of my life!” I am now 66 years old and have served 44 years for first-degree felony murder in 1976, when I was 22, for the death of a car dealer on Detroit’s east side. The officer in charge of his case was DPD Sgt. James Harris was himself convicted in 1992 for using police officers and cars to protect drug dealers bringing international shipments of cocaine to Detroit.
William H. Messenger, Sr. lived in Rimmer-Bey’s neighborhood on Knodell in the 1970s. In a sworn affidavit, he said Harris tried to get him to testify falsely against me during his preliminary exam, but he refused. I was arrested on an armed robbery-murder charge that no one in our neighborhood believed I did, as stated in my sworn affidavit.
Messenger continued, in 1975, Detective Harris, who was the head of Squad Seven homicide division, was routinely assigned to patrol our community. It was known to everyone that he was a corrupt dirty cop. He had a reputation for getting street guys to say they saw or heard about someone committing a murder or robbery—people who had nothing to do with the crime. I personally told Detective Harris when he stopped me on the streets, and again in the witness room at the Frank Murphy Hall, that Ricky had nothing to do with this crime. His response was, “I want Rimmer.”
In a broadly publicized FBI sting in 1992, known as “Operation Backbone,” Harris was arrested at Detroit City Airport for conspiracy to protect a shipment of 100 kg. of cocaine coming in from Miami. Ten other officers and civilians including Willie Volsan were arrested and charged as well. Harris, Volsan and three others were convicted. Harris was sentenced to 30 years in prison, 20 of which he served before former U.S. President George W. Bush commuted his sentence.
Wayne County Prosecutor William Cahalan charged Harris and two other S.T.R.E.S.S. cops with murder, attempted murder, felonious assault, and felony firearm with intent to commit murder, during what came to be known as the “Rochester Street Massacre.”
Harris and four other DPD S.T.R.E.S.S. officers conducted a midnight raid on a Rochester Street apartment on March 9, 1972. Five deputy sheriffs and a civilian were playing poker. Harris and Ronald Martin led the attack, after seeing a sheriff’s deputy in street clothes enter the building with his weapon. (Deputies are required to carry their weapons while off-duty.)
I (Ricky Rimmer-Bey) and my co-defendant Timothy Jordan were charged, tried, and convicted on Feb. 11, 1976, for the robbery/ murder of Delta Motor Sales car lot dealer Joseph Kratz on Aug. 7, 1975. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Rimmer-Bey’s felony murder conviction but vacated the armed robbery conviction on June 21, 1978. The Michigan Supreme Court denied the appeal on January 30, 1985. Rimmer-Bey subsequently filed a habeas appeal which was heard in the U.S. District Court.
The district court initially granted the petition, finding that my constitutional rights were violated by the state trial court’s erroneous evidentiary ruling. The District Court withdrew its ruling when the State Attorney General objected.
The Sixth Circuit held that the trial court’s evidentiary ruling, although a violation of my due process rights, was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, then went on to render the same opinion, likewise denying relief.
But the Sixth Circuit did find that I had been denied my constitutional right to confront an alleged accomplice witness, one of two named in the Court’s opinion.
Neither was ever charged for the crime. It noted that the witness had indeed signed a sworn statement during the trial, recanting his previous testimony implicating me. Trial transcripts show that the witness then told Judge Heading, outside the presence of the jury, that he was willing to testify truthfully at trial. He was sworn in and told Judge Heading that officers had told him falsely that the defendants killed his brother. He said, “Well at the time I had lost my brother and I was thinking of revenge.” He told Heading that the first statement he gave to the police was false.
At that point, AP Kenny intervened and said that the witness could face charges for giving false statements to the police and at the preliminary exam. The witness however persisted in declaring that he still wished to testify in open court. Judge Heading then asked the witness if he wanted an attorney to advise him of his rights. The witness agreed, and Heading appointed defense Attorney Gerald Lorence to do so. After meeting with Lawrence, the witness told the Judge he wished to invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify because it might incriminate him.
At AP Kenny’s request and over the objection of both Rimmer-Bey’s defense attorney Warfield Moore, Jr., as well as the attorney for Jordan, Heading held that the witness was not available, although he remained present in the witness room. Heading then admitted the witness’ recanted testimony from the preliminary exam, which was read into the record in the presence of the jury. Despite the insistence of the defense attorneys that the jury had a right to hear that the witness had recanted that testimony during his meeting with the judge, Judge Heading refused to allow the jury to hear about the recantation.
The Sixth Circuit ruling continued, “The basic right of confrontation, including the opportunity to test the credibility of witnesses through cross-examination is what a fair trial is all about. Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 308, 315-16 (1974). A trial court may not deny a defendant’s exploration of a witness's bias, prejudice, or motive for testifying. Id. See also, Delaware v. Van Arsdall, 475 U.S. 673, 681 (1986).
“We find hereafter a review of the record that the trial court’s evidentiary ruling constituted a deprivation of Rimmer-Bey’s constitutional rights. Rimmer-Bey was denied his right of confrontation, including the opportunity to evaluate Smith’s credibility.”
However, the 6th Circuit found that the denial was a “reversible error,” stating that the testimony of another alleged accomplice witness along with that of a bystander witness was substantive enough to sustain the conviction. But the trial transcripts show that the second witness, age 16 at the time of the car lot murder, denied that he had seen anything directly implicating Rimmer-Bey or Jordan, although he did place himself and the others at the scene of the crime.
Kenny read the young man, who was 16 at the time of the murder, a statement he said the witness had given to Sgt. Harris, indicated that he saw the defendants shoot at the victim with their guns. The witness denied saying that he saw them shoot at or chase the victim. He denied seeing me go out into the street to get money, allegedly from the robbery, and denied seeing the victim run out into the street. “I didn’t see him shoot or chase him with a gun,” the witness said about me. He said he had told Harris that he did, but it was not true. He named another individual he said brought the guns to their car and took them afterwards. AP Kenny went round and round with him until he finally said he saw me with “some” money.
Later, the issue of who killed the third accomplice came up, and the witness said, “I heard the police killed him.” The deceased third accomplice was a brother to the first witness and a good friend of the 16-year-old. The 16-year-old testified on the record that police falsely told him the two defendants killed the third accomplice.
The witness testified that he had been charged in the case in juvenile court. Moore asked him, “You didn’t want to stand trial in this matter, so that’s part of the reason that you’re here to testify, is that right?” The witness responded “Yeah.” The Sixth Circuit decided against my claim regarding the right to confront my witnesses, but under a new Michigan court rule, he still has the right to raise new evidence as well as the issue of his innocence in a motion for relief from judgment.
The Michigan Supreme Court revised Michigan Court Rule 6.508(D) effective May 1, 2020, to allow for the trial court to consider claims that have been decided against the defendant if s/he has “new evidence” that would “make a different result probable at a retrial, or if the previously-decided claims, when considered together with the new claim for relief, create a significant possibility of actual innocence. The Michigan Supreme Court overturned the conviction of my co-defendant Timothy Jordan in the case on June 30, 1982, and remanded it for a new trial.
Write Ricky Rimmer-Bey at:
Ricky Rimmer #133464
1728 Bluewater Highway
Ionia, MI 48846