TOO EXPLOSIVE FOR AREA NEWSPAPERS!!!! (They wouldn’t run this)
By SCOTT M. BURNSTEIN
MADISON HEIGHTS -What appear to be well-substantiated claims of police and prosecutorial misconduct lie at the core of a local man’s fight for his freedom after 30 years in prison.
John Akrawi of Madison Heights was arrested, along with four others, in the fall of 1984 when he was 21 and eventually convicted of armed robbery and felony murder, stemming from a home invasion in Detroit gone wrong.
Serving a natural life sentence without the possibility of parole, Akrawi, 51, asserts his innocence and believes he is the victim of a conspiracy by the Detroit Police Department and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office to lock him up for a crime he had nothing to do with.
“They’ve taken my life away from me based on lies,” said the Madison Heights Madison High School alum from prison in Coldwater, Michigan. “It’s a death sentence. I just want people to know the truth.”
Although his original conviction was kicked back to the circuit court by the Michigan Court of Appeals (being affirmed at the Supreme Court level), Akrawi is currently on his last legs legally. His appellate rights are almost exhausted and he is hoping that a Motion to Reconsider a recent denial of a Motion for Relief of Judgment in Wayne County Circuit Court can keep his battle to get out from behind bars alive.
The motion to reconsider is expected to be decided by the end of the summer, if not sooner.
Akrawi’s conviction is based primarily on the controversial testimony of co-defendant Raad Stepho and a palm print found at the house the incident took place in. Akrawi has never denied having been to the residence in the past, admitting he was friendly with one of the people that lived there, Adam Salbut
Salbut’s sister, Stella Sienkiewicz, was killed on November 10, 1984 in the burglary gone awry. His testimony at the 1985 trial placed Akrawi’s co-defendant Saad Magi, at the scene of the crime, but not Akrawi, whose alibi puts him with his girlfriend, Jennifer Newcome, at the time of the break-in, allegations Newcome herself confirms via a sworn affidavit.
Stepho was convicted of the murder at a prior trial and while awaiting sentencing struck a deal, in which prosecutors agreed to drop Stepho’s own murder conviction in exchange for him pointing the finger at Akrawi and his three co-defendants – some of whom, according to Akrawi, the police had a personal vendetta against stemming from unrelated instances two years before that.
How Stepho’s deal was struck and the validity of his testimony raises eyebrows.
According to numerous signed-affidavits and first-hand accounts, Stepho, was wooed by police and prosecutors with cocaine, alcohol, access to sex with prostitutes and his girlfriend and food from posh eateries, when he was incarcerated at DPD headquarters downtown.
Stepho himself has recanted his testimony from the trial, (placing Akrawi at the scene of the burglary, but not present or having any knowledge of the murder), in notarized letters sent to Akrawi’s and his co-defendant’s families, admitting he was instructed to lie.
The testimony is also heavily disputed by Stepho’s own younger brother, Waad, 19, at the time of the incident.
Waad Stepho has signed several affidavits over the past three decades, admitting he was present at a meeting at DPD headquarters with homicide detectives and members of the prosecutor’s office, alongside his brother and father, where his brother was told if he lied and implicated his co-defendants in the home invasion-murder he would “go free.” Between that meeting and the trial, Waad Stepho claims his brother informed him of his intention of taking the offer and extorting his co-defendants, specifically Akrawi, for cash.
Raad Stepho was released from prison on the robbery charges in 1993. He is currently serving a 10-20-year drug sentence in a Georgia state correctional facility.
Former DPD detective Gerald Stewart, the officer in charge of the investigation, has come under scrutiny in court testimony and Internal Affairs investigations for allegedly coercing witnesses to lie under oath and reportedly shredding of exculpatory evidence.
Investigators working for Akrawi recently uncovered a DPD call-in report taken on the day of the crime from a neighbor of Sienkiwicz that said a man named Roger Ford confessed to “going into that old lady Sienkiwicz’s house, robbing her and then shooting her in the head.”
Counsel for Akrawi believes the November 1984 police report was intentionally buried from the defendants in the discovery process of the original case.
“The whole thing doesn’t pass the smell test, it’s pretty clear that Mr. Akrawi didn’t receive a fair trial,” said his attorney David Cripps of his predicament. “There was prosecutorial misconduct. They had to lie and manufacture testimony in order to secure the conviction.”