Kent County murder cases pile on due to pandemic backlog

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — There are currently 44 murder cases awaiting trial in Kent County because of a backlog due to the pandemic shutdowns.

Forty-four murders means 44 victims’ families waiting for justice and defendants waiting for a shot at freedom. While other entities are finding ways to open back up, trials are stuck.

“They say a speedy trial, it should be a speedy trial — not just for the defendant, but also the victims,” said Datasha Chapman.

Her cousin, Romito Jones, was murdered last fall. 

“Twenty-three bullets, 23 bullets they unloaded,” Chapman said. 

Three of those bullets hit Jones, who was 35 years old. He was a father of five and had no known connection to the killers or any gang. The suspects are known gang members, court documents say.

“He was a true innocent victim,” Chapman said. “He didn’t do anything to anybody. Just minding his business and just someone shot him for no reason. And we don’t have any closure yet and it hurts. It hurts a lot.”

With 43 other murder cases, Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker says there’s been no word on when those cases will go before a jury.

“We are concerned. You talk about whether we lose evidence or we could lose witnesses because after a year and a half, (people may say) ‘I don’t want to deal with this anymore … I’m done, everything is fine.’ We can see that happening,” Becker said. 

The oldest homicide is from 2018. Normally, it takes about a year to head to trial. Now, it’s double that time for some cases.

“It doesn’t help that last year, we had 30 to 38 homicides in Grand Rapids,” Becker said. “There was an extreme year for homicides. On top of all this, to put them in a system that is just clogged up, this is completely uncharted territory.”

The courts are discussing bringing in retired judges to help, but Becker worries about having enough prosecutors, saying he barely has enough now.

“It’s not an easy solution,” Becker said.

Chapman has a message for the courts: “Get it together, like get it together. I make concessions for my day care. Think outside the box, so that we can get a speedy trial.”

Once trials resume, the plan is to have one per week. With more homicide cases piling on, it’s going to take a while to get through them.

Becker is hoping that trials will resume by July or August. 

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