KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — One of the two retired cold case detectives named as defendants in a $100 million wrongful conviction lawsuit filed by Jeff Titus is defending his work on the case.
“If they want to sue me for $10 hundred million, come on with it,” former Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office Detective Mike Brown told Target 8 on Wednesday.
Titus, 71, spent 21 years in prison before his exoneration earlier this year.
Brown said he wasn’t aware of the federal lawsuit against him and retired cold case detective Sgt. Michael Werkema until Target 8 told him at his Van Buren County home on Wednesday.
Titus and his attorney, Wolf Mueller, held a press conference outside federal court in Kalamazoo on Wednesday morning, a day after a jury in the same courthouse awarded another wrongfully convicted man, Ray McCann Jr., $14.5 million.
“Both of those gentlemen (Brown and Werkema) were responsible for hiding evidence that wasn’t discovered for 20 years,” Mueller said of the two detectives in the Titus case.
Brown denied he was responsible for a wrongful conviction.
“I never arrested a man in my life that wasn’t guilty,” Brown said. “Never.”
Titus claims the two detectives withheld evidence from prosecutors and defense attorneys about an alternate suspect in the 1990 deaths of deer hunters Doug Estes and Jim Bennett in the Fulton State Game Area in Kalamazoo County.
“Those two detectives were so blinded by their hell-bent objective to get Jeff Titus. Mike Brown has said, ‘I knew from day one he was the killer,'” Mueller said. “Well, when you do that and don’t look at the evidence objectively, you start cheating.”
Not long after the murders, witnesses had identified Thomas Dillon, a convicted serial killer from Ohio, saying he was in the area at the time of the killings. Dillon has since died in prison.
“I didn’t have anything to do with that,” Brown said, denying he hid anything from prosecutors. “I know nothing about the Dillon years.”
The cold case team picked up the case in 1999, leading to Titus’s conviction on two counts of first-degree murder in 2002. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Brown told Target 8 he didn’t recall hearing about Dillon until after Titus’s conviction.
Werkema, in a previous interview with Target 8, said he knew about Dillon but didn’t pursue him because the original detectives had eliminated him as a suspect. They determined Dillon was hunting that day at a private hunting grounds in Ravenna, Ohio, 285 miles away, and couldn’t have made it to Kalamazoo County in time to kill the hunters. But the Michigan Innocence Clinic said the original detectives had miscalculated the time it would have taken for Dillon to reach Kalamazoo County.
The same original detectives also had eliminated Titus as a suspect because he had an alibi. Witnesses early on said Titus was hunting 27 miles away at the time of the murders.
Titus spent 21 years in prison until the Michigan Innocence Clinic worked with the Michigan Attorney General to exonerate him. The state recently paid him $1 million from its wrongful incarceration fund.
“They made a mistake,” Brown said. “It’s the liberal courts that are doing this stuff.”
Brown is ill, breathing with help from an oxygen machine.
“I’m not doing well. I can’t walk. I can’t get out of the house,” he said.
He said the exoneration hasn’t changed his mind.
“If I arrested him for it, I guess he is (guilty),” he said.
Werkema previously also told Target 8 he still believes Titus is guilty. In a text message to Target 8 on Wednesday, Werkema refused to comment.
At the press conference, Titus insisted they are wrong.
“I am innocent,” he said. “I don’t care what you think. I have no animosity, but you convicted the wrong man.”