GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In 1990, two hunters were killed in Kalamazoo County. More than a decade later, a man was convicted.
Jeff Titus spent 21 years in prison before a judge ruled he was wrongfully convicted.
What follows is a timeline of the case:
Nov. 17, 1990: Hunters Doug Estes and Jim Bennett are shot and killed in the Fulton State Game Area, adjacent to Jeff Titus’s property. Original detectives rule out Titus after alibi witnesses say he was hunting 27 miles away.
Dec. 20, 1990: Jeff Titus’s neighbor Helen Nofz tells detectives about car in the ditch around the time of the shooting and just a short distance away. The stranger behind the wheel, who was sweating profusely, told her the car was his wife’s and rejected an offer to call police to file a crash report. Police drew a composite that day based on Nofz’s description.
Nov. 27, 1992: Thomas Dillon is arraigned on firearms charges, identified as the suspect in killing of five hunters in Ohio from April 1989 to April 1992. One of those murders was exactly a week before the Kalamazoo County killings.
Jan. 23, 1993: The Grand Traverse County Prosecutor’s Office sends a letter to the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Department with a story on Thomas Dillon’s arrest in Ohio.
Feb. 9, 1993: On day of Thomas Dillon’s arraignment in Noble County, Ohio, Helen Nofz and her son pick him out from a lineup as the man who was in the ditched car near the Kalamazoo County double-murder scene.
May 7, 1993: Police in Ohio interview Mike Chappell, who was in Lake County Jail with Dillon, who told him he had “shot guys 30 yards apart, got one in the chest … and that police can’t prove he was even in the county.” These details don’t quite match the Kalamazoo County murders — Estes and Bennett were found 15 feet apart and both were shot in the back.
July 2, 1993: Police interview Dillon, who gives details of five murders in Ohio starting in April 1989 and says voices told him, “Do it, do it.” He talked of setting 160 fires, shooting about 20 cows with bow and arrows, shooting and killing more than 1,000 cats and dogs. But he denies shooting the two hunters in Kalamazoo County.
July 12, 1993: Dillon pleads guilty to five murders in Ohio.
1999: A cold case team picks up Kalamazoo County double-murder case.
May 2, 2002: A report by Detective Gwen Romanak shows she and Sgt. Mike Werkema had interviewed Helen Nofz about car in ditch and that the cold case team knew that the original detectives had looked at a suspect from Ohio.
July 19, 2002: A jury convicts Titus of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts felony firearms.
Aug. 19, 2002: A judge sentences Titus to mandatory life without parole.
Oct. 21, 2011: Dillon dies in prison at age 61.
January 2012: The Michigan Innocence Clinic takes up Titus; case at request of two original detectives who had ruled him out as a suspect.
February 2017: A Target 8 investigation, “Alibis Ignored,” reveals how cold case detectives went after Titus despite alibi witnesses who placed him 27 miles away at the time of the murders.
June 2020: After producers of a podcast and true-crime documentary uncover a possible link to Dillon, the Michigan Innocence Clinic finds 30 pages of reports on the serial killer at the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Department.
Feb. 24, 2022: U.S. District Judge Paul D. Borman finds police violated Brady law when they failed to turn over evidence about Dillon, an alternate suspect, to Titus’s defense attorneys. Brady requires police and prosecutors to turn over any potentially exculpatory evidence to defense attorneys.
Titus is released from a Michigan prison near Coldwater the same day.