KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The widow of one of two hunters shot and killed in Kalamazoo County in 1990 agrees with the release of the man convicted of those murders, saying she was skeptical of the guilty verdict when it happened.
“‘I don’t know if he’s guilty or not,'” Jan Estes said she told her sister at the time. “And she said, ‘A jury of your peers found him guilty, so that’s what you have to go with.'”
Estes, whose husband Doug Estes was one of the men killed, said she hopes Jeff Titus will collect the more than $1 million he could be entitled to for wrongful imprisonment.
Titus was convicted in 2002 of killing Doug Estes and Jim Bennett in the Fulton State Game Area in November 1990. Now 71, he walked out of prison Friday after the Michigan Attorney General’s Office found that evidence pointing to another suspect was never turned over to Titus’ defense attorney in violation of federal law. A federal judge vacated his convictions and said he was due a fresh trial. The Kalamazoo County prosecutor hasn’t decided if he’ll retry the case.
The prosecutor called Jan Estes two weeks ago to say Titus’ release was likely forthcoming.
“I was glad,” she said. “I was glad. I’m glad he’s out, I really am. I’m glad he’s back with his family.”
Bennett’s relatives declined to speak to Target 8 Monday.
The original detectives on the case approached the Michigan Innocence Clinic to take Titus’ case, saying he couldn’t have done it because witnesses put him more than 25 miles away when the killings happened. A Target 8 investigation in 2017 raised questions about the conviction, laying out how his alibi was ignored by cold case detectives.
The other suspect that the evidence laid out was a serial killer named Thomas Dillon, who targeted hunters in Ohio around the time Doug Estes and Bennett died. Jan Estes didn’t know until Target 8 told her Monday that witnesses put Dillon in the area when the murders happened and identified him in a police lineup.
“As far as I know right now, I don’t know who did it,” Jan Estes said. “Maybe it was him (Dillon).”
Dillon has since died.
The AG says that not only did the defense not get the evidence about Dillon that was collected in 1990, the cold case detectives and the prosecutor on Titus’ case also never saw it. The file was somewhere in an evidence box from the original investigation. The county prosecutor says he doesn’t know how it got lost.
“I think that the whole court system was screwy. I really do,” Jan Estes said.
Titus could get $50,000 for each year served through Michigan’s Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act, which went into effect in March 2017. That would require proving in the Michigan Court of Claims that new evidence led to his release. David Moran of the Michigan Innocence Clinic said Titus should be eligible. Jan Estes said he deserves it.
“Jeff, I’m glad you’re out of prison, and I know you didn’t do it,” she said. “That’s what I say.”