Maurice Carter

Berrien County, Michigan
Date of Crime:  December 20, 1973

Maurice Carter was convicted of the attempted murder of Thomas Schadler, an off-duty Benton Harbor police officer. Schadler was shopping with his wife at the Harbor Wig and Record Shop on East Main Street in Benton Harbor when a man suddenly and without provocation pulled a .22-caliber pistol and shot him six times. There were twelve eyewitnesses to the crime.

Carter, who was staying at a hotel a few blocks from the Wig and Record Shop, was stopped by police and questioned a few hours later. Police took him to the shop, where he was confronted by the eyewitness who had been in the best position to see and provide an accurate description of the gunman – a clerk who had waited on the gunman for several minutes before the Schadlers arrived. The clerk, Gwen Baird, immediately told police at that Carter definitely was not the assailant and, based on her certainty, the police released him.

Two years later, police arrested a man named Wilbur Gillespie on unrelated drug charges. Gillespie, an acquaintance of Carter, was facing a possible life sentence as a habitual offender. In exchange for the state's promise to dismiss the drug and habitual criminal act charges, Gillespie agreed to testify that he had seen the gunman flee the Harbor Wig and Record Shop after the shooting – and that Carter was that gunman.

Carter was arrested in Indiana, where he was then living and working, and he immediately waived extradition to Michigan. The day he returned to Benton Harbor, the local newspaper, the Herald-Palladium, published a photograph of him two columns wide on its front page. It was not until after that photograph appeared that the Schadlers identified him as the gunman in a lineup. The shop clerk, Gwen Baird, who had eliminated Carter as the gunman, was not invited to view the lineup.

Based primarily on Gillespie's allegation and the Schadlers' identifications, the state charged Carter with attempted murder. At trial, however, Gillespie recanted, stating that he had made up the story to avoid serious drug charges he faced. Instead Gillespie testified that he had been with Carter in his hotel room at the time of the shooting and knew that Carter could not have been the assailant.

The state then charged Gillespie with perjury. While it was obvious that Gillespie lied – either he lied when he accused Carter or he lied when he recanted the accusation – the guilty plea he entered which the state accepted left no ambiguity: Gillespie expressly pleaded guilty to fabricating the accusation, not the recantation. Thus, the prosecution was in the strange position of prosecuting one man on a charge that it prosecuted another man for making up.

There was no physical evidence linking Carter to the crime – no fingerprints, no fibers, no blood, no hairs. Nor was there an apparent motive: Carter was new to Benton Harbor, where he was looking for work. And, although the crime had the hallmarks of retribution, there was no evidence that Carter even knew Officer Schadler.

Of the 12 purported eyewitnesses who testified at the trial, the two who had the best opportunities to observe the gunman – the aforementioned Gwen Baird and a customer in the store, Connie Allen – testified that they were certain Carter was not the gunman.

Five others did not identify Carter, leaving five who made identifications with varying degrees of certainty. Of the latter five, only the Schadlers and a women named Nancy Butzbach – who was employed by the prosecutor’s office at the time of the trial – claimed to be positive Carter was the gunman. And the fifth, Victor Miller, testified there was a “reasonable possibility” Carter was the gunman.

Although there was considerable evidence that could have been used to impeach the credibility of the five witnesses who identified Carter, almost none of it was presented to the jury. For instance: (1) The jury was not informed that Officer Schadler had seen Carter's photograph in the newspaper just before identifying him at the lineup, two years after the shooting. (2) The jury was not informed that the Schadlers had told police at the time of the shooting that they had not gotten a good enough view of the shooter to give a detailed description. (3) The jury was not informed that Carter is right handed, but Mrs. Schadler had stated initially that the assailant had fired the weapon with his left hand. (4) The jury was not informed that both Ms. Baird and Mrs. Schadler had said another man they saw in an early lineup had a complexion similar to the gunman’s – and that the complexion of the man in the lineup was much darker than Carter’s.

(5) The jury was not informed that Butzbach – the only witness other than the Schadlers who positively identified Carter – initially had stated that she saw only “a shadow of a black man” fleeing the scene. (6) The jury was not informed that Butzbach initially had been shown photographs of Carter and another man, but failed to identify Carter – although she stated she had seen the other man on the street. (7) The jury was not informed that Victor Miller, who testified that Carter looked like the gunman, initially had stated that he did not see the gunman at all. Since trial, Miller has come forward to say that he really could not identify Carter and that he has doubts about his guilt. Also, Carter has taken lie detector tests, which he has passed with no signs of deception. – Quoted with editing from The Maurice Carter Case.

In 2004, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm commuted Carter's life sentence for medical reasons and he was released after serving more than 28 years of imprisonment. A 2006 book was written about the case entitled Sweet Freedom: Breaking the Bondage of Maurice Carter.


References:  The Maurice Carter Case, Sweet Freedom

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Michigan Cases