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tv   Dateline  MSNBC  November 21, 2021 1:00am-2:00am PST

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she needed people to know what happened to her. so she's not alone anymore. >> that's all for this edition of dateline. i'm andrea canning, thank you for watching. for watching >> i'm craig melvin. >> and i'm natalie morales. >> and this is "dateline". >> i tell people it's the miracle of facebook. >> all it was was just one sentence. one sentence. >> it's not often that you get to be a hero. >> i got halfway through this again and went, oh my god. >> the murder happened in seconds. >> one end was coming straight for me with a gun leveled at us. i never ran so fast in my life. >> the truth took decades. i said, you know what, give me a lighted tractor tests. >> i never believed it for one
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minute. never. >> did someone have it all wrong. we're innocent men in prison for a murder they did not commit? a 22 year mystery until facebook helped old friends find each other and justice. >> did you ever imagine you would actually call such a thing? >> not in 1 million years. >> together they uncovered an almost unbelievable truth -- >> it all need since. none of us knew what happened that nice night. this all meade sent. >> somebody seen it. somebody knew. >> all rice. >> now, they just had to get someone to believe them. >> oh my gosh. we're losing. oh my god, were winning. >> will face were ever has to come. >> this was it? >> this was it for sure. >> hello, and welcome to "dateline". it started with a party. high school senior celebrating
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the end of the school year and new beginnings. but before the night was through, one man would be dead and two others could not know it then, but they would be facing a decades long battle to prove their innocence. here is keith morrison with "graduation night". >> in the summer in the town of -- detroit, michigan. 2000. i'm a divorce mother of three named mary evans was poking around in one of her favorite places. facebook. >> you could look up what everyone is up to. were they at today. are they successful? did they take the wrong path? >> there, mary. no idea that a little innocent poking into her own past would dredge up a shocking truth. long buried. >> oh, i was stunned. it was unbelievable. >> and a nightmare's worth of terror. >> i could've been killed that day. >> that would bring together an unlikely band of friends, old and new, in a fight to write a terrible wrong.
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>> and then a miracle happen. >> but no. in 2009, it was just an ordinary summer day. no sign of providence anywhere. just mary reminiscing about the old days and friends long since gone away. no. you know how it is? a person wonders. not such an uncommon thing among people who grew up as mary did in northeast detroit. >> i moved in it was actually a nice neighborhood. you could walk around the streets, singing at 1:00 in the morning in the summer. and never had to worry about anything. and then -- >> it changed? >> oh, it definitely changed. >> yeah. >> started going really downhill. >> not that particular summer day. mary was in the mood to remember the good times. good friends. and on facebook, there was something called the northeast detroit alumni group. so, what did you do in this group on facebook? >> well, that was all about
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being in touch with long lost friends from the neighborhood. >> including a couple of brothers, old friends from the neighborhood, who she remembered with a twinge, did not turn out so. well tommy and ray highers. went to prison in fact, for murder. mary followed the case we back then in 1987. remembers just how she felt when they were found guilty. >> i was shocked. you know? i was shocked to hear that. i thought, no way. >> did it sound like them to you? >> no. >> anyway, there she was thinking about them again, fondly. so, she wrote a line about the missing them whenever she hears a certain song on the radio. and then she side and pushed the send button. and, look out. people might have trouble believing that such a simple thing as posting on facebook could make a whole world change. >> a lot of people ask me, well what was it? what did you do?
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what happened? all i said it was one sentence. just one sentence. >> so, she did. and 500 miles away in the suburbs of washington d. c., -- >> what were you doing on facebook? >> just wasting time. like a lot of people. do [laughs] >> kevin zieleniewski grew up in detroit, to. but was now an international trade attorney in d. c.. he and mary didn't know each other. we're even facebook friends for that matter. but both belonged to that northeast detroit group. which is why that very same summer day in 2009, he just happened to see mary's post about those boys in prison for murder. >> it said something to the effect that tommy and raymond highers are in prison for life. every time i hear miss you by the stones, i think of those guys. >> did you know those two guys? >> no, i didn't know them. >> which by all rights should have been the end of it. but something in that post tripped a wire, deep in the crater of kevin's memory. the name highers, he'd heard it
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before. he was sure of it. in connection with a murder case. way back in the late eighties. and that memory lit up another one. clear as day. the indelible memory of a bizarre story of college roommate told him one night in 1993, or so. he could hardly believe it then. but now when he saw mary's post, no, it couldn't be. were those old stories somehow connected? maybe mary couldn't tell it. >> i sent back to her, they wouldn't happen to be in prison for killing old man bob? and she got back and said, yes, they are. in prison for killing old man bob." >> old man bob was robert karey, our well-known loan shark, drug dealer, and the backdoor murdered in the back of his easter trite home in 1987. kevin was already on the computer that into thousand nine, so he pulled out the michigan department of corrections website and saw
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pictures of tommy and ray highers and confirm they were in prison. doing life without parole for the murder of old man bob. it was then it hit him like a brick in the face. something about those pictures was very, very wrong. only one thing to do. kevin picked up the phone and called that old college roommate. a man he hadn't seen for at least a decade. this man, john hielscher. >> he said it was about old man bob. i just started freaking out. like, i'm not doing it. i'm not doing any of this. >> how come? >> if i was scared. i felt scared. >> but if he was scared now, oh, just wait. mary's little posts and the connections it pulled up in kevin's brain, had just made john hielscher part of a team he was unsure he wanted to belong to. and the next move was his. >> as a band of friends sets out on a journey to find justice, they first need to find out what really happened the night old man bob was
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dissolves quickly. instantly ready to start working. so you can bounce back fast with alka-seltzer plus. now available for fast sinus relief. >> something serendipitous was in the wind in detroit. the summer turned to fall 2009. a woman's simple facebook post about old friends now in prison for life was read by a detroit native turned d. c. lawyer who got curious and looked at their pictures and -- >> i couldn't sleep really at
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the beginning just thinking about it. >> wondering what you should do? >> yeah, wondering what to do about it. >> what he did was call his old college roommate, john hielscher. the man who way back in 1993, told him a story about the murder of old man bob. tell me why you call john hielscher? >> to see if he remembered telling me the story he told me back all those years about the night that old man bob was killed. >> and he did remember? >> he did, he remembered it exactly on the phone, as he did when he first told me the story. >> the story, that john hielscher had been there with when old man bob had was killed. had seen things. and never talk to police. and now? once kevin looked into pictures of the highers brothers, he understood clear as they that john's story could expose a terrible injustice.
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if it was ever revealed that is. so, kevin stewed about it for a bit. talk to his wife and took her advice. we had no hesitation that, you know, we should do something with this. you know, your lawyer, you know what to do with it. and just go ahead and do it. it's the right thing to do. >> so he boarded a treat plane for detroit on his own dime. and john faced down his fears. and both met with a lawyer who represented those imprisoned brothers. >> we met at a restaurant in gross pointe and talk to the lawyer. he didn't seem like he believed me too much. i said, you know what? give me a lighter text or test. i'll take the test and then will go from there. if you don't believe me, let's do this right now. >> okay. >> so, a couple weeks later, we ended up taking a light attacked or test. it was one of the toughest things i've had to do, when you're struck. >> that's where it isn't it? >> oh, i was just sweating buckets. >> and a police polygraph or
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detected john hielscher was being truthful. he passed with flying colors. and then, nothing. neither kevin nor john heard anything more from that lawyer. >> i just thought a got dropped. you know? wishing, oh, good it's not great comeback. that's it. >> and that would have been the end of it, most likely. had it not been for her. over on the other side of detroit, though john and kevin couldn't possibly know it, was a private investigator who, truth be told, had just about given up on the case of the highers brothers. >> we weren't getting anywhere. >> private eye julian had agreed to work the case for a fraction of her usual fee. when the highers family begged her to find evidence of the boys innocence. she tended to curry agree with them. but in her long search, she had been unable to find anyone or any facts that could challenge the story about old man bob's murder that was told at the trial. which was this -- >> mob was home and it was a
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friday night. he's getting a lot of phone calls. there is a guy saying sitting in the pitching wing out bags of real. people saying, i would be over, i'm gonna get when i. what mostly people come to the back door. >> i witnessed with all the sitting in his car, out on the street. we built this animation to illustrate what he later told the police. >> about 9:30, anomaly pulled up out front in his house. and two guys got out and walked up the drive we, the back door. and he hears shots fired and shortly thereafter he sees the guys hoping down the driveway. they get back in the on the horizon and drive off. >> so, this guy, the witness says must have been him. >> right. >> everybody assumes that the people running down the driveway shot him. yes. >> the dealer, known as old man bob was dead of a single gunshot wound to the chest. detectives looked high and low for that getaway car. no luck. so, the cops canvas the usual suspects and, bingo. the jailhouse informant named a possible shooter. a neighborhood kid named tommy highers.
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and what do you know? tommy new old man bob. owed him money. used drugs. even told friends he was going to visit bob that night. they prepared a lineup. but when they show the picture to that eyewitness, he didn't pick up pick out tommy. he punted to tommy's brother, ray. he told police he was positive, 100 percent sure, wray was one of the young men running down the driveway and helping in the car after the murder. so, both were arrested and tried. and convicted. and sitting in the courtroom, the and who had loved them all their lives was devastated. >> i can't even imagine why they got life without parole, even without parole. >> this is ant jan. >> it was very hopeless, very hopeless. >> did you believe that they
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wouldn't have done it? >> never, i never believed it for one minute. >> the family stuck by tommy and ray as the man watched their twenties and then their thirties come and go, in prison. and now, where they were in their mid forties. still telling anybody and everybody, including us, that they did not kill old man bob. >> i just walked with the fate. you know, like this is not the end. >> the brothers had turned down any and all plea deals, determined instead, to clear their names. they joined every prison program. took every class they could to prove improve themselves. >> we schooled ourselves. we always took any kind of programs they had to offer. >> both of you? >> yeah, absolutely. worked every day. and just held our heads up. >> but to prove their innocence, they needed some solid new evidence. and by 2009, after 22 years, even their family had about giving up on that. how do you actually gotten to the stage where you thought, well, they're just going to be there for the rest of their lives? nothing we can do about it? >> i did. to be honest, i did. >> so today the private i'll, julian.
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who stopped working the case. or, try to. but tommy kept on calling. >> i'd be like, you can't keep calling me. then, one day i picked up the phone and it was tommy again. and i just didn't have anything to do. i said, fine, fine. this was purely to get tommy off my back. i thought i was gonna do a couple things i'd be done. yeah, i can get tommy out of my life. >> so, she picked up the phone, called tommy's lawyer. he sent her copy of the affidavit, the sworn story told by, guess who? that old college roommate of kevin's, john hielscher, the one who claimed he was there at old man bob's when the murder took place. and when the private i read that -- >> i got halfway through this thing and just went, holy [bleep]! oh my god! >> coming up -- >> a close encounter with killers. >> i'm done. that's the first thing that came to my head. they're going to get me. >> that are the the same man spending life in prison for
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murder? >> i tell people it's the miracle of facebook. >> when "dateline" continues. abdominal discomfort, gas, and bloating and it works fast. in as little as 7 days try fast acting biotic gummies from align. the #1 doctor recommended probiotic brand. >> i tell people it's the
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miracle of facebook. you know, without facebook it wouldn't have happened. >> detroit private eye julianne had been baffled for years about the mystery surrounding the murder of old man bob. a murder that put tommy and really highers in prison for highs.
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and then out of the blue, may 2010, just because some woman had a moment of nostalgia and posted a casual note on facebook, an affidavit landed on julianne's desk. from a man she never heard. of john hielscher. >> it had to be real. it had to be true. >> it's like a piece of heaven fallen down. >> right. , yeah. >> john told julianne what happened that awful night in the detroit summer of 1987. it was party night, he said. john and his classmates had just graduated from gross point north high school. that's in the suburb where the captains of industry live. several miles and tax records across the city line of detroit. and after a few beers, the party is decided to drive over and by some marijuana from old man bob. >> we just call up, so you're coming by, go to the back door. there.
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that's what we are going to do that night. >> so, john and for friends hopped in a car which was by the way, a white plymouth horizon, and drove over to make the by. but when they got their, they walked up the driveway to bob's back door. just as that eyewitness later told the police. except for one detail, and it was a big one. the eyewitness identified the highers brothers as the young men he saw in the driveway. but, said john hielscher, it wasn't them. it was him. he and one of his grosse pointe bodies went up that driveway. >> we made it to the back door. and as soon as we knocked on the door, he opened it. i heard commotion behind me. and we saw people jump over the fence coming towards us. one with a gun leveled at us. and we saw all of the other people running towards bob. especially a guy with the shotgun. i just remembered, i'm dead. that's the first thing that came to mind. you know? in my head he's going to shoot me. we froze. and all he said was, get the [bleep] out of here. and we turned so fast and run back to the car. i've never ran so fast in my
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life. we were running back, they had heard the gunshot. i said, get the [bleep] out of here. and he screech the tires and we got out of there as quick as we could. >> and after? the five returned to the graduation party. >> i was still figuring out. we all were. people were wondering what's the matter with you? wouldn't happen? and that then someone told him what happened. part of the people are going all, i don't believe. you they didn't believe us. >> what you are freaking out? >> oh, yeah. i could've been killed that day. >> came close. >> came close. i had a gun pointed right to my face. >> then when they went home, said john, he watched the news, read the paper, look for news of the shooting, but didn't see anything. every he never did find out what happened to old man bob. >> i didn't hear nothing of it. i never saw him actually die. so, i didn't really know. >> so, he said, he just tried to forget it. he joined the army. served in the persian gulf. moved on with his life. and never told a soul, apart
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from his girlfriend. and then one night in 1993, six years after the incident, he told kevin zieleniewski. and it was one telling detail in john story that kevin never forgot. the people who jumped over the fence, they weren't white kids. they were black. >> you had no idea that two men went to prison for this? >> no, not till kevin called me 2009. >> did you even know the highers brothers? >> never saw them in my life. >> total strangers. >> total strangers. i said this isn't right. it involved a different race. it was not to white people. >> that piece of information, more than 20 years after the murder, was what tommy andrea and that their family, had about lost hope they would never find. >> i finally got the whole story and it was like, damn. somebody seen it. somebody knew. >> this all made sense.
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>> it was just a matter of mistaken identity? >> absolutely. just proves everything we've said and believed for the last 25 years. >> john's story, which had disappeared forever, had it not been for mayor's facebook posts and kevin's steel truck memory, now give aunt jan and all those who loved and believed in tommy unruly, new determination. the family brought in a whole new legal team. with one goal. nail down the evidence. get the brothers out of prison. attorneys jan knabb and valerie newman. >> i thought this case should have never been charged. >> a mistake happened. a mistake happened and they ended up with two men spending potentially the rest of their lives in prison. >> now, if only the team could find the other people who were in the car with john that night. and if they all told the same story, well, maybe then they'd have something. >> coming up -- up after more than two decades, the moment of truth.
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>> it was pins and needles. i mean, it was our life. >> this was it? >> this was it, for sure. >> when "dateline" continues. discomfort back there? instead of using aloe, or baby wipes, or powders, try the cooling, soothing relief or preparation h.
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here's what's happening. we're learning more about an accidental discharge of a firearm that sent travelers into panic, saturday. police confirm the gun went off inside atlanta's heart feels jackson airport at the mean security checkpoint. three non-life-threatening injuries were reported. officials in aurora, colorado, agreed to a 50 multi million dollar settlement with the family of elijah mcclain, friday. mcclain was killed in a violent confrontation with a rural police in 2019. the agreement marks the largest police estimate in the city's history. now back to dateline. to dateline >> welcome back to "dateline." i'm craig melvin. after spending more than 20
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years behind bars for a murder they said they did not commit, tommy and really highers were given to valuable things -- hope and that the potential eyewitness. a stranger, named john hielscher had come for to insist he saw the real killers. but could one man's claim be enough to overturn a conviction? for tommy and race team it was time to go about the task of proving it. once again, here is keith morrison with "graduation night". >> private eye julienne and the others, who joined her efforts for the highers brothers, believe the newly discovered witness john hielscher was telling the truth. now, if they could only find those for high school friends hielscher claimed ring with him. the night when he and they took the trip to buy marijuana from the neighborhood dealer known as old man bob back in 1987. a trip that ended in gunfire. first, bad news.
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julianne discovered the driver of the car died. but his family confirmed he drove a white plymouth horizon. the same type of car and eyewitness had seen fleeing the scene. >> and that was an important to be able to make that connection? >> right. because the linchpin of all of this was that these guys were in a white nominee. on the horizon. they're the same car, basically. >> and then, one by one, they did find them. the kids now 40 some things, who have been in the car heard the very same thing john hielscher told them. this man, john kerber was writing in the front passenger seat. and he confirmed the story. >> you could just see it dawned on his face that two guys have been sitting in jail for nearly 25 years. >> the woman who was a high school senior was dating one of the men in the car confirmed she saw it, to. though getting her to talk was no easy task. but none was more reluctant than that young man who walked up the drive to the back door
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with john hielscher and then fled down again in terror when this shot was fired. why wouldn't he talk about it? >> pretty much all of our witnesses grew up in fairly wealthy, well to do families. and it seemed to be an embarrassment that they had gone into east detroit to buy marijuana. >> for months, it only communicated through his sister, an attorney. he refused to tell the investigators what he knew. seemed to go to great lengths to avoid their calls. >> he wanted no part of. it which i still really can't understand. because it's, you know, it's not often you get to be a hero. >> finally, what could the lawyers could do? they get subpoenaed him. >> it had to be done. we had two men sitting in prison. there was no choice. >> it all wound up right here, detroit's frank murthy hall of justice. spring, 2012. the lawyers appointed to represent the long imprison brothers, tommy henry highers,
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had hoped to avoid this. they'd allowed themselves to think the week the wayne county da might see the new evidence about the night old man bob was killed. see that a mistake was made and rectify. but -- >> we had the prosecutors office that was very uncooperative. and in the face of overwhelming evidence of innocence. >> did that surprise you? >> no. it's an amazing ability to blind yourself to everything except what you want to look at. >> all rise. >> of course, that was a defense attorney's point of view. and so, here they were in court, to fight it out. just getting this hearing took a year of their efforts and persuading all those witnesses to testify about a moment in time so long ago, was no less difficult. knowing that, tommy and raise family became a sort of cheering section for them. >> we filled up the room and we wanted to show everybody that
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we were there to back them up. and we just wanted to be there for them. >> all crowded their whole courtroom of judge lawrence talon, who will decide if the new evidence merited a new trial. >> all right, want to bring them up? >> finally, tommy and re-highers filed into court. the brothers who from day one insisted they were innocent, whose family never stopped believing in them, looking like just what they were. survivors of a quarter century in prison. >> it was pins and needles. i mean, it was our life. because if he didn't believe what he was hearing, we were going right back to the state -- >> and there was never no more relief. >> and this was it? >> this was it. for sure. >> good morning, your honor. valerie newman, public defenders office. >> when i got to the hearing, it was all out warfare. >> the defense began laying out this strange tale from the -- >> this evans, why have you come forward in this case? >> you know, on the streets i
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always heard that highers didn't do it. >> next, the d. c. lawyer who just happened to answer that post of mary's. >> would you please set your name for the record? >> kevin zieleniewski? >> on the stand kevin re-told the story. that john, the old roommate told him way back in 1993. >> he made a comment to the effect that, well you wouldn't believe what happened that night. >> and so, said kevin, he fell a duty to step in. >> and why are you here today? >> two innocent people are in prison for life. i learned information that could help set them free. and i felt compelled to bring that information forward. >> and then one by one, the witnesses. and now 40 some things who told the court about that night outside old man bob's house, where they've gone to buy marijuana for their graduation. party and, that it was their friends, not the highers brothers who came down running down the driveway. >> and how they did they look
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when they got in the car? >> terrified. >> why are you coming forward? >> two minutes is too long in prison, let alone 27 years. >> even the reluctant witness, one that had to be subpoenaed to come to court, confirmed all of it. as did the man who threw the graduation party that night. >> he was very forthcoming and said, sure, i remember that day. they pulled up. they were a wreck. and they told me what happened. you just don't forget something like that. >> and finally, the man whose comments to his roommate nearly two decades earlier kept the old story a life. >> the defense calls john hielscher. >> what was it like? the process of testifying at this hearing? >> you know, i've been to come back, i've jumped out a planes. and that was the toughest thing i had to do. >> john hielscher, who was horrified he'd never found out for certain that old man bob was murdered, told the story he'd never before publicly discuss. complete with what he heard and saw after walking up to old man bob's bop back door.
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>> i heard commotion for coming from the alley behind bob's house. i saw 4 african american males hopping over the chain link friend fence from the alley. and they were running towards the house. >> okay? what happened next? >> i saw a larger african american male, with what appeared to be a shotgun. and then i saw another african-american male, with a handgun. he told us to get the [bleep] out of there. >> and what did you do then? >> i proceeded to turn around and run as fast as i could. >> did you hear anything? >> as i was turning to run, i did hear a gunshot. >> were you scared? >> i'm still scared. >> have you ever been afraid like that after that? >> when i was in combat. >> are you telling the truth? >> yes, ma'am. >> and why are you here? >> because there's two innocent people that did not commit this crime. >> but then it was anna turn. the assistant prosecutor made it perfectly clear she didn't believe all those new witnesses
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coming forward to tell the story. or what they said in their sworn statements, which she picked apart, word by word. >> no, ma'am. that's not correct. >> oh, is not correct. so your affidavit is wrong? >> the assistant prosecutor went methodically through the testimony of each witness and suggested, sometimes gently, sometimes not, that they were all like. they concocted the whole story to help free tommy and rory highers. >> are they friends with you on facebook? >> my understanding is that -- >> no, no, listen to my question. are they friends with you on facebook? >> yes, or no. >> well, i would say no. >> judge -- >> said tommy and razor turns, it was the assistant prosecutor who concocted the story. >> the prosecution had nothing to contradict our theory. just absolutely nothing. so you have nothing, you concoct something. so what the concocted was a grand conspiracy theory. >> did that surprise you? >> it did. to have people who are
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unconnected to the defendants come together to cook something up, does it make sense. >> but in the end, it was up to the judge to decide. if the new evidence was cooked up as the prosecutor claimed, or compelling enough to give the highers brothers there for shot at freedom in 25 years. >> coming up -- the judge rules. will the highers brothers get a second chance? >> will fight and will face whatever has to come. >> when "dateline" continues. walter, twelve o' clock. get em boy! [cows mooing] that is incredible. it's the multi-flex tailgate. it can be a step, it can even become a workspace. i meant the cat. what's so great about him? he doesn't have a workspace. the chevy silverado with the available multi-flex tailgate. find new adventures. find new roads. chevrolet.
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and ray highers had been fighting to clear their names for 25 years. and now, judge lawrence had heard all the new evidence, this was the moment. >> this is the decision on the motion from relief from judgment. >> but with all the history, the legal ease, the new evidence the witnesses. >> the prosecution was meticulous in pointing out in consistencies and differences between testimonies. >> it took the judge two full hours to explain the basis for his decision. the reasons he said he had no choice but to rule the particular way. >> all my nerves were shaken. >> as tommy and ray, their court will full of family and friends agonized.
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some felt almost ill. >> sitting through the ruling almost killed me. i felt oh my god, we're losing. oh my god, were winning, oh my god for losing. >> until, the judge finally said the words. >> this evidence meets all the requirements for this court to grant the request of relief by the family. >> a way to just fell off my shoulders. finally, thank you. thank you. >> everybody was hugging, it was just the joy is seen. >> you would think, looking at this, that they had just been declared innocent of the murder of old man bob. but that is not what happened. not even two weeks later when the judge decided to release the brothers on bond to await trial. [applause] and tommy and
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raymond walked out of jail for the first time in more than 25 years. it's certainly felt like victory. looked like victory. >> it was like someone hit a grand slam at the ballpark. >> oh my god. >> oh man, hell yeah. >> this is my wonderful attorney. i'm telling you now. hey, she is the bomb. >> but, tommy and ray were only men on bail awaiting trial for murder. a trial the prosecution gave every indication it was especially determined to win. and thus send these two men right back where they came from, state prison. what's it like to be sitting here, talking about what's happened to you? >> you can't even put it into words, the feelings that go through you. >> which gave us a chance to talk to them as they prepared
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for their biggest fight yet. for exoneration and they hope permanent freedom. >> we will fight, we will face whatever has to come. >> here they told us their version of what happened the night old man bob was killed. >> we got involved in things we should've been. drugs, that was the main thing. >> that night, june 26 1987, the brothers did indeed go over to bob's house, they said. saw the police were there, and assumed -- >> we figured he was being raided. >> that's exactly what we thought. that he was being raided. never even stopped, there were so much police that we just kept going. >> it never occurred to us that he was murdered. >> a week later, they were under arrest. >> we walked in there and never walked out. >> they were 21 and 22, when they went in. but now they say they are not the same men that they were then. and that that is a good thing. >> i'm not ashamed of being in prison, prison --
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that's why i'm today, president made this man. my morals, my integrity's. >> in a way, a positive experience but one you wouldn't wish on yours enemy. >> exactly. >> you still hold on to the light, and you just push forward every day. >> what's on the agenda today, guys? >> after their release they moved in with their and jan, and wart tethers to monitor their whereabouts. await into the real world, learning to use cellphones. getting their drivers licenses. >> i waited to get that all my life. first when i ever had. >> and getting up in the morning and going to work. >> ray, at an industrial company, tommy, at a maintenance at an apartment complex. and at the very same time, the wing county prosecutor's office was preparing its case against them, to put them back into prison for life. preparing it as we sat here talking. so as the brothers told us here, the da has put an offer on the
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table they can keep their freedom if they agree to one condition. what's clear they offering? >> to us to plead guilty, and we would get time served. >> would you? >> no. we were innocent and we screamed it for 25 years. for the people that got behind us and believed in us, for us to do that would just be a slap in their faces. it would just tear my integrity right out of my body. so, we're innocent. nothing is going to change that. >> there will be people in the audience who will still believe you did it. >> sure. you can't convince everybody. >> you are used to that? >> all we want to do is convince 12. >> those 12 would be the jurors, sitting in judgment at their upcoming re-trial for murder. tommy and ray highers were going back to court to see a
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free man, they would remain. >> coming up -- >> a court room game of chicken, who blinked first? >> it was really disingenuous. >> disingenuous is such a blatant word, what does it mean? >> it means they were saving face. >> when "dateline" continues. . your happy place. find your breaking point. then break it. every emergen-c gives you a potent blend of nutrients so you can emerge your best with emergen-c. why hide your skin if dupixent has your moderate to severe eczema or atopic dermatitis under control? hide my skin? not me. by hitting eczema where it counts,
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waiting again. for tommy henry highers. the very police said they were sent away in the first place. >> i hate going to the courtroom. i hate going to the courthouse. i hate parking in the parking lot to get to the courthouse. you know what i mean? it's like, i just -- but is something that we have to deal with. and it's going to be head on. >> as we talked, two weeks before the scheduled start of their trial, the wayne county prosecutors office was forging ahead. once ahead once again charging the brothers were the murder of robert karey, old man bob. >> how nervous are you about this? >> of course, you're going to be nervous. your lives are in other people 's hands, still. >> several months tommy and ray's's attorneys had been attending pre trial hearings, sending motions back and forth. as lawyers do. through all the while hoping the da would come to see their way and simply drop the charges. >> i was confident that it was a game of chicken. because they had no evidence. >> but with each legal step in the march toward trial, they were disappointed. the da had it seemed perfectly
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clear was very serious. >> all right. >> then, just a few days after our interview with the brothers, september, 2013, everyone assembled in the courtroom. assistant prosecutor reynolds had something to say. >> your honor, this time the based on consultation with prosecutor worthy, this long prosecution with the dissidents family. based on the recognition of what 26 years could do the try ability of a case, we would move to dismiss the case against the defendants at this point in time. >> and that was it. case dismissed. no new trial. >> it's not often you get to give somebody their lives back. and that's what we did, we gave them their lives back. it was incredible. it was incredible. >> but before they all left the courtroom, the prosecutor pointedly reserved the right to re-file murder charges. if new evidence ever surfaces. >> are you going to allow this
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to hang over your head? >> absolutely not. even though last year we have allowed it to hang over our heads. we moved on. we've moved on our lives. we are going to continue to do that. >> the wayne county prosecutor, kym worthy, who declined "dateline"'s requests for an interview. took parting shot at the. brothers issued a statement saying quote, just as we do 26 years ago, we firmly believe in the evidence in this case. we have worked diligently to bring this case to trial. with the passage of time, it is an unfortunate reality that this case cannot be put back together and we must dismiss it. sadly, in this case, justice was not done. end quote. really? said the people who freed tommy and ray. >> it was really disingenuous. it was not right. >> disingenuous is such a polite word. what does it really mean? >> it means they were saving face. >> it put the stain on them that they don't deserve. they already have the stain of
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25 years in prison for the crime they didn't commit. and then you have the prosecutors office saying, yeah, right. we still think they're guilty. >> in 2016, michigan lawmakers passed the wrongful imprisonment act compensation act, calling for the state to pay exonerated prisoners $50,000 for every year spent behind bars. the highers brother sue the seat state for just over one 1.2 million each. and in october, 2019, the michigan attorney generals office settle the suit. agreeing to pay the full amount. of course, in the days immediately following the release, nothing could compare to the chance to celebrate with the people who helped make it happen. like mary, whose facebook post started everything. >> did you ever imagine you would actually cause such a thing? >> no. not in 1 million years. it's hard to get my head around
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it. it's just awesome feeling. >> sure. >> kevin, who still shies away from taking credit. >> i happen to be a lawyer. and it doesn't really seem that extraordinary to me. >> and john hielscher, who can finally put it in the past, where it belongs. >> it's like i told them, i said, i just wish i could've done something earlier. you wouldn't have had to sit there for so many years. and tommy looked at me, gave me a hug. and he says, it's the way it was supposed to happen. it had to happen like this. >> they don't seem bitter at all. >> not when i met them. just glad their home and their out. and they're free. [applause] >> free men, who know none of it would've happened without family and friends, and that dream team of lawyers. an investigator. and of course, facebook. what would you like to say to those people who helped through along the way? >> thank you from the bottom of our hearts for believing and understanding, and taking the
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time that most people don't do. it's like a dream come few through for us. because it's what we've always been hoping for. >> yeah, somebody to help us. that's why we just want to live and move forward. you know? it's gone, it's the pass. move on. better days. >> that's all for this edition of "dateline." i'm craig melvin. thank you for watching. >> i'm craig melvin. >> and i'm natalie morales. >> and this is "dateline." >> you had the good cop, you have the bad cop. and the polygraph. it felt like "law & order". >> the fire broke out before dawn. in the daylight, they found the's mother of two young children dead. >> she lived a very courageous life. she was very bold in the things she did. >> but after the smoke cleared, a mystery lingered. >> we knew she did not die in that fire, she died before the fire. >> who do you look to as the suspect? >>


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