Recanted Jailhouse Testimonies Lead to Renewed Calls to Release Bobo and Ferguson

Minneapolis, MN — Family members and advocates of two men serving life sentences in Minnesota — Deaunteze Bobo and Jermaine Ferguson — renewed their demands for their loved ones to be released from prison, saying they were wrongfully convicted.

During a press conference in the atrium of the Hennepin County Government Center on June 14, speakers said the men’s convictions should be overturned as they were based on jailhouse witness testimonies that have since been recanted. They called on the courts, the Minnesota Attorney General’s Conviction Review Unit and the Hennepin County Attorney to help free their loved ones.

Jailhouse testimonies are statements taken from incarcerated individuals who are usually incentivized to become informants against a defendant. According to the Innocence Project, this type of testimony “is one of the leading contributing factors of wrongful convictions nationally, playing a role in nearly one in five of the 367 DNA-based exoneration cases.”

Both men are being held in MCF-Rush City on first-degree murder charges. Both were prosecuted in Minneapolis when Amy Klobuchar was Hennepin County Attorney and both cases have striking similarities to two men recently freed from their wrongful convictions and life sentences, Myon Burrell and Marvin Haynes.

Deaunteze Bobo (left) and Jermaine Ferguson (right) pictured at a resource fair in Rush City prison in October 2023. Image by Minnesota Department of Corrections.

Deaunteze Bobo’s Case

Speaking to the press, Nakisha Armstrong said her two sons need their father, Deaunteze Bobo, who was taken in 2006 when the children were two years old and three months old. Bobo has been imprisoned for the last 18 years after being sentenced to life in prison for a murder that he says he didn’t commit.

On June 2, 2006, James Roberts was killed outside the now-closed Stand Up Frank’s bar in northeast Minneapolis. Another man with Roberts was shot and injured. The gun used was later found on Leonard Slaughter. According to police, Slaughter was friends with Bobo, so they began investigating him as well.

Bobo’s conviction was largely based on the testimony of Bobo’s cousin Samuel James, who had been awaiting sentencing for an unrelated aggravated robbery charge at the time. In exchange for implicating Bobo before a grand jury, James avoided further jail time.

James has since declared that he lied about Bobo’s involvement in numerous hearings and says he was pushed to lie by then-Minneapolis Police Sgt. Bruce Folkens. James admitted over recorded phone calls and at least four other times that he was the one who committed the crime. According to Bobo’s defense team, James explicitly stated: “I’m the one who committed this crime.”

During a postconviction relief petition hearing for Bobo in November 2020, James came before Hennepin County District Court via Zoom and recanted his previous testimony.

James testified to the court that Bobo was innocent of the murder and was with his child and his child’s mother, Nakisha, at his aunt’s house when the murder took place. James, however, exercised his Fifth Amendment right and refused to answer many of the questions so as to not incriminate himself for the 2006 murder that Bobo’s defense team believes James is guilty of.

Read the transcript from James’ questioning below.

Despite James’ multiple admissions and recantation, and there still not being any physical evidence linking Bobo to the murder, courts in Minnesota have denied Bobo’s every appeal and petition that he and his legal team have put forth, including the Minnesota Appellate Court, where former Justice Lorie Gildea upheld the conviction in February 2022 without oral argument. Read the court’s legal ruling on Bobo below.

Jermaine Ferguson’s Case

In the case of Jermaine Ferguson, he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for a December 2004 murder in south Minneapolis. Joseph Papasodora, 30, was killed at 25th St. and 12th Ave. and two others were shot by three men who burst into the door of their apartment firing bullets.

Ferguson was alleged to be one of the three men and he was arrested in May 2005 and later convicted for the murder based on uncorroborated accomplice testimony and multiple jailhouse testimonies, which led to some plea deals.

One of those involved in the killing, Kentrell Green, admitted later that he lied about Ferguson’s involvement because the Minneapolis Police were threatening to take his son away from their mother and threatened to send her to prison if he, as well as she, didn’t testify against Ferguson.

“I was told I would lose my son and do life in prison if I didn’t give the police Jermaine Ferguson.”

Kentrell Green, court transcript

Like Bobo, Ferguson filed multiple petitions for postconviction relief and appealed — all of which have been denied.

In 2010, after Ferguson filed his second petition for conviction relief, Justice Gildea found a “postconviction court abused its discretion by failing to hold an evidentiary hearing” and reversed and remanded to the postconviction court for a hearing. Read the court’s legal ruling below.

The extra hearing didn’t end up helping Ferguson. In fact, while denying Ferguson’s appeal at the Appellate Court, Justice David Stras noted for the record that Minneapolis Police did coerce a statement from Green: “Sergeant Thomsen testified that a police officer told Green that, if he wanted to see his son, he needed to tell the police that Ferguson and [Johntaye] Hudson committed the offense.” (Stras was appointed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals by President Donald Trump in 2018, despite opposition from civil rights groups.)

However, despite Green’s affidavit recanting his past statement, the court found him “not credible” and continued to deny Ferguson further hearings. Sharing similarities with Bobo’s case, the court used case law to reject affidavits and witness recantations as new forms of evidence.

According to the Department of Corrections, Green is expected to be released on July 18, 2024. The other convicted accomplice, Johntaye Hudson, has an anticipated release date of 2031. Ferguson is slated to spend the rest of his life in prison.

“Over sentencing young black men is sadly something Hennepin County has done for many years. Jermaine Ferguson is just one young man who was over sentenced at the age of 20 to life and two consecutive 15-year sentence. Not only is he incarcerated for a crime he did not commit, but the witness who testified against Ferguson was giving a deal in exchange for his testimony. This gentleman has since recanted his false statement given at Ferguson trial. To add injury to insult. Ferguson Defense attorney was not allowed to inform the jury that the witness was given a deal to testify and was present to save self from conviction. Ferguson is an innocent man whose freedom has been stolen from him for the last 16 years. Jermaine currently has an outdate of 2129. There is not a human alive today that will be alive in 2129.”

Post on Jermaine Ferguson’s Facebook page on May 8, 2022
Jermaine Ferguson (2022). Image from Justice Ferguson Facebook page.

Related reporting

An Era of anti-Black Prosecutions

These two cases bear striking similarities to at least two others prosecuted in Hennepin County during Mike Freeman and Amy Klobuchar’s three-decade rule as county attorneys. Freeman was the Hennepin County Attorney from 1991 until 1999 and from 2007 until 2023.

Klobuchar, now a U.S. Senator from Minnesota, was Hennepin County Attorney from 1999 until 2007.

During Klobuchar’s prosecutorial reign over Hennepin County, the number of Black men sent to the state prisons “increased by 600 percent,” said Michelle Gross, the co-founder of Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB).

Klobuchar also helped usher in an extensive public-private partnership with Target Corporation, which funded prosecutors along with a sweeping surveillance system in downtown Minneapolis.

Coupled with the 1994 Crime Bill and the criminalization of Black youth with pervasive sentencing for crimes authorities deemed as gang-related, Minneapolis Police and prosecutors “had an open season on young Black males in the city,” Gross told Unicorn Riot.

Gang enhancement statutes were enacted across the country as well as Minnesota starting in 1991. The state of Minnesota made updates to their law in ’93, ’98, and 2005. Charges for crimes committed for the benefit of a “criminal gang” (Minn. Stat. § 609.229) were typically enhanced to felonies from misdemeanors and sentencing came with at least a one-year prison sentence.

With public pressure from the media and politicians “to put somebody away,” and to “calm down the white populace,” authorities sought to convict with a lackluster approach to investigating crimes, Gross continued. “They took a whole generation of young Black men and threw them off into the prison system.”

Bobo & Ferguson Being Compared to Burrell & Haynes

In 2020, during Klobuchar’s presidential run, the murder conviction of Myon Burrell was heavily scrutinized. Burrell was just 16 years old when charged for the murder of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards, who was killed by a stray bullet aimed at a person outside of 34th St. and Chicago Ave.

The real killer, Isaiah Tyson, initially told police that Burrell was the killer in order to get seven felonies dropped, including first-degree murder with a gang enhancement, which carries a life sentence. Tyson admitted he lied on Burrell, not long after Burrell was sentenced, but the courts did not trigger any reinvestigation. Tyson is currently imprisoned in Rush City and has a scheduled release date of 2032.

Eventually, after activists pushed for a new review of Burrell’s prosecution, and several high-profile media investigations were published, he was freed from prison in December 2020. Burrell’s life sentence was commuted by the Minnesota Board of Pardons, made up of Gov. Tim Walz (DFL), Attorney General Keith Ellison (DFL) and Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea. Burrell is still seeking postconviction relief as he has not been exonerated from the murder conviction.

Two years after Burrell was incarcerated, Marvin Haynes, also 16 when police arrested him, was charged for an armed robbery-turned-murder and sentenced to life in prison. Haynes and Burrell were convicted based on jailhouse testimony that has been recanted.

Haynes spent 19 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. In December 2023, Haynes was exonerated and freed due, in part, to the acceptance of postconviction relief petition hearings despite the statute of limitations running out. In 2023, Unicorn Riot published a four-part investigative series on Haynes’ case along with a 33-minute film.

Burrell and Haynes are not outliers in the system. Just like Bobo and Ferguson aren’t. Authorities in Minneapolis have, for decades, been embroiled in a pattern of racist and discriminatory practices that have incarcerated large amounts of innocent people.

Nakisha Armstrong speaks during a protest on May 19, 2023 at the Hennepin County Government Center, standing next to the family of Marvin Haynes.

Without Postconviction Relief, Inmates and Families Stuck Waiting Years on CRU

Bobo submitted an application to Minnesota’s Conviction Review Unit (CRU) over a year ago. The underfunded CRU, run by Attorney General Ellison’s office, has yet to respond to the application. Ellison told Nakisha Armstrong during a 2023 public forum that she “hadn’t waited long enough” when she asked when the CRU would be reviewing Bobo’s application.

The CRU began accepting applications of wrongful convictions to review in August 2021. During the CRU Advisory Board meeting in January 2024, CRU Director Carrie Sperling reported that of 1,077 applications they’d received, at least 213 were pending review.

The CRU, with the support of the Great North Innocence Project, has freed one person since its inception. They vacated the 1998 conviction of Thomas Rhodes in January 2023.

On June 6, 2024, the CRU released the findings on their second full investigation, recommending the 2001 conviction of Brian Pippitt be vacated after 23 years and calling for his full exoneration. Pippitt’s release now depends on the Aitkin County Attorney’s office to review the evidence and CRU’s findings, which they’ve asked for an extension on.

At the June 14 press conference in the government center, long-time prisoner advocate David Boehnke stated that “there is every reason to believe that every one of those 200 cases sitting at the Conviction Review Unit right now are innocent people.”

Nakisha Armstrong has called on the help of new Hennepin County Attorney, Mary Moriarty, to free her sons’ father. Moriarty’s office has started accepting applications for the Prosecutor-Initiated Sentencing Adjustment (PISA) program which Michelle Gross says is good, but it’s moving too slow. “These things are taking too long while people sit in the prisons rotting their lives away, waiting for some measure of justice.”

Armstrong said that she hadn’t heard from Moriarty, she keeps “getting the run around” from CRU staff and that the Innocence Project has expressed interested in Bobo’s case.

Each of the men, Deaunteze Bobo and Jermaine Ferguson, have petitions on asking for signatures to help call for their release from prison.

Both men were featured in a Star Tribune article in October 2023 about a prison resource fair. Read portions of their statements below:

“Deaunteze Bobo and Jermaine Ferguson are serving life sentences. But they were there, moving from table to table, collecting folders and pamphlets and information to share with others.

‘Tools in my belt,’ Bobo said. The two friends have worked for years to help their peers return to life outside these walls. Those who don’t show up at the transition fair might get a nudge from these two and a stack of pamphlets about all the help available out there — help finding work, housing, counseling, health care.

‘That’s one of the things that just naturally feels good — to help people to be better, to put them in a better position,’ said Bobo, who was 18 years old when he was convicted of aiding and abetting a fatal drive-by shooting. That was 17 years ago. He will be eligible for parole in 2036. ‘I’m into building my community.

This is their 15th transitions fair at Rush City, helping others move on, year after year, as they remain.

‘I feel like it’s my responsibility, regardless of my wrongful conviction, to rebuild my community,’ Ferguson said. ‘Some of these guys are going back to communities that they came from and they don’t have the tools.

All the information and resources in the world won’t help someone who isn’t ready to listen or reach out for help. Ferguson and Bobo hope the young men on their way to a second chance will listen to them.

‘All my life I think I was given information, I was given positive tools, but I never knew how to use them,’ Ferguson said. ‘It was coming to prison and learning how to use these tools properly that changed my outlook in life. So now I’m giving back to my community.

But while they appeal their life sentences, they search for ways to give their lives meaning.

‘I do this for myself,’ Ferguson said. Eighteen years of incarceration has given him time for reflection and time to figure out what he sees as his purpose in life. ‘My purpose is to help people,’ he said. ‘It makes me feel good. It makes me happy.'”

Minnesota prison resource fairs pave the way for what comes next, Jennifer Brooks, Star Tribune – Oct. 2023

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