Four-time Golden Gloves boxing champion Ray Gray, the Detroit man who’s spent nearly 50 years behind bars for a murder he and his longtime supporters insist he did not commit, is hopeful that he could soon be released from a Michigan state prison.
For nearly five decades, Gray, 69, has maintained his innocence in the 1973 shooting death of 23-year-old Army veteran Reuben Bryant in a Euclid Street apartment on the city’s west side.
Earlier this year, attorney Gabi Silver filed a motion in Detroit’s Third Circuit Court requesting Gray’s immediate release from the Muskegon Correctional Facility.
Part of Silver’s motion includes a sworn affidavit from Willie Allen Merriweather, an inmate who says that, following the verdict in Gray’s original 1973 trial, Merriweather’s cellmate, Tyrone Pugh, informed him that he (Pugh) and another individual were the ones who actually committed the crime for which Gray was convicted.
That evidence was never admitted at trial.
Silver, the attorney who famously helped Richard Phillips overturn his wrongful murder conviction after 46 years, is hopeful that Gray will finally find the justice he seeks.
Judge Margaret Van Houten has referred Gray’s case back to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Conviction Integrity Unit, headed by veteran criminal defense attorney Valerie Newman. The CIU last examined the case back in 2019.
Based on the CIU’s recommendation, Judge Van Houten could deny the motion, order a new trial, or possibly grant Gray his outright release.
A timetable on the judge’s decision remains unclear.
Over the years, Gray has repeatedly tried and failed to find relief through the court system. But earlier this year, Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy said she would be “fully on board” with a commutation of his life sentence.
Last October, New York-based innocence advocate Gary Weingarten filed an application for commutation with the Michigan state parole board on behalf of Gray. That application remains pending in Lansing.
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In a new development, Metro Times has obtained an exclusive interview with the family of the murder victim.
Reached at his west-side Detroit home last month, retired Wayne County Sheriff’s deputy Marvin Bryant, the sole surviving sibling of murder victim Reuben Bryant, said he would support Gray’s release.
“I hate that [Ray] is the wrong man and has been locked up all these years,” Bryant told Metro Times. “Personally, I’d like to see the man go. I’m not trying to stick the guy no longer than what he’s been in. Forty-eight years is a long time. … If Kym (Worthy) decides that she wants to let him out, then I’m with it — let him go.”
At Gray’s trial in April of 1973, his then attorney, Richard Monash, advised him to accept a bench trial rather than a jury trial.
Based on questionable eyewitness testimony and despite the fact that there was no physical evidence placing him at the scene of the crime, Gray, then 21, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison by Judge Justin Ravitz, the 32-year-old “radical” lawyer who had just been elected to the bench.
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Last week, Metro Times spoke with the only other surviving witness to the murder, Reuben Bryant’s former girlfriend Darlene Hardy.
At the time in 1973, Hardy was just 16 years old.
In the middle of a torrential downpour, Metro Times caught up with Hardy over eggs and hash browns at a Waffle House outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. She says she had never met Gray prior to the incident. But to this day, she remains convinced he was the man who killed Reuben Bryant.
“I’m not his redeemer,” she says. “It’s in God’s hands now.”
Gray’s ex-girlfriend Barbara Jean Hill, one of two surviving witnesses to the botched robbery of Feb. 6, 1973, still maintains that Gray is innocent. She recently signed an affidavit identifying another man, Charlie Mathews, as the assailant.
In 1980, Mathews actually signed an affidavit confessing to his involvement in the crime, but blamed the shooting on Pugh, who had died in a shootout with Washtenaw County police in 1979.
Mathews was never charged.
In 1983, in the wake of his signed confession, Mathews was brought before Judge Ravitz to testify. But when sworn in under oath, Mathews pleaded the Fifth.
He later agreed to take a polygraph test, but when the polygrapher showed up at Jackson prison, authorities were unable to find him.
Sources close to Mathews say he died sometime around 2015. Metro Times has not been able to confirm this.
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In addition to his case before the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office and his pending application for commutation, Gray has another possible road to freedom: admit his guilt in Bryant’s death — even though he’s insisted all along that he wasn’t at the scene of the crime on the night in question.
“It’s like they want him to lie and say he had something to do with this, to admit to something that’s not true,” says Gray’s sister Phyllis Long. “I just want to see my brother come home — like so many other innocent people have.”
“I’ve maintained my innocence all these years,” Gray tells Metro Times, “and it hasn’t helped me none. I could’ve been out if I’d admitted I did something I didn’t do.
“A person should have something that they’re willing to lay their life down for,” Gray adds, “and that’s one of the things that I lay my life down for — the truth. I did not kill that man.”
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