PONTIAC, Mich. (WXYZ) — A murder trial more than a decade old is back under review after investigators say key witnesses recanted their statements.
Back in July 2010, Hayes Bacall shot and killed his nephew Saif Jameel inside Jameel's gas station business. Investigators say the dispute was over money that Jameel owed to Bacall.
Hayes was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, but prosecutors and defense attorneys are now looking to set aside the original sentence and enter a lesser charge of second-degree murder. Prosecutors say the original conviction "hangs on by a thread."
The immediate family of Jameel said they were disappointed to hear that a change in verdict was a possibility.
"In one night our whole life changed, me and my kids. (Bacall) came in to kill my husband. He murdered my husband. He went there to my husband's business to kill him. (He) shot him 12 times," said Jennifer Jameel, the widow of Saif Jameel.
Jameel’s widow Jennifer told 7 Action News crews she didn’t want to be shown on camera because of the tension surrounding the case. She says she questions the timing of the investigation and validity of the witnesses' new statements.
"Why after 12 years they want to come over here and change their testimony 100%," said Jameel. "It’s very hard for my family to relive this again. We already lived this."
Attorneys say Bacall has filed several appeals in his case that have been denied including most recently asking for a new trial in March of 2023. Wednesday, the Oakland Prosecutor's Office and defense attorneys for Bacall stood in front of a judge after filing a joint motion for relief from judgment.
The Oakland County Prosecutor's office says this case review came by way of the Conviction Integrity Unit which was established last year. The CIU unit works to make the criminal justice system in Oakland County more fair and accountable and to remedy past injustices. They say Bacall's case was one of many waiting for review.
Wednesday during a hearing in Oakland County Circuit Court, CIU Investigator Beth Greenberg Morrow stood beside David Williams with the county prosecutor's office to present the mistakes made during the original trial.
Greenberg Morrow says during the first trial, the assistant prosecutor lied during closing rebuttal, claiming the defendant's use of self-defense was something fabricated for trial. The CIU investigation also showed that jurors presented a unanimous second-degree murder verdict to the judge but were sent back to deliberations without further/more clear instructions. Attorneys say the jurors later returned with a first-degree murder verdict.
The Oakland County Prosecutor's office also said two key witnesses, one of which is the victim's brother, came forward to recant their original statement. Both have given investigators new statements, which investigators say are more in line with the original statements given to police immediately after the shooting rather than their trial testimonies.
"In terms of the brother, he stated in his interview what his motivation was: he’s matured and realized he was out for revenge when he originally testified and now, as a mature individual, he stated in his interview that he can’t live with himself knowing that what he testified was not the truth," said Greenberg Morrow.
The prosecutor's office says the witnesses have not been offered immunity for potential perjury charges down the line.
Jameel says she believes the witnesses may have been pressured by other close family members to recant their statements. She also says she’s concerned that family members of Bacall made donations to the current prosecutor Karen McDonald's campaign.
A spokesperson for the Oakland County Prosecutor's office confirmed that records show four people related to Bacall made donations of about $8,000 total. However, the OCPO says they had no knowledge of this until a few days ago when they were asked for comment from a news outlet. They also clarified that the campaign donations were not a bribe in any way.
The OCPO added that the CIU investigators are completely separate.
When a judge or a victim or a prosecutor has been through a trial, it’s very hard to accept that they say or took part in something that’s a wrongful conviction. No one wants to be a part of that. So I understand why they’re upset but there’s just no basis for that.
Politics will never play any role in the decision-making in our office and it had nothing to do with the independent Conviction Intervention unit investigation here.
Family members supporting Bacall were present in court Wednesday but declined comment. Defense attorneys also passed on comment.
Jameel’s widow and kids say they’re hoping the judge will uphold the original verdict.
"The judge is intelligent. my husband's blood is in her hands. I hope she can see through all of them," said Jameel.
It's unclear when the judge may make a decision in this case. Judge Mary Ellen Brennan says she will be working to review full recordings of the original trial and comparing witness testimony to determine their validity.
Prosecutors say despite the potential verdict change, there is no possibility of Bacall's release from prison.