When 21-year-old Kosgar Lado confessed to the murder of Anthony Kye, a man who lived in his neighborhood, police immediately sensed that something was amiss. Lado’s revelation that he was responsible for the gunshots that struck Kye as he stood on the front stoop of his Lansing home with his fiancee on the night of June 26, 2013 was muddied by other comments he made throughout his interrogation – that people were laughing at him, that it was August instead of June, and that he was “weird” and “crazy.” And late in the interview he contradicted his confession by asserting four times that he didn’t shoot anybody.
Recognizing that Lado’s confession didn’t add up, Lansing police continued to investigate Kye’s murder while Lado was held in custody. Sure enough, within a few weeks they had dropped the murder charges against Lado, determining that the eyewitness account placing him at the scene was wrong. Other suspects were rounded up, and last week a 27-year-old man pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the case. End of story.
Except that Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III has decided to prosecute Lado for lying to police. The felony charge comes under a new law passed by the state legislature in 2012 that carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison.
It has been discovered since his interrogation that Lado, a Sudanese refugee who fled his homeland and arrived in the U.S. when he was just seven years old, is schizophrenic. He has also been found mentally incompetent to stand trial on the lying-to-police charge, a high bar to reach in legal terms since it means a defendant is so unwell that he cannot assist in his own defense.
Lado’s newly-discovered mental health problems make sense of his jumbled confession to police in the Kye murder. It also renders him highly fragile as he tries to navigate the criminal justice system. Family members say he has become “withdrawn and afraid of people since facing charges.”
Now, as the legal process takes its course, Lado faces up to 15 months in a psychiatric hospital while the state tries to restore his competence. A young man who has not been found guilty of any crime, Lado has been removed from his family and his home – not out of concern that he is a threat to himself or society, but because he was mistakenly accused and arrested, and confessed to a murder that he didn’t commit.
Dunnings is trying to hide behind legal procedure to escape the outcry that has swelled against his office for its handling of the case, saying it is his duty to ensure that an assessment of Lado’s criminal responsibility is made before he drops any charges. But Dunnings sidesteps the underlying critique that he should never have charged Lado in the first place. At the very least, commentators say, he ought to have dropped the charges after Lado was twice diagnozed with schizophrenia last October and November.
High-profile prosecutors and lawmakers have come out in defense of Lado:
James Shonkwiler, who headed the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan for 27 years before leaving in the late 1990s, said continuing to pursue the felony charge against Kosgar Lado is an inappropriate use of the law.
“This is a case that calls out for the prosecutor to exercise his or her discretion,” Shonkwiler said in an interview. “It’s an appropriate case for dismissal.”
Former state Rep. Lynne Martinez echoed those comments, saying in a statement released Tuesday that Lado “is a victim here, not a criminal.”
“He is of no risk to himself or others,” Martinez said. “His mental illness trapped him in the criminal court system. He should be released from the system.”
But so far, Dunnings is unmoved.
The Lansing State Journal editorial board puts the absurdity of the case into perspective:
For his part, Dunnings is sticking to the hard line that since Lado hadn’t been diagnosed as schizophrenic before he was questioned by police, he’s fair game for felony charges. It boggles the mind to think a confused immigrant from a violent country who was arrested by police in error would then maliciously and deliberately lie to incriminate himself. For what earthly reason?