Cousins Could Get Separate Juries

By Gordon Wilczynski, Macomb Daily Staff Writer

A judge Monday said he will consider a request by lawyers representing two cousins in a first-degree murder case for two separate juries in an upcoming trial.

Visiting Circuit Judge Roland Olzark told the attorneys for Kenneth R. Witherspoon and Herbert J. Witherspoon, both of Detroit, to put their motions in writing and submit them to the court.

Olzark denied motions by attorneys Michael Rataj and Rowland Short for two separate trials. Rataj and Short said testimony could be prejudicial against their clients.

Short said a key piece of evidence in the case, a glove found near the body of Rico White, the man the Witherspoons are accused of killing, could have been planted by anyone. Warren police Detective Cpl. Keith Keitz said the glove belonged to Kenneth Witherspoon and that the defendant's DNA was found on it.

Herbert and Kenneth Witherspoon are accused in the January 2008 kidnapping of five people, including White, and killing White in a drug dispute. White's body was found with several bullet wounds to the head on Geise Street, near Van Dyke and south of Seven Mile Road, in Detroit.

White's family, which included his 29-year-old fiancée, their 3-year-old daughter and her 9-year-old son were kidnapped from their home on Gail Drive in Warren and released on Canyon and Gateshaw streets - near Moross and Interstate 94 - in Detroit.

Macomb County assistant prosecutor Steven Kaplan argued against two separate trials and two separate juries. He said two separate trials would be too costly and that the juries could come up with inconsistent verdicts.

He also said he is concerned for the safety of the witnesses because of the viciousness of the two Witherspoon cousins.

Olzark asked Kaplan if he would object to two separate juries.

"I've done it before," Olzark said. "It can be done."

Rataj replied, "My client's constitutional rights are paramount, not the inconvenience of a jury."

Rataj also said he couldn't do anything about the fact that hearing judge, Diane Druzinski, has a busy docket.

Olzark is subbing this week for the vacationing Druzinski.

Warren police said they are in charge of the murder investigation because the kidnapping started in Warren.

Keitz said police are still looking for other people in connection with the case.