2003'S TOP NEWS STORIES: Diversity's on, but power's off
- December 31, 2003
There were thousands of stories in the Motor City in 2003. Here are a
dozen that represent some of the most significant events and issues in
the area this year. Some had national and even international impact.
By FREE PRESS STAFF
High court splits in U-M policy case
2003'S TOP NEWS STORIES: A war and more
Bad news, good news
Come back to Page 1B in the Free Press on Friday for a preview of
people and issues to watch in the coming year.
For previous installments in this series, go to www.freep.com/specials
to read about the unforgettable lives of Michigan people who died in
2003, and the unusual news of the year.
In a case that sparked a nationwide debate, the U.S. Supreme Court
struck down in June the University of Michigan's 150-point admissions
system. The court found that the system, because it awarded 20 points
to blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and other minorities, didn't
give applicants enough individual consideration.
At the same time, the court upheld U-M's law school admissions policy,
reaffirming its past ruling that permitted race as a factor to promote
UPDATE: U-M replaced its application with a longer version requiring
multiple essays and more recommendations and socioeconomic data from
applicants. Enclosing information on an applicant's race is optional.
U-M is working out the kinks in the new system, which cost about $1.8
million to implement. The school has hired 30 new staffers to ensure
that each file is read at least twice.
Affirmative action continues to be a hot issue in Michigan. California
businessman and University of California regent Ward Connerly has
announced a campaign to put an anti-affirmative action initiative on
Michigan's November 2004 ballot. A Free Press poll suggests that as
many as two-thirds of Michigan residents favor a constitutional
amendment that would essentially negate the high court's ruling by
barring preferential treatment of women and minorities.
WAR ON TERROR
Trial in Detroit is first related to 9/11
U.S. District Court in Detroit was the site of the nation's first
terrorism court case related to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. After
the nine-week trial, Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, 37, of Minneapolis and
Karim Koubriti, 25, of Detroit were convicted of conspiring to provide
material support to terrorists and document fraud. Ahmed Hannan, 35,
of Detroit was convicted of document fraud. Farouk Ali-Haimoud, 22, of
Detroit was acquitted of all charges.
Prosecutors said the men planned to recruit, train and equip
terrorists to attack targets in the United States and overseas. The
men also were accused of planning to acquire weapons to ship overseas.
UPDATE: Despite the verdicts, the case seems far from over. In
October, lawyers for the three convicted men asked Judge Gerald Rosen
to toss out the jury's verdict or grant the defendants a new trial
because of alleged prosecutorial misconduct and judicial errors. In
December, the judge rebuked federal prosecutors for withholding
documents in the terrorism case. But he delayed a decision on ordering
a new trial.
Rosen ordered the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI to look for
material prosecutors should have turned over. The convicted men remain
in jail, awaiting sentencing.
Millions plunged into darkness
Starting around 4:14 p.m. on Aug. 14, power surges knocked out
electricity to 50 million people from Michigan to New York and Ontario
to Ohio. In Michigan, more than 2.3 million residents were left in the
dark for up to three days. And businesses such as grocery stores and
automotive suppliers lost millions of dollars because of the lack of
The outage forced Detroit Edison, the electricity subsidiary of DTE
Energy, to spend $16 million on costs associated with the blackout,
such as equipment repairs and overtime. That does not include $14
million the company lost because it could not provide power.
UPDATE: In October, a federal investigation blamed FirstEnergy Corp.,
an Ohio utility, for starting the blackout. That left open the
possibility that DTE Energy could sue to recover the millions of
dollars it lost. But the company said it was too soon to tell what it
would do. Detroit Edison is planning to seek a rate increase in
Michigan to recover some of the cost.
Mayor seeks control; charter plan fizzles
In November, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick made a bold announcement: He
wanted to take charge of the troubled Detroit Public Schools. Almost
immediately, his plan got bogged down in Lansing as critics at home
and skeptics in the state House hammered it.
In October, philanthropist Bob Thompson withdrew his offer to spend
$200 million to build 15 charter high schools in Detroit, blaming the
fractious debate over legislation to allow his project. Thompson's
decision snuffed out a smoldering effort between Democratic Gov.
Jennifer Granholm and Republican lawmakers to reach a compromise on
how to allow Thompson's schools and regulate all charter schools in
Michigan. Some Detroiters opposed the gift; Kilpatrick wavered on
UPDATE: By Christmas, Kilpatrick's legislative allies were trying to
broker a deal that would let Detroit voters choose between a modified
version of the mayor's plan and a traditional school board.
Ironically, Republicans who led the state takeover of Detroit schools
in 1999 were more enthusiastic about turning the schools over to
Kilpatrick than Democratic colleagues. Charters could be back on the
table in 2004.
Cop's firing turns rumors into news
For months, rumors had circulated throughout Detroit that Mayor Kwame
Kilpatrick had hosted a wild party at his official Manoogian Mansion
residence. But no news media outlet reported the gossip. Just as the
rumors appeared to have run their course, though, the mayor fired a
deputy police chief. Turns out that ranking cop was investigating
reports of the wild party, plus allegations of wrongdoing by the
mayor's security team.
The firing, as well as Free Press stories about rampant overtime run
up by Kilpatrick's bodyguards, prompted state Attorney General Mike
Cox to investigate. Kilpatrick proclaimed his innocence and blamed the
citywide buzz on the "demonic influence" of a ratings-hungry media.
Cox found fault with the firing of the deputy chief and the
bodyguards' conduct, but no criminal wrongdoing and no evidence of a
party, wild or otherwise. State Police continue to investigate.
UPDATE: The deputy chief, Gary Brown, filed a lawsuit against
Kilpatrick, former Police Chief Jerry Oliver and the city for $14
million. Lawyers are taking depositions from participants. Political
consultant Bob Berg testified in a deposition that he and Kilpatrick's
top aides decided to leak a confidential Police Department memo to the
news media, thinking the memo would help deflect allegations by Brown
against the mayor. This came at the same time Kilpatrick was
denouncing the media's feeding frenzy.
Articles spur action to lower lead threat
In January, the Free Press published a 5-day series on lead poisoning,
the single biggest health problem facing U.S. children. The Free Press
found that Michigan's lead-poisoned children often don't get help from
government cleanup programs; a Detroit lead smelter spewed toxic dust
into the air for decades, but the neighborhood around it was never
cleaned up; widespread lead contamination in soil is often ignored,
and few Michigan children are tested for lead.
UPDATE: As a result of the Free Press series and follow-up stories,
the federal Environmental Protection Agency has begun cleaning up the
neighborhood surrounding the former smelter. The Detroit City Council
has created a pilot program to help renters remove lead hazards from
their homes. And Gov. Jennifer Granholm has released a plan for
curbing lead poisoning.
Part of that plan included getting legislators to approve five bills.
Look for the full Senate to consider all five bills early in 2004.
Similar bills also are being studied by a House committee.
Cash-poor hospitals put on life support
Two of Detroit's hospitals, including the tri-county area's only
top-leveltrauma center, teetered on the brink of closing in 2003.
That's just one symptom of the fiscal cancer that is eating away at
the city's health care network.
Detroit has lagged behind other cities in applying for grants to run
clinics for poor people. Doctors in private practice have abandoned
the city in droves. Reimbursements from insurers, particularly the
state- and federally funded Medicaid program for poor people and those
with disabilities, have declined even as demand for care has
A panel appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm studied the situation and
recommended a $50-million tax-funded bailout of the two vulnerable
hospitals. The committee also called for the creation of a public
health authority that would oversee safety-net health care for the
county's poor and uninsured population.
The formal creation of the Detroit Wayne County Health Authority was
announced in December.
UPDATE: Officials are working out details on how the authority will
The City Council and Wayne County Commission still need to sign off on
the intergovernmental agreement before the authority can start
functioning. A board will be appointed and a search for a chief
executive launched shortly thereafter.
Wayne County Prosecutor Mike Duggan was appointed the new chief
executive officer of the financially imperiled Detroit Medical Center.
He takes the reins at a time when the future of the city's largest
health system is in question. The two hospitals being supported by the
public bailout -- Detroit Receiving and Hutzel Women's hospitals --
may or may not remain part of the privately operated DMC. Other DMC
hospitals may be closed or sold.
Governor asks the public where to cut
Newly elected Gov. Jennifer Granholm took the state's fiscal mess
directly to the public with two budget tours aimed at garnering
support for erasing almost $3 billion in red ink. A Democrat and the
state's first female governor, Granholm drew praise for striking a
deal with Republicans in the summer, and then again this month.
UPDATE: The final pieces of a deal to erase a $920-million deficit
fell into place before Christmas, including a 6-month delay of an
income tax cut. Republicans said they put their imprint of lower taxes
and smaller government on the budget. Granholm said it protects
funding for schools and health care for children, the elderly and
Wrongly freed man suspected in killings
Each year, there are some 100,000 serious crimes in metro Detroit.
This was one of the worst of 2003:
Daniel Franklin, a convicted drug dealer from Pontiac, was paroled
June 17 as a result of a clerical error in the state Department of
Corrections. He was angry with Machekia Robinson, who had divorced him
while he was in prison, several witnesses testified in August at his
preliminary examination. Franklin was upset that Robinson had his
belongings in her townhouse, that the name of a boyfriend was tattooed
on her stomach, and that she didn't want to see him anymore.
Police say Franklin, 33, raped Robinson, then slashed to death
Robinson and two of her children, Rockell Johnson, 10, and Taria
Johnson, 8. A third child, Robinson's and Franklin's 3-year-old
daughter, was found unharmed in the top of a bunk bed in the Pontiac
home the morning of June 22. In the bottom bunk, one of the child's
sisters lay for at least seven hours before the bodies were
discovered, according to testimony.
UPDATE: Franklin was ordered to stand trial on murder charges, and
will have his day in court early in 2004. The case was the catalyst
for a review of 470 paroles issued to prison inmates under a new state
law that allows more flexibility in paroling first-time drug
offenders. Similar clerical errors had let out 13 other parolees too
early, said state Corrections Department officials. They said the
problem has been corrected.
District spending gets scrutinized
The Oakland County intermediate school district was under fire most of
2003 amid allegations that some district employees used taxpayer money
to pay for lavish trips and that the district used special education
money to finance its new $30-million headquarters in Waterford.
In January, Superintendent James Redmond was fired amid allegations he
arranged secret buyouts for some employees and that he steered
district contracts to companies with which he had ties. In August,
after reports in the Free Press detailed travel expenses, two school
board members resigned. In November, the school board demoted the
acting superintendent, Dan Austin, saying the agency needed a set of
"fresh eyes" at the helm.
Throughout the year, some public officials have sought the
resignations of the three remaining board members who served during
Redmond's reign. Gov. Jennifer Granholm was among those asking that
the group step down.
UPDATE: On Dec. 18, the state Legislature approved a bill to give the
Michigan Attorney General's Office $660,000 to expand its
investigation of the Oakland Schools and several other intermediate
school districts. But the governor vetoed the bill on Dec. 24. The
district, meanwhile, is conducting a national search for a new
Brothers guilty in 18-year-old murders
For 18 years, investigators were unable to figure out what happened to
best friends Brian Ognjan of St. Clair Shores and David Tyll of Troy,
who disappeared while hunting in northern Michigan. Finally, police
located a witness to the killings. She said she had been afraid to
come forward because of the threats and reputation for ruthlessness of
the two suspects, Raymond (J.R.) Duvall, 52, and Donald (Coco) Duvall,
The Duvalls were charged with bludgeoning to death Ognjan and Tyll in
a dark field near Mio in November 1985, after a dispute of unspecified
origin. The Duvalls were each convicted Oct. 30 of two counts of
UPDATE: Declaring their innocence to the end, Raymond and Donald
Duvall were sent to prison in November for the rest of their lives.
After the sentencing, police vowed to continue tracking leads to try
to find the bodies of the victims, their truck or their belongings --
none of which were ever recovered. They also would not rule out
charges against others. Three men are thought to have watched the
beating, and others may have helped dispose of evidence. Some people
say they heard the Duvalls brag about feeding the bodies to pigs.
DETROIT, STERLING HEIGHTS
Leaders led out of two big cities
Detroit Police Jerry Oliver was an aggressive, by-the-book
administrator. So his resignation became inevitable after he had
become the focus of a criminal investigation by Wayne County
The probe stemmed from an Oct. 18 incident in which federal
authorities found a loaded .25-caliber handgun in Oliver's checked
baggage at Detroit Metro Airport. Oliver, 56, was charged Nov. 3 in
Wayne County with a misdemeanor count of possession of an unlicensed
handgun because the gun hadn't been registered in Michigan as required
by state law. He pleaded no contest to the charge, which will be wiped
from his record if he keeps his nose clean for 90 days. He resigned
Oct. 31. The Sterling Heights City Council fired City Manager Steve
Duchane Oct. 21 for a history of lying about his college education.
Duchane was city manager for 17 years, stabilizing a seat that had
been held by three people in the two years before he was promoted.
UPDATE: In November, it was revealed that more than two years before
the gun incident in Detroit, Oliver had had a similar run-in involving
a handgun at Richmond International Airport in Virginia when he was
chief there. The new Detroit police chief, Ella Bully-Cummings, is one
of the first women in the nation to head a big-city department.
Meanwhile,Duchane walked away with a $117,000 severance check and
health insurance for life. "I'm probably the only person in this room
that everyone knows everything about . . . and it will probably be
that way with every room I walk into forthe rest of my life," Duchane
saidafter being canned. Sterling Heights, the fourth most populous
city in Michigan, is searching for a new city manager.
Staff writers Jeff Bennett, Emilia Askari, Kim Norris, Chris
Christoff, Hugh McDiarmid Jr., Teresa Mask and M.L. Elrick contributed
to this report.