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140147 - People v Grissom (James)

The People of the State of Michigan,
Timothy K. Morris
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)
(St. Clair – Deegan, P.)
James Eugene Grissom,
Christine A. Pagac


​The complainant claimed that, shortly after noon on May 12, 2001, James Grissom physically and sexually assaulted her in her car in the parking lot of the Fort Gratiot Meijer store. According to the complainant, Grissom penetrated her both with his finger and with his penis. Although she later gave a detailed account of the assault, she did not initially report being raped. Her husband later testified that he knew that something was wrong at the time; when the complainant returned home, she told him that she had been physically attacked, but did not immediately report the sexual assault, her husband said. According to her husband, the complainant had a cut by her mouth and was “incoherent” and “rambling,” but neither of them contacted the police that day. Two days later, the complainant provided the same limited information to the police, who treated the incident as an attempted carjacking, and to her treating physician. On May 15, the complainant did tell a friend that she was sexually assaulted; the friend advised her to tell her husband. Later that day, the complainant told her husband some details of the sexual assault, but not about the penile penetration; on May 16, she told the complete story to her gynecologist, who sent her to an emergency room. The emergency room physician who examined the complainant concluded that her injuries were consistent with forceful penetration, but the doctor did not rule out other reasons for the injuries. The complainant, who was accompanied by her husband, told the emergency room doctor about the digital penetration, but not about the penile penetration.

The complainant did not report the full details of the assault to the police until about a year later; while driving near the Fort Gratiot Meijer, she spotted the person who she thought attacked her. She identified Grissom as her alleged attacker by reviewing photographs at the police station. She did not select Grissom at a line-up; an investigating detective noted that Grissom had shaved his beard and mustache, and cut his hair, before the line-up. But the complainant did describe a ring that Grissom once owned; several months before trial, she also stated that Grissom had a skull tattoo on his upper arm, which he did. At the trial, which took place in 2003, evidence was presented that Grissom worked at the Meijer store on the day of the assault. A jury convicted Grissom of two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct; he was sentenced to 15 to 35 years in prison.

Grissom filed a motion for relief from judgment, seeking a new trial; he contended that newly-discovered evidence showed that the complainant was a liar. The information included a sheriff’s report from 2005, showing that the complainant contacted the sheriff’s department to report that she had been sexually assaulted by both her brother and her father when she was a child. She also claimed to have been a rape and kidnapping victim in California in 2001, but later admitted that this was not true. Grissom also produced several reports from Bakersfield, California, showing that the complainant disappeared from a restaurant parking lot, that the complainant alleged that she had been kidnapped, and that she told various people that she had been raped several times, including in a restaurant parking lot. The complainant later denied that some of these events occurred. In addition, Grissom produced a Fresno, California police report, which was based on a statement from one of the complainant’s California acquaintances. According to this report, the complainant alleged that she had been gang-raped by her brother and his friends, who were convicted, and that her brother assaulted her again when he was released from prison; according to the police report, the complainant admitted that some of her previous accusations were false. The report concluded that the complainant had lied to her friends, family, and police, and was “possibly mentally unstable.”

The trial court denied Grissom’s motion for a new trial, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling in a split unpublished per curiam opinion. The majority concluded that some of the statements in the California police reports were inadmissible based on relevance or hearsay grounds, or due to Michigan’s rape shield law. Moreover, the majority said, the newly-discovered information did not contain substantive evidence bearing on the offense for which Grissom was convicted. Because the new information would be used merely for impeachment purposes, it was not grounds for a new trial, the majority held. The majority added that significant evidence implicated Grissom that did not involve the complainant’s credibility: Grissom was at the scene of the crime on the date and time that it allegedly occurred, and several doctors concluded that the complainant’s physical condition was consistent with an assault and rape. Moreover, the victim told several people within a short time that she was raped, and the core of her story did not change, the majority noted. The Court of Appeals majority also noted that Grissom denied, then later admitted, owning the ring described by the complainant, that he had the tattoo the complainant described, and that he changed his appearance for the line-up – all indicia of his guilt. The newly-discovered evidence did not make a different result probable on retrial, the majority concluded.

But the dissenting Court of Appeals judge contended that many of the statements in the police reports would be admissible, and that they supplied powerful ammunition for impeaching the complainant’s credibility. Moreover, the dissent said, Grissom has a constitutional right under the Confrontation Clause to question the complainant about her prior allegations. People v Hackett, 421 Mich 338, 348 (1984). The newly-discovered evidence strongly supports the assertion that the complainant suffers from emotional problems that predate the Michigan events; the information provides either a motive or an explanation for her fabrications about multiple sexual assaults, the dissent stated. Cross-examination directed at exposing the complainant as a habitual liar would have changed the entire complexion of the case, and it was reasonably likely that Grissom would have been acquitted, the dissenting judge concluded. Grissom appeals.