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WHY THIS YOUNG MAN'S DEATH MATTERS

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As the two thugs departed, they told Michael they were going to kill him.
Outside, in a nearby field, Omar and Lonnie ran into Denise's brothers, Jermaine Kelly and the 16-year-old, Tyrone Davis.

Jermaine told police that Omar and Lonnie both warned that they intended to get Michael.

Tyrone would tell his sisters the same story, but then deny it when questioned by the police.

For some unexplained reason, Omar and Lonnie were readmitted into the apartment where Denise and Michael lived. We may never know why. One of the toughs was Denise's lover, which may explain it. Maybe it was the drugs.

Omar and Lonnie claim the dispute with Michael settled down, and, as the sun came up, everyone crashed. Denise and Michael were upstairs in their respective bedrooms, while Omar and Lonnie flopped in the living room.

At approximately 10:30 the next morning, Denise woke up with smoke filling her apartment. She escaped out a second-story window and watched from the sidewalk as Michael Despain was burned to death.

Neighbors saw Omar Wells, Lonnie Smith and Tyrone Davis, together, leaving the scene of the fire.

The day of the blaze, Detective Ed Reynolds applied for a search warrant.
On their affidavit, the cops, in their own words, spelled out the gay bashing that preceded Michael's death.

"According to Denise Street, Omar Wells and Lonnie Smith dislike Mike because they feel he is a transsexual. Omar and Lonnie got into a fight with Mike, pushing him several times and threatening to kill him . . . ," wrote Detective Reynolds.

In other words, when the police themselves had to explain to a judge what this case was all about, the cops, in plain English, described it as gay bashing.

But Omar and Lonnie, though initially detained, were not charged in this homicide. Instead, the police booked Tyrone. The cops arrested the teenager based upon nothing more substantial than allegations by, of all people, Omar and Lonnie.

These two tell the same story when it comes to fingering the 16-year-old.
Omar and Lonnie said their friend Tyrone showed up at Denise's town house at about 10 a.m. For no apparent reason, the teenager immediately tried to set his sister's carpet on fire, and when the rug would not burn, he torched the curtains.

All three then departed the burning apartment without a thought for the two people, Michael and Denise, asleep upstairs.

@rule:
@body:The problem with this remarkable story is that nowhere in the extensive police record is there a single, credible explanation about why Tyrone would want to burn Denise's town house down, kill Michael Despain and take a chance on murdering his own sister.

The closest the cops get to a rationalization for buying Omar and Lonnie's self-serving concoction is that neighbors had also seen Tyrone leaving the scene of three other fires, two in nearby fields and one in an abandoned apartment.

The suggestion is that Tyrone is an arsonist. The trouble with this information is that in each and every instance, the neighbors also saw Omar and Lonnie departing the scene with Tyrone.

All three of these guys might enjoy playing with matches, but only Omar and Lonnie had threatened to kill Michael Despain.

Omar and Lonnie had to tell the cops something to explain why Tyrone would commit such an inexplicable act.

This is what they came up with: Tyrone said he was going to be paid $3,000 for torching his sister's place.

This is an incredible fairy tale. One look around these threadbare projects and it is obvious that no one here has seen $3,000 in one place in a very long time. If the arrest of Tyrone Davis meant that the cops got the wrong man, the jailing did at least clear the books.

This was a homicide on the wrong side of the river. Michael Despain died in a low-income housing tract in a fire that didn't merit a second thought in the press. The cops have enough to do without obsessing over crimes no one gives a damn about.

In fact, the slate on this one was wiped clean so fast that Newell Despain, Michael's dad, told me the cops never bothered to mention to him that his son was the victim of gay bashing the night he died.

"The police didn't tell me anything about that," said Newell Despain, catching his breath. "Are you sure?"
Michael's mother is separated from Newell. She lives in Prescott, and did not know anything other than that her son had perished in a fire. Breaking down in tears, Karen Despain said she'd never heard of Omar Wells and Lonnie Smith. In a world with any sense of decency, no parent would get this horrifying information from a columnist.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey