By BRAD MINOR
Argus-Press Staff Writer
CORUNNA — Doran Duncan of Lansing, who killed an Owosso man in a traffic crash while fleeing police in May 2018, was sentenced Friday by Judge Matthew Stewart to life without the possibility of parole for murder and other charges.
In August, Duncan, 29, was convicted in 35th Circuit Court of all six charges he was facing, including first-degree murder, carrying a concealed weapon, firearm possession by a felon, operating while intoxicated causing death and reckless driving causing death — all of which stem from a May 18, 2018, incident that ended in a collision with 84-year-old George Ramos’ vehicle in Venice Township at M-13 and I-69.
Michigan law requires any defendant convicted of first-degree murder be sentenced to life in with prison without parole. Additionally, any murder conviction in Michigan is automatically reviewed and appealed.
Friday, Duncan was admonished by Stewart for not paying attention during victim impact statements from Ramos’ family.
“We have victims of the deceased who are reading a poem and you can’t give them the respect to pay attention and listen. Could you at least give them that respect,” he said.
Two of Ramos’s daughters spoke about their father and explained that every morning he would write a poem for his wife. The siblings then shared one poem.
“Today I start an all new life, not alone but with my wife. I pray to God to know his will and for the strength to fulfill. My life has been a happy one, with children I’ve been blessed.
“A wife that has stood by me in sorrow and happiness. I haven’t been the man I should, I haven’t been that good. I wanted to be a better one, but somehow never could.
“There aren’t that many years to go, in fact I can’t ignore. So in the time that’s left for me, I hope for so much more. To spend the years with you my dear, in peace in hope and love and take each day as it may come and be blessed by God above.”
Following theimpact statements, Duncan offered brief remarks.
“I didn’t mean for this to happen. I think about the situation every night. An innocent man passed away I just wish the whole situation never happened,” he said.
Stewart called Duncan one of the most selfish defendants to come before his court, in part because he has seven children by four different women and is estranged from all of his children.
Ramos’ death brought to a conclusion an incident that began on M-13 in Saginaw County. Duncan’s then-girlfriend, Kayla Hitz, fired a weapon during an argument while the two were in her parked car along the side of the highway.
Hitz’s use of the firearm attracted attentionof passersby who called police. Before police arrived, the two resumed their drive, but a Shiawassee County sheriff’s deputy soon spotted the couple’s white Cadillac on M-13 in Shiawassee County and stopped the car. Hitz exited the vehicle and Duncan then jumped into the driver’s seat and fled south with then-Lennon Police Chief Rich Folaron in pursuit.
Minutes later, Duncan passed through Lennon and crashed into Ramos’ vehicle near the freeway interchange while traveling at about 104 mph, killing the elderly man.
Hitz was not charged in the chase or crash, but later pleaded guilty to a pair of minor charges, serving seven days in jail and paying a fine.
During his August trial, Duncan claimed the two weapons recovered at the scene were not his. He said he didn’t know Hitz had a .40 caliber pistol.
Prosecutors suggested the .40-caliber pistol was Duncan’s, rather than Hitz’s. Finnegan noted the .40-caliber pistol fit into a foam holster found at the crash scene on the passenger side of the car — where Duncan had been sitting. But defense attorney Doug Corwin pointed out that Hitz’s 9mm pistol also fit perfectly into the holster.
At Duncan’s trial, Corwin stated Duncan was “terrified for his life” and feared his surroundings as an African-American man in a predominantly white rural area as his reasoning for fleeing from a traffic stop on M-13.
“He’s a black man out in rural country and he had nobody there but rednecks with guns,” Corwin said. “We have a whole Black Lives Matter movement because of white police officers shooting blacks. You don’t think he was scared? Take a look at him. Wouldn’t you be scared for your life?”
Corwin also called into question the way evidence was collected from the vehicle Duncan was driving and suggested Shiawassee County special deputy Sam Safi could have contaminated the crash scene when he retrieved a firearm from the passenger side floorboard.
“Yet we have another civilian, there’s a problem,” Corwin said. “That’s why police officers are trained. That’s why they are professionals. They do their job right. Civilians aren’t… At the time of the accident, there were three seasoned officers who looked in that car. Sgt. (Brian) Smith looked, and there’s no gun or holster inside the car. (Then Lennon Police Chief) Rich Folaron saw nothing. Then Trooper (Denis) McGuckin, he looked in the car and didn’t see anything… Citizen Safi, he says, ‘No, no, I was outside the car and was moving around and I looked in and saw this gun handle sticking out from under the seat.’”
The Shiawassee County jury took less than three hours to convict Duncan on all counts.