By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
LINCOLN PARK — A Wayne County Circuit Court jury took just over an hour Monday to find Gerald Dennis guilty of killing his sister in Februrary 2012.
Prosecutors in the matter of the Lincoln Park man accused of murdering his sister presented a range of physical evidence during last month’s jury trial. Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Raj Prasad said the many exhibits, photos and DNA samples were consistent with Dennis’ confessional statement of Gerald, 33, who was found guilty of second-degree murder.
“There was only one witness to the murder,” Prasad said. “Mr. Dennis was the only eyewitness to the crime.”
In February 2012 police responded to the home when Deborah Siefert was found by another resident — a man and woman had been living in a basement apartment — and found Siefert dead, the victim of blunt force trauma.
Dennis was in custody the following day, and during several interviews with Lincoln Park Lt. Joe Lavis, admitted to having beaten his sister with a metal rod — “Three or four good shots to the head,” as Lavis testified Feb. 20 — because he’d grown angry over what he called an abusive situation.
Prasad said the relationship between Siefert and Dennis was strained and that there had been reported histories of drug abuse and mental illness.
“It definitely was a family tragedy,” Prasad said. “There were long-term drug abuse issues and other allegations.”
Those claims were featured in testimony by family members, who confirmed a history of drug use that had been further encouraged by then-roomates Jamill Jenkins, 33, and Jill Kramer, 57, who lived in the basement. Dennis had complained that his sister used his disability checks to buy drugs, among other factors.
Unraveling the story took time. Dennis was twice sent for mental competency evaluations in the months and years between the murder and trial before both prosecutors and defense counsel James Schlaff were satisfied last fall that he was capable of understanding the charges against him and participating in his own defense.
As recounted in court, Dennis’ statements to police changed during three separate interviews, but only one version was consistent with the evidence collected during the investigation.
“There were three different tapes,” Prasad said, “that changed from blaming his co-resident (Jenkins), to saying it was him and Jenkins and then finally he admitted he was the one who did it. It became a devil-in-the-details kind of thing: His confessions blamed other people that didn’t match up to the physical evidence.”
Dennis confessed to and acknowledged he had hit his sister with a metal rod. Dennis told investigators precisely where to find the rod that he had hid in the backyard.
“He finally gave a statement that was consistent with the evidence,” Prasad said. Evidence presented in court included the metal rod and blood-stained clothing that had been worn by Dennis.
“I couldn’t take no more,” Dennis reportedly told police.
Dennis is scheduled for sentencing on March 14 before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Qiana Denise Lillard. Had the jury chosen to convict Dennis of first-degree murder he would have been subject to life in prison without possibility of parole. The lower conviction requires mandatory prison time, the exact length of which will be determined next week.
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected])