Appeals court upholds conviction in killing of Sterling Heights man

bilde.jpgChristine Ferretti/ The Detroit News
Mount Clemens— The state Court of Appeals has affirmed a Saginaw man’s conviction in the 2009 shooting death of his brother-in-law, a Sterling Heights resident. 

In a 10-page opinion issued Tuesday, the appeals court denied a new trial for 43-year-old Salam Shaker Zora, who is serving a 15- to 30-year prison sentence on a second-degree murder conviction in the Jan. 23, 2009, death of Najem Matti. He must also serve two consecutive years on a firearm conviction.

Zora’s appeal alleges prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective counsel and a biased jury pool.

Zora allegedly shot Matti, 37, five times — three in the back — in the driveway of Matti’s home near 17 Mile and Ryan in an allegedly dispute over money. Zora’s attorneys argued at trial that Zora fired the shots in self-defense after Matti came at him yelling a “war cry” and armed with a two-pronged barbecue fork and butcher knife.

In December 2009, former Macomb County Circuit Judge James M. Biernat denied Zora’s request for a new trial.

The appeals court has affirmed Biernat’s ruling, rejecting Zora’s assertion that “false and nonexistent” evidence presented by the prosecution. The court also disagreed with Zora’s claim that the trial prosecutor failed to provide discovery in a timely manner and attempted to suppress evidence.

Zora claims that his counsel was ineffective for failing to call witnesses and experts to support his self-defense claim were also rejected by the appeals court.

Zora went on to argue that the entire jury pool was “tainted” and should have been removed because of “some prospective jurors’ negative opinions about Chaldeans.”

The appeals court ruling states that one prospective juror indicated that he had witnessed a fight between six Chaldeans on the morning of the first day of trial. When asked how he knew they were speaking Chaldean, the juror responded “they looked like the people who work at the gas stations and party stores in the area.”

The juror was removed.

“The record does not support defendant’s claim that the jury was exposed to extraneous influences that tainted it,” the ruling says. “Defendant has not identified any record evidence that any impaneled juror was biased against him because of his nationality.”

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