Lee Parker, Jr. request for new trial denied

(Alek Haak-Frost|Watershed Voice)

Following an evidentiary hearing Monday in St. Joseph County Circuit Court, Judge Paul Stutesman denied a motion requesting a new trial in the case of Lee Parker, Jr.

The 25-year-old was convicted of assault with intent to commit murder and felony firearm in 2021 in the shooting of Grace Hussey, who was shot in the head near River Trail Apartments in Three Rivers on April 9, 2020. Parker is currently serving a minimum of 17 years and a maximum of 60 years in prison.

The Michigan Court of Appeals had previously remanded the case to St. Joseph County Circuit Court on March 18 for an evidentiary hearing to decide whether Parker should be granted a new trial on the basis of newly discovered evidence.

The court heard testimony from four individuals Monday, including Kaitlyn Beauchamp, Makala “Sunshine” Swinehart, Three Rivers Deputy Police Chief Sam Smallcombe, and Det. Steve Dibble.

Beauchamp, who lived with Swinehart for a “couple of months” between August 2021 and the end of that year, testified that Swinehart confessed that she, not Parker, shot Hussey. According to Beauchamp, Swinehart was intoxicated most of the time they lived together, and was in a similar state of inebriation the “three or four times” she told Beauchamp she shot Hussey.

Swinehart allegedly told Beauchamp that Swinehart “could have a teardrop tattoo because she tried to kill herself and it didn’t work, and she tried to kill ‘old girl’ and it didn’t work.” Defense attorney Joel Kershaw asked if Beauchamp had an understanding of who Swinehart was referring to when she said “old girl,” and Beauchamp responded, “Grace.”

When Swinehart took the stand Monday, she admitted to telling “five to 10 people” she shot Hussey but it wasn’t true. While she was angry with Lee, she wanted to protect his reputation because she loved him, and was carrying their child at the time. “I was angry at Lee because I was pregnant with his baby and he risked his family.”

Swinehart said she was in Lawton the night of the shooting, approximately 25 miles northwest of Three Rivers, at her aunt and uncle’s house. She was dropped off by her uncle at Parker’s apartment the next morning around 9 a.m., which was corroborated by Smallcombe’s testimony, who was observing the apartment at the time while he and other officers waited on a warrant.

Swinehart said once she was in the apartment Parker told her he “hurt Grace” but then “took it back.” Shortly thereafter Three Rivers Police entered the residence with a warrant, arrested Parker, and brought Swinehart in for questioning. Initially Swinehart acted as Parker’s alibi, telling police she was with him the whole night, and he never left the apartment. But prior to trial, police told her she could be charged with obstructing if she lied on the stand, so she chose not to testify.

On Monday, Swinehart was asked if she had seen “the old revolver” the couple had in the apartment prior to the shooting. Swinehart said she saw it a couple of days earlier, when she considered using the weapon to rob someone but ultimately decided against it. She said she didn’t see the weapon the day Parker was arrested or ever again. Swinehart also admitted to sending threatening Facebook messages to Hussey from her personal account as well as Parker’s account the night of the shooting.

In closing remarks, Kershaw argued the defense met the burden required to grant Parker a new trial based on the testimony and evidence presented at Monday’s hearing. He added that Swinehart lying to “protect Lee” doesn’t track, but speculated that lying because she is upset Lee is in jail for “a crime he didn’t commit” does.

St. Joseph County Prosecutor David Marvin said while the evidence presented Monday is “inconvenient,” it didn’t qualify as new information that couldn’t have been gathered prior to the 2021 trial or the subsequent hearings held in hopes of granting Parker a new trial.

In order to be granted a new trial, new evidence must be material and not cumulative evidence based on factors already presented. It must be newly found evidence not known during the initial proceedings. The reason the evidence was not found until now can’t be the result of a lack of diligence. Lastly, the new evidence must be substantial enough that its inclusion would likely result in a different verdict at trial.

Stutesman said he doesn’t think the admission from Swinehart qualifies as new evidence, nor would it make a difference in a retrial. He said Swinehart couldn’t provide “any details about how the shooting occurred” or an explanation, “she would simply say, ‘I did it.'”

“For those reasons, I’m denying the motion.”