When Thomas and Raymond Highers were found guilty of the murder of Robert Karey, their attorney, Kevin Zieleniewski, knew he had to do something.
Kevin was living in Detroit, Michigan when Robert was killed. He recalled that his old roommate, John Hielscher, said he was there the night of the tragedy. In Dateline: Graduation Night, viewers learn about the horrific murder and how Kevin and John helped investigate.
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Who are Kevin Zieleniewski and John Hielscher?
Robert Karey was a well-known drug dealer in Detroit, Michigan. On June 26, 1987, he was shotgun killed in his own home. Around this time, Kevin was going to law school in Detroit, and he and John Hielscher shared a room. Shortly after Robert was killed, Kevin found out that his roommate was at the victim’s house that night to buy some marijuana. But John said that just as they were about to ask about the drug, they saw a group of black people, including two people with guns, go to the back door of the house. They abandoned their plan to get drugs and quickly ran away. John and his friends ran away when they heard two loud gunshots. After that everything went quiet. But neither John nor Kevin told police what they saw during the initial murder investigation. Instead, they kept their information to themselves.
Thomas Culberson, another eyewitness, came forward and said he saw two white men running away from the scene shortly after the murder. Also, a man named Jamie Lawrence told police he overheard Thomas Highers speaking about the robbery and murder of Robert Karey. This appeared to be another major breakthrough for the police force. Jamie also said that Thomas and his brother, Raymond Highers, owed the victim money, which would have given them reason to kill him.
When police questioned Thomas and Raymond Highers, they said they were innocent and had nothing to do with what happened. But Thomas Culberson singled out Raymond from a group of photos and said he was the one clearly seen running from the scene. Because the testimony was so unequivocal, police arrested the Highers’ brother and charged him with first-degree murder, assault with intent to kill and possession of a weapon in commission of a crime. Thomas and Raymond pleaded not guilty in court but were ultimately found guilty on all charges. In 1988 they were sentenced to life without parole for first-degree murder, plus a few extra years for the other crimes. After that, the law would not change convictions no matter how many petitions or motions were filed.
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Where are Kevin Zieliewski and John Hielscher today?
Kevin Zieliewski became involved in the case in 2009 when he read about it on Facebook and found out that Thomas and Raymond had been found guilty. He saw that the two people in prison were white, but he recalled his roommate John talking about gun-toting blacks. Then Kevin called John and tried to get him to testify on the brother’s behalf. The show says John wasn’t sure at first whether to testify, but he soon decided to stand up for what was right. They took their evidence to the Highers brothers’ defense attorney, and the attorneys quickly filed a motion for a new trial.
At the hearing for the motion, both John and another individual named James Gianunzio said they saw armed black men walking to Robert’s door before the shotgun went off. Based on the testimony, the judge finally agreed to a new trial. Tomas and Raymond Highers were released on bail in 2012, but prosecutors dropped all charges against them in 2013.
Since then, John Hielscher has decided to pursue a private life and is not very active on social media. That makes it hard to know where he is now. On the other hand, Kevin Zieliewski appears to currently be living and working as an attorney in Washington, DC. Readers may find it interesting to know that Kevin was on the show Dateline and spoke about how he helped the Highers brothers clear their names.
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