Justice derailed? Newschannel 3 I-Team looks at possible charges against a lawyer

Geoffrey Upshaw

A West Michigan criminal defense attorney might soon need a lawyer of his own.

The Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Office has requested charges against Geoffrey Upshaw -- accusing him of smuggling a cellphone into the county jail. There's also the potential for a charge of witness tampering, as county prosecutors in open court have questioned whether Upshaw was involved in an attempt to coerce a witness to lie on the stand.

"These allegations are among the most disturbing I’ve heard in the 25 years that I’ve been practicing law,” Kalamazoo Count Circuit Court Judge Gary Giguere said when the accusations against Upshaw were heard in open court.

"The allegations here are so serious and so extreme,” Giguere said.

Upshaw represented Benjamin Shepard in a robbery case. During the trial, the question became was a weapon involved? No weapon in the robbery would mean less jail time for Shepard.

The key witness in the case was Shepard's then-girlfriend, Amber Fox.

“Did you see him pick up a bat?” a prosecuting attorney asked during the trial. “No, I did not,” responded Fox.

But there was a problem with Fox’s testimony: It didn't match up with cellphone video of the robbery showing clear images of a bat.

“It (the cell phone video) contradicts the testimony of Ms. Fox," said Richard Barnard, an assistant prosecuting attorney for Kalamazoo County. “I don't know if she's confusing dates. I don't know if she got on the stand and lied."

Fox was charged with perjury. The Kalamazoo County woman later told Barnard that Upshaw told her to lie.

“Basically, she alleges she was handed an envelope with a statement -- part of it in Mr. Shepard's writing, part of it later determined to be Mr. Upshaw's writing -- [that] told what to say at the preliminary hearing,” Barnard said in open court. "Ms. Fox also accuses Mr. Upshaw of relaying a message from Ben that he would give her $5,000 to not speak with the detective; and she's alleging that she's gotten thousands of dollars wired to her through Western Union."

There's also a question of how a cellphone ended up in Shepard's Kalamazoo County Jail cell.

The prosecutor said text messages between Shepard and his new girlfriend, Skylar Austin, show them strategizing on how to kill the armed robbery victim.

Court video reveals Upshaw felt his life was in danger.

“Mr. Upshaw told me this morning that he believes this a plot against him due to the threats he's been receiving,” Barnard said.

“He’s (Upshaw) now under a cloud of suspicion involving a potential capital case against him, the loss of his law license; there's a variety of potential penalties that are hanging over the head of Mr. Upshaw,” Giguere said.

Those penalties include a possible felony charge, stemming from accusations by the sheriff's office regarding the smuggling of contraband into the jail.

When the Newschannel 3 T-team paid a visit to Upshaw’s Kent County home, he first claimed he didn’t know anything about the case. When the I-Team pressed for answers, the seasoned attorney quickly changed his tune saying that he’d get back with us.

Upshaw never did get back with us. He was removed from the case and Benjamin Shepherd got a new lawyer.

Shepard was sentenced to 17 to 50 years after pleading guilty to armed robbery.

As for Amber, she pled guilty to perjury and agreed to cooperate with the prosecutor. Her perjury charge will be thrown out if she completes probation without any problems.

Kalamazoo County Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Getting is now reviewing the case.

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