'Killer in Question': Who is Jeff Titus? ID show's first episode revisits his conviction in 1990 murder case
The first episode – ‘The Hunted' – features the 1990 case of hunters Doug Estes and Jim Bennett who were shot dead
A murder always makes news. A case draws attention not just when a culprit is convicted but also sometimes when there are doubts if the correct person has been punished. Investigation Discovery’s new miniseries ‘Killer in Question’ explores those cases where questions still arise, even after they appear to be “solved”. The show will examine four stories of adjudicated cases, where there are certain doubts regarding the verdict. The series will take viewers through critical crime scenes, key questioning and newfound evidence. Each episode will feature both sides of the story. However, the conclusion is up for interpretation and the viewer is left to decide: was justice served or does the evidence just not add up?
The first episode – ‘The Hunted' – features the 1990 case of hunters Doug Estes and Jim Bennett. They were found shot to death in a state gaming area. Police suspected Jeff Titus, the man who owned the property next door, but he was cleared by alibi witnesses. However, nearly a decade later, reinvestigation by a cold case team led detectives back to Titus and he was convicted of the murders.
Who is Jeff Titus and where is he now?
According to The New York Times, on November 17, 1990, the bodies of Doug Estes and Jim Bennett were found in the woods of Kalamazoo County. They were hunting separately on a piece of land known as the Fulton State Game Area. Until 2000, the murders remained unsolved. The cold case detectives took a closer look at a suspect cleared a decade earlier – Titus. The suspect was a Marine veteran and police officer at a nearby Veterans Affairs hospital, whose land bordered the preserve on which the killings took place. In 2002, Titus was convicted and is currently in prison at Lakeland Correctional Facility. He has always maintained his innocence.
The NYT story also states that two days after the murders, Titus had found a gun that belonged to one of the victims and it had been wiped clean. This appeared odd to the first set of detectives, whereas the cold case team found it implicating. The suspect’s co-workers at the hospital stated that he told them that he hated to see hunters walk across his land. It seemed that Titus wasn’t that popular as there were plenty of witnesses against him. However, he had an alibi.
The report states, when the crimes were committed he had been hunting 27 miles away. Two witnesses had seen a car stuck in a ditch right after two gunshots were heard. They had offered to help the driver get out. One witness, a neighbor of Titus’s, said it wasn’t him. The two witnesses helped in a police sketch, which looked a lot like Thomas Dillon, a serial killer who was active in Ohio at that time. His modus operandi: killing hunters, fishermen and other outdoorsmen. But Dillon died while in prison for the murder of other hunters.
The current situation
According to a report by MLive, the case has been under review since 2019 by the Michigan State Attorney General’s Office’s new Conviction Integrity Unit. Titus' attorney David Moran, the co-founder of the Michigan Innocence Clinic in Ann Arbor, has been working on the case since 2009 when the clinic was founded. Moran informed that out of the 50 cases they have taken on, Titus' is the only one in which law enforcement came to him as opposed to the person convicted.
Retired Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s detectives Bruce Wiersema and Roy Ballett, who were the initial investigators of the case, contacted Moran and told him “the wrong man was convicted”, he told MLive. The detectives, who have been featured in ‘Killer in Question’, told him the cold case team had built their case against Titus on a house of cards, and that Titus' defense attorney in 2002 never approached them to see why they cleared Titus during the original investigation.
Moran said, “We presented our case to Judge Alexander Lipsey in Kalamazoo County Circuit Court and had three highly decorated detectives tell the court they had the wrong guy in prison, but we lost.” He continued, “Lipsey ruled the evidence that we had wouldn’t have been admissible at Jeff’s trial, which we strongly disagreed with. We’ve continued to work on the case ever since and now we have brand new information we didn’t before.” Titus’ attorney also informed that if the Attorney General’s Office does not grant Titus a new trial, they have a new motion for relief from judgment ready to be filed in Kalamazoo County Circuit Court.
'Killer in Question' will premiere on Sunday, November 1, at 9/8c on Investigation Discovery.