Cases against Detroit men who spent years in prison for crimes they didn't commit to be dismissed

Questions about wrongful convictions remain unanswered

By Koco McAboy - Reporter, Amber Ainsworth

DETROIT - Two cases against Detroit men who have spent years behind bars for crimes they didn't commit will be dismissed.

Kevin Lackey spent 22 years in prison after he was convicted in the rape of an 11-year-old girl. He was released in 2014, but his name was tarnished.

"It was a horror story, to say the least, simply because people thought that I was a sex offender," he said.

According to the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, Lackey was identified by "profoundly invalid dog tracking evidence that was crucial to his convictions."

Michael Powels has been in prison since he was wrongly convicted of murder in 2007. Thanks to new evidence, he will see freedom.

According to the prosecutor's office, a witness who connected Powels to a 2006 shooting, which the witness didn't actually see, gave false testimony.

"'I'm just blessed that I can get back to my family, live life again and be a productive member of society," Powels said.

While the cases will be dropped, the question of how the men were wrongly convicted remains.

"We are investigating police misconduct, the reason why he was wrongfully convicted and it appears to be pretty egregious," said Wolf Mueller, Lackey's lawyer.

Here are the case backgrounds, according to the prosecutor's office: 

Kevin Lackey case   

On July 5, 1992, an 11-year-old girl was carried her from her bed and sexually assaulted on the back porch of the house. After the attacker left the house, the girl woke her mother and the police were called. The police called in a canine tracker and a K-9 unit who tracked the evidence at the scene to Mr. Lackey's home across the alley from the child's home. The child was not able to identify her attacker. Mr. Lackey was known to the victim for years as a family friend who had been to her home many times; however, the victim was unable to identify him in a line up, or to identify him by voice.

On January 26, 1993, Mr. Lackey was convicted by a jury, as charged, of two counts of First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct Involving Person Under 13 Years of Age; Second Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct; and Breaking and Entering an Occupied Dwelling With Intent to Commit Criminal Sexual Conduct. On February 26, 1993, he was sentenced to 15 to 25 years on each count, to be served consecutively. He was re-sentenced on March 9, 1993 on the Second Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct and Breaking and Entering an Occupied Dwelling With Intent to Commit Criminal Sexual Conduct to 10 to 15 years imprisonment, all sentences to be served concurrently.

It is clear that the identification of Mr. Lackey as the suspect was based upon profoundly invalid dog tracking evidence that was crucial to his convictions. For this reason, the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office will move to have his convictions vacated. Given that the perpetrator of the sexual assault has not been identified, and the primary evidence against Mr. Lackey has been discredited, Mr. Lackey will not be retried. 

Michael Powels case

On June 18, 2006, someone shot and killed Robert Sawyer at an intersection of 14th Street and Clairmount in Detroit. The only issue at trial was identification. A cab driver saw two men in a white SUV shoot into Sawyer's vehicle. The cab driver could not identify either of the individuals. There was only one male witness to connect Powels to the homicide, despite the fact that he did not witness the shooting. 

On December 7, 2007, Michael Powels was convicted by a jury of Second Degree Murder in the death of Robert Sawyer. The defendant attempted to present an alibi defense but the court denied relief, finding the witness lacked credibility. On January 2, 2008, Powels was sentenced to 45 to 75 years in prison. The Court of Appeals affirmed Powels' conviction and sentence, and the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal.  The currently pending Motion for Relief from Judgment was filed and the case has been stayed pending review by the CIU.  

During the investigation by the CIU, the witness who connected Powels to the homicide, but did not see the actual shooting was found to have given false testimony in the case. As a result, it has been determined that Powels should be granted a new trial because the most significant basis for conviction rests on perjured testimony. The remaining evidence presents a significantly weaker case than it did before the perjury was discovered. Allowing a conviction to largely rest on perjured testimony implicates the fairness and integrity of the criminal justice system.  

As a result, the current evidence does not support a conviction and tomorrow, the CIU will move that Powels' conviction and sentence be vacated and the case be dismissed. After exhaustive investigation, the CIU concludes there is no path forward for a retrial of Powels.

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