Man freed after 26 years of wrongful imprisonment for Detroit murder

New evidence proves man’s innocence in 1994 murder

Man wrongly convicted of 1994 murder released after DNA proves innocence.

DETROIT – An innocent man who wrongfully served 26 years in prison for a Detroit murder has been released on Wednesday.

After 26 years of imprisonment, Lacino Hamilton is now a free man after being wrongfully convicted for the murder of a woman in Detroit in 1994, according to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.

When he was 21 years old, Hamilton was wrongfully convicted of second-degree murder and felony firearms in 1995.

Officials say Hamilton’s conviction was based on information provided by a criminal informant who claimed that Hamilton had confessed to the murder. However, a six-year investigation revealed that the informant made false claims against Hamilton and many others in order to obtain legal leniency for himself, according to authorities.

The prosecutor’s office also says that DNA evidence incriminating Hamilton in the 1995 trial was never disclosed or tested. Members of the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Innocence Project and Boise State University’s Idaho Innocence Project funded DNA testing and reviewed the results -- which helped establish Hamilton’s innocence, officials said.

Officials with WMU-Cooley’s Innocence Project say that DNA was found under the victim’s fingernails but, after recently facilitating new testing, the DNA was found not to belong to Hamilton.

“The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit found potential DNA evidence that had not been previously tested during its investigation. The defendant was excluded from some of that DNA that had not previously been tested," said Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy. "In addition to that, and perhaps even more alarming, is the woefully improper use of informants in this case by the Detroit Police Department. The use of informants can be a very valuable tool in fighting crime and seeking justice, but in this case it was used and abused horribly.”

Hamilton had been working with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit as well as attorneys with the law firm Chartier & Nyamfukudza, P.L.C. to help prove his innocence. Attorneys with Chartier & Nyamfukudza say they had worked pro bono with the man for the last six years to fight for his release.

“We made the decision long ago to never give up fighting for Mr. Hamilton’s release. While we are beyond thrilled that all charges have been dismissed, he lost 26 years of his life waiting for this day. And, even sadder, is that Mr. Hamilton’s case is not unique," said Mary Chartier, one of Mr. Hamilton’s lead attorneys. "Many of the thousands of men and women who are wrongfully imprisoned have been convicted based on ‘snitch’ (informant) testimony. In Mr. Hamilton’s case, the ‘snitch’ claimed in numerous cases that men — men who were strangers — had spontaneously confessed murder to him. Police knew this yet continued to claim that he was reliable and use him as a witness. This is just one of the travesties that occurred in Mr. Hamilton’s case. If we truly want to stop innocent men and women from being convicted and imprisoned, then we have to reform our criminal prosecution system now. There are ways to do it. Michigan just needs to act.”

Hamilton’s representatives say that the man was resilient in his fight to prove his innocence. He reportedly plans to spend his life as a free man advocating for social justice issues.

“Nelson Mandela said that difficulties break some men but make others," said Takura Nyamfukudza, Hamilton’s other lead attorney. "President Mandela and Lacino both had significant portions of their lives marred by manifest injustice. Still, they did not fixate on the time that they lost or give up hope. I am elated to be switching — finally — from being Lacino’s legal advocate to just being his friend. Indeed, 2020 was in desperate need of some great news. Here it is!”

“I’m a little overwhelmed right now,” Hamilton reportedly said during the virtual court hearing on Wednesday. “I am extremely grateful and look forward to being a productive citizen in our community.”

Lacino Hamilton with members of the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Innocence Project following his release from prison on Sept. 30, 2020. (WMU-Cooley's Innocence Project)

A GoFundMe campaign has been established to raise money to help Hamilton “put his life back together” -- click here to learn more.

You can review the entire press release and court order below.

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Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.