Detroit man fights for freedom after nearly 50 years in prison for crime he says he didn’t commit

Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office reviews an option of commutation

Ray Gray has been in prison for nearly 50 years, one of Michigan’s longest serving inmates. And many believe he is innocent.

DETROIT – Ray Gray has been in prison for nearly 50 years, one of Michigan’s longest serving inmates.

There is a legion of attorneys, investigators, advocates and other people who believe Gray should be free. Not merely because of how long he’s been in prison, but because they believe he is innocent.

For decades, Barbara Rinehart dreamed about the day her husband walks out of prison as a free man. The couple met in the 1970s when Rinehart was teaching art at Jackson prison. The man who would become her husband with such a talent that he took over teaching the class.

He’s been filling canvases with wonder ever since, but a talented prison artist is just part of Gray’s story.

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In 1973, Gray was convicted of murder in a case that included no physical evidence against him -- not even proof that he was at the murder scene. While four witnesses testified that Gray was at home at the time, one witness claimed Gray was the shooter. He was convicted of first-degree murder and the judge sentenced him to life in prison.

Over the years, developments ran in Gray’s favor. Other witnesses came forward, even an accomplice in the actual crime. Gray passed a lie detector test, but none of that mattered. Gray remained behind bars.

“He needs to have the recognition of a kind, gentle, talented man who has suffered since February of 1973 for something he had absolutely, positively nothing to do with,” said private investigator Bill Proctor.

Proctor was a longtime reporter for WXYZ-TV and now works on innocence project cases like Gray’s. Of the many cases he’s worked on, this case gets to him the most because Gray, a once promising young boxer, had basically no criminal record.

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“Almost five decades of this man’s life, never mind the early promise, have essentially been stolen,” Proctor said.

Gray’s art helped draw attention to his plight. In fact, Proctor has tried to help sell his paintings to raise money for his case. But the cell remained locked tight, even after the intervention of Ellis Stafford, the deputy director of the Detroit Crime Commission who is convinced of Gray’s innocence.

In 2019, Wayne County’s Conviction Integrity Unit looked into the case and said it could not confirm Gray’s claim of innocence. One key problem was with the exception of Gray, a lot of the key people are dead. But now, nearly 48 years since Gray walked into prison, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy is ready for Michigan’s longest serving inmate to go free.

“In looking at that and reading over everything myself as well, and my team felt this way, we think this is a good candidate for commutation for many reasons,” Worthy said. “Even though we couldn’t substantiate the claim of innocence, we feel this is a case where we would be pushing very hard to support any claim of commutation that he chooses to make. and I would be fully on board with that.”

It is great news for the group of people who stood by Gray.

“I was delighted to hear that. I think that Ray would really, really like to get his conviction reversed because he truly is innocent. But let’s face it -- if walking out of prison one way or another is important to you, you should take it how it comes,” said Gray’s attorney, Gabi Silver.

“I hope it means that our attorneys, Gabi Silver and Phil Gamorski, and the governor and everybody else will finally pay attention and let him out. However they do it, I don’t care. I don’t think he does,” Rinehart said. “He’ll fight to prove his innocence when he’s out if that’s what it takes but he won’t confess to something he didn’t do.”

About the Author:

Devin Scillian is equally at home on your television, on your bookshelf, and on your stereo. Devin anchors the evening newscasts for Local 4. Additionally, he moderates Flashpoint, Local 4's Sunday morning news program. He is also a best-selling author of children's books, and an award-winning musician and songwriter.