Detroit man released from prison after judge dismisses charges in 1994 murder conviction

Larry Smith was 19 years old when convicted in November 1994

Detroit man convicted in 1994 murder released from prison, judge dismisses all charges
Detroit man convicted in 1994 murder released from prison, judge dismisses all charges

DETROIT – Larry Smith was convicted of a murder in Detroit back in 1994, but he never gave up fighting his charges -- especially since no one testified that they actually saw him at the scene of the crime.

On Thursday, Feb. 4, the now-45-year-old became a free man -- a moment his daughter Nakira Fantroy has been waiting for.

“It’s bittersweet. A lot of hurt and pain,” she said.

Smith was convicted of first-degree murder and felony firearm on Nov. 29, 1994, in the death of Kenneth Hayes when Smith was only 19 years old. According to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office (WCPO), the only eyewitness testimony in the case was “based on gait and body shape of a person running away from the scene.”

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“There was never any testimony that established that Mr. Smith had a distinctive gait or body shape. There was no conclusive forensic evidence that linked Mr. Smith to the case,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

“There was testimony in the case from a jail house informant claiming that Smith had confessed the murder to him. The informant’s information was later discredited because it may have been fabricated to obtain police favors in his case,” the statement continued. “Smith denied making any confessions to the informant and has always maintained his innocence.”

The prosecutor’s office announced that Judge Shannon Walker, with the Third Judicial Circuit Court, signed an order dismissing all charges against Smith on Feb. 4. The dismissal of charges comes after an investigation by Prosecutor Kym Worthy and the WCPO Conviction Integrity Unit, headed by director Valerie Newman.

Smith was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

“He has spent his entire adult life since he was 18 years old behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit,” said attorney Wolf Mueller. “Today is a great day for his family and the justice system.”

Smith said he reached out to every governor during that time and pretty much anyone who would listen to him claim his innocence.

“Absolutely a grateful moment,” Smith said. “Now I’m hoping today, as an exonerated man whose suffering has produced love, that my experience will not go in vain and can help fix this broken criminal justice system.”

Smith’s mother said she knew her son didn’t commit the crime.

“There are no words to explain how I feel. When you know that he didn’t do it, you don’t give up. That’s called hope and faith. That’s what it’s all about; that’s all we have,” Deborah Smith said.


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About the Author:

Larry Spruill Jr. joined the Local 4 News team in January 2018. Prior, he worked at WJAX in Jacksonville, Florida. Larry grew up as a military kid because his father is a retired Chief of the United States Air Force.