DETROIT – Michigan has seen a lot of convicted felons go free recently and a closer look at how those convictions happened in the first place reveals considerable concern about the court system.
Tuesday at Wayne State University, the Michigan Task Force on Forensic Science gave the system poor grades and called for change. It was a bold statement from the task force. It said hundreds of convicts are behind bars and should not be. It’s calling on the court system to modernize so that more people won’t be jailed needlessly.
Justly Johnson spent 20 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.
“It’s a tragedy, you know? It’s sickening that we had to suffer for 20 years in the first place for the mistakes of the Detroit Police Department,” Johnson said.
LeDura Watkins spent more than 41 years in prison before hair evidence that was used against him proved he was innocent of a 1973 murder.
“I expected this to happen,’ Watkins said. “I didn’t think it would take 41 plus years, but here we are.”
The state says at least 136 Michigan residents ended up wrongfully convicted and released since the University of Michigan and Wayne State University started their innocence projects.
A study by the National Register of Exonerees said roughly 20% of those cases involved misapplied forensic evidence.
“At present, courtrooms in Michigan are not equipped to keep up with the advances in science. Our work also unveils where a wrongful conviction occurs due to flawed forensics. Those flaws are typically evident in other cases that we must then root out and analyze to try to determine if a wrongful conviction occurred,” Marla Mitchell-Cichon said.
Marla Mitchell-Cichon is with the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project.
Innocence Project representatives at Tuesday’s hearing said they found more trouble cases that surround the ones they turn up. They suggest creating another whole commission that would go back over those cases to try and turn up more improper convictions.