WUOMFM

Former Detroit TV reporter spending retirement years on his "Proving Innocence" project

Feb 17, 2016

Bill Proctor (right) with Walter Swift, who spent 26 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.
Credit Bill Proctor

Bill Proctor retired after he spent 33 years as a well-known Detroit television reporter.

But rather than focus on his golf game, he's using his skills as an investigative reporter and a former law enforcement officer to help criminal cases where he believes the person has been wrongly convicted.

To accomplish that, he launched the organization Proving Innocence. As he sees it, the organization helps overturn some of the wrongs done by our criminal justice system.   

Recent radio and television shows like Serial and Making A Murderer have brought mainstream attention to wrongful convictions. Proctor understands the skepticism when it comes to the idea of prisoners claiming to be innocent, but he has seen enough in his career to know that some of them might be telling the truth.

"It’s one of those things where for an ex-cop there’s instantly a little resistance," said Proctor when he spoke with Stateside. "You think back on the phrase that so many people use, ‘everybody in prison wants to say that they’re innocent.’ That’s not true, nor is it true, that everybody that’s in prison is guilty of what sent them there."

You think back on the phrase that so many people use, 'everybody in prison wants to say that they're innocent.' That's not true, nor is it true that everybody that's in prison is guilty of what sent them there.

One particular case close to Proctor’s heart is a story he started covering as a reporter in the early 1990s.

Temujin Kensu (born Frederick Freeman) was put in prison for the 1986 murder of Scott Macklem, the son of the mayor of Croswell, a small town near Port Huron.

Macklem was shot to death with a shotgun. Kensu was convicted of the crime despite a lack of evidence that linked Kensu to the crime scene, according to the Proving Innocence website:

As confirmed by at least 10 credible alibi witnesses, at the time of the murder [Kensu] was in the Upper Peninsula in Rock, Michigan, 20 miles north of Escanaba and about 450 miles from the crime scene in Port Huron.

 

Another aspect of the case that Proctor points out is that Kensu was a budding martial artist at the time. He says if he wanted to kill someone, he could have done it quietly and wouldn’t have to resort to using one of the loudest weapons to kill someone in broad daylight in a parking lot on the campus of St. Clair County Community College.

Here's one of Proctor's news reports on the murder:

Proctor is working on another case with the Michigan Innocence Clinic. It involves the conviction of Lamarr Monson for killing 12-year-old Christina Brown in 1996.

Just four years ago, that case started to be called into question when Proctor received a phone call from a woman named Shellena Bentley who said “I know who committed a murder.”

Bentley told Proctor that a man she was with on the night of the murder had left and when he returned he had blood on his clothes and body. Bentley said the man later admitted to having a violent confrontation with the 12-year-old runaway over crack-cocaine.

The woman has since passed a polygraph test and has been cooperating with the investigation. With her help, they have found the man in question and now the case will be re-opened.

Proctor says they are still waiting for the judge to review the request for a new trial.

Today, there are [more than 1,700] people who are free after spending years, if not decades, in prison for crimes they did not commit ... So the issue always is, how is it that these things have happened so often?

"Today, there are [more than 1,700] … people who are free … after spending years, if not decades in prison for crimes they did not commit," said Proctor. "So the issue always is, how is it that these things have happened so often? But I can tell you that they continue to happen today.”

Proctor says that there can be failures at every level of the process, from the initial investigation by local law enforcement, to the criminal trial, that can send innocent people to prison.

“The world believes and we like to say that we have the best criminal justice system on the planet,” said Proctor. “The problem is, that there are written words and structures, process and procedure and they are handled by human beings that have other motives. That they don’t do what they’re supposed to do, and they do what drives them in their lives … and they do things that are unlawful in many cases, immoral in other cases, and just being sloppy and lazy in others.”

Proctor and his team are hoping to get new trials and overturn convictions in a number of cases, but warns that even when the evidence, or lack thereof, points to innocence, overturning cases in a court of law is not an easy journey.

“It’s a process where there is hope,” said Proctor. “But I’m telling you, there is resistance, and the resistance could win out and once again, this criminal justice system could stand in the way of the very justice that they’re supposed to seek.”

Listen to the full interview below. You can hear Proctor give an in-depth review of both cases, and hear more about his Proving Innocence program.