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wrongful conviction

Tommy and Raymond Highers served 26 years in prison for a crime they didn't commit.
Joe Linstroth / Michigan Radio

"It was an out-of-body experience."

That's how Raymond Highers described the moment when the judge sentenced him and his brother Tommy Highers to life without parole for a murder they didn't commit.

Konrad Montgomery
Joe Linstroth / Michigan Radio

When the police knocked on his door, it never crossed Konrad Montgomery's mind that they were there for him. 

The authorities were looking for a suspect in an armed robbery that took place on Detroit's east side, and a cell phone involved in the situation was traced back to Montgomery. The robbery occurred roughly 11 miles from where Montgomery claimed to be at the time of the incident. But since he was making money by selling used cell phones, he was caught up in the case. 

Montgomery was tried and convicted of armed robbery and attempted murder. He spent nearly three years in prison before he was exonerated. 

Julie Baumer
Joe Linstroth / Michigan Radio

"You can just imagine the hell." 

The hell that Julie Baumer describes is her life after being tried and convicted for a crime that she did not commit. She spent more than four years in prison after the courts found her guilty of child abuse involving her five-week-old nephew. When she was ultimately found to be innocent of the charges, she was set free.

Public Act 343 makes Michigan the 32nd state to provide exonorees with compensation for time served.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Just try to imagine how it would feel to be accused of a crime. Wrongfully accused. You didn't do it. But you're convicted and sent to prison.

Then, miraculously, you get another shot and your innocence is proven.

You're released with absolutely no compensation, and no help re-entering the world outside of those prison walls.

That was the case in Michigan until just last week when Public Act 343 took effect. With that, Michigan became the 32nd state to provide exonorees with compensation for time served.

Lamarr Monson takes notes in court during final arguments to overturn his murder conviction.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Lawyers made their final arguments in court Wednesday, but it will take more than a month for a Wayne County judge to decide whether Lamarr Monson deserves a new trial.

Monson confessed to the 1996 murder of Christina Brown, a 12-year-old runaway. The two lived and sold drugs together out of an apartment on Detroit’s west side, though Monson and others say Brown told people she was 17.

But Monson later said that Detroit police tricked and coerced him into confessing. And his lawyers say it bears the hallmarks of a false confession.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

Governor Snyder has signed into law legislation compensating people who’ve been wrongfully imprisoned.

Under the “Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act,” the compensation would amount to $50,000 for every year the individual was incarcerated, in addition to reasonable attorney fees and expenses.

“Michigan’s criminal justice system does a tremendous job, however there is always more we can do to make it better, particularly for those who have been wrongfully imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit,” Snyder said in a written statement.  

"If the prosecutors were picking one person and saying, this is the rare one, that would be very different. But they're picking 250 people and saying, they're all rare, without exercising the discretion," Labelle said.
flickr user Thomas Hawk / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Michigan Radio is involved with several news media partners in a project called the Detroit Journalism Cooperative. One of the issues we're looking at this year is justice, things such as mass incarceration and wrongful conviction. 

There's a nationwide network of legal clinics that are working to litigate claims of actual innocence by prisoners. Many of these clinics base their work on DNA evidence which has led to clearing the names and the release of hundreds of people. 

At the University of Michigan, the Michigan Innocence Clinic operates a little differently. It pursues cases in which DNA evidence is not available. 

Macomb County resident Julie Baumer volunteered to care for her sister’s unwanted baby thirteen years ago. She was a 27-year-old mortgage broker who was engaged to be married and had a full life, but she didn’t want the little boy to be put up for adoption.

But a few weeks later, she took the baby to the hospital, where doctors discovered a lot of blood on his brain. She was suspected of violently shaking the baby.

Kym Worthy (file photo).
waynecounty.com

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy defended her office’s handling of the Davontae Sanford case today.

Sanford confessed to four Detroit murders in 2007, when he was just 14 years old.

But a judge overturned Sanford’s convictions and freed him this week.

Worthy says that became possible only after a recent Michigan State Police investigation she requested found a Detroit police officer lied about key aspects of Sanford’s confession.

Questions about Sanford’s guilt arose as early as 2008, when a hit man named Vincent Smothers confessed to the same crimes.

Davontae Sanford
Michigan Department of Corrections

He was just 14 years old when he confessed to and was convicted of a quadruple murder.

But today, 23-year-old Davontae Sanford walks out of Ionia State Prison a free man.

His conviction was vacated Tuesday by Wayne County Circuit Judge Brian Sullivan, who agreed with arguments that Sanford's case had all the hallmarks of a false confession.

David Moran is with the Michigan Innocence Clinic and was co-counsel on this case.

Shayan Sanyal / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Legislation up for a vote in the state Senate tomorrow would compensate felons who are exonerated for the time they were wrongfully imprisoned. It would allow $50,000 for every year of wrongful incarceration. It would also offer aftercare services to freed inmates.    

State Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, says Michigan is one just a handful of states that does not compensate people for wrongful imprisonment. He says it offers a measure of justice.

Davontae Sanford
Michigan Department of Corrections

After spending eight years in prison, a Detroit man convicted of murdering four people has been cleared and ordered released.

Davontae Sanford confessed to the murders in 2007, when he was just 14.

But soon after Sanford’s conviction, a hit man confessed to the same crimes, and insisted Sanford was not involved.

Now, following a Michigan State Police re-investigation of the case, Wayne County Judge Brian Sullivan has vacated Sanford’s convictions, and ordered him released immediately. Prosecutor Kym Worthy had agreed to dismiss Sanford’s case Tuesday morning.

Shayan Sanyal / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Legislation to compensate people who are wrongly imprisoned in Michigan is moving forward at the state Capitol.

A state House committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to give people $60,000 for every year they are imprisoned plus damages.

U of M Michigan Innocence Clinic

After serving 16 years for a crime he didn’t commit, Jamie Lee Peterson walked away from a courtroom in Kalkaska today a free man.

Peterson was convicted of the 1996 rape and murder of Geraldine Montgomery. He was sentenced to life in prison two years later. 

Prosecutors dropped the rape and murder charges against Peterson after he was cleared by new DNA evidence. The DNA evidence did implicate another man in the murder. He’s awaiting trial. 

 The human costs of Detroit’s bankruptcy are revealing themselves as the case proceeds in court.

For Dwayne Provience, it means yet more uncertainty over an already years-long wrongful imprisonment lawsuit.

When a city files for Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy, all its lawsuits get put on hold. That’s a good thing for the city, as it struggles to conserve cash and get its financial house in order.

flickr user FatMandy / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The University of Michigan Law School and the Center for Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law recently launched an online database containing an updated list of exonerations in the United States since 1989. The goal of the project is to prevent wrongful convictions or improve the process of identifying and correcting them should they occur.

So far, the National Registry of Exoneration lists more than 890 wrongfully convicted individuals.

Michigan Department of Corrections

Macomb County will pay a $150,000 settlement to a man who was wrongfully convicted of beating and raping his former girlfriend.

A lawsuit filed by Jeffrey Moldowan was set to go to trial today. Moldowan spent a dozen years in prison for the crime before a jury acquitted him in a second trial.