The criminal justice system does not always work the way it is supposed to. Sometimes, people in Michigan go to prison for crimes they did not commit. Unfortunately, the system is generally not interested in freeing the unjustly imprisoned, unless defense attorneys can show that the incarcerated are not guilty.
One group of people works to free the wrongfully convicted through the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School. Around 25 students and three staff members work for the clinic, which has resulted in exonerations for eight people since it began in 2009.
In its latest case, the Innocence Clinic is working to free a man convicted of a 1996 sexual assault and murder. Students believe that the defendant made up his confession to the crime, and that DNA evidence does not suggest that he was the killer.
While under interrogation, the man allegedly confessed to murdering the victim. But the Innocence Clinic's executive director says that it appears that he made several statements suggesting that he did not know key facts about the case, such as what clothing the victim was wearing and where the rape took place.
Arguing in favor of the man's conviction, an officer with the Michigan State Police insisted that the defendant knew some things that only the perpetrator could have known. But the Innocence Clinic counters that interrogators appear to have corrected him when he made untrue statements, then coached him to give the "right" answer.
In addition, DNA evidence from the victim's body did not match the defendant. Instead of exonerating him at the time, police claimed that meant he had an accomplice. A second man was arrested in December 2013. The Innocence Clinic appears to believe that this man was solely responsible for this terrible crime.
Though a confession is among the most valuable pieces of evidence a prosecutor can bring to trial, they are not as reliable as one might assume. Whether due to false confession, coercion or other factors, at least 100 confessions have later been shown to be false nationwide, according to UpNorthLive.com, in what is likely a very conservative count.
UpNorthLive.com, "Michigan Innocence Clinic fights to free convicted Northern Michigan murderer," Kristen Lowe, April 24, 2014