DETROIT (AP) — Michigan’s largest county is creating a special unit to look at possible wrongful convictions, primarily in murder cases.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said the move isn’t in response to any rash of bad cases in the Detroit area, and she predicts the “overwhelming majority” of convictions will stand.
“No prosecutor wants to be a party to knowingly convicting or keeping someone in prison that is either factually not guilty or a case we can’t sustain,” Worthy told The Associated Press this week. “We should not be afraid to have a unit like this.”
An earlier “conviction integrity unit” was disbanded in 2013 because of a lack of money. Since then, cases presented by lawyers for the convicted have been assigned to staff members, who already are busy handling appeals.
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There lately have been some astonishing reversals. In June, a Detroit man who spent 40 years in prison was released after prosecutors agreed that hair evidence in a 1976 homicide was flawed. A few weeks earlier, another Detroit man in prison for 25 years was released when tests showed his mother’s gun couldn’t be linked to a 1992 slaying.
Worthy is hiring four lawyers, including one who will lead the unit, and two investigators. They will review petitions from prisoners as well as cases presented by lawyers who step forward with claims of new evidence.
“We are not always going to agree,” Worthy said.
David Moran, head of the Innocence Clinic at University of Michigan law school, said he welcomes the news.
“I’m hoping there will be real independence within the unit so the pressure will be on them to get it right and not to protect the reputation of their colleagues,” he said.
Moran said prosecutors sometimes have waited for judges to order them to reopen cases instead of working closely with attorneys to quickly get at the truth.
Worthy said collaboration will be important; it’s even in the job posting for the head of the new unit.
“We want to be able to turn around these cases a little bit faster,” she said. “We want investigators that are fully focused. … Investigators may have to go out all over Michigan, or across this country, interview people and try to put these cases back together.”
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