Two Detroit black men, who have spent over 17 years in prison, have been freed after newly discovered evidence points to alleged police misconduct. Both men had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for crimes they say they didn’t commit.
Kevin Harrington, 37, and George Clark in his early 50s were convicted for the 2002 killing of Michael Martin in Inkster, Michigan, a crime both men insist they were innocent of. The men were released from prison straight into quarantine this month.
According to Detroit Free Press, the murder convictions of Harrington and Clark in the fatal shooting of Martin in September 2002 were officially dismissed by Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Shannon Walker.
The victim was discovered shot to death in a field across from his apartment in Inkster. A witness, who called police to report the body told officers he heard gunshots after seeing Clark and Harrington assault Martin and drag him into the field. The two were convicted in February 2003 of first-degree murder.
The Wayne’s County Prosecutor’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit last year began conducting a six-month investigation into the case which resulted in new witnesses and evidence discovered, leading to the dismissal of the charges. The investigative officer was found to have allegedly coerced witnesses into lying about what they saw.
Clark was freed from the Lakeland Correctional Facility on bond earlier this month due to the spread of COVID-19 in the facility, which has had at least 208 coronavirus cases and eight deaths. Harrington, on the other hand was released from Macomb Correctional Facility after 17 years in lockup.
According to reports, Harrington had four separate trials. The first ended in a verdict being overturned, two ended with hung juries and the last ended in him being convicted of first-degree murder. He was offered a 17-year plea deal, which he refused.
“My mother always told me something when I was a child: ‘If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. That was something that I could never agree to knowing that I was innocent of this crime,” Harrington, who was 20 at the time of his arrest said.
Clark also sought relief from his conviction through the state and federal court systems. In February 2003, Clark filed a motion for a new trial but was denied. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He filed a series of unsuccessful legal appeals of his conviction from 2004 to 2016.
The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit “found a very troubling pattern of behavior from the original lead detective that involved threatening and coercing a number of witnesses.”
“The CIU investigation has established that Mr Harrington and Mr Clark did not receive a fair trial as a result of the conduct of the original lead detective.” Maria Miller with the Prosecutor’s Office said the detective is not being named because he will be the subject of an investigation.
According to the prosecutor, the murder case will not be re-tried because the only inculpatory witness repeatedly said they saw nothing and that they were coerced by the detective into implicating Mr Clark and Mr Harrington. “Now that the CIU has interviewed other witnesses who claimed they were threatened and coerced by the detective, this witness’s claim has much more credibility.”
“We have not reached any conclusion regarding the “actual innocence of Mr Harrington and Mr Clark,” Miller Said. “The issues with the original lead detective were such that the conduct materially impacted the integrity of the verdict”.
“There was no physical evidence that Clark or Harrington had anything to do with Martin’s shooting and multiple witnesses identified another man as the shooter and that man is now dead,” the Prosecutor’s Office said.
“This is an unbelievable case of police misconduct,” attorney and assistant director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic Imran Syed said. “The only witness against him was clearly coerced by the investigating officer … and she actually recanted at all of the trials.”
Syed was a second-year law student when he started working on Harrington’s case in 2009. He said that Inkster police threatened to take away the witness’ children if she didn’t say what police wanted her to say and that details of her account were disputed by other witnesses. And she wasn’t the only one.
He described the situation as “a case of fairly extreme police misconduct, even more noteworthy because much of the misconduct was documented and known to the juries at the trials.”
Clark was released on bond from prison awaiting the official dismissal of the charges and Harrington was released from prison Tuesday. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, neither of the two men was in the courtroom for the dismissal due to restrictions on court operations and in-person appearances.
Both Harrington and Clark are happy to be able to see their families again and have both expressed disappointments in the justice system. Harrington said he hopes the cop who handled the case “serves the same sentence we got” for allegedly forcing witnesses to lie about him as well as Clark. “I just want to help fix this criminal justice system,” he added.
Clark, who lost his mother two years after he was sent to prison said, “I always just held on because I knew one day the truth would prevail,” he said.
Attorney Wolf Mueller, who represents the men said, “Threatening witnesses to make up a story and hiding evidence to grease the skids for a conviction cannot be tolerated by our society. I’m glad the Conviction Integrity Unit righted a terrible wrong.”
Mueller is in the process of filing lawsuits seeking $50,000 for each year the men were in prison under the state’s Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act.