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Dispatch from Michigan: A Perfect Day

Posted: May 29, 2008 5:45 pm

By Ken Wyniemko, Michigan Exoneree  

May 21, 2008 was a perfect day. It was the day that Walter Swift walked out of prison a free man after 26 years of wrongful incarceration. I know the feeling, just through my own experience; I know how it feels to walk out of prison, in my case after almost ten years, and have absolutely nothing. Both Walter and Nathaniel Hatchett, who was released on April 14, are going through the same thing I did. It felt so good to be there to help Walter, just as it was to help Nathaniel Hatchett when he was released last month. I gave each of them a big hug and a check for $500 from the Kenneth Wyniemko Foundation, which I have established to help people who have been exonerated after serving time for a wrongful conviction.

In Michigan, currently, anyone who is wrongfully imprisoned and freed doesn’t have access to compensation. I’m trying to correct that problem. I’m going to Lansing next week to testify before the House Judiciary Committee again on behalf of a bill that would provide $50,000 per year of wrongful imprisonment. It would also provide all lost wages during the time that you were wrongfully imprisoned as well as reimbursement for any attorney fees, and it would provide ten years of healthcare covered by the state of Michigan.

I have also testified about a bill that would extend and expand the current DNA statute in Michigan. House Bill 5089 would remove any time limits, any expiration date, because the current statute it is set to expire in January 2009. Another good thing about this bill: it would remove the restriction that people who pled guilty are not eligible for post-conviction DNA testing. In 11 of the DNA exonerations around the country, an innocent person pled guilty. And 25% of the DNA exonerations involved false confessions or admissions, including the case of my friend Eddie Joe Lloyd who was exonerated in Michigan in 2002. So if you look at the numbers, you can see that post-conviction DNA testing should be provided wherever it could prove innocence. Also under the current law, if you were convicted of a crime after January 8, 2001, you are currently barred from applying for DNA testing, and we’re trying to get that roadblock removed also.

If Michigan’s DNA access statute wasn’t passed originally, in 2001, I would still be in prison. I read that statute for the first time as a law librarian at the correctional center, and I actually started crying because I was thinking to myself, “This is exactly what I need to prove my innocence.” It has been a main goal of mine to never let the law expire. I testified about it on three separate occasions, and it’s already passed in the House and hopefully it will pass in the Senate either this week or next.

I’m so happy and blessed to be able to help. It makes my life worthwhile. I don’t want anyone to have to struggle like I did.

Read more about the cases of Ken Wyniemko, Walter Swift and Nathaniel Hatchett.

Tags: Nathaniel Hatchett, Kenneth Wyniemko



Michigan Man Celebrates Two Years of Freedom

Posted: April 16, 2010 5:00 pm

DNA testing was performed before trial on a vaginal swab taken from the victim’s underwear. These results excluded Hatchett. Macomb County District Attorney Eric Kaiser requested that the victim’s husband’s DNA also be compared against the sample. The husband was excluded, but Kaiser never informed Hatchett’s attorney of this critical evidence.

At Hatchett’s bench trial in 1998, a forensic analyst testified that a pubic hair taken from the crime scene had similar characteristics to Hatchett’s hair. The victim also identified Hatchett in court. In his closing statement, Kaiser, who had known for six months that neither Hatchett nor the husband were the source of semen, stated that “we really can’t speculate whether another person, the husband, the Lone Ranger, created any vaginal deposits that were eventually tested.” Hatchett was convicted and sentenced to 25-40 years in prison.

Kaiser rehashed his original claim after Hatchett filed his first appeal less than a year after his conviction. Kaiser argued that the DNA evidence was only a single piece of evidence in a three day, ten-witness trial, and that the semen may have come from the victim’s husband. The Cooley Innocence Project took Hatchett’s case in 2006 and conducted a second round of testing on the semen sample. The results, revealed in 2008, again excluded Hatchett and the victim’s husband. With this evidence in hand, Hatchett’s attorneys filed a motion for a new trial. To defense counsel’s surprise, prosecutors decided to support the motion and dismiss all charges against Hatchett. He was officially exonerated and released from prison on April 14, 2008.

Hatchett’s case shows that access to DNA testing alone is not enough to prevent wrongful convictions, especially where other misconduct has occurred. Other safeguards, including open, standardized procedures for DNA testing, as well as increased cooperation between prosecutors and defense counsel, are necessary to avoid injustice. Prosecutors such as Kaiser also must remember that their mandate, above all else, is to seek justice.

After his exoneration, Hatchett sued Kaiser, as well as the city and police department for their role in his wrongful imprisonment. Unfortunately, in February 2010, a federal district court dismissed Hatchett’s civil rights lawsuit on summary judgment on the grounds that Kaiser was entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity, preventing civil liability even though he engaged in conduct which the court found “disturbing.”

Other Exoneree Anniversaries This Week:

Ron Williamson, Oklahoma (Served 11 years, Exonerated 4/15/99)

Dennis Fritz, Oklahoma (Served 11 years, Exonerated 4/15/99)

Victor Larue Thomas, Texas (Served 15 years, Exonerated 4/17/02)

Tags: Nathaniel Hatchett