Man freed after four decades of wrongful imprisonment

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Ledure Watkins (right) was released last week after serving more than four decades in prison for a crime he did not commit. Western Michigan University Cooley Law School’s Innocence Project filed a motion for new trial which helped in Watkins’ release.    (Photo courtesy of WMU-Cooley)
 

Ledura (Ledora) Watkins of Detroit was released last week after serving 42 years for a robbery and murder he did not commit, according to officials at the Western Michigan  University-Cooley Innocence Project.

Based on a motion filed by the Innocence Project seeking a new trial, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office agreed to vacate the judgment of conviction and dismiss all charges in the 1975 murder of a Detroit woman, said Marla Mitchell-Cichon, project director.

Watkins was sentenced to life without parole on April 15, 1976. The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project filed a motion for new trial early this year.

The prosecutor’s office agreed that hair comparison evidence used against Watkins did not meet today’s scientific and legal standards, according to a news release issued by WMU-Cooley.

In 2013, the FBI disavowed testimony by FBI-trained analysts, finding they often overstated their conclusions. The Detroit lab analysts, trained by the FBI, tied Watkins to the crime scene based on a single hair.

“Hair comparison is not based on science; it is simply a lab analyst’s subjective opinion and has no place in our criminal justice system,” said Mitchell-Cichon. “This is why a state-wide review of hair comparison cases is critical.”

Mitchell-Cichon commended Prosecutor Kym Worthy and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office for working with her office to resolve the case.

The prosecutor’s office agreed that the new scientific standards are “newly discovered” evidence.

Mitchell-Cichon also noted that over the years, Watkins never stopped fighting for his freedom.

She said he never gave up on the belief that the truth would come out.

In August, he is planning to attend the annual family reunion.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, Watkins will be the longest serving wrongly convicted person in Michigan.

Cooley’s project is part of the Innocence Network has been credited with the release of over 350 wrongfully accused prisoners through the use of DNA testing.

The project is staffed by WMU-Cooley Law School students and Western Michigan University undergraduates, who work under the supervision of WMU-Cooley Project attorneys.

Staff Attorney Eric Schroeder and Legal Intern Wisam Mikho served as lead counsel in this case.

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