WMU-Cooley Innocence Project granted evidentiary hearing in 1998 rape case

The Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Innocence Project is seeking a new trial in a 1998 Genesee County rape case. WMU-Cooley’s project filed a motion for a new trial on behalf of Octaviano Molina Jr., citing new evidence that casts doubt on Molina’s involvement in the rape of a Flint woman was filed. After hearing arguments regarding the motion on Monday, June 27, Judge Joseph J. Farah ordered an evidentiary hearing to consider the new evidence, including DNA evidence that identifies a second man never charged with the crime.

“The post-conviction DNA testing requested by our office resulted in the identification of a man who could not be identified in 1998,” said Marla Mitchell-Cichon, director of the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project. “Our client was not with this man during the time of the crime.”

During the 1998 trial, Molina’s defense attorney presented alibi witnesses placing him at home during the time of the rape and suggested two other committed the crime.

The new DNA evidence also calls into question the victim’s ability to identify her attackers. Eyewitness misidentification is the greatest contributing factor of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in 70 percent of convictions overturned through DNA testing.

WMU-Cooley graduate and legal intern Joseph Daly wrote and argued the motion on behalf of Molina. Daly, who has been a project intern for over a year said, “I promised the client that I would follow through with his case to the end. I have stayed on with the project to do just that.”

The mission of the WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project is to provide legal assistance to persons who are imprisoned for crimes they did not commit and to train students in best practices. WMU-Cooley’s project has screened 5,500 cases since 2001 and is responsible for the exoneration of three men—Kenneth Wyniemko (2003), Nathaniel Hatchett (2008), and Donya Davis (2014). The project is staffed by Western Michigan University undergraduates and WMU-Cooley students who do the bulk of the legal work under the supervision of project attorneys. Daly argued the motion pursuant to Michigan’s student practice rule.

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