Cooley Law School Innocence Project hosts wrongful conviction discussion at Alpena Community College

(l-r) Marvin Cotton, Kenneth Nixon, Ann Garant, Eric Anderson, and Gilbert Poole are pictured at the recent panel discussion at Alpena Community College.

From Cooley Law

Cooley Law School’s Innocence Project partnered with Alpena Community College on April 11 to host “The Impact of Wrongful Conviction: An Exoneree Panel Discussion.”  The panel featured exonerees Eric Anderson, Marvin Cotton, Ken Nixon, and Gilbert Poole. Ann Garant, managing attorney for the Cooley Law School Innocence Project, facilitated the event.
Attendees heard first-hand accounts of flaws within Michigan’s criminal justice system, which led to the four men’s wrongful convictions and imprisonment and their difficult roads to exonerations.

“Growing up I was tricked, that our criminal legal system was perfect, that America was perfect, and that when individuals stand before a court, they’re guilty and they deserve whatever punishment comes to them,” said Anderson. “However, we’ve experienced that that’s not the truth. I’m a victim of it, and I was sick of being the victim, so that motivated me to fight it.”

A major topic was the causes of wrongful conviction, many of which could be attributed to the exonerees’ cases. The issues include government misconduct, faulty or lack of forensic testing, ineffective assistance of counsel, and false confessions.

“We stepped into a world where the Michigan legal system treats you better if you were guilty and on parole than if you were innocent,” said Nixon.

“People on parole had access to resources that the government had to provide. They had to provide you access to certain things in order for you to stay out of trouble and be successful on the road. Well, we didn’t fit that stigma.”

Nixon pointed out that without government support, it’s near impossible for exonerees to receive proper documentation and reenter society. This led to the creation of the Organization of Exonerees, whose purpose is to make the reintegration process easier and create a bridge between resources.

“We’ve been able to build up a lot of resources from our own experiences. We can speak from experience when we walk into a room and explain to someone why having access to a birth certificate is extremely important,” said Nixon, who is president of the organization. “It’s a bit different, and I think with the Organization of Exonerees, it has built a camaraderie amongst us. We can speak about things amongst each other that no one else completely understands.”

The Cooley Innocence Project is part of the Innocence Network which has been credited with the release of over 375 wrongfully convicted prisoners, mainly through the use of DNA testing. It is the only post-conviction DNA innocence organization in Michigan. Since its inception, the office has screened over 6,000 cases and is responsible for the exoneration of nine individuals: Kenneth Wyniemko (2003), Nathaniel Hatchett (2008), Donya Davis (2014), LeDura Watkins (2017), Kenneth Nixon (2021), Gilbert Poole (2021), Corey Quentin McCall (2021), George DeJesus (2022), and most recently, Louis Wright (2023), who spent 35 years being wrongfully imprisoned.

Additionally, the Cooley Innocence Project also helped to exonerate Lacino Hamilton, Ramon Ward, Terance Calhoun, and Crystal Mulherin.

Anderson was exonerated on April 30, 2019, after nine years in prison. Cotton was exonerated on Oct. 1, 2020, after 20 years in prison. Nixon was exonerated on Feb. 18, 2021, after 15 years in prison. Poole was exonerated on May 26, 2021, after 32 years in prison.

“I wanted to reach out to communities to spread awareness to people who might not know about this,” Garant told attendees.

 “It’s not just a Detroit issue. It’s not just a larger-city issue. There are wrongful convictions everywhere that happen every day.”

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