Court overturns decision granting new murder trial

By Ed White

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- A man who insists he was wrongly convicted of killing another man in a college parking lot in 1986 won't get a new trial after a federal appeals court said his claims of new evidence were too late and really not extraordinary.

The case was Temujin Kensu's best shot at freedom after 25 years in prison on a life sentence. A retired Michigan Supreme Court justice, the Innocence Clinic at University of Michigan law school and some members of law enforcement had joined his cause. But the decision last Friday by a three-judge panel kills the case unless the full 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wants a look, a rare act.

Kensu, known as Fred Freeman at the time, was convicted of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Scott Macklem in a parking lot at a community college in Port Huron. The victim had planned to marry Kensu's former girlfriend.

Kensu, now 48, claims he was hundreds of miles away in the Upper Peninsula on the day of Macklem's death. In 2010, U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood ordered a new trial after finding prosecutorial misconduct and other problems with the 1987 trial in St. Clair County Circuit Court. But her ruling was overturned by the appeals court.

A trial witness who said Kensu confessed while they were in a lockup had recanted. The appeals court, however, noted Philip Joplin didn't sign the statement before he died.

"This failure is particularly troubling, considering that Joplin's statement was witnessed by a private investigator and a television news reporter. That is, although the need for verification would seem to have been obvious, it was not obtained," said judges David McKeague, Karen Caldwell and Boyce Martin Jr.

The appeals court had the option of ordering an evidentiary hearing in Hood's court but declined.

"Freeman's actual innocence showing in the present record is based on evidence of suspect reliability that is not clearly exculpatory," the panel said.

A message seeking comment was left Saturday for Kensu's attorney at the law school, Bridget McCormack.

"It's our hope this case will finally be put to rest after 25 years," Steve Guilliat, St. Clair County chief assistant prosecutor, told the Port Huron Times Herald.

Earlier this month, while waiting to hear from the appeals court, Kensu asked Hood to release him from prison on bond so he could be with his wife, who is dying from cancer. Now that the state has won the appeal, Kensu's request likely will be denied.

Published: Tue, May 22, 2012