New DNA testing points to different suspect in Ingham County 1981 slaying

LANSING (AP) - New DNA testing points to a different suspect in a 1981 slaying for which a Michigan man accused of being a serial killer is serving a life sentence, officials said.

Ingham County Circuit Court set a Sept. 23 hearing to consider new evidence that could overturn the conviction of 53-year-old Michael Darnell Harris in the slaying of 77-year-old Ula Curdy of Lansing, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Harris is serving life sentences for killing Curdy as well as three other women in 1981 and 1982 in Lansing, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. He has long declared his innocence.

"I am 100 percent innocent," Harris told the newspaper in an email from Muskegon Correctional Facility. "I had nothing to do with these crimes. The prosecutions were not about truth."

Interim Ingham Prosecutor Gretchen Whitmer said it seems unlikely that Harris could be freed anytime soon given his record.

"If there was only one conviction for which he was serving time ... his situation would change dramatically," she told the newspaper.

Harris' court-appointed lawyer Edwar Zeineh said other convictions in what was then considered the work of a serial killer and rapist could fall. He said Curdy's death was the first killing Harris was convicted in, and that the conviction affected later trials.

The Michigan State Police is now investigating how its crime lab handled all the Harris cases, the agency said.

David Moran, a University of Michigan law professor who directs the Michigan Innocence Clinic, said the prejudicial impact of a wrongful murder conviction - particularly one involving a sex crime - is potentially far-reaching.

"You do get a domino effect with a wrongful conviction, particularly if you have a serial ... rapist," Moran said.

Harris was convicted of the 1981 Lansing killings of Curdy and 81-year-old Denise Swanson in Ingham County in 1983. The other two other killings, of 85-year-old Marjorie Upson of Ypsilanti and 84-year-old Louise Koebnick of Ann Arbor, happened 1982, but Harris wasn't convicted until 1993.

Published: Tue, Sep 13, 2016