After 19 years in prison for murder he didn't commit, man becomes advocate for others wrongly imprisoned

Marvin Cotton Jr. spent 19 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. It was because of a detective who withheld evidence - and then pressured a jailhouse informant to testify with false information - he later withdrew.

"It was really important to have a voice in the room," he said. "Because at a certain point in time being an exoneree, we were victims of the system.

"We are living, breathing proof that the system failed, but we are also living, breathing proof that the system can work."

It was the Conviction Integrity Unit in Wayne County that worked to free Cotton and why he's lending his voice to other counties like Washtenaw, and now Macomb, as they work to create the same.

Cotton met with Macomb County Prosecutor Pete Lucido, lawmakers, attorneys, and other advocates on Friday.

"Every chance we get, we try to go to as many prosecutors as possible and layout what they are doing in Wayne County, and hope they adopt it," Cotton said.

By phone, Lucido said when he took office, he fought for funding for this unit, which is expected to start re-opening and re-investigating cases where people claim they are innocent by the end of January.

Lucido, who touts his efforts on criminal reform, says it's estimated two to five percent of prisoners behind bars are wrongly convicted - and that's not acceptable.

Like what happened to Cotton, many times false testimony comes from inmates looking for a deal or lighter sentence.

"There should be safeguards and in past cases where this has happened, I think those cases need to be taken a look at through a microscope," Cotton said.

Cotton, who has been a free man for 15 months now - holds no anger. Instead, he works as a motivational speaker and justice reform advocate - while never taking anything for granted.

"I really enjoy the little moments the things you take for granted 6:00 when you lose everything you appreciate the littlest thing," he said. "I pull over on the freeway sometimes just to see a sunrise or sunset."