Cooley Innocence Project receives $300K grant to help free wrongfully convicted Michiganders

The Cooley Innocence Project at Western Michigan University received a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to review possible wrongful convictions.

The school's Innocence Project reviews cases to ensure a person was not imprisoned for a crime they did not commit. It has reviewed more than 6,900 cases since 2001.

Related: How DNA evidence freed a man after more than 30 years

Cooley is Michigan's only post-conviction DNA innocence organization, and DNA testing has helped free people in most of the cases were wrongful conviction was discovered.

The grant through the Office of Justice Programs is a two-year extension of the Upholding the Rule of Law grant Cooley received in 2019. The money will be used to support efforts to discover forensic errors while allowing for 400 cases to be reviewed in a timely manner.

The grant will also support expert consultation and pay the salaries of two part-time attorneys.

READ: Michigan had 2nd highest number of wrongful conviction exonerations in 2020

The Cooley Innocence Project works alongside the Wayne County Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) to review cases with potentially unreliable forensic practices. 

The county's CIU was credited by the National Registry of Exonerations as being a driving force behind Michigan exonerations in 2020. The unit helped with 13 of the state's 20 people who were cleared of crimes.

In 2019, Cooley partnered with the then-new Attorney General's Conviction Integrity Unit. In 2021, federal grant funding helped free three people – Gilbert Poole Jr., who was cleared in a 1989 murder thanks to DNA advancements; Kenneth Nixon, who was wrongfully convicted of firebombing a home in 2005; and Corey McCall, who was cleared through new evidence after being convicted of a triple murder in 2005.

"Working alongside our Conviction Integrity Unit partners has broadened the scope of the work that we are able to do in the state of Michigan," said WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Director Tracey Brame. "We are pleased that the Department of Justice has recognized this important work and provided resources for us to continue our partnerships and help fund our efforts to free Michigan citizens who have been wrongfully convicted."