DOJ awards $550K to help Wayne County CIU, Cooley Innocence Project review wrongful convictions

A $550,000 grant will help the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Innocence Project review potential wrongful convictions.

The Department of Justice awarded the grant to support exoneration efforts. Both the Innocence Project and the county's Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) work to review cases and free wrongfully convicted people. The collaboration between the two entities allows lawyers to have access to prosecution records from when the convictions occurred as they work to determine innocence. 

READ: Michigan exonerated 11 wrongfully convicted people in 2021

"The Conviction Integrity Unit’s work will be enhanced by this grant. I look forward to continuing our successful collaboration with Cooley’s innocence project. We have granted relief to four men under our current and former DNA testing grant. The new grant award will help us to continue this very important work," said Valerie Newman, director of the CIU.

The grant will help pay for DNA testing and other costs associated with reviewing cases. Cooley is the only post-conviction DNA innocence organization in Michigan.

"The Department of Justice funds will allow our office to continue to provide high-quality legal services to prisoners whose innocence may be proven through DNA testing. We look forward to continuing our partnership with a prosecutor’s office that is committed to rectifying wrongful convictions and improving the criminal justice system," said Tracey W. Brame, the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project director. 

The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project is currently reviewing more than 200 cases from Wayne County. Cooley has screened more than 6,000 cases around the state, and has helped exonerate eight people: Kenneth Wyniemko (2003), Nathaniel Hatchett (2008), Donya Davis (2014), LeDura Watkins (2017), Kenneth Nixon (2021), Gilbert Poole (2021), Corey Quentin McCall (2021) and George DeJesus (2022).

More: Cooley Innocence Project receives $300K grant

Wayne County's CIU has received more than 2,000 case review requests. Other DNA testing grant money has helped exonerate four people: Ramon Ward, Lacino Hamilton, Kenneth Nixon, and Terance Calhoun.

Of those case requests, about 15% of them involve forensic evidence.

"DNA is an important tool to have when working on wrongful conviction cases. This grant supports very important work that potentially will have a significant impact on wrongful conviction cases," said Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

Wayne County's CIU has been cited by the National Registry of Exonerations as a driving force behind turned-over convictions in Michigan. Other counties have started to create their own CIU units to review cases. 

Related: Washtenaw County creates Conviction Integrity and Expungement Unit