Exonerated man was willing to die in prison rather than admit to crime he never did

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Spending over half of his life in prison for a murder he didn't commit, all charges against 71-year-old Richard Phillips were officially dismissed Wednesday.

"The system failed him, there's just no question about it in this case," said Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

Rewind decades back to 1971 when a man named Gregory Harris was murdered. Phillips, along with co-defendant Richard Polombo, was convicted a year later of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

"I would rather die in prison than to admit to something I didn't do," Phillips said.

But in 2010 testimony from the real co-defendant Fred Mitchell, was found to be false.

"Mr. Polombo testified at that hearing for the first time, that Mitchell's testimony was a total lie," Worthy said.

The University of Michigan Innocence Clinic learned of Phillips' case in 2014 and spent nearly four years on it. Then the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office and its conviction integrity unit conducting a thorough investigation, even finding more evidence that supports Phillips' innocence.

"We found things the defense team hadn't even found," said one member of the Innocence Clinic.

The charges against Phillips were immediately dismissed, his record expunged and the appeal to be dismissed Monday. This judge called Phillips a man of dignity and integrity.

"You have seen the worst and the best of the criminal justice system," the judge said. "I'm thrilled to be the judge that can dismiss this case against you." 

The moment begins to sink in for this father of two who hasn't see his children in 47 years. Phillips said he is hoping they will see this, as he looks toward the future with no animosity, anger or bitterness in his heart.

"If you have a rotten heart from the beginning, you'll have a rotten heart afterwards," he said. "My heart has never been rotten."