Man wrongfully convicted in Macomb County 7-Eleven robbery freed after new evidence proves innocence

Mack Howell (MDOC)

A man who spent 7 ½ years in prison for a 2014 Macomb County robbery he didn't commit is now free.

Mack Howell, 62, was sentenced to 25–50 years in prison after he was convicted of robbing an Eastpointe 7-Eleven store on April 3, 2014. 

The Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit looked at the case and asked for Howell to be released after seeing new evidence that wasn't known at the time and was not available during his trial.

According to Prosecutor Pete Lucido's office, the robber was wearing all black, including a black cap on his head and a mask concealing his face with only his eyes visible. He was described as being 6 feet tall and having a medium build. The 7-Eleven clerk was the only witness.

A police K-9 was used to track the robber, who ran from the scene. However, the dog wasn't given anything touched by the suspect to track and the K-9 started its track outside the store. According to the prosecutor's office, the dog hit on a paper bag with a beer can inside. The robber was not seen on security cameras or in person with a paper bag or beer can, before, during, or after the robbery.

However, the beer can was processed for fingerprints and DNA. A quality fingerprint on the can did not belong to Howell, but the beer can had Howell’s DNA on it and the DNA of an unknown person.

Howell was the only person identified through DNA and became the main suspect. A photo identification process occurred several months after the robbery, and a combination of the DNA and identification process resulted in Howell being charged and convicted. 

After the initial crime, five other armed robberies of nearby 7-11’s in Macomb County occurred. A 7-Eleven store on Ten Mile in Warren was robbed on July 16, 2014, August 10, 2014, and August 15, 2014. A 7-11 store on Harper Ave. in St. Clair Shores was robbed on July 25, 2014. On August 20, 2014, the same store that Howell was convicted of robbing, was robbed again. 

Authorities said a suspect in those robberies was just recently discovered. 

Howell's innocence was proven by a few pieces of evidence. First, he had a severe medical issue and walked with a cane, meaning he wouldn't have been able to commit the crime and run from the scene. Second, his appearance at the time did not match that of the robber – Howell was shorter and heavier. Third, the K-9 track was questionable since the track began outside in an area contaminated by many people. 

The prosecutor's office said none of that evidence was heard by the jury that convicted Howell. 

Howell was released Monday. 

"I take my oath of office and ethical obligations seriously, which requires that I seek to remedy a conviction if it appears that the defendant did not commit the crime he/she is convicted of. As the top law enforcement official in Macomb County, I understand that community safety is not served if the wrong person is in prison, and while the actual perpetrator roams free," Lucido said.