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

Last year, 20 people who had been wrongfully convicted of crimes in Michigan were exonerated.

Only one other state exonerated more people in 2020. Illinois had 22. Nationally, 129 people were exonerated. 

Twelve of Michigan’s exonerations were people convicted of murder, three were for attempted murder, two were for child abuse, one was for robbery, one was for assault, and one was for selling or possessing drugs.

MORE: Man freed from prison for deadly firebombing after court finds he was wrongfully convicted in 2005

The National Registry of Exonerations credits Wayne County’s Conviction Integrity Unit as a driving force behind the state’s number of overturned convictions. The unit helped with 13 of the exonerations.

The county’s CIU investigates if there is new evidence proving that a convicted person did not commit a crime. 

The unit then presents the information to the prosecutor, who decides what will happen next. If the prosecutor determines that steps should be taken based on the facts presented, the case will go to the courts.

Exonerated cases in Michigan last year included a number of reasons the convictions were determined to be wrongful. Many of the exonerations included a combination of factors that led to the reversal of the original conviction.

Perjury or false accusations were involved in 15 of the cases, 11 cases included official misconduct, and eight had inadequate legal defense, defined by the registry as "obviously and grossly inadequate representation" by the convicted person’s lawyer.

Read: DNA clears Detroit man in 1994 murder of woman, now free after 26 years in prison

Other factors included false or misleading forensic evidence and false confessions.

Ten people were given life sentences; nine of those did not include the chance for parole.

The oldest Michigan convection that was reversed happened in 1983. 

Related: Wrongly convicted man starts non-profit helping other exonerees

Walter Forbes was sentenced to life without parole in connection with a 1982 fire that killed a man in Jackson.

A woman testified that she saw Forbes and two other men starting the fire at a house while she was walking home. According to the Registry, in 2017 she took back her accusations, and testified in 2020 that her original statements were lies.

A polygraph test was also given to the woman in 2018, and the results concluded she was telling the truth about lying.

A new trial was ordered for Forbes in November 2020, and he was released from prison. The charges were dismissed in December.

Read More: Man exonerated after spending 7 years in prison for Palmer Park murder he didn't commit

Half of all people exonerated in the United States in 2020 were convicted of crimes related to homicides, including murder, manslaughter, and accessory to murder. Twenty-seven percent were convicted of non-violent crimes, such as drug crimes and sex offender registration violations, 13% were convicted of violent crimes other than murder, and 10% were convicted of sex crimes.