'Righting a wrong' - Macomb County announces new Conviction Integrity Unit

A fight to get innocent people out of prison in Macomb County is growing tonight. The prosecutor's office has named the person it wants to lead the new conviction integrity unit.

Since 1989, there have only been 168 exonerations in Michigan, yet it's estimated 1,600 prisoners in this state are innocent.

In 2003 Kenneth Wyniemko was released from prison - exonerated after nine years behind bars for a brutal rape he did not commit.

"I knew I was innocent - I didn't know how long it was going to take but I knew that I would be here," he said.

He is one of only a handful of exonerations ever in Macomb County - The Innocence Project and attorney Gail Pamukov, helped set him free.

"It's also a victory for DNA testing and the promise that that testing brings to the criminal justice system as a whole," Pamukov said.

And now nearly 20 years later, Pamukov, who now lives in Chicago, is returning to Macomb County - joining Prosecutor Peter Lucido, as chief of their new Conviction Integrity Unit.

"It is an attempt to right a wrong - it doesn't fix the underlying wrong but it's a step in the direction of fixing the wrong," Pamukov said.

"Although the justice system isn't perfect - we're going to try to get it right - today - moving forward, for those that sit behind those bars," Lucido said.

People like Marvin Cotton Jr. and the many other exonerees working with local prosecutor's offices to form conviction integrity units, to review new evidence, and exonerate the innocent.

"It was important to really have a voice in the room because at a certain point in time being an exoneree, you know - we were victims of the system," Cotton said.

Cotton, who was freed after 19 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, spoke with FOX 2 earlier this month about the importance of their activism.

"We are living, breathing proof, that the system failed - but we also are living, breathing proof, that the system can work," he said.

Which is what Lucido and Pamukov are hoping to make happen - an estimated two to five percent of the two million people in prison in the United States - are innocent.

"Five percent of that is over 100,000 people in prison - that are innocent," Pamukov said.

In Michigan 33,000 people are behind bars - an estimated 1,600 - wrongfully convicted.

"Aaron Salters 15 years, Eric Anderson 9 years, Anthony Legion - 19 years 10 months," Lucido said.

Months and years the innocent can't get back - making the mission of Macomb County's new Conviction Integrity Unit - all the more urgent.

"Even one life that sits behind bars is too much that's innocent," Lucido said.