Wrongfully Convicted Man Freed with help from WMU-Cooley Innocence Project
November 10, 2014 – After serving almost seven years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Donya Davis has been exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing. Davis was released on bond on June 20, 2014, pending a new trial. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office dismissed all charges against Davis on Thursday, Nov. 6.
Kareem Johnson, a 2008 graduate of WMU- Cooley Law School, was Davis’ court-appointed counsel. Johnson, together with WMU-Cooley Innocence Project, successfully negotiated the dismissal of the charges.
“Mr. Davis’ innocence was revealed in March and we are grateful this long ordeal has finally ended,” said Marla Mitchell-Cichon, director of WMU-Cooley’s Innocence Project.
In 2013, the WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project sought DNA testing under Michigan’s post-conviction law, MCL 770.16. After testing was ordered, Bode Technology Group in Lorton, Virginia, identified sperm cells on thigh samples that were never evaluated or tested by the Detroit Crime Lab. Bode’s testing of that evidence excluded Davis as the source of male DNA.
Davis has maintained his innocence since his arrest in 2006. At a bench trial before the Hon. Leonard Townsend, Davis presented an alibi defense. The only direct evidence against Davis was the victim’s identification. Experts in the field, however, say that misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions. Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in nearly 75 percent of convictions overturned through DNA testing.
"Now that the charges have been dismissed, Donya can get on with his life," stated Mitchell-Cichon. "Unfortunately, he will not be compensated by the state of Michigan for his time in prison. There are 30 states, along with the District of Columbia, that do provide compensation for wrongfully convicted persons, but Michigan does not. Our state is among 20 states without a compensation law in place."
Since his release, Davis has been seeking employment and has leads on two possible jobs. The last step before he could be employed was for his criminal case to be dismissed. Davis also plans to go back to school. “I want to finish my paralegal studies so I can help bring awareness to this problem,” he said.
The purpose of the WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project is to identify, provide legal assistance to, and secure the release of those persons who are imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. The project has screened over 5,000 cases since 2001 and has been responsible for the exoneration of two other individuals in Michigan, Ken Wyniemko, in 2003, and Nathaniel Hatchett, in 2008. The project is staffed by student interns who do the bulk of the legal work, and several students participated in the development of Davis’ case.
For more information, contact: Professor Marla Mitchell-Cichon, Director, WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project, Western Michigan University, (517) 290-2951.
About Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School: Western Michigan University and Thomas M. Cooley Law School affiliated in 2014, combining the status of a nationally-ranked, public, comprehensive research university with the commitment to practical legal education of an independent, non-profit, national law school. WMU-Cooley is accredited by both the American Bar Association and the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. The law school has provided nearly 20,000 graduates with the practical skills necessary for a seamless transition from academia to the real world, and enrolls classes in January, May, and September at its Lansing, Auburn Hills, and Grand Rapids, Michigan campuses, and its Tampa Bay, Florida campus. WMU and Cooley continue to operate as independent institutions with their own governance structure and separate fiduciary responsibilities.