WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Granted Evidentiary Hearing in 1998 Rape Case
The Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Innocence Project is seeking a new trial in a 1998 Genesee County rape case. WMU-Cooley’s project filed a motion for a new trial on behalf of Octaviano Molina Jr., citing new evidence that casts doubt on Molina’s involvement in the rape of a Flint woman. After hearing arguments regarding the motion on Monday, June 27, Judge Joseph J. Farah ordered an evidentiary hearing to consider the new evidence, including DNA evidence that identifies a second man never charged with the crime.
"The post-conviction DNA testing requested by our office resulted in the identification of a man who could not be identified in 1998,” said Marla Mitchell-Cichon, director of the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project. “Our client was not with this man during the time of the crime.”
During the 1998 trial, Molina’s defense attorney presented alibi witnesses placing him at home during the time of the rape and suggested two others committed the crime.
The new DNA evidence also calls into question the victim’s ability to identify her attackers. Eyewitness misidentification is the greatest contributing factor of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in 70 percent of convictions overturned through DNA testing. (http://www.innocenceproject.org/understand/Eyewitness-Misidentification.php)
WMU-Cooley graduate and legal intern Joseph Daly wrote and argued the motion on behalf of Molina. Daly, who has been a project intern for over a year said, “I promised the client that I would follow through with his case to the end. I have stayed on with the project to do just that.”
The mission of the WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project is to provide legal assistance to persons who are imprisoned for crimes they did not commit and to train students in best practices. WMU-Cooley’s project has screened 5,500 cases since 2001 and is responsible for the exoneration of three men--Kenneth Wyniemko (2003), Nathaniel Hatchett (2008), and Donya Davis (2014). The project is staffed by Western Michigan University undergraduates and WMU-Cooley students who do the bulk of the legal work under the supervision of project attorneys. Daly argued the motion pursuant to Michigan’s student practice rule.
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 the law school continue to operate as independent institutions with their own governance structure and separate fiduciary responsibilities.