On Tuesday, Aug. 10, WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project exonerees and advocates shared their experiences with wrongful convictions due to misapplied forensic science with the Michigan Task Force on Forensic Science (TFFS).
Gilbert Poole, who was released in May after wrongfully serving 32 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, was one of the exonerated Michiganders who participated in the discussion about why misapplied forensic science is one of the leading contributing factors to wrongful convictions and how it can be addressed going forward. Marla Mitchell-Cichon, distinguished professor emeritus and counsel to the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project, along with additional legal experts also shared insight about the need to review forensic science applications for convictions.
“I spent 32 years in prison trying to get out and it was my efforts to learn the law and my persistence in pursuing assistance that gained my release,” Poole told the TFFS committee.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 136 wrongfully convicted people have been exonerated in Michigan. Approximately 25 percent of the cases involved false or misapplied forensic evidence as a factor that led to the wrongful incarceration – accounting for 526 years of wrongful imprisonment. Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued Executive Order 2021-04, which created the Michigan Task Force on Forensic Science to review the state of forensic science in Michigan. The task force is expected to produce their findings and policy recommendations to strengthen forensic disciplines by the end of the year.
“The time lag between our discovery that the science was not reliable and the time Mr. Poole was released is too long,” Mitchell-Cichon told TFFS. “I think that a task force and a commission can go a long way to help and correct these problems sooner.”
Other presenters included Megan Richardson, clinical teaching fellow at University of Michigan Law School Michigan Innocence Clinic; David Moran, clinical Professor of Law and co-founder of the University of Michigan Law School Michigan Innocence Clinic; and clients of the Michigan Innocence clinic.
About the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project: The WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project is part of the Innocence Network, which has been credited with the release of over 375 wrongfully accused prisoners through the use of DNA testing. The WMU-Cooley project has screened over 5,800 cases and is responsible for the exoneration of seven men: Kenneth Wyniemko (2003), Nathaniel Hatchett (2008), Donya Davis (2014), LeDura Watkins (2017), Kenneth Nixon (2021), Gilbert Poole (2021), and Corey Quentin McCall (2021).
The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project has also helped to exonerate Lacino Hamilton after spending 26 years in prison, and Ramon Ward, who spent 27 years in prison, for crimes they did not commit. The project is staffed by WMU-Cooley Law School students, who work under the supervision of WMU-Cooley Innocence Project attorneys. Those interested in donating and supporting the work of the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project can do so at cooley.edu/academics/experiential-learning/innocence-project.
About WMU-Cooley Law School: WMU-Cooley Law School was founded on a mission of equal access to a legal education and offers admission to a diverse group of qualified applicants across the country. Since the law school's founding in 1972, WMU-Cooley has provided a modern legal education to more than 20,000 graduates, teaching the practical skills necessary for a seamless transition from academia to the real world. WMU-Cooley enrolls classes year-round at its Michigan and Florida campuses. WMU-Cooley is an independent, non-profit law school, accredited by both the American Bar Association and the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.