The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office and the Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School Innocence Project are pleased to announce that the Department of Justice is awarding a $550,000 grant to collaborate on case review and DNA testing in post-conviction cases. The funding supports the continuing collaboration between the two offices. Current DOJ funding supported the exoneration/grants of relief of Ramon Ward, Lacino Hamilton, Kenneth Nixon and Terance Calhoun.
Funding from the Justice Department grant will defray the costs associated with case review, evidence location and DNA testing where the results may show innocence of those convicted of felonies. The grant provides funding for personnel for both offices.
The WCPO Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) and the WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project will work jointly to screen cases to determine whether DNA testing might produce new evidence determinative of guilt. Forensic science has undergone tremendous changes over the years and offers the ability to both exonerate and convict. This grant will allow the two entities to continue their successful partnership to ensure that justice has been served through the testing or retesting of forensic evidence that was integral to a conviction. The project will also provide training to grant personnel to help keep them abreast of the changes in forensic science.
The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office Conviction Integrity Unit became operational in January 2018 and has received over 2000 requests for investigation. Approximately 15 percent of these cases involve forensic evidence.
https://www.waynecounty.com/elected/prosecutor/conviction-integrity-unit.aspx. The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project currently has over 200 Wayne County cases under review. It is the only post-conviction DNA innocence organization in the state. Since its inception, the office has screened over 6,000 cases and is responsible for the exoneration/grants of relief of eight individuals: Kenneth Wyniemko (2003), Nathaniel Hatchett (2008), Donya Davis (2014), LeDura Watkins (2017), Kenneth Nixon (2021), Gilbert Poole (2021), Corey Quentin McCall (2021) and George DeJesus (2022). 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 https://www.cooley.edu/academics/experiential-learning/innocence-project.
The goal of this project is to review and work to conclusion 200 cases involving claims of innocence in violent felony cases. Having the access to prosecution records will greatly aid the traditional process, which requires defense attorneys to file motions to access evidence and obtain testing. There will be no need to involve the courts with respect to the testing of evidence, since the parties will jointly decide whether testing may bear upon the reliability of the verdict.
This project will stand as a model for future collaborative efforts between the prosecution and defense, and allow for a speedier, just resolution to claims of innocence where forensic science can often provide a definitive answer.
WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Director Tracey W. Brame is grateful for the award. "The Department of Justice funds will allow our office to continue to provide high-quality legal services to prisoners whose innocence may be proven through DNA testing. We look forward to continuing our partnership with a prosecutor's office that is committed to rectifying wrongful convictions and improving the criminal justice system," said Brame.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said: "DNA is an important tool to have when working on wrongful conviction cases. This grant supports very important work that potentially will have a significant impact on wrongful conviction cases."
Valerie Newman, Director of the Conviction Integrity Unit, said: "The Conviction Integrity Unit's work will be enhanced by this grant. I look forward to continuing our successful collaboration with Cooley's innocence project. We have granted relief to four men under our current and former DNA testing grant. The new grant award will help us to continue this very important work."