David Moran, clinical professor of law at the University of Michigan and co-founder of the Michigan Innocence Clinic, delivered a webinar to almost 200 law students and community members Tuesday morning. He discussed the goals of the Michigan Innocence Clinic as well as recent exonerations the clinic has achieved.
The Michigan Innocence Clinic, founded in 2009, aims to investigate cases where there was no relevant DNA evidence in the conviction. Law School students are involved in the clinic’s work through investigating cases while gaining hands-on law experience and credits..
“There is no DNA test, especially since in the United States crimes are usually committed with firearms,” Moran said. “And so if you shoot somebody as opposed to stabbing them or strangling them, you’re especially unlikely to leave behind biological evidence.”
Moran also discussed three recent cases that the clinic has successfully handled. The first case involved the wrongful conviction of Desmond Ricks, who was accused of murdering his friend Gerry Bennett outside a burger joint in Detroit.
Moran explained how after Ricks witnessed his friend’s murder, he ran home, dropping his jacket and wallet. The police discovered Ricks’ address and showed up at his home to find a gun, which they claimed to be the murder weapon.
Years later, the Detroit Police Crime Lab was exposed for fraudulent bullet-to-gun matching. Moran explained how the clinic used the lab’s malpractice to help exonerate Ricks.
“The Detroit Police Crime Lab was shut down after an audit was done by the Michigan State Police,” Moran said. “And what that audit showed was that in the firearms ballistics-matching unit in particular, there was widespread misfeasance, and in fact, they were matching bullets to guns where they didn’t really match.”
As a result of the discovery, Moran explained how Ricks’ case was reopened and he was eventually released from prison after 25 years. He received compensation for wrongful conviction and was able to reunite with his family, according to Moran.
Another recent case involved the murder of an 11-year-old girl, Jodi Parrack, in Constantine, Mich. According to Moran, Ray McCann was wrongfully convicted of murdering Parrack after he suggested searching the cemetery and Parrack’s body was found there shortly after. McCann claimed he was innocent, yet the Michigan State Police continued to question him, lying to him about having DNA evidence and videos to prove his guilt.
Moran went on to discuss how while McCann was spending time in prison, Daniel Furlong, a fellow community member, tried to abduct and murder a young girl. The girl got away and the police called Furlong in for questioning. Furlong confessed he was responsible for the murder of Parrack and that he felt safe enough to do it again due to the police’s intense focus on McCann. Moran explained how he exposed the lies the detectives told McCann after Furlong’s confession.
“So instead of doing the right thing at that point and realizing that they had hounded an innocent man for all these years, the police actually went to the prison where Ray McCann was held and told him that Daniel Furlong had just been caught and had implicated Ray McCann as an accomplice,” Moran said. “Again, another complete lie.”
Moran detailed one more case involving the wrongful conviction of Richard Phillips, who served 46 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Phillips was convicted for the murder of Gregory Harris. Harris’ brother-in-law, Fred Mitchell, testified against Phillips. Years later, it was revealed that Mitchell was involved in the murder and that Phillips was innocent.
According to Moran, Phillips was able to return to his life, continuing his favorite hobbies like art and has developed an ongoing friendship with Moran.
“Richard has become a really good friend of mine,” said Moran. “We still go drawing together and we still have lunch together.”
LSA sophomore Kylie Claxton said she is interested in how the clinic is helping to fix wrongful convictions. She explained how it is important that the clinic works diligently to find proof of wrongful convictions and helps victims of irresponsible detective work rediscover their freedom.
“I think the work that the Michigan Innocence Clinic is doing is really important in helping victims of unjust detective work,” Claxton said. “It’s important to have organizations like these that continue to investigate cases even after they seem to be resolved.”
Nursing sophomore Delanie Baumgartner said she is concerned about how wrongful convictions can impact the public’s perception of the justice system.
“People are so quick to judge and jump to conclusions that they often don’t look at the whole picture. When cases are closed, they have a tendency to lock them away and never look at them again,” Baumgartner said. “This not only hurts the wrongfully imprisoned person but the justice system’s reputation as well.”
Daily Staff Reporter Laura Millar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.