At a press conference yesterday, officials from the University’s Innocence Clinic announced that the clinic filed a motion Monday to free Karl Vinson, a man they say is in prison because of false evidence.
In the motion, the organization, which seeks to exonerate wrongfully convicted prisoners, argues that Vinson could not have committed the crime for which he has spent the last 23 years of his life in prison.
After clinic officials secured the scientific evidence they believe exonerates Vinson, they informed the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office in June 2009, in hopes that the office would join them in asking for a relief of judgment.
After meeting with senior members of the prosecutor’s staff multiple times and testing a slide from the victim’s rape kit — at the Innocence Clinic’s expense — the prosecution is still dragging its feet, according to Law School Associate Dean Bridget McCormack, co-director of the Innocence Clinic.
“We filed our motion on Monday because we couldn’t move forward in good conscience,” she said.
In 1986, Vinson was accused of sexual criminal conduct and breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony. In May of that year, he was sentenced to concurrent sentences of 10 to 50 years and 5 to 15 years for, as prosecutors claimed, raping a nine-year-old girl.
But Innocence Clinic attorneys argue new evidence suggests Vinson spent 23 years in a cell at the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson, Mich. for a crime he didn’t commit.
Law Prof. David Moran, the other co-director of the Innocence Clinic, called the case a “scientific train wreck,” adding that the new evidence “conclusively exonerates” Vinson.
During the trial, Vinson presented multiple witnesses who testified he was at his mother’s home at the time of the crime, the brief states.
But the prosecution had what the jury found to be damning evidence — evidence, it turns out, that is completely false.
A mixed blood and semen stain was found at the crime scene on the victim’s bed sheet and sent for forensic testing in 1986 to the now-defunct Detroit police crime lab.
Paula Lytle, a police forensic examiner, testified that her tests on Vinson’s blood sample showed him to be a non-secretor, meaning his blood type does not reveal itself in his bodily fluids other than blood.
Another police examiner, Officer Robert Lloyd, also testified at the trial. Lloyd said that fingerprints were not found at the crime scene. Lloyd told the jury that a “non-secretor” is less likely to leave fingerprints because he or she perspires less.
The problem with this testimony, according to the Innocence Clinic’s brief, is that Lloyd did not clarify for the jury that by “non-secretor” he meant a person who excretes very little or no oils from his or her skin, and has nothing to do with the type of non-secretor Lytle’s tests had shown Vinson to be.
The Detroit crime lab, which conducted the tests back in 1986, was shut down last fall after an external audit found a slew of errors in the lab’s analyses in murder and other crime cases over the years.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy told The Associated Press last September that the audit found erroneous or false findings in 10 percent of 200 random cases tested and subpar quality control compliance overall at the lab.
The audit also demonstrated a “shocking level of incompetence” in the lab, constituting a systemic problem, said Worthy at a news conference last fall. The lab met only 42 percent of a required 100 percent of recognized work standards, Worthy said.
In a report published in February, Dr. Judith Westrick, an associate chemistry professor at Lake Superior State University, re-analyzed blood and saliva samples from Vinson. Westrick’s tests found Vinson to be an AB secretor, meaning that both A and B blood antigens should have been found in the semen stain found at the scene of the rape.
Because A and B blood antigens were not found at the crime scene, the brief argues, “Vinson could not have been responsible for this crime.”
Additional testing conducted in 2009 showed the semen to be that of someone with blood type O, further exonerating Vinson for the crime, according to Innocence Clinic officials.
“If blood type O antigens came from the semen source, then Mr. Vinson could not be the semen source because the forensic analysis would have detected the presence of A and B blood types, but only found type O,” the brief reads. “Therefore, Mr. Vinson could not have been responsible for this crime because his blood type should have been detected in the sheet stain but was not detected.”
At the press conference yesterday, Karl’s brother, Robert Vinson, said Vinson’s conviction and incarceration has taken a toll on his whole family, especially his mother, who has had to live with the knowledge her son has been in jail for 23 years for a crime he didn’t commit.
Moran said Vinson has maintained his innocence throughout, adding that he has been denied parole several times because he has refused to admit guilt to the parole board.
Innocence Clinic officials are currently waiting for Judge Vera Massey Jones to decide on the case. There is no timeframe for that process, though Moran said he’s confident it will get resolved soon, as Jones is known for keeping a clean docket.
-Elyana Twiggs contributed to this report.