Ledura Watkins has spent his entire adult life in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. On Thursday, after some 41 years behind bars, Watkins, now 61, walked out of Michigan’s Wayne County Jail after his conviction was overturned.
According to the Washington Post, Watkins was freed after prosecutors agreed that his murder conviction in 1976 hinged on flimsy evidence—a single hair, to be precise.
“It’s really surreal ... kind of unbelievable,” Watkins told reporters. “But I’m feeling great. I expected this to happen. I didn’t think it would take 41 years.”
Watkins was just 20 years old when he was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1975 fatal shooting of 25-year-old Yvette Ingram during a home robbery. Watkins was tied to the scene by police-lab analysts based on a single hair that an FBI expert witness testified was microscopically similar and could have come from Watkins, Fox2 reports.
Watkins ended up being sentenced to life in prison.
Decades passed. Then the Innocence Project at the Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School took up Watkins’ case and, in January, asked the court to overturn the conviction.
“It is simply a lab analyst’s subjective opinion and has no place in our criminal-justice system. This is why a statewide review of hair-comparison cases is critical,” Marla Mitchell-Cichon, the director of the law school’s Innocence Project, told the Post.
“That evidence is completely false and unreliable,” she added, according to Fox2.
Local prosecutors acknowledged that the evidence was flawed under the current FBI standard for hair comparison, Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office spokesperson Maria Miller said in a statement.
Watkins has worked for years to clear his own name, but now is returning to the simple joys, like having dinner with his family.
“It took me years to get to this point. I don’t want to touch another law book,” Watkins said.
As Fox2 notes, based on new Michigan law, Watkins could be eligible for up to $50,000 per year for every year he spent in prison, which could bring him a total of about $2 million for the time he lost.