Two Detroit-area black men locked up for the better part of 20 years for crimes they say they didn’t commit were recently freed from prison after the investigative officer was found to have allegedly coerced witnesses into lying about what they saw.
According to Detroit Free Press, 37-year-old Kevin Harrington and 49-year-old George Clark were convicted for the 2002 killing of Michael Martin in Inkster, Mich. Both men were released from prison straight into quarantine this month.
Clark was freed from the Lakeland Correctional Facility on bond earlier this month because of concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in the facility which has had at least 208 coronavirus cases and eight deaths. Harrington, who spent 17 and a half years in lockup, walked out of Macomb Correctional Facility Tuesday after a federal judge both men’s convictions tossed in the “interests of justice.” Both men had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
So, what the hell happened?
Well, Clark and Harrington were both convicted for fatally shooting Martin—a crime both men insist they were innocent of since 2002. Harrington actually had four separate trials. The first ended in a verdict being overturned, two ended with hung juries and the last ended in him being convicted of first-degree murder. He was offered a 17-year plea deal, which he refused.
“My mother always told me something when I was a child: ‘If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything,’” Harrington, who was 20 at the time of his arrest, said. “That was something that I could never agree to knowing that I was innocent of this crime.”
The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit spent six months investigating the case and “found a very troubling pattern of behavior from the original lead detective that involved threatening and coercing a number of witnesses,” according to Maria Miller, a spokeswoman for the office, the Free Press notes.
“This is an unbelievable case of police misconduct,” attorney and assistant director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic Imran Syed said. “The only witness against him was clearly coerced by the investigating officer … and she actually recanted at all of the trials.” Syed had been working on Harrington’s case since 2009 when he was a law student. He said that Inkster police threatened to take away the witness’ children if she didn’t say what police wanted her to say and that details of her account were disputed by other witnesses. And she wasn’t the only one.
From the Free Press:
In 2016, a new witness came forward. According to an affidavit, this person said she saw a man in an argument with the victim when she rolled up in her car to buy marijuana, then heard two gunshots as she drove away. She went back later that morning and learned Martin had been killed, the document said.
The witness said she knew the wrong man had been arrested but didn’t tell police because she was scared for her family’s safety. She came forward later after talking with her pastor.
Officials with the Conviction Integrity Unit uncovered new evidence during its investigation.
They interviewed a woman who went to police shortly after Martin’s death and said she was with Clark at the time of the murder, according to court documents.
In the end, there was no physical evidence that Clark or Harrington had anything to do with Martin’s shooting and multiple witnesses identified another man as the shooter—and that man is now dead. Miller said they won’t be retried.
“We have not reached any conclusion on actual innocence,” she said. “The issues with the original lead detective were such that the conduct materially impacted the integrity of the verdict.”
The lead detective’s name hasn’t been released, but Miller said the prosecutor’s office is recommending the Inkster Police Department have an outside law enforcement agency investigate his conduct.
Attorney Wolfgang Mueller is now representing both men and is in the process of filing lawsuits seeking $50,000 for each year the men were in prison under the state’s Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act.
As for Harrington and Clark, they’re happy to be able to see their families again and have both expressed disappointment in the justice system and a desire to help other wrongfully convicted people.
”I just want to help fix this criminal justice system,” Harrington said.
Clark, who lost his mother two years after he was sent to prison, never gave up on himself.
“I always just held on because I knew one day the truth would prevail,” he said.