Appellate attorney Valerie Newman has joined the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office as head of the office’s new Conviction Integrity Unit, Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced Monday.
Newman has secured the freedom of a number of wrongly convicted individuals, according to the Prosecutor’s Office.
One of Newman’s most high-profile cases was the successful 2016 appeal on behalf of Davontae Sanford, a Detroit resident who served nearly nine years for murders at a reputed city drug house that he has maintained he didn’t commit. Worthy’s office fought hard against dismissal of the charges against Sanford before agreeing to drop them last year.
Sanford was 14 in September 2007 when four people were killed in an alleged drug house on Detroit’s east side. Sanford said he was tricked into confessing to police. He said he also was coerced by an “unscrupulous” lawyer into pleading guilty to second-degree murder.
Newman has worked for years as an attorney with the State Appellate Defender Office to exonerate Sanford. In 2015, Sanford’s case was picked up by the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic, a student group headed by UM law professor David Moran.
A self-confessed hit man had repeatedly taken responsibility for the murders two weeks after Sanford went to prison.
Newman has argued twice before the U.S. Supreme Court, winning a landmark victory in Lafler v. Cooper, which has been heralded as one of the most important right-to-counsel cases.
Both she and Moran were among The Detroit News’ Michiganians of the Year for 2016.
“I am very pleased to announce that Valerie Newman has joined the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office as the director of our new conviction integrity unit,” Worthy said in a statement.
The new unit will have two full-time lawyers, a project consultant lawyer, a full-time investigator, a part-time investigator and an administrative staff person, the Prosecutor’s Office said.
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and the Wayne County Commission approved about $660,000 in funding for the newly formed unit for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
“I am honored to be leading this new, cutting-edge unit,” Newman said. “I look forward to continuing my work improving the criminal justice system and investigating innocence claims.”
Newman is an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan Law School and has been an advocate for women’s rights and professional development.
Imran Syed, the associate director of the Innocence Clinic at UM, said Newman is a good choice for the new position.
“She’s one who understands all the problems that can happen in these cases,” said Syed, who called Newman a “superb public defender” who has dedicated her career to helping those wrongfully convicted.
“(Newman) has the spirit and experience to do it,” said Syed, also a clinical assistant professor of law at UM Law School.
A graduate of Wayne State University Law School, Newman began her career with the State Appellate Defender Office, where she has been for 23 years.