Temujin Kensu is depicted as a major pain in the butt, a smart alecky know-it-all who at one time was not very nice to the women in his life.
And that’s the take offered by the people who are trying to spring him from prison.
But what Kensu appears not to be is a murderer, even though he has spent the past 30 years in prison for a Port Huron slaying only a rank moron could believe he committed, based on the evidence presented.
“This case is pretty mind-blowing,” says Imran Syed, assistant professor in the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan. “I’ve never seen a case like this where someone was sent to prison based on so little evidence against him.”
Kensu, formerly Fred Freeman (he changed his name to reflect his Buddhist beliefs) was convicted of killing Scott Macklem, 20, the fiance of his ex-girlfriend, in 1987 in a Port Huron parking lot.
Kensu has contended from the start that he could not have killed Macklem because he was in Escanaba in the Upper Peninsula at the time.
Syed says Kensu’s U.P. girlfriend and seven or eight other witnesses, most with little connection to Kensu, corroborate that alibi.
But his trial attorney, a proven cocaine addict, bungled the defense from start to finish, including by not putting the girlfriend on the stand.
No physical evidence was presented against Kensu, and scant circumstantial evidence.
And yet then St. Clair County Prosecutor Robert Cleland convinced the jury to discount Kensu’s alibi. Cleland, now a federal district judge, argued it was possible Kensu could have rented a private plane in Escanaba, flown the 450 miles to Port Huron, killed Macklem and flown back.
No proof was produced of a plane rental, nor that Kensu, a 23-year-old loser, could have come up with the money necessary to pay for one. The two eyewitnesses who claimed they saw Kensu driving away from the crime scene were ambivalent in their testimony.
The trial centered on the rambling full-day testimony by Macklem’s fiance, who once dated Kensu, and said the accused abused her, was obsessed with the martial arts and could read her mind because of his ninja abilities. Thus Kensu became known nationally as the Ninja Killer, and is brought into courtrooms in heavy shackles lest he bust a move and escape.
This conviction should have been reversed decades ago. But Kensu has lost appeal after appeal in state and federal courts.
Now, his last hope is a federal habeas appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court, based on strong indications prosecutors manipulated the photo line-up evidence presented to the jury.
While serving life without parole, Kensu has been a thorn in the side of the Michigan Department of Corrections. He’s sued the state five times and won three of the cases, including a $300,000 judgment for failure to provide adequate medical care.
No one denies he was a sketchy character before he went to prison.
“He may very well have been an a--hole,” Syed says. “He was convicted because he was a bad guy and a bit weird. Not because of credible evidence.”
Kensu’s defenders are trying to build public sentiment on his behalf. The Discovery Channel aired a profile of the case Wednesday night.
Give it a look. It will shock you to learn just how easy it is to land in prison for a crime you didn’t commit.