Detroit pastor seeks to raise $260K to give exonerated men new start

Detroit Pastor Terrence Devezin argues not enough is being done for men who were recently exonerated and released from prison after being wrongfully convicted decades ago and is trying to raise money to help them. 

Devezin, the pastor of the United Kingdom Church on Detroit's west side, says he wants to help the mostly Detroiters get back on their feet by helping them find jobs, housing and assistance with their daily needs.

So he has set up a GoFundMe page named Justice for the Michigan 13 that aims to raise $260,000 to give $20,000 each for 13 individuals and help them get a second start in life. They are also owed a public apology for the many years they served behind bars for crimes they never committed, the pastor said.

Pastor Terrence Devezin asks wrongfully convicted and exonerated men about their experiences during a Welcome Home ceremony at the United Kingdom Church in Detroit.

"Now that they are released, they have to fend for themselves," Devezin said. "I feel these men have been taken to a remote island and dropped off."

Jesus would help the men, he said. Many people are likely to want to help, the pastor said, since many "feel strongly about innocence."

Justly Johnson, 44, was released from prison after serving 18 years for a 1999 Mothers Day murder of a mother of three that he and another man, Kendrick Scott, were wrongly convicted of. They were exonerated with the help from the Michigan Innocence Clinic and the testimony of the woman's son, who said the men were not his mother's killers, and other new evidence.

Through the efforts of the University of Michigan's Innocence Clinic, Johnson and Kendrick Scott were exonerated of their wrongful convictions in November 2018.

"A lot of guys are basically struggling," said Johnson, who is celebrating his first birthday and Thanksgiving in 20 years with his family.

Johnson said while some of the men are doing small jobs to help them make some money, it's not enough.

"A lot of guys are doing odd jobs just to keep money in their pockets ... just so they can eat," said Johnson.

Mubarez Ahmed, lfet, Justly Johnson, Michael Powels, and Aaron Salter talk about their experiences with Pastor Terrence Devezin and others during a Welcome Home ceremony in October at the United Kingdom Church  inside the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Detroit.

Michael Powels  is among the Michigan 13. Powels served 12 years for a murder he was wrongfully convicted for in 2007. He was exonerated after help from the Michigan  Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School.

"This GoFundMe (effort) is really a wonderful thing," said Powels. "It's been hard for guys like me to adjust. Funds like this need to be nationwide."

Powels said the fund could help with housing, finding work, clothing needs and "basic necessities."

Johnson said like himself, many of the exonerated men are awaiting a decision by the State of Michigan on whether they will be get state funds as part of the 2016 Michigan Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act which is to provide exonerees $50,000 for each year they were incarcerated. This year's funding has not yet been formalized by Lansing officials. 

Alexandre  Ansari, 35, who was exonerated in March for a wrongful murder and related-crimes conviction, said he is happy that the pastor is reaching out for help on behalf of him and his fellow exonerees.

"I've been struggling a lot since I got out," said Ansari who said he is looking for a job that will lead to a career so that he can take of "not only myself but my kids."

Ansari said he has not only been struggling financially but also mentally and that an aunt and his older sister have been his biggest supporters.

"Some people are doing the best they can but it's still a struggle," said Ansari, who added he can use money for basic needs, such as transportation.

"I got out (of prison) with nothing to start (over with)," said Ansari. "So the GoFundMe would help."

Last September, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel  established a four-member Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act (WICA) Board to review each WICA request and make recommendations for each WICA cases regarding litigation for them. 

“These cases are complex and weave together the skill sets of criminal prosecution, criminal defense and civil litigation to ultimately decide whether or not an individual is entitled to compensation,”  said Nessel in September . “It is critically important this board have representation from each of those skill sets to make certain we review all aspects of a case, from every legal angle, before awarding or denying compensation.”

There were nine Michigan residents who were exonerated last year who were among the 151 people who received exonerations last year. While African Americans comprised 13 percent of the country's population, they were nearly half, 47 percent, of those who have received exonerations.

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