Whitmer denies clemency for murder convict who claims innocence

Temujin Kensu, a Michigan prisoner at the center of numerous efforts to overturn his conviction for murder, has been denied clemency by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, supporters announced Monday.

Temujin Kensu

Kensu, 57, an inmate at the Macomb Correctional Facility, has served nearly 34 years in the murder of Scott Macklem. Kensu's supporters say evidence shows it was "physically impossible" for him to have committed the crime. They call Kensu's conviction "Michigan's shame."

Kensu was convicted of the 1986 murder of Macklem in Port Huron and sentenced the following year to life in prison without the possibility of parole.    

Supporters say at least nine alibi witnesses have put Kensu in the Upper Peninsula’s Escanaba area about 450 miles from Port Huron at the time of the slaying and that there was "absolutely no evidence" at the crime scene that connects Kensu to the murder. 

According to the Royal Oak-based Proving Innocence project, no murder weapon was produced and no gunshot residue was found on Kensu's clothing. An ammunition box found at the crime scene contained a fingerprint that did not belong to Kensu, supporters say. 

Kensu and his primary alibi witness both passed polygraphs administered by a respected former Michigan State Police polygraph examiner, supporters contend. In 2010, U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood cited prosecutorial misconduct in the case and ruled that Kensu should be released or given a new trial. 

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Hood's decision. Supporters say the decision was "purely" on technical grounds.

No reasons have been provided explaining the governor’s decision other than she was following the recommendation of the Michigan Parole Board. 

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"The clemency request for Temujin Kensu was denied, but we don't have anything to add, as it's our best practice not to comment on clemency applications," said Chelsea Parisio, deputy press secretary for Whitmer.

Kensu supporters say they are confused by the denial.

“The governor’s decision confounds us and it’s clear she has been badly misled,” said David Sanders, vice president of Proving Innocence. “There is no credible evidence connecting Temujin to the murder whatsoever versus an abundance that he was almost 500 miles away when it occurred.”

The Michigan Innocence Clinic of the University of Michigan Law School submitted the clemency application to the governor on behalf of Temujin, born Fredrick Freeman in May 2020. The petition argued that he should be freed based on a lack of evidence against him and on humanitarian grounds, saying he had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Proving Innocence says it believes that the decision not to grant clemency to Kensu illustrates that Michigan has a "terribly flawed" system for handling cases of "actual innocence."

In a press release, Sanders says Kensu's supporters are frustrated by the fact that the Parole Board offered no explanation for its recommendation. 

“How do you defend an innocent man or woman when you do not know the arguments or supposed facts that the Parole Board presented to the governor?" he said. "We know from past experience that the files of the Michigan Department of Corrections are often filled with mistakes, errors, and erroneous statements.”

Sanders said Kensu's supporters are "encouraged" that Michigan’s Attorney General, Dana Nessel, has recognized a need for charge to Michigan's system for handling cases of innocence and created her office's Conviction Integrity Unit. The CIU is considering an application from Kensu.

“This is where our confidence lies," said Sanders. “We fully trust that the CIU’s independent review will reveal without a doubt that a great injustice was done to Temujin. "Our hope is that that the attorney general will present the facts from this comprehensive investigation to the governor and she will do the right thing and finally free a man so terribly wronged.”