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Mubarez Ahmed is released from the William Dickerson Detention Facility after serving 16 years for a murder he says he did not commit. Daniel Mears, The Detroit News

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Hamtramck — A convicted man was released from prison Thursday after 17 years behind bars for a crime a judge now agrees there's reasonable doubt he didn't commit, his lawyers say. 

Mubarez Ahmed, 48, was convicted in 2002 in a double homicide in Detroit after sitting nearly two years in jail awaiting trial. He was sentenced to 40-60 years in prison and served 16 years of the sentence at the Ionia Correctional Facility. His first eligibility for parole was expected to be Feb. 13, 2045. 

Ahmed appealed in October 2003, but was denied. That was before the Wayne County court system's integrity unit agreed with the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School that Ahmed's 2002 murder conviction was tainted.

"I don't think words can describe how I feel," Ahmed said as he left the Wayne County Jail on Thursday. "I'm speechless. The air, the trees, freedom itself ... close to 18 years for something you didn't do, I can't wrap my head around this."

He now must await a decision on a dismissal of his case.

In the early afternoon on Feb. 9, 2001, Lavelle Griffin and LaTanya White were shot and killed in their car at the intersection of Kirkwood and Lumley Street on Detroit's west side. Anonymous tips identified the shooter by a nickname. Alternative suspects were given, but Detroit police focused their investigation entirely on Ahmed, said David Moran, the director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic. 

Years after Ahmed was sent to prison, the eyewitness who'd helped convict him told Innocence Clinic investigators that the Detroit police detective in charge of the case showed her a photo of Ahmed just before the lineup and told her whom to select.

"This was a really weak case to begin with ... an eyewitness ID was the entire case against him. There was no other evidence," Moran said. "She described the shooter as someone of a different race than Ahmed, and there was also an obvious suspect who wasn't investigated."

The Innocence Clinic later identified the suspected shooter after a similar double homicide years later. On Aug. 15, Ahmed was granted a new trial after the Innocence Clinic proved lack of credible evidence in his original case. 

Aziz Hassan, longtime friend of Ahmed's from Dearborn, brought him clothes and waited for his release Thursday alongside lawyers. 

"He's like a brother to me," said Hassan. "I visited him a lot while he was inside but always had faith this day would come."

Ahmed had a short timeframe to get home relating to rules of his release on a tether. He said he had to make one stop, at Woodmere Cemetery, to visit the graves of his brother and mother, both of whom died in 2017.

He said he missed his family most of all in prison. 

"My family, my daughter, I left her when she was 3 and now she's 20 years old," said Ahmed. "I have a lot of making up to do ... To be honest with you, no, I didn't think this day would come."

He said his daughter lives in Florida and he hopes to surprise her soon. 

The Michigan Innocence Clinic, made up of law professors and 25 students, worked on Ahmed's case for nine years to help prove his innocence. Two students who argued his bond petition, Carolina Velarde and Sara Stappert, waited outside the jail Thursday.

Velarde asked what he was going to eat first. "I'm full just breathing the air," he told her.

"We made it our goal to have him out before we graduated in May 2019, and we're happy we met that goal," said Stappert, who invited Ahmed to their graduation. 

Judge Vonda Evans granted Ahmed a $250,000 bond, and ordered him on a tether. He returns to court Monday. Moran said they're hoping for a dismissal in the case. 

"It's very emotional and I'm not the only one who has been wrongly convicted in there," said Ahmed. "Everyone talks about justice, but it seems like they're just looking for convictions. They don't care who is innocent and who is guilty. Proper processing and highlighting these cases will prevent more from happening."

Read more: Releases from bad convictions hit record level

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_

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