The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office and the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Innocence Project have been awarded federal funding to jointly review criminal cases through DNA testing.

The $451,238 grant from the Department of Justice is for the prosecutor and the university's Cooley Law School to collaborate on a case review and a DNA testing project, the prosecutor's office announced Thursday. It is the first collaboration of its kind in Michigan.

"We want to restore faith in the criminal justice system," Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement. "This grant will allow us to continue to try new and innovative programs to ensure that justice is done.” 

The federal grant will help cover the costs for review of cases, evidence and DNA testing. The grant will allow both the prosecutor's office and the law school to hire additional staff.

The grant also will help both the prosecutor's office and the WMU law school's Innocence Project "ensure that justice has been served through the testing or retesting of forensic evidence that was integral to a conviction," according to the prosecutor's office. The project also will be able to get training for the additional staff in forensic science.

Valerie Newman, director of the prosecutor's Conviction Integrity Unit, said the new federal funding will help her unit's efforts.

"I look forward to working with Cooley’s Innocence Project, continuing the work of improving the criminal justice system and investigating innocence claims," she said in a statement.

Since being founded earlier this year, the Conviction Integrity Unit has received more than 500 requests for investigation. Of those referrals, 250 involve forensic evidence.  The goal of the project is to review 300 violent felony cases where there is a claim of innocence.

"The Department of Justice funds will allow our office to continue to provide high-quality legal services to prisoners whose innocence may be proven through DNA testing," said Marla Mitchell-Cichon, director of the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project.

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