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Murder convictions in 18-year-old Inkster slaying tossed over alleged police misconduct

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Kevin Harrington had been waiting nearly two decades for his freedom from a prison sentence his lawyers say he was wrongfully convicted on.

On Tuesday, 37-year-old Harrington walked out of a Michigan prison into the midst of a pandemic. Gone were the traditional family celebrations marking the moment  when one is freed from incarceration, replaced by rigid restrictions on simple gestures as hugging and embracing loved ones.

Kevin Harrington

"For something so beautiful ... to be overjoyed and then having to deal with the pandemic," Harrington said Friday. "It was weird. When I was released, (all my relatives) had on masks. I was waiting to get embraced."

Harrington will have to put the beginning of his freedom on hold as he self-quarantines by himself in an undisclosed location. He had been in a Michigan prison where there were COVID-19 infections.

Harrington and another Inkster man, George Clark, in his early 50s, had murder charges dismissed against them this week in an 18-year-old Inkster slaying  after newly discovered evidence points to alleged police misconduct, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced Thursday.

The murder convictions of  Harrington and  Clark in the fatal shooting of Michael Martin in September 2002 were officially dismissed by Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Shannon Walker earlier this week.

The Wayne's County Prosecutor's Office Conviction Integrity Unit conducted a six-month investigation into the case beginning last year, which resulted in new witnesses and evidence discovered leading to the dismissal of the charges, Worthy said in a release.

The victim was discovered shot to death in a field across from his apartment in Inkster.  A witness who called police to report the the body told officers he heard gunshots after seeing Clark and Harrington assault Martin and drag him into the field. The two were convicted in February 2003 of first-degree murder in the slaying. The Prosecutor's Office said there was no physical evidence linking Clark and  Harrington to the shooting.

The CIU found a disturbing pattern of behavior from the original lead detective that involved threatening and coercing a number of witnesses, the release said.

"The CIU investigation has established that Mr. Harrington and Mr. Clark did not receive a fair trial as a result of the conduct of the original lead detective."

The detective is not being named, said Maria Miller with the Prosecutor's Office because he will be the subject of an investigation.

"The murder case will not be re-tried because the only inculpatory witness repeatedly said they saw nothing and that they were coerced by the detective into implicating Mr. Clark and Mr. Harrington," according to the prosecutor. "Now that the CIU has interviewed other witnesses who claimed they were threatened and coerced by the detective, this witness’s claim has much more credibility."

The Prosecutor's Office has not reached any conclusion regarding the "actual innocence of Mr. Harrington and Mr. Clark," the office said.

Clark was released on bond from prison awaiting the official dismissal of the charges April 8. Harrington was released from prison Tuesday.  Neither man was in the courtroom for the dismissal due to restrictions on court operations and in-person appearances due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The dismissal this week caps years of efforts by the men to have their convictions tossed.

Harrington was granted a new trial following his conviction. A second trial in May 2005 resulted in a mistrial due to a hung jury. A third trial five months later also resulted in a mistrial due to a hung jury. Three months later, Harrington was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life without parole in February 2006.

Harrington mounted a series of legal challenges to his conviction before the Conviction Integrity Unit took his case.

Clark, like Harrington, sought relief from his conviction through the state and federal court systems.

In February 2003, Clark filed a motion for a new trial but was denied. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Clark filed a series of unsuccessful legal appeals of his conviction from 2004 to 2016.

The Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School also assisted Harrington in his efforts to have his conviction overturned. They applauded the dismissal of the charges against the men Thursday.

"This victory also comes in great part thanks to the excellent Conviction Integrity Unit of the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office," said Imran Syed,  MIC's assistant director, who first started working on the case as a second-year law student in 2009.

"Our students did excellent work over many years — I was fortunate enough to supervise all of it — but there is no doubt that Mr. Clark and Mr. Harrington would still be in prison if not for the Conviction Integrity Unit." 

Early in the investigation, Michigan Innocence Clinic student-attorneys discovered that Harrington had "an excellent alibi" (he was in New Mexico), but the law students were worried it would not be enough to overturn his conviction.

The students then found a man who said his deceased brother had slain Martin. Others  corroborated that claim, according to information in the case on the Michigan Innocence Clinic's website.

Syed said the Michigan Innocence Clinic began investigating the case in 2009 and that it was "a case of fairly extreme police misconduct, even more noteworthy because much of the misconduct was documented and known to the juries at the trials."

Attorney Wolf Mueller who represents the men said Thursday, "Threatening witnesses to make up a story and hiding evidence to grease  the skids for a conviction cannot be tolerated by our society. I'm glad the (Conviction Integrity Unit) righted a terrible wrong."

Harrington said he hopes the cop who handled the case "serves the same sentence we got" for allegedly forcing witnesses to lie about him as well as Clark.

Efforts to reach officials at the Inkster Police Department Thursday were not successful.

bwilliams@detroitnews.com