Wrongfully convicted Detroit man freed after 15 years in prison

A Detroit man imprisoned for 15 years for rape and other charges — and whose exoneration hearing was abruptly halted last week — walked out of a Michigan prison a few days later than expected Wednesday, but a free man nonetheless.

Terance Calhoun, 35, was cleared five days after his initial exoneration hearing was postponed because a Detroit police officer approached the judge in the case, a move widely criticized by the inmate's attorneys and the law enforcement community.

Calhoun, who did not want to speak during the hearing, flashed a big smile following Wednesday's proceeding. His attorneys said he plans to move out of state with his family.

Terance Calhoun, center, with State Appellate Defender Office attorneys Tabitha Harris, left, and Michael Mittlestat smiles after being exonerated during a hearing via Zoom on Wednesday, April 27, 2022. He plans to move out of state to live with family, his attorneys said.

Val Newman, deputy chief of the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office and head of its Conviction Integrity Unit, said "there were a myriad of things that went wrong that caused the wrongful conviction of an innocent man."

Prosecutors, convinced that Calhoun was wrongfully convicted in part because his DNA wasn't found at the scene, were prepared Friday to ask Wayne County Circuit Judge Kelly Ramsey to free Calhoun before the hearing was delayed by the judge.

Calhoun was convicted in 2007 of raping and kidnapping a 13-year-old girl on Oct. 27, 2006, near a liquor store on Fenkell in Detroit, and of attempting to kidnap a 15-year-old girl on Sept. 26, 2006, near Fenkell and Gladstone.

Both girls identified Calhoun from separate lineups.

Newman said DNA testing in 2007 should have cleared Calhoun and the description of the attacker that the youngest of the two teens gave police did not match Calhoun. He was not notified that his DNA did not match evidence left in a condom used during the sexual assault of the youngest victim, and the older girl told investigators that her attacker had braids and a puzzle tattoo, Newman said, adding that Calhoun has neither.

Newman said many things in Calhoun's case were "missed along the way."

Valerie Newman of the Conviction Integrity Unit of the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office speaks during a hearing for Terance Calhoun via Zoom in Wayne County Circuit Court on Wednesday, April 27, 2022. Newman agreed with Terance Calhoun's attorneys that the Detroit man was wrongfully convicted in 2007 in cases involving the sexual assault and kidnapping of two Detroit girls.

Newman said during the Wednesday hearing that a 2007 report from the Center for Forensic Psychiatry concluded that Calhoun had "cognitive deficiencies." 

Calhoun had been imprisoned for 15 years. He participated in both Friday's and Wednesday's hearings from the Maxey/Woodland Correctional Facility in Whitmore Lake with his attorneys. He walked out of the facility after Wednesday's hearing, said Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz. 

"This has been a painfully slow process for myself and Mr. Calhoun," said Michael Mittlestat, an attorney with the State Appellate Defender Office.

One of Calhoun's attorneys, David Williams, told The Detroit News last week that a second DNA test in 2019 confirmed the results of the first test 12 years earlier. Newman reiterated on Wednesday that the results of that 2019 lab analysis found no DNA connection with Calhoun.

Williams is an attorney with the Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School Innocence Project. Calhoun was represented by the State Appellate Defender Office, which collaborated with the innocence project.

Williams said it is not clear why his client wasn't exonerated after the 2007 test. 

Calhoun's case was prosecuted prior to the 2009 discovery of more than 11,000 untested rape kits found abandoned in a Detroit Police Department warehouse and the subsequent creation of the Sexual Assault Kit Task Force in Michigan, which investigates cases involving once-untested kits.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said Wednesday Calhoun's case was not connected to abandoned kits, all of which have since been tested and led to 4,000 criminal investigations and 225 convictions.

"However, important Sexual Assault Kit Task Force protocols for reviewing criminal sexual conduct cases, implemented after the SAKs were discovered in 2009, allowed the CIU to consult with them to evaluate significant evidence in Mr. Calhoun’s case," Worthy said. "This evidence disproved that he committed the two crimes. We are currently prosecuting the defendant who is alleged to be the perpetrator of criminal sexual conduct crimes."

Worthy said she could not comment on who has been charged in connection with the assaults on the two girls.

“A series of fortunate events and a lot of very hard work by quite a few people led to my decision to exonerate Mr. Calhoun," Worthy said. "The decision in this case was the culmination of years of long work on this and unrelated cases."

Kenneth Nixon, the president of the Organization of Exonerees, founded by Detroit residents who were recently exonerated, said Wednesday that "even in the face of unwavering DNA evidence, a rogue officer and stalled justice, the Organization of Exonerees is glad that Mr. Calhoun's freedoms have finally been restored. We are glad that Justice has finally prevailed for him and his family and he will walk free."

Ramsey apologized to Calhoun for the delay in freeing him, explaining Wednesday that her actions were in the interest of justice.

"My very best to you sir," she told Calhoun.

Valerie Newman of the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office's Conviction Integrity Unit during a hearing for Terance Calhoun via Zoom in Wayne County Circuit Court on Friday, April 22, 2022.

The Detroit police officer who showed up at Ramsey's office before Friday's hearing, whose name has not been released by the department and who the judge knew from prior professional work, handed her documents and told her Calhoun had made a "full confession" to the crimes.

Ramsey said she did not look at the documents but postponed the hearing and referred the incident to the 3rd Circuit Court's own attorney.

Mittlestat, who on Friday called the police officer's decision to approach Ramsey with evidence "unorthodox and inappropriate," said Wednesday he understood the delay imposed by the judge so that "no stone is left unturned" in the case.

He told Ramsey Wednesday that what the officer did "was more befitting of a vigilante than a public servant."

Prosecutors and Chief Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny condemned the officer's actions and legal observers called the incident unprecedented. 

Detroit police Deputy Chief Rudy Harper said the officer should not have approached Ramsey and did not follow department policy. Harper said the matter is under investigation.

Newman said Wednesday that she was given the material the officer prepared for the judge, reviewed it and found no new evidence in the case. She said the cases the CIU review undergo a "very, very intensive" investigative process.

bwilliams@detroitnews.com