Finley: Snyder should use his pardon pen

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News
Donyelle Woods and his mother, Joanne Edison.

As long as Gov. Rick Snyder has his pen out to either sign or veto the scores of bills sent to him by the lame-duck Legislature, he may as well use it to do something truly constructive.

Like righting injustice.

As they go out the door, governors typically issue pardons or clemency to convicted criminals deemed worthy of mercy.

Michigan has seen a disturbing number of wrongful convictions overturned this year after inmates have spent years, or even decades, locked up for crimes they didn't commit.

More are pending. The governor should not make them wait any longer for justice. The Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan has sent the governor requests for clemency on behalf of three convicts whom the evidence overwhelmingly confirms are wrongly imprisoned.

They are:

Donyelle Woods. Woods was convicted of killing a man at a Detroit gas station in 2004, and has served 14 years of a life sentence without parole. Even family members of victim Eric Harris don't believe Woods murdered their loved one and have asked for his release. 

His case for clemency is compelling. Woods was placed at the crime scene by a single witness who later recanted her testimony, according to Innocence Clinic Director David Moran.

An eyewitness identified the actual killer as one of two men who had argued with Harris earlier in the day, but the jury never heard his testimony because he died before the trial. The prosecution withheld the eyewitness statement and pursued the case against Woods despite the exculpatory evidence. 

Had that evidence been presented, Moran says, "No reasonable jury would have convicted Mr. Woods."

Mark Craighead. Craighead is luckier than the others on the list: He's been paroled. But he still wants to clear his name of the manslaughter conviction that sent him to prison.  

Those who believe they can never fall victim to abuse by the criminal justice system should consider what  happened to Craighead, an upstanding, productive, hardworking and civically involved family man who had never been in trouble with the law.

Mark Craighead

But he spent seven years in prison even though phone records discovered after the trial placed him at work 24 miles away from the crime scene when the victim died. No physical evidence or witnesses connect him to the 2000 killing. He was convicted based on a statement he gave to police after 17 hours of interrogation, a statement that conflicts with forensic evidence.

Craighead has passed two polygraphs and has resumed an honorable life since his release. 

Frederick Freeman (also known as Temujin Kensu). I've written about this case before, and it's among the most egregious miscarriages of justice I've seen. 

Freeman has served more than 30 years in prison for a murder he could not have committed. In fact, all of the evidence suggests he was in Escanaba at the time the murder occurred in Port Huron.

Fred Freeman

Nine witnesses with no allegiance to Freeman place him more than 400 miles from the murder scene. Yet the prosecutor managed to convince the jury it was possible Freeman, who had little money, could have chartered a private plane to fly to Port Huron to kill the victim, and then fly back to Escanaba in the same night. Absolutely no evidence to support that theory was presented. 

During the trial, the inventive prosecutor made fantastical claims that Freeman was a mind-controlling ninja, among other tall tales.

Freeman has spent most of his productive life behind bars, and is now in failing health.

Gov. Snyder has a strong sense of justice and is not bound to the unforgiving law-and-order crowd. 

As he leaves office, he should right these wrongs.

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