Maurice Carter would have been 73 years old yesterday. It’s tradition that I put together some kind of a blog on his birthday.
March 29 came and went, and so did any ideas for the blog page. Then, at a minute before midnight, the Detroit News published a great story! The Police Chief of City of Detroit is going to put forth a major effort to slow down wrongful convictions. It’s an article worth reading…a story that tells about Chief James Craig, and his meeting with Innocence Clinic people at the University of Michigan Law School. He pledged his full cooperation. This from a county whose system of justice has seemed seriously flawed over the years.
This is huge!
I say this because a lot starts with the cops. Let’s go back to the Maurice Carter case.
It was action by crooked cops that got it all started in his case, and that led to Maurice spending 29 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
Maurice and a buddy were questioned shortly after an incident in Benton Harbor where an off-duty police officer was shot and injured, while shopping with his wife in a downtown store. The policeman was white. The shooter was black. They paraded him in front of the store so that the clerk could try to identify him. She insisted that Maurice was not the assailant…wasn’t even the same color black.
Two years later, it was crooked cops who persuaded Maurice’s buddy---who was facing drug charges---that if he told some lies about Maurice his charges would be reduced. He agreed to sign a statement claiming he saw Maurice running from the scene of the crime. And that led to his arrest and eventual conviction.
True, there were other typical factors in this wrongful conviction: faulty eye-witness identification, and the testimony of a jail-house snitch. But it all began with some police officers with tunnel vision; officers who (in my humble opinion) knew who the real perp was, but were determined to put this outsider in jail. Maurice was from Gary, Indiana, and had no ties to Benton Harbor or Michigan.
For those who are not familiar with the story, Carter was never exonerated. I was privileged to lead a fight seeking his freedom for the final decade of his life. We ultimately obtained a compassionate release, because of serious illness. Maurice walked out of the Duane L. Waters prison hospital in July of 2004. He died exactly three months later.
But today, in the aftermath of his birthday, we can celebrate the fact that a prominent Michigan Police Chief has not only made an important decision, but is doing so in a high profile manner that may encourage others in law enforcement to take similar stands.
Maurice would be pleased.