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Oakland County creates Conviction Integrity Unity, seeks justice for innocent prisoners

The unit has already received 50 letters, dating back to the 70s
Posted at 6:49 PM, Feb 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-15 18:49:59-05

PONTIAC, Mich. (WXYZ) — The Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office will be closely examining a staggering number of alleged wrongful convictions dating back decades.

7 Action News went one-on-one to get a look at a cutting edge program and the accountability being promised for those unjustly locked up.

The director of the new Conviction Integrity Unit in Oakland County says they’ve already received 50 letters alleging cases of wrongful conviction. Some cases go as far back as the early 70s.

“There’s a bunch of people I know and came up with back in the day that’s gone through the prison system,” Pontiac community member Lonel Bates said.

For Bates, living in Pontiac has been eye-opening when it comes to what he calls a “pipeline to prison.”

The Oakland County prosecutor estimates that in the last 40 to 50 years, hundreds of criminal convictions overseen by prior leaders of her office involved wrongful convictions.

National statistics show the rate of wrongful convictions could be 6% to 10%, according to the University of Pennsylvania.

“We all have bias and prejudice, but it’s what we do with that,” Conviction Integrity Unity Director Beth Greenberg Morrow.

Greenberg Morrow, a defense attorney with more than 30 years of experience, sees her new role as a calling and she’s inspired by nearby Wayne County, which worked to successfully free or give relief to 33 people in the last 4 years.

“It’s hard work and a lot to review all of these cases, but we will keep stats and look at why is this happening,” Greenberg Morrow said.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said she’s committed to “doing the right thing.”

“We are only as strong as our ability to acknowledge when we make mistakes,” McDonald said.

Greenberg Morrow most recently worked as a special prosecutor, helping to free Juwan Deering last September after finding that improper use of jailhouse informants and bad science led to a murder conviction 15 years ago. The case involved a deadly house fire that killed five children.

As Deering was freed, we were there.

“I’m grateful and can’t be upset or angry because it doesn’t do anything,” Deering said in September.

McDonald said the unit will not only examine alleged wrongful convictions.

“If there were violations of someone’s constitutional rights or other instances of misconduct,” McDonald said.

County commissioners approved funding for the CIU and acknowledge millions in taxpayer money lost over the years to unnecessary litigation.

Exonerated for murder in Wayne County after 34 years, Darrell Siggers and his attorney are also praising this new unit.

“Conviction integrity units are more concerned with the truth, whether you are actually innocent,” Siggers said.

Attorney Wolfgang Mueller said, “The biggest thing I think Prosecutor McDonald has done is live up to her campaign promises.”

A website is being finalized where claims can be made online by an inmate, attorney or someone else. In the meantime, the director is working to hire an investigator for her team.