Wrongfully convicted man shares story

Published: Jun. 15, 2018 at 6:52 PM EDT
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"It's bad enough being in there even if you did do it, and if you didn't commit the crime it's doubly so," said LeDura Watkins, a man who was wrongfully convicted.

June 15th marks Watkins' one-year anniversary as a free man. LeDura Watkins was exonerated after 41 years in prison.

News 10's Alani Letang talked with Watkins and the Lansing-based legal team that helped set him free.

Watkins was wrongfully convicted of murder in Detroit in 1976.

Almost half a century later, Watkins was able to walk away from prison bars and chains.

Friday he shared the moment, in June 2017, when he found out he would be released.

Watkins said, "you got to be bs'ing, y'all bs'ing right, and they said no we, not bs'ing. I felt that my life had been given back to me."

It was 1976, 19-year-old Watkins was whisked away and sentenced to life in prison for a murder he didn't commit. The conviction was based off the analysis of a single hair that was predicted to be Watkins'.

"And I felt like I was going to be isolated on an island by myself, everything I love was going to be taking away," said Watkins.

But the significance of hair analysis is now up for debate.

"In my view, and in the view of the Innocence Project community and a reliable scientific view, hair analysis is junk science and it should never be used in the court system," said WMU Professor Marla Mitchell-Cichon, Director of "Innocence Project."

Years, then decades passed and Watkin's wondered if he'd ever live life outside prison walls again.

"One day I was just sitting in my cell and for the first time I asked myself, damn am I ever going to get out of here," he told Letang.

But he said he couldn't stay down forever. Around 2012 he reached out to a team of lawyers with Western Michigan's Cooley Law School's "Innocence Project" located in downtown Lansing.

"They're the ones that carried the cross. They took it across the finish line for me, they helped out immensely and they're still helping," said Watkins.

Let's go back to that strand hair that landed Mr.Watkins a lengthy prison stay.

"Most of these identification procedures have not been significantly been under attack and many prosecutors office have moved away from them," explained Mitchell-Cichon.

This meant the hair analysis was not reliable or credible, because it wasn't real science, according to lawyers with the Innocence Project

The FBI backing that claim, finding they often overstated their conclusions in the Watkins' case.

"When an expert testifies in a criminal trial about hair or a bite mark, and that expert links a particular individual it increases the chances of a wrongful conviction and that's exactly what happened in this case," said Mitchell-Cichon.

Watkin's never stopped fighting.

He said, "one of the things that stayed on my mind more than anything was my folks, it was the people I left behind and they did so much for me so that was a big motivating factor."

At the time of his release last year, Watkins was the longest serving exoneree in Michigan.

Friday, Mr. Watkins is living in Detroit with his fiance, reconnecting with family and working full-time.

Watkins has a pending lawsuit with the state for compensation claims. According to lawyers in Michigan, a wrongfully convicted person can get $50,00 a year for each year served.