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No money for wrongly convicted man in prison for 4 years

September 19, 2018

DETROIT (AP) — A man who spent nearly four years in prison until his first-degree murder conviction was thrown out won’t get money set aside for the wrongly convicted, the Michigan appeals court said.

The court said James Shepherd doesn’t qualify for roughly $200,000 because he wasn’t exonerated with “new” evidence. Indeed, his conviction and life sentence in Wayne County were set aside because of weak or insufficient evidence.

Shepherd’s case was a significant test of a 2017 law that compensates the wrongly convicted with $50,000 for each year spent in prison. The law rewards people who come up with evidence that wasn’t presented at trial, such as DNA test results, an expert’s interpretation or fresh testimony.

But the appeals court, in a 3-0 decision Tuesday, said Shepherd doesn’t qualify.

His conviction in a drug-related shooting was thrown out in 2015 after a different panel at the appeals court said evidence offered by prosecutors was clearly inadequate for the jury’s verdict in 2012. Shepherd also had an extremely strong alibi: His bosses testified that it would have been impossible for him to leave an assembly line job on his first day, commit a murder in Flat Rock and return to work two hours later without anyone noticing his absence.

Shepherd was released from prison in April 2016 after nearly four years.

His lawyer, Wolfgang Mueller, conceded that the appeals court made the right call by denying compensation “from a strict reading of the law.” But he said it’s still a bad result for Shepherd.

“The law needs to be changed,” Mueller said Wednesday. “A person who is exonerated on insufficient evidence is no less deserving of compensation than someone who was lucky enough to find new evidence to be free. ... The intent is to compensate the wrongly convicted.”

Separately, Shepherd has a federal civil-rights lawsuit pending against a Flat Rock police detective who was the lead investigator in the homicide.

The appeals court also dismissed a compensation claim by Gerald McKenzie, whose attempted murder conviction was overturned in 2003 by a federal court. He had served nearly 20 years in prison.

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Follow Ed White at http://twitter.com/edwhiteap

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