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Criminal Justice & Legal System

Nessel awards more than $2.3 million to three wrongfully convicted men

Richard Phillips, longest-serving exoneree in United States history, and David Moran, an attorney from the University of Michigan's Innocence Clinic who worked on his case.
Sarah Leeson
/
Michigan Radio
Richard Phillips, left, and David Moran.

Richard Phillips served more than 45 years for a 1971 murder he did not commit. Neal Redick served more than 15 years for criminal sexual assault against a minor—until the alleged victim recanted as an adult. Raymond McCann, a reserve police officer, was charged with perjury until surveillance footage proved him innocent and prosecutors dismissed the charges.

All three men will now receive compensation from the state for their wrongful convictions, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said on Friday. The total award for all three amounts to $2,320,000.

“Conceding that no system is perfect, the government’s public recognition and overturning of the convictions of these men helps to foster a healing process, and assures Michiganders that the government– regardless of fault – will take ownership of its errors,” Nessel said in a statement. “Reentering society is profoundly difficult for wrongfully convicted individuals, and we have an obligation to provide compassionate compensation to these men for the harm they suffered. I’m proud our office was able to play a part in ensuring justice was served.”

The bulk of the award—more than $1.5 million—will go to Phillips, who’s believed to be the country’s longest-serving exoneree ever. His was the first exoneration out of the Wayne County prosecutor’s Conviction Integrity Unit, in early 2018.

The University of Michigan Innocence Clinic’s David Moran led the team that got Phillips exonerated. He says that since Phillips, now 73, was released, he’s been scraping together a living selling artwork he did in prison.

Moran says Nessel’s approving the awards signals a shift from former Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office.

“The prior attorney general fought tooth and nail the great majority of these compensation claims, including Richard Phillips’ case,” Moran said. “I’m hopeful that a new attitude has permeated the attorney general’s office, and they will try and do justice in these cases. And most importantly, try and do justice quickly.”

But for the moment, there’s a catch. The state fund that pays out wrongful compensation awards only has about $325,000 in it. The state Legislature will need to replenish it through the budget process, since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently line-item vetoed a $10 million appropriation for the fund. She said she won’t approve any appropriations attached to bills because those make the legislation voter referendum-proof.

Redick’s attorney Wolfgang Mueller says the Legislature and the governor need to “stop playing political games” and replenish the fund.

Mueller says Nessel’s approval of the awards is “promising, but at this point, it’s an empty promise.”

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