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Criminal Justice & Legal System

Man convicted in 2005 Detroit firebombing released: "He did not receive a fair trial."

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WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project

In 2005, Kenneth Nixon was convicted of firebombing a Detroit home and killing two children.

On Thursday, he walked free from a Michigan prison, after investigators with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Conviction Integrity Unit found his convictions were based on questionable evidence.

Nixon was only 18 years old when he was found guilty throwing a Molotov cocktail into the home. His conviction was based largely on evidence from two people: the 13-year-old brother of the two children who were killed, and a jailhouse informant. An alleged co-conspirator was found not guilty in a separate jury trial.

But the then-13-year-old’s story was inconsistent from the start. Looking to bolster their case, Detroit police turned to the jailhouse informant, who received a reduced sentence in another case for testifying that Nixon confessed to him.

Additionally, several witnesses, including Nixon’s alleged co-conspirator, said they were with Nixon elsewhere at the time of the crime. And while a police dog identified gasoline on Nixon’s clothes that could have been used as accelerant, investigators now say that can be explained by the fact that Nixon was a tow truck driver who worked with cars.

The CIU’s findings convinced Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy that Nixon “did not receive a fair trial,” Worthy said in a statement. She said the use of a jailhouse informant to bolster the 13-year-old boy’s inconsistent testimony was “highly suspect,” and said the weight of the evidence supports vacating Nixon’s convictions.

That happened on Thursday, in front of Wayne County Judge Bruce Morrow. And Nixon, who had always maintained his innocence, walked free from a correctional facility in Ionia.

“Mr. Nixon has worked tirelessly over the last 15 years to regain his freedom. Thanks to Mr. Nixon’s persistence and the collaboration between the [Western Michigan University]-Cooley Innocence Project and the Wayne County Conviction Integrity Unit, Mr. Nixon will finally be reunited with his loved ones,” said Nixon’s attorney, David Williams.

Wayne County’s Conviction Integrity Unit was formed in 2018 to investigate possible past wrongful convictions. Since then, it has freed or fully exonerated 28 people.

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