Richard Phillips spent 45 years in prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit. But on Thursday, he emerged a free man--at least for the time being.
As Phillips walked out of the Wayne County jail into the bright, cold afternoon, he kissed his hand and raised it to the sky.
“Fresh air. I could’ve walked out here barefoot and it would have been just as good,” he said.
Phillips was convicted of the 1971 murder of Gregory Harris in Detroit. He was found guilty based on the
testimony of one witness, who said that Phillips committed the murder with his co-defendant Richard Palombo.
But in 2010, Palombo told a parole board Phillips had nothing to do with the crime. Instead, Palombo said he had participated in Harris’s murder alongside the prosecution’s star witness, Freddie Mitchell. Palombo denied even knowing Phillips at the time.
Phillips had long maintained his innocence, and appealed his conviction in 1997. That appeal languished in the courts.
But in 2014, Palombo’s then-attorney informed the University of Michigan Law School’s Innocence Clinic about his client’s confession to the parole board, launching a fresh investigation.
After taking up Phillips’ case, Innocence Clinic lawyers added the new evidence to Phillips’ appeal. In July of this year, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Kevin Cox threw out Phillips’ conviction.
Phillips is now free on bond pending a new trial, which is scheduled for February. The Wayne County prosecutor is appealing Judge Cox’s decision to overturn his conviction
Just after his release Thursday, Phillips, now 71, told reporters he had resigned himself to dying in prison.
“Actually, I never really thought this would happen,” he said, fighting back tears. “But…God has shone a light on me, and he’s put some people in my life [and] that has, you know, changed it. And I’m appreciative of that.”