Recently, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Kevin Cox dismissed charges against Michigan Innocence Clinic client Richard Philips. Phillips received a full exoneration following almost 46 years behind bars for a murder that he did not commit.
Phillip’s case was the first to be resolved by Wayne County’s new Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU), started by Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy. The CIU investigates claims of innocence to determine whether there is clear and convincing new evidence that the defendant was wrongfully convicted of the offense.
In 1971, Phillips was convicted, along with codefendant Richard Palombo, of conspiracy to commit murder and the first-degree premeditated murder of Gregory Harris. Phillips was then sentenced to concurrent terms of life in prison without parole. During a parole board hearing in 2010, Palombo admitted that he and the victim’s brother-in-law committed the crime, and that he did not know Phillips at the time.
The victim's brother-in-law Fred Mitchell was the star witness against Mr. Phillips at trial, even though Mitchell was arrested with the weapon that was probably used to kill Harris. Prior to trial, Mitchell had just completed a prison sentence for homicide and told Harris he would kill him when he got out of prison. In the end, the Wayne County CIU found additional aspects of Mitchell's testimony that were unquestionably false and that is what convinced them Mitchell lied when he implicated Phillips.
“No one in the United States has served more years in prison before being exonerated,” said David Moran, director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic. “His freedom truly belongs to him again.”
The University of Michigan Law School Michigan Innocence Clinic began working on Phillips’ case in 2014. Gabi Silver of Detroit served as lead trial counsel in the case. The Michigan Innocence Clinic, established in 2009, works to free those who have been wrongly convicted and focuses on cases where there is no DNA to test.