Proving Innocence (PI) is collaborating with the Michigan Innocence Clinic (MIC) of the University of Michigan Law School to investigate the wrongful conviction of Mark Craighead. Mark was convicted of voluntary manslaughter for the murder of Chole Pruett in 1997.
After reviewing the case, PI agreed with the MIC that Mark Craighead could not have committed this murder. There is no evidence of any kind that he was involved with the killing. Outside a coerced false confession, he has always maintained his innocence. He was friends with Chole Pruett and had no criminal record whatsoever. Mark had no apparent motive other than the “argument” briefly described in his false confession. Of the 25 witnesses interviewed, police found no witnesses connecting Mark to the crime.
Witnesses interviewed by police identified at least three other suspects, including one with a criminal history, who had threatened Pruett or may have had reasons to harm him. One of these three suspects left town for Atlanta immediately after the murder and was never interviewed by the police. The other two were only interviewed briefly.
In April of 2009, Mark Craighead agreed to take a polygraph examination, which was administered by an experienced forensic polygraph examiner. In that polygraph test, Mark answered “no” to the questions: 1) “Do you know for sure who caused any of those fatal injuries to Chole?”; 2) Did you cause any of those fatal injuries to Chole?”; and 3) When Chole was shot, were you there?”. The forensic polygraph examiner concluded in his opinion that Mark answered truthfully to all those questions.
Despite a lack of motive and these facts, Mark was convicted by a jury. Why? Because Mark is one more classic example of a false confession gained through police misconduct and intimidation. (For more background on why and how false confessions occur see False Confessions: Causes, Consequences, and Implications for Reform by Saul M. Kassin in the Association for Psychological Science, 2008).
The false conviction occurred when three years after the murder, for no explained reason, police focused on Mark as their primary, and apparently only, suspect. He was taken downtown, Mirandized, and told he could not leave. After 8 hours of interrogation – including a “polygraph,” at 3:00 a.m., a brief stint in a holding cell, and then more hours of interrogation – Mark ill-advisedly signed a brief statement admitting to the murder.
Mark’s signed statement, however, is clearly falsely confessed. The physical evidence and details of his confession do not match the crime scene. The murder was a brutal and deliberate execution-style slaying, not one resulting from a spontaneous argument, brief struggle, and accidental discharge of a gun as stated in the confession.
At Mark’s trial, evidence was introduced by the defense, including testimony by his boss, that he was locked-down working the night shift at Sam’s Club in Farmington Hills at the time of the murder, more than 24 miles from the crime scene. Unfortunately, Sam’s Club could not locate the timecards that would have definitively proven Mark’s whereabouts because a sprinkling system failure had destroyed those records.
Since his original conviction and appeal, the MIC in 2009 uncovered telephone records that conclusively demonstrate that Mark was working at Sam’s Club when Pruett was murdered. This includes four calls from store phones, including calls to Mark’s brother and a friend at the time of the killing. Unbelievably, the trial judge ruled that this new evidence would not have changed the jury’s verdict. That ruling is being appealed by the MIC. Proving Innocence is assisting the MIC with further investigation of Mark’s case in the hope of identifying the true killer of Chole Pruett.