A pattern of police misconduct is presented as “new evidence” in a claim of actual innocence.
In 1997 Chole Pruett was shot four times, with the last bullet possibly shot while the shooter stood over him lying on the floor, a premeditated act. Three years later, Pruett’s best friend, Mark Craighead, was arrested and signed a confession. He was convicted in a June 2002 jury trial. But at trial, Craighead said that the lead investigator, Barbara Simon, told him that he “would be imprisoned for the rest of his life if he did not sign it.” It was never his intention to admit to something he didn't do.
Ever since Mark was convicted and served his time, he has been fighting for his innocence. In a ruling by Judge Shannon Walker on Feb 4, 2021, she vacated Mark’s conviction. To read the decision, click here. In the decision, she said that the prosecution had made two points: First since the investigator had been sued 18 times in federal court that she had coerced testimonies in a very similar way, that the defendant should have been able to make this point years ago. Yes, they are admitting that the investigator has a proven record of misconduct. Their argument is that since the defense did not bring this up before, they cannot bring it up now, since it does not contain any new evidence, a requirement for any appeal. Their second point is that a person’s character in other cases cannot be used to prove they acted the same way in this case.
The Michigan Innocence Clinic (MIC) argued back that at the time none of the 18 times the investigator had been sued would have materially impeached the investigator’s testimony. Judge Shannon Walker states, “the prosecution’s own brief makes clear why the defendant could not have raised the claims he now raises in his current [motion]. The evidence impeaching investigator Simon simply did not exist in the form of admissible evidence at the time of the defendant’s prior [motion]”. The MIC presented as new evidence “the affidavits of three men who were exonerated because Simon’s misconduct was exposed, . . . establishing a pattern of behavior that is admissible.” As evidence goes, a pattern goes way beyond proving a person has bad character. “This Court already found statements obtained by Simon not to be credible, but so too has the Michigan Supreme Court.”
The cases being referred to are those of Justly Johnson, Kendrick Scott, and Lamarr Monson. Johnson and Scott were recipients of Proving Innocence’s (PI) Walking Free Fund, which was established after Monson’s exoneration. Strikingly, Judge Walker notes that “the prosecution fails to devote a single word in its lengthy brief to refute [the new evidence].”
At this time the prosecution has not decided whether or not they will retry Mark. Typically the prosecution will drop the charges since they can no longer prove the person's guilt in the same way as before. We congratulate Mark and the Michigan Innocence Clinic for their perseverance in seeking justice. In speaking with PI, Mark says,
“This has been a long hard journey for my family and me. I like to thank everybody who has helped us get through it, especially the University of Michigan Innocent Clinic, under the direction of Dave Moran, and the previous co-director, Bridget McCormick, now Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, for taking my case.”