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Donyelle Woods

Mar 2023



Written by Imran Syed, co-director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic: Donyelle was convicted of shooting and killing a guy at a gas station in southwest Detroit. The evidence was as thin as it gets: one incentivized, wavering witness who admitted that she was "high as hell" at the time she purportedly saw Donyelle do the shooting. After conviction, MIC students (me and Caitlin Plummer, who later worked at the WIP and also returned to the MIC as an attorney) tracked down the witness and secured a recantation. We also obtained a wealth of previously undisclosed police documents that constituted five separate Brady claims. We also spoke with the victim's mother, who believed Donyelle was innocent and signed a supportive affidavit.

We filed a post conviction motion, and a hearing was held way back in 2011. The state trial court just brushed everything aside, essentially saying about the Brady violations "these things happen." We lost in the state appellate courts, and filed a federal habeas, which we also lost, despite a great 6th Circuit oral argument from one of my students on the case. We teamed up with Jones Day to do a cert petition (on the Brady claims and a Confrontation Clause violation), but cert was denied.

We then sought clemency from former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder in 2018. The victim's mother submitted a letter of support. A clemency hearing was held, which is a big step in Michigan, but clemency was denied. A few weeks after Gov. Snyder left office, his former assistant legal counsel called me and expressed regret, stating that had he remained on as legal counsel until the end, he would have pushed for clemency to be granted. He agreed to write a letter asking new Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to grant clemency.

We filed clemency with the new governor in early 2020. That application sat apparently untouched until the summer of 2022. A hearing was held in December 2022 and the governor granted a commutation just before Christmas.

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