There are things money can’t buy, and that includes time. All the money in the world can’t set the clock back and give back stolen years.
For Richard Phillips, a Michigan man who spent 45 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, the $1.5 million he’ll receive from the state will make the time he has remaining more comfortable. It can never give him back that lost time. He has the dubious distinction of “Longest Term Prisoner Ever to Be Exonerated.”
A Murder Conviction
In the early afternoon of June 26, 1971, 21-year-old Gregory Harris, Detroit, left his home to get cigarettes and never came back. The next day, his wife found his abandoned car with bloodstains on it. The police did not photograph the vehicle or take samples, and returned the car to Mrs. Harris. She cleaned it.
In March of the following year, a highway maintenance worker discovered Harris’ body about 20 feet from the road in a clump of trees near Troy. He had been shot in the head. Two weeks later, Fred Mitchell, Harris’ brother-in-law, was arrested for armed robbery.
Mitchell was a suspect in Harris’ killing, as he had a previous manslaughter conviction. He told detectives that Phillips and a man named Richard Palumbo killed Harris. Phillips was currently in prison, serving time for armed robbery. Shortly after, both Phillips and Palumbo were charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
Testimony Only Evidence
The trial took place at the Wayne County Circuit Court in September 1972. Mitchell’s testimony was the only evidence linking the men to the murder. He gave a long, involved story, saying Harris was killed because he robbed a cousin of Palumbo’s, whom Mitchell claimed was in the Mafia.
Under cross-examination, Mitchell admitted his statements to the police and at a preliminary hearing differed significantly from what he said on the witness stand. The defense even produced a witness in the form of a Palumbo family member who said there was no cousin by the name Mitchell used in his testimony and the family had nothing to do with the Mafia.
On October 5, 1972, both men were sentenced to life in prison without parole. In 1975, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the verdict.
An Admission of Guilt
In 2010, Palumbo went before the Michigan Department of Corrections Parole Board in support of his clemency petition. He admitted under oath he was involved in Harris’ murder – and so was Mitchell. Phillips, however, had nothing to do with it.
Palumbo’s attorney took Phillips’ case to the Michigan Innocence Clinic (“MIC”) at the University of Michigan Law School. Phillips agreed to a polygraph, which he passed. MIC filed a supplemental motion for relief from judgment based on the polygraph results and Palumbo’s testimony. He was granted bond and released from prison shortly before Christmas, 2017.
Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act
Michigan’s Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act (WICA) compensation calculator is based on $50K annually from the plaintiff’s imprisonment date until the day they are released.
WICA regulations entitle a plaintiff to the judgment if there is new evidence determining the individual did not commit the crime and wasn’t an accessory or accomplice, and this new evidence ends up reversing or vacates the charges. The new evidence must also result in either dismissal of all charges or, if a retrial occurs, a “not guilty” verdict.
Inmates have the right not to be abused or wrongfully imprisoned. If you or a loved one has suffered mistreatment in jail or prison, you have legal options and may be entitled to compensation. CALL US at 866.836.4684 or Connect Online to learn how we can help you file a federal civil rights lawsuit.