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Innocence Clinic earns wrongly convicted man a third new trial

By John Masson
May 1, 2012

A man convicted of second-degree murder after two trials has been granted a third by a Wayne County judge, but remains behind bars while the prosecutor's office appeals the decision.

Dawan Tyner, who is being represented in his ongoing court battle by Michigan Law's Innocence Clinic, was convicted and sentenced to up to 42 years in prison for the 2005 shooting death of Angela McCullough. Circuit Court Judge Vonda Evans granted him a new trial last month after hearing evidence presented by law students from the Michigan Innocence Clinic, a Michigan Law clinic that specializes in wrongful imprisonment cases in which DNA evidence is not a factor.

McCullough died after a midnight confrontation between Carlos Strong and Corey Riddick in a Detroit parking lot.

Strong and Riddick had an ongoing dispute, and after Strong spotted Riddick's vehicle, Strong and a second man emerged from Strong's SUV and started shooting into Riddick's car. Riddick managed to drive the car away, but McCullough, who was in Riddick's passenger seat, was killed.

Strong didn't know until afterwards that the incident took the life of a woman he had known most of his life—someone he had no idea was in the car with Riddick.

Riddick, who survived the attack unhurt, later identified Strong and Tyner as the shooters. But while he testified that he was certain about Strong, he was much less sure about Tyner, whom he identified after police showed him a single photo two days after the shooting. During the trial, Riddick testified that he "coulda been wrong" in identifying Tyner as the second man who came out of Strong's car, based on the poor lighting and the stress of the moment.

That identification was the only piece of evidence ever presented against Tyner. And Strong was never prosecuted, having fled to Cleveland, Ohio, where he drowned in Lake Erie shortly after Tyner's trial. After the drowning, Strong's mother revealed that Strong had called her the night McCullough died, and several more times after that, to say how much he regretted the shootings. He also was appalled to learn that Tyner had been arrested, and repeatedly told his mother that Tyner wasn't with him the night of the killing.

In court, Innocence Clinic students presented Strong's mother as well as another new witness who testified to seeing Strong and three other men in Strong's SUV just prior to the killing. The new witness testified that Tyner wasn't one of those three.

"Neither Strong's mother nor the other new witnesses knew Tyner very well, or had any reason to lie for him, and clearly, Judge Evans found the new testimony credible," said Innocence Clinic cofounder and Michigan Law Prof. David Moran, '91. "I'm particularly proud of the students who made the legal arguments and presented the witnesses before the judge during the four-day hearing."

Those third-year students were JP Nogues, Zach Dembo, Nick Hambley, and Katherine Marcuz.

Nogues, the lead student attorney on the case, plans to work as a public defender. He said he was touched by a note Tyner wrote his legal team after the judge granted him a new trial. "I am blessed to have a(n) outstanding support system and a team of the best lawyers who believe and realize how good and innocent people get caught up," Tyner wrote. "Thanks for believing in me."

For Nogues, who is graduating this weekend, the note helped him reaffirm his dedication to providing strong advocacy for all his future clients.

"The most rewarding thing about my work on Dawan's case, and at the Innocence Clinic in general, is the opportunity to provide support and dedication to people who don't have the resources to get it from anywhere else," Nogues said. "We introduced powerful new evidence that Dawan Tyner is innocent, but everyone—regardless of 'guilt' or 'innocence'—deserves a fair shake from the criminal justice system. Dawan's win is a victory for that concept of justice."

 

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