In January 2005, a 60-year-old professor was found raped and murdered in her classroom at the Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan. Two days later, police arrested Claude McCollum, a homeless student who took classes and often slept at the community college where the victim taught. McCollum, who has significant learning disabilities, was interrogated in detail by the police. He agreed to cooperate when the police told him he might be able to help them solve the crime. During the interrogation, police investigators asked McCollum how, hypothetically, he might have killed the victim; they interpreted McCollum’s responses to these hypothetical questions as a confession. The police found a strand of fiber on McCollum’s clothing that an expert testified might have come from the victim’s sweater, but McCollum’s “confession” was the main evidence against him at trial. A forensic scientist testified that the DNA found under the victim’s fingernails did not match McCollum, but was from an unidentified male. Nonetheless, in February 2006, a jury convicted McCollum of rape and murder, and he was sentenced to life in prison.
In August 2007, a serial rape-murderer named Matthew Macon, who had been convicted of similar attacks, confessed to the killing. This led the police and the chief prosecutor of the county to reexamine the evidence in the McCollum case. They found that a previously unidentified fingerprint on a plastic bag found near the scene of the crime came from Macon. They also found that analysis of a damaged surveillance videotape showed McCollum in a different campus building at the time the murder was committed. A state police detective had analyzed the surveillance tape before McCollum’s trial, and wrote a report in which he concluded that McCollum could not have committed the crime. The trial prosecutors claimed that they disclosed the report to McCollum’s defense attorney at trial, but the defense attorney said that he did not see it. The detective was questioned briefly about part of the video during the trial, but prosecutors did not ask him about his conclusion that McCollum could not have committed the murder.
In September 2007, the Ingham County prosecuting attorney joined McCollum’s lawyer in asking the Michigan Court of Appeals to vacate McCollum’s conviction. The court granted the joint motion, and in October 2007, McCollum was released and the prosecuting attorney dismissed all charges. In 2010, McCollum settled a lawsuit against the county for $2 million. Macon, who is serving multiple life sentences, has not been charged with this murder.
- Stephanie Denzel