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March 29, 2018
Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Kevin Cox dismissed charges against Michigan Innocence Clinic client Richard Phillips on Wednesday, March 28, putting an end to a legal struggle that spanned nearly half a century. Phillips has received a full exoneration following almost 46 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit.
“No one in the United States has served more years in prison before being exonerated,” said David Moran, director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic. “His freedom truly belongs to him again.”
Phillips was convicted, along with co-defendant Richard Palombo, of conspiracy to commit murder and the first-degree premeditated murder of Gregory Harris in 1971, on the basis of testimony of the victim’s brother-in-law, Fred Mitchell. On October 25, 1972, Phillips was sentenced to concurrent terms of life in prison without parole for these convictions. During a parole board hearing in 2010, the co-defendant admitted that he and Mitchell killed Harris, and that he didn’t even know Phillips at the time of the murder. Phillips’s conviction was thrown out in August 2017 and he was granted a new trial. Phillips, now 72, had been incarcerated for almost 46 years.
Phillips’s case is the first to be resolved by Wayne County’s new Conviction Integrity Unit, which was started by Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to look into alleged cases of wrongful conviction.
Gabi Silver of Detroit served as lead trial counsel in the case. The University of Michigan Law School’s Michigan Innocence Clinic began working on Phillips’s case in 2014. Michigan Law student-attorneys who assisted the clinic include: Caroline Bell, Kate Canny, Brittany Chiang, Aimee Ford, Jarred Klorfein, James Mestichelli, Wesley Papiernik, Andrea Scanlan, and Valerie Stacey. Michigan State University College of Law student Michael Chryssos and Boston College law student Elizabeth Cole also worked on the case.
The Michigan Innocence Clinic, established in 2009, works to free those who have been wrongly convicted and focuses on cases where there is no DNA to test. Eighteen clients have been freed to date by the clinic’s efforts. Fifteen clients have been fully exonerated.
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