41 years in prison

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LeDura Watkins discusses being freed from prison after wrongfully serving 41 years on the one-year anniversary of his exoneration June 15, 2018, at WMU-Cooley Law School Center in Lansing.

Exoneree speaks on 1-year anniversary of his prison release

On Friday, June 15, 2018 — the one-year anniversary of his exoneration, LeDura Watkins discussed being freed from prison after wrongfully serving 41 years. The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project, which helped exonerate Watkins, hosted the discussion: “Life After 41: An Intimate Conversation with LeDura Watkins” at the law school’s Lansing campus.

Before Watkins spoke, WMU-Cooley student Charles Hickman said, “As a first-year law student, it was probably one of the most substantial and, frankly, influential moments of my life.”

Remembering the day he walked out of prison, Watkins said, “I was elated to be standing there at home surrounded by so many people who helped me and were with me all those years. It felt good to be free and to not have that day-to-day prison activity. Just to stand there and say ‘it’s finally over’ felt great.”

Watkins, who was convicted of murder in 1976 in Detroit, Michigan, was released on June 15, 2017, after his conviction was vacated and the charge dismissed. The 62-year-old served 41 years and three months in prison — at that time the longest time spent incarcerated after conviction by any wrongfully convicted defendant prior to exoneration in the United States.

In 2013, the FBI disavowed testimony by their trained analysts, finding they often overstated their conclusions. Detroit Crime Lab analysts, trained by the FBI, had tied Watkins to the crime scene based on a single hair. On January 19, 2017, the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project filed a motion for a new trial. Based on that motion, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office agreed to vacate Watkins conviction and dismiss all charges for the 1975 murder in which he was initially accused.

Talking about the importance of never giving up, Watkins noted that it is important to fight for yourself and not give up when things are not right.

“There’s something in us that helps us fight for ourselves,” said Watkins. “If I didn’t fight for myself, I wouldn’t be here today. One year ago today was a great day for me, and today is a great day for me as well.”

And when asked about what life is like for him now, Watkins said, “Today I get up and go to work. Getting out and enjoying life — it is just beautiful.”