Man gains freedom with help of law school initiative

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Kenneth Nixon (center) is pictured with WMU-Cooley Innocence Project team members (left-right): Tracey Brame, Innocence Project director; Lori Montgomery; David Williams, staff attorney; and Matthew Smith, team member.


Wayne County Judge Bruce Morrow recently set aside the conviction of Kenneth Nixon, who had been wrongfully convicted of murder, attempted murder and arson in 2005.

Assistant Prosecutor Valerie Newman, director of the Wayne County Prosecutor Office’s Conviction Integrity Unit, moved to have Nixon’s conviction vacated and requested dismissal of all charges.

Nixon was represented by the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Innocence Project (WMU-Cooley Innocence Project).

“Mr. Nixon has worked tirelessly over the last 15 years to regain his freedom,” said his attorney David Williams, who credited the release to “Nixon’s persistence and the collaboration between the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project and the Wayne County Conviction Integrity Unit.”

On May 19, 2005, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into a Detroit home, causing the deaths of a 10-year-old boy and a one-year-old girl. The mother and other children, including her 13-year-old son, were also in the home and sustained injuries.

Nixon and his then-girlfriend, Latoya Caulford, were charged with two counts of felony murder, one count of arson and four counts of attempted murder.

Caulford, accused of driving Nixon to the house, was acquitted after a separate trial but Nixon was convicted on all charges.

The main issue at trial was the identification of the person who threw the Molotov cocktail.

Nixon always denied his involvement in the crime and presented evidence that he was with Caulford at her home during the time of the fire.

Two alibi witnesses were presented to support his defense, but Caulford could not testify due to her own pending charges.

The identification of Nixon was based upon statements made by the 13-year-old witness who was at the home at time of the fire, and the testimony of a jailhouse informant who was housed at the same jail as Nixon after his arrest.

At trial, the informant testified that he did not see news reports of the fire. But, in 2018, the informant was interviewed by the Medill Justice Project and the informant admitted that he had seen news coverage of the case before speaking to Nixon.

The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project worked with the Wayne County Conviction Integrity Unit to DNA test the Molotov cocktail used to start the fire.

Unfortunately, no DNA results were obtained. However, there was other new evidence that supported Nixon’s innocence and the Cooley team requested the Wayne County Conviction Integrity Unit to reinvestigate the case. 

Based on their own investigation and findings, the Wayne County Conviction Integrity Unit requested a new trial and the dismissal of all charges.

The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project is the only post-conviction DNA innocence organization in the state.

Since its inception, the office has screened over 5,800 cases and is responsible for the exoneration of five men.

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