Freedom: Law firm and law school help gain innocent man's release

prev
next

On Sept. 30, Wayne County Judge Tracy Green set aside the conviction of Lacino Hamilton who was wrongfully convicted of second-degree murder and felony firearms in 1994.

Hamilton was convicted of the murder of a Detroit woman when he was 21 years old. He served 26 years in prison. There were no eyewitnesses in the case and Hamilton's conviction was based, in large part, on the testimony of a jailhouse informant, who later proved to be unreliable.

Hamilton’s release is the result of the work of numerous people from the law firm of Chartier & Nyamfukudza, P.L.C., the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit, and the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Innocence Project.

Hamilton never gave up hope, and he never gave up fighting to prove his innocence.

The path to his freedom began with the tireless work of his legal team at Chartier & Nyamfukudza. They worked pro bono for six years to release him. The C&N team was led by attorneys Mary Chartier and Takura Nyamfukudza, both WMU-Cooley Law school alumni.

Every step of the way, they worked in conjunction with private investigator Claudia Whitman, who donated countless hours of her time. Whitman’s passion for justice led to numerous breakthroughs over the years as new evidence was amassed that Hamilton had been wrongfully charged, convicted, and imprisoned.

Hamilton had been convicted based on the word of a “jailhouse snitch,” who claimed that Hamilton confessed to him. As the investigation unfolded, evidence indicated the falsity of the snitch’s claim. He made these claims against Hamilton—and numerous others—to obtain leniency for his own criminal conduct.

Mary Chartier, one of Hamilton’s lead attorneys, stated, “We made the decision long ago to never give up fighting for Mr. Hamilton’s release. While we are beyond thrilled that all charges have been dismissed, he lost 26 years of his life waiting for this day. And, even sadder, is that Mr. Hamilton’s case is not unique. Many of the thousands of men and women who are wrongfully imprisoned have been convicted based on ‘snitch’ testimony. In Mr. Hamilton’s case, the ‘snitch’ claimed in numerous cases that men—men who were strangers—had spontaneously confessed murder to him. Police knew this yet continued to claim that he was reliable and use him as a witness. This is just one of the travesties that occurred in Mr. Hamilton’s case. If we truly want to stop innocent men and women from being convicted and imprisoned, then we have to reform our criminal prosecution system now. There are ways to do it. Michigan just needs to act.”

While Chartier & Nyamfukudza began working on the case six years ago, Hamilton would not be free today if not for the efforts of the team at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit. The CIU was instituted in 2018 by prosecutor Kym Worthy and is led by Valerie Newman. In Hamilton’s case, Newman and her team took evidence provided by Chartier & Nyamfukudza and dug in deep, investigating the case from start to finish finding significant new evidence along the way.to support the dismissal of his case.

Not only was the “snitch” testimony against Hamilton found to be false, but DNA evidence further supported the dismissal. In the original 1995 trial, the DNA evidence was never disclosed and, therefore, never tested.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said, “The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit found potential DNA evidence that had not been previously tested during its investigation. The defendant was excluded from some of that DNA that had not previously been tested. In addition to that, and perhaps even more alarming, is the woefully improper use of informants in this case by the Detroit Police Department. The use of informants can be a very valuable tool in fighting crime and seeking justice, but in this case it was used and abused horribly.”

During the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Conviction Integrity Unit investigation, biological evidence was discovered that was material to the identity of the perpetrator. The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project facilitated the DNA testing. DNA found under the victim’s fingernails excluded Hamilton and an unknown male contributor’s DNA was found. The DNA testing results, along with other new evidence in the case, established that Hamilton did not commit the crime.

The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project is led by Marla Mitchell-Cichon and provided DNA expert assistance through Lori Montgomery.

In 2018, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project received a $451,238 Bloodsworth grant from the Department of Justice. The purpose of the grant is to screen claims of innocence and conduct DNA testing of material evidence in appropriate cases.

“WMU-Cooley’s Innocence Project has almost 20 years-experience in post-conviction DNA testing,” stated Project Director Marla Mitchell-Cichon. “The grant funding, which covers the cost of testing, allows us to be a resource to innocent prisoners and their lawyers. We are proud to partner with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit and support the Chartier & Nyamfukudza law firm in Mr. Hamilton’s case."
Expert analysis of the 2020 results was also provided by Dr. Gregory Hampikian, Director of the Forensic Justice Project at Boise State University and Co-Director of the Idaho Innocence Project. His knowledge provided even more evidence that Hamilton had been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned.

Takura Nyamfukudza, Hamilton’s other lead attorney, summed up Hamilton’s release. “Nelson Mandela said that difficulties break some men but make others. President Mandela and Lacino both had significant portions of their lives marred by manifest injustice. Still, they did not fixate on the time that they lost or give up hope.

“I am elated to be switching—finally—from being Lacino’s legal advocate to just being his friend. Indeed, 2020 was in desperate need of some great news. Here it is!”

Hamilton intends to spend his life advocating for social justice issues. He also plans to go paragliding with the C&N team in Colorado in 2021—a plan that was made years ago and now can finally become a reality.
Hamilton and members of his legal team will discuss his case in detail on the October 14 episode of the podcast Constitutional Defenders. It can be found on www.cndefenders.com, Itunes, and other major podcast platforms.

“I’m a little overwhelmed right now,” said Hamilton, during the virtual court hearing. “I am extremely grateful and  look forward to being a productive citizen in our community.”



––––––––––––––––––––

Subscribe to the Legal News!

http://legalnews.com/subscriptions

Full access to public notices, articles, columns, archives, statistics, calendar and more

Day Pass Only $4.95!

One-County $80/year

Three-County & Full Pass also available