WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project and exonerees support compensation bill

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Photos courtesy of WMU-Cooley Law School

On Thursday, May 7, Michigan State Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren) introduced legislation that will create the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act. During a media briefing, Bieda was joined by five individuals who were exonerated after spending multiple years in prison. Two of the exonerees at the briefing, Kenneth Wyniemko and Donya Davis, gained their freedom through the work of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School’s Innocence Project.

In the photo at left, Sen. Steve Bieda (front row, third from right) joins all the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project team on the Capitol steps after the press conference introducing Senate Bill 291.

The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project is part of the Innocence Network, which has been credited with the release of over 329 wrongfully accused prisoners mainly through the use of DNA testing.  Cooley’s Innocence Project has exonerated three individuals: Kenneth Wyniemko, Nathaniel Hatchett, and Donya Davis. 

 WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Director Marla Mitchell-Cichon is emphatic that something must be done to right this wrong. “When the State puts an innocent man or woman behind bars, the State has an obligation to financially support the person's reintegration into society. You can never give them back the lost years, but you can do what is just and right.”

 Senate Bill 291, if passed, would offer compensation to an individual convicted and imprisoned for a crime they did not commit, with damages calculated on the number of years of their wrongful incarceration. Other damages, such as lost wages and actual medical expenses, may be recovered. Identical legislation has been introduced in the Michigan House of Repre-
sentatives, House Bill 4536.

 “With the introduction of this legislation, it is my intent to help these individuals who were wrongly convicted re-establish their lives,” said Bieda. “When an individual is proven innocent they should find a state that wants to help them, not another legal battle.”

WMU-Cooley exonoree Wyniemko was released after nine years in prison and Davis after seven years. In each of their cases, DNA testing was used to prove their innocence. Other exonerees from Michigan who were by Bieda’s side during the media briefing included Julie Baumer (Michigan Innocence Clinic), and brothers Thomas and Raymond Highers (State Appellate Defenders Office).

The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project began its operation in May 2001 as a law school clinic. Operating under Michigan’s post-conviction DNA testing law, MCL 770.16, the Project's dual mission is to identify, provide legal assistance to, and secure the release of persons wrongfully imprisoned for crimes they did not commit and to provide its students with an invaluable learning experience. It is the only such project in the state.

About the photo below: On Thursday, May 7, the five individuals who were wrongfully convicted, along with their families and attorneys, joined Michigan State Senator Steve Bieda as he introduced legislation that provides compensation to Michigan citizens who have been wrongfully convicted. Pictured (left-right) Michigan exonerees Raymond Highers, Donya Davis, Thomas Highers, Julie Baumer, and Kenneth Wyniemko.