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Man exonerated after 41 years in prison speaks to WMU Cooley Law students

LANSING, Mich. — Ledura Watkins walked out of the Wayne County Jail a free man a year ago today. It’s a place he said he shouldn’t have stepped foot in in the first place. Watkins addressed a crowd of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Students in Lansing, Friday morning.

“One year ago today was a great day for me. But today is a great day too,” Watkins said.

Visual analysis of a single hair led to Watkins wrongful murder conviction in 1976. One student asked him how he persevered in prison for 41 years.

“I think a lot of us underestimate the power of the human spirit. We do what we have to do regardless of the adversity,” Watkins said.

Outside of his cell, the 62-year-old said he spent most of his time in the prison law library trying to prove his innocence. He said favorable information in the police file was never given to the defense and a co-defendant’s recanted statement were never taken into consideration.

“Everyday, I woke up I was thinking about this. Throughout the day no matter what I was doing, I was thinking about this. And then here they are telling me in eight days I was going home,” Watkins recalled.

His attorney, Marla Mitchell-Cichon with the Cooley Law Innocence Project, said visual hair comparisons are no longer scientific.

“One innocent person in prison is not acceptable in this country. So these are very difficult cases, and they’re nothing short of a miracle,” Mitchell-Cichon said.

She added, “So they take a lot of hard legal work which we provided and many other attorneys before us provided. But a lot of stars have to align. It’s very difficult after five or six years in prison to have your claim even heard by a court.”

To anyone else in that position Watkins says ‘don’t give up. Keep fighting.’

For the full question and answer session click here.

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