Criminal Justice

Exoneration in Michigan

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Wow.

An Ingham County prosecutor and a detective knew before trial that video evidence showed Claude McCollum was in another building when a Lansing Community College professor was killed, according to a state police report obtained by the Lansing State Journal.

Still, prosecutors went ahead with the case, and McCollum was tried and convicted of murder.

McCollum, whose conviction was thrown out last year, is suing multiple agencies for damages. County prosecutors have always maintained they did not know of a 2005 report that described exonerating video evidence until after the trial began.

Even if true, how is this a defense of the prosecutors' behavior? Evidence surfaces showing that prosecutors got the wrong guy, but because they've already started the trial, they go ahead and convict him anyway?

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  1. These people must be punished. They’re not even human.

  2. Yeah, that’s bullshit they didn’t just drop all charges. Even the slimy prosecutor in My Cousin Vinny dropped the charges when he learned he had the wrong guys.

    Instead of McCollum getting taxpayer money for the incompetence of these guys, he should get all their personal fortunes.

  3. a: Oh wow this video clearly shows this man at another location during the crime, it gives credibility to his alibi
    b: Well no sense in letting that come to light! We have a criminal that needs to be put in jail.
    a: Indeed, our numbers are down this month; if we don’t convict him we will have wasted taxpayer money.
    b: My mother always told me to finish what I start *breaks into song*

    *a & b hold hands and skip merrily into the sunset*

  4. Even if true, how is this a defense of the prosecutors’ behavior? Evidence surfaces showing that prosecutors got the wrong guy, but because they’ve already started the trial, they go ahead and convict him anyway?

    What matters is getting a warm body in the jail cell. If the warm body actually committed the crime in question that’s a definite bonus, but certainly not the main goal.

  5. “Even if true, how is this a defense of the prosecutors’ behavior? Evidence surfaces showing that prosecutors got the wrong guy,”

    It doesn’t. I can tell a true war story on this. I once prosecuted a guy in the Army for AWOL and drug use. The guy had come up positive for pot. He testified at trial that he had accidentally inhaled it at a club in Austin after unknowingly smoking a blunt. He had given a statement to CID and never mentioned that. I cross examined him mercilessly about never mentioning the excuse when he talked to the cops. He denied it and said that he gave another statement first. There was no statement in the file and I honestly believed he was lying. My boss was watching the trial and thought to herself, that sounds like a polygrapher. We could have fried the guy. But to her enduring credit during the trial she called the polygrapher and found out that a trainee polygrapher had taken the guys statement. CID never told us about it and didn’t put the statement in the file. We had to call all the way back to Virginia to get a copy of it that was stored as a matter of course every time someone gives a polygraph. My whole cross of him was based on the fact that he didn’t say anything about the accidental ingestion to the cops. That was not true, he did. I just didn’t know it. We revealed the statement to the defense and the judge and dismissed the charge. It was the only thing to do. I will never forget my boss actually getting up in the middle of a trial and making phone calls on a hunch. It would have been so easy to think “ah he is lying, we looked at the file” and she didn’t. That guy still got convicted of AWOL but he didn’t get a drug conviction. He shouldn’t have. Not because he wasn’t guilty, his story was bullshit, but because we as the government didn’t do our jobs up front. That is the way it is supposed to work. Too bad there are not more people like my old boss out there.

  6. That’s appalling.

    They should START with disbarrment.

  7. Also, where is the real murderer? Bad prosecutors are a societal menace, not only because of the innocent lives they ruin, but because dangerous criminals are on the streets as a result of their actions.

  8. Did anyone who RTFA notice that they want the case dismissed without prejudice so they can try him again? WTF?

  9. “Did anyone who RTFA notice that they want the case dismissed without prejudice so they can try him again? WTF?”

    The fact that the guy is on tape somewhere else is just a minor technicality. The government will tell you that a jury convicted the guy and they believe in the jury system. I have 11 people who say he did it beyond a reasonable doubt. What do you got? A tape showing to be innocent? I am taking the word of those jurors. Of course he should be retried.

  10. Why should the prosecutors bother to get it right? _Their_ incomes, careers, pensions are untouched by any such mistakes. Tax revenues will pay damages to the man wrongfully convicted; & tax revenues will continue to pour in to pay prosecutors’ incomes & pensions.

  11. Bingo, how much do you want to bet no one even starts to look into the murder again to see if they can catch the real killer? NOt only has the time passed and evidence probably lost or destroyed, but they won’t even give the effort. They’ll be playing golf with OJ, instead.

    Having said that, maybe it’s a good thing. We don’t want them putting another INNOCENT person in jail. Hopefully, the real killer was run over by a bus or something.

  12. County prosecutors have always maintained they did not know of a 2005 report that described exonerating video evidence until after the trial began.

    What matters is getting a warm body in the jail cell. If the warm body actually committed the crime in question that’s a definite bonus, but certainly not the main goal.

    Yep, it’s a game to some of these people. Congratulations team. We got another conviction. Drinks are on me tonight!
    Justice be damned, we’ve got a won/loss record to be concerned wuth.

  13. If the real murderer has killed since the trial, it’s too bad the prosecutor & detectives who knew McCollum was innocent can’t be charged with some form of felony murder.

  14. 1. His defense atty probably did get the tape.

    2. Spending parity for prosecution / defense on a case by case basis. I know Karen doesn’t like that. But she ain’t here.

  15. I thought the prosecution was was required by law to share all evidence with the defense? Am I wrong?

  16. I thought the prosecution was was required by law to share all evidence with the defense? Am I wrong?

    Yeah, wasn’t that in “My Cousin Vinny”?

    I don’t know if the law works that way in real life, but it should.

  17. Yeah, wasn’t that in “My Cousin Vinny”?

    Joe Pesci was sleeping with Marisa Tomei in that movie, too. You do the “believability” math.

  18. Dave W. raises a good question:

    If the prosecutor turns over such exculpatory evidence, but the defense never mentions or acknowledges it, does that create any additional responsibility on the part of the prosecutor?

  19. Wow! Homogenous outrage!

    My understanding is that the U.S. Constitution guarantees you a fair trial. But if you’re wrongly convicted in a fair trial, that’s it. District attorneys, prosecutors, et al. are under no obligation to retry you if new evidence is found.

    Hence we have groups that have to fight for retrials of people who have been exonerated by new evidence (especially DNA evidence) — or rather, who would be exonerated, except for the prosecution game. Stories about the years and years wrongfully convicted people have suffered in prison are appalling.

    What if we had a system whereby prosecutors assumed a certain degree of risk when they brought someone to trial? Of course, who’s better at covering his own ass while he’s screwing someone else than a lawyer?

  20. If the prosecutor turns over such exculpatory evidence, but the defense never mentions or acknowledges it, does that create any additional responsibility on the part of the prosecutor?

    IANAL, but isn’t a proecutor an “officer of the court”? Doesn’t that entail certain responsibilities and obligations?

    “I know he’s not guilty, but his defense counsel is an idiot” just doesn’t cut it.

  21. J sub D,

    Just to play devil’s, er, y’know…

    “I know he’s guilty, but the prosecutor is an idiot” DOES cut it for a defense atty, who is an officer of the court.

  22. This isn’t the tip of the iceberg, it’s the outcropping of a mountain (or whatever a mountain of rock is after it’s been buried). The entire judicial system is about convicting people. If they committed a crime so much the better, but that’s incidental. We also want to convict the most number of people with the least amount of fuss. So that means we mostly go after poor people.

    I don’t know how to fix the system. I’m not even sure it can be. But taking out it’s most obscene participants would be a good start.

  23. As a somewhat chagrined Michigander, I am now forced to apologize to Mississippians for self righteously condemning their crooked justice system.

    Pot, meet kettle. Ouch.

  24. I believe that the reason they’re claiming they got the tape after the trial started is because that may put it outside the time window where they technically have to turn over all evidence to the defense.

    That is probably relevant to how much this guy can pursue in the way of damages, and what penalties or sanctions the prosecutors might face. So it may be a bizarre issue to be debating, but if there’s money involved these guys will debate it.

  25. “I know he’s guilty, but the prosecutor is an idiot” DOES cut it for a defense atty, who is an officer of the court.

    And it should. The defense atty’s job description is get his client off, or at least get the best deal possible. The prosecutor’s job description is to serve justice, i.e. prosecute the guilty. It is not improving his won/lost record.

  26. At this rate, being tried in a military court is looking better and better…

  27. At this rate, being tried in a military court is looking better and better…

    F. Lee Bailey once wrote (I don’t remember the book but I read it in the ’70s) that if he were innocent he’d rather go to a military court martial. He may have changed his mind since then, but I pretty much agree with the sentiment.

  28. J sub D | February 19, 2008, 11:30am | #
    “I know he’s not guilty, but his defense counsel is an idiot” just doesn’t cut it.

    joe | February 19, 2008, 11:32am | #
    J sub D,

    Just to play devil’s, er, y’know…

    “I know he’s guilty, but the prosecutor is an idiot” DOES cut it for a defense atty, who is an officer of the court.

    I suppose either would work if the truth was of any importance in the justice system.

    … with one proviso: ain’t the system supposed to consider the defendant innocent throughout until such time that the prosecution (using aforementioned truth) convinces a jury, none of whose members have a “reasonable” doubt that the defendant did it.

    This, at least to my creaky way of thinking, means that the defense attorney shuts the fuck up about his client’s guilt and lets the prosecutor work with the truth available to the prosecution.

    Yah, it ain’t strictly speaking “fair” but, again, according to my creaky way of thinking based on how the words “innocent until proven guilty” keep showing up for me.

    .. and I see J sub pretty much says the same thing (in fewer words) at 1156…

  29. … oops, I meant J sub D at 1140

    – I’m a slow typist –

  30. If the real murderer has killed since the trial, it’s too bad the prosecutor & detectives who knew McCollum was innocent can’t be charged with some form of felony murder.

    They did engage in knowing and willful wrongdoing, a foreseeable consequence of which was the subsequent murder. I can see some kind of conspiracy or accessory charges being appropriate.

    Of course, the thin blue-and-pin-striped line renders that laughably impossible.

    I thought the prosecution was was required by law to share all evidence with the defense? Am I wrong?

    No. Not sure about “all” evidence, but certainly all exculpatory evidence.

    I believe that the reason they’re claiming they got the tape after the trial started is because that may put it outside the time window where they technically have to turn over all evidence to the defense.

    I don’t think it matters if the prosecutor gets the evidence during trial, but I’m not an expert. AFAIK, they are required to turn over exculpatory evidence until appeals are exhausted.

    If the prosecutor turns over such exculpatory evidence, but the defense never mentions or acknowledges it, does that create any additional responsibility on the part of the prosecutor?

    Well, if the exculpatory evidence is strong enough, the prosecutor has an ethical obligation to dismiss the charges based on his own professional judgment.

    Beyond that, I’m not sure.

  31. These people must be punished. They’re not even human.

    Just crucify them.

    Or put them in a cell with a three-hundred pound lifer and let things take their course.

  32. F. Lee Bailey once wrote (I don’t remember the book but I read it in the ’70s) that if he were innocent he’d rather go to a military court martial. He may have changed his mind since then, but I pretty much agree with the sentiment.

    WTF? I don’t understand that at all, but my knowledge is limited. I was in the Navy in the mid 80’s. I knew about a dozen people who were tried at courts martial.

    Now all of them were guilty of something, but the courts martial was just a formality. They were all charged with trumped up charges. It wasn’t like in the movies. Every one of the defending JAG officers counseled their “clients” to, Plead guilty and accept whatever the court handed down without blinking.

  33. They should START with disbarrment.

    I agree, joe. If Nifong could be disbarred for his case, this certainly is a candidate for punishment by the state bar association.

  34. Even if true, how is this a defense of the prosecutors’ behavior? Evidence surfaces showing that prosecutors got the wrong guy, but because they’ve already started the trial, they go ahead and convict him anyway?

    This sure plays hob with the old Perry Mason scenario.

    [obscenity deleted]

  35. Warren,

    My experience on both sides of the criminal justice system in the Army was just the opposite of yours. But, I think things got a lot better between the 80s and the 90s and the Navy has always had and still does have a bad wrap for screwing its sailors.

  36. Truth in Justice reposted news articles about Claude McCollum’s case as it came unraveled. Click my name to visit that portion of the website and then scroll down to “Claude McCollum” to read them. You get a lot more information that way. What you’ll discover is that prosecutors knew McCollum was innocent because he was cleared by DNA and the security video; they said his defense lawyer “could have” questioned state cops to find the one state cop who knew McCollum was in another part of the campus when the professor was killed, but they didn’t as much as mention it to the defense attorney; the prosecution wanted to quickly close a disturbing murder that had the community on edge; the real killer murdered AT LEAST FIVE MORE WOMEN after Claude McCollum was arrested and convicted for the professor’s murder.

  37. If the prosecutor turns over such exculpatory evidence, but the defense never mentions or acknowledges it, does that create any additional responsibility on the part of the prosecutor?

    Studying for the NYS Bar. One week away now. My takeaway:

    1. For any lawyers: unfavourable cases / statutes must be disclosed to court, but not “bad” witnesses or “bad” facts.

    2. For any lawyer: can’t lie to the court.

    3. For prosecutors: must have probable cause.

    I imagine #3 is where the prosecutor would be in trouble, law license wise, if this happened in NYS. #2 could be trouble depending on when they found out about tape and/or what the prosecutor said in closing argument.

  38. the prosecution wanted to quickly close a disturbing murder that had the community on edge; the real killer murdered AT LEAST FIVE MORE WOMEN after Claude McCollum was arrested and convicted for the professor’s murder.

    Just imagine the kind of CONSPIRACIES (yup, I sed it! and in CAPS) that can happen when there is a bigger incentive to stay quiet, and even less scrutiny of the government investigators involved.

  39. ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 3.8 (Special Responsibilities of a Prosecutor) reads in part that:

    The prosecutor in a criminal case shall:

    (d) make timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence or information known to the prosecutor that tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense, and, in connection with sentencing, disclose to the defense and to the tribunal all unprivileged mitigating information known to the prosecutor, except when the prosecutor is relieved of this responsibility by a protective order of the tribunal;

    The Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct include this rule verbatim and there is no time limit (such as “after trial starts”) on the duty of the prosecutor to provide this exculpatory evidence.

    In short, the prosecutors that let this go forward should be sanctioned through a suspension, if not a disbarment.

  40. Slightly off-topic personal tale, but one germane to the abuse of authority:

    When I was in the army, I received a medical profile, being that I am totally deaf in one ear. “No loud noises, no firing of weapons,” it read, “no duties where the safety of others is dependent upon this individual’s ability to hear.”

    When they gave me the profile, the doctors gave me 3 copies. “Give one to your company commander for your personnel file,” I was told. (That file is to always contain all my records, medical included.) The second copy was to be kept in my wallet and the third was to be sent home to my dad. “When you get to your next unit assignment (which was to be in Vietnam),” they guaranteed, “the profile will be missing from your personnel records.” I got their drift.

    And when I got to Vietnam, it was missing, just like they predicted. But I had my backup copy, which not only quite possibly saved my own ass, but the asses of other American soldiers as well.

    So you can just never, never trust authority to do the right thing.

  41. In short, the prosecutors that let this go forward should be sanctioned through a suspension, if not a disbarment.

    why do you think the prosecutor did not make a timely disclosure?

    I mean, the defense atty says the prosecutor didn’t, but it seems like the prosecutor is saying that the tape was turned over in a timely fashion. I don’t know who is correct, but I would guess: (i) the tape was turned over quickly upon discovery of its significance; and (ii) even if it wasn’t, it would be difficult to prove it wasn’t.

  42. “Just imagine the kind of CONSPIRACIES (yup, I sed it! and in CAPS) that can happen when there is a bigger incentive to stay quiet, and even less scrutiny of the government investigators involved.”

    Dave, you are so right. The TRUTH is out there.

  43. A prosecutor who proceeds with a trial when they know that the defendant is innocent, and withholds exculpatory evidence from the defense, should be liable for the same penalties they’re trying to inflict on the defendant.

    -jcr

  44. I don’t know who is correct, but I would guess: (i) the tape was turned over quickly upon discovery of its significance; and (ii) even if it wasn’t, it would be difficult to prove it wasn’t.

    Too bad we don’t have some rules about presumption and burden of proof to help us out here.

  45. Too bad we don’t have some rules about presumption and burden of proof to help us out here.

    I used to Bates number back in the olden days when it was by rubber stamps. Do they do that on the criminal side?

  46. MB: holy shit, man. in general to this dirty prosecutors business: holy SHIT. parents scaring their little children by saying “..or the police will come get you!!” takes on a whole new dimension here.. my lifelong distrust of the state in general and the police in particular is daily justified.

  47. Or put them in a cell with a three-hundred pound lifer and let things take their course.

    That is an excellent way to make sure that next time this happens the tape is destroyed instead of being turned over as unobtrusiveley as possible.

    Is that the signal we want to send?

  48. Dave W,

    By that logic, we cant punish the prosecutors at all. That is as bad as the argument that 3 strikes laws are wrong because 2 time felons will just go out in a blaze of glory during round 3.

  49. Regarding odds of fairness and competence at a military trial: I have a cousin in the Navy JAG. I don’t know squat about the details of what he’s done or does, but I’ve followed his career in very broad strokes over the years. The very first assignment he had was being a defense attorney for sailors, then he was promoted to prosecutor of sailors, then he was promoted out of that.

    J sub D | February 19, 2008, 11:35am | #
    As a somewhat chagrined Michigander, I am now forced to apologize to Mississippians for self righteously condemning their crooked justice system.

    No place is immune. For a very well written inside account of one jury duty experience in Minnesota, read this.

  50. the Navy has always had and still does have a bad wrap for screwing its sailors.

    Yeah, but I thought only people in the Army said this.

  51. For me this is just a confirmation of my belief that our legal system is fundamentally flawed. Lawyers in our system are not committed to finding the truth. They are committed only to winning an argument, with their underlying assumption being that the winner of the argument is asserting the truth. Lawyers are taught this in law school. Lawyers tell this lie to themselves until they believe it. It is the only way they could possibly face themselves or their families. Admitting the truth, that they don’t actually care who is guilty, would destroy any relationship that they had. Except, perhaps, with another lawyer.

  52. Admitting the truth, that they don’t actually care who is guilty, would destroy any relationship that they had. Except, perhaps, with another lawyer.

    Oh my god, think of the offspring.

  53. For me this is just a confirmation of my belief that our legal system is fundamentally flawed. Lawyers in our system are not committed to finding the truth.

    This is a result of gross imbalance of funding.

    If the prosecutors were less well funded, then neither side would have known about the video, but the trial would have been fairer and conviction unlikely because the reasonable doubt would have been clearer.

    If the defense had been better funded, then the defense attorney would have asked his clients why he was getting surveillance videos from a different building and the lightbulb would have gone off before the decisionmaker retired to make the verdict.

    If the defense had been even better funded, then the defense attorney would have sought out the video on his own initiative when his client said where he had been that morning. Really, are we relying on the prosecutor here at all? If you were someplace with security cameras at the time of the crime, then shouldn’t you be able to figure that out in the first instance?

  54. A prosecutor who proceeds with a trial when they know that the defendant is innocent, and withholds exculpatory evidence from the defense, should be liable for the same penalties they’re trying to inflict on the defendant.

    No.

    They should be killed, even if the whole thing was over a parking ticket.

  55. The only way to have a perfect justice system is a justice system that is fully automated, with computers running everything.

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