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100- Landmark 100th Episode Featuring an Exoneree Reunion & Bombshell Announcement from Mike

100- Landmark 100th Episode Featuring an Exoneree Reunion & Bombshell Announcement from Mike

Open Mike has made it to triple-digits! On our landmark, 100th installment, Mike reunites with three former guest exonerees, Aaron Salter, Julie Baumer, and Kenny Wyniemko, as well as two journalists who have been blazing a path to illuminate the wrongful conviction crisis, Kevin Dietz and Bill Proctor. In this groundbreaking centenary episode, our guests reflect on their detestable experiences in the criminal justice system, update us on their current initiatives and whereabouts, and offer us their opinions on the future of the justice reform movement amidst a still-divided political climate. Plus… Mike provides a development on his own plans to dive headfirst into the arena of justice reform.

Show Notes

[00:01] Mike Morse: Well first, let me start out by saying thank you for everyone being here. It’s a trip down memory lane. Seeing all your faces, Julie and Aaron and Kenny and Bill and Kevin Dietz, celebrating our 100th episode… I didn’t think we would get here. When I started the podcast, it was just kind of out of fun. And I wanted to learn, and I wanted to do something because podcasts were all the rage. I never thought we’d get to 100 podcasts. The fact that you guys are here to help me celebrate 100 is very meaningful to me. The fact that my producers just told me that we’re over 3 million downloads and listens. That’s rare. When I started this podcast, we didn’t know which direction fully it was going to go. And when I first met Aaron Salter, Episode 32, and Aaron told me his story, I remember the emotions, I remember the sadness, I remember the shock. Being a lawyer, 28 years handling only civil cases… that this was happening in our justice system was outrageous to me. And then meeting Kenny and Julie and several others, it really did affect me, it really did change me. And at the end of this podcast, I’m going to make an announcement, I’m going to tell you guys something that I haven’t told many people. All of your sharing, and courage, and love that you’ve shown me… and the fact that we are now friends, we talk, we have lunch, we text each other, we help each other — it’s changed my life for the better. And it’s meaningful to me, and the fact that it’s only been a year and a half that I didn’t think this was coming. And then I’m still growing up as an attorney and learning things about the law, which I admit I think is pretty cool. So, I thank Kevin Dietz for introducing me to this stuff, because I was probably your idea to have Aaron on, and introducing me to these amazing people has changed my life. And to be quite honest, it’s changed my family’s life. I have three daughters, two of them are in college, and they are watching our episodes. They were both social work, social work, education majors, and now they’re talking to me about social justice classes. They’re talking to me about law school. And I think it’s because of the three of you, and Bill, and others. I wasn’t even planning on talking about that, but that’s true. I mean, I was sitting with my freshmen last night looking at her classes, and she was looking at social justice and criminal reform and classes like that. It’s hard to turn away, it’s hard to not want to learn more and hear more.

[02:56] MM: So, saying all that, I’m going to start with Aaron Salter. And Aaron, your story is amazing, heartbreaking. Scary that it could happen to such a nice young man who was, you know, won a partial college scholarship on his way to Arkansas. And the fact that this happened to you, I’d like you to tell our listeners and viewers who maybe didn’t see Episode 32 a little bit about what happened you starting in 2003?

[05:01] In 2003, Aaron was with his cousin when a drug deal went awry, and his cousin was shot twelve times — and survived. The person who shot Aaron’s cousin shot another person three days later, and Aaron was misidentified as the perpetrator.

[05:21] MM: Where were you when you were arrested? You were at a family member’s house?

[07:21] Aaron Salter: From the very beginning, a female named Joanne Thomas, the deceased’s sister, actually stood up in court and said she knew I didn’t kill her brother, that the person who killed him was a guy named E. Everybody should have been stepping up to be like, “Well, okay, I knew there are holes in this case, I know that testimony is powerful.” There is no way that I should have still gone to prison. Like that should have been a wake-up call for somebody, somewhere to be like, Okay, well, maybe we rushed this. But they didn’t do it.

[08:26] Kevin Dietz: And then you end up in prison. Did you realize at some point, “Wow, innocent people end up in prison, this happens in real life?”

[9:03] KD: What was the key to getting out, what was the turning point?

[9:06] AS: Man, the turning point was when my when my federal defender team actually submitted an application to the conviction integrity unit. And when they did that, I was out within like 30 to 60 days.

[09:26] MM: Refresh our memories —what was the smoking gun that that the conviction integrity unit, hung their hat on to finally allow you out?

[10:35] MM: Prosecution withheld your mugshot from defense until the conviction integrity unit was just able to access it from the evidence room. Why didn’t they want you to have thar?

[10:39] AS: Because for one my whole claim was suggestive identification.

[10:55] MM: Didn’t your height and weight not add up to a witness? Weren’t there witness identifications that were skinnier and shorter?

[11:50] MM: You were also in prison with the man who actually committed the crime, is that true?

[12:53] AS: Absolutely. I was in a prison with him. He wrote a letter to my attorney saying that he’ll be able to help me if I can assign some type of contract to compensate him for a statement. But my attorney ruled his stuff out — you’re basically putting your testimony for hire man, so that’s not even credible. We couldn’t even use him if we wanted to… but he reached out to my attorney and everything organically.

[14:44] MM: One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the last year and a half is that if you’re paroled in Michigan, for a crime you committed, you have all these wonderful benefits. You get money, you get housing, job help, medical…. But if you’re exonerated for a crime you didn’t commit, you get nothing. You saw a void in this system, and you bought you use your hard-earned money that you got after your lawsuit. And you bought a house so you could put people up. Tell us a little bit about that.

[16:09] MM: A lot of us are wearing or have these pins that I’m showing to the camera: Innocence Maintained: Better not Bitter. Can you tell our listeners and viewers what this is?

[16:49] MM: Tell us about this app you’ve created for exonerees — how is it going to help people who are wrongfully convicted?

[17:43] The app will be revealed on August 15th at an Exoneree Awards ceremony taking place at the Detroit Yacht Club.

[18:17] MM: That’s awesome! Save us a table — we’re coming. We’re going to turn to Julie Baumer who’s sitting to your right. Julie Baumer, Episode 77 on the Open Mike Show. Julie has another really heartbreaking story. She was arrested for doing the right thing, seeking medical help for her for her sick baby nephew. She was convicted with no evidence of any abuse. Just two doctors testifying about Shaken Baby Syndrome, which we now know is junk science. It’s such junk science that they’ve changed the name to Abusive Head Trauma. You had a terrible defense attorney, not presenting any evidence in your first trial to help you. And you had the first case at the Michigan Innocence Clinic in Ann Arbor took that did not involve DNA evidence. So, you are kind of a famous person up there. But tell us a little bit about your story. And for the people who have not heard or seen it.

[19:43] Julie Baumer: Basically, my younger sister ended up getting pregnant, it was an unplanned pregnancy. With the support of my family, I chose to do an in-family adoption. After Philip was born, he was hospitalized in the neonatal intensive care unit for about a week. So, we knew that there was going to be some form of complications. We didn’t know the extent of it. When he was five weeks old, he basically had a medical breakdown, if you will, because he completely stopped eating. And he just became very lethargic. So of course, I called his pediatrician and, and by direction of his pediatrician, I took him into the ER in Macomb County. The county transferred him down to Children’s Hospital where, 24 hours later, he was undergoing brain surgery to relieve pressure in his brain. His brain had swollen. 24 hours after that, I was invited into the sheriff’s department to interview. At that point I was I realized that I was a suspect for child abuse. And so immediately, my family and I started our defensive. Initially we went back to the birth, which was traumatic, during which my sister had been given two doses of Pitocin. So, we thought there were some definite issues during the birth. However, several months later, I was formally charged with child abuse first degree. And 18 months later, I was convicted and sentenced to 15 years.

[22:06] MM: You actually had two trials… what happened after your first conviction?

[22:10] JB: I immediately began the appeal process. After I exhausted all of my appeals by the grace of God, ironically, that same year in 2009, U of M, opened up the non-DNA Innocence Clinic and I was able to get my case heard. I was granted a second trial, where I had several doctors who testified on my behalf that weren’t available during my first trial. They clearly stated that there was no crime committed at all. Unfortunately, my nephew had suffered a form of childhood stroke, venous sinus thrombosis. And I was exonerated completely.

[23:36] MM: How long were you in prison?

[23:45] MM: Thank God you had good attorneys for after the second trial. You’ve been out ten years — can you give us an update on your life? What are you doing these days?

[24:09] JB: I’ve nestled myself into a nice little community where I work as a realtor. And to fill some void and give my part back, I indulged in several service clubs, and do a lot of volunteer work.

[24:38] MM: Well, thank you for sharing your story again with us today. All the details, Julie Baumer, Episode 77, on the Open Mike Show. And last but not least, Kenny Wyniemko one of the craziest stories I think anybody could ever hear. We did two episodes on Kenny, 45 and 50. As I’m interviewing more people, getting myself into this world, your story almost checks all the boxes of what could go wrong in one of these types of cases. Starting with, dirty cops, a jailhouse snitch, a corrupt prosecutor, a bad judge. On and on — and that’s probably why Netflix did a whole show on you. That’s probably why you have this fabulous book that your friend Bob wrote about you, Deliberate Injustice. Kenny, I think about your story all the time, as I do with all the stories. You’re also you’re wearing your Innocence Project shirt, which will tell us about… For the viewers who have not seen our four plus hours on you, why don’t you give us a couple minutes on what happened to you?

[26:31] Kenny Wyniemko: Well, first of all, Mike, thank you for the kind words. It’s always a pleasure being with you and my fellow exonerees. What happened to me unfortunately, I was arrested in 1994, and charged 10 weeks after this rape happened. And at the time that rape happened, it was a big story in the Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, Macomb Daily, our local paper. And I remember reading about the rape and thinking to myself that, no one should have to go through that. No way. July 14th, 10 weeks later, I was arrested and charged with 15 counts of Criminal Sexual Conduct, one count of Breaking and Entering, and one count of Armed Robbery…

[34:41] MM: It’s a good story, and it leads into why you think you were behind bars for so many years. What was your next encounter with the Clinton Township police?

[35:19] On July 14th, 1994, Kenny was awoken by a woman in a business suit asking if he was Kenny Wyniemko. When he responded affirmatively, she moved aside, and four police officers rushed into his living room, pinned him down, handcuffed him, and took him to the Macomb County police department to be identified in a lineup. He had no idea what they were talking about, requested to call an attorney, and was denied. Kenny was put in a lineup, but ultimately released from the station. When he returned home to shower, a plain clothes police officer refused to let Kenny in until the police had a search warrant, pulling a gun on Kenny and pointing it at his head. Kenny went to his parents to shower and, upon his return, found that his house had been ransacked by the police and unnecessarily vandalized. The next day, he returned home after going to the grocery store to replace broken items and was met by eight police — some with sawed-off shotguns — who stated he had been identified in the previous day’s lineup and was under arrest.

[42:48] MM: As you’re talking, I’m now remembering why we spent so many hours with you — because you’re a damn good storyteller. For those of you who are interested, Episodes  45 and 50 have so many twists and turns. For those of you who want to hear more, be sure to check out those episodes. Now, I want to turn to now is your work with Innocence Project.

[43:58] KW: Well, this project is responsible for my release! I was still locked up in prison and I happened to see Barry Scheck on Phil Donahue Show talking about how he’s working with DNA that would prove someone’s guilt or innocence. So, I wrote to him with a packet of the facts surrounding my case, asking for help. About five months later, he wrote back saying that the information sounded serious. However, he had a backlog of about 4,000 cases… that was the bad news. The good news was they were going to open up a private Innocence Project at Cooley Law School in Lansing. I was their first case and they got me out.

[45:20] MM: You told me before we started filming today that you were the second person in Michigan and the 129th person in the country to be granted a DNA release?

[45:34] KW: In Michigan, we’re up to 130, but nationwide, as of last Friday, we’re up to 2,755. It’s still just the tip of the iceberg, and that’s why I’m proud to be part of Proving Innocence with Bill Proctor. There’s no more worthy cause in the world.

[46:05] MM: We’re hearing about people getting out every week, which is an amazing, amazing thing. I want to turn to Bill Proctor now, who was kind enough to come on Open Mike Episode 51. Bill works tirelessly for wrongfully convicted people. He’s a member of the Michigan Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and the founder of Proving Innocence. Today he runs Seeking Justice, currently on the trail of Who Killed Shannon Siders, which is an amazing website… Bill, thank you for coming to the show today. Tell me how you got involved fighting for the wrongfully convicted.

[47:00] Bill Proctor: I was lucky enough to have an almost 40-year career in television and was a reporter, anchor. But had a private investigator in 1994 bring me a case out of Port Huron. This was a strange situation where a college student was murdered in broad daylight on a community college in 1986. Well, lots of twists and turns brought the police to a fella named Frederick Thomas Freeman. And Mr. Freeman had the misfortune of dating, for maybe two weeks, the girlfriend/fiancé of the murder victim. While the police looked at his general level of misconduct, that never indicated something so serious as to felony level. He wrote a couple of bad checks, drove a motorcycle without a license, those kinds of silly things. But he was just kind of an arrogant tough guy who thought he was God’s gift to women. Bottom line is they put together a case that to this day is the most ridiculous presentation you’ve ever seen in your life that essentially convicted an innocent man. That was in 1986, for the trial. I took on the case 1994- 95 and was among the first reporters in the state of Michigan to essentially step out in a big way to present an actual innocence claim. The claim was extremely strong with a jailhouse snitch who got rewarded to make statements about what he heard in a jail cell that Freeman allegedly said girls who claimed that he was some sort of ninja master who could levitate himself from one another room to another that kind of thing, throwing stars all this kind of stuff. And the real bottom line was, this was a shot gun murder in broad daylight on the college campus. Freeman, with all of his martial arts prowess, could have snapped this neck quietly and walked away with no problem. That didn’t happen. This, we strongly believe today, had to do with drugs, mayoral connection to drug dealers, corruption, and bad actors. What I learned from that case, from a private investigator, is that there are so many elements of a trial that can misrepresent the truth…

[50:36] MM: And this person is still sitting in prison today, right?

[51:10] BP: The list that you’ve heard from your guests, the list of the tens of thousands of cases that have been examined by a number of innocence projects around the country, have come down to a very comprehensive, constant evaluation of the problem of wrongful conviction in America. Six, seven, maybe eight specific reasons for all of them…. The list is long. It’s difficult, Michael, and yes, the entire country needs to know that this is more than a notion more than a TV show. More than a television series. These are people whose lives and the lives of their families are ruined by bad work in the criminal justice system.

[54:03] MM: And from all accounts. Bill, you are helping so many people you’re working as a private investigator trying to get people out. I know what good work you do. I’ve seen it. The new the new case that you’re working on is very compelling. Do you want to tell a little bit about that and direct people to that website so they can so we can let the world know what’s happening?

[58:03] KW: Bill was talking about eyewitness misidentification being a leading cause. It is the leading cause of wrongful convictions. And if you look at the facts, amongst the exonerees, all of us are throughout the country, the eyewitness identification has been proven wrong 78% of the time. 78%. That’s scary numbers.

[58:56] Mike, Aaron, Julie, Kenny, spend time comparing multiple identical factors that contributed to their wrongful convictions: poor defense attorneys, aggressive prosecuting attorneys, tunnel vision, eyewitness errors, bad forensic science, perjury, and official misconduct.

[1:01:18] MM: We’ve done six or seven wrongful exonerees interviews. And the thing that amazes me is the perception of how bitter you all should be. But you have found the spirit to work hard and help others who are left behind in these exact situations. You’ve started nonprofits, you’ve been vocal about injustice, you lecture, you help pass laws. So, I want you to all tell me why? Why do you feel the way do you do? How do you keep a positive attitude? And why are you trying to help others?

[1:04:54] MM: A key to the future in this fight for justice is awareness, education, breaking down the stigma associated with being an exoneree. Tell me about how your family, friends, and even strangers treated you after you got released from prison.

[1:08:04] MM: Bill, I want to ask you — how do we keep the pressure up on those in the justice system to prioritize freeing innocent people over putting people away?

[1:08:23] BP: At this stage in the country, we have a serious problem. Because at one point, you might be able to get everyone elected to a legislature to sit around a table, listen to suggestions, and walk down a road of some reasonable compromise. I’m sorry, Mike, I don’t think it’s going to happen now. I think the lunatic in the White House for four years, his year before, and his continued effect on this population means that not enough people of reason, open mind, and open hearts will sit at a table and make changes in laws. I just need to remind everybody that what happens in the criminal justice system is essentially a wonderfully written set of laws and rules and processes and procedures. But we forget that people administer those laws. People have human failures. People do things that they’re not supposed to do under law, or even in ethical or moral practice. I really don’t know where we start, Mike. But everybody should know that. Yes. Not only do wrongful convictions happen, but they can be prevented. And yes, if somebody is telling you and insisting from the very beginning at trial or charges that they didn’t do it, every single friend that’s possible needs to step up and listen and try to help before the conviction takes place.

[1:09:50] MM: You would think that all of the news that’s being made about wrongful convictions, and the integrity units, and podcasts like this with 3 million eyeballs on them… that people will start getting the message…. My hope is that if there are people out there who have said things to police that aren’t true, that they will come forward and say, “You know what, I might have made a mistake.” And I know that takes courage. And I encourage people to gather that courage because you have beautiful souls who are sitting in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. Thousands of people around this country that need the truth to be told. And I want to thank you all again, for being here. I want to thank you for sharing your stories, because I know it’s not easy. And I want to tell the three of you that after hearing your stories, and learning from Bill, and watching the movies and reading your books, that the Mike Morse Law Firm has decided to put — lack of a better word — our money where our mouth is, our energy where our mouth is. And we have taken on a case of a man that, I believe, did not get a fair trial on a Shaken Baby Syndrome case. A man who’s sitting in prison for life and did not get a fair trial. He had a terrible defense attorney, there was not one expert witness called against eight expert witnesses by the state. And I am working hard with a team of lawyers here at the Mike Morse Law Firm to get this man a new trial. This is probably one of the hardest things that my firm has ever done. I am doing it because of you three. You have encouraged me. Throughout it, Bill, you have helped me, and we’ve had several conversations about taking cases like this. And because this man did not have the quality attorney that he should have, we are going to fight as hard as we know how to get this man a new trial. We will share more details in the coming months. We are in the midst of it right now, getting the evidence, talking to experts, putting together a brief… I’m nervous about it. You get one shot at a 6500 motion, as you guys all know. And I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful. And I just wanted you guys to hear it first.

 [1:13:07] KW: Mike, God bless you. I wish that there were more attorneys like you that take the time to help when you see something wrong. You try to right it. I think that’s what all of us do. And the bottom line is — all anybody ever wants when it comes to the justice system is the truth. So, I take my hat off to you. I commend you. May God bless you.

[1:13:28] AS: Mike. I just want to say one thing, man. I really respect you for doing that. Because when I was in prison, the only thing I wanted was for somebody to pick up my case and help me. So that’s real commendable, man. And it’s a lot of work, but I know you can do it.

[1:13:50] MM: You know what, Aaron, it wouldn’t happen had you not come on my show. Or had you guys not introduced me to Dave Moran up at the Innocence Clinic. So, lots of things happen and wouldn’t happen if Kevin Dietz, my good friend, didn’t suggest we do these episodes on Open Mike. You know, I feel emotional about it. I’m excited about it. I’m nervous about it. I can’t believe that we’ve done 100 episodes! We have gifts for you all that we’re going to give you as well. And thanks again for being here.

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