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112- How a Criminal Justice Expert & Innocence Project Director Freed an Innocent Man After 32 Years

112- How a Criminal Justice Expert & Innocence Project Director Freed an Innocent Man After 32 Years

Professor Marla Mitchell-Cichon is an attorney, advocate, and criminal justice expert who has helped facilitate the release of seven wrongfully convicted Michiganders. As Executive Director of the WMU-Cooley Law Innocence Project, she and her team, largely consisting of law students, work to secure the release of factually innocent people solely through post-conviction DNA evidence, the only innocence organization in the state of Michigan to do so. To date, the WMU-Cooley Law Innocence Project has screened over 5,800 cases, several of which are actively being prepared for court.

In this compelling, all-new episode of Open Mike, Marla discusses her 18-year-long work on the wrongful conviction of Gary Poole, a Michigan man who was falsely accused of murder and spent 32 years behind bars. Tune in to learn how she helped get him exonerated, how we can best protect ourselves if wrongly accused of a crime, and how WMU-Cooley Law Innocent Project can help if someone you know is falsely incarcerated!

Show Notes

[00:24] Background and bio of Marla Mitchell-Cichon.

 

[00:43] Marla, welcome to Open Mike!

 

[01:11] Can you tell us a little about the Western Michigan University Cooley Law Innocence Project?

 

[01:47] Most Innocence Clinics focus on cases without DNA or have a mixture of cases where DNA may or may not be involved. WMU Cooley’s only takes on cases where there is a DNA component. 

 

[02:47] What role do the students play at the Innocence Project?

 

[03:31] How did you personally become interested in helping the wrongfully convicted?

 

[04:14] The WMU-Cooley Law Innocence Project has helped a number of people, including Kenny Wyniemko who was on several of our episodes, including our 100th Episode Special. How gratifying is it when you’re able to free an innocent person?

 

[05:19] I’m familiar with your work, specifically the case of Gilbert Poole… how did he become a suspect in that case?

 

[06:59] Weren’t there cigarette butts and underwear that weren’t run through DNA testing prior to the trial?

 

[08:38] DNA is one of the best tools to prove innocence… but it’s performed by people, and people can make mistakes.

 

[10:38] Bite mark evidence has never been scientific, yet it’s a very common forensic practice that prosecutors lean on to convict people.

 

[15:16] Contrary to popular belief, hair samples aren’t scientifically accurate, unless the piece of hair has a root attached to it.

 

[16:51] In Mr. Poole’s case, can you discuss the fingernail evidence that excluded his culpability?

 

[18:33] When you get involved in the Poole case, what eventually led to you convincing the state Attorney General’s integrity unit to make the motion to release?

 

[23:31] When you have a criminal trial, that is the only opportunity you have to put the facts on a court record. Once that record is made, most of the time, any reviewing court will be limited to reviewing what’s on the record.

 

[24:31] Now that these conviction integrity units are around, you went to them… what was the smoking gun that allowed you to convince them everyone got it wrong?

 

[26:36] In Poole’s case, no one actually saw who killed the victim. Poole was never put in a line-up or independent identified. The government also introduced a composite drawing that was created after Poole had been arrested.

 

[27:29] Will Gilbert be compensated for the time he spent in prison?

 

[28:40] Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and members from her office attended Mr. Poole’s release reception and sincerely apologized for the struggles he unjustly experienced.

 

[30:58] There are still so many innocent people in prison. What can we, as a society, do to help the wrongfully convicted?

 

[32:21] Make sure to check out the WMU-Cooley Law Innocence Project’s website for more information on the cases we discussed in this episode!

 

[32:47] Eighteen years of dedication on this case, Marla. It’s frankly mind-boggling to me. I commend you, I respect you, and we’re lucky to have you working on behalf of those whose voices have been silenced.

 

[33:31] If you have a loved one in prison, or are in prison yourself, the WMU-Cooley Law Innocence Project only accept inquiries and applications from the individuals who are incarcerated. Write directly to their office for assistance!

[33:58] Marla Mitchell-Cichon, thank you for being on Open Mike! I hope to talk to you again.

[34:06] What a smart person, and what an incredible clinic she and her students run! Visit their website if you want to donate, educate yourself, or contact them for help. Thank you for being here on Open Mike! Like, subscribe, share, spread the word on this crucial issue. We’ll see you next time!

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