61 year old Ledura Watkins, who has served 42 years in prison, was wrongfully arrested in 1975 and charged with the murder of Yvette Ingram, an alleged drug dealer who taught in Detroit Public Schools. Watkins was only 19 years old when he was arrested and most of his family has passed away while he was doing time. According to Watkins' attorney Wolf Mueller, former Highland Park police officer Gary Vazana committed the crime but when questioned all these years later he said he doesn't remember anything about the case. Watkins' lawyers says his friend was threatened and coerced by former Wayne County prosecutor Robert Healy and now-deceased Detroit police officer Sgt. Neal Schwartz, into saying he committed the murder.This testimony got him locked behind bars and helped the prosecutors win the case.
“The jury will have no problem determining reasonable compensation in this case, $2 million per year of incarceration is an equal amount for punitive damages,” Lawyer Mueller says and that “This is not an indictment on police officers or prosecutors, the vast majority always do the right thing, it's just when the system gets broken there has to be an accounting and this is the day,” Watkins says he is glad to be finally set free and spend time with the family he actually does have left. The Cooley Innocence Project, led by Marla Mitchell, helped prove Watkins' innocence; he was set free in July.
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. In its short life, the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project has led to the exoneration of four individuals: Kenneth Wyniemko, Nathaniel Hatchett, Donya Davis, and in June 2017, our fourth individual LeDura Watkins who spent nearly 42 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.WMU-Cooley Innocence Project interns and students have the privilege to review case files, screen applications, investigate facts, conduct interviews, analyze cases, and represent innocent clients in court. Students assist assigned attorneys with research and pleadings for post-conviction proceedings.
On January 1, 2001, Michigan enacted a DNA statute (MLC 770.16) which provides a post-conviction remedy for those wrongfully convicted incarcerated persons who are innocent of the charged offense and whose innocence can be established by DNA testing of the biological evidence collected at the time of the offense.The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project does not charge for its services and receives no government funding. It is maintained entirely by WMU- Cooley Law School, with a supporting federal grant and private donations.