Wrongfully convicted Black man freed after 40 years

Ledura Watkins, 61, freed from prison after 40 years (Photo source: Michigan Department of Corrections)

in 1976, a single strand of hair tied Ledura Watkins to the robbery and murder of a woman in Detroit. An FBI lab technician gave the evidence during his murder trial and at the age of 21, Watkins was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Now after 40 years in a Michigan prison, Watkins is a free man. Thanks to the Innocence Project of the Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School, it was proved that the conclusions made in the 1970s by FBI-trained lab analysts don’t match current scientific standards. As such, the law school requested of the courts that Watkins’ guilty verdict be set aside because of the faulty evidence in January 2017.

Prosecutors in Michigan agreed with the findings of the Innocence Project researchers and Watson was freed this past Thursday. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, Watkins was the longest serving wrongfully convicted person in Michigan’s history. Surrounded by family and well-wishers, Watkins exited the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit after one final court appearance. “I just want to thank everyone for everything that you’ve done, for all the support. I appreciate you, I love you, I don’t know how I’m ever going to repay you,” he said.

Throughout his incarceration, Watkins maintained that he was innocent of the crime.

Marla Mitchell-Cichon, director of the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project stated to the media, “Hair comparison is not based on science; it is simply a lab analyst’s subjective opinion and has no place in our criminal justice system. This is why a state-wide review of hair comparison cases is critical.”

Unfortunately, Watkins’ case has become all too familiar and the American judicial system. There have been other high-profile cases of wrongfully convicted Black men in the last few years. Some of these cases were covered by rolling out and include:

Eddie Bolden free after serving 22 years for wrongful conviction

Lawrence McKinney, Wrongfully convicted Black man only gets $75 after spending 31 years in prison

Andre Hatchett- Man with special needs free after 25 years of wrongful imprisonment


Mo Barnes
Mo Barnes

Maurice "Mo" Barnes is a graduate of Morehouse College and Political Scientist based in Atlanta. Mo is also a Blues musician. He has been writing for Rolling Out since 2014. Whether it means walking through a bloody police shooting to help a family find justice or showing the multifaceted talent of the Black Diaspora I write the news.

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