There was never any physical evidence linking Kevin Harrington or George Clark to the 2002 killing of Michael Martin, but both were convicted of the murder. Now, after long journeys through a hostile criminal justice system, both men have been freed.
They’ve entered a world that is very different from the one they left, not least because of the rise of COVID-19 and shelter-in-place orders. But neither man would prefer to stay in prison.
“I’m through the roof at this moment,” Harrington told reporters from a hotel where he is being quarantined for 14 days. “I feel just so amazingly blessed. I’m doing awesome.”
Last week, both of their convictions were overturned “in the interests of justice.” The case is a long one and appears riddled with police misconduct.
Harrington was arrested when he was 20. He was tried for the murder four separate times. The first ended in a conviction, but it was overturned. The second and third trials ended with hung juries. In his fourth, he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.
He was offered a plea deal of seven years around the time of the fourth trial, but he refused because, he insists, he is innocent. Instead, he spent 17 years, six months and two days in prison wrongfully convicted.
The Wayne County, Michigan, Prosecutor’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit examined the case for six months and was instrumental in getting Harrington and Clark released. They were also represented by law students from the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan.
“We found a very troubling pattern of behavior from the original lead detective that involved threatening and coercing a number of witnesses,” said a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office.
Indeed, it was troubling. According to those involved, a police officer from Inkster, Michigan, coerced a witness into testifying against the two young men. Apparently, the officer threatened to take the woman’s children away if she didn’t say what police wanted to hear. Sadly, this is a common tactic used against women who are coerced by police, and it is very effective — nearly all of us would put our children first when faced with such a threat. She recanted her story at all four of Harrington’s trials.
Then, in 2016, a new witness came forward who claimed to have all but seen the murder — by a different person. She saw a man in an argument with the victim, then she heard two shots. Later that morning, she learned Martin had been killed.
The conviction integrity unit also discovered a witness who claimed she had been with Clark at the time of the murder.
The two men are now free, if not fully exonerated, and will not be retried. A wrongful conviction attorney is now representing them in a case to obtain compensation from the state.