Above: Part I of Erica Lynn Speaks Podcast with interviews of Exonerees and VOD Field Editor Ricardo Ferrell. Part II is featured at the conclusion of this article.
Wayne County exonerees with NOE featured on national podcast; they have also traveled to Missouri to advocate for three prisoners there
Meanwhile, others with strong innocence claims are still serving decades in Michigan prisons
James Calhoun, serving 75 years based on a 2005 faulty conviction, died Sept. 23 in MDOC at age 64
By Ricardo Ferrell
VOD Field Editor
With Diane Bukowski, VOD Editor
Recent Wayne County exonerees who served decades behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit were featured on the Erica Lynn Speaks Podcast to discuss how their wrongful convictions were overturned, in a 2-part interview which aired beginning Sept. 30.
Gregory Berry, Marvin Cotton, Larry Smith Jr., and Kenneth Nixon, who helped found the National Organization for Exonerees, joined Erica Lynn to talk about the hot button issue of innocent people being falsely accused of serious crimes, especially murder, and sent away to prison to serve virtual death sentences. That’s exactly what happened to all the guests on Erica’s podcast.
Smith, who served longer than the other men, shared how it was an uphill battle until the end, when he finally walked out of the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Madison Township on February 4, 2021 as a free man, to a crowd of family, friends, supporters and news reporters.
I spoke with Gregory Berry after part one of the podcast and he told me that he was glad to participate on the show and appreciated that Erica and myself had invited him to come on and discuss his 17-year ordeal of fighting to prove his actual innocence. Berry is on the National Registry of Exonerations which shows he’s been exonerated for the 2004 first-degree murder.
But he still faced an unusual dilemma in December, when he entered a plea of No Contest while under duress to Accessory After the Fact. Berry was battling a maddening bout with the Coronavirus and worried he might die in prison, so he accepted the offer even though he had no culpability whatsoever in the murder of Octavio Hernandez.
I also spoke with Kenneth Nixon who was exonerated exactly two weeks after Smith, and commended him on the fine work he’s doing to bring attention to other similarly situated individuals that have been wrongfully convicted and are innocent.
Another of the members of the National Organization of Exonerees is Marvin Cotton.
I applaud the amazing work he’s putting in and the support he, Smith, Nixon and others are giving to Lamar Johnson, Kevin Strickland and Chris Dunn who are sitting in a prison in Missouri, although clear and convincing evidence showing these men to be innocent. Cotton has traveled to Missouri at least twice to rally for the three men to be exonerated and released.
Strickland has served 43 years, Johnson has served 26 years, and Dunn has served two decades. Their cases have gained national attention and the support and backing of Jean Peters Baker, a Missouri prosecutor and Kimberly Gardner, Circuit Attorney who both believes in Strickland, Dunn and Johnson’s innocence.
Sadly, two days after the first podcast was aired, James Calhoun, who had been serving a 75- year sentence for a crime new evidence shows he didn’t commit, passed away Sept. 23 at the Woodland Corrections Center in Whitmore Lake, MI, in the Hospice Unit after his long battle with cancer. He was 64 and had been incarcerated since 2005.
Calhoun maintained he was innocent, saying his murder conviction hinged on the false statements and testimonies of a convicted felon, in league with Calhoun’s ex-girl friend. Calhoun’s daughter Keila Chambliss recently attended an innocence summit in Detroit and told VOD that she vows to keep fighting to prove her father’s innocence and bring him peace.
During my interview on the Erica Lynn podcast, I mentioned about 20 others who were either wrongfully convicted or didn’t receive a fair trial and James Calhoun was one of them.
Unfortunately, Calhoun died before being able to prove his innocence. The same with Willie H., who died and didn’t get a chance to prove he wasn’t guilty of the murder he was convicted for. Sadly, there are many others like Calhoun & Willie H., who run a risk of dying before they to can prove their actual innocence.
“Man, I been in here 37 years and didn’t kill anyone,” Paul Russ told me recently. “The homicide detective on my case, Sgt. Elwood Gunderson flat out framed me by using a coached witness and admitted in court to telling the witness that he identified the wrong man by positively picking #4 out of the lineup, but to go back in there and identify #3, which was me. Everyone keeps telling me to be patient, but what if I die in here like others have, then what?”
There are many others who sit in prison and are innocent, such as Jerome Borthwell who’s been locked up nearly 20 years for a crime he didn’t commit. Borthwell has newly discovered evidence proving his innocence, but he remains behind bars.
Its a fact the Wayne County and State Wide Conviction Integrity Units have worked to get some of the actually innocent and wrongfully convicted exonerated, however, simply put, more needs to be done to hire additional staff to work on the 1,300 or so pending applications in the CIU, and certainly the 50 cases they announced on the news that they’re currently taking a serious look at.
I am glad to announce that Juwan Deering was exonerated after Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald moved to have his convictions tossed. Some members of the National Organization of Exonerees (Nixon, Smith and Cotton) were outside the courthouse in support of Deering when he was released. He became the newest member of the fraternity of exonerees.
‘RING OF SNITCHES’ VICTIMS: LACINO HAMILTON CLEARED, FREED AFTER 26 YRS; CONVICTIONS TOSSED ON 2 MORE | VOICE OF DETROIT: The city’s independent newspaper, unbossed and unbought (includes Marvin Cotton release).