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Proof of unscientific hair analysis gets 40-year inmate released

Ledura Watkins was convicted of the 1975 murder of a 25-year-old woman during a home robbery. The only evidence against Watkins was a single hair found on the scene, which police analysts had tied to him using a technique that has since been discredited by the FBI. With the help of the Innocence Project at the Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School, Watkins is now free.

According to the FBI, the hair analysis used against Watkins was not scientifically valid. "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," says the Innocence Project's director.

As a result, the Wayne County, Michigan, prosecutor's office agreed to withdraw the case, and his conviction was overturned after a hearing.

Watkins was only 20 when he was convicted. He has worked on his own case for years seeking the exoneration he always believed would be his one day.

"I'm feeling great. I expected this to happen. I didn't think it would take 41 years," he told reporters today. He has been looking forward to a dinner out with his family -- and to never having to touch another law book.

Another law school innocence clinic achieved a separate exoneration just weeks ago

Watkins received assistance from the Innocence Project at the Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School. Another exoneree, Desmond Ricks, was freed late last month after intervention by the University of Michigan Law School's Innocence Clinic.

Ricks served 25 years for allegedly murdering a friend outside a restaurant in Detroit. A reexamination of two bullets prosecutors tied to the murder weapon showed that they actually did not match. Ricks was therefore convicted on evidence that a reasonable jury wouldn't find credible, yet he has been in prison since his trial in 1992.

It's terrific to see law students getting involved in exonerating those who have been wrongly convicted. Those who have good reason to believe their convictions are flawed, however, do not have to rely on law clinics. Patrick T. McNally, Attorney at Law, handles state and federal appeals and post-conviction matters.

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