NATIONAL NEWS

Michigan to pay $1.75 million to innocent man after 35 years in prison

Jan 12, 2024, 8:56 AM

The state of Michigan has agreed to pay $1.75 million to an innocent man who spent 35 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of sexual assault.

Louis Wright was released in November after authorities said DNA tests ruled him out as the perpetrator in an attack on an 11-year-old girl in Albion, a small town in southwestern Michigan, in 1988.

People who are exonerated based on new evidence are eligible for $50,000 for each year spent in a Michigan prison. The attorney general’s office sometimes resists paying, based on strict criteria in the law, but quickly agreed to compensate Wright.

The deal was approved by a judge Wednesday.

Wright told The Associated Press that he’ll likely use some money for a house as well as a vehicle for a sister.

“Nothing can make up for 35 years in a Michigan prison for something he did not do,” Wright’s attorney, Wolf Mueller, said. “This is a first step toward getting Louis’ life back at the age of 65.”

Police investigating the assault settled on Wright as the suspect after an off-duty officer said he had been seen in the neighborhood. Police said he confessed, though the interview was not recorded and he did not sign a confession, according to the Cooley Law School Innocence Project.

The victim was never asked to identify Wright, the Innocence Project said.

Wright eventually pleaded no-contest to the charges and was sentenced to 25 years to 50 years in prison. He then tried to withdraw his plea at sentencing, but the request was denied.

Wright was repeatedly eligible for parole consideration, starting in 2008. But he refused to take a sex offender therapy class, a key condition for release, and remained behind bars until DNA cleared him, Mueller said.

“He said, ‘I didn’t do this crime. I’m not taking a therapy class.’ He cost himself several years, just standing on principle,” Mueller said Friday. “Not a lot of guys would do that.”

Wright said he knew he would eventually be cleared when his mouth was swabbed last summer for DNA testing.

“I spent the last couple months in prison with a smile on my face. Everyone thought I had something up my sleeve,” he said.

Since his release, Wright has been reuniting with family and enjoying simple things, such as shooting pool in a bar. Thanksgiving was special, he said, because it meant having a genuine turkey dinner — not the “white slab slime stuff.”

“I had the real thing,” said Wright, adding: “I’m just taking it one day at a time right now.”

Separately, Mueller filed a lawsuit against police seeking more than $100 million. The lawsuit claims Wright’s rights were violated during the investigation in 1988.

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Follow Ed White at https://twitter.com/edwritez

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Michigan to pay $1.75 million to innocent man after 35 years in prison