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Wayne County overturns man's wrongful conviction after 25 years

Hands gripping jail cell bars

Ramon Ward walked out of a Detroit courtroom a free man on Thursday, after serving 25 years in prison for two murders he didn’t commit.

Ward was just 18 in 1994, when he was accused of killing two women in Detroit. His 1995 conviction was based on a supposed confession. Ward never signed that confession, and insisted it was false.

He was also implicated by two jailhouse informants—one of many questionable tactics Detroit Police commonly encouraged and utilized in an era of rampant police abuses that eventually landed the department under U.S. Justice Department oversight.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said her office’s Conviction Integrity Unit found that testimony was “wholly unreliable.”

“This is one of those cases that clearly illustrates the need for our unit,” said Worthy, who called Ward’s case “disturbing on several levels.”

Wayne County’s Conviction Integrity Unit has freed 15 people since it formed in early 2018. Worthy said she’s petitioned to double the size of the unit, so it can better investigate the more than 700 requests it’s received from prisoners to review their cases.

Both of the jailhouse informants in Ward’s case testified in multiple other trials about admissions of guilt they claimed to have heard while locked up on the 9th floor of Detroit’s former police headquarters. Both received sentence reductions at the behest of police. That raises questions about other possible wrongful convictions that may have resulted from their testimony.

Worthy said she’s “fairly certain” police no longer cultivate jailhouse informants that same way. As for using jail witness testimony, “We are very, very careful when we use those witnesses.”

“It would certainly raise a red flag, as it should have in this case, where the same witness is being used in multiple cases,” Worthy said. “That is not something I would ever endorse at this point in time.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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