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Attorney petitions Governor Gretchen Whitmer for release of ill inmate he says is innocent


Temujin Kensu has been in prison for nearly 35 years, after being convicted of a murder that took place in Port Huron, even though multiple witnesses placed him in Escanaba in the Upper Peninsula at the time.

Kensu's appeals have all failed, largely on technical grounds.  

The 57 year old Kensu, who changed his name from Fred Freeman after his conversion to Buddism in prison, has battled chronic health conditions for years, including an auto-immune disorder, according to his attorney. 

When the pandemic began claiming lives at his facility, Macomb Correctional, Kensu said he feared it was only a matter of time before he became ill with COVID-19.

Kensu's fear has been realized, his attorney says. Kensu was notified by a nurse that he tested positive for COVID-19. He's now in a solitary cell, with virtually no privileges, including outdoor time or access to phone calls or video calls with loved ones. He tells attorneys he is getting no medical treatment.

Michigan Innocence Clinic attorney Imran Syed says the prison system's response to inmates who've tested positive is to essentially punish them for being sick by placing them in solitary confinement and withdrawing privileges.

And in Kensu's case, he worries that the inmate's life sentence could swiftly become a death sentence.

"For everything that this man has been through, this fate of being lost and forgotten in prison, when he didn't commit a crime, during the time of this virus, it's just about as terrible as it could get," says Syed.

Syed has submitted a second petition to Governor Gretchen Whitmer asking for clemency for Kensu, based on his actual innocence, and the threat to his life from having COVID-19 inside a prison, where medical care is limited.

Whitmer has not made any comments on his case.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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