OAN’s Stephanie Stahl
2:11 PM – Saturday, November 11, 2023
A man accused of breaking into a home and sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl in southwestern Michigan has been released from prison after 35 years, following an agreement by authorities that he was wrongfully convicted.
On Thursday, a judge granted the request of the Calhoun County prosecutor and the attorney general’s office to set aside Louis Wright’s convictions from 1988.
“New DNA testing excluded Mr. Wright as the perpetrator,” the attorney general’s office said.
In 1988, someone broke into the home of an 11-year-old girl and sexually assaulted her, according to the attorney general’s office. During the investigation, an off-duty police officer who lived a block away from the victim’s home, reported seeing Louis Wright, now 65, about five hours before the assault happened.
The police focused on Wright as the prime suspect based on the off-duty officer’s claim of seeing him in the neighborhood. Wright willingly visited the police department later and allegedly confessed to the crime, however, the interview was not recorded and he did not sign a confession statement.
The Cooley Law School Innocence Project, which advocated for Wright, asserted that a false confession and a no-contest plea were responsible for his decades of imprisonment.
Wright later entered a no-contest plea to the charges but attempted to retract it during sentencing, asserting his innocence. It’s not clear why Wright chose to enter a no-contest plea, which is considered as admitting guilt for sentencing.
He was handed a 25-50 year sentence for sexual assault charges and a 6-15 year sentence for breaking and entering, as per the attorney general’s office.
However, a significant issue arose: the victim was never involved in any identification process and was never called upon to identify anyone in the court proceedings.
“Mr. Wright has always maintained his innocence,” the Innocence Project said in a written statement.
35 years later, the Michigan Department of the Attorney General’s Conviction Integrity Unit, or CIU, was told that items from the case were found by the Albion Department of Public Safety.
After undergoing testing, these items were found to contain “foreign male DNA.” As a result, Wright was ruled out as the perpetrator, leading to the dismissal of his charges, according to officials.
“The exoneration of Mr. Wright highlights the importance of collaboration between multiple agencies,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said. “The tireless work put in to secure this exoneration is another source of great pride for our Conviction Integrity Unit.”
Wright is now the sixth Michigander to have been freed by the Attorney General’s CIU since it was established in 2019. He could be eligible for $1.75 million under a state law that grants $50,000 for each year spent in prison for a conviction overturned based on new evidence.
In 2021, the Cooley Innocence Project received a grant from the Department of Justice to review cases where unreliable forensic evidence played a role in convictions. Since 2018, they’ve worked with the Michigan Attorney General’s Conviction Integrity Unit on DNA and other forensic cases, and this partnership played a key role in freeing Wright after 35 years.
“I commend the Michigan Attorney General’s Office for agreeing to the DNA testing that led to Mr. Wright’s exoneration. Without their willingness to test the rape kit evidence, Mr. Wright and the victim may never have received justice,” said Marla Mitchell-Cichon, Director of the WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project.
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