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AG Nessel Announces Vacated Wrongful Convictions in Calhoun County
November 09, 2023
LANSING – The convictions of Louis Wright, 65, have been vacated pursuant to a collaborative review by the Michigan Department of Attorney General’s (DAG) Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU), the Calhoun County Prosecutor’s Office, the Michigan State Police Forensic Science Division (MSP), and the WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project. This review concluded that Wright was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault and breaking and entering in 1988. New DNA testing excluded Mr. Wright as the perpetrator.
Calhoun County Circuit Court Judge Sarah S. Lincoln set aside the convictions in an order signed earlier today.
The Albion Department of Public Safety worked with the CIU to locate the 1988 Sexual Assault Kit and submitted the evidence for DNA testing at the MSP Forensic Science Division laboratory.
“The exoneration of Mr. Wright highlights the importance of collaboration between multiple agencies," Nessel said. “The tireless work put in to secure this exoneration is another source of great pride for our Conviction Integrity Unit. When I established the CIU in 2019, I envisioned our office working side-by-side with local prosecutors and police departments to uncover the truth. I commend the attorneys and investigators in my office, the local agencies, and the WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project for their hard work.”
“There is no justice without truth. It applies to everyone. This case is being reopened and further investigation will be had to determine who the perpetrator is. We thank the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, Michigan State Police and the Albion Department of Public Safety for their investigative assistance,” said David Gilbert, Calhoun County Prosecutor.
In the early morning hours of January 18, 1988, an 11-year-old girl was asleep at her home in Albion, Michigan. A single perpetrator broke into the home, forced the young girl into the living room, and sexually assaulted her.
An Albion Public Safety Officer lived a block from the victim’s residence and approximately a half-mile from Wright’s apartment. The officer reported seeing Wright in front of the officer’s home approximately five hours before the offense.
Wright voluntarily went to the police department for questioning later that day. Wright’s interview was not recorded. The detective subsequently reported that Wright confessed to the crimes.
Wright ultimately pled no contest to the charges. At sentencing, he attempted to withdraw his plea and claimed he was innocent. The court denied his request.
The victim was never asked to participate in any identification process. There was no photo array or any line-up. She was also never asked to identify anyone at a court proceeding.
Wright was sentenced to 25 to 50 years for each of the sexual assault charges and 6 to 15 years for breaking and entering. He has consistently maintained his innocence ever since.
In 2023, the CIU obtained confirmation that items from the original investigation had been located by the Albion Department of Public Safety. The items were submitted to the MSP for DNA testing. Foreign male DNA was found on two items and Wright was excluded as a contributor on both items.
“The Michigan State Police Forensic Science Division is committed to the fair, consistent and independent evaluation of evidence, the results of which often lead to an arrest or conviction, or in this case, can help exonerate the innocent,” stated Col. James F. Grady, director of the Michigan State Police. “We are proud to join the Attorney General’s Conviction Integrity Unit in their commitment to justice for all.”
“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.
ABOUT THE CIU
Exonerated prisoners are eligible for up to a year of reentry housing and two years of other supportive services offered by the MDOC. These include job placement assistance, job training, transportation assistance, work clothing or tools, vital documents assistance, and more.
Exonerees are presented information on these services when they are released and can access them within two years of their release.
In 2022, the Department received a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to partner with the WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project to screen claims of innocence and conduct DNA testing. This grant partnership was instrumental in Wright’s investigation and release.
Attorney General Nessel launched the CIU in 2019. The unit investigates credible claims of innocence to determine whether there is substantial evidence that reveals if a convicted person was wrongfully accused and convicted.
This marks the sixth Michigan resident freed from incarceration following review by the CIU since its inception. Previously, the unit has exonerated Gilbert Poole, Jr., Corey McCall, and George and Melvin DeJesus. It has also brought forth new evidence that led to a new trial, and ultimately the dismissal of charges against Jeff Titus.
Mr. Wright’s exoneration was largely made possible thanks to the timely efforts of MSP Forensic Science Division.
To date, the CIU has received more than 1,900 requests for assistance and has reviewed and closed over 1,000 requests. The Unit is comprised of Director and Assistant Attorney General (AAG) Robyn Frankel, AAG Lori Montgomery, Special Agents Khary Mason and Gentry Shelby, and Legal Secretary Shantel Word. The department also wishes to acknowledge the hard work of dozens of interns, including the lead intern on this file, Anastasia Machasic.