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DETROIT � A Michigan man protesting his conviction for a murder he claims he didn’t commit has an arsenal of powerful attorneys pushing for his exoneration, including a former state Supreme Court justice and a former municipal judge. But he’s missing an element that could make his case a lot easier: DNA evidence. “It makes my job very difficult,” said attorney Sam Gun, a solo in Sylvan Lake, Mich., one of several attorneys pursuing the man’s case. Legal experts say the Michigan case represents a predicament facing thousands of inmates across the country who are struggling not only to prove their innocence without DNA evidence, but to find people to take on their cases. The Innocence Project, which has exonerated 202 individuals, is a DNA-based clinic. There are more than a dozen other innocence-based groups nationwide that will take on non-DNA cases, but their resources are limited. Uneven scales? David R. Dow, director of the Texas Innocence Network, which accepts non-DNA cases, believes that the legal standards for proving innocence has “been overly influenced by DNA exonerations.” Dow noted that “DNA cases are unusual and yet they have somehow created the whole framework for post-conviction work.” Kathryn Kase, who co-chairs the Death Penalty Committee at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said that “people without DNA evidence are in an especial bind because overturning their convictions requires a level of investigation and review that most attorneys cannot afford to do on a pro bono basis.” That doesn’t mean exonerations without DNA are impossible, Kase said. They’re just harder to prove, often requiring lawyers to reinterview scores of witnesses, scrutinize confessions, follow new leads and/or prove police or prosecutorial misconduct. In the Michigan case, Fredrick Freeman was convicted in 1987 for the murder of a 21-year-old man shot in a parking lot in broad daylight in Port Huron. Freeman’s lawyers claim there is no physical evidence linking Freeman to the crime, that more than a dozen witnesses placed Freeman in Escanaba, Mich., a city 450 miles from the murder scene, and that new evidence has surfaced that proves he didn’t do it. People v. Freeman, No. 86-128340 (St. Clair Co., Mich., Cir. Ct.). Freeman has lost all his appeals. Currently, a habeas corpus petition is pending before a federal judge claiming insufficient counsel, along with a request to consider new evidence in the case. Freeman v. Jan Trombley, No. 2:07-CV-10350-DPH-DAS (E.D. Mich.). According to Gun, prosecutors argued that Freeman could have flown a plane to the scene of the crime, killed the man, then taken off. “I read a synopsis of the case. I was convinced that this is an innocent man who’s being incarcerated for a lifetime without parole for a murder he didn’t commit,” Gun said. Freeman’s conviction has drawn the ire of two retired judges, including former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Thomas Brennan, who has publicly called for Freeman’s release. “I have read the entire 10-volume transcript of the Freeman case. It is my opinion that he was wrongly convicted,” Brennan said. He said Freeman’s last avenue for a legal challenge is the federal habeas corpus motion currently pending before the federal court in Michigan. “That’s our only remaining hope,” said Jonathan Maire, a former municipal court judge in East Lansing, Mich., and retired attorney who has spent years working on Freeman’s appeals. “When I became familiar with his case and when I reviewed the transcripts of his trial . . . I became convinced that he was not the one who committed this murder,” Maire said. Robert Cleland, the prosecutor in the original case, who is now a federal judge in Michigan, declined to comment. The Michigan team isn’t the only one working on a non-DNA evidence case. “If you’re in the innocence business, if you take only DNA cases, you’re going to only be taking a tiny fraction of all the possible wrongful convictions,” Dow said. Since forming in 2000, the Texas Innocence Network has exonerated one individual without DNA evidence, a person convicted of burglary. The innocence group discredited the eyewitness testimony and eventually found the person who committed the crime. The center is currently working to exonerate two more people � a man and a woman both convicted of murder. One case hinges on medical testimony, the other on conflicting witness accounts.

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