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Mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent whips off his sports coat and turns into Superman. Mild-mannered law professor David Moran whips open his briefcase and turns into a tough appellate attorney. In the last three weeks, Moran has won new trials for defendants in two murder cases in Michigan. And he’s still got his day job: full-time professor of criminal law at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit. “I’m compelled by a sense of justice,” said the bookish-looking 38-year-old, who takes cases pro bono. In Moran’s latest case, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati recently ordered a new trial for Oliver French, who was convicted of killing two people in a 1994 shooting rampage at a Ford Motor Co. factory in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Mich. French claimed that he was insane at the time. Oliver French v. Kurt Jones, No. 00-2308. Moran said the French conviction was thrown out primarily because the judge improperly instructed the jury, and did so in the absence of defense counsel. Moran said the jury repeatedly told the judge that it was deadlocked and that the judge replied that the jury had taken an oath and should keep trying. In addition, the 6th Circuit said a screenwriter who had been sitting with the defense team may have been mistaken for a lawyer when the judge addressed the jury. Olga Agnello, an appellate lawyer in the Wayne County prosecutor’s office, would only say that she’s working on an appeal of the 6th Circuit decision and would not discuss Moran’s win. On Feb. 26, the Michigan Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for Thomas Cress, who was represented by Moran. The court found that a prosecutor had allegedly destroyed DNA evidence that might have cleared Cress in a 1983 murder in Battle Creek, Mich., even after an Arkansas man had confessed to that crime and other killings. People v. Cress, No. 225-855. According to Moran, the Michigan prosecutor had been informed of the confession by police in January 1992, after Cress had been in prison for eight years. In May of that year the prosecutor allegedly ordered the evidence burned, an order finally carried out in October 1992. Moran said two Battle Creek police officers went to the press about the case in 1996 and a motion for a new trial was filed in 1997. However, the February court decision will be appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court. Moran got started in high-profile murder appeals cases while working for the Michigan appellate defender office from 1992 through 2000. While working for the state he had a load of 56 cases, and decided to take eight of the toughest with him — cases on which he had done much of the work. Moran’s low-key demeanor can be deceptive in court, said Gerard Schrotenboer, an assistant prosecutor in Jackson County, Mich. He appeared in court against Moran in one case, involving a conviction for an unarmed robbery in which the judge would not let the defendant testify. Moran won a reversal of the conviction in federal district court, but lost at the 6th Circuit. “He fought like a bulldog all the way,” Schrotenboer said of Moran. “But eventually, I won.”

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