Man freed from prison after 42 years shares experience

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – 42 years ago may seem like an eternity for some people, but to LeDura Watkins who was sentenced to life in prison for a crime he did not commit…April 15, 1976 seems like yesterday.

“I kind of laughed when they sentenced me but I knew what I was feeling. What I was feeling is that this was unbelievable…this is a mistake you know, this is something else added to this,” said Watkins.

On that day in April, he was convicted of first-degree murder and robbery and he says he never thought he’d step foot outside prison again.

“It was kind of sad, it was real sad you know because I knew I was leaving everything I loved,” Watkins stated.

Throughout the years, Watkins thought about how he could be falsely accused of such a serious crime.

He says the days turned into months and the months turned into years…but throughout it all he never lost hope.

“I wrote Cooley Law School…I told them about my case, some of the circumstances in the case,” said Watkins.

Back in the 1970s, prosecutors used a single strand of hair to convict Watkins.

When attorneys at Cooley Law School decided to take on his case, they found that the hair comparison evidence used to lock Watkins behind bars, did not meet today’s scientific and legal standards and the prosecutor’s office agreed.

It was enough to prove his innocence.

“It seemed like the stars started re-aligning,” Watkins added.

“We were convinced by Mr. Watkins that his case was worthy of attacking the forensic testimony and evidence presented in his case,” said Marla Mitchell-Chchon; Director of the Cooley Law School Innocence Project.

Mitchell-Cichon says her team helps to free a lot of prisoners but Watkins story is the most significant.

“It’s our first murder exoneration, second because unfortunately Mr. Watkins has been in prison the longest of any other Michigan prisoner,” said Mitchell-Cichon.

Which led to an emotional day for Watkins when he stepped foot outside the Detroit courthouse regaining his freedom.

But he says those four decades behind bars helped him to re-evaluate his life for the better.

“Don’t give up hope, keep fighting, keep that American spirit live,” Watkins stated.

Right now, Watkins is living with his family in Detroit and he says he’s just taking things one day at a time.

He was 20 years old when sentenced to life in prison without parole…and is now 61 years old.

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