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To: The Conviction Integrity Unit of Wayne County, Michigan
Help Free an Unfairly Prosecuted Man from Prison
When he was 19 years old, Lacino Hamilton was sentenced to 80 years in prison after an extremely unjust trial for the murder of his foster mother, Willa Bias.
As reported by Truthout, "Hamilton, now 40, has always maintained his innocence, and he says he loved his foster mother – whom he simply refers to as mom. Without a retrial, the earliest he can expect to be let out of prison is 2046, when he will be 71.
"Hamilton’s murder conviction hinged on two pieces of evidence: a coerced statement, and testimony from a jailhouse informant claiming that Hamilton confessed to the murder while awaiting trial in his jail cell. But according to affidavits, courthouse transcripts, letters and internal memos obtained by Truthout, the informant – who is long deceased – may have received incentives from Detroit police to falsely testify against a number of individuals. These documents also suggest that the informant was part of a ring of jailhouse informants – or 'snitches' – that allegedly received lenient sentences as well as food, drugs, sex and special privileges from detectives in the Detroit Police Department’s homicide division in return for making statements against dozens of prisoners eventually convicted of murder."
Why is this important?
Truthout reports: "Hamilton was imprisoned with a man named Darnell Thompson, who claims he was threatened by police into pinning the crime on Hamilton. In an affidavit reviewed by Truthout, Thompson said that homicide detectives and prisoner Olivera Rico Cowen conspired to pressure him into testifying against Hamilton. Thompson, who was 18 at the time, says he was coerced into signing a statement against Hamilton, but he later refused to testify against Hamilton in court. But Thompson’s statement, as well as Cowen’s testimony and testimony about Hamilton’s character by a neighbor, were enough for a jury to convict Hamilton to a maximum of 80 years in prison."
Lacino Hamilton has said, "There was no physical evidence for the crime I was accused of -- only manufactured by detectives, detectives who wrote a script for them to perform at trial. And when the prosecutor’s office was approached by several attorneys with credible evidence that this was a common police practice, the prosecutor’s office simply forged ahead. I was convicted and sentenced to 52 to 80 years. They just threw me away, like I was garbage."
Affidavits, courthouse transcripts, letters and internal memos obtained by Truthout suggest that Darnell Thompson – who is now long deceased – was in fact part of a ring of jailhouse informants – or “snitches” – that allegedly received lenient sentences as well as other monetary and special privileges from detectives in the Detroit Police Department’s homicide division in exchange for making false statements against dozens of prisoners eventually convicted of murder, Lacino just being one of them...
“Informants lie primarily in exchange for lenience for their own crimes, although sometimes they lie for money,” according to an article in Golden Gate University Law Review. Testimony from a single jailhouse informant is enough to convict a person for a charge as serious as murder, according to Valerie Newman, assistant defender in Michigan’s State Appellate Defender Office.
Hamilton says the reason his original defense attorney did not challenge the prosecutor’s use of an informant speaks to some of the reasons Black communities across the country suffer at the hands of the state: neglect and an assumption of disposability.
After being sent to prison, Lacino spent four of his first six years in solitary confinement. It was there that he began to read, think critically and write about the many ways the U.S. criminal justice system perpetuates values of anti-black violence, coercion and oppression.
“How some of us live is not a mistake; neither is it the product of a broken system,” he wrote from prison. “We live like that because it is profitable to a lot of people[‘s] businesses….
“I am locked in a windowless cell measuring 10×8 feet, 23 hours per day. For one hour every other day, I am handcuffed, chained around the waist and allowed exercise and a shower in a small cage. I am not allowed to interact with others, or to participate in any educational, vocational, or employment programs. All meals are delivered to the cell. I have no access to a phone.”
After nearly two decades of wrongful imprisonment, Hamilton spends most of his time reading and writing about the experience of incarceration. He also spends his time working tirelessly to plead his case and affirm his innocence.
After writing to thousands of journalists, lawyers and colleges to plead his case, Hamilton was able to get in touch with Claudia Whitman from the National Death Row Assistance Network, who supplied Truthout with most of the documents behind his story. Whitman also made contact with Christopher Brooks, the prisoner who says he knows who really killed Hamilton’s foster mother. With Whitman’s help, Hamilton was able to convince an attorney to work pro bono to overturn his conviction.
The Conviction Integrity Unit of Wayne County, Michigan must do everything in its power to investigate and reverse this wrongful conviction.
The Conviction Integrity Unit of Wayne County investigates claims of innocence, to determine whether there is clear and convincing new evidence that the convicted defendant was not the person who committed the conviction offense. As stated in the American Bar Association standards, Rule 3.8(h), "When a prosecutor knows of clear and convincing evidence establishing that a defendant in the prosecutor's jurisdiction was convicted of an offense that the defendant did not commit, the prosecutor shall seek to remedy the conviction."
In the case of The People of the State of Michigan vs. Lacino Hamilton, there is clear and convincing new evidence that the convicted defendant was not the person who committed the conviction offense. In accordance with Rule 3.8(h), it is the duty of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office to investigate and reverse the conviction of Lacino Hamilton.
Lacino Hamilton needs your help to affirm his innocence. After nearly two decades of wrongful imprisonment, he deserves immediate justice.
> Truthout: Ring of Snitches: How Detroit Police Slapped False Murder Convictions on Young Black Men
Write a letter of support to Lacino:
Lacino Hamilton, Inmate ID: 247310
1960 US Highway 41
South Marquette, MI, 49855