Law students who regularly work to exonerate people who have spent decades in prison are turning their efforts to a much smaller case: the theft of 12 beers from a suburban Detroit restaurant.
The Innocence Clinic at University of Michigan law school is asking a judge to throw out the misdemeanor conviction of Richard Leach, who served 90 days in jail in 2019. The clinic said it obtained a confession from the real culprit.
The Oakland County prosecutor’s office, which reviewed the new evidence, also believes the conviction should be erased from Leach’s record. But the case was handled by an attorney for the village of Lake Orion, not the county.
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“We find it inappropriate and irresponsible to discuss our cases in the press,” village prosecutor Tracy Gaudenzi told The Detroit News. “We believe that the courtroom is the best venue.”
In a court filing, the Innocence Clinic said Leach was convicted mostly on the testimony of a police officer who said he recognized him on security video taking two packs of beer from a restaurant cooler in 2018.
Leach, 54, believes police misidentified him based on a hat.
The clinic said another man with a criminal record has signed an affidavit admitting to stealing the beer.
“We know wrongful convictions happen a lot in felony cases, and I think they happen even more often with misdemeanors,” said David Moran, clinic co-director.
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