Claude McCollum Lawsuit

Speckin Forensics is retained to sort out forensic evidence mistakes by government lab in wrongful conviction of an innocent man

 

Original trial: McCollum, defendant in LCC slaying takes the stand

Claude McCollum Lawsuit

Original trial: McCollum, defendant in LCC slaying takes the stand

February 14, 2006

Facing life in prison in the death of a popular Lansing Community College professor, Claude McCollum took the witness stand Monday in his own defense.

“Did you have anything to do with Carolyn Kronenberg’s death?” defense attorney Lee Taylor asked during the ninth day of testimony in the Ingham County Circuit Court trial.

“No, I did not,” McCollum, 28, testified, leaning into the microphone. “I did not kill her.”

McCollum, of Lansing, is charged with felony murder and first-degree criminal sexual conduct in the Jan. 23, 2005, slaying of 60-year-old Kronenberg, of Gladwin, an LCC professor for 25 years.

The student development instructor was beaten, strangled and sexually assaulted in her classroom.

It was the first homicide on LCC’s campus.

Prosecutors contend McCollum – a campus vagabond who regularly slept in campus buildings – was her killer.

McCollum testified Monday that he would consider himself a homeless person when the crime happened.

Testifying for two hours against his attorney’s wishes, McCollum said that interviewers suggested details to him.

He said police suggested to him both the location of the slaying and that Kronenberg and her assailant struggled before her death.

Police have said they interviewed McCollum two days after the killing and that, using the hypothetical situation that he was sleepwalking, McCollum proved to know facts about Kronenberg’s death that only her killer would know. They included the location of her classroom, that she was found in a skirt and that she received a severe blow to the head before falling near her desk.

McCollum testified Monday that he had never seen Kronenberg before his interview with police and, when going along with their questions, already had heard CATA bus drivers and LCC employees talking about the slaying and rape.

Laron McCollum said the jury needed to hear his brother’s testimony about the interview and what he considers suggestive material rather than relying on a transcript of the question-and-answer session with police.

Reference Link: http://archive.lansingstatejournal.com/article/99999999/NEWS01/101280005

Claude McCollum Lawsuit

Guilty until proven innocent: The system can improve

Claude McCollum Lawsuit


January 20, 2008

Until September 2007, Claude McCollum was one of what some experts estimate are as many as 5,000prisoners wrongfully convicted in Michigan. The State Journal investigated the circumstances surrounding McCollum’s murder investigation, conviction and release.

Here’s what we found:

Tracking evidence

Better tracking of evidence as it passes from police to prosecutors and then to defense attorneys could allow the public to see when justice isn’t properly served. Defendants are entitled to review the evidence against them. If they don’t know what evidence exists, they won’t know if they didn’t receive it. A jury in the McCollum case never heard about a key Michigan State Police report. That report suggested McCollum was not near the crime scene when a Lansing Community College professor was murdered. Jurors convicted McCollum of killing her, and that conviction later was thrown out.

Ingham County prosecutors don’t record receipt of all the reports they receive. Since the summer of 2007, months before McCollum’s conviction began to fall apart, the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office has been developing a computerized system that will track when evidentiary reports are received and turned over to defense attorneys.

Compatibility problems with the county’s current computer system are delaying implementation.

Videotape interrogations

Complete videotaping of police interrogations might preserve the context in which a suspect’s statement is given. Police are not required to tape interrogations, although some of them in Michigan do. Currently, there are statewide and nationwide movements to force departments to record these interactions.

Attorney wages

Court-appointed attorneys often don’t receive a per-hour wage comparable to what private lawyers receive. Experts say court-appointed attorneys can end up earning about $15 per hour. Some lawyers speculate that an underfunded system might contribute to inadequate defense of the poor. The State Bar of Michigan is co-sponsoring a study looking into the quality of public defense in Michigan. The study is due out by mid-spring.

What’s next

Possible lawsuit: Hugh Clarke Jr. is expected to file a lawsuit on behalf of Claude Zain-Shahee McCollum, who was convicted in 2006 of a murder he did not commit.

Investigation: The state attorney general’s office

is investigating the circumstances surrounding the McCollum investigation and trial. The attorney general’s office won’t comment on the investigation, which was requested by Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III.

Claude McCollum Lawsuit

McCollum suit seeks damages 50 pages detail allegations against LCC, city, prosecutors

Claude McCollum Lawsuit

McCollum suit seeks damages 50 pages detail allegations against LCC, city, prosecutors

January 1, 2008

A reckless investigation and prosecution led to the wrongful conviction of Claude McCollum, according to a lawsuit seeking monetary damages.

The suit, filed Thursday in Ingham County Circuit Court, names several law enforcement officials as defendants, including Lansing Community College Chief of Police John Imeson and Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III.

The 50 pages of allegations say police tricked McCollum into incriminating himself, ignored a forensic scientist who told them they had the “wrong person” and failed to disclose video evidence arguably showing McCollum’s innocence. It also says prosecutors failed to hand over that evidence to McCollum’s attorney.

McCollum is seeking damages in excess of $25,000. However, a jury could award more.

Dunnings, who has been in office since 1997, said lawsuits are an unfortunate consequence of his job.

“I’ve been sued several times in my role as prosecutor,” he said. “I anticipate this case will end up as those did – being dismissed before trial.”

McCollum, 30, of Lansing, served 1 1/2 years of a life sentence before Dunnings in October declared him innocent of the 2005 rape and murder of Lansing Community College professor Carolyn Kronenberg. That same month, a judge dismissed all the charges.

“What happened to him is simply a travesty that we have to make sure never happens to anyone else,” said Hugh Clarke Jr., one of three attorneys representing McCollum. “The lawsuit is a mechanism to address the injustice and continued threat of prosecution to Mr. McCollum.”

Clarke and prosecutors are engaged in a battle over legal terminology used in court documents dismissing the charges. As it is worded now, prosecutors could again bring charges against McCollum, although that is highly unlikely.

McCollum declined to comment.

2005 report

Also listed in the lawsuit as a defendant is Michigan State Police Detective Sgt. James Young, who wrote a March 2005 report suggesting that McCollum was not near the scene of the crime when it occurred. Prosecutors said they received the report during McCollum’s 2006 trial and immediately turned it over to McCollum’s attorney.

That attorney, Lee Taylor, said he never received it. The lawsuit also alleges that he was never told about its conclusions and that the trial prosecutors, Eric Matwiejczyk and Marie Wolfe, knew that McCollum’s attorney did not know about the report and its findings, “and hoped the information in the report would not be uncovered.”

McCollum was taking classes at LCC and occasionally sleeping in campus buildings when he was charged with the crime.

Police arrested him after he gave a statement – which included references to a levitating phone receiver and a 60-year-old woman in a martial arts stance – about how he could have killed the professor.

No DNA, fingerprints or blood evidence linked McCollum to the crime scene.

Getting the facts

Also being sued are the city of Lansing, Ingham County and Lansing Community College. Officials from those agencies, Lansing police and Michigan State Police declined to comment.

Lansing Police Chief Mark Alley said: “Lawsuit or no lawsuit, what is important here is that all the facts in this case are made public.”

The lawsuit also claims:

• Detectives “manipulated, tricked and deceived” McCollum, who has “cognitive deficiencies,” resulting in his statements about details of the crime.

• Investigators ignored former state police forensic scientist Ann Chamberlain when she tried to make it known “that they had the wrong person in custody for this crime.”

• Prosecutors “intentionally” chose not to ask detectives when they testified at trial about video evidence arguably showing McCollum in another building when Kronenberg was killed.

Chamberlain, who analyzed blood and DNA evidence in the case, became concerned when she found no blood on any of McCollum’s clothes, despite “a substantial amount of blood” at the crime scene.

Despite repeated requests by Chamberlain, LCC Detective Rodney Bahl – who is believed to be a lead investigator on the case – would not confirm the type of clothing McCollum was wearing the day of the killing, according to the lawsuit. Chamberlain also ruled out McCollum as a source of DNA found under Kronenberg’s fingernails.

The lawsuit also names retired Lansing police Detective Bruce Lankheet, who conducted the interrogation that led to McCollum’s statements.

“The actions of all Defendants were … undertaken to secure a conviction rather than determine the truth,” the lawsuit asserts.

‘Start a new life’

On Thursday, Carol McCollum, Claude’s aunt, said she was glad the suit was filed and believes compensation would help Claude “start a new life.”

“We need to see some happy days for Claude,” the Delta Township woman said. “He’s been hurt enough. This will help him heal, get his life back on track. This will help him be independent as a man.”

But it is unclear how far the suit can go.

It is extremely difficult to successfully sue prosecutors and only slightly easier to successfully sue police, said Lee Strang, a professor at the Michigan State University College of Law.

Prosecutors have “absolute immunity,” unless it can be shown that misconduct occurred when they were acting in a nonprosecutorial capacity, such as investigating a crime or performing police-like functions, Strang said.

It also must be shown that prosecutors did more than just make a mistake. A plaintiff must show that the prosecution knew a defendant was innocent, but continued with the case, anyway.

“You have to show (the prosecutor) intended in bad faith to put you away,” Strang said.

Police are sued more frequently and those lawsuits are more often successful, Strang added.

“People need to see that the judicial system works,” Carol McCollum said. “You can’t just do wrong and sweep it under the rug.”

Reference Link: http://archive.lansingstatejournal.com/article/99999999/NEWS01/81223009/McCollum-suit-seeks-damages

Claude McCollum Lawsuit