A Detroit man who spent more than 26 years behind bars for murder — despite a lack of evidence connecting him to the case — had his charges dismissed and was freed this week, according to new reports.
Larry Smith, 45, was convicted of first-degree murder Nov. 29, 1994 in connection to the death of Kenneth Hayes, WDIV-TV reported. Smith, who was 19 at the time, was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Following an investigation, Judge Shannon Walker of the Third Judicial Circuit Court, signed an order Thursday dismissing all charges against Smith and he was released, according to the report.
“Absolutely a grateful moment,” Smith told the station. “Now I’m hoping today, as an exonerated man whose suffering has produced love, that my experience will not go in vain and can help fix this broken criminal justice system.”
No one testified that they had actually seen Smith at the scene of the crime, according to the report.
The only eyewitness testimony was “based on gait and body shape of a person running away from the scene,” the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office said, according to the report.
“There was never any testimony that established that Mr. Smith had a distinctive gait or body shape. There was no conclusive forensic evidence that linked Mr. Smith to the case,” the office said in a statement.
“There was testimony in the case from a jail house informant claiming that Smith had confessed the murder to him,” prosecutors continued. “The informant’s information was later discredited because it may have been fabricated to obtain police favors in his case.”
Smith denied making a confession “and has always maintained his innocence,” according to the statement.
Prosecutor Kym Worthy said she is “very certain that the trial process was not just,” but stopped short of calling the likely reversal of his conviction an exoneration, according to The Detroit Free Press.
Smith will not face a second trial, according to the report.
“He has spent his entire adult life since he was 18 years old behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit,” Smith’s attorney Wolf Mueller told WDIV. “Today is a great day for his family and the justice system.”
Smith’s daughter Nakira Fantroy called her father’s release “bittersweet.”
“A lot of hurt and pain,” she told the station.
His mother, Deborah Smith, told the outlet she knew her son was not guilty.
“There are no words to explain how I feel,” she said. “When you know that he didn’t do it, you don’t give up. That’s called hope and faith. That’s what it’s all about; that’s all we have.”
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