DETROIT (AP) — The Michigan appeals court overturned a murder conviction in a 1993 homicide, saying a man’s rights were violated when he wasn’t allowed to hire a DNA expert at public expense.
“The private interest at stake here is defendant’s liberty and his right to present a defense to the charge against him,” the court said in a 3-0 opinion Thursday. “These interests have been recognized as substantial.”
Tanya Harris’ body was discovered in an abandoned building in Detroit in 1993 and remained a cold case for years. Johnny Ray Kennedy was charged in 2013 when police linked him to DNA found on the victim’s body.
Kennedy’s court-appointed lawyer, John Holler, sought approval to hire an expert at public expense, but Wayne County Judge Craig Strong turned him down. So the attorney hired the expert out of his own pocket, roughly $1,800, though he couldn’t afford Brian Zubel’s full assistance.
Kennedy, now 64, was convicted of murder in 2014 and has been serving a life sentence.
Prosecutors, who had their own experts, agreed that Strong erred in failing to appoint Zubel for the defense but argued that it was harmless.
The judge seemed to presume that Holler could defend Kennedy “through reading and soliciting the advice of some mythical expert who would consult for free,” the appeals court said.
Holler said he’s pleased with the decision.
“The DNA is strongly in dispute. Even if his DNA was on her body, it doesn’t mean he killed her,” Holler said Friday. “There was no need to treat the defense in this case shabbily. We should have fair and just trials.”
Kennedy was in prison for second-degree murder in a different case when he was charged in Harris’ death.
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