New DNA Evidence In Decades Old Case

Aug 14, 2016

Credit MPRN

(MPRN-Lansing) A man serving life in prison for multiple murders across several counties could get a new trial for one of those crimes. 

Between November of 1981 and December of 1982, Jackson, Ingham and Washtenaw counties saw a string of similar crimes - elderly women were raped and murdered. Michael Harris was convicted of two murders in 1983 when he was 19 years-old. In 2003 he was found guilty of three other murders from that time period.

Harris had a separate trial for each murder conviction. But following a motion by Harris, who has been appealing his cases for decades, an Ingham County court granted Harris’ request to test DNA found in the girdle of the victim in the first trial. The DNA came back with a match, but not to Harris.

Once the Ingham County Prosecutor’s office was aware that there was positive match to a different suspect, Prosecutor Gretchen Whitmer worked to get Harris an attorney to make his case. The appointed attorney is Ed Zeineh, and he is working on filing a motion for an evidentiary hearing and new trial for Harris that he plans to file this week. He says if Harris is exonerated for the first murder, it could impact the other four convictions.

“These cases are similar to dominos,” he said. “I think this first one falls it’s gonna have collateral consequences on the remaining convictions.”

Zeineh declined to give details about who the DNA showed as being a match in the case. He said that even if this is the only case of five to be overturned, that still means a guilty person has gotten away with murder.

“Even if one of his convictions are turned, he’s exonerated on one of them, that’s pretty substantial in our community,” he said. “Because that means someone else who’s committed a rather heinous, extremely heinous crime has been out for 33 years not facing justice.”

Zeineh says that although a case like Harris’s is relatively rare, serial murders can drum up fear in a community and that can lead to a rush to prosecute.

“What I cannot – I don’t think any of us can tolerate in the legal community is, you know, the desire to calm the fears of the community and just put someone away to say we did,” he said. “I can’t say that happened here, or is that my intent to say that happened here, but, I’ve seen if before.”

Whitmer said her office is working to make sure Harris has every opportunity to make his case.