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Law school urges Whitmer to release prisoner with COVID-19

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Posted at 11:41 AM, May 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-27 11:41:28-04

LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is being asked to release a prisoner who has been fighting his murder conviction for years and now is stricken with COVID-19.

Temujin Kensu, also known as Fred Freeman, has been in prison for 33 years on a life sentence. The University of Michigan law school’s Innocence Clinic, joined by public figures, has long argued that he was wrongly convicted of killing a man in a Port Huron college parking lot in 1986.

Kensu, 57, has COVID-19, the respiratory disease tied to the coronavirus, and other chronic health problems while housed at a prison in Macomb County, clinic attorney Imran Syed said.

“We urge you to take immediate action on this clemency application so that Mr. Freeman can be released and seek proper medical care for his significant health problems,” Syed wrote to Whitmer.

“Failure to act now could result in an innocent man dying in a Michigan prison,” Syed said in documents delivered Tuesday.

A request for comment was sent to the governor’s spokeswoman. Corrections Department spokesman Chris Gautz said officials were awaiting results from tests on Kensu.

In a statement released by his supporters, Kensu said his “lungs are jacked” and his head is “pounding all the time.”

Kensu insists he was 400 miles away in the Upper Peninsula when Scott Macklem was killed. Alibi witnesses backed him up, but St. Clair County prosecutor Robert Cleland — now a federal judge — summoned a pilot to suggest Kensu could have committed the murder and then dashed back to Escanaba by private plane in a few hours.

Efforts to get the conviction overturned have been dashed in courts by procedural issues, not the merits of Kensu’s arguments, Syed said.

Kensu’s “case is a perfect example of a conviction that begs for clemency,” he said. “Judges in both state and federal court have recognized significant flaws in his trial and the lack of evidence against him.”

Kensu’s supporters include former Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat.

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