Prisoner needing new liver begs clemency

Sheila Burt

A Michigan judge ruled Wednesday that a 59-year-old man should not receive a new trial for a 1973 attempted murder, despite arguments supported by the work of Northwestern lawyers and journalism students.

Maurice Carter of Gary, Ind., who holds he was falsely convicted, needs a liver transplant.

Officials said he could have less than a year to live, and NU lawyers, along with leaders at the University of Wisconsin Law School’s Innocence Project, want to make sure Carter can enjoy the last years of life with his family.

Carter was charged with attempted murder for the shooting of an off-duty police officer in a Benton Harbor, Mich., record store.

NU’s Center on Wrongful Convictions and students working for the Medill Innocence Project have investigated the case for three years and plan to fight until he is released.

Officials said they believe not only that Carter is innocent but also that racial injustices prevailed during his conviction. He has spent more time in prison than anyone in Michigan convicted of attempted murder, according to journalism Prof. David Protess, who teaches investigative journalism.

A Berrien County Trial Court Judge denied the motion for Carter’s retrial Wednesday, but NU officials said they plan to appeal to Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm for clemency.

“We’ll fight until they kill him,” said Robert Warden, executive director for the Center on Wrongful Convictions.

He said he was not surprised the judge denied a retrial because “the entire justice system is stacked against people like Maurice.”

Heidi Hansen, a press aid for Granholm, said a decision about Carter’s case has not been made. A parole board will review his case within 60 days to make its recommendation regarding clemency, Hansen said.

But Carter might not have long to wait for liver transplant, said Doug Tjapkes, a Carter supporter who has known him for more than seven years.

“(The decision) was very disappointing,” he said. “We’ll start the appeal process, but his health is failing.”

Keith Findley, a co-director at Wisconsin’s Innocence Project who also represents Carter, said law officials will try to get Carter a transplant before receiving a clemency grant, but past efforts have proved unsuccessful.

“(Carter) still has some hope,” Findley said, “but life’s kind of beating him up right now.”

Protess said four of his classes have investigated Carter’s case over the past three years.

After interviewing all of the main eyewitnesses, Protess said, students received sworn affidavits from some witnesses who recanted the testimonies that convicted Carter. Students also identified an alternate suspect, although they did not receive a confession from him.

“There are more red flags in this case that show a travesty of justice occurred here than in any other case I can recall,” he said.

Protess said he might introduce Carter’s case in his investigative journalism class next quarter, if Carter remains incarcerated.

Journalism Lecturer Alex Kotlowitz first told Protess about the case three years ago. Kotlowitz spent more than four years researching his 1998 book, “The Other Side of The River,” which discusses race relations in the Benton Harbor area.

“At the very least, I think you can say (Carter) was treated unfairly by the criminal justice community,” Kotlowitz said.