DETROIT - A Detroit man whose murder conviction was thrown out after he spent 45 years in prison was exonerated Wednesday and won't face a second trial. Richard Phillips, 71, was upbeat, saying the criminal justice system "works – it just didn't work fast enough."
A judge granted the prosecutor's request to permanently drop the case against Phillips, whose conviction was erased last year. He had been free on bond since December. Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy said a new investigation by her office backed his claim that he had no role in a 1971 fatal shooting.
She said a key witness lied at his 1972 trial.
"There's nothing I can say to bring back 40 years of his life," Worthy said. "The system failed him. This is a true exoneration."
Phillips has spent more years behind bars than any wrongfully incarcerated person in the country, his lawyer Gabi Silver told Crimesider. She describes Phillips an "incredibly warm, engaging person" who just wants to pick up the pieces and live a quiet life.
The case was reopened at the urging of the Innocence Clinic at University of Michigan law school after a co-defendant at the '72 trial told the state parole board that Phillips wasn't involved in the slaying of Gregory Harris.
Phillips likely will be eligible for more than $2 million under Michigan's wrongful conviction law.
He is the first person to be exonerated by the Wayne County Prosecuting Attorney's new Conviction Integrity Unit, led by former defense attorney Valerie Newman.
"I've never carried bitterness around so I'm not a bitter man," Phillips told reporters when asked about his decades in prison.
One of his goals: A reunion with two children who were ages 2 and 4 when he went to prison in 1972. Despite publicity about his case, Phillips said he hasn't heard from them and doesn't know their whereabouts.
"You have seen the worst and best of the criminal justice system," Judge Kevin Cox told Phillips.