DETROIT – A Michigan man whose murder conviction was thrown out after he spent 45 years in prison was released Thursday while prosecutors appeal a decision that grants him a new trial.
Richard Phillips thanked God by raising his arm to the sunny sky outside a Detroit-area jail. His conviction was erased in August, but the 71-year-old had remained in custody until a judge said he could be freed on bond while wearing an electronic ankle device.
Phillips said he was so excited that he would have "walked out barefoot" if necessary, even with the temperature at 22 degrees (-5.5 Celsius).
"It's already a merry Christmas. ... And it chokes me up," he said as he tried to control his emotions.
He has long declared his innocence in the 1971 fatal shooting of Gregory Harris. In 2014, the Innocence Clinic at University of Michigan law school learned that a co-defendant said Phillips had absolutely no role.
The disclosure by Richard Palombo occurred at a 2010 parole hearing. The law school investigated and found that Phillips and Palombo had never been housed in the same prison or exchanged letters during their decades behind bars.
Phillips said he figured he probably would die in prison "for something I didn't do."
The judge who threw out Phillips' murder conviction said the parole board statements were newly discovered evidence.
A second trial is set for Feb. 5, although prosecutors are appealing the decision to set aside the conviction. They said Palombo's testimony is hearsay. A key witness from the 1972 trial is dead.
Phillips said he isn't angry about his years in prison.
"The only thing I'm thinking about is breathing fresh air," he said.
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