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U.S. Congressional reps, state senator back Temujin Kensu’s bid for clemency

By Jim Bloch

Two U.S. Congress representatives from Michigan and a state senator are condemning the decision of Michigan Attorney General’s Conviction Integrity Unit to reject Temujin Kensu’s bid to be exonerated for the 1986 murder of Scott Macklin in a parking lot of St. Clair County Community College in Port Huron.

Kensu, whose name was Frederick Freeman at the time of the murder, has maintained his innocence throughout his 36 years in prison. He is incarcerated in the Macomb Correctional Facility in Lenox Township and recently turned 59.

Among the many problems with the trial: There was no physical evidence linking Kensu to the crime scene; there were no witnesses to the murder, and Kensu’s court-appointed defense attorney had a drug problem.

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“We were deeply disappointed to learn that the Michigan Attorney General’s Conviction Integrity Unit, known as the CIU, has declined to pursue the release of Temujin Kensu, an innocent Michigander who has been in prison for more than three decades,” said Congressman Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Township), Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) and Michigan State Senator Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) in a joint statement.

“Despite no physical evidence connecting him to the accused murder and several vetted eyewitnesses who place him more than 400 miles away from the scene of the crime, Kensu remains imprisoned.”

The trio released their statement May 25, eight days after Special Assistant Attorney General Valerie Newman pronounced Kensu’s case as “closed” in her letter to Imran Syed of the Michigan Law School’s Innocence Clinic, which has been representing Kensu for more than a decade.

“We have great respect for the Attorney General and the other attorneys involved in this case,” said the trio. “Attorney General Nessel and her team do remarkable work day-in and day-out to protect the rights of Michigan’s citizens. However, the standard used by the CIU in its review of the Kensu case predetermined the outcome – to us, the wrong outcome. Our point of view is not based on technical or procedural flaws in the case or discovery of an alibi witness who was never presented at trial. It is based on the fact that Kensu could not have committed and did not in fact commit the crime for which the state is taking away the entire rest of his life, now 35 years on. And the continued resistance to this fact of actual innocence by current and former local law enforcement officials does nothing to change the fact itself.”

Photo courtesy of University of Michigan Law School.
Temujin Kensu.

Newman did not use a standard of “new evidence” in reaching her decision.

“The CIU investigation has uncovered no new evidence that supports the factual innocence claim,” said Newman in her letter to Kensu’s attorney Syed. “The AG guidelines mandate that there must be new evidence supporting factual innocence. New evidence means evidence not at all considered at trial or during post-conviction appeals.”

David Sanders of Proving Innocence said the CIU changed its standards sometime in the last two years and now embraces a narrow definition of “new.”

In 2020, CIU head Robyn Frankel assured Sanders in an Aug. 11, 2020 email that “Evidence which was not presented to the jury (though it might have been known at the time of trial) may be considered ‘new evidence’ for CIU purposes. Also, any evidence which illustrates that a person is innocent of the offense will be considered by the Unit. This would include police or prosecutor misconduct where that misconduct implicates a person’s factual innocence.”

Special AG Newman said that “the one person, Beth Stier, who is new does not enhance the alibi that was presented at trial as there were people with Kensu after she left him.”

Sanders did not buy Newman’s reasoning to disqualify a new witness.

“Stier is an extremely important alibi witness not heard by the jury or in any court,” said Sanders in an email. “Kensu was with her on a date in the early morning hours of the murder about 2 am or later. She could have testified that Kensu was not rushing around and anxious to go somewhere. Rather he was on a leisurely date with her and later eating soup in a restaurant.”

Prosecuting Attorney Robert Cleland, now a federal judge, argued that Kensu could have chartered a plane, flown from Escanaba in the U.P. to Port Huron, murdered Macklin and flown back to the U.P. Cleland put on the stand the pilot who flew him around the state during his failed run for state attorney general; the pilot testified that such a flight was possible. But no evidence of such a flight ever emerged. Nine unimpeached witnesses, besides Stier, put Kensu in the U.P. at the time of the murder.

Levin, Tlaib and Chang urged Governor Whitmer to take action to free Kensu — even though she denied his request for clemency in December 2020: “As longtime advocates for social justice, we believe that we must do more for Temujin Kensu and all wrongfully imprisoned individuals across the globe. In Kensu’s case, all available options for relief must be pursued. The court allows for relief based on actual innocence and, Article V, Section 14 of the Michigan Constitution confers upon our Governor the power to ‘grant reprieves, commutations and pardons after convictions for all offenses, except cases of impeachment.’ We pray that those with the power to grant relief conduct a full review and grant relief to Mr. Kensu.”

Jim Bloch is a freelance writer based in St. Clair, Michigan. Contact him at bloch.jim@gmail.com.

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