Client of Michigan Innocence Clinic Is Granted Habeas Petition
Michigan Innocence Clinic
announced that Frederick Spencer, who was convicted more than six years ago of first-degree murder and arson, was released from prison on bail on Wednesday after Federal District Judge Patrick J. granted a habeas petition.
In 2006, Spencer was convicted of setting fire to his house in Shepherd, Michigan, killing his girlfriend, Kathy Sytek. Spencer himself was badly injured in the fire. He sustained severe burns to his face and nearly died.
Spencer’s conviction was based partly on the conclusion of local detectives who said that Spencer was responsible for the fire. According to the detectives, Spencer burned his face when he unsuccessfully attempted to set his basement on fire and then went on to successfully set his garage ablaze. This theory was discredited not only by medical and arson experts, but also by an eyewitness — a burn trauma nurse, coincidentally — who said that she saw Spencer run out of the burning house to flag down help. At that point, the witness attests, Spencer’s face was not burned. According to the eyewitness, Spencer then ran back into the house to try to save his girlfriend. When firefighters later arrived at the scene, they found Spencer inside the house, badly burned.
After the fire, when Spencer was in the hospital recovering from surgery, the prosecution interrogated Spencer for three hours. The prosecution was not able to find that Spencer had motive to burn down his house or kill his girlfriend. Nonetheless, the prosecutor insisted on his guilt. According to the Michigan Innocence Clinic, “During the interrogation, Mr. Spencer never confessed to anything, but the prosecutor spent more than half of his closing argument maintaining that because the heavily-drugged Mr. Spencer gave rambling, incoherent, and wildly inconsistent answers, he was lying and therefore guilty.”
Judge Duggan granted habeas relief based on the issue of “ineffective assistance for trial counsel’s failure to move to suppress the hospital statements as involuntary.”
Andrea Roth and Sarah Zearfoss are among the pro bono attorneys who drafted the habeas petition. The Michigan Innocence Clinic took over the case immediately after Judge Duggan granted habeas, and Dave Moran of the Michigan Innocence Law Clinic argued the appeal this week in Cincinnati.
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Rodney Burnett-Johnson June 23, 2018 at 4:36 pm
I could use help with an Writ of Habeas Corpus after exhausting all state remedies in state court