Thursday, May 22, 2008

'I found myself praying to God -- why?'

This -- this is what we're talking about on this Web site.

Twenty-six years behind bars for a rape he did not commit.

No commentary can possibly underscore the tragedy of this story, or the importance of raising awareness about wrongful convictions for rape.

Man walks out of prison 26 years after wrongful rape conviction

Santiago Esparza and George Hunter / The Detroit News

DETROIT -- Walter Swift walked out of the east entrance of Wayne County Jail a free man Wednesday, 26 years after being convicted of a brutal rape he says he did not commit.

As he walked into the arms of a crush of tearful family members and other supporters at about 12:30 p.m., Swift asked, "What is all this?"

Audrey Mills, who was 1 year old when her father was imprisoned, was thrilled to see Swift freed.

"I've done so many things he wasn't there for," she said. "I found myself praying to God why.

We have someone here who is a prisoner for something he did not do. But God hears prayers. God answers prayers."

Wayne County Circuit Judge Vera Massey-Jones vacated Swift's conviction after the Innocence Project argued his innocence and the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office said it would not retry him.

"I am gratified to have had an opportunity like this and I'm happy to grant the motion for release," Massey-Jones said before wishing Swift good luck.

The small, crowded courtroom broke into applause.

"Please inform the sheriff that the Michigan Department of Corrections has no jurisdiction over this man," Massey-Jones said to another round of applause.

The victim was four months pregnant at the time of the Sept. 2, 1982, rape and robbery in her home on Seminole.

Swift was arrested and convicted of the rape, even though he did not match the description of the suspect, had a solid alibi and key evidence introduced at trial was false, project officials said.

"The victim's identification of Mr. Swift was tragically wrong and was the result of erroneous police procedures," said Olga Akselrod, attorney for the Innocence Project.

Swift's girlfriend at the time, who now is a police officer, said he was with her at the time of the attack and has maintained he was innocent since then.

The project also maintains that Swift received ineffective legal counsel from his attorney.

Following the judge's actions, Swift's sister Diane Powell said "God is good. That's all I can say. God is good."

You can reach Santiago Esparza at (313) 222-2127 or