Michigan Innocence Clinic fights to free convicted Northern Michigan murderer
For most of us, it's impossible to wrap our minds around why someone would confess to a crime they didn't commit.
However, there have been nearly 100 documented false confessions in our country.
Those are only DNA cases. In non-DNA cases, there have been hundreds more.
False confessions and wrongful convictions have become the work of the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan. Since they opened in 2009, the team has exonerated eight people.
"For many years, the dominant paradigm was that the criminal justice system was flawless," said Executive Director David Moran. "DNA exposed all of that. It became clear that there are a lot of problems the criminal justice system and the system makes a lot of mistakes".
The clinic, made up of three full time staff and about 25 students, is taking on the 1996 Kalkaska murder of Geraldine Montgomery.
Montgomery was raped and murdered in October 1996. She was found inside the trunk of her car, left to die by the killer who turned on the ignition.
â??Jamie Peterson was found guilty," Michigan State Police Lieutenant John Card said. "He confessed to the murder. There was evidence that only someone who had knowledge of the crime scene wouldâ??ve known".
Moran and is team think Peterson lied. They say he made up a story about killing Montgomery.
"He had given a series of confessions and especially the early confessions were completely wrong on key facts," Moran said. "[Details] such as where did the rape occur? What was she wearing? What happened to her bra? All of these details that the real killer would have known, he was completely wrong on".
Moran and his team argue that if Peterson didn't say the right thing in his story, officers would correct him or give him the correct details through their questions.
"They had multiple versions of a confession from him. All of which he had raped Miss Montgomery vaginally and orally," Moran said. "Then the DNA comes back from the vaginal swab...and it's not him".
Police formed a new theory that Peterson had an accomplice who performed the vaginal rape.
"They were able to maintain that theory in trial because the semen associated with the oral rape was mixed on Montgomery's saliva on her shirt," Moran said. "There wasn't enough of it to test DNA in the 1990's".
Jamie Peterson would go on to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility or parole.
In the summer of 2013, Kalkaska had a new prosecutor and new technology to test the DNA.
"It was the same person," Moran said. "They instantly got a hit when they ran it through CODIS on Jason Ryan."
Jason Ryan was arrested in December 2013. His case is headed to trial.
"For all those years, Jason Ryan was our there," Moran said. "He committed a number of other crimes".
It's the first case where their work has resulted in the arrest of the person they believe to be the real perpetrator.
Moran's team has petitioned for a new trial. Michigan State Police continue to help Kalkaska Police investigate.
"We'll never quit until we have all suspects," Lt. Card said.
Until then, Moran will wait and hope that after 17 years behind bars, Jamie Peterson will eventually be among the success stories that cover the walls of the Michigan Innocence Clinic.
"There's nothing sweeter than getting someone out and getting that person to get on with their own life," Moran said.
The Michigan Innocence Clinic has received nearly 4,000 applications for cases. They end up investigating about 15% further, and take on even fewer.
There is an extremely high burden of proof for them to take cases on. Moran said they each have to be fully convinced of the person's innocence, and they must have the evidence to back it up in court. Many times, one doesn't qualify the other.