After 15 years, convicted murderer persuades court to re-examine case 

Is Marvin Cotton innocent?

It started on the porch.

In the early hours of Jan. 24, 2001, Jamond McIntyre was in the middle of a routine night at his home on Third Street in Detroit's Cass Corridor.

That is, until the doorbell rang around 2 a.m. Three men were standing outside with McIntyre's sister, who'd arrived moments earlier to borrow some money for school.

His sister stayed long enough for McIntyre to hand her $25 and left with only a cursory glance at the men, previously on the porch, who were now situated inside her brother's living room — young, roughly 16 to 25-years-old, all wearing dark clothing.

Meanwhile, McIntyre returned to his bedroom and told Lovely Kimble, his girlfriend of eight months, that he was heading out for the night. I'll see you in the morning.

Kimble left first. She walked out to the living room and noticed two men she had never seen before sitting on the couch. A third stood nearby. She walked out the front door, passed a gray minivan idling in the driveway, and hopped into a blue Durango. She rolled onto Third, and drove off. A Chrysler Sebring was parked next door in front of a vacant building.

Sitting in the driver's seat of the gray minivan was Santonion Adams, a Detroit cop who was fresh off of a shift with the police department's vice squad. He was on the phone, waiting for his cousin — McIntyre — to come outside.

Adams was dropping off the vehicle after borrowing it from McIntyre.

No sooner had Kimble left his line of sight, Adams heard McIntyre's familiar voice shout his nickname: Tone! The off-duty cop looked up: Two men were standing on either side of the front door.

"That's when I started hearing the gunshots and I was seeing the sparks off of them," Adams said. Amid the flurry of gunfire, he later said, Adams couldn't catch much more than the bare details of what was happening. Which direction were the guns pointed? Unclear. Could he see McIntyre? No. Were there multiple shooters? Two, at least.

Adams ducked for cover and slid up under the steering wheel. He attempted to reach for his department-issued Glock, but his holster got tangled in his Gucci sweater. Unable to retrieve the firearm, he looked around the van and came across a separate Glock situated under the passenger's seat. He picked up the gun and returned a volley of bullets at the apparent shooters.

The gun Adams purportedly found underneath the passenger's seat was never recovered. Evidence technicians later said the officer's department-issued Glock was missing four bullets.

Unbeknownst to Adams, his cousin had already fled across Third, trailed by two gunmen who continued to shoot. McIntyre turned south at the end of an alley and ran behind a defunct pizza shop. There, the 6-foot-3 convicted drug dealer, weighing 339 pounds, proceeded to scale a fence before dropping dead to the ground from seven gunshot wounds.

When Adams finally peered up, he saw two men emerge from behind the alley and walk toward the Sebring. He threw open the van's passenger side door and bolted for the rear of the home. The officer jumped a fence, ran through a field to safety at the nearby Jefferies housing projects, and dialed 911.

In a bedroom near the front door, McIntyre's roommate, Kenny Lockhart, had nodded off as the Jenny Jones Show played on TV before the gunfire broke out. Once awakened by the bullets, he rushed his girlfriend, who was in the same room, into a closet, telling her, "I'm not going to leave your side." He cracked open his bedroom door. Outside, in the kitchen, he noticed a familiar face.

"Man, where Jamond?" he asked Marvin Cotton, a longtime friend of McIntyre's, and one of the three men in the house, according to the state's argument in the case.

"Oh, he straight," Cotton allegedly said.

According to the State of Michigan, the 22-year-old Cotton then directed two accomplices — one, his former baby sitter; the other, a neighborhood friend — to kill Lockhart. According to Lockhart, he fired one shot from a gun he had retrieved and ducked for cover as his firearm jammed up and the air went still.

Within months, Marvin Cotton was incarcerated for the death of his friend Jamond McIntyre — even as charges against one of the three suspects were dropped before ever heading to trial. Cotton says he was several miles away on the city's west side at the time of McIntyre's death, making sure his younger brother was in bed at a decent hour for school. No physical evidence materialized. When the state made its case, prosecutors produced a jailhouse informant who claimed Cotton confessed to his role in McIntyre's death. Lockhart, through a series of inconsistent statements, appeared to corroborate the account.

Cotton and a co-defendant, Anthony Legion, were convicted by juries and sentenced to life in prison.

"It still seems like a dream," Cotton says of the day he was sentenced. "Real fuzzy, you know. I remember very well everything that happened, but it didn't seem real."

McIntyre's mother, Betty Lake, is certain Cotton was appropriately convicted. Her son was "by no means perfect," she says, but "he was a good guy."

"He took care of his family, he really took care of his kids ... and he finally decided to do something with his life, and then they took it out," Lake says. "He was going to school to learn carpentry so he could buy houses and convert them, because that's what he wanted to do. And they just took him. I don't know what else to say. I don't think they got the wrong guy. I know in my heart they didn't."

But Cotton, to this day, maintains his innocence, and in April, the Michigan Court of Appeals granted his appeal to have his case heard again following his "claims of newly discovered evidence of innocence."

"The facts averred in the affidavits presented by appellant are sufficiently plausible to justify an evidentiary hearing," the court wrote in its April 22 order. A hearing date has yet to be set.

(Legion is also fighting his conviction in federal court, where a judge on Friday reopened his habeas corpus proceeding that began in 2005. He's concurrently serving a sentence for second-degree murder in a separate case, in which he struck a deal with prosecutors to plead no contest.)

The inconsistencies in Cotton's case — arguments of ineffective counsel, freshly produced affidavits testifying to Cotton's innocence, and an alleged host of problems with the detectives who investigated the murder — have given him hope. Bolstering that hope: a full recantation from the jailhouse informant ("I have never met or even talked to Marvin Cotton"), evidence that Lockhart was pressured to provide his testimony, and an alibi witness interviewed by Metro Times who has not previously spoken publicly about the case.

Cotton is now 36, but cuts an athletic frame, with trimmed hair cordoned into two hemispheres by a neat, thin buzzed line running north to south on his dome. He carries a quiet demeanor and is deliberate in his responses.

"I'm innocent," Cotton says from the visitor's room at the Ionia Correctional Facility, one of the many state prisons where he has been locked up since 2001.

The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, through a spokesperson, declined to comment on the impending hearing.

When the appellate court's order was issued earlier this year, "so much blood rushed from my face," Cotton says. He felt like he had to cry, but he couldn't muster the tears. It was the first time in years, he says, that he could recall feeling excitement.

"They're not supposed to be seeking to lock everybody up," he says. "They're supposed to be seeking the truth."

Handcuffed and naked

Marvin Cotton is the middle child of three born to Sherena Fortune. A retired mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, Fortune separated with Cotton's biological father when he was 4.

"I don't even dream no more when I go to sleep — I'm so tired," Fortune told MT last month. "Every day I'm doing something for this case, for his freedom."

The city surrounding him may have been gripped by the rise of crack cocaine, but Cotton saw an out from the economic inequality that marks Detroit. In middle school, he started learning how to work as an electrician by assisting his grandmother's boyfriend on the job. "I think I could go right off and do it now, if I needed to," Cotton says with a smile.

Cotton says he spent high school chasing girls and listening to R&B, soul, and "crazy-sounding jazz." In his senior year at Mackenzie High School, Cotton found out that his girlfriend was pregnant with his daughter. He dropped out of school, with plans to attend Wayne County Community College and obtain a high school diploma. He had an in at Chrysler, where his grandmother had worked for 33 years.

But Cotton's life existed in an urban core wracked by violence, one that prompted the city's police department in the mid-1990s to address murders through means that the U.S. Justice Department later deemed wholly inappropriate. Like many in the city, Cotton found himself detained by police numerous times, but never charged for a violent crime.

"As long as I can remember, they've done that," he says. "I wasn't in a gang. But any group of young guys were subject to go to jail, especially during school hours."

In the summer of 2000, Cotton was 21, living on Detroit's northwest side, and had just pleaded guilty to a concealed weapons charge stemming from a traffic stop.

Cotton was sentenced to probation under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act — but his run-ins with Detroit police were just beginning.

Between June and October 2000, Cotton estimates he was taken into custody 10 times, but never charged. One particular instance stands out that involves a multitude of officers.

The summer before he was arrested for murder, Cotton says an acquaintance broke into a Detroit cop's westside home and brought Cotton a chrome Smith & Wesson .45 taken from the house. Cotton says he sold the firearm to someone in the neighborhood for "a couple hundred dollars."

Hours later, a gold Cadillac truck pulled up to Cotton's Meyers Road home, and two men in their 40s got out with the 16-year-old friend who'd sold Cotton the Smith & Wesson earlier in the day. He refused to speak with them at his front door.

"I knew it had something to do with that gun," Cotton says.

Later, two vans pulled up to the home. Police suited up in his front yard before beating on windows and doors, shining lights, and finally entering the home. Cotton says he was taken to his bathroom before police began searching his home.

"I knew they didn't have a warrant," he says.

The day police raided Cotton's home, his mother, Fortune, says she was across town, en route to Canada, when her phone rang. Her son was calling: Police were at his door. Fortune says she could hear knocks on the door during the call.

She turned around and sped to Cotton's home, staying on the phone the entire time. When she arrived, there were at least two plain police cruisers and a paddy wagon out front. Fortune says she could hear objects breaking and banging inside the home. When she was let inside, she says she found Cotton naked and handcuffed to the shower. She called 911 and more police arrived, she says — and she demanded that police unhandcuff and clothe her son. They complied.

Nevertheless, Cotton says he didn't identify the buyer of the stolen gun to police.

The police finally left Cotton's home at 2 or 3 a.m. on that summer evening in June 2000, according to his mother.

Afterward, Cotton filed a citizen complaint against the Detroit Police Department.

"That was when everything started," he says. "They see me, they pull me over, put me in handcuffs, and take me to jail."

Cotton says he was repeatedly pulled over and picked up by police in his northwest side neighborhood that summer, and frequently held for 72 hours — the legal maximum without charges being filed — before being released.

"The more I was being harassed, [the more] I kept contacting her," Cotton says of an Internal Affairs officer who followed up on his complaint.

Finally, in October 2000, Cotton says that the police attention toward him came to a halt — until five months later, when he was charged with a crime he is adamant that did not commit.

A May 22, 2002 letter to Cotton, who was by then imprisoned, said the department finished a "complete and thorough investigation" regarding his complaint.

The Board of Police Commissioners found that Cotton's complaints regarding police officers' procedure, search, and conduct with property constituted "improper procedure," while three other complaints were "not sustained."

In cases of improper conduct — a determination that means inappropriate conduct is "more likely than not" to have taken place — findings are submitted to the chief of police with a recommendation for discipline, according to the letter sent to Cotton.

It's unclear what, if any, internal discipline the officers who raided Cotton's home received. Sherena Fortune received a subpoena for a police trial board hearing in spring 2003 related to the conduct of two officers at the scene where her son was handcuffed inside their bathroom, and, she says, that led to administrative charges against one. A spokesman for the Detroit Police Department declined to comment on the outcome of the trial board hearing.

The lawyer, and the alibi witness who was never contacted

The day after McIntyre was killed, Cotton says that he awoke around 9 a.m. to find a message on his pager from Andre Paul. It was Paul, a high school classmate of Cotton's, who introduced him to Jamond McIntyre back in 1998. Cotton says McIntyre was a self-proclaimed ladies man who liked to party. McIntyre racked up a string of drug charges throughout the decade.

"Man, Jamond got killed last night," Paul told Cotton when he called him back, Cotton says. (Paul could not be reached for comment on this story.)

What happened? he replied. Who?

Three weeks later, in mid-February, Cotton was driving to pick up his daughter from day care. He was with his daughter's mother and dropped her off to pick up their kid, and kept rolling along after noticing a gold Cadillac was following him.

Moments later, the Cadillac suddenly turned in front of the car Cotton was driving, blocking him from continuing along the road.

"Before I could even think anything, police was everywhere, guns out, banging on the windows with the guns," Cotton says. "So I kind of put the car in park. I didn't want them to shoot because they was kind of riled up. I put the car in park, they pulled me out and put handcuffs on me, and immediately one of the uniformed officers said they wanted to talk to [me] down at homicide. And I realize then that the Cadillac that blocked me in was a homicide officer."

"It was like a dream," he adds. "It did not feel real."

Cotton was handcuffed and placed in a cruiser. He says the officers drove close to 100 mph on the expressway heading downtown. "I'm asking, 'What is this about?'" he says. After he was booked at police department headquarters, Cotton was taken to an interrogation room where, he says he remained for more than 12 hours.

Eventually, officer Donald Hughes came and brought him into his office, where his colleagues Ernest Wilson — who responded to the scene where McIntyre died — and Walter Bates sat.

"You messed up some good detectives' lives," Cotton says the officer told him, a possible nod to his run-in the prior year that would eventually lead to a police trial board hearing.

Hughes "started to talk to the other officers as if I wasn't there," Cotton says.

Ya'll know what happened on Meyers, Cotton says Hughes told his colleagues. Cotton says the officers brought up some names he didn't know, but then he recognized a couple: Anthony Legion and Devonte Parks. It struck a note because, Cotton says, he knew them for some time and, a couple years prior, the trio was arrested and released without being charged.

Cotton remained adamant with the officers. They asked if he knew McIntyre, but he says he wouldn't answer any questions and wanted an attorney.

(The officers couldn't be reached for comment, and a police department spokesman referred questions about the case to the prosecutor's office.)

After the brief interaction, Cotton was moved to a bullpen on the ninth floor. Years of numerous arrests without incident led him to think there was nothing to sweat. And by the time his arraignment came up, Cotton still wasn't convinced he'd stand trial for murder.

"I'm still thinking, 'I'm not going to be arraigned — I'm going to be home,'" he says, tapping his wrist, pointing to an invisible watch.

Cotton's family retained attorney Bob Slameka.

Slameka recently lost his bar license after he was convicted in May 2014 of breaking and entering into his ex-girlfriend's residence. The state attorney discipline board declined to reinstate him in August.

Slameka also made headlines this summer when Davontae Sanford, a Detroit man who was convicted at age 15 in a quadruple homicide, was exonerated. A judge vacated Sanford's sentence, and his appellate attorneys cited Slameka's representation of the then-teenager at trial as a reason why he wound up behind bars.

Slameka didn't return multiple requests for comment on this story.

One thing Slameka also didn't do — according to Cotton — was reach out to an alibi witness for the night in question, let alone put her on the stand.

"I told Robert Slameka that I was home with my girlfriend and little brother," Cotton says. "He wrote it down in his notebook, and he never investigated that, just like he never did any other aspect of the case."

Leona Boykin, reached by MT last week, says she was never contacted by any of Cotton's attorneys in the case.

She also says she was home with Cotton, her then-boyfriend, throughout the night in question. They were having a casual night at home, she says, citing a clear recollection of the evening.

"I actually remember being over there with him, and we were watching movies," she says. "I specifically remember that we had a palette made on the floor — camped out, you know, eating popcorn, watching movies. And that was it. That was pretty much the night."

Cotton was arrested three weeks later, and, Boykin says, through later correspondence with him through mail, she remembered what took place that evening.

Boykin couldn't recall what time the pair fell asleep that evening, but says: "That I recall, he was there the entire night.

"[I] definitely don't think he deserves to die in prison, that's for sure."

With no alibi witness, the prosecutors were free to run unabated with their version of the story, which hinged on three things: McIntyre's roommate identifying Cotton as being on-scene; a Chrysler Sebring thought to belong to Cotton's mother being seen at the murder scene; and Ellis Frazier, a jailhouse informant, testifying that Cotton confessed to the crime while behind bars.

The jailhouse informant

There's one big problem with Ellis Frazier's appearance in this case. Cotton says: "I've never met this man. The first time I saw him was in the courtroom."

According to the prosecution's case, Frazier crossed paths with Cotton in a jail bullpen before a court hearing. They were situated in separate cells, Frazier said at the time, but Cotton spoke to him — through a tiny gap in the wall.

Due to his frequent trips to jail, Frazier said he garnered the nickname "Old School." Inmates felt comfortable speaking with him about their cases, he said.

"If they would ask for certain things, like should they take a bench trial, should they take a jury trial in a murder case," he said during the trial. "I tell them to take a jury trial." And that's exactly what Cotton did, Frazier claimed, before allegedly laying out in detail how McIntyre was killed. Frazier said he managed to ID Cotton when he was removed from the cell and walked past his area.

Slameka, Cotton's attorney, despite his apparent failings, was incredulous. He peppered Frazier on the stand with questions about whether lawyers who had represented him would ever advise him to speak with someone else about their case, especially if he knew he was set to have a jury trial. No way, Frazier said.

"So this complete stranger through a wall is telling you in finite detail about this case?" Slameka asked.

"You would be surprised how many tell me about [their] case," Frazier replied.

"I really would," Slameka said.

But it turns out that if anyone ever did, Frazier now says it wasn't Marvin Cotton. More than a dozen years later, he has since pulled back his entire testimony, saying it was "completely fabricated and untrue."

"I have never even met or talked to Marvin Cotton," Frazier said in a March 2014 affidavit obtained by Cotton and provided to Metro Times, "and he did not confess to me about being a part of any crime like I testified to at the trial."

"All of the information and details in the police statement was pre-written and wholly composed by the homicide detective," said Frazier, who could not be reached for comment.

"I contacted the prosecutor's office in hopes of getting out of jail as early as possible by being an informant and a homicide detective came to visit me in jail and indicated he needed my assistance in a murder case, so he provided me with the names of defendants, the location of the crime, and went over the story he wanted me to testify to."

The officer then proceeded to tell him to memorize the contents in the statements, Frazier said, and he agreed to lie on the stand about receiving a deal for a reduced sentence in exchange for his testimony. "I was indeed released earlier than my original one year sentence, serving less than half my time, shortly after I testified at the October 2001 murder trial."

Just like Cotton, Frazier now said the pair never crossed paths until he took the stand at Cotton's trial.

"The detective that brought me to the courthouse showed me a picture of Marvin Cotton and told me where he would be sitting in the courtroom so that I could identify him," Frazier stated, "because besides the pictures that the other detective showed me, I didn't even know what he looked like."

He went on: "The detective told me I was doing the right thing by testifying against Mr. Cotton because they said he killed somebody but 'he might not get found guilty if I didn't do this right.' I honestly feel bad for possibly sending someone to prison due to my false testimony at the direction of the homicide detective."

Maria Miller, spokeswoman for the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, declined to comment on Frazier's affidavit, saying it would be addressed at the evidentiary hearing. But she says the office's policy with jailhouse informants is to handle them on a case-by case-basis.

Detroit Police Department spokesman Sgt. Michael Woody says that if Cotton's case were to be investigated internally, it would be done as a result of the prosecutor's office reopening the case at a court's direction.

When asked if Cotton's case — and the conduct of the officers involved — are being investigated by the department, Woody says they, to his knowledge, are not.

"If [prosecutors] do reopen this case and there was some culpability on behalf of any active officers ... that's our first priority," Woody says. "[Chief James Craig] does take a very strong position on making sure that officers who conduct themselves in an illegal manner are dealt with swiftly. They get no pass here just because they're officers."

The roommate

The house where McIntyre lived on Third Street for a few months itself carries a curious history.

In the 1990s, the property was owned by George and Connie Blair. Court records show the pair occupied several prostitution houses and drug dens in Detroit and, in 1998, were convicted on multiple drug and money laundering charges.

As a result, the home was sold at the sheriff's sale in June 2000, and by year-end, the city of Detroit acquired the property through a drug forfeiture.

During that time, according to Cotton's trial transcript, McIntyre moved into the home. Kenneth Lockhart, his roommate, followed soon after. The city declined to comment on when it held title to the property, or if it was aware that McIntyre, who had previous drug possession charges on his record, occupied the home.

Lockhart, McIntyre's roommate, provided statements immediately called into question by Cotton's attorneys as well. On the night of the shooting, records indicate Lockhart failed to provide a single identification of the suspects involved in the shooting — despite otherwise implicating Cotton two weeks later and, on the stand, saying he was "100 percent" certain Cotton was at the scene.

(Santonion Adams, the off-duty officer at the scene who was McIntyre's cousin, also didn't appear to provide a description of the perpetrators, nor ID them, according to court filings.)

"Well, [Lockhart] changed his story several times in talking to him, and what he said we couldn't substantiate by the physical evidence," Carl Frederick, a responding officer with three decades of experience, testified at trial, adding that Lockhart appeared to have been drinking.

The officer said he was unable to corroborate that Lockhart fired a single shot back at the suspects. At a photo line-up of suspects, Lockhart "vacillitated" and didn't appear to make a confident identification, according to the testimony of an attorney who was present for the lineup.

Phone numbers listed for Lockhart were disconnected, and he did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Frederick testified he "received information from the scout car that it was [a dope house]." But upon arrival, no evidence indicated that to be the case.

Still, Frederick was asked at trial: "You said the deceased is a dope man, right?"

"That's correct," Frederick said.

Indeed, McIntyre was charged and convicted multiple times for drug possession, again as late as September 2000, though court records show he was never arraigned on the most recent charges. Records show he was arrested about a half-dozen times on various drug and weapon charges.

Lockhart's testimony was further called into question by an affidavit, obtained by Cotton and provided to MT, from Kurt Nard, a man he reportedly befriended in 2001 while doing home improvement and renovation work.

Nard said Kenny Lockhart told him that police questioned him the night of the shooting, but "Kenny said he never saw anybody that night because he was asleep."

Once Lockhart was released, according to Nard, he was offered $10,000 from McIntyre's uncle to pin the crime on Cotton and two other men.

"Kenny said that [McIntyre's uncle] wanted to get rid of the three men because of a [previous] altercation," the affidavit stated.

(Cotton says he never had anything "I could identify as an altercation" with the uncle. Cotton says he met the man through McIntyre, and says the uncle "didn't like anybody that wasn't from that particular area." His "energy was always off when I was around," Cotton says.)

"I told Kenny that if the guy's uncle wanted to frame the men that wasn't involved, then he shouldn't do it," Nard stated. "Kenny told me that he needed the money and was scared to tell the uncle no, because the uncle was a very dangerous man that could kill him."

A few days later, Nard — who could not be reached for comment — said he ran into Lockhart again. Other family members were now intimidating Lockhart, according to Nard, "so he took the money [and] gave the police a statement."

"Kenny [showed] me what look like several thousands dollars in a rubber band wrapped in a brown bag," he said.

The next day, Nard said he contacted Detroit police and spoke with Sgt. Walter Bates, who interviewed him at his house without Lockhart's knowledge. Bates took a statement from him, Nard claimed, and "I even gave the detective the notes I had written on the two napkins regarding the conversation I had with Kenny."

"I never heard back from Kenny Lockhart nor the police department," Nard said in his affidavit.

A man with the same name as McIntyre's uncle later faced a federal indictment on drug charges, and was found dead in 2004 of a gunshot wound to the head inside a Southwest Detroit home, after reportedly agreeing to cooperate in a murder investigation. (Police reports in Cotton's file showed officers asked about the man's family members during at least one interview.)

The Sebring

At trial, Frazier testified that Cotton mentioned police knew he was involved in McIntyre's murder because his mother's vehicle — a green Chrysler Sebring — was identified at the scene.

But documents obtained by private investigators in Cotton's case raise additional questions about the car's identification. Cotton says he previously drove a green Sebring, owned by his mother, but the car was totaled in an accident in fall 1998.

The following year, his mother purchased a tan 1999 Sebring, but, according to an affidavit provided to MT by Cotton, the vehicle was at his sister's house at the time McIntyre was killed.

Earl Jordan, Cotton's cousin, said in the affidavit that the vehicle had a flat tire, and wasn't operational from Jan. 20 to Jan. 27, 2001.

"[On] or about Jan. 27, 2001, I paid a neighbor in the area ... to remove the flat tire and take it to be repaired before being put back on," Jordan said.

What's more, as the trial began, the attorney for Cotton's co-defendant noticed something in the case file: a prepared dismissal form for the third alleged perpetrator, Devonte Parks.

"The prosecutor relies specifically on an identification — by Mr. Lockhart of Mr. Parks being within the premises where the shooting took place," the attorney said. "He specifically IDs him at a photo lineup."

Parks was severed from the case and charges against him were dismissed — after Cotton's trial concluded.

Fortune, Cotton's mother, says of the prosecution: "They were too far in to turn around."

Court records indicate Parks' attorney produced photos that showed Parks was elsewhere the day of the crime.

"The prosecution agreed he wasn't at the scene," says Parks' trial attorney Larry Polk. Parks was adamant that he wasn't there, Polk says, and that another suspect fit his description.

'2016's been a great year'

Cotton says he's come a long way since his incarceration began. When he entered in 2001, he struggled to even compose a compound sentence. In school, Cotton says, he got by from a "very good memory," allowing him to answer questions in class — "but I couldn't do the work."

In prison, Cotton borrowed a dictionary from one of the other inmates, wrote down the definitions of new words, and asked others how to spell certain things.

"A lot of times I didn't have any resources," he says, particularly in having to file the recent appeal that won him a new hearing. He's now represented by Richard Goodman, who declined to comment, as he was just recently assigned to the case.

Cotton is eager for his hearing date to arrive. If he prevails, he says he plans to assist others on cases and begin a career in activism.

"I believe my work is in the city," he says, adding of his experience behind bars: "I definitely don't see myself running away from that.

"Who I am has [been] defined by what I've been going through," he continues. "If I had somebody like me on the other side, I'd be alright." Indeed, the court of appeals found the concerns raised in Cotton's recent filings on the main evidence in his case merit a new hearing.

But if anything, for the first time in years, Cotton has a brimming sense of optimism of what's to come. "2016's been a great year," he says. "Everything is beautiful this year." He did miss seeing his only daughter head off to college, but he holds out hope he'll get to see her graduate.

His mother, Sherena Fortune, says she simply wants to see the justice system correct its course for her son.

"[This is] destroying so many people and families," she says, "and the person who actually did it is out there."

Ryan Felton is a Detroit-based investigative journalist and former Metro Times staff writer.

Dustin Blitchok is editor-in-chief of Metro Times.

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