In another development that has Freeman's defense team more optimistic than they've been in years, authorities say they're "willing to listen" if the team makes a good argument for re-examining the case.
"If they would present something that the chief of police and the prosecutor decided was worth reopening, we certainly would," says Port Huron Lt. Jim Jones. "Certainly if any credible evidence is presented that would suggest Mr. Freeman did not commit this crime, that would be reviewed and discussed and the decision would be made."
Metro Times published a series of articles about Freeman's case last year. (See "Reasonable Doubt, Parts 1 and 2", Aug. 1 and 8, 2007.)
Freeman was convicted in the 1986 murder of then-20-year-old Scott Macklem, who was killed with a single shotgun blast in a parking lot of St. Clair Community College. No physical evidence connected Freeman to the scene and a single eyewitness — who had been hypnotized to help him recall the details — identified Freeman as being in a car leaving the area around the time of the murder.
Several eyewitnesses at the 1987 trial said Freeman was in the Upper Peninsula within a few hours of the shooting, but prosecutors argued he could have chartered a plane to travel the roughly 450-mile distance. They presented no pilot, no receipts and no testimony that he did that.
Freeman — who has changed his name to Temujin Kensu to reflect his Buddhist faith — was the only suspect police considered in the shooting, based, in part, on the testimony of a woman Freeman had dated briefly about six months before Macklem's killing but hadn't talked to in months. The woman, Crystal Merrill, was pregnant and planning to marry Macklem at the time of his death.
In recent years, a team of attorneys, retired FBI agents and a television journalist have joined together to work on the case. They have identified another man as the possible shooter based on accounts from a man Freeman met in prison. This new source says Macklem's death was the result of a dispute involving Macklem's alleged cocaine dealing.
Police reports from the time have shown possible connections to the new alleged shooter.
By examining the lineup photos police gave witnesses to identify Freeman, Macklem's clothing, police reports, firearms evidence from the scene, and other items, Freeman's team is hopeful they'll convince Port Huron police to re-examine the case.
The team has seen some copies of police reports but never the original evidence. Jones says he wasn't sure why that was. But access to the files seems to be the work of a new private investigator looking at the Freeman case: Herb Wesler, a 31-year Port Huron police veteran who retired as a detective lieutenant in 2005 and now does private investigative work for individuals and attorneys.
Last year he was hired by the family of an Oakland County man who disputed the St. Clair Sheriff's Department original conclusion that the man committed suicide. The department has reopened the case.
After WXYZ-TV7's Bill Proctor, who has been an advocate for Freeman since airing reports about his case in the 1990s, began reporting on the St. Clair County case, Wesler got more interested in Freeman's case. Wesler was a patrolman in Port Huron at the time of Macklem's death but hadn't been involved in the investigation. Proctor, Freeman's wife and Wesler recently viewed the evidence files.
Wesler told Metro Times that he's spending several days looking at all the evidence he can. "The file is so thick. I'm comparing what is in the police reports with what I saw at the Port Huron Police Department," Wesler says.
For example, he saw a shell and a cartridge in the evidence boxes that weren't mentioned in the police reports Freeman's defense team had. And he'll look into whether new, additional forensics tests could help shed light on the crime.
"It probably would be a request from the Port Huron Police Department to have that done," he says.
Jones, for his part, isn't sure that technological advances in forensics during the last two decades will change anything. While DNA has been used to exonerate more than 200 people nationally, according to the Innocence Project, it wasn't a part of this case.
"I don't know if there's going to be anything that new technology is going to suggest that would change the route that was taken by the detectives 20 years ago," Jones says.
For Freeman's wife, Amiko Kensu, just getting a look inside the two boxes of evidence was more than she'd thought she'd ever get.
"You don't know how happy I am to see this," she says.
Meanwhile, Freeman is in the Saginaw Correctional Facility waiting to hear the Michigan Parole Board's decision on his clemency petition. He had an interview last year with the board chair, Barbara Sampson, after Gov. Jennifer Granholm's new Executive Clemency Advisory Council reviewed his case and recommended the Parole Board consider it.
Freeman also has a petition for habeas corpus arguing his constitutional rights have been violated because of what's happened to him in the state courts. U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood is considering it.Sandra Svoboda is a Metro Times staff writer. Contact her at 313-202-8015 or [email protected]