Five years ago, Ken Wyniemko was released from the Michigan prison system, exonerated after a decade behind bars for a rape that DNA evidence concluded he did not commit.
On Wednesday, Clinton Township police confirmed that a match has been made to the DNA collected at the scene of the 1994 Macomb County rape for which Wyniemko was arrested, convicted and incarcerated.
"We have a suspect through DNA testing," Clinton Township Police Captain Richard Maierle says. "We are working in conjunction with the Macomb County prosecutor to resolve this case."
He refused to identify the suspect, who is already behind bars on other charges.
Wyniemko, who was released and exonerated with the help of the Innocence Project at Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, now lives in Rochester Hills and advocates for laws to prevent wrongful convictions and helps other exonerees with money and support.
The identification of the attacker who repeatedly raped a woman in her Macomb County home early one morning is a relief to Wyniemko — the final proof that he did not commit the crime.
"I'm real curious to see if the guy committed any other crimes during the time I was in prison," Wyniemko says.
Maierle said he would not discuss whether the new suspect has other convictions or charges during the last 15 years.
"But how would we get any new evidence unless he did? Draw your own conclusions," he says.
Michigan law requires DNA collection from anyone convicted of certain crimes, including murder, manslaughter, kidnapping and criminal sexual conduct, as well as enticing a child for immoral purposes, window peeping, indecent exposure and some prostitution-related crimes.
The Michigan State Police lab compares collected profiles to samples from unsolved crimes. Wyniemko says he learned that's how the match was made in his case.
Former Macomb County Prosecutor Carl Marlinga, who was in office during Wyniemko's conviction and then fought for his exoneration, called the situation a "prosecutor's worst nightmare," especially if the actual rapist committed other crimes between the 1994 rape and his recent identification.
"It means that, because of this wrongful conviction, [there's] not only the injustice for Ken Wyniemko, but some other person has been victimized," says Marlinga, who is now in private practice.
"Naturally, because it happened on my watch, it really disturbs me. I'm frustrated and angry that it happened. … The mistake is not having something like this happen on your watch. The mistake would be to try and deny it and cover it up."
Maierle says he doesn't know when charges might be issued for the new suspect.
Of the 218 DNA-based exonerations the Innocence Project has helped secure nationally, the actual perpetrator has been identified in 83 of them.
"Until the actual perpetrator is caught there are always skeptics and doubters who continue to secretly harbor suspicions against the person who has been exonerated," Marlinga says. "This is as close as we can get to absolute proof."Sandra Svoboda is a Metro Times staff writer. Contact her at 313-202-8015 or [email protected]