DETROIT (AP) — A federal judge has broken his silence and defended the way he handled a 1987 murder trial when he was a county prosecutor, two weeks after a man's conviction and life sentence were overturned because of misconduct.
U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland denied allowing false testimony by a witness who told jurors that Temujin Kensu had confessed to murder while they were in a temporary holding cell.
Cleland said the witness, Philip Joplin, received no benefit from him when he was St. Clair County prosecutor. Joplin has said he made up the story to win early release from prison.
"Any sort of promise, suggestion or hint of leniency in return for his testimony is utterly false," Cleland said in a six-page affidavit filed this week by the Michigan attorney general's office.
In 1987, Kensu, known then as Fred Freeman, was convicted of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Scott Macklem in a college parking lot in Port Huron, 60 miles northeast of Detroit. The victim had planned to marry Kensu's former girlfriend.
U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood recently overturned the conviction and life sentence, citing misconduct by Cleland and other problems at the trial 23 years ago. She said Kensu's constitutional rights were violated.
A key part of her decision centered on Joplin, who had signed an affidavit before he died saying he lied at Kensu's trial.
Cleland said Joplin stepped forward to testify just days before trial. He said the testimony was "credible" and "consistent" but not as substantial as other evidence.
"Had there been a deal made for favorable post-trial treatment for Joplin, I had absolutely no reason to hide it, in view of other far more damning details of Joplin's history that I so clearly laid out for the jury," Cleland said.
The affidavit was filed as part of the state's request to keep Kensu in prison while Hood's decision is appealed. Kensu's lawyers from the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan law school want him released on bond.
A message seeking comment was left Friday for clinic co-director Bridget McCormack.
Kensu, now 47, has said he was hundreds of miles away in Michigan's Upper Peninsula when Macklem was killed. Some witnesses backed him up. But at trial, Cleland summoned a pilot who testified that it was possible for Kensu to get to Escanaba from Port Huron by private plane in less than two hours.
There was no evidence, however, that he did.
Cleland and Hood are judges in the same downtown Detroit courthouse. He joined the federal bench in 1990, three years after the Kensu trial.