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Charges dismissed in 2003, killing; man released from prison

DETROIT – a Detroit man who spent about 15 years in prison for a murder he did not commit was released Wednesday on his birthday.

A review has determined that Aaron Salter’s case was mainly based on misidentification, and the charges against him have been dismissed by Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement.

Salter, 36, left Chippewa Correctional Facility in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with the attorneys of the Federal Defender Office in Detroit. He was on his way back to Detroit for a barbecue with his family.

“I am truly blessed on my birthday,” Salter told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “I have a lot more living to do and I’m glad that they let me out.”

Salter was convicted by a jury in 2003 of first-degree murder, assault with intent to murder and using a firearm during a crime. He was later sentenced to life in prison without parole.

But investigators with the Federal Defender Office investigated the case and discovered previously undisclosed evidence and interviewed witnesses who could confirm Salter’s alibi at the time of the shooting. That led to the prosecutor’s office Conviction Integrity Unit to look into the case.

“The Aaron Salter case is thoroughly reviewed, investigated, and considered,” Worthy said. “It has been determined that the case against Mr Salter was based primarily on the misidentification of the main witness in the case.”

“The system was not in him, Worthy added. “Nothing I can say to the years of his life spent in prison. Justice is actually being served today.”

Willie Thomas, 36, and two other men and a woman sitting on a Detroit porch about 1:30 a.m. on Aug. 6, 2003, when two men fired at them by means of a privacy fence. Thomas was killed and two other men were wounded. The woman escaped.

One of the injured men testified at Salter’s trial that he was able to identify Salter as one of the two shooters. But the Conviction of the Integrity of the Unit’s research has shown the witness only saw the gunmen with a small space in the privacy fence in the night while trying to flee with his back to her.

The witness told police the shooter was about 5 feet high, 7 cm tall and weighed between 150 and 170 pounds. Salter, a former high school football player who stands 6 feet, 3 inches tall and weighed about 250 pounds. At the time of the shooting, Salter said, he was visiting home during the break from the University of Arkansas in Pine Bluff.

Salter was not called to testify in his own trial.

“I wanted witnesses,” he said. “The test was horrible watching the people lying on me and with a defense that could not represent me well.”

In 2005, Michigan’s of the court of appeal confirmed Salter’s conviction.

A Wayne County judge signed the order Wednesday vacating the case and an underestimation of the costs.

“It was clear that Mr Salter had nothing to do with (2003 shoot”, says the Federal Defender Office, attorney Jonathan Epstein, who handled the case along with Colleen Fitzharris.

“They would not allow me to give,” Salter said of Epstein and Fitzharris.

Salter civil attorney, Wolf Mueller, he said, is pursuing a claim of $730,000 for Salter under the Michigan Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act.

The public prosecutor will recommend to the Michigan attorney-general of that Salter receive compensation, Worthy said.

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