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Murder appeal reaches court
Man convicted of 1987 killing may get second look
By BILL CHAPIN
For almost 20 years, the appeal of man convicted of murdering a St. Clair County Community College student has worked its way through the legal system. Now the case has arrived in federal court.
A petition for a writ of habeas corpus was filed in January in U.S. District Court in the Eastern Michigan District in Detroit on behalf of Frederick Freeman, who in 1987 was sentenced to life in prison for the shooting death of Scott Macklem. The son of Croswell Mayor Gary Macklem, he was killed by a shotgun blast while getting out of his car in the college's parking lot at about 9 a.m. on Nov. 5, 1986.
Freeman, who now uses the Buddhist name Temujin Kensu, maintains he never knew Macklem and moved to the Upper Peninsula months before the murder. Several witnesses testified they saw Freeman in the Escanaba area, about 440 miles from Port Huron, on the day of the murder.
No physical evidence links Freeman, 43, with the crime. He was convicted primarily based on testimony from Macklem's fiance', who had a relationship with Freeman the summer before the murder and said he had threatened the victim; three witnesses in or near the parking lot, two of whom were unable to identify Freeman in a line up; and a jailhouse informant who said Freeman confessed to the crime. The informant, Phil Joplin, recanted in a videotaped interview before his death in 1998.
A writ of habeas corpus is a court order typically requested by a prisoner trying to get a claim of wrongful imprisonment into the federal court system. State Attorney General Mike Cox has until April 13 to respond to the petition. A spokesman for Cox said his office will file a brief but declined to comment further.
U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood will then either rule on the case or ask for oral arguments. Either way, Hood ultimately will decide whether Freeman stays in prison, gets a new trial or goes free.
"We have a very good judge and we have some very good issues," said Birmingham lawyer Richard Lustig, who is representing Freeman pro bono.
"I do innocence cases in my spare time when I believe someone might have been denied his rights," Lustig said. "This man, I feel, is innocent. It should be looked at very carefully."
At the original trial, prosecutor Robert Cleland - who is now a federal judge in the Eastern Michigan District - said Freeman could have chartered a plane to commit the crime, but offered no evidence.
"For (the court) to even allow them to argue that is incredible," Lustig said.
Much of the petition focuses on making the case that Freeman was denied due process because he did not have adequate representation at his trial. His defense lawyer, David Dean, in 1993 admitted to having been addicted to cocaine for the last 10 years.
Dean's cocaine use was the major factor in the order for a new trial for another client, Randy Overton, who was convicted of killing a friend in 1989 during a drug-fueled argument.
During Overton's appeal, Dean's former investigator and secretary testified she became aware of his drug use as soon as she started working for him in 1987, during preparations for Freeman's trial. Dean has said he may have used the drugs during the trial but believes Freeman is guilty.
St. Clair County Prosecutor Mike Wendling also is confident the right man is behind bars.
"We believe the conviction is appropriate and proper, and we'll assist the attorney general's office in any way we can," he said.
Contact Bill Chapin at (810) 989-0741 or firstname.lastname@example.org.