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Michigan Reaches $1.03 Million Settlement with Exonerated Prisoner

The state of Michigan has agreed to pay former prisoner Jeff Titus, 71, a total of $1.03 million for nearly 21 years he spent incarcerated for killing two hunters before his convictions were overturned. Titus, who consistently maintained his innocence, then became eligible for compensation from the state’s wrongful conviction fund, which pays out $50,000 for each year spent wrongfully imprisoned. State Court of Claims Judge James Redford officially approved the settlement on August 23, 2023.

“Our goal is to hold accountable those who are responsible for the harm done to Mr. Titus,” said Novi attorney Wolfgang Mueller, who represented Titus. “The state’s acknowledgment of his wrongful conviction is a start.”

Titus was convicted of fatally shooting hunters Doug Estes, 33, and Jim Bennett, 37, near his Kalamazoo County property in 1990. Over three decades later, his life sentence was overturned when authorities acknowledged that Titus’ lawyer at his 2002 trial never received a crucial police file containing information about another suspect, Thomas Dillon, an Ohio serial killer responsible for five murders between 1989 and 1992—all victims killed while hunting, fishing or jogging. Dillon died in prison in 2011.

The failure to give Titus’ defense this information violated his constitutional rights, according to an agreement that the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School reached with Attorney General Dana Nessel (D), and his convictions were tossed on February 23, 2023. Kalamazoo County prosecutor Jeff Getting announced in June 2023 that Titus would not face a new trial.

“I don’t know who ultimately murdered Mr. Estes and Mr. Bennett,” said Getting, who was not involved in the 2002 trial. “But I can say with 100% absolute certainty that moving forward with a trial now against Mr. Titus would be absolutely lacking the fundamental fairness that our constitution requires.”

Titus was portrayed at trial as a hothead who disliked trespassers, but there was no physical evidence against him. An alibi placed him miles from the murder scene, so investigators originally cleared him. But a new investigative team reopened the case a dozen years later, leading to his wrongful conviction and 21 years of wrongful incarceration in state prisons.  


Source: AP News