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  • Doug Tjapkes

Maurice H. Carter March 29, 1944 - October 25, 2004

This was a rotten weekend 17 years ago! If you check the calendar, you’ll find that the 2004 and 2021 dates are identical. On Friday, October 22, 2004, my pal Maurice Carter was in the hospital. Up until then, we had hope that Maurice could still get a new liver...his only hope for survival. But on that fateful weekend, all hope dissipated. I went to visit him at Butterworth in Grand Rapids...unconscious, no response. I returned on Saturday the 23rd, only to be advised that I would have to wear protective gear. He had gone “full code.” Everything had shut down and he was in a coma. It was the beginning of the end. He died in the early morning hours of October 25. Maurice would have enjoyed our 20th Anniversary Observance of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS a few days ago. After all, the whole organization was formed as a result of his dream. For those who haven’t read the story, Maurice spent 29 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. In the years that I spent with him in his battle for freedom, Maurice would often say, “When my case came up, the wheels of justice ground to a halt!” Well, 17 years later, I’m surprised to report that the wheels have started rolling. Granted, the pace is slow, but they are rolling here in Michigan. And it’s due, in part, to these three words: Conviction Integrity Unit. Maurice had little regard for prosecutors, for very good reason, and he and I were pretty much in agreement on the matter. Now comes the CIU, and I’m grudgingly admitting that, yes, some prosecutors are making a difference! A Conviction Integrity Unit is a division of a prosecutorial office that works to prevent, identify, and remedy false convictions. Several of these units have accomplished a great deal in a short period of time. Wayne County had the first one in Michigan, I was started in 2018. The Michigan Attorney General formed such a unit in 2019. Now the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners has given preliminary approval for a CIU. I’m not ready to predict that this trend will produce a change in the way prosecutors think or operate, but these are major steps forward! Maurice would be impressed. Toronto attorney Phil Campbell, in a note to me upon Maurice’s passing, said, “...when you met him he was reviled as a dangerous criminal; he died a symbol of innocence.” As we warmly remember our friend Maurice Carter today, let’s pray that the wheels of justice roll faster and faster to reduce these shameful stories of wrongful conviction.

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