Years Lost: 2
Fulton County, GA | November 12, 2007
On November 13, 2007, Michael Marshall, a forty-one-year-old homeless man, was getting a few hours of sleep in the hallway of an Atlanta-area apartment complex. Michael had lost his last steady job several years before, and since then had worked odd jobs, doing his best to survive on the streets.
That morning, however, Michael Marshall’s rest was interrupted when the property manager noticed him sleeping in the complex, and called the police.
The officers who answered the call thought that Michael looked strikingly familiar, and immediately linked him to a robbery case that had happened in the same neighborhood ten days earlier.
In that robbery, a woman had looked out her window to see a man sitting in her truck. When she went outside to confront him, he pointed a gun at her and drove away. The woman’s son gave chase, but only saw the thief from behind. Despite that the thief soon abandoned the truck and fled on foot, the police were unable to apprehend him. However, they did find the thief’s cell phone, cell phone case and t-shirt in the truck.
The police officers who pursued the perpetrator and the truck owner’s son helped create a composite sketch of the thief, though the police had only seen him from a distance and the son had only seen him from behind.
Regardless of whether the composite sketch bore significant resemblance to the robbery’s perpetrator, it did bear a resemblance to Michael Marshall. When police questioned Michael ten days after the robbery, their investigation had gone cold, and he was the most promising lead they had turned up. At a one-person show-up identification conducted that day, the truck owner’s son positively identified Michael Marshall as the perpetrator. Yet the truck owner herself, who had been the only person to closely observe the robber’s face, did not identify Michael Marshall as the perpetrator.
The defense moved to exclude the son’s show-up identification. The Judge agreed: “I don’t understand why thy would do a show-up ten days later,” he said. “That’s wrong, and it shouldn’t be done.” However, the evidence the show-up identification yielded was still introduced at trial.
Soon, Michael Marshall found himself facing a possible sentence of 45 years in prison, in part because of a previous burglary conviction he had incurred while homeless. Rather than risking a sentence that likely would put him in prison for the rest of his life, Michael pled guilty and received four years. In the eyes of the law, he was a guilty man. But Michael Marshall knew he was innocent, and, after he contacted us with a request for help, so did the Georgia Innocence Project.
The Hapeville Police Department, Michael told us in one of his letters, still had in their possession the t-shirt, cell phone, and cell phone case the perpetrator left in the truck. “DNA samples are used in these times to prove a person’s innocence,” Michael wrote. Yet the state, he told us, had “never checked” this evidence to see whether it might point to another suspect, and in process exonerate him.
Based on Michael Marshall’s request for help, the Georgia Innocence Project did just that. The DNA found on the evidence left at the scene proved that Michael was innocent, and identified the actual perpetrator. On December 14, 2009, more than two years after his nightmare began, Michael Marshall was set free.
Michael Marshall Exonerated | December 14, 2009
Michael Marshall walked out of prison a free man on December 14, 2009, after spending 2 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit.
Theft by Taking
10 years - to serve 4