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FREED MAN TO GET $3.7 MILLION

He was wrongly convicted of rape

BY DAVID ASHENFELTER
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

November 29, 2005

Clinton Township agreed to pay a $3.7-million-plus out-of-court settlement to a man who spent nearly nine years in prison for a rape he didn't commit, according to a settlement agreement released Monday by the township.

The township, through its insurance carrier, agreed to pay Kenneth Wyniemko a $1.8-million lump sum, plus $6,409 per month for the rest of his life. The payments are guaranteed for at least 20 years -- even if he dies sooner -- and the payments will increase 3% annually, the agreement said.

The township didn't admit any wrongdoing, and the settlement prohibits the parties from making disparaging comments about each other.

Township Supervisor Robert Cannon didn't respond to a request for comment on the settlement Monday.

Wyniemko's lawyer, George Googasian, said the agreement didn't contain a confidentiality clause. He said the public has a right to know the amount of the settlement because it involved a government entity.

Googasian said there's no amount of money that can compensate Wyniemko for losing nine years of his life. But he said the settlement enables Wyniemko to devote his time to the Innocence Project to help other inmates who have been wrongly convicted.

Wyniemko, 54, of Rochester Hills was freed from prison in 2003 after DNA tests exonerated him in the 1994 rape and robbery of a 28-year-old Clinton Township woman.

Although Wyniemko professed his innocence, a Macomb County jury convicted him of rape and burglary, and a judge sentenced him to 40-60 years in prison.

He was freed after testing done at the behest of the Innocence Project at Thomas M. Cooley Law School found that his DNA didn't match that found on a cigarette butt or on semen-stained nylons at the crime scene.

In March 2005, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Zatkoff refused the township's request to dismiss the lawsuit and criticized the township's handling of the investigation.

Zatkoff said detectives withheld evidence and showed a reckless disregard for the truth and an intent to mislead the prosecutor and magistrate into believing that the case against Wyniemko was much stronger than it was.

The township appealed Zatkoff's decision to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. The lawsuit was settled in September while the case was on appeal.

Last week, Zatkoff ordered lawyers in the case to appear in his courtroom in Port Huron today after the insurance carrier's lawyer asked him to dismiss the lawsuit. The lawyer refused to provide Zatkoff with the terms of the settlement on grounds that the agreement was confidential.

The Free Press filed a Freedom of Information Act request last week and obtained the settlement Monday.

Zatkoff also was given a copy of the settlement Monday, prompting him to cancel today's hearing.

In recent years, metro Detroit communities increasingly have inserted confidentiality clauses into settlement agreements, often at the behest of insurance carriers, on the grounds that confidentiality discourages litigation. It also shields officials from bad publicity.

But Michigan courts have consistently held that the public has a right to know the details of such settlements because they involve public funds.

Media organizations that sue for such information usually win and can force the municipalities to reimburse their legal fees.

Contact DAVID ASHENFELTER at 313-223-4490 or ashenf@freepress.com.

Source: Detroit Free Press  http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051129/NEWS04/511290388

Clinton Township will pay Kenneth Wyniemko, 54, imprisoned nearly nine years and released in 2003.
Kenneth Wyniemko and the judicial system

April 30, 1994: A 28-year-old Clinton Township woman is raped repeatedly by a man who has a knife and broke into her home. The rapist also steals cash. The victim cannot identify her attacker. He wore a ski mask, and she was blindfolded.

July 14, 1994: Wyniemko arrested. Appears clean-shaven in lineup with subjects who all have facial hair except for one other. Released.

July 15, 1994: Arrested. Arraigned on 15 counts of criminal sexual conduct and one count each of breaking and entering and armed robbery.

Oct. 31, 1994: Trial begins. Court-appointed attorney has little more than weekend to prepare.

Nov. 9, 1994: Found guilty. During trial, jury hears from jailhouse informant spared a life sentence for testifying that Wyniemko confessed. Victim says she's certain it was Wyniemko.

Dec. 15, 1994: Gets 40-60 years. Judge exceeds sentencing guidelines because Wyniemko doesn't show remorse.

June 17, 2003: Freed, after more than a year of work by Innocence Project at Thomas M. Cooley Law School. DNA of a still-undetermined person was found on a cigarette butt and semen-stained nylons.

September 2005: Wyniemko tentatively settles his lawsuit against Clinton Township, six months after a judge refused to dismiss it.

KIM NORTH SHINE


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