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Detroit church welcomes home wrongfully convicted men

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Detroit-based Kenneth Nixon had no idea that two children had died in a nearby house fire until he was arrested in May 2005 and convicted of the fire.

After 15 years and nine months and a seemingly endless struggle for justice, Nixon was released from prison and cleared of all charges on February 18.

On Sunday on the northwest side of Detroit, the United Kingdom Church and its Department of Outreach, the Ambassador Group, honored Nixon and other wrongly convicted men during their annual Welcome Home celebration.

Ambassadors Group co-founder Maxine Willis of Farmington Hills speaks to the community.

Ambassador Group co-founder Maxine Willis said it was “a bit bittersweet that we have to do this type of ceremony for men who have been wrongly convicted, deprived of their lives and deprived of their liberty”.

Pastor Terrence Devezin called the Exonerees “some of the best men this country has ever known”.

Exoneree Kevin Lackey, left, who served 22 years in prison, listens as Exoneree Marvin Cotton, who served 19 years, 7 months, 12 days in prison, speaks to the community.

Larry Darnell Smith, who was incarcerated for 27 years, and Nixon were accompanied by family, friends and other exonerated men who vowed to help them transition to life outside of prison.

“This is not a new problem, this is a problem that has been ignored,” said Marvin Cotton, who was exonerated after 19 years, seven months and 12 days. “We have all been fighting for our freedom for decades. There are a lot more innocents locked in prison right now. They can’t even prove they are innocent, but they are innocent.”

Attorney Solomon M. Radner, left, hugs Exoneree Bernard Young, who spent 28 years in prison for committing a crime he did not commit.

Western Michigan University’s Cooley Innocence Project and the Wayne County Conviction Integrity Unit helped clear up Nixon.

Nixon was convicted of attempted murder and arson in 2005 after a Molotov cocktail was thrown into a house on Charleston Street in Detroit. A 10-year-old boy and a 1-year-old girl were killed and their mother and other children were injured.

Tracy Nixon (right), the mother of exoneree Kenneth Nixon (left), tries to keep her emotions at bay while reaching out to the community as she has never given up on her son's innocence.  Kenneth spent 15 years and nine months in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Nixon said in order to survive incarcerated he had to teach himself how to forgive and let go of the negative emotions that crippled him.

“The anguish was immeasurable,” said Nixon. “But it is difficult to put into words what it feels like to be able to touch, feel and hold on to the people you love. … It is an extremely happy moment to be where I am now compared to where I was a month ago. “

Detroit City Councilor Ray McCalister Jr., left, and Church of the United Kingdom pastor Terrence Devezin, right, stand with Exoneree Larry Darnell Smith Jr., center, after receiving the Spirit of Detroit Award from Detroit City Council and a certificate of honor from the United Kingdom Church.  McCalister is a retired DPD officer and former Lt./Commander of the DPD Homicide Unit.

This is the fourth United Kingdom Church’s Welcome Home celebration. It welcomed 34 relieved men at home.

The Church also works with a variety of other organizations to provide resources and networks to those wrongly convicted.

For those still incarcerated, Nixon asked them not to give up.

“Keep fighting, keep pushing, keep trying. At some point someone will hear you, someone will listen to you,” said Nixon.

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Dusty Kennedy