The case against Michael Clark was purely circumstantial and based on informant testimony from a jailhouse snitch, cocaine addict, probation violator, and six-time felon on temporary release from California state prison named Leon Walter Stackhouse. This man's testimony, along with a number of mis-steps and oversights by Mike's defense team, led to a wrongful conviction and a mandatory sentence of life without parole. This loving husband and father was taken from his family, based on nothing but the story concocted by an overzealous prosecutor and a detective who was anxious to make a name for himself by "solving" a cold case. Although there are a number of "alternate suspects" in this case, they were largely ignored as the police had tunnel vision for Mike.
The 35C and Why It's Important
A 35C is also known as post conviction relief. In this phase of an appeal, we will finally be allowed to bring up the things that were egregiously passed over in the original trial, and additionally we can file for ineffective assistance of council. In our naïveté, we trusted in the lawyer who was appointed by the state to defend Mike. We trusted in the legal system to do what it is supposed to do and protect innocent people. Both of these things were mistakes, because our legal system is flawed, and innocent people are wrongly convicted every day.
Hindsight is 20/20, and if we could go back in time and re-do the original trial we would do it differently. First and foremost, we would not trust that our lawyer was going to do everything in her power to make sure that Mike was not convicted. There are many things that we have discovered about the trial that would make anyone doubt Mike's guilt, and we now have to opportunity to get those things out in the open. Mike deserves a fair trial, and the 35C is an opportunity to go back over every aspect of this case from the original trial to the appeal and to find the flaws. It is a chance to bring up evidence that was excluded, and to focus on what is real, and that is that fact that Mike did not commit this crime, and there is no evidence that says that he did. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that says that he did not.
Appeals & Options
Going through this ordeal has taught me many things about our legal system, and one is that people are not really "innocent until proven guilty." That is simply not the way it works. In fact, the last thing that the 12 jurors were instructed by the judge before they voted to convict my husband of a crime that he didn't commit, was, "in your considerations, please remember, that circumstantial evidence holds as much weight as any other kind of evidence." In other words, there doesn't really need to be any evidence to convict someone of a crime, as long as someone can make up a convincing story to say that they did it.
The first thing we did when Mike was convicted was to start working on the appeal. Come to find out that when you file an appeal, you are not really appealing your case. An appeal is simply a long a drawn out process to analyze the legalities of the original case to see if the judge broke any rules during the proceedings. Anything that has to do with actual innocence must wait until this process is complete. Our appeal took 5 years, and as we suspected, it was denied. We knew from the start that it had been a long shot.
After the appeal was denied, we moved our case to the Colorado Supreme Court. However, the rules were no different, and once again this request was denied.
Now, we have the opportunity to delve into the real reasons that an innocent man was sent to prison for the rest of his life. We are finally allowed to bring up the things that have plagued us for the last 5 years. Things like the fact that the lead investigator for the prosecution withheld evidence, the strong evidence that points to alternate suspects, and the many mistakes that Mike's court appointed public defender made in the case. We feel energized and excited to be able to finally point out the negligence in this case, but in order to do so, we need a lawyer. This phase is called a 35C motion, and in this kind of a case the average cost of an attorney is $100,000. We could give up and say that this amount is so intimidating that we cannot even fathom how to move forward, or we could be creative and make it work so that Mike can finally be exonerated and come home to his family. People who are familiar with this case, including lawyers we have spoken with, are confident that with the right representation, Mike will come home!
Since Mike was convicted, we have been waiting for our chance to apply to an innocence project. These organizations can help in a myriad of ways including publicity, providing legal council, investigating, and providing direction. However, we were dismayed to find out that innocence projects will not consider accepting a case until all appeals have been denied. For us, that process took more than 5 years.
Now Mike is applying for a number of innocence projects including the Korey Wise innocence project out of Boulder and the Colorado Innocence project Being accepted by one of these organizations would be an amazing feat, but we cannot wait for this acceptance to move forward. To put it bluntly, the clock is ticking. Mike has just over a year to file his 35 motion, and we need to find representation long before this so that the lawyer we hire has time to investigate and learn about this case.
Our guiding light in this process has been Dick Blanchard with the Advocates 4 Wrongly Convicted.This is not an innocence project, but an organization that is dedicated to helping individuals who have been wrongly convicted. After reviewing Mike's case closely, they were convinced of his innocence, and accepted Mike as a client. For the last 5 years, they have helped to provide direction and helped me and Mike to stay afloat and to understand what we needed to do. They are still working with us, serving as our "life vest" in a turbulent sea of uncertainty.
Learn About Michael's Case
The Murder of Marty Grisham
On the evening of November 1, 1994 Marty Grisham was shot four times as he opened the door to his condo. There were no witnesses, no DNA evidence, no gun found to identify the weapon used to commit the crime. No one was charged in the crime
Reopening the Case
The case remained largely inactive until it was assigned to Detective Chuck Heidel, of Boulder’s cold case unit, in October 2009. On January 5, 2012, more than seventeen years after Marty Grisham’s death, a warrant was issued for Michael Clark's arrest.