A wrongfully convicted Michigan man who spent 25 years behind bars has been awarded $7.5 million.
Desmond Ricks, 56, spent more than two decades in prison after he was convicted of fatally shooting his friend, Gerry Bennett, 21, outside a Detroit restaurant on March 3, 1992, according to the Associated Press. Ricks would be granted a new trial and eventually have the charges dropped in 2017 after experts took a fresh look at the bullets from the crime scene.
In 2016, the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan law school pushed to have Ricks’ case reopened. As it turned out, photos of two bullets found with the victim did not match the bullets examined by defense experts in the 1992 trial, which had helped cement his second-degree murder conviction.
Ricks accused police of trying to frame him after they seized his mother’s .38-caliber firearm (which was then believed to be the murder weapon) and then allegedly swapped the bullets.
The bullets from Bennett’s body (one from his brain and one from his spine) had been left in police storage.
“It was layer upon layer of police misconduct,” said David Moran, director at the Innocence Clinic. “It was a truly egregious case.”
Following Ricks’ 2017 release from prison, he filed a $125 million civil rights lawsuit seeking compensatory and punitive damages against state and federal officials, according to the Detroit Free Press. Also named as plaintiffs were his now-adult daughters, who were 5 days old and 7 years old when Ricks was arrested.
On Tuesday, the City Council in Detroit awarded Ricks $7.5 million to settle the federal lawsuit, according to the university’s Innocence Clinic.
“I’m not greedy, I’m thankful,” Ricks told the Associated Press, adding it was “a blessing to be alive with my children and grandchildren.”
In January 2018, the state awarded Ricks $1 million in compensation – $50,000 for each year spent behind bars – the Associated Press reported.
Officials initially declined Ricks $217,000 for his first four-plus years in custody since he’d also been arrested on a parole violation for a previous crime, according to the Innocence Clinic. But that decision was reversed by the Michigan Supreme Court in 2021, and he received the full compensation.
“My most motivating factor was I didn’t want to die in there,” Ricks told the Free Press upon his release. “That was the thing that kept me going. I didn’t want to die in there, and I did everything I could to get myself to this position. I never stopped.”
According to the Associated Press, Ricks will likely have to repay the state’s award in light of the recent victory.