Ledura Watkins
Ledura Watkins pictured in a 2015 mugshot

A man from Michigan who spent four decades in prison because of a single hair has been freed after prosecutors agreed his 1976 murder conviction hinged on flimsy evidence.

Ledura Watkins, 61, walked out of Wayne County Jail in his home city of Detroit on Thursday (15 June) after his conviction was overturned.

“It’s really surreal… kind of unbelievable,” he told reporters. “But I’m feeling great. I expected this to happen. I didn’t think it would take 41 years.”

Watkins was aged 20 when he was found guilty of first-degree murder in the 1975 fatal shooting of teacher Yvette Ingram during a robbery at the 25-year-old’s home.

Police forensic analysts tied Watkins to the crime based on a single hair found at the scene, according to the Innocence Project at the Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School, which took up Watkins’ case and asked a court in January to set aside the conviction.

Marla Mitchell-Cichon, Innocence Project director, said hair comparison is not based on science.

“It is simply a lab analyst’s subjective opinion and has no place in our criminal justice system. This is why a state-wide review of hair comparison cases is critical,” she said.

The Wayne County prosecutor’s office agreed the evidence was flawed under the new FBI standard for hair comparison.

Watkins, who always denied his involvement, said he was looking forward to having dinner with his family – probably at a Chinese restaurant.

“It took me years to get to this point. I don’t want to touch another law book,” Watkins said.

He is the second Michigan inmate to be released in recent weeks after having a decades-old conviction thrown out.

Desmond Ricks was freed in late May after having served 25 years for the killing of a friend outside a Detroit restaurant. An analysis of two bullets taken from the victim showed they didn’t match the gun that prosecutors offered as the murder weapon at Ricks’ 1992 trial.

Ricks was aided by lawyers and students from the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan’s law school.