April 15, 2008
Amber Hunt- Detroit Free Press Detroit, MI
A man who confessed to kidnapping and raping a Macomb County woman will be released after spending 12 years in prison because DNA evidence collected at the scene has exonerated him, the county prosecutor’s office announced today.
Nathaniel Hatchett spent nearly 12 years in prison – from age 17 – on three charges of first-degree criminal sexual assault, armed robbery and kidnapping in the rape and abduction of a woman. Hatchett was arrested driving the woman’s car three days after the attack.
He confessed to police, officials said, and during the trial, the victim positively identified Hatchett.
But Hatchett, through the Cooley Innocence Project, filed a motion for a new trial based on recent DNA testing.
The tests showed that samples found on the victim didn’t match Hatchett’s DNA.Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith dismissed the charges rather than agree to a retrial.
“We went back in and did a full investigation,” Smith said. “We could have fought for a new trial, but our job is to seek justice. It was served today.”
Smith took office in 2005. The case, filed under former Prosecutor Carl Marlinga, was handled by former Assistant Prosecutor Eric Kaiser, who quit in 2004.
Hatchett was convicted in a bench trial, not a jury trial, meaning only the judge made the decision he was guilty.
Circuit Judge James Biernat today agreed to dismiss the charges. Hatchett was present but did not speak.
The Innocence Project is run through the Thomas M. Cooley Law School and is credited with freeing 150 prisoners since 2001. The project takes on between 6-10 cases a term and focuses on DNA evidence to exonerate wrongfully convicted people.
In July 2003, Kenneth Wyniemko, another Macomb County man, was released from prison after wrongfully serving nine years in prison for a rape that DNA showed he didn’t commit.