Overcome with emotion during a press conference, Mack Howell, left, is comforted by his nephew, Dwayne Howell, Wednesday, March 29, at the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office in Mount Clemens.

Overcome with emotion during a press conference, Mack Howell, left, is comforted by his nephew, Dwayne Howell, Wednesday, March 29, at the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office in Mount Clemens.

Photo by Brian Wells

Macomb County prosecutor’s Conviction Integrity Unit sees first overturned conviction

‘I’m just happy to be out’

By: Brian Wells | Roseville-Eastpointe Eastsider | Published April 1, 2023


EASTPOINTE — On Wednesday, March 29, Mack Howell stood at a podium in the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office in Mount Clemens surrounded by family, members of the media, attorneys and several others.

He tapped his hands on the sides of the podium, answering questions softly, occasionally biting his lip to keep from becoming emotional. After several questions, he couldn’t contain his emotions anymore, and his family came to comfort him as he dabbed at tears with a tissue.

Howell was recently exonerated of a crime in Eastpointe in 2014. He was released March 20, seven years into a sentence of 25-50 years in prison for armed robbery.

“When he walked out of the correctional facility (March 20), Mr. Howell immediately said, ‘Is this really happening?’” said David Moran, Howell’s attorney from the University of Michigan’s Innocence Clinic.

Howell’s nephew, Dwayne Howell, said all his uncle wanted to do was see his family.

“We were really excited,” Dwayne Howell said. “We offered him everything that we can offer. We tried to get him to eat meals and he didn’t want to eat; he just wanted to come home and see the rest of the family. … We always believed his innocence.”

“I’m just happy to be out,” Mack Howell said.


How Howell’s charges were determined
On April 3, 2014, the 7-Eleven store located at 18700 10 Mile Road in Eastpointe was robbed by a man wearing all black clothing, including a cap and mask that concealed his face, leaving only his eyes visible. The robber was reported to be approximately 6 feet tall with a medium build. There were no injuries during the robbery, and while no weapon was observed, the robber allegedly threatened to shoot the clerk multiple times, according to a press release from the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office.

The robber was then seen running from the store, according to the release.

After the robbery, a tracking dog reportedly arrived at the scene but wasn’t given anything that had been touched by the perpetrator. The dog started its track outside the store and detected a scent on a paper bag with a beer can in it near a trash bin close to the entrance of the store.

According to the press release, the robber was never observed on any security cameras or in person with a paper bag or beer can. However, the can was processed and a fingerprint was recovered from it.

“The beer can had Howell’s DNA on it and DNA of an unknown person,” the press release states. “Due to Howell being the only forensic donor identified, he became the suspect.”

A photo identification process occurred several months after the robbery, and even though Gail Pamukov, assistant county prosecutor and head of the county’s Conviction Integrity Unit, said the description didn’t match, Howell was charged.

“It just didn’t stack up,” Pamukov said.


The ‘Hail Mary’ of the legal system
In 2018, the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School began reinvestigating the case. In January of 2022, Macomb County Prosecutor Peter Lucido formed the county’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which Pamukov leads. In April of that year, the unit took on Howell’s case as its first.

Through her investigation, Pamukov found discrepancies: The initial suspect was taller and had a thinner build, and he was reportedly seen running from the scene. However, due to medical conditions, Howell was using a cane at the time of the incident.

It wasn’t until the case had been reviewed for several months that Pamukov and those working with her learned of a serial armed robbery suspect who fit the description of the suspect in the robbery for which Howell was convicted. The serial armed robbery suspect was charged with robbing five 7-Eleven stores in the area at around the time of the incident in Eastpointe.

The serial armed robbery suspect was arrested and pleaded guilty on Aug. 20, 2014. This information was not presented during Howell’s jury trial, which didn’t take place until 2016, Pamukov said.

“Between the confession on Aug. 20 (of 2014) of the serial armed robber and the day Mr. Howell started trial in 2016, the serial armed robber’s case was completely closed out,” Pamukov said. “Confession, plea, sentencing. So that case was done and none of that was presented to the jury.”

After 11 months of review, Howell’s conviction was overturned. In a social media post, the Michigan Innocence Clinic said Howell’s exoneration was the program’s 41st in its 14-year history. Wolfgang Mueller, Howell’s civil attorney, said his client plans to file for compensation of more than $320,000 under Michigan’s Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act.

Mueller added that a civil lawsuit down the road is being investigated.

The county’s Conviction Integrity Unit is one of several such units in the state, with one being operated by the Michigan Department of Attorney General.

Since its inception, Pamukov said, the Conviction Integrity Unit has received more than 50 applications from prisoners asking for their cases to be reviewed.

“These units are the Hail Mary of the criminal justice system, because people come to these units when basically everything else has failed,” Pamukov said.

At the March 29 press conference, Lucido said the serial armed robber had been charged for the other incidents and he was believed to be out of prison now. Lucido said it was unclear if he was going to face further charges.

The Eastpointe Police Department could not be reached for comment. Richard Albright, the city’s attorney, deferred comment to Lucido