An Atlanta woman was released from prison this week after spending several years behind bars for a murder she did not commit.
Michelle Morrison was convicted on a felony murder charge in 2009 along with aggravated assault, criminal attempt to commit armed robbery, and conspiracy over the 2007 shooting death of Keith Alan Brown. But she did not fire the weapon that took the man’s life – and she never set foot in the house where the shooting occurred.
Morrison, then an alleged sex worker enlisted as part of an armed robbery conspiracy, drove what would have been the getaway car. But the robbery quickly went awry. And the actual, admitted killer, who fired blindly into the apartment where Brown was believed to have at least $40,000 in his possession, was later picked up by someone else.
Morrison drove away when she heard the sirens.
When she was eventually arrested, Morrison told police she thought she was just driving a friend to help collect a debt.
According to Atlanta-based NBC affiliate WXIA, citing her current attorney, the would-be getaway driver was offered a plea deal for five years in prison on an attempted armed robbery charge but she did not understand the offer and instead went to trial where she and a co-defendant were convicted of numerous, harsher crimes.
Morrison was sentenced to life in prison plus five years.
She and her co-defendant, Jeff Dulcio, have been fighting their convictions – with little success – for several years on appeal.
Janis Mann, a criminal defense attorney, tried a different tactic: she would see if the reform prosecutor who represents Atlanta would take a look at the case, according to the Human and Civil Rights Coalition of Georgia.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, a Democrat perhaps best known for her office’s investigation into the efforts of Donald Trump and others to overturn the Peach State’s 2020 presidential election outcome, agreed to give the case another look. The DA’s Conviction Integrity Unit would go on to take Morrison’s side and they agreed her sentence was unjust.
Morrison was re-sentenced in July 2021 on one charge of attempted armed robbery; basically, the original plea offer that was turned down. But by then, of course, she had already spent well over five years behind bars. On Monday, she was finally released on parole.
“It feels great, it feels amazing,” Morrison said in comments reported by WXIA. “Words can’t even explain how I feel. I’m just grateful. I made it through, came out strong and I am ready to hit the world.”
The TV station reports that the formerly incarcerated woman already has a job and is enrolled in a master’s degree program.
“Coming to prison, I needed to learn to love me,” she said. “To know my value and self worth. To make better choices. I’m unstoppable now.”
The long fight for Morrison’s release was an effort led by her mother, Cynthia Holland.
For over a decade, Holland organized and protested for the creation of a conviction integrity unit. Willis was elected in 2020 and created the unit soon after she was inaugurated in January 2021.
“This became bigger than Michelle,” her mother said. “I turned my pain in to passion, and my passion in to purpose. Mass incarceration is a huge problem in Georgia, and we have to work together to fix it.”
Over the years, Holland helped multiple families like her own start the process of getting their loved ones released.
“To have that conviction overturned, it’s huge, that’s Georgia history,” Mann said.
[image via screengrab/WXIA]
Editor’s note: this article has been amended for clarity.
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