Innocent man, Richard Phillips, spent 45 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit

Richard Philips after his release
Richard Phillips spent 45 years in jail for a murder he didn’t commit. Pic credit: People Magazine Investigates / Investigation Discovery

In 1971 Greg Harris was murdered in Detroit City. Based on the testimony of the victim’s brother-in-law, police arrested Richard Phillips. The brother-law told police that he had met Philips and another man, Richard Polombo, to discuss Harris’s murder.

In October 1972, Palombo and Phillips were found guilty of murder and sentenced to serve lengthy prison sentences. There was just one terrible problem; 27-year-old Phillips was completely innocent.

For forty years, Phillips tried and failed to get his conviction overturned. He steadfastly maintained his innocence this whole time. In 2014, on being granted a new trial, prosecutors offered him a plea deal: admit to the crime and get out of jail faster, Phillips refused the offer. He argued that he would rather die in prison than confess to a crime he didn’t commit.

It was back in 2010 when authorities began to doubt they had the right man; Phillips’s co-defendant Polombo admitted that he hadn’t even known Philips at the time. Polombo told a parole board that the murderer was Fred Mitchell, the man who had been the prosecutor’s key witness, the victim’s brother-in-law. Polombo accused Mitchell of attempting to frame Phillips from the beginning.

Law students from the University of Michigan took up the case, determined to see Phillips a free man, their goal was achieved in 2017 when he received a full exoneration. He was 73-years-old on his release but has vowed to get his life back.

Despite the 45-year long ordeal, Phillips never gave up hope; he did what he could to maintain his sanity, including painting with watercolors. He has since carved out a career for himself as an artist.

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He says that his priority on release was to make contact with his two children who were 2 and 4 years old when he last had contact with them.

Watch the case on People Magazine Investigates at 8/7c on Investigation Discovery.

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