Prison virus deaths include man who helped wrongly convicted

DETROIT (AP) — A man who had a major role in the extraordinary exoneration of another prisoner after 45 years has died, one of 25 Michigan inmates to succumb to complications from COVID-19, authorities said.

Richard Palombo, 71, had been in poor health while housed at the Lakeland prison in Branch County, which has been swept by the coronavirus. He died Sunday at a hospital.

Palombo was serving a life sentence for a 1971 murder. But in 2010, he was granted a hearing at the Michigan parole board with the hope that he might win release because of acute health problems. During that appearance, Palombo explained his role in the fatal shooting of Greg Harris decades earlier. Then came a stunning, unsolicited admission: He said another man who was convicted with him, Richard Phillips, had no role.

“All I can tell you about Mr. Phillips is I met him on July 4, 1971. It was eight days after the murder,” Palombo told the board.

Nothing happened until 2014, when the Innocence Clinic at University of Michigan law school ordered a transcript. Phillips, who had long declared his innocence, was released in 2017.