After 36 Years in Prison, Michigan Man Maintains His Innocence and Hopes to Be Granted Clemency

Tracy Stengel
Fred Freeman aka Temujin Kensu.Photo bypermission of Paula Kensu.

In 2020, twenty people were exonerated in Michigan. That was the second highest number of wrongful conviction exonerations in the country. Illinois had 22. That year, 129 people were exonerated in the United States.

Many people in Michigan — and across the country — are waiting for Governor Whitmer to grant executive clemency to Fred Freeman aka Temujin Kensu. His wife, Paula Kensu, eight innocence organizations, and thousands of supporters believe an innocent man has been imprisoned for 36 years.

To make matters worse, he is suffering from numerous serious health issues, including a brain tumor.

Paula Kensu has been passionately fighting for her husband’s freedom. “Wrongful convictions can happen to anybody. They destroy families and crush souls,” Paula told me.

In the fall of 1986, 20-year-old Scott Macklem was killed with a 12-gauge shotgun in the parking lot of St. Clair Community College in Port Huron, Michigan.

The crime scene produced little evidence. There was an empty box of shotgun shells that had fingerprints, but no murder weapon.

The fingerprints did not match Fred Freeman, yet he was arrested nine days after the murder. In 1987, Fred, who later converted to Buddhism and changed his name to Temujin Kensu, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. No physical evidence connected Temujin to the scene or the crime.

Six months before Scott died, his girlfriend, Crystal Merrill, dated Temujin briefly in May/June of 1986. By July, Temujin had moved from Port Huron to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and settled near Escanaba.

Temujin had a new girlfriend, Michelle Woodworth.

Scott and Crystal reunited, and at the time of the shooting, were engaged and expecting their first child.

When Scott was gunned down around 9 AM on November 5, 1986, Temujin and Michelle claim to have been asleep. Temujin hadn’t gotten home until 2 AM, after his car broke down at the Elias Brothers restaurant in Escanaba.
Temujin and Paula Kensu.Photo bypermission of Paula Kensu.

By noon, Temujin, skilled at martial arts, and Michelle were at Chao’s Tae Kwon Do studio in Escanaba. Afterward, they visited several shops and chatted with various friends. That afternoon, Temujin’s car broke down again at a Kmart parking lot.

Although Temujin had been living over 400 miles from Port Huron for four months and hadn’t had contact with Crystal since their short romance fizzled, Crystal told police she believed Temujin had killed her fiancée, Scott.

During the trial in 1987, nine alibi witnesses testified Temujin had been in Escanaba on the day of the crime.

Two witnesses came forward from the community college, but neither actually saw the shooting. One told police he saw a white male around 25-years-old driving away from the scene. He was hypnotized by one of his professors in hopes of improving his memory of the incident. Ultimately, he picked Temujin out of a photo lineup.

The second witness testified he’d seen a man loitering in a parking lot an hour before the shooting. He picked Temujin out of a photo lineup two days later.

Temujin’s current lawyers from Michigan Innocence Clinic of the University of Michigan Law School claim there were several suggestive factors that made Temujin’s photo stand out from the others unbeknownst to the judge, jurors, and defense. The prosecutor used cropped and sanitized versions of the photos during the trial.

Temujin’s cellmate, Philip Joplin, testified Temujin confessed to shooting Scott and swore he wasn’t receiving any reward in exchange for his testimony. Seven years later, he told television reporter, Bill Proctor, he lied in court in exchange for a shortened prison term.

Crystal, Scott’s fiancée and Temujin’s ex-girlfriend, testified Temujin was a “psychological terrorist” and was involved in a “deadly secret ninja organization.” Years later, Judge Douglas Shapiro of the Michigan Court of Appeals said this testimony shouldn’t have been allowed and was likely prejudicial.

The State called Robert Evans to the stand, the prosecutor’s personal charter pilot. He hypothesized it was possible for Temujin to charter a flight from Escanaba to Port Huron to commit the crime and be back in Escanaba by noon. No flight records or evidence of any kind was presented to prove that theory.

Michelle Woodworth, who has made sworn affidavits and passed a polygraph, continues to maintain she and Temujin were at their Escanaba home at 9 AM on November 5, 1986, when Scott Macklem was killed. Michelle was never subpoenaed to testify.

Temujin’s court-appointed defense attorney, David Dean, by his own admission and according to public records, was addicted to cocaine throughout the trial. He was disbarred in 2001 and is now deceased.

Do you believe Temujin’s claim of innocence? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments!

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Tracy explores the world with a positive eye, an open heart, and a sprinkling of humor. Without laughter, she would be lost.

Onsted, MI

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