Herbert Alford said he was innocent.
Not only that, he said, he had proof.
There was no way he could have killed Michael Adams at 2:56 p.m. on the 3400 block of Pleasant Grove in Lansing, Mich., because at that very moment he was eight miles away at the Lansing Airport, wrapping up a car rental transaction at Hertz. There was a receipt that would corroborate his story.
But despite numerous court orders and subpoenas throughout the trial and even years after he was convicted of second-degree murder in 2011 killing, Hertz never produced the time-stamped piece of paper.
Alford served nearly five years of 30- to 60-year sentence before the company came up with the document in 2018, definitively proving his innocence.
The receipt shows Alford’s transaction was completed at 3 p.m. Six minutes after the fatal shooting across town. As a result, his conviction was overturned and he was exonerated in Ingham County in 2020.
On Tuesday, Alford, now 47, filed a lawsuit against Hertz for failing to produce the evidence in a timely manner. Alford’s attorney, Jamie White, told NPR that it took years of court orders and subpoenas and eventually a separate trial against the car company to compel them locate the critical piece of evidence.
Alford is seeking financial compensation.
“They viciously disregarded his request for cooperation. For that reason Hertz is responsible financially for the harms he has suffered,” White said.
“If a business entity wants to participate in our community then they have a minimal responsibility to participate in processes that protect those people. You can’t take money from people and then ignore legitimate document requests that, in this case, could have saved someone’s life,” he added, noting that had Alford served the full sentence, it would have been tantamount to life in prison.
White told WLNS-TV that while he was locked up, Alford went to bed every night thinking he was never going to get out of the facility “and that takes an enormous toll on someone’s mental health.”
The company told NPR it is “deeply saddened” over Alford’s experience.
“While we were unable to find the historic rental record from 2011 when it was requested in 2015, we continued our good faith efforts to locate it,” spokesperson Lauren Luster said in an emailed statement.
“With advances in data search in the years following, we were able to locate the rental record in 2018 and promptly provided it.”
But White has a different explanation for the delay: “This is a global organization with an enormous amount of resources. … The only thing that makes sense to me is that they looked at this African American man, presumed he’d be convicted, and they didn’t have time for it,” White said.