Big Rapids defense attorney Jim Samuels was part of the team that fought for Caminata’s freedom. He said police and prosecutors in the case simply made a mistake. “The bottom line is they just used bad science to claim that this was an arson fire, when in fact, it was an accidental chimney fire. And once we got our experts involved and looking at it very closely, it became clear that’s exactly what it was. It was a chimney fire and Victor Caminata should not have been convicted.”
Samuels has been working with Innocence programs for more than a decade. He said this kind of initiative is important.He says the Department of Justice has estimated that at least 12% of people who are incarcerated may have been wrongfully convicted. “What’s happening is as science improves, we’re realizing that some of the techniques that were used in the past were faulty and that there were a lot of wrongful convictions as a result of that. Bite mark evidence for example, arson investigations, those kinds of things.”
Samuels said even a false conviction can affect a person years later,”It’s really hard to explain to an employer why you have a five-year gap in your resume. And then when you tell an employer, a potential employer that you were in prison for five years, but you were innocent and you were ultimately exonerated, that still is a non-starter for a lot of folks. So it’s really difficult for people, even the exonerated, to get jobs after that.”
Samuels said since his exoneration, Victor Caminata is back living in Wexford county. He says he’s delighted to have his name cleared. And he has found a job.