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City writes $1 million check to magazine salesman accused of murder

Michael Lee had the words “Not Guilty” tattooed across his back while he was in jail. The work was done by several inmates with sharpened staples and ink made from Vaseline soot.
Eric Williams
Michael Lee had the words “Not Guilty” tattooed across his back while he was in jail. The work was done by several inmates with sharpened staples and ink made from Vaseline soot.
Michael Lee wasn't sure that he would ever get out of jail. He knew he hadn't killed Tak and Pung Sil Yi. But everyone in lockup says they’re innocent.

In fact, Lee says he couldn't believe he was imprisoned, period. Back when he was 22, he'd never been in trouble, he says, “so I didn't know stuff like this existedpeople just locking you up because they feel like it."

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City settles for $1 million with ex-salesman accused of murder

Last night, I sat down with Michael Lee, one of two door-to-door salesmen accused of a murder that happened in late 2007. An elderly couple in the Northeast Heights, Tak and Pung Sil Yi, were found dead in their home.

Lee and fellow salesman Travis Rowley spent about 15 months in the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center. In July 2008, DNA evidence from another murder linked Clifton Bloomfield to the 2007 crime scene. Eventually, Bloomfield confessed.

According to a civil suit filed by Lee, hundreds of physical samples were taken from the Yi crime scene, and after testing, no DNA from Lee or Rowley was found on the items. Charges were dropped against Lee and Rowley in March 2009, and they were released from prison.

Lee’s civil suit against the city was settled today for $950,000. The suit alleges that police should have known early on that Lee and Rowley couldn’t have been at the Yi’s house when the murder took placethat their alibis were “ironclad.” A shoddy investigation and a coerced confession from Rowley landed the men behind bars, according to the lawsuit.

Lee will donate a chunk of his money to the Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to freeing through DNA testing people who’ve been wrongfully convicted. “I hope nobody else has to find out what it feels like to be the most hated man in the state,” Lee said.

Read the Alibi’s interview in this week’s edition on stands Wednesday and Thursday.

V.19 No.10 | 3/11/2010
From the   Alibi’s   March 27, 2003 cover
Signeli Agnew

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