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From the moment Herbert Alford became a suspect in a 2011 murder, he insisted his alibi was solid.
Alford told authorities he couldn’t have shot Michael Adams in a Lansing, Michigan parking lot because he had been almost 20 minutes away at the time of the fatal shooting, renting a car at a Hertz location.
Alford’s attorneys requested a copy of the rental car receipt from the company in 2015, shortly after he had been arrested and charged with the crime — but it would take three years before Hertz ever produced the receipt. In the meantime, Alford was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to prison, according to court records obtained by Oxygen.com.
When the receipt was finally produced in 2018, a judge ordered Alford be given a new trial; he was exonerated in December, but not before spending nearly five years behind bars for the crime he has always insisted he didn’t commit.
Now Alford is suing Hertz for failing to produce the receipt in a timely manner, alleging that because of their lack of action, he was forced to unnecessarily spend more than 1,700 days behind bars.
“If you are going to come into our community and take funds from our citizens you have to be a responsible corporate citizen and this is just beyond the pale of irresponsible,” Alford’s attorney Jamie White told Oxygen.com, calling the lengthy delay to produce the receipt a “knife in the back of Mr. Alford.”
Adams was killed at approximately 2:54 p.m. on October 18, 2011, in a parking lot on the southside of Lansing.
According to White, of White Law PLLC, the murder was captured by surveillance cameras placed in the area by police due to its high crime rate. The images showed a Black male with dreadlocks shooting Adams — but no other distinguishable features of the shooter could be detected.
For reasons White said are still unclear, Alford’s name “just kind of became floated out there, and it kind of steamrolled from there.”
Two eyewitnesses had seen the victim “being chased and gunned down” on the afternoon of the shooting, according to the judge’s ruling to issue a new trial.
Only one of the eyewitnesses pointed to Alford as the shooter — and the identification came only after she had seen a news broadcast that showed a picture of Alford, the court documents state.
Gilbert Bailey, another “key witness” in the case, according to White, is the son of a woman Alford was dating at the time. He told authorities Alford had been involved in the crime in exchange for a reduced sentence in his own series of charges.
“Following a raid of his house, Bailey negotiated an agreement with the prosecution to testify against the defendant in exchange for a lesser charge,” Judge Clinton Canady III wrote.
White said there was no physical evidence linking Alford to the crime and that his client consistently maintained he had not been at the crime scene during the shooting.
“The first words out of his mouth were ‘I did not do this. I was at the airport at Hertz. Please verify it,’ and that was all he would say,” White said.
Beginning in 2015, multiple subpoenas were issued to the Hertz Corporation to produce a copy of the rental car receipt. White said the subpoenas were repeatedly ignored and the company also failed to appear in court in 2016, despite an order from Canady.
“There was just no response at all,” White said. “We literally begged the court to work with us to try to produce these things.”
But after multiple attempts to reach the company, White said the case had to proceed without the document. Alford was convicted of second-degree murder, possession of a firearm by a felon, and a felony firearm charge in December 2016.
He was sentenced to a minimum of 365 months to a maximum of 730 months in prison.
White said the appeal process began immediately and again, authorities tried to obtain the receipt from Hertz.
The company provided the receipt in 2018, which showed that Alford’s credit card had been swiped at the rental car company at the airport — which is approximately 8 miles from the crime scene — at 3 p.m., just six minutes after White said Adams had been killed.
White said his team hired private investigators to make the drive between the two locations multiple times and the drivers were never able to get to the location in under 18 minutes.
“It just physically was impossible for him to have committed this act,” White said.
After the discovery of the receipt, Canady issued a new trial in March 2018 after determining that Alford was “deprived of presenting an alibi defense because he did not have access to the potentially exculpatory evidence because the evidence was not discovered at the time of trial.”
In December, Ingham County Prosecuting Attorney Carol Siemon announced prosecutors did not plan to retry the case and dismissed the charges against Alford, noting the discovery of the rental car receipt as a key factor in the decision.
“We do not believe that we can prove Mr. Alford’s legal culpability by the ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard,” she said. “Therefore, the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office is dismissing the case against Herbert Alford.”
White also referred to the receipt as “everything” in terms of establishing his client’s innocence.
“If you weren’t there, you weren’t there, and it was consistent with his position,” he said.
In a statement to Oxygen.com, Hertz said they provided the receipt after technological advances allowed them to access it.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of Mr. 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. With advances in data search in the years following, we were able to locate the rental record in 2018 and promptly provided it,” a company spokesperson said. “We take all requests for information pertaining to legal cases seriously.”
But White called the company’s explanation “the most nonsensical thing on earth” and said he looks forward to challenging the explanation as the suit against the company proceeds.
“We were not asking Hertz to shut down their operations and pull records for a year and create resource issues. This was their customer. We just wanted his receipt,” White said.
According to White, Alford spent four and a half years behind bars and an additional 10 months of court-ordered restrictions after being released from prison while the prosecutors tried to determine whether to retry the case.
While White said it’s “going to be hard to put a number” on the damages caused to his client as a result of the delay in providing the receipt, Alford also said he hopes the lawsuit serves as a warning to other companies.
“Mr. Alford is hoping we can send a message to other corporate citizens,” he said. “If you are going to be in our community, and you are going to take money from us, you are not going to treat us as second-class citizens."
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