A Michigan man has sued Hertz, the car rental company, saying it failed to produce a receipt that would have proved his innocence before he was convicted of a 2011 murder.
The man, Herbert Alford, was convicted in 2016 of second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Michael Adams, 23, in Lansing, Mich. Mr. Alford insisted that he was innocent and that a car rental receipt from the Hertz location at the Lansing airport would prove that he was nowhere near the scene of the murder when it occurred in October 2011.
The company produced the receipt in 2018, and the charges against Mr. Alford were dropped last year.
Mr. Alford, 47, filed the lawsuit against Hertz on Tuesday in circuit court in Ingham County, Mich. It says that Hertz’s “actions, inactions and negligence” had helped keep Mr. Alford in jail and then prison for a total of five years. The lawsuit is seeking unspecified monetary damages.
“This man wasn’t asking to produce all their records for six months,” Mr. Alford’s lawyer, Jamie White, said of Hertz. “He just wanted his receipt.”
In a statement, Hertz said the company was “deeply saddened” about what had happened to Mr. Alford.
“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,” a Hertz spokeswoman, Lauren Luster, said in an email on Thursday. “With advances in data search in the years following, we were able to locate the rental record in 2018 and promptly provided it.”
Mr. Adams was fatally shot in Lansing on Oct. 18, 2011, during a drug-related dispute, according to the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office.
Three days later, the office issued a warrant and charged Mr. Alford with second-degree murder. Mr. Alford has said that he was renting a car from Hertz at Capital Region International Airport in Lansing around the time of the shooting. Depending on traffic and the route taken, the airport is about 8 miles, or around 20 minutes by car, from the scene where Mr. Adams was shot, Mr. White said.
“It’s too far away,’’ he said. “There is no way he could have committed this crime.”
A jury found Mr. Alford guilty of second-degree murder and two weapons charges in December 2016. He was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison, Mr. White said.
Mr. Alford appealed, and in August 2018, a judge granted his motion for a new trial based on the evidence received from Hertz.
Mr. White said he had sought through multiple subpoenas and court orders over three years to get Hertz to produce the receipt. If it had been provided earlier, he said, Mr. Alford would not have been convicted and he would not have served five years in jail and prison.
The Ingham County prosecutor, Carol A. Siemon, said that the evidence from Hertz, which had not been available in the initial trial, was a factor when her office said in December that the charges against Mr. Alford were being dropped and that he would not face a second trial. The announcement was reported by the Lansing State Journal.
“We do not believe that we can prove Mr. Alford’s legal culpability by the ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard,” Ms. Siemon said in a statement. “Therefore, the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office is dismissing the case against Herbert Alford.”
Michael S. Cheltenham, the chief assistant prosecutor in Ingham County, said on Thursday that “the Hertz evidence was a substantial factor in our decision not to re-try Mr. Alford.”
He added that the police and prosecutors “have never said that the Hertz time-stamp document conclusively proves that someone other than Mr. Alford shot Michael Adams.” He said the case remained open.
Mr. White said the lawsuit against Hertz may be slowed because of the company’s bankruptcy reorganization.
“We can’t put a dollar amount on years of your life and your reputation,” he said.