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In 250th DNA Exoneration Nationwide, New York Man Is Proven Innocent 33 Years After Wrongful Conviction for Rape

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Innocence Project releases report detailing all 250 exoneration cases and outlining causes of wrongful convictions

(NEW YORK, NY; Thursday, February 4, 2010) - A Rochester, New York, man who was wrongfully convicted of rape 33 years ago is being exonerated with DNA testing today, in what the Innocence Project said is the 250th DNA exoneration in the United States.

Freddie Peacock, 60, was convicted of rape in December 1976. He was sentenced to up to 20 years in prison and released on parole in 1982. He tried to remain on parole because he thought he would never be able to clear his name if he was released from state supervision. For the last 28 years since he left prison, he has fought to prove his innocence even though he was no longer incarcerated.

"Freddie Peacock was released many years ago, but he hasn't been truly free because the cloud of this conviction hung over him," said Olga Akselrod, the Innocence Project Staff Attorney handling the case. The Innocence Project is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. "Nobody in the U.S. who was exonerated with DNA testing has spent this many years outside of prison fighting to prove his innocence. Today, the decades-long nightmare that Freddie Peacock and his family have endured is finally over."

The Innocence Project released a report today, "250 Exonerated: Too Many Wrongfully Convicted," which details each one of the exoneration cases and includes statistics on common causes of the wrongful convictions.

Among the report's key findings:

• There have been DNA exonerations in 33 states and the District of Columbia.

• The top three states for DNA exonerations are New York (with 25), Texas (with 40) and Illinois (with 29).

• 76% of the wrongful convictions involved eyewitness misidentification.

• 50% involved unvalidated or improper forensic science.

• 27% relied on a false confession, admission or guilty plea.

• 70% of the 250 people exonerated are people of color (60% are black; nearly 9% are Latino; 29% are white).

"These DNA exonerations show us how the criminal justice system is flawed and how it can be fixed," said Peter Neufeld, Co-Director of the Innocence Project. "DNA exonerations have helped transform the criminal justice system, leading to reforms in virtually every state, but there is still a great deal of work to do to make our system of justice more fair, accurate and reliable."

The first DNA exoneration in the United States was in 1989. "We never imagined when we started the Innocence Project in 1992 that so many people around the country would be freed with DNA testing," Neufeld said. "It's important to remember that DNA exonerations do not solve the problem - they provide scientific proof of its existence, and they illuminate the need for reform."

In the last several years, state and federal policymakers have begun using the lessons of DNA exonerations to prevent wrongful convictions from happening in the first place. For example:

• Several dozen states and cities have reformed how lineups and other eyewitness identification procedures are conducted to reduce the possibility of errors. Legislation is pending in nine states plus Washington, DC, to improve eyewitness procedures.

• Unvalidated or improper forensic science (which includes everything from forensic disciplines that lack a scientific basis to outright misconduct) was the focus of an unprecedented National Academy of Sciences report in 2009 that called on Congress to create the federal capacity to stimulate scientific research, set standards and ensure that standards are being followed nationwide. Federal legislation to implement those recommendations will be introduced in the months ahead.

• More than 500 jurisdictions now record interrogations, which can help prevent false confessions or admissions. Seventeen states and Washington, DC, mandate the recording of at least some interrogations, and legislation to require or improve such recording is pending in 13 states.

• Approximately half of the states in the country have laws requiring the preservation of evidence in criminal cases, which can exonerate innocent people and solve "cold" cases.  Legislation is pending in four states to improve or enact such laws.

• 47 states have passed laws granting access to post-conviction DNA testing, and efforts are underway to pass such laws in the remaining states and improve existing laws.

• In 27 states and Washington, D.C., laws provide some level of compensation to people who were wrongfully convicted; legislation is pending in seven states to create or improve compensation laws.

Learn more about reforms that have been enacted at least in part because of the DNA exonerations - and legislation that is pending in states nationwide.

Get additional background on Freddie Peacock's case, the 250th DNA Exoneration in the U.S.