In Texas, Blaming the System
Michael Morton was freed last month after serving 25 years in Texas prisons for a murder he didn’t commit.
After the Innocence Project deposed the lead prosecutor and others involved in the original prosecution, the prosecutor (who is now a judge) held a press conference where he apologized, saying the criminal justice system failed Morton, the victim and the community.
But an editorial in the Austin American-Statesman argues that the system didn’t fail, the “people who are the system” failed.
When Prosecutors Fight DNA Results
The New York Times Magazine reported last weekend on cases across the country in which prosecutors refuse to overturn convictions after DNA tests point strongly to innocence.
Fighting for Freedom in Missouri
Two Missouri Congressman have called on the state’s Attorney General to review the case of Innocence Project client George Allen, Jr. (above), who has served 29 years in prison for a murder DNA now proves he didn’t commit. Read more.
Texas Execution Stayed
Texas’ highest criminal court this month stayed an impending execution date for Hank Skinner, who is seeking DNA tests on evidence that could prove his innocence.
Thousands of Innocence Project supporters spoke up for Skinner by calling on prosecutors to grant DNA tests. Stay tuned to the Innocence Blog for updates on the case.
What You’re Saying
A roundup of some of the great conversations happening on social networks this month.
@Hcammock, via Twitter, on the release of Michael Saunders and Harold Richardson in Chicago: “Once again we have proven that some aspects of the justice have failed us. Thanks to Innocence Project. Keep it up.”
@lawyer_chella, via Twitter: “Trying very hard but I can’t see any downside for anybody, in allowing DNA testing for a man currently sentenced to death.”
We asked last week on Facebook: “What do you think states should do to support the recently exonerated?” - See what 100 people had to say and add your response.
After Almost Two Decades, Chicago Men Are Finally Free
Nine men, wrongfully convicted as teenagers in Chicago, have been waiting almost two decades for justice. Their day in court finally came this month.
The nine men were convicted in two separate but similar murder cases in the early 1990s, known as the Englewood Four and the Dixmoor Five. DNA proves them all innocent, but they have been fighting for months for complete exoneration. Three of the five Dixmoor men were finally exonerated on November 3, and the remaining two are expected to be cleared soon. A judge overturned the convictions of the Englewood Four on November 16, but Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has refused to dismiss the charges against them.
Join us in calling on Alvarez to dismiss the charges against the Englewood Four.
In the Dixmoor cases, five teenagers were wrongfully convicted of killing a 14-year-old girl in 1991. The central evidence in the case was confessions from three of them, which they have since recanted. In March of this year, DNA tests linked evidence recovered from the victim to a local man with a lengthy record including sexual assault and armed robbery convictions.
In the Englewood cases, a 30-year-old sex worker was killed in 1994. After all leads in the case had dried up, police claim that a teen voluntarily came to the precinct to provide some information about the murder to help a friend who was incarcerated on a drug charge. The teen was interrogated for two days and was eventually coerced into confessing and implicating four others. Eventually all five teens were coerced into confessing, although the facts differed enormously in the five different accounts. Charges were dropped against the first teen to confess after the court ruled that his confession wasn’t admissible at trial.
Take action for the Englewood Four, and read more background on the cases.
Read news coverage and watch a video interview with exoneree Robert Taylor.
The Quest for DNA Access in Massachusetts
Massachusetts is one of just two states without a law granting DNA access in at least some cases where it can prove innocence. A bill pending before the state legislature could change that, and a new investigative report in the Boston Globe Magazine explores the question of why Massachusetts still has no DNA access law.
The Globe story reads, in part: “It’s difficult to reconcile Massachusetts’s progressive reputation with the reality that its lawmakers have steadfastly refused to enact a post-conviction DNA-access law. A bill pushing for timely testing and for preserving evidence for appeals has failed to pass in the Legislature every year since it was first proposed in 2003. Now Massachusetts has achieved a kind of dubious distinction: It’s one of only two states without such a law. (The other, Oklahoma, passed one that expired in 2005.)”
Read the full Globe story. .
And while Massachusetts and Oklahoma are the two states without DNA access laws on the books, the laws in many other states are extremely restrictive. View our interactive DNA Access map to learn the details of the law in your state. .
Why I Give: A Donor Profile
Life Insurance Agent
Hermosa Beach, CA
The Innocence Project recently asked me to share my reasons for supporting the cause.
I’m 95 years old, I have been blessed with a good life and personal freedoms, and my reason is so simple: there, but for the grace of God, go I.
None of us had any part in determining our race, our physical and mental capacity or our birth-family’s circumstances, and these are factors that unquestionably play a role in wrongful convictions. Many wrongfully convicted defendants, however, suffer from simple bad luck… they were at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Once a suspect is identified, the problem escalates due to incorrect identification, biased or false testimony, sloppy criminal procedures and lax officials. Too many routine investigations offer too few possibilities of getting to simple truths. I take it for granted that most judges, attorneys and officials try to do a good job and most accused get a fair trial. But this clearly isn’t always true.
One happy day, not too many years ago, our society became blessed by the scientific discovery of DNA. DNA established truth, and it limits chances for contradictions. But even the truth requires champions to carry it forward. Happily for all of us, the good people within the Cardozo School of Law established the Innocence Project. To date, 280 people have been exonerated through DNA tests in the United States — 17 of them were on death row.
In addition to rescuing innocent people, the Innocence Project sheds light on shoddy investigations and faulty procedures. Quietly and effectively their work is improving our flawed criminal justice system. But we still have a long way to go.
We lucky ones owe a personal debt to our fellow humans who haven’t been so lucky. Let’s do what we can, through our Innocence Project, to give them their fair chance.
Join Alyse by setting up a monthly donation to the Innocence Project today.