|Sedrick Courtney after his exoneration hearing.|
Sedrick Courtney was wrongfully convicted of an armed robbery and burglary in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and spent 15 years in prison and a year on parole before DNA testing proved his innocence. He first requested DNA testing ten years ago, but the Tulsa Police Department repeatedly claimed the evidence had been destroyed, until finally discovering they still had the evidence in their possession last year.
On April 6, 1995, two armed men wearing ski masks kicked in the victim’s apartment door. Once inside, they forced her to lie on the floor as they ransacked the apartment. During the robbery, the two assailants struck, kicked and bound the victim. She suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of the attack. The police recovered both ski masks near the scene.
The victim identified one of the assailants as Sedrick Courtney, who she had socialized with on several occasions. She said she was able to identify him from his voice and a brief glimpse she got of his face when he lifted the ski mask during the attack.
Prior to trial, the State recovered several hairs from both ski masks and subjected them to DNA testing, which produced no results. The state also conducted microscopic hair analysis. At trial, the analyst claimed that an “unusual” single bleached red hair recovered from the green ski mask was similar to a bleached red hair taken from Courtney’s head.
Courtney’s sister and cousins corroborated his testimony that he had borrowed his sister’s car on the morning of the crime to attend a class at an unemployment center and then went with his cousins to visit his aunt. Unfortunately this testimony couldn’t overcome the eyewitness misidentification or bad forensic science. Courtney was convicted and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.
The Innocence Project accepted Courtney’s case in 2007. Though Courtney’s initial request for DNA testing in 2001 had been rejected–the Tulsa Police Department claimed that the evidence had been destroyed–repeated requests from the Innocence Project resulted in the discovery that the ski masks and hairs were still in the possession of the police.
Mitochondrial DNA testing showed that none of the hairs matched Courtney. Tulsa County prosecutors agreed that Courtney’s conviction should be reversed. On July 19, 2012, a Tulsa County District judge granted the Innocence Project’s motion to vacate Courtney’s conviction and exonerated him.