Troy Davis Keeps Fighting
After 18 years on Georgia’s death row for a murder he says he didn’t commit, Troy Davis is continuing to seek a day in court to present evidence pointing to his innocence. Davis has come within hours of execution three times before receiving stays, and a new execution date could be set soon.
DNA testing has proven that Thomas Haynesworth didn’t commit a Virginia rape for which he was convicted nearly 25 years ago, and points to the identity of the real perpetrator.
Haynesworth is still fighting two other convictions for similar crimes, however, and biological evidence may not exist in those cases.
A new task force will examine the causes of wrongful conviction and evaluate policy reforms to prevent injustice. The new group, created this month by the chief judge of New York’s highest court, will include a cross-section of criminal justice policymakers and practitioners.
A bill improving the compensation paid to the exonerated is awaiting the signature of Gov. Rick Perry to become law. The Timothy Cole Compensation Act is named for a man who was recently exonerated — 10 years after he died in a Texas prison while serving time for a rape he didn’t commit.
If signed, the new law will increase the amount paid to the exonerated to $80,000 per year served, add payments for time on parole and add tuition at state colleges and universities.
The Texas House also passed a bill last week to create an innocence commission in the state, which would investigate wrongful conviction cases and evaluate reform measures. Read more about the proposed commission here.
Thaddeus Jimenez was just 13 years old in 1993 when he was arrested in Chicago for a murder he swore he didn’t commit. He was finally freed this month, 16 years later, after a judge tossed his conviction based on strong evidence of his innocence.
Attorneys at the Center on Wrongful Convictions in Chicago worked on Jimenez’s case for several years.
The Innocence Project Young Professionals Committee is pleased to invite you to "238 Reasons to Celebrate" — an event to benefit the Innocence Project and raise awareness of the 238 (and counting) DNA exonerations nationwide. Join us June 17 at Tenjune in New York City for this special event.
New York exoneree Roy Brown and Innocence Project Staff Attorney Nina Morrison will be among featured speakers. Buy tickets and learn more here.
After 22 Years on Death Row, Paul House is Cleared
Paul House’s name has finally been cleared, bringing to an end two decades of struggle for freedom after a wrongful conviction in Tennessee. House (pictured above with his mother, Joyce) served more than two decades on Tennessee’s death row before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that he was entitled to a new hearing. He was freed last July, but was under house arrest facing a new trial until charges were dropped May 12.
House, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and is confined to a wheelchair, is looking forward to a trip to California for his grandfather’s 90th birthday. He was 23 when he was sent to death row and is 47 today. "This gives me a life,” he told CNN last week. “The only life I had was prison life, and that was nothing to be happy about."
The Innocence Project has worked with House’s attorneys on forensic issues for several years and filed a brief in his Supreme Court case. Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld said House’s exoneration highlights the need for courts to look closely at appeals based on new evidence of innocence.
"The Supreme Court was right to make sure all the evidence was fully considered in this case," Neufeld said. “The five justices who ruled in Paul House’s favor had the wisdom to recognize that there was enough evidence of his innocence to allow a full hearing and more investigation which ultimately proved he did not commit this crime. This is a profoundly important legal principle, but it also saved Paul House’s life. This case should give the Supreme Court great pause, and it should cause them to look more closely at cases like this.”
Read more about House’s case here, and read below for more on other clients around the country seeking access to DNA testing to prove their innocence.
The Innocence Project argues that the “truth machine” of DNA testing should be available in every case in which it can prove innocence.
A New York Times story earlier this week explored Reed’s case and those of several other prisoners around the country fighting for access to DNA testing that could overturn wrongful convictions. Innocence Project Staff Attorney Nina Morrison told the New York Times that a DNA test is often the only way to learn the truth. She explained that since the Innocence Project was founded at Cardozo School of Law in 1992, we’ve learned “there’s no reason to guess or speculate. You can just do the test.” The New York Times followed its in-depth story with an editorial this week strongly urging prosecutors and courts to grant DNA testing when it can prove innocence.
Alaska is currently at the center of the debate over allowing post-conviction DNA testing when it can prove innocence. It is one of four states in the U.S. without a law allowing post-conviction DNA testing in at least some cases, and it’s the only state without a known case of a prisoner ever receiving DNA testing. Innocence Project client William Osborne has repeatedly been denied DNA testing in Alaska, and his case is currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision is expected before June. Read more about his case here.
Last Wednesday, Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld testified before Congress on the need for a new federal agency to support and oversee forensic sciences in the United States. On the same day, the Just Science Coalition was launched — a group that will build consensus among the diverse voices supporting forensic reform. Your voice is a crucial part of this effort — sign a petition for the creation of a new National Insititute of Forensic Science at http://www.just-science.org/ today.
The calls for a federal forensic science agency began in Feburary with a historic report from the National Academy of Sciences. The report finds that forensics in the U.S. need significantly strengthened research, oversight and support in order to play a more reliable role in identifying perpetrators of crime, protecting the wrongly accused and ensuring public safety.
At the Innocence Project’s Third Annual Celebration of Freedom & Justice in New York this month, John Grisham announced the formation of the Innocence Project Artists’ Committee, a group of writers, directors, actors, visual artists and musicians who support the Innocence Project and are helping raise awareness about wrongful convictions. The group’s 33 inaugural members include (above, clockwise from top left) John Singleton, Stephen Colbert, Helen Mirren, Nia Long, John Grisham and Trent Reznor, among many others. Learn more about the Artists’ Committee and see the entire list of its inaugural members.
The celebration was a huge success, with more than 600 people in attendance, readings by Brooke Shields and Aidan Quinn, and performances by Blue Man Group and Phoebe Snow. Bob Balaban, Jason Flom and the law firm Weil Gotshal and Manges were honored. View photos from the event here.
Why We Give: Ken and Sharon Harp
We learned very quickly that fighting public charges takes an enormous emotional and economic toll on a family, and despite our best efforts and an outpouring of support from our community, our son was wrongfully convicted and served six months in prison before he was released.
While the Innocence Project was not involved in our son’s case, this experience opened our eyes and those of many people in our community to the sad fact that anyone can be wrongfully convicted — our son was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Neighbors and fellow Church members still come up to us to say that our family’s experience made them aware of just how broken our system is, and we tell them about all of the work the Innocence Project is doing to free the innocent and promote reform. We have also become involved in prison outreach ministry through the Church, and have come to see up close that our system is rife with inequality and injustice.
Once our son was charged with a crime, the case no longer seemed to be about the facts, but about a conviction. We had to spend our own money to hire a forensic expert to counter questionable evidence from the state. I know that not every defendant has the resources to go to these lengths, and even with this advantage we lost. Although our son suffered a great deal from this injustice, he came out of it stronger and now works as a counselor for at-risk youth. This experience reminded us that we all have a role in ensuring that our criminal justice system is fair, and we support the Innocence Project because its work is speaking volumes about the need for reform.
We will continue to support the Innocence Project in the years ahead because we now realize that this organization is playing a critical role in reforming the criminal justice system to prevent injustice like the one our son suffered. Will you please join us in standing up against injustice?