The Innocence Project Online - December 2009
News from the innocence movement around the United States
Free After 35 Years
James Bain was exonerated last week in Florida after spending 35 years in prison for a 1974 sexual assault he didn’t commit. DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project of Florida proved Bain’s innocence and led to his release. He was 19 years old when arrested and is 55 today.
2007 Conviction Overturned
Michael Marshall walked out of a Georgia prison last week after serving nearly two years in prison for an auto theft DNA proves he didn’t commit. He was convicted in 2007, and although DNA testing was available at the time of his conviction, it was not conducted. He was represented on appeal by the Innocence Project of Georgia, which he contacted in 2008.
Improving Exoneree Compensation
Just weeks after the Innocence Project released a report finding that most states were failing to compensate the exonerated and provide post-release services, New Jersey lawmakers are considering a proposal to increase the state’s compensation to meet the federal standard of $50,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration.
An editorial in the Newark Star Ledger this weekend called the state’s current law — which pays exonerees $20,000 per year they served — "inadequate."
Mom Is Cleared in Son's Death
A Canadian woman was cleared this month, ten years after false forensic testimony led to her wrongful conviction of causing her son’s death. She is the second person cleared after being convicted based on faulty forensic analysis by Dr. Charles Smith and 30 other cases involving his work are under review.
Return to the Ring
Dewey Bozella was a promising young boxer in 1983 when he was convicted of an upstate New York murder he didn’t commit. After 26 years in prison, he was set free last month with the help of pro bono attorneys at WilmerHale. The firm took the case when the Innocence Project had to close it because the evidence had been destroyed, making DNA testing impossible. This month, Bozella was enjoying his newfound freedom as he sat ringside at a boxing match in Chicago.
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|A Banner Year: 27 Exonerations in 12 States
Wrongful convictions are more common than many people know, and the injustices overturned in 2009 point to the pressing need for reform in the American criminal justice system.
A new report reviews the cases of 27 people exonerated this year through the work of Innocence Network member organizations and details a group of exonerees from diverse backgrounds, convicted of crimes from murder to auto theft. They were convicted in 12 states and served a combined total of 421 years.
The 27 exonerees have one thing in common: they were sent to prison by a flawed criminal justice system for a crime they didn’t commit. Thanks to the work of organizations around the country — the Innocence Network now has 54 member organizations, 45 of which are in the U.S. — each one of these people will celebrate the New Year in freedom.
"Every one of these cases had ripple effects well beyond the innocent person who was in prison. Entire families are forever changed when a loved one is wrongfully convicted, and victims of crime are poorly served when true perpetrators evade justice," said Keith Findley, President of the Innocence Network, Co-Director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project and Clinical Professor at University of Wisconsin Law School.
Download the full report.
Learn more about the Innocence Network.
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D.C. Exoneration Uncovers Serious Forensic Problems
Donald Eugene Gates served 27 years in federal prisons for a 1981 murder in Washington, D.C., before DNA tests proved his innocence and led to his release last week. He could be officially cleared at a hearing this morning.
Gates was convicted based in part on improper testimony from an FBI forensic analyst whose work has since been widely discredited. Analyst Michael Malone testified at Gates’ trial that hairs from the crime scene were "microscopically indistinguishable" from Gates’ hairs. This statement vastly overstated the conclusions that can be drawn from hair comparison.
Although a 1997 report from the U.S. Department of Justice found significant errors in Malone’s work, no thorough review of convictions relying on his analysis has been conducted. In overturning Gates’ conviction last week, a D.C. judge ordered the U.S. Attorney’s Office to open a sweeping investigation of Malone’s work.
Inconsistencies are widespread in forensic labs across the country, however, and the problem isn’t limited to a few "bad apples." A report released last week by the New York Inspector General found that a major state crime lab had covered up errors and misconduct for more than a decade.
The Innocence Project is moving forward to create a federal government entity in 2010 to make forensic science more accurate and reliable. The new federal office would direct and fund research in forensic sciences, set standards and enforce those standards. Take action today. Urge Congress to enact forensic reform that can strengthen our criminal justice system.
(Photo: Fox 5 D.C.)
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Massachusetts Group Calls for DNA Access
Massachusetts is one of just three states without a law providing access to DNA testing for prisoners with valid claims of innocence. That could change in 2010.
A new report released last week by the Boston Bar Association calls for important criminal justice reforms in the state, and calls on lawmakers to join 47 other states by passing a law granting post-conviction DNA access.
Access to DNA testing after conviction is critical not only to overturn wrongful convictions, but also to identify the true perpetrators of crimes. When an innocent person sits behind bars, the guilty party evades justice. The report clearly calls for the state to provide access to DNA testing, and to ensure that biological evidence is preserved for possible testing after conviction.
When the Innocence Project was founded in 1992, not a single state had a DNA access law. Today, 47 states have such laws -- though they vary in scope and some need immediate revision or expansion. The other two states lacking any post-conviction DNA access law are Alaska and Oklahoma.
Get the details of your state’s law on our interactive map and learn why post-conviction DNA access is critical for our criminal justice system.
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Why I Give: Krista Parkinson
Senior Vice President, Content Partners LLC
Los Angeles, CA
What struck me most was that Herman was not angry. He wasn't bitter. Yet he was fueled by a determination to tell everyone his story and spread the message that being falsely accused and imprisoned can happen to anyone. This is a terrifying thought. Regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic background, we're all susceptible to this kind of injustice until our criminal justice system institutes safeguards recommended by the Innocence Project. Herman was the child of a California Highway Patrol officer. If it can happen to him, it can happen to me.
Personal stories like Herman's bring home the harsh reality of wrongful convictions. Until hearing Herman speak, I never gave much thought to the operations of our criminal justice system. Now I know I was ignoring an important issue in our society. I know plenty of people who don't give a single thought to criminal justice and wrongful convictions. They think this issue doesn't affect them. They're wrong. Even if you aren't accused of a crime you didn't commit, your safety is compromised when an innocent person is convicted and the guilty party goes free.
As soon as I began to understand the importance of this cause, I became an Innocence Project donor. I know that even small donations add up to advance this critical work. Together, the broad community of Innocence Project supporters can really make a dent in this issue.
Please join me today by making an online donation to the Innocence Project. Your support doesn't only free the innocent, it protects us all.