The Innocence Project Online - October 2009
News from the innocence movement around the United States
A Partnership for Forensic Reform
A new group launched this month by the Innocence Project and partners across the country will seek to raise awareness and support for the creation of federal forensic standards to help prevent wrongful convictions. The Campaign for National Forensic Science Standards is a coalition of local leaders united in advocating for federal forensic reform.
Visit the Just Science Coalition website for more.
An Inactive Innocence Commission
An editorial in the Connecticut Law Tribune this month called on the Connecticut Advisory Commission on Wrongful Convictions to meet its obligations under state law to review the causes of injustice in the state and recommend reforms.
Three Men Cleared in Dallas
Richard Miles served 14 years behind bars in Texas before evidence of his innocence led to his release October 13. Miles, who was represented by Centurion Ministries, was freed after a judge ruled that prosecutors had failed to alert defense after learning of an alternate suspect. Read more.
Two other men, Claude Simmons Jr. and Christopher Scott, were freed Friday in Dallas after spending 12 years in prison for a murder evidence now shows they didn’t commit. Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins said their exoneration should persuade prosecutors and police departments around the country to reinvestigate cases of possible wrongful conviction. Read more.
Journalism Program in Standoff with Prosecutors
An investigative journalism class at Northwestern University in Illinois is in a standoff with prosecutors after the state requested student records such as grades, notes and emails. Students have uncovered new evidence that a man imprisoned for 31 years is actually innocent. In a case filing, prosecutors requested student grades, evaluations and emails. The university is refusing to hand over the requested materials.
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Faulty Forensics and the Ultimate Injustice
Cameron Todd Willingham’s case is capturing national attention, more than three years after the Innocence Project compiled strong evidence that faulty forensic evidence led to his wrongful execution.
Jewel Mitchell always knew her fiancé, Dean Cage, was innocent. She didn’t know, however, when he’d be coming home.
Cage was convicted of a sexual assault in Chicago in 1996, a crime Mitchell knew he didn’t commit because he was sleeping next to her when the crime happened. The two had become engaged just months before Cage was arrested. They had no way of knowing at the time that they wouldn’t be together for the next 14 years.
Last year, DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project finally proved Cage’s innocence, and he was freed. Mitchell had waited for him for 14 years, and now the couple is reunited.
A two-part story this week on CNN.com chronicles these difficult years for Cage, in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and for Mitchell -- waiting for a man serving a 40-year sentence.
Exonerees who spend years -- or decades -- behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit often walk out with a limited support network. People have passed away during the long years; others have simply lost hope or moved on with their lives. But the stories of the 245 DNA exonerees include other inspiring tales like that of Cage and Mitchell.
Ronald Gene Taylor is one of those stories. He was exonerated last year in Texas after serving 12 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. After his release, he moved to Atlanta and married his longtime girlfriend, Jeanette Brown, who had waited for him while he was in prison.
Learn more about issues people face after they are exonerated.
Youth and Innocence
Young people are particularly vulnerable to injustice.
One-third of the 245 people exonerated through DNA testing were arrested before their 22nd birthday. Many of these defendants falsely confessed under intense pressure from police. Others were convicted based on eyewitness misidentifications or faulty forensic evidence.
This month, Northwestern University launched a new project -- the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth -- devoted to representing prisoners seeking to overturn wrongful convictions and addressing policy reforms to protect youth against injustice.
The Innocence Project’s “947 Years” campaign also addresses the issue of youth and wrongful conviction. Visit our interactive website to view videos and interactive casefiles on more than a dozen people who spent the prime of their lives in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.
Above, clockwise from top right: Exonerees Chris Ochoa, Kevin Green, Marvin Anderson, Dwayne Dail, Ryan Matthews, Vincent Moto.
Why I Give: Debra Geroux
Analyst, National Grid
Oswego, New York
Once my eyes were opened to this issue, I saw that our system is rife with injustice. I realized that mistakes are made and that prosecutors can sometimes be overzealous in pursuing a conviction. I started to follow the work of the Innocence Project and I've now seen too many cases of innocent people behind bars, fighting for their lives. Wrongful incarceration has to be the most horrible human rights violation in our country today.