Since January 2012, eight more innocent people have been exonerated with DNA testing. The Innocence Project congratulates these inspiring individuals, as well as our colleagues who fought to help prove their innocence.
(Englewood Four, from left: Harold Richardson, Vincent Thames, Michael Saunders and Terrence Swift.)
SHAINNE SHARP, one of the “Dixmoor Five” was officially exonerated through DNA testing on January 4, 2012. His four co-defendants – Robert Taylor, James Harden, Jonathan Barr and Robert Lee Veal – had previously been exonerated in 2011, and the case is profiled in the Winter 2011 issue of The Innocence Project In Print.
The prolonged ordeal of JUAN RIVERA reveals troubling deficiencies within the criminal justice system. His 1993 wrongful conviction centered on a false confession that he signed after four days of interrogation. The prosecution had sought the death penalty for the murder of 11-year-old Holly Staker, but thankfully, Rivera was spared. In 2005, when DNA tests proved that the semen recovered from the victim was not Rivera’s, the prosecution elected to retry him rather than drop the charges. At the retrial, the prosecution convinced the jury to discredit the DNA evidence, theorizing that it may have become contaminated or that Staker may have been sexually active. Finally, in late 2011, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that Rivera’s conviction was “unjustified and cannot stand.” On January 6, 2012, prosecutors officially dismissed all charges, and Rivera was exonerated after 20 years in prison. He was represented by attorneys at the Center on Wrongful Convictions and the law firm of Jenner & Block.
Pre-trial DNA testing excluded all four defendants, yet MICHAEL SAUNDERS, TERRILL SWIFT, HAROLD RICHARDSON, and VINCENT THAMES, also known as the “Englewood Four,” were convicted anyway based on their false confessions. All four eventually signed a confession, though each statement contained factual inaccuracies. The victim was a sex worker in the Englewood section of Chicago in 1994. Through the collaboration of attorneys at the Innocence Project, the Center on Wrongful Convictions, the Exoneration Project and the Valorem Law Group, DNA testing identified her assailant as Johnny Douglas, a man who was present at the scene when the body was recovered. He was questioned by police but never considered a suspect. Douglas, a convicted murderer, is now deceased. On January 17, 2012, the four men, who had been wrongfully imprisoned as teenagers, were finally exonerated.
In 1996, as ROBERT DEWEY was sentenced to life without parole, he warned the judge, “There is still a killer out there.” Almost 18 years later, Dewey’s words were finally validated. Advances in DNA testing excluded Dewey as the perpetrator of the rape and murder of 19-year-old Jacie Taylor in Grand Junction, Colorado. Additionally, the profile of the semen found on Taylor was put into the CODIS databank and matched Douglas Thames, a man already imprisoned for an unrelated rape and murder. Dewey was exonerated, with the assistance of the Innocence Project, on April 30, 2012. Dewey says that he looks forward to the freedom of riding his motorcycle again.
BENNETT BARBOUR was tried and convicted of raping a Virginia college student at gunpoint in 1978 based almost entirely on misidentification. Barbour also suffers from a brittle bone disease that would have made it almost impossible for him to commit the crime. After over four years in prison, Barbour was paroled and continued the fight to clear his name. In 2004, then-Virginia Governor Mark Warner ordered that the DNA evidence in 31 criminal cases be retested. When this evidence cleared two men, Warner expanded the retesting of evidence to approximately 800 cases from 1973 to 1988 (before DNA tests were standard). As a result of this effort, Barbour was excluded as the offender and the real perpetrator was identified. Preliminary reports estimate that as many as 37 other people could be exonerated.
Authorities had the DNA results in their possession for 18 months before Barbour was notified. He was officially exonerated on May 24, 2012, with the help of the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law and at the urging of the Virginia Attorney General.