States make strides in compensating the exonerated

Innocence Project calls for reforms in Mississippi after two men are cleared

Judge says New York prosecutor withheld evidence of innocence

Why I Give: A Donor Profile

Below are highlights of the Innocence Project's work around the country this month.
To see what's happening in your state, view our interactive reform map.


Lawmakers advance eyewitness identification reform

Georgia legislators gave initial approval last week to a bill that would reform the way law enforcement agencies in the state handle eyewitness identification procedures.

Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful conviction and contributed to the convictions of all seven people who have been exonerated by DNA evidence in Georgia. The bill strongly supports blind administration and clear witness instructions, two reforms the Innocence Project advocates because they are proven to increase the accuracy of eyewitness identifications. Learn more here.


Exoneree Chad Heins adjusts to life at home

Innocence Project client Chad Heins spent 11 years in Florida prison for a murder he didn’t commit before DNA testing proved his innocence and led to his exoneration in December. Immediately after his release, he returned to Wisconsin, his home state, to rejoin family and friends there.

A feature article and video this week from the Florida Times-Union explores the difficulty of returning to a changed world after more than a decade behind bars. Heins was 19 when he was arrested and 33 when he was exonerated.

Read more and watch the video here.

New York

Innocence Commission is proposed again

A New York lawmaker has proposed the creation of an innocence commission in the state for the second straight year. The panel, which would review exoneration cases and make recommendations to improve the state’s criminal justice system, failed to pass in the legislature last year.

New York Newsday last week said the commission should be a priority for New York’s leaders: “For the innocent who spend years in prison, nothing can restore that lost time. But an innocence commission can at least help make wrongful convictions more rare.” Read more here.



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States make strides in exoneree compensation


It took long years of patience, determination and strength for the 213 people exonerated by DNA testing to finally prove their innocence. Many of them, however, emerged from prison into a changed world with little or no support. More than 40% of those exonerated by DNA have received no compensation, and only 22 states have statutes compensating the wrongfully convicted for the injustice they suffered. The Innocence Project and its partners are working to change that.

Earlier this month, the Utah State Legislature passed a compensation bill that would provide exonerees with $35,000 per year of wrongful incarceration. The bill is now awaiting the signature of Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to make Utah the 23rd state with a compensation law. The Rocky Mountain Innocence Project was instrumental in working to pass this bill; read more here.

In Florida this month, several exonerees and the Innocence Project of Florida are calling on representatives to pass a compensation law. Nine people have been cleared by DNA testing in Florida after serving a combined 134 years in prison for crimes that didn’t commit. Few of them have received any form of compensation, through courts or the state government. "I don't have any education, I don't have any real job skills. So I'm doing what I can," Alan Crotzer, who was exonerated in 2006, recently told the Associated Press. "I went on public assistance. How can you take more than half a man's life and expect to do nothing for him?"

Nationwide, 11 states including California, Mississippi and New Jersey are currently considering legislation that would create new compensation laws or improve existing laws. The Innocence Project works with local advocates and legislators to help pass appropriate compensation statutes.

View a map of compensation statutes in the United States, and learn what you can do to help the exonerated.

Listen to exonerees tell their stories in their own words in a special New York Times online feature.

Innocence Project calls for reforms in Mississippi after two men are cleared


Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks were surrounded by more than 100 relatives Friday as they walked out of a Mississippi courtroom, free men at last. Brewer and Brooks were each wrongfully convicted of eerily similar child murders less than two years apart in the early 1990s. Their convictions were caused in part by false and misleading testimony from two discredited forensic analysts. The Innocence Project represents Brewer and Brooks, and Co-Director Peter Neufeld has called for a thorough review of how the state is investigating and prosecuting cases to identify other wrongful convictions and prevent future injustice. (Above, Macon Journal Photo, L to R: Staff Attorney Vanessa Potkin, Levon Brooks, Kennedy Brewer and Co-Director Peter Neufeld)

Brewer and Brooks were each convicted separately in Noxubee County of heinous murders of three-year-old girls. Faulty forensic evidence including disproved “bite mark” testimony from the same analyst contributed to the convictions of both men. An Innocence Project investigation identified a suspect in both crimes, a man who was an initial suspect at the time of the crimes but was ignored once police and prosecutors focused on Brewer and Brooks. DNA evidence pointed to the new suspect and he has now confessed to committing both murder alone. Brewer, who served several years on death row, was released on bond last year and was fully exonerated Friday when all charges in his case were dropped. Brooks was released from custody on Friday and should be fully cleared soon.

The Innocence Project is pressing for statewide reforms in Mississippi in the wake of these cases. Last week, a State Senate committee passed a bill to create a DNA task force, which would develop better standards for collecting and preserving DNA evidence in the state. During the hearing, lawmakers cited Brewer’s and Brooks’ cases as motivation to improve the state’s forensic science policies. And the Innocence Project sent a letter last week to the state’s top public safety official, asking him to appoint a State Medical Examiner, who oversees all autopsies in the state. Flawed autopsies by discredited pathologist Stephen Hayne contributed to the wrongful convictions of Brewer and Brooks.

Read more about Brooks’ and Brewer’s cases and reforms underway in Mississippi on our website.

Judge says New York prosecutor withheld evidence of Doug Warney’s innocence

doug_warneyA federal judge reprimanded an upstate New York prosecutor last week for withholding evidence of Doug Warney’s innocence for more than two months before sharing DNA test results with defense attorneys. Warney, an Innocence Project client, was exonerated in 2006 after DNA testing proved that another man committed the murder for which Warney spent a decade in prison. In a strongly worded ruling, Judge David Larimer said Warney had the right to sue the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office for damages relating to the injustice he suffered.

"Evidence, especially compelling evidence of innocence, should not be suppressed regardless of how or when it is obtained," Larimer wrote. "There is something basically inimical to our entire justice system if one is allowed to languish in jail when his prosecutors hold evidence that he should not be there."

Learn more about Doug Warney’s case and watch a video interview with him here.

Why I Give: Norma Johnson
Clinical Psychologist
Montague, Massachusetts

norma_johnsonI first read about the Innocence Project several years ago, and I was deeply moved and alarmed to hear stories of lives lost to such terrible injustice. I wanted to learn more, and I went to see a production of the captivating play, “The Exonerated,” which tells the stories of five men and a woman who spent years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. I came away even more shaken by these portrayals of people who became the victims of a justice system gone badly awry. The more I learned about the Innocence Project, the more impressed I was with the group’s efforts to right these terrible wrongs.

Each time I hear about an individual’s exoneration after years in prison, it brings into stark relief the inequality of our justice system. This is a system that touches the lives of millions of people, and I want to do everything I can to ensure that it is as fair as possible. I made the decision to support the Innocence Project because I think the group’s work is very effective in bringing change to a broken system. I feel that my contributions are helping to make a real difference, and I soon realized that any charitable contributions I could make would go to the Innocence Project.

Since becoming a supporter, I have been impressed again and again with the dedication of the group’s leadership and staff. I know that I can trust the Innocence Project staff and students to work tirelessly on behalf of the wrongfully convicted. They are seeking not only to free the innocent, but also to change the system that caused the wrongful convictions in the first place. It’s a cause I’m proud to be a part of.

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