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Meet the Men and Women of the 2017 Innocence Network Conference

Albert Woodfox, who unjustly spent 43 years in solitary confinement, at the 2017 Innocence Network Conference in San Diego, CA. Photo by Erin G. Wesley.

By Alicia Maule

Fifteen years later The Innocence Network Conference returned to San Diego, California, where it was once held with just about 200 people.

“I can’t believe how much it’s grown,” said Betty Anne Waters, sister of the late exoneree Kenny Waters and subject of Tony Goldwyn’s film Conviction, who attended the conference in 2002.

“Back then it was just a few of us in one room and now there’s so many more people to help the wrongly convicted,” she said in amazement.

Related: Highlights from Valerie Jarrett’s Keynote at #InConf2017

This year Waters was one of 750 participants who gathered in California to honor newly freed people, learn about the latest developments in freeing the wrongly convicted and network with the now 69 Innocence Network organizations (staff from 59 projects attended) around the world. The growth of the Innocence Network has helped to expand the number of people who are freed each year. Having the network in nearly every state in the country and across the globe also helps us to be more collectively efficient and strategic in the cases and policy reforms that we work to advance. Check out the Innocence Network map to learn more about the organization in your area.

One hundred and sixty-six people were exonerated in 2016, breaking a record. This was similarly reflected in a conference record-turnout of nearly 170 exonerees in attendance. New programming included expressive art, meditation sessions and the recording of an episode of the Actual Innocence podcast.

Take a look at several phenomenal portraits, by Erin G. Wesley, and stories of survivors of wrongful conviction from the weekend.

Albert Woodfox

(Pictured above): “If I stand for nothing else, it’s the indomitable strength of the human spirit,” Albert Woodfox told the conference crowd on Friday, March 25. Woodfox, who spent 43 years in a solitary confinement cell at Angola Prison, in the words of Innocence Project Senior Staff Attorney Nina Morrison, “brought us to tears and our feet.” Woodfox was represented by George Kendall and Carine Williams, and later Robert McDuff and Billy Sothern in retrial.

Sunny Jacobs

Sonia ‘Sunny’ Jacobs, age 64, was sentenced to death at the age of 28 for the murder of two police officers in Florida. Jacobs was exonerated with the help of the Center on Wrongful Convictions in 1992 after spending 17 years in prison, a number of them on death row. Her story, along with those of five other wrongfully convicted death row inmates, was featured in the play The Exonerated. In 2001, she married Peter Pringle from Ireland who also survived death row for a crime he didn’t commit. Together they live on a farm in west Ireland where they host other exonerees. Learn more about Sunny and Peter.

James Curtis Giles

In 1983, James Curtis Giles was wrongfully convicted of a brutal rape in Dallas, Texas. It would take 25 years to prove his innocence, but DNA testing finally led to his exoneration in 2007. He had served 10 years in prison and 14 years as a registered sex offender on parole for a crime he didn’t commit.

“I nominate him to be the Mayor of Lukfin, Texas,” said Vanessa Potkin, his Innocence Project attorney and director of post-conviction litigation.

Floyd Bledsoe

 

Floyd Bledsoe, represented by the Midwest Innocence Project, was exonerated in 2015 after 15 years in prison for a murder his brother committed. Since his release, Bledsoe has been a fierce advocate for mandatory recording of interrogations among other reforms in Kansas.

Andre Hatchett

Andre Hatchett spent half of his life in prison for a murder he did not commit largely due to inadequate defense, a single unreliable witness and exculpatory evidence that was not disclosed to the defense. In March 2016, Andre became the 19th person to be exonerated under the late Brooklyn D.A. Ken Thompson’s Conviction Review Unit.

Orlando Boquete

Orlando Boquete had arrived to the United States from Cuba and was almost immediately wrongfully convicted of sexual battery and burglary in 1982. Orlando’s conviction was overturned on May 23, 2006, but because he had escaped from custody in 1983 for 10 years, and again in 1995 for one year, the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency detained his release until August 22, 2006. Related: Orlando completes the Brooklyn half marathon

Anthony Wright

In 1993, Anthony Wright narrowly escaped the death penalty by a 7 to 5 jury vote for fatal crimes against an elderly woman he did not commit. It took 25 years, several DNA tests, a conviction reversal and retrial to exonerate Anthony. Related: My first Thanksgiving home

 

Peter Pringle

Peter Pringle at the Network Conference in San Diego, CA. Photo by Erin G. Wesley.

Like his wife Sunny (above), Peter was also wrongly convicted of murdering two police officers but in Ireland not Florida. Days before Peter was sentenced to be hanged, the President of Ireland commuted his sentence. From that point on, Peter learned the law, successfully represented himself, and his conviction was overturned. Learn more.

Follow us on Instagram for the latest portraits in the series.

Join us in Memphis, Tennessee for the 2018 Innocence Network Conference. 

13 Comments

  1. Gentlemen:
    What really moves me about the recent Innocence Project Conference in California, and also the whole Innocence Project website, is the close-up portraits of so many exonerees from all walks of life, that are featured in the Innocence Project articles. That was SO powerful in changing my view from disapproval at first, then to strong embrace of the mission of the Innocence Project. I am now fully persuaded, from the close, hands-on, interviews with the exonerees themselves, telling their own stories about their unbelievable ordeals to obtain justice and vindication from the ugly, violent crimes they did not commit. Their struggle for justice is so moving and heart-breaking that I am “convicted” in my own life, to come out of my comfort zone and start contacting public officials here in Las Vegas, Nevada, where I live, about the awful legal practices that put way TOO many innocent people in prison for years and decades of their lives, destroying their lives and also their families. There is NO doubt anymore in my mind, that the criminal justice system in our country is broken nationwide, and it desperately needs reform top to bottom, so innocent people are not victimized like this. I’m especially HORRIFIED at how some police officers, detectives, or prosecutors DELIBERATELY conceal exculpatory evidence, or obtain false testimony from informants through bribery or pressure, resulting in false convictions. Sometimes, evidence is even PLANTED to get someone convicted and imprisoned. Again, HOW can anyone deliberately do such a thing against an innocent person to destroy them in prison!?? Our HUGE prison system echoes with the outcry of the innocent ones locked up inside. There is NO greater priority in national or local government, than to safeguard the basic rights of each citizen to be SAFE in our homes and personal lives from state-sponsored violation. We ALL must work for justice, so we can live in a just and decent society. Convict only the guilty AND acquit the innocent, according to what the evidence and HONEST witness testimony shows. Thanks for listening.

  2. Cindy Trahan

    Where does one go for help when the Innocence Project won\\\’t take a case based on an inmate counsel\\\’s perspective I have a loved one who has spent 37 years in Louisiana State Prison for something he did not do an investigative report has looked at it but says there is no smoking gun and that at best John was overcharge he is Native American from Oklahoma I have a story to tell but no one to tell it to no one cares he will be 75 years old this year I\\\’ve hit a wall all DNA evidence was ordered destroyed be a judge in 1986 crime was committed in 1980 where do I go for help my heart will not let me walk away any suggestions will be so appreciate John did not do this Help us please

  3. I honor you for your work in freeing the wrongly accused leading to those who actually committed the crimes and who should be held responsible. While I have friends who have not been supported in the so-called “justice system”, mostly in family court situations, the event that continues to stand out in my mind was the death of Tookie Williams, even though there was not convincing evidence that he was guilty. And while in prison, he did some personal reformation to the point where his motto was, “If you have the courage to get into a gang, you will have the courage to get out.” As you know, the Terminator was at the time governor of California and made the final decision to carry out Williams’ death. Made me cry. We MUST continue to fight the death penalty. It has a negative impact on all.

  4. Vickie Howser.

    God bless every one of you. May you all live a long and happy life now. My brothers conviction was overturned last year but not exonerated yet. Still fighting them. We sure hope to see everyone by next year. Im so happy for all of you

  5. Valerie

    What amazing stories of such courage and strength. My heart is overwhelmed at the thought of being wrongly convicted and having my freedom taken away from me, my name ruined, and being judged by so many all while being innocent. I don’t know if I would have the strength and courage they all did to keep going. Thank you for all your hard work and giving hope to those that have been robbed of their freedom. My prayers and thoughts are with you all.

  6. John Kelley

    The only thing worse than someone getting away with raping a person or killing someone is to have someone found guilty and sent to prison for a crime they did not do – we all want justice but convicting the wrong person is a crime times 2 – the real criminal got away and the innocent person is having a crime committed against them- there but the grace of God goes anyone of us – I wish I knew you Kalief I am sad we never met but I love you John K.

  7. john kelley

    A reply I wonder what I was doing on June 6 2015 tonite I sadly found out what Kalief was doing that day and that day made it impossible for me to meet Kalief R.I.P. my friend

  8. Karen Osgood

    It must be terrifying to spend one year in prison for a crime you didn’t commit, so I can’t imagine the stress, tedium and fear that 25 years exacts from someone.
    Good luck to you all. Live long and prosper.

  9. I am thoroughly impressed by Project Innocence’s mission and successes and I would love to volunteer with Project Innocence while I completing my AmeriCorps VISTA assignment in Trenton, NJ that ends August 25, 2017. I will be applying to another AmeriCorps VISTA in Massachusetts with a legal aid clinic there this month so I might be moving to Massachusets.

  10. chris

    If the determined ‘right-minded’ people really want to address tyranny where and how it will make a significant impact, organize into guerilla armies and eradicate a 100% corrupt, inverted-totalitarian, authoritarian-police-state government.

  11. Ruth Olafsdottir

    Reading these stories and knowing you are all out there doing this great work gives me a bit of strength….. and hope for living in this inhumane world. Thank you. No words can really express my feelings.

  12. Steven Oglen

    My uncle has been wrongfully kept in the Alabama prison system for over 35 years. The sad part is he doesn’t even remember the crime that put him back in prison for so many years. Heavy intoxicated on whiskey and drugs, when he came back to his senses he was in prison serving a life sentence. I wish you people could help my uncle.

  13. Tabatha willams

    My name is tabatha williams i have a brother thats been in waupun since 1987 N.2017 for a crime he did not do his name jack williams jr.i need help with his case .he in jail for killing a man my brother took the rap.so you could find in your heart conect with me my number 414885-9041.

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