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Exonerated Innocent Man Describes 21 Year Prison Nightmare

Kenneth Ireland of Connecticut was 17 when he was arrested for raping and killing a woman. During his police interrogation, he maintained his innocence. He was 18 when he was tried and convicted. 21 years later, in 2009, he was freed after DNA evidence showed he did not commit the crime, and the real perpetrator was identified, tried, convicted and sentenced.

A state commissioner will decide Ireland's compensation, which may be up to $8 million. During testimony this week Ireland described the horror he experienced daily in prison.

I wish it were an actual nightmare ... because then I could have woken up instead of spending 21 years in a tiny cell with the most violent criminals who targeted me because I was a convicted sex offender."

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NYC to Pay $40 Million to Central Park Five Defendants

Some justice at last to the Central Park Five -- New York City agreed to pay $40 million to the five Black and Latino men wrongfully charged as teens with the rape of a Central Park jogger in 1989.

Kharey Wise, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Yusef Salaam were exonerated in 2002. They filed their lawsuit in 2003. It has taken the city 12 years to finally pay up.

Four of them served 7 years in prison and one served 13 years. Their convictions, largely the product of false and coerced confessions, were overturned when the true perpetrator, Mattias Reyes confessed. DNA evidence confirmed he was the rapist, and although he could not be charged due to the statute of limitations, by the time of his confession he was already serving a 33 year to life sentence for other rapes. More background here. Also see When Justice is a Game and Marked as the Enemy, and New Light on Jogger's Rape Calls Evidence Into Question.[More...]

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$1.2 Million Approved for Colo. Wrongfully Convicted Inmate

Robert Dewey served 17 years of a life sentence for a Colorado rape and murder DNA evidence later proved he did not commit.

After release from prison in 2012, he had nothing. In June, Colorado passed a law (available here) allowing up to $70,000. a year compensation to the wrongly convicted. Dewey was present when Governor Hickenlooper signed the bill into law.

A Colorado judge has now approved a $1.2 million settlement to Dewey. 5280 Magazine has a long feature article on Dewey's journey, Resurrection.

Of note: [More...]

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Wrongfully Convicted Inmate Freed From Death Row in Lousiana

The 141st wrongfully convicted death row inmate in the U.S. was released from jail today after serving 15 years for a crime he didn't commit. Damon Thibodeaux, now 38, left prison today. The cause of his wrongful conviction: A false confession. Later DNA testing excluded him as the perpetrator of the crime.

Nationally, DNA has freed 18 wrongfully convicted death row inmates.

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CA Judge Frees Wrongfully Convicted Gang Member After 19 Years

John Edward Smith, imprisoned for the past 19 years for a murder he did not commit, walked out of court a free man yesterday.

It was not DNA evidence that freed him, but perjured testimony at his trial. The sole eyewitness at his trial admitted lying.

Prosecutors told the judge they were convinced that the lone eyewitness to the 1993 shooting had lied at Smith’s trial, naming him as the gunman. Smith maintained he was at his grandmother’s house when the shooting occurred several blocks away.

The witness said said he was pressured by police to identify Smith as the shooter. [More...]

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Jeffrey MacDonald Gets New Hearing 42 Years After Crime

A hearing is underway in federal court in North Carolina to determine whether new evidence, when considered collectively rather than piecemeal, is sufficient to overturn the murder convictions of former Army surgeon and Green Beret Jeffrey MacDonald, imprisoned since 1982 for the 1970 Charles Manson-style attack on his wife and daughters.

Here is the 2008 order denying relief. In 2011, the Appeals court reversed and ordered a new hearing. [More...]

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Bad Arson Science Frees Mom After Serving 16 Years

What a nightmare. In 1996, Kristin Bunch was 21, pregnant and living in a mobile home with her three year old. A sudden fire engulfed the trailer, killing her three year old. The police said it was arson and claimed she went into her son's bedroom, doused it with a liquid accelerant like kerosene or diesel fuel and set it on fire. She was charged and convicted of felony murder and arson and sentenced to 60 years in prison. Arson investigators testified at her trial that burn patterns indicated the fire was arson.

After 16 years in prison, she was released on bond today pending a retrial, and went home with her jubilant mother and now 16 year old son (whom she gave birth to in prison.) In March, the Indiana Court of Appeals set aside her conviction, finding it was based on invalid, outdated science and the prosecutor had withheld critical evidence at her trial. (Great work by Kristin's post-conviction team, including the Center on Wrongful Convictions.)[More..}

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Ill. Inmate Freed by DNA After Serving 32 Years

Andre Davis, now 50 years old, left a maximum security prison in Illinois today, after serving 32 years for a rape and murder that DNA evidence has proven he didn't commit.

A federal court overturned his conviction when DNA tests not available at the time of his trial came back with a finding that the blood and semen found at the crime scene were not those of Davis.

Prosecutors earlier today said they will not recharge him. Did the DNA tests sway them? Not much.

[Prosecutor] Reitz said that while she didn't doubt the results of the DNA tests, she decided not to retry Davis because of the difficulty in taking a 32-year-old case to trial — not because of those tests.

Davis requested the DNA testing in 2004. Why did it take 8 years to free him?

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DNA Testing Clears Colorado Man After Serving 18 Years

Robert Dewey, a Colorado inmate sentenced to life without parole for murder, left jail today a free man after serving 18 years of his sentence. DNA testing, using a technology not available at the time of his conviction, proved he was innocent.

Dewey is the 290th person to be exonerated nationwide on the basis of DNA evidence proving factual innocence -- meaning someone else committed the crime.

"I find that Mr. Dewey is factually innocent of the crimes of which he was accused of in this case," the judge said, noting Dewey had spent more the 6,000 days behind bars. "Mr. Dewey is now again a free man."

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The Innocence Project is Hiring

Four great job opportunities at The Innocence Project in New York: Two for lawyers, one for an online communications director and one for a field organizer.

Did anyone catch Jeopardy last week when this question was asked?

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DNA Exonerates LA Inmate Henry James: Freed After 30 Years

Henry James was convicted of aggravated rape in Louisiana in 1982 and sentenced to life without parole. Today, the court vacated his conviction after DNA testing proved he was not the perpetrator. He served 1 month less than 30 years, the longest time served by any DNA exoneree in Louisiana.

James was convicted based in large part on a faulty cross-racial eyewitness identification. He had three alibi witnesses at trial: his father, his boss and a neighbor. The jury convicted anyway.

His stepfather confirmed that he had been asleep at the time of the crime. (James’ mother had passed away, and he lived with his stepfather. James slept in the same bed as his stepfather.) Another witness testified that he saw the defendant walking to work and gave him a ride the rest of the way, and his boss testified that he arrived at work at 6:48 AM. However, James’ lawyer failed to inform the jury about the serological testing that excluded James as a suspect.

Although DNA had been collected at the crime scene, it wasn't tested at the time of trial. By the time James was able to get the Innocence Project on board, it had been lost. Last year, a lab worker came across the slide while looking for DNA evidence in another case. [More...]

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West Memphis 3: Alford Pleas for Freedom, Release

The West Memphis 3, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin, have been freed from prison after 18 years. They agreed to plead guilty via Alford pleas, under which they acknowledge the state has sufficient evidence to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but they do not admit they committed the crimes and can maintain their innocence. Why the Alford pleas? So they can't sue the state for their wrongful conviction and confinement.

The hearings were closed to the media and public. The District Attorney is giving a press conference now, and says the three are being processed for release and will walk out as free men today.

From the press conference: The DA says: Moments ago, all three entered guilty pleas to murder. The deal was proposed by the defense. The D.A. consulted with the families but did not give the families veto power. [More...]

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Reports: West Memphis 3 to Be Released

A surprise hearing has been scheduled tomorrow for the West Memphis 3 , Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin. A gag order is in place, but WREG reports that two of them, including Damien Echols who was sentenced to death, will be released. Reports are that a plea deal has been arrived at under which all three would plead guilty to lesser charges and two would be released. Some reports say all three would be released immediately. The reports emanate from the families of the murdered youths, who were told about the deal but asked not to discuss it until tomorrow. The three have already been moved from their respective prisons for tomorrow's hearing in Jonesboro:

The Arkansas Department of Corrections says all three have left their prisons and are now in the custody of the Craighead County Sheriff's Office, taking all their belongings with them.

The Court released this statement: [More...]

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DNA Mixup in Las Vegas: Innocent Man Served 4 Years

Dwayne Jackson served four years in prison for a robbery it turns out he did not commit. An "accidental switch" of DNA samples at the Las Vegas lab, or "human error" as the news puts it, was responsible.

The state has admitted the error and a settlement has been reached. Jackson was freed from prison in 2006.

More than 200 cases will now be reanalyzed to determine if other such errors were made by this lab tech, who has been placed on administrative leave.

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Appeals Court Orders Consideration of DNA Evidence in Jeffrey MacDonald "Fatal Vision " Case

In 1979, Jeffrey R. MacDonald, a captain in the Medical Corps, was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and their two young daughters in the family’s Fort Bragg home. He was sentenced to three life terms and has steadfastly maintained his innocence. He lost his direct appeal and many post-conviction motions for relief. His case was the subject of the book and movie, Fatal Vision.

A year ago, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in his latest request for relief. Today, the Court ordered the trial court to consider DNA evidence casting doubt on his guilt in conjunction with the other submitted innocence evidence. The court said the innocence evidence must be considered together as a whole, rather than piecemeal. The opinion is here.

Via e-mail from the Innocence Project, which filed an amicus brief along with the New England Innocence Project and the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence in the case: [more...]

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