Last week, the Innocence Project lost Frank Sterling, a friend and cherished member of the innocence community. Sterling, an Innocence Project client and an exoneree, died of a heart attack in Seneca, South Carolina. He was 53 years old.
In 2010, Sterling was exonerated of a wrongful conviction based on DNA evidence. In 1992, after a highly suggestive interrogation process, Sterling falsely confessed to murdering an elderly woman in Rochester, New York, several years prior. Although he immediately recanted and despite having no criminal history and a solid alibi for the time of the crime, Sterling was convicted and sentenced to 25 years.
One of his attorneys, Donald Thompson, reflected back on Sterling’s conviction. “It was just inconsistent with his character,” he told the Democrat and Chronicle last week.
Ultimately, Sterling spent nearly 20 years of his life in prison until the Innocence Project partnered with his local attorneys to get DNA testing of crime scene evidence that eventually led to his release and complete exoneration in 2010.
In recent years, Sterling had moved to South Carolina. He was engaged to be married. Tragically, he also endured serious health problems.
The Innocence Project’s Director of Post-Conviction Litigation Vanessa Potkin was an attorney on Sterling’s case.
“The evidence (of Sterling’s innocence) started to come after he was convicted and before he was sentenced and nobody would listen to it,” Potkin said to the Democrat and Chronicle. “I’m so saddened to hear that Frank has passed away.”
The staff at the Innocence Project sends its deepest condolences to Sterling’s family and loved ones.