New report details this year’s wrongful convictions across 10 states, two countries
Alana Massie, 212.364.5983,
(NEW YORK, NY; Monday, December 17, 2012) – A report released today by the Innocence Network reveals that 22 people across the country, including an American living in Nicaragua, were exonerated by Innocence Network member organizations for crimes they didn’t commit in the past year. One man served more than 3 decades behind bars, another served 27 years and two others served nearly 25 years before being exonerated.
The report, “Innocence Network Exonerations 2012,” provides information about each of this year’s 22 exonerations. Misidentification continues to be the leading cause of the wrongful convictions overturned, but this year also saw false confessions, faulty forensics and police and prosecutorial misconduct as contributing factors.
“Each of these 22 exonerations provide a unique opportunity to see why the system failed,” said Keith Findley, President of the Innocence Network and Co-Director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. “Having identified systemic problems like eyewitness misidentification, faulty forensics and false confessions, the record of wrongful convictions should motivate legislators to implement reforms that will reduce the risks of further injustice.”
The report also includes several cases that illustrate serious flaws that may point to many future wrongful convictions.
• Faulty hair analysis contributed to the wrongful conviction of Willie Grimes in North Carolina who served 24 years for a rape he didn’t commit. In response to exonerations in two other cases where FBI analysts provided faulty hair analysis, the FBI announced that it would undertake a widespread review of cases involving hair analysis, which, given the lack of science behind this forensic discipline, is likely to uncover many more wrongful convictions.
• David Lee Gavitt, who served more than 25 years in Michigan prisons for the arson murder of his wife and two daughters, was exonerated after prosecutors agreed to vacate his conviction because it was based on outdated arson science. For decades fire investigators gave faulty testimony about the origin of fires that undoubtedly contributed to many more wrongful arson convictions.
• Drayton Witt served a decade in prison for shaking to death a five-month old boy before prosecutors acknowledged that the opinion of the medical examiner was incorrect. Fortunately, the medical community is finally speaking out about errors in diagnosing “shaken baby syndrome,” as Network projects begin to uncover more of these wrongful convictions.
This is the fourth year that the Innocence Network has compiled a report of the year’s exonerations. The 22 people profiled in this year’s report served more than 279 combined years, including 20 years one man spent confined to a mental hospital, before they were finally freed. Each case represents countless hours and sometimes years of ardent advocacy by attorneys, paralegals, investigators and students that comprise the Innocence Network.
In addition to helping overturn wrongful convictions, Innocence Network organizations increasingly work to bring substantive reform to the criminal justice system. Last year, Network member organizations lobbied statehouse across the country for reforms to improve identification procedures, reduce false confessions, put limits on the use of jailhouse informants, improve access to post-conviction DNA testing and ensure compensation for the years lost in prison unjustly.
The Innocence Network is composed of 64 member organizations—43 of which are law school-affiliated—with 55 members in the US and 9 members in other countries. Each organization operates independently but they coordinate to share information and expertise. While Network projects used a wide variety of tactics to prove innocence in these cases, it’s noteworthy that nearly half of the exonerations continue to be based on DNA testing.
Innocence Network members range from successful clinics that have operated for many years at some of the most respected universities to full-fledged nonprofit organizations with a solid staff and base of funding to small clinics at law schools that are still setting up a process to review cases. You can learn more about the Innocence Network or find an organization near you at