Michelle Murphy: I Served 20 Years In Prison For My Son’s Murder — Until DNA Testing Proved My Innocence

In 2014, I became the first woman in Oklahoma to be exonerated by DNA.

World DNA Day 04.25.24 By Michelle Murphy

Michelle Murphy at the 2024 Innocence Network Conference in New Orleans (Image: Claire Bangser/ Innocence Project)

Michelle Murphy at the 2024 Innocence Network Conference in New Orleans (Image: Claire Bangser/ Innocence Project)

As we celebrate World DNA Day, I am living proof of DNA’s profound impact on our criminal legal system. 

My name is Michelle Murphy. I am one of 15 women exonerated in the United States with the help of post-conviction DNA testing —  and I am the first and only woman in Oklahoma to be exonerated by DNA testing.

In 1994, at just 17, I was a single mother of two, navigating a challenging world, dreaming of a better future for my children and myself. But my life took a tragic turn when my infant son was murdered, a crime for which I was wrongly accused of committing. My coerced confession during a distressing police interrogation was used to convict me, and I was sentenced to life without parole. Falsely confessing to a crime I did not commit is not a unique phenomenon, and one of the leading causes of wrongful conviction

It was clear that DNA evidence, crucial in my case due to the presence of blood at the crime scene, would be pivotal. Although lab tests conducted by the prosecution proved my DNA wasn’t present at the crime scene, this crucial information was kept from my defense team. However, during the trial, the prosecution misleadingly suggested to the jury that the blood from the scene was mine, using this to claim I was guilty. 

During two decades behind bars, what kept me going was the unwavering hope of advanced DNA testing to identify the real perpetrator and help prove my innocence. My faith in God, coupled with the support of my family and friends sustained me. My local legal team, with help from the Innocence Project, finally located and tested the missing DNA evidence, proving the bloodstain was from an unknown male, and not from me as prosecutors claimed.

In 2014, when I learned that DNA had cleared my name, it was as if a heavy burden had been lifted from my shoulders. The tears I shed were not just tears of joy, but tears of relief and vindication, affirming the power of DNA testing to prove my innocence and highlight the failures of the criminal legal system. 

Tyrone Day attends his exoneration hearing in the Frank Crowley Courts Building in Dallas, Texas on May 24, 2023. (Image: Montinique Monroe for Innocence Project)

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Looking back, I think about what could have been done differently to prevent the miscarriage of justice that I endured: better training for law enforcement officers, requiring the full recording of interrogations, thorough investigations, ensuring prosecutors uphold their mandate to disclose evidence of innocence, and the testing and preservation of evidence, are just a few measures that come to mind.

To those who find themselves in a similar situation of wrongful conviction, I offer this advice: never lose hope. Support networks like the Innocence Project are essential in fighting for freedom and systemic change. Let us celebrate World DNA Day not only by acknowledging scientific progress but also by celebrating the power DNA has had in freeing nearly 600 people, who would otherwise be languishing behind bars. 

I encourage you to support the Innocence Project’s DNA Fund to help bring home more of my wrongly incarcerated brothers and sisters. 


Michelle Murphy is a member of the Innocence Project’s Exoneree Advisory Council and Speakers Bureau. She speaks on coerced confessions, DNA, and undisclosed evidence. 

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