Meet the Men and Women of the 2017 Innocence Network Conference
03.27.17 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.
(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.
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, 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 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 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
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
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.
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Join us in Memphis, Tennessee for the 2018 Innocence Network Conference.
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April 2, 2017 at 6:44 pm
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.
Marvin L. Zinn April 4, 2017 at 10:08 pm
I was just searching on this subject because in the last few months I was put in jail just because I was trying to help people (as I have been more than 3 years).
Most basic for my arrest was called “trespassing” on a public college that a lawyer told me was impossible. The real cause was one of several college students over the years who live in my house and I am responsible for most of them needing transportation to college and elsewhere. (I charge only extra expense, no profits.) Recent was a 31 year old catholic nun from Kenya, brought by her uncle in the US Army, Fort Drum, New York, who was the Catholic chaplain.
His first question was: What religion do you belong to? My answer: I am not associated with any religious organization, but live as Jesus and his disciples did with meetings in homes; that was acceptable to him. This young woman was happier in my house than any time in life, her first freedom and independence!
But in a few weeks a nurse invited this Catholic nun to a Seventh Day Adventist church (not related to me). The nun was raised as a slave and never knew any other religion existed. When she told her Uncle about it, she cried for hours being forced out of my house to another town. She could not reveal the address or was afraid her uncle “would kill me”. She complained because a man in the house would not visit her room until his wife was asleep.
Then her uncle with power and money contributed to the college managed to force the nun to sign a statement against me. I was prohibited from contacting her (while she continued to send me messages: “I love you. I miss you. I want to return to your house.” )
Later, twice, I was taking another student to college, arrested and put in jail just for “trespassing”. Sometimes someone else could provide transportation (no bus service near my home), but otherwise he would miss classes if I did not take him there. I am now on probation, and have a trial in a couple days, but if like before I will never have the opportunity to speak with the judge just to tell the real story.
All of this emphasized what I already was suspicious about. There are many people in jail totally innocent, or insignificant behavior violation. Those who have money can buy their way out, so I am less likely to blame the poor even if they are guilty.