A Decade Later, Wrongful Conviction Still Haunts Herman Atkins
Innocence Project Herman Atkins was wrongfully convicted of rape in Los Angeles, California in 1988 and exonerated by DNA evidence twelve years later, in 2000. A cover story today in L.A. Weekly touches base with Atkins a decade after his exoneration, and finds him helping his fellow exonerees adjust to their newfound freedom.
Atkins was misidentified by a rape victim as the perpetrator despite having an alibi for the night of the crime. In the years following his release, he has taken comfort collecting receipts with timestamps and making sure he’s filmed by surveillance cameras in order to document his whereabouts, should he ever need an alibi again.
Atkins’ case was accepted by the Innocence Project in 1993 and six years later the court finally granted access to the evidence for DNA testing. Testing conducted on three separate areas of the victim’s sweater revealed a profile that didn’t match her or Atkins.
While Atkins was in prison, steering clear of trouble, he missed out on precious time with his family, including three children. Instead of leaving prison bitter and apathetic, however, he left motivated to learn and enrolled in college. Atkins said the exonerated face countless challenges after they’re freed, and he felt a calling to help.Two years ago, Atkins and his wife founded
Life Intervention for Exonerees
, a nonprofit that presents recent exonerees with welcome-back baskets that include a $250 gift card for that allows them to make purchases immediately following their release from prison.
“You have guys who refuse to take another step, in hopes of society giving back to them every day that they had took. … These guys [needed] help,” Atkins says. “If someone was going to give it to them, it had to be me.”
In the years following Atkins’ exoneration, he has returned to the courtroom to lobby for criminal justice reforms and at 44 years-old he will begin law school at California Western School of Law in San Diego in January.
Watch a new Innocence Project video with Atkins talking about life after exoneration below.
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