Connecticut Abolishes Death Penalty
Governor Dannel Malloy signed a bill passed by the Connecticut Legislature making the state the fifth in five years to end its use of the death penalty. The state’s decision reflects growing public concern over the danger of executing an innocent person. Seventeen people have been exonerated through DNA testing after serving time on death row and at least 32 others were exonerated by DNA of charges where they could have received the death penalty.
Read about the Innocence Project’s position on the death penalty.
The Innocence Project Celebrates 20 Years with Gala Benefit in New York City
The Innocence Project’s Twentieth Anniversary Benefit, A Celebration of Freedom & Justice, will take place on May 8th at the Waldorf=Astoria in New York City. This year’s honorees are Peter B. Lewis, Chairman of Progressive Insurance; artist Taryn Simon, whose works include The Innocents; and the law firm Winston & Strawn LLP.
For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.
RIT Hosts Wrongful Conviction Conference
On April 20, the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Departments of Criminal Justice and Psychology hosted “Justice Miscarried: Convicting the Innocent,” the 2012 New York State Wrongful Conviction Conference. Guest speakers included New York exoneree Steven Barnes, Innocence Project Co-Founder Peter Neufeld, and Innocence Project Eyewitness Identification Fellow Karen Newirth.
Donate for DNA Testing
Michael Saunders spent 17 years in prison until DNA testing proved his innocence and identified the real perpetrator. Watch Michael tell his story and donate to help raise $30,000 by April 30th for DNA testing.
What You’re Saying
, via Facebook: “An average of almost 20 exonerees PER YEAR since 2000….how can anyone call that ‘rare?!’ The agony that someone has to go through being convicted of a horrendous crime he did not commit in the first place and then being denied a test that could prove his innocence… It makes me feel soooo utterly sad just thinking about this person’s despair and about lives and whole families getting ruined. Can anyone truly imagine oneself being in such a situation and STILL be against the ‘Justice For All Act?’ I would like to appeal for more compassion for the injustice that these poor people have to endure.”
Missouri Attorney General Opposes Justice for George Allen
George Allen has served 30 years for a 1982 murder and rape in St. Louis, Missouri. Allen, who is schizophrenic, was originally arrested because police mistook him for a convicted sex offender who was a suspect in the case. Rather than let Allen go, they interrogated him anyway, eventually obtaining a confession that even one of the interrogating officers now admits he has doubts about.
The Innocence Project and attorneys from Bryan Cave LLP have discovered serology evidence that semen recovered from the robe that the victim was wearing when she was attacked didn’t match the defendant or the victim’s known sexual partners. DNA testing has proven that other semen at the scene, which was attributed to Allen at trial, was actually from the victim’s boyfriend. Lawyers also recently discovered evidence never turned over to the defense excluding Allen and the victim’s boyfriend as the source of fingerprints or blood evidence that was recovered at the scene. Despite this and other evidence pointing to Allen’s innocence, most of which was concealed from his lawyers, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is standing by the conviction and has opposed our efforts to overturn Allen’s conviction. The case is now before a Missouri judge who will hopefully conclude that the large volume of evidence pointing to Allen’s innocence coupled with the multiple constitutional violations demand that Allen’s conviction be overturned.
Innocence Network Conference Held in Kansas City
The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law and the Midwest Innocence Project hosted the 2012 Innocence Network Conference the weekend of March 29-31, 2012. There were more than 400 attendees, including 100 exonerees, representing more than 40 member projects from around the world. All three new member projects — the Oklahoma Innocence Project, the New Mexico Innocence and Justice Project and the Knoops Innocence Project of the Netherlands — were in attendance.
Workshops included guidance on organizational development, legal theory, forensic research, life after exoneration, legislative advocacy, conducting investigations and much more. Trainers from the New York City-based storytelling workshop “The Moth” worked with exonerees on how to tell their stories and — for the second year in a row — the conference concluded with an exoneree lead concert.
Forensics: Facts vs. Fiction
In popular culture, especially the omnipresent hour-long television police procedural drama, forensic science is often depicted as irrefutable evidence. But a series of recent investigative media reports present a reality that is much more complicated.
In a joint investigation conducted by PBS’ Frontline, ProPublica and the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, reporters found that forensic experts had contributed to wrongful convictions by presenting their results as fact, even when using techniques and equipment that had never been validated scientifically. Further, a former UC Berkley student working with investigators was able to receive certification as a forensic consultant from the American College of Forensic Examiners International (ACFEI) after taking a single, open-book, multiple-choice exam online.
The Washington Post reported that a Justice Department task force that was tasked with reviewing shoddy work by the FBI crime lab completed its review in 2004 but never made the results public. The Post’s investigation uncovered widespread problems with the review, which was extremely limited in scope, and only prosecutors were notified of the results who often did nothing with the information. Donald Gates spent 28 years in prison before DNA testing exonerated him in 2009, though prosecutors knew for 12 years that the forensic findings that contributed to his conviction were flawed.
These reports will hopefully motivate Congress to finally take up the recommendations of a 2009 National Academy of Sciences report calling for a federal response to the lack of scientific validation and standards in the forensic disciplines, as well as increased oversight of laboratories and certification of analysts.
Why I Give: A Donor Profile
Frances Ferris Crocker
Business Development Manager
New York, NY
While I was a freshman in college at the University of North Carolina, I worked at a death penalty appeals firm as a legal assistant. The center handled the case of Alan Gell, who was eventually freed on retrial after spending a decade on death row. This was my first exoneration. Before then, I hadn’t really known that wrongful convictions happened. I was learning how the death penalty was being applied in really unfair ways, but I couldn’t comprehend wrongfully sentencing someone to death. To realize, as a young person, that these things happen—you lose faith in the criminal justice system.
I had heard about the Innocence Project because I took an Innocence Project course in college in which we investigated claims of innocence. So when I saw a job posting to be the special assistant to the executive director, Maddy deLone, I applied for the job and I got it. In my second week on the job, Jeffrey Deskovic was exonerated in Westchester County. For any IP staffer, that is a galvanizing experience. At the end of the day, getting this person out of jail is all that matters. You know everything that goes into it, but at the exoneration, you can just focus on this individual and the fact that they have their life back. It validated for me that the Innocence Project has a very clear mission and that they’re successful at meeting that mission.
I left in 2008, but I have stayed involved. I’m a member of the Young Professionals Committee, I’ve provided pro bono assistance to the development team, and I’ve been attending the annual benefit every year. It refreshes and re-engages me in the mission. I think it’s important to honor the new exonerees each year, because they need to be recognized. They need that moment to heal and begin to become a member of the community of exonerees. It’s also incredibly exciting to see every year how more and more laws are being changed and best practices are being adopted. As a supporter, you know that your money is going even further, because each new exoneration increases the wave of public support and therefore the call for reforms to try to put a stop to wrongful convictions.