Three Consecutive Life Sentences for An Innocent Man


Edward Honaker

was convicted in 1985 in Virginia of a sexual assault he didn’t commit, and sentenced to three consecutive life terms. He would serve 10 years in prison before DNA testing proved his innocence and led to his exoneration in 1994. This week marks the 16th anniversary of his exoneration.

His wrongful conviction was the result of several factors, including eyewitness misidentification, government misconduct and fraudulent forensic science.  Today, 16 years after his exoneration, innocent people are still suffering similar injustices.

Eyewitness misidentification

is the leading cause of wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing, playing a role in 75% of exoneration cases. In Honaker’s case, it was a misidentification tainted by misconduct that led to his conviction. An investigator officer in the case showed the victims Honaker’s photo before conducting a lineup, so it wasn’t a surprise when he was selected as the perpetrator, even though the victims’ initial description didn’t match Honaker’s appearance. The Innocence Project and Centurion Ministries helped obtain the evidence that led to Honaker’s exoneration, and he was freed and pardoned in 1994, after spending a decade in prison.

Since then, there have been seven other exonerations in Virginia, and eyewitness misidentification was a factor in each. In 2003, the state enacted a law requiring each local police department and sheriff’s office to establish a written policy and procedure for conducting in-person and photograph lineups.  It is one of ten states with an eyewitness identification reform policy in place. Read about the others here.

Other Exoneration Anniversaries This Week:

James Ochoa

, California (Served 10 Months, Exonerated 10/19/06)

Fredric Saecker

, Wisconsin (Served 6 Years, Exonerated 10/24/96)

Victor Ortiz

, New York (Served 11.5 Years, Exonerated 10/24/96

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