A comprehensive study of Virginia’s convictions from 1973 to 1988 have revealed a six percent wrongful conviction rate.
After a series of DNA exonerations in 2002, 2003 and 2004, the Innocence Project urged then-Governor Mark Warner to order an audit of all convictions covering the 15-year span where there was evidence suitable for DNA testing. The six-year study was largely aided by a massive discovery of untested biological evidence found in the notebooks of lab technicians, including Mary Jane Burton. Evidence from Burton’s notebooks have aided in at least six DNA exonerations in Virginia.
The Virginia Department of Forensic Science recently reported the findings, and the Urban Institute is analyzing them. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports:
John Roman, a senior fellow in the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute, said institute researchers reviewing 638 Virginia cases have identified 37 “that might support exoneration and that certainly support further investigation.”
Samuel Gross, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School and an expert on wrongful convictions was surprised by the error rate uncovered in the study.
“I would have guessed an error rate of 1 or 2 percent. Six percent is surprisingly high,” Gross said.
“Beyond that there’s this truly troubling fact that somebody now has (exculpatory) information about three dozen people who were convicted … and we have heard nothing about these cases,” Gross said.
Read about wrongful conviction cases that were uncovered through evidence found in Burton’s files:
Julius Earl Ruffin
Phillip Leon Thurman
Thomas Haynesworth .