Send a Joyful Holiday Message to Five Innocence Project Clients Fighting for Freedom
Receiving letters of support is comforting and a reminder to the wrongfully convicted that people still care and will not stop fighting for them until they are freed.
Action 12.12.23 By Alicia Maule
The holidays are bittersweet for our community. While we are fortunate to have helped exonerate nine people this year and reunite them with their families just in time for the holidays, we never forget the thousands of innocent people who are still behind bars. The Innocence Project represents over 200 people in prison who are fighting through decades of wrongful incarceration and awaiting justice, including Melissa Lucio, Rodney Reed, Robert Roberson, Jimmie “Chris” Duncan, and Morton Johnson.
For them, receiving letters of support from the community is comforting and a reminder that people still care and will not stop fighting for them until they are freed.
This holiday season, send an uplifting letter to Ms. Lucio, Mr. Reed, Mr. Roberson, Mr. Duncan, and Mr. Johnson to let them know you’re thinking of them, as they continue to seek justice after decades of wrongful incarceration.
1. Melissa Lucio has spent 15 years on death row in Texas for a crime that never occurred.
The state of Texas set an April 27, 2022 execution date for Ms. Lucio for a crime that never occurred. She came within two days of being executed when a Texas court granted her a stay so that the courts could consider new evidence of her innocence.
In 2008, Ms. Lucio was convicted of murder and sentenced to death after her 2-year-old daughter, Mariah, tragically fell down a flight of stairs. In shock and grieving the loss of her daughter — the youngest of her 12 children at the time — Ms. Lucio was taken into police custody and immediately blamed for her daughter’s death which was mistaken for abuse. New medical evidence that the jury never heard shows that Mariah’s death was a tragic accident.
This is her fifteenth holiday on death row and away from her children and now grandchildren. Send her a holiday message to help keep her spirits up.
2. Rodney Reed has spent 25 years on death row in Texas for a crime he did not commit.
Rodney Reed is spending yet another holiday season and birthday on death row for murder, despite substantial evidence that exonerates him and implicates the victim’s then-fiancé, a former local police officer.
Growing up, Mr. Reed would spend his birthday and Christmas (which are just three days apart) with his five brothers, sharing all toys and gifts with one another. He has fond memories of going from one family member’s house to the next and tasting home-cooked dishes — his favorites were his father’s giblet gravy and his aunt’s pecan pie.
“As long as we were all together, the holidays were special,” Mr. Reed shared in 2021. “It was always just special to be together with family and friends, just breaking bread together and enjoying each other’s company. Doing that even on any given day of the week — it didn’t have to be a holiday — was special.”
3. Robert Roberson has spent over 20 years on death row in Texas for a crime that never occurred.
In 2002, Robert Roberson’s two-year-old, chronically ill daughter, Nikki, was sick with a high fever and suffered a short fall from bed. Hospital staff did not know Mr. Roberson had autism and judged his response to his daughter’s grave condition as lacking emotion. Mr. Roberson was prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to death under the now-discredited “shaken baby syndrome” hypothesis.
The overwhelming medical and scientific evidence now shows that Nikki died of accidental and natural causes. Mr. Roberson’s innocence case is attracting growing and widespread support from eminent scientists, doctors, faith leaders, innocence groups, former federal judges, best-selling novelist John Grisham, and the lead detective who testified for the prosecution and now believes he contributed to an innocent person being sent to death row.
4. Jimmie Duncan has spent 30 years on death row in Louisiana for a crime that never occurred.
In 1993, Mr. Duncan was bathing his girlfriend’s daughter when he stepped away briefly and returned to find the 23-month-old unconscious. He tried to perform CPR, took her to a neighbor’s house for help, and called the paramedics, but they were unable to resuscitate her. This was deemed to be a tragic accident until now-disgraced pathologist Steven Hayne and dentist Michael West — responsible for numerous wrongful convictions — opined based on fraudulent evidence and discredited “science” that the toddler had been killed. In 1998, Mr. Duncan was sentenced to death, but he has always maintained his innocence.
5. Morton Johnson has spent more than half his life in prison for a crime DNA evidence shows he didn’t commit.
Morton Johnson has spent over half his life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit — the murder of a 70-year-old woman in Chester, Pennsylvania. In fact, DNA evidence excluded Mr. Johnson, who was 18 at the time of the crime, as the attacker before his trial even began.
Yet 22 years later, even though recent DNA testing has provided scientific proof that he is innocent, Mr. Johnson is still fighting for his freedom. The Innocence Project filed a motion to vacate his convictions for the 1997 crime last year.
“When I write, I speak from a dark, lonely place. I speak from pain,” he shared in July. “Fighting for this cause isn’t a game. In the fight for prison reform and injustice, a billion voices aren’t enough. We pour our hearts out and cry, and it falls on deaf ears. We’re not asking a lot, we’re just asking for justice.”
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