New Study Shows Wrongfully Convicted Women Face “Gendered” Challenges on Road to Exoneration

06.08.16 By Innocence Staff

More than 30 percent of exonerated women have had false or misleading evidence play a role in their wrongful convictions while two-thirds were wrongfully convicted for crimes that never even occurred. These are the sobering statistics revealed by journalist Alison Flowers in a Time magazine article that tackles head-on some of the challenges faced by women accused and convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.

What is especially astounding about Flowers’ investigation, which is based on a new analysis by the Women’s Project at the Center on Wrongful Convictions, is that it sheds special light on the particularities that differentiate the wrongful convictions of women from those of men, including the rates in which DNA evidence has been used to achieve exoneration.

According to Flowers, DNA evidence “rarely” proves a wrongfully convicted woman’s innocence, with it playing a role in only 7 percent of women’s exonerations compared to more than 25 percent of men’s exonerations.

One of the reasons, she adds, is that some 43 percent of women exonerees have been convicted of harming or killing a child or loved one in their care—situations in which DNA evidence is unlikely to prove innocence.

This, in fact, was the case with Kristine Bunch.

In 1996, Bunch was wrongfully convicted of setting the house fire that killed her 3-year-old son after investigators followed “damaging, gendered instructions” from the Reid Technique, an extremely popular and widely used interrogation manual which states, among other things, that in a “final, yet insincere effort to gain sympathy,” women will cry, writes Flowers. Bunch ultimately spent more than 17 years in prison before eventually being exonerated.

“What finally proved her innocence?” asks Flowers. “Lawyers from the Center of Wrongful Convictions discovered evidence from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms showing that negative test sample results had been changed to positive results for accelerants. Experts also reevaluated the fire evidence, which has been scientifically refuted since her trial.”

The fire that had claimed the life of Bunch’s child was accidental; there had been no crime at all, Flowers notes.

“This is common among female exonerations,” she continues. “About two-thirds of exonerated women were wrongly convicted for incidents that never occurred, compared to about a fourth of men who were exonerated.”

Read more about the challenges faced by exoneree Kristine Bunch and others who have survived wrongful convictions in Alison Flowers’ new book, Exoneree Diaries: The Fight for Innocence, Independence, and Identity.

Related: What You Need to Know About the Wrongful Conviction of Women



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