Understanding Crime Victim Perspectives on Wrongful Convictions


Understanding Crime Victim Perspectives on Wrongful Convictions

Katie Monroe at the podium with (left to right) Jennifer Thompson, Yolanda Littlejohn and Christy Sheppard

Katie Monroe

, Innocence Project Senior Advocate for National Partnerships
Our advocacy work to improve the criminal justice system has benefitted enormously from the expert voices of victims and their families who bear witness to the fact that nobody benefits from a wrongful conviction.  However, I have found in talking to these individuals that speaking out about their experiences can also take a toll. To better understand how to work with crime victims and their families, I moderated a panel at the 2013 Innocence Network Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I invited three panelists to describe their experiences. 
A bit of background first: the

Innocence Network

, an affiliation of over 60 organizations both national and international, has long had a Victims Committee, and in 2008 it issued a landmark statement about regard for victims and victims’ families in wrongful conviction cases. The Innocence Network worked closely with victims and victims’ organizations in the creation of

this statement

and followed it with a breakthrough conference panel on the issue. 
Convened in April, our panel sought to continue the conversation. Jennifer Thompson, Yolanda Littlejohn and Christy Sheppard shared their experiences both from being involved in a wrongful conviction case and advocating for criminal justice reform.  They described the unique hardship faced by crime victims and victims’ families in such cases and discussed steps that innocence organizations might be able to take to help them get much needed support during the exoneration process. Victims and their families suffer from the knowledge that a mistake was made and the real perpetrator not apprehended or punished, from having to relive the trauma of the original crime, and from losing faith in a system that they relied on to protect them and serve them justice.  They also often feel lost and invisible when a claim of innocence is being pursued and won in court. 
Jennifer Thompson is an advocate for judicial reform, the need to combat sexual violence, abolition of the death penalty, the fallibility of eyewitness testimony, and the healing power of forgiveness. Her strong convictions were born of a brutal rape she suffered as a 22-year-old college student. Her compelling testimony sent a young man to a life term in prison for a crime he did not commit. That man,

Ronald Cotton

, was eventually freed thanks in large part to his persistence in maintaining his innocence and to DNA testing, which eventually identified the true perpetrator. Jennifer credits Ronald with teaching her the healing power of forgiveness and grace. Together they co-authored a joint memoir,

Picking Cotton

, a New York Times best-seller, which recounts their journeys, the tragedy that brought them together, and their mutual conviction that such errors must be recognized, and that concrete reforms can lessen the probability of such mistakes. 
 Yolanda Littlejohn’s sister, Jacquetta Thomas, was murdered in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1991. Two men were arrested for her murder. One was never convicted; the other, Greg Taylor, was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. In 2009, Taylor was exonerated and released from prison when DNA evidence proved that he could not have been the killer. The murder of Jacquetta Thomas is now a cold case – an unsolved homicide. Yolanda has been active in the effort to repeal her state’s death penalty and has spoken to groups of victims, telling her story and discussing the effects of exoneration on victims’ families. Yolanda is co-founder and the Director of Victims After Exoneration, a project of Murder Victims Families for Human Rights.
Christy Sheppard is a Licensed Professional Counselor who specializes in child and family therapy. Christy is also an advocate for victims’ issues and awareness in cases where there has been an exoneration. Christy’s cousin, Debra Sue Carter, was murdered in 1982. Two men,

Ron Williamson


Dennis Fritz

where convicted and then exonerated for this crime after spending 12 years in prison and on death row. 
Jennifer, Yolanda and Christy also addressed ways the Network might be able to assist crime victims and victims’ families in connecting with and providing support for each other during exonerations.  Finally, they explored opportunities for crime victims and their families to help lead efforts to reform the criminal justice system and prevent wrongful convictions for the benefit of all.  Collaborating with crime victims in our innocence work is profoundly important, and I applaud the Network for its leadership, sensitivity, and vision.

Leave a Reply

Thank you for visiting us. You can learn more about how we consider cases here. Please avoid sharing any personal information in the comments below and join us in making this a hate-speech free and safe space for everyone.

This field is required.
This field is required.
This field is required.

B Woods March 30, 2020 at 1:05 am Reply   

Hello, i don’t live in your state,but i live in this country and when I go into prayer I will call out your name and ask GOD almighty to work on your behalf to get you your freedom, allow you forgiveness to those who harmed youn and above all GOD’s perfect peace to keep your heart and mind.

Lamonta lamonta August 30, 2018 at 3:48 pm Reply   

Richard Dinkins I suggest that you look into other work such as construction jobs that are contract jobs. These jobs offer you to work with felonies( I believe, not sure what type of crimes but you will have to do your own research) but I have family members that’s getting paid 20-40 hourly with just an high school diploma or G.E.D. its a lot of other paths you can take instead of 9-5 employments. These jobs also does traveling and paying “per diem”. Per diem is when the company is paying you regular time and also time for the travel, in some or most cases they are also paying for all expenses while on the job as well hotel, food, gas etc. You make a lot of money because your not getting benefits such as health insurance 401k etc. but with health insurance you can pay that out of pocket. when it comes down to 401k you can supplement that buy investing into stocks, or Bit coin to build that money you invest with, ITS LOTS OF OTHER REVENUES TO RECIEVE REVENUE.

See More

We've helped free more than 240 innocent people from prison. Support our work to strengthen and advance the innocence movement.