Articles

Exonerees Present at the Innocence Conference 2017

This is not just a list. You will get little out of it. Rather, as you watch, think about these people, their families and loved ones, and the years taken away by the criminal justice system. Let the full weight bear down on you. Let the realization grip you that you cannot sit idly by and let this continue.

 

On the first evening of the two-day conference, those who have been exonerated since the last conference are called up to the stage with 4 or 5 pictures projected on the two large screens, recalling some of the details that led to their wrongful conviction and what led to their exoneration. Though I often hear it said that some wrongful convictions take place without any malice by the players in the process, I was struck by how, in almost every instance, there was intentional wrongdoing by police, detectives, prosecutors and/or judges. In one retrial, the jury acquitted a man who had already spent years in prison, and the judge overruled the jury! When asked why, the judge rose, walked out of the room without saying a word. As unusual as that was, it was no less troubling than most of the wrongful convictions of those present that night.

One other change over recent years rang out. In the past, only those who have been truly exonerated, i.e. found not guilty, would be called up. However, there are so many cases where the wrongful conviction becomes evident to everyone, say when a DNA hit identifies the real killer, and rather than withdrawing the charges, the prosecutor offers a deal to let the person, who has already spent decades in prison, out with "time served". They are offerred freedom from prison without the justice of acknowleging their innocence, letting their felony conviction stand. In those cases, the presenter would say to the wrongfully convicted person, we want you to know that a jury of your peers has found you to be innocent, and we stand by you! In a room of a thousand people, the impact of that statement can have a profound effect.