Network press release:
A report released today by the Innocence Networkreveals that 29 people in the US and 2 people in the Netherlands were exonerated for crimes they didn’t commit by Innocence Network members in the past year. This is the largest number of exonerations that the Network has secured in the five years that it has reported its exonerations.
The report, “Innocence Network Exonerations 2013,” details each of this year’s exonerations. DNA contributed to the exonerations of 14 people. The other 17 were exonerated by other means. The 31 people exonerated served a combined 451 years behind bars (and an average of 14.5 years each). Two men served more than 3 decades. Three women were exonerated this year, also a record for the Network.
“Although it is painful to read about these tragic injustices, this year’s report does signal that the innocence movement that began two decades ago is gradually making progress in improving the system,” said Keith Findley, President of the Innocence Network and Co-Director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. “There were two people who were exonerated by new laws that were passed to make it easier to overturn wrongful convictions. We also saw how new technology is helping to correct injustice.”
Debra Brown of Utah, who served 17 years for a murder she didn’t commit, was the first person to be exonerated through a 2008 law passed by the Utah Legislature that makes it easier to overturn a conviction where there is no DNA evidence. Andrew Johnson, who wrongly served 23 years for rape, was the first person in Wyoming to be exonerated based on post-conviction DNA testing that was possible because of a law that the state passed in 2008. With the passage of a law in Oklahoma in May, all 50 states now have laws that guarantee access to DNA testing to overturn wrongful convictions.
The Knoops Innocence Project in the Netherlands saw its first exonerations this year. Nozai Thomas and Andy Melaan, who were convicted of murder and served 5 and 8 years respectively, were exonerated based on the testimony of a digital forensics expert who produced evidence that Thomas was at his desk downloading music at the time of the murder and that Meelan had used his cell phone on the other side of the island when the crime occurred.
“The report also serves as a stark reminder of the flaws that plague the system,” added Findley. “Misidentification continues to be the leading contributor to wrongful convictions, followed closely by false confessions and bad forensic practices. But this year we also saw numerous instances of police and prosecutorial misconduct and the tragic results of relying on incentivized informants.”
In addition to helping overturn wrongful convictions, Innocence Network organizations worked to bring substantive reform to the criminal justice system. Last year, Network member organizations lobbied statehouse across the country for reforms to improve identification procedures, reduce false confessions and compensate the wrongly convicted.
The Innocence Network is composed of 63 member organizations— 52 members in the US and 11 members in other countries. Each organization operates independently but they coordinate to share information and expertise.
Innocence Network members range from successful clinics that have operated for many years at some of the most respected universities to full-fledged nonprofit organizations with a solid staff and base of funding to small clinics at law schools that are still setting up a process to review cases. You can learn more about the Innocence Network or find an organization near you at www.innocencenetwork.org.