LL&D Law
Wrongful Convictions - Part 2

by Susan B. Loving
8/11/2011 10:59:00 AM

     As we discussed last week, in the Louisiana case you mention, one month before the defendant’s scheduled execution his attorneys discovered proof the perpetrators’s blood type was different from the defendant’s. New Orleans prosecutors later admitted hiding this evidence from the defendant. The defendant spent 14 years on death row for robbery and murder he did not commit. A fascinating and disturbing description of how the defendant was wrongly convicted can be found at www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/09-571.pdf.

     You may wonder whether Oklahoma has ever wrongly sentenced someone to death. Unfortunately, the answer is yes. While we do not have information relating to other possible exonerations, according to The Innocence Project, at least three Oklahoma death row inmates have been exonerated through DNA.

     Made famous by author John Grisham’s nonfiction book, The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town, Keith Williamson, a former minor league baseball player, was sentenced to death, and Dennis Fritz, a high school teacher, was sentenced to life in prison, for the murder of a young woman. Both were released 11 years later when DNA evidence proved their innocence.

     The Innocence Project was also instrumental in obtaining the release of Robert Miller, who spent twelve-and-a-half years on death row for two Tulsa murders DNA testing later exonerated him of. After 19 years on death row, Curtis McCarty was exonerated in 2007 for an Oklahoma City murder.

     Seven others have been released from Oklahoma prisons after DNA testing proved them innocent of rape or robbery. Five of these individuals had served between 12 and 20 years before being released. In several cases, the real perpetrator was also identified through DNA.

     Nationwide, to date seventeen death row inmates have been exonerated through DNA testing. The average sentence served by DNA exonerees is 13 years. Thus far, exonerations have occurred in 34 states and Washington, D.C. Based on these figures, Oklahoma’s ten exonerations -- three for death row inmates -- is disproportionately high. Since DNA is estimated to be a factor in only 5 to 10 percent of all convictions, some experts are concerned many others are wrongly convicted, but have no means to prove their innocence.

      Next week we will discuss some of the reasons wrongful convictions occur.


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