Black Lives Matter
On May 25th, George Floyd, a 46-year old Black man, was killed by police after an officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd’s life and future is one of many taken unjustly by police brutality. Between 2013 and 2019, police violence in the United States led to the deaths of 7,666 people, most of them Black Americans. The number of police killings in the country disproportionately affects Black people, who are three times as likely as white Americans to be killed by the police. In 8 of the 100 largest cities in the United States, police departments kill Black men at higher rates than the U.S. murder rate itself. It makes no difference the crime rate of the city—levels of violent crime in U.S. cities do not determine rates of police violence. And rarely is there ever any accountability; in 99% of the cases where an officer killed a civilian between 2013 – 2019, the officer was not charged with a crime.
Police brutality is not new, and the protests against police brutality represent the pain and hurt not just for the death of George Floyd but for the deaths of all Black people killed by police before him. The root of the George Floyd unjust killing—the systemic and racist view that Black people must prove they are not dangerous, that they are not entitled to a presumption of innocence—has resulted in the death of Black people in the United States for centuries through police brutality and wrongful convictions.
The work of the Innocence Network— made up of 67 independent innocence organizations—often lays bare the reach and effects of systemic racism and white supremacy within the criminal justice system and our society at large. The Innocence Network joins the Black Lives Matter movement in condemning the senseless murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and all Black individuals killed by police brutality. The organizations of the Innocence Network offer our sincerest condolences to their families and to the many unnamed families who continue to face the heartbreaking loss of loved ones at the hands of white supremacy.
As a coalition of organizations dedicated to freeing people incarcerated for crimes they did not commit, we affirm our commitment to combat white supremacy and anti-blackness in all forms and in all places. This includes in our own organizations, institutions, practices, and offices. The Innocence Network values racial equity and understands that we must first grapple with our own complicity before we can even begin to tackle racial justice at large. Finally, we acknowledge the unbelievable pain and burden this causes our clients and colleagues of color in the Network. To our clients, coworkers, colleagues, and friends: we stand with you.
May we utilize the breaths we take for granted to fight for those who have lost theirs. As James Baldwin taught us, “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
The Innocence Network
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Freeing the innocent and preventing wrongful convictions worldwide
The Innocence Network is an affiliation of organizations dedicated to providing pro bono legal and investigative services to individuals seeking to prove innocence of crimes for which they have been convicted, working to redress the causes of wrongful convictions, and supporting the exonerated after they are freed.
The Innocence Network
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68 organizations from around the world working to exonerate unjustly convicted men and women, including independent nonprofits as well as organizations affiliated with law schools or other educational institutions, units of public defender offices, and pro bono sections of law firms.
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Recent news articles and media mentions from around the Innocence Network
After fighting for their innocence for 17 years, our client Wang Chih-Cheng and Hung Shih-Wei were both acquitted by the Taiwan High Court Taichung Branch Court on December 31, 2019.
The two were accused of dropping Wang’s girlfriend from the Houfeng Bridge in central Taiwan in 2002. Wang said that it was she who crossed the fence by herself and fell, while Hung was not even there on the bridge when the incident took place. However, they were both found guilty of murder, and the convictions became finalized in 2009. Wang and Hung’s sentences were 15 years of imprisonment and 12 years and 6 months of imprisonment, respectively. They began to serve their time while their families outside kept seeking for help.
In 2012, TIP accepted the case and put forward new opinions, including one from a pathologist and one from a professor of mechanics from National Taiwan University, proving that the victim was not thrown by the two defendants and the critical inculpatory testimony used for conviction were not reliable. We took the opinions as new evidence and filed a motion for a retrial. In Feb 2018, the court adjudicated to start the retrial and to release the two after spending 7 years behind bars for Wang and 8 years for Hung.
After 22 months of trial, Wang and Hung were acquitted on December 31, 2019. The prosecution has not yet decided if they will appeal.
On May 12, 2020 the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office dropped its case against Keyon Sprinkle, of Boston, MA, who was wrongfully convicted of a 1999 murder and spent 20 years incarcerated for a crime he did not commit. The case against Mr. Sprinkle’s co-defendant, Clarence Williams, was also dropped.
On January 29, 2020, the Suffolk Superior Court allowed Mr. Sprinkle’s motion for new trial, officially overturning his murder conviction. After a lengthy hearing, the Court found credible evidence that two other people – discovered through extensive investigation – were responsible for committing the murder for which Mr. Sprinkle was wrongfully convicted.
The Court specifically noted that Mr. Sprinkle “has been steadfast in his claim that he is innocent,” and his testimony was so compelling that it made the Court more certain that “justice was not done” in his case.
After his conviction was overturned, Mr. Sprinkle was released from prison on February 6, 2020, with the consent of the District Attorney’s office. Yesterday, the District Attorney filed a nolle prosequi, declining to pursue the case further.
“We are thrilled that this nightmare is finally over for Mr. Sprinkle,” said Radha Natarajan, Executive Director of the New England Innocence Project, an organization supporting Mr. Sprinkle’s innocence case. “Over the last 20 years, Mr. Sprinkle has never stopped fighting to prove his innocence. Now he can enjoy his freedom with his family.”
Along with Mr. Williams, Mr. Sprinkle was convicted of the murder of Charles Taylor on November 16, 1999. Mr. Sprinkle refused a plea offer by the government in the middle of trial, consistently maintaining that he had no role in Mr. Taylor’s killing. Mr. Sprinkle was represented by a pro bono team of attorneys, including Peter Parker; Joseph Savage and Ashley Drake of Goodwin Law; and Chad Higgins of Bernstein Shur.
Boston College Innocence Program client Ronnie Qualls was released yesterday on bail after almost 27 years’ incarceration for a 1992 double murder that he did not commit. Ronnie’s murder convictions were vacated based on DNA evidence indicating that multiple small droplets of one of the victim’s blood was on the original suspect’s sweatshirt shortly after the shooting. The victim unequivocally named that same suspect as the shooter to three different police officers moments before he died. However, that suspect told police that Ronnie was the shooter and three eyewitnesses later identified Ronnie as the shooter. The Suffolk County District Attorney’s office joined the BCIP in asking for Ronnie’s convictions to be vacated and they are currently awaiting the charges to be dismissed.
Florida Man Spent 29 Years on Death Row Before His Murder Conviction Was Overturned by New DNA Evidence
Paul Hildwin, 60, was released on from Hernando County jail on March 9 after spending 35 years in prison and over 29 of those years on death row. In 2014, while Hildwin was represented by Fort Lauderdale attorney Martin McClain and the Innocence Project, the Florida Supreme Court reversed Hildwin’s capital murder conviction and death sentence on the 1986 murder of a Hernando County woman. The Court’s ruling was based on DNA testing and a court-ordered search of the national DNA database which proved that critical evidence originally used to tie Hildwin to the crime actually belonged to the victim’s estranged boyfriend, whom Hildwin had always contended was the likely true killer.
While in jail, Hildwin not only survived the State’s efforts to execute him, but also three separate bouts of cancer. He suffered a fourth recurrence in March 2019, while awaiting retrial, but prosecutors still refused to drop the case. His cancer is now in remission.
In 2003, DNA testing excluded Hildwin as the source of semen and saliva found on the two pieces of crime scene evidence. For the next seven years, the Innocence Project fought prosecutors to submit the DNA profile into the CODIS DNA database to determine the source of the DNA. In 2010,
the Florida Supreme Court finally ordered a DNA database search on the DNA profile, which was identified to the victim’s estranged boyfriend — an alternate suspect in the crime, who was convicted of 16 counts of sexual battery of a minor.
Hildwin was represented at his 1986 trial by Daniel Lewan, a court-appointed lawyer with less than three years’ experience and who had never tried a murder case. As his retrial loomed, Goudie filed numerous motions arguing that Lewan’s ineffectiveness, along with the death of at least twelve witnesses, made it impossible for Hildwin to receive a fair trial 35 years later.
Kerry Robinson, 44, of Moultrie, Georgia, was exonerated and released today from Coffee Correctional Facility, into the arms of family, friends and a team of legal supporters, after being wrongly convicted of rape almost 18 years ago. Southern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Brad Shealy joined in Robinson’s motion to vacate his sentence. The move followed litigation initiated by Atlanta-based Georgia Innocence Project and co-counsel Rodney Zell based upon new, exonerating DNA results obtained by DNA scientist Dr. Greg Hampikian.
At Robinson’s 2002 rape trial, the jury heard testimony from a state crime lab analyst that suggested that Robinson’s DNA was likely included in a DNA mixture from the sexual assault kit performed on the victim. But new DNA analysis proves just the opposite: the same evidence the GBI said was inclusionary at trial is now proven to be exclusionary.
“We are thrilled to see this unjust conviction finally corrected,” said Georgia Innocence Project Executive Director Clare Gilbert. “The factors that led to Kerry Robinson’s conviction – flawed forensics and false testimony from an incentivized cooperator – are present in so many wrongful conviction cases. Our fight continues on behalf of the many innocent men and women who remain imprisoned in Georgia.”
“Modern DNA technology has further confirmed what we’ve known for a long time: Kerry Robinson is an innocent man,” said Rodney Zell, co-counsel in Robinson’s case. “I am so grateful that new technology is finally able to meet the incredibly high thresholds for righting wrongful convictions in Georgia. It’s been a long fight and we wish Kerry’s mother were here to see this day. We are overjoyed to see Kerry coming home after all these years.”
“Fifteen minutes of flawed DNA forensic testimony took almost 18 years to correct in this case. My hope is that labs and lawyers will take notice, and re-examine these complex DNA mixture cases that can mistakenly imprison the innocent,” said DNA scientist Dr. Greg Hampikian of Boise State University, who obtained the new DNA results. “I am so relieved that Kerry is finally coming home.”
Demetrius Johnson smiled broadly as he walked out of the county’s main criminal courthouse Friday and headed home for a celebratory bubble bath.
It was a pivotal day for Johnson. The 44-year-old, who went to prison for 12 years as a teenager for murder, became the 20th person to be exonerated based on allegations he was framed by retired Chicago Police Detective Reynaldo Guevara.
Earlier this year, it came to light that an eyewitness account implicating another person in the fatal 1991 Wicker Park shooting had been concealed from prosecutors and defense attorneys.
A Cook County judge vacated Johnson’s conviction in November, leaving it up to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office to retry the case — although Johnson had served his sentence and couldn’t be sent back to prison — or drop the case altogether.
A prosecutor with the state’s attorney’s office Friday informed Judge Dennis J. Porter that the state’s attorney’s office had decided to drop all charges.
“It’s an out-of-body experience,” Johnson said after the hearing. “I felt like I had a gorilla on my back.”
Check out the Innocence Network’s Wrongful Conviction Day website. Wrongful Conviction Day is an international day to raise awareness of the causes and remedies of wrongful conviction and to recognize the tremendous personal, social, and emotional costs of wrongful conviction for innocent people and their families. Check out tweets and posts from last year’s Wrongful Conviction Day.