Exonerated September 2020, Florida
In October 1983, Robert DuBoise was convicted for the rape and murder of a 19-year-old woman in Tampa, Florida, based solely on bite mark analysis (a debunked forensic method) and an unreliable jailhouse informant’s testimony. The jury unanimously sentenced Mr. DuBoise to life, but the judge overrode their decision and sentenced him to death. He spent three years on death row before his sentence was vacated and he was resentenced to life in prison. New DNA testing of crime scene evidence that was previously thought to have been destroyed, excluded Mr. DuBoise as the attacker and exonerated him.
“To walk out of this nightmare and hug my mother and sister after almost four decades, knowing I was innocent is bittersweet."
Freed from prison May 2020, Louisiana
In 2004, Darrill Henry was arrested for the murders of an 89-year-old woman and her 67-year-old daughter in New Orleans. Mr. Henry’s capital murder conviction–which was the product of a flawed eyewitness identification procedue and an incentivized witness–was overturned after new DNA evidence established that he did not commit the crime. The court ruled that the DNA constituted clear and convincing evidence of his innocence. In May, after the Innocence Project fought numerous appeals by the state, he was finally released.
“The hardest thing [was] being away from your children — missing all the holidays, missing all their birthdays, missing when they graduated, and not being able to be there for them when they needed me the most."
Freed March 2020, Florida
Paul Hildwin spent a decade on death row for a 1985 murder until his death sentence was overturned based on ineffective trial counsel. Then, eight years later, DNA testing excluded Mr. Hildwin as the source of crime scene evidence, but he wasn’t released. For another seven years, the Innocence Project fought to determine the source of the DNA evidence through a database search, and when the Florida Supreme Court finally ordered the search, the DNA was matched to another person. Nevertheless, prosecutors announced they would retry Mr. Hildwin and seek the death penalty again. Finally, in 2020, Mr. Hildwin was released from prison following a plea agreement with the state to avoid a second death penalty trial. Having spent nearly 30 years on death row, Mr. Hildwin not only survived the State’s efforts to execute him, but also three separate bouts of cancer.
“Paul Hildwin’s unwavering determination to one day walk free enabled him to survive three and a half decades behind bars, during which he battled four bouts of cancer."
Exonerated January 2020, Michigan
In 1987, a woman in Detroit was assaulted in her car. She escaped and weeks later, police came across her stolen car and detained the two men in it. They said the driver’s brother had given them the car, but police never investigated the man although he matched the victim’s description of her attacker and her registration was found in his home. Two years later, the victim thought she saw her attacker and pointed out Gerry Thomas. Nine months later, without additional police investigation, Mr. Thomas was arrested and convicted, despite not matching the description of the attacker and having an alibi. The Innocence Project and the Conviction Integrity Unit of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office reinvestigated the case. Nearly 30 years after his arrest, the state agreed to vacate his conviction based on law enforcement’s failure to properly investigate and disclose evidence that implicated someone else.
“Despite everything he and his family have experienced for the last three decades, Mr. Thomas has always had faith this day would come."
Exonerated December 2019, New York
Felipe Rodriguez was wrongly convicted of murder and served more than 27 years in prison based largely on the testimony of a police informant who was suspected of being involved in the crime and who, in an undisclosed pretrial statement, admitted he had repeatedly lied to police and been coerced to say he had information about the murder. The informant gave a new, contradictory statement on the day of Mr. Rodriguez’s arrest, which was recorded in detectives’ notes but never heard by the jury. Mr. Rodriguez was released from prison in 2017, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo commuted his sentence. The Innocence Project continued advocating for his exoneration which led to the discovery of police notes and reports containing evidence that had been unlawfully withheld from his defense attorney. This evidence directly contradicted the already weak case against Mr. Rodriguez presented at trial, and in 2019, the Queens district attorney joined the Innocence Project in asking the court to throw out his conviction and dismiss all charges.
"[Today], the chains will fall … I will be absolutely, completely free.”
Exonerated January 2020, New York
In 1985, Rafael Ruiz was wrongly convicted of sexual assault. At his trial, he was offered a plea deal in exchange for a three-year prison sentence but he refused to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit. Although he did not match the physical description of the attacker, he was convicted and sentenced to up to 25 years in prison based on an eyewitness misidentification. He served the full sentence and was released in 2009. Mr. Ruiz was finally exonerated based on evidence discovered during a joint investigation by the Innocence Project and the Conviction Integrity Program of the New York County District Attorney’s Office. Because DNA testing excluded Mr. Ruiz from crime scene evidence and the police procedures that led to his misidentification were flawed and suggestive, a judge vacated his conviction and dismissed all charges against him.
“I was a man who went to court and went to trial to prove his innocence, but I was treated like I was already guilty when I stepped in there.”
Freed April 2020, Georgia
Sheila Denton, a client of the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR), was released from a Georgia prison after 15 years of wrongful imprisonment based on bite mark evidence. Ms. Denton’s 2006 murder conviction was reversed with assistance from the Innocence Project with prosecutors choosing not to appeal an emergency motion to release her in light of the court’s decision and the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2017, the SCHR filed a motion for a new trial based on the discrediting of bite mark analysis as a forensic technique. The Innocence Project assisted in obtaining affidavits from five forensic dentists, all of whom stated that bite mark evidence is fundamentally unreliable and should not have been used to convict Ms. Denton. In its decision, the court stated that bite mark evidence will not “likely be of any aid to a jury in reaching a decision. The future of admissibility of such evidence is dubious at best.”
“I ... applaud the court’s thoughtful opinion, acknowledging that bite mark evidence has no place in our criminal justice system and reversing Ms. Denton’s wrongful conviction, which was based nearly entirely on pseudoscience.”
Freed October 2020, New York
Ron Jacobsen spent 30 years in prison before his conviction was overturned by DNA evidence excluding him as the attacker last year. The prosecutor refused to dismiss the charges, is seeking a retrial of the case and opposed bail for Ron. The prosecutor made an offer — which Ron rejected — that if he would plead guilty he could be sentenced to time served and go home. In October 2020, the court finally set bail for Ron, and with the help of this community, his family was able to raise the $55,000 needed to free him in a matter of days. Mr. Jacobsen is now home with his family while he fights for his full freedom and vindication.
"I live my life with hope, always hope, that my future will be better than the past and present, but only as long as I work to make it so … By taking any type of plea bargain, I’m giving up on my hopes and future."
Exonerated November 2020, New York
In 1994, Jaythan Kendrick was arrested for a murder that occurred during a robbery in Queens, New York. Hours after the murder police zeroed in on Mr. Kendrick, an Army veteran and postal worker out on disability with no criminal record, based on a description of the attacker given by a 10-year-old who saw the attack from his third floor apartment over 100 feet away. That eyewitness initially chose someone else in a police lineup, but after learning that his first identification was incorrect, he selected Mr. Kendrick as his “second choice.” In November 2020, Mr. Kendrick’s conviction was vacated based on newly discovered witnesses and post-conviction DNA testing, after the Innocence Project worked collaboratively with the Queens District Attorney’s Office in the reinvestigation of the case.
"If anything can come from this — it’s that somebody needs to figure out how we can stop innocent people from going behind that [prison] wall."
Eddie Lee Howard
Freed December 2020, Mississippi
In 1992, Eddie Lee Howard, Jr. was arrested for the murder in Columbus, Mississippi. He was convicted primarily based on bite mark comparison evidence — an invalid forensic method — and sentenced to death in 1994. The Mississippi Supreme Court vacated that conviction and sentence, but Eddie was tried and convicted again based on the same flimsy evidence six years later. In September, the Mississippi Supreme Court once again vacated Eddie’s conviction and death sentence. Citing many other Innocence Project cases, the court acknowledged bite mark evidence has been discredited. Because of that, and in light of DNA evidence excluding Eddie from the crime scene, the court reversed the conviction.
"Eddie Lee Howard's wrongful conviction and death sentence is rooted in racism and indifference to the lives of Black people. We are full of joy that Mr. Howard survived his decades-long ordeal."
Exonerated December 2020, Pennsylvania
Termaine Hicks was exonerated in December after the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office conceded that lead police officers lied under oath to cover up shooting Mr. Hicks—who was innocent of any crime—in the back three times. In 2001, Mr. Hicks came to the aid of a woman screaming in an alley. Police arriving at the scene completely misread the situation, erroneously assuming Mr. Hicks was the assailant, and shot him three times in the back. Realizing Mr. Hicks did not match the description of the attacker provided by a neighbor to 911 and that he was unarmed, the officers embarked on a cover-up. The Innocence Project took on Mr. Hicks’ case in 2011, and in 2020, exculpatory post-conviction evidence was shared with the Philadelphia Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU), which moved to vacate Mr. Hicks’ conviction based on the officers’ false trial testimony.
"The 19 years was a cakewalk because I survived that night ... what I went through in the hospital, took a toll on me."
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