National Exoneration Registry reveals over 2,000 wrongful convictions

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The University of Michigan Law School in a joint project with Northwestern University Law School has released an alarming a registry of wrongful convictions. The convictions range from drug crimes to child sex abuse cases. The cases span several decades and include both male, female, black, Latino and Caucasian suspects, however 50 percent of false convictions are of African-Americans. Most of the convictions came from falsified crime scenes, eyewitness mistakes and misconduct by authorities including both police officers and prosecutors.

One of the most disturbing cases details the conviction of Thomas Kennedy, 31 at the time who was sentenced to 15 years in prison when is 11-year-old daughter, Cassandra Ann Kennedy accused her father of raping her on three separate occasions in his home in Longview, Washington. She gave detailed accounts of being raped in her home. She used stuffed animals to show what had occurred and she was examined at a medical clinic where a physician found evidence of trauma to her genitals.

Eleven years later Cassandra came forward and revealed to authorities that she’d fabricated her allegation because she wanted he father to “go away,” because he drank and smoked marijuana. At a hearing in 2012 Cassandra testified that the physical evidence of trauma was a result of sexual activity with a boy in her class and that she was engaging in sexual activity in the second grade. She also testified that she was able to fabricate her story from watching movies and observing sex acts in her household by walking into bedrooms where adults were engaging in sex.

Edward Barker spent 24 years in prison after police arrested him for the murder of a man in Philadelphia after a man named Donahue Wise, a convicted felon and schizophrenic with a drug habit was arrested for the crime. Wise implicated seventeen year old Edward Baker and another man as his accomplices. After Barker was beaten by police he confessed to the crime after being told that he would be able to go home if he gave police a confession.

Barker told police he was at a wake in another part of town at the time of the murder but Barker’s attorney did not challenge his accusers account nor did he call a single character witness to testify on Barkers behalf. Due to poor council and an inadequate police investigation Barker was convicted by a jury of first degree murder, burglary, robbery and conspiracy, on September 27, 1974. He was sentenced to life in prison.

It wasn’t until 1997 that the court ordered a new hearing where Donahue Wise was set to recant his testimony. Barker’s new defense team located 12 witnesses who would substantiate Barker’s alibi that he was at a wake on the other side of town at the time of the murder. Wise died before a new trial was held and it wasn’t until February 2002 that the prosecution finally dismissed all of the charges against Baker in exchange for an agreement not to seek compensation. Barker spent 24 years in prison.

The National Registry of Exoneration documents over 2000 wrongful convictions. The site provides an up to date list of all known exonerations in the United States since 1989.

Follow Caryn Freeman on Twitter at @CarynFreemanDC