Locked up for a crime he didn't commit: The story of Eric Glisson

It is a cruel cliché to say most people in prison say they are innocent. Cruel because in some cases they certainly are.

With the United States leading the world in incarcerations, every person wrongly imprisoned adds to the crisis in the American justice system.

Dateline NBC reported on the story of Eric Glisson, one of five people from the Bronx in New York City who was convicted in the robbery and murder of a taxi cab driver after being linked to an unrelated murder of a Fed Ex executive. The charges were dropped in the executive’s murder, but Glisson was 18 when convicted in the killing of the taxi driver and sent to prison for 25 years to life. The case was weak. There was no forensic evidence, and witness testimony was contradictory. It appeared as if investigators had no interest in looking at all the exculpatory angles.

During his 18 years of incarceration, Glisson worked on his case, filing appeals and Freedom of Information requests, analyzing evidence investigators previously overlooked or ignored. After exhausting his appeals, he wrote a letter to a federal prosecutor, but that man was no longer working in the office. But as luck would have it, the letter found its way to the investigator who had received the confessions of gang members who had actually committed the murder. That led to a chain of events that ultimately resulted in his freedom.

It is no easy thing to prove your innocence from behind bars while trying to survive every day in the prison system. Hope can be an ally and an enemy. Even when Glisson demonstrated his innocence, he still waited months for the case to be resolved. In Glisson’s case, he had a Catholic nun, who he met while she was doing volunteer work at Sing Sing, and an attorney enlisted by the nun who together believed in him. These types of cases require years of committed and grueling research, which often times leads to dead ends and disappointment.

The Innocence Project looks into cases where DNA evidence could potentially clear innocent inmates. The Innocence Project has worked on 172 of 316 DNA exonerations since 1989. Of those numbers, 198 were African Americans, 94 Caucasians, 22 Latinos and 2 Asians. 18 of the 316 served on death row, and the average time served by these exonerated inmates was 13.5 years totaling 4,232 years in total.

But regardless of the methods in which a convicted felon could be exonerated, the leading causes of wrongful convictions are fairly consistent. Those circumstances could be misleading or misinformation, improper forensic evidence, false confessions and incriminating statements and unreliable information from informants. But the pain and suffering inflicted by a wrongful conviction is incalculable. These are the experiences of four such exonerated men, in their own words.

Click here for the story of Eric Glisson that appeared on Dateline NBC.