Skip navigation

Articles about Wrongful Convictions

Are Shows Like "Serial" and "Making a Murderer" Clouding the Wider Struggle for Justice?

By James Kilgore, Truthout

How many US prisoners are wrongfully convicted? And how many are technically "guilty" but still should not be locked up?

This original story saw the light of day thanks to support from readers like you. Help us publish more stories like it by donating to Truthout now!

After more than three decades of sleepwalking, mainstream America is waking up to the fact that the dragnet of mass incarceration has captured lots of innocent people. In the past few months, media productions framed around this notion of innocence have gone viral. Millions of "Making a Murderer" viewers are following the case of Stephen Avery, a middle-aged white man, as he appeals a questionable murder conviction. Avery previously spent 18 years in prison for a crime he definitely did not commit. An online petition requesting President Obama to exonerate Avery and free him immediately has drawn more than half a million signatures.

On the audio front, "Serial" has shocked the podcasting world by receiving over 80 million downloads. The 12-part series focuses on the murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee in 1999 in Baltimore. The courts convicted her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, of the crime and sentenced him to ...

Exonerees Fulfill Dreams, Help Other Prisoners Overcome Wrongful Convictions

by David Reutter and Joe Watson

Former Louisiana death row prisoner John Thompson has spearheaded an organization that aims to help the wrongfully convicted and former prisoners successfully rebuild their lives.

Thompson was sentenced to death for the 1984 fatal shooting of a hotel executive from a prominent New Orleans family. His conviction was reversed because the prosecution withheld evidence that cast doubt on his guilt, and he was acquitted at another jury trial in 2003.

“We felt good about the retrial; the evidence suggested we were going to win. We were worried about what happens next, after he walks out of prison after 18 years,” said Michael Banks, one of Thompson’s appellate attorneys. “There’s not a lot of vocational training on death row; the only thing you’re trained for is to learn to die.”

Thompson was married and had a steady job just six months after his release. By 2005 he had a new home, a car and a dog, and he and his wife were running their own sandwich shop. Then Hurricane Katrina wiped it out. That made Thompson realize he was not the only one struggling to ease back into society.

“Men come home and the system ...

Death Penalty Opponent Delbert Tibbs Dies at 74

Delbert Tibbs, a peaceful advocate to abolish the death penalty, has lost his battle against cancer and died at the age of 74. His advocacy was borne of personal experience of being wrongfully convicted.

Tibbs was born on June 19, 1939, in Shelby, Mississippi. At the age of 12, he moved to Chicago with his family. As a young husband and father, he worked for a company that printed magazines and catalogs. Tibbs described the atmosphere there as “one of the most racist places that ever existed.” He later obtained a job as a claims adjusted for a cab company.

In 1970, Tibbs life took a turn. Following a divorce, he entered the Chicago Theological Seminary. He dropped out because “there was an agitation within my spirit.” That restlessness led Tibbs to travel cross-country.

He was stopped by police near Ocala, Florida, in early 1974. They questioned him about a rape and murdered that occurred in Fort Myers, which was 220 miles to the south. The officers took Polaroid pictures of him, but they released him because he did not match the victim’s description.

A highway patrolman stopped Tibbs a month later in Lee County Mississippi. He was arrested for ...

Texas Remains Leader in Exonerations of Wrongfully Convicted

A new report by a national prisoner-rights organization says that once again the state of Texas led the nation in 2013 in exonerations, with 13 cases, and Illinois and New York were not far behind with 9 and 8, respectively.   Although this is the highest figure in 25 years according to available data, it still represents only the known or acknowledged cases where defendants were wrongfully convicted.

This dubious distinction comes into sharper focus, when you consider that over 1 million criminal cases are processed in Texas every year, and shows there is still much to be done, a fact acknowledged by Shannon Edmonds, director of governmental relations for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association.

Exoneration figures have been tracked for the past several years by the authors of the new report, the National Registry of Exonerations, a program formally launched in 2012 by two U.S. law schools, the University of Michigan and Northwestern Law Schools.  The group’s most recent study shows that nationwide 85 of the wrongfully-convicted were cleared and released in the past year.  According to the same report, the figure has steadily increased in the past several years, and totals 1309 since records  began to be ...

PLN Exclusive: Illinois Prisoner Exonerated, Released after Ten Years

The lies of Chicago police officers, as well as the concealment of clearly exculpatory evidence, kept Jermaine Walker in Illinois prisons for ten years – but he never stopped proclaiming his innocence. Plainclothes officers contended that on February 21, 2006, at approximately 8:30 p.m., they saw Walker hand cash to another individual in an alley in what they said was an illicit drug transaction.

Walker maintained that a video security camera on a building at the site of the alleged drug sale had recorded his confrontation with the arresting officers, Eric Reyes and Sebastian Flatley, and would prove he had committed no crime. Police officials and an investigator with the State’s Attorney’s office, Thomas Finnelly, asserted there was no security camera; based on their statements, the court declined to appoint an investigator to help Walker prove the camera and video footage existed. At trial, prosecutors introduced photos of the alleged crime scene, taken by Finnelly, that were carefully staged to avoid showing the presence of any security camera.

In fact, during closing arguments the prosecutor told the jury, “If there was a camera, do you think this defendant and his brother would be stupid enough to deal drugs in front ...

New York: $35,000 Awarded for Three-week Illegal Confinement

The Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division has upheld a $35,000 damage award in favor of a former prisoner illegally confined for three weeks.

In October 2007, Robert Miller was charged with second- and third-degree drug offenses. He pleaded guilty to a single third-degree offense in March 2009 and ...

Exclusive! Breaking News: Illinois Prisoner Exonerated, Released after Ten Years

Exclusive! Breaking News: Illinois Prisoner Exonerated, Released after Ten Years

by Derek Gilna 

The lies of Chicago police officers, as well as the concealment of clearly exculpatory evidence, kept Jermaine Walker in Illinois prisons for ten years – but he never stopped proclaiming his innocence. Plainclothes officers contended that on February 21, 2006, at approximately 8:30 p.m., they saw Walker hand cash to another individual in an alley in what they said was an illicit drug transaction.

            Walker maintained that a video security camera on a building at the site of the alleged drug sale had recorded his confrontation with the arresting officers, Eric Reyes and Sebastian Flatley, and would prove he had committed no crime. Police officials and an investigator with the State’s Attorney’s office, Thomas Finnelly, asserted there was no security camera; based on their statements, the court declined to appoint an investigator to help Walker prove the camera and video footage existed. At trial, prosecutors introduced photos of the alleged crime scene, taken by Finnelly, that were carefully staged to avoid showing the presence of any security camera.

            In fact, during closing arguments the prosecutor told the jury, “If there was a camera, do you ...

Ninth Circuit: Improper ICE Detainer Constitutes Article III Injury

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s dismissal of a false imprisonment suit based upon an improper immigration detainer, as the district court incorrectly held that it lacked Article III standing.

In June 2007, Bernardo Mendia was arrested on several California state charges. The court granted bail but Mendia needed the assistance of a bondsman to get out.

Before Mendia could make bail, he was interviewed by two agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – Ching Chang and John M. Garcia. Mendia insisted that he was an American citizen and had a valid U.S. passport, and gave them his Social Security number. He then invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, directing the agents to speak with his public defender. Agent Garcia became irate and said, “Oh! You don’t want to talk to me? We’ll see if you want to talk when we’re deporting your ass!”

An immigration detainer was immediately lodged against Mendia, falsely declaring that he was an illegal immigrant of Mexican nationality. The detainer blocked Mendia from posting bail. All the bondsmen he contacted “refused to even consider posting a bail ... because of the immigration detainer.”

About six months later the ...

$2.5 Million Award for Wrongfully Convicted Former Michigan Prisoner

An exonerated Michigan man will receive $2.5 million for his almost 26 years of wrongful incarceration. He was released from prison after it was discovered that Detroit police had tainted the victim’s identification and withheld exculpatory evidence.

Walter Swift was 21 when he was arrested on September 16, 1982 for ...

Tortfeasor May Not Shift Punitive Damages Claim to Insurer under Illinois Law

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held an insurer did not breach its duty to protect a group of detectives from punitive damages in a civil rights action. The court further questioned whether Illinois law would allow a suit that shifted the burden of punitive damages from the tortfeasor to ...