I've just received a letter via The Innocence Project from Steve Barnes, who was exonerated by DNA evidence after being in prison for twenty years for a murder he had nothing to do with. He was released shortly before Thanksgiving 2008 and is spending a very happy Christmas with his family for the first time in two decades. Read his story here: http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/1762.php
Another man on Death Row, Paul House, has been released on bail pending a new trial. Evidence clearly shows that he will be exonerated. Paul has been on Death Row for 22 years for a murder he didn't commit. Read his story here: http://www.wsmv.com/news/18360998/detail.html#-
These two very disturbing stories are tragically common for exonerated convicts and for those who still languish in prison for crimes they would not be convicted of today. Almost every story I read about that involves an innocent man being convicted of a heinous crime occurred 18 to twenty five years ago. Of course, this was before DNA evidence allowed investigators to pin down with finer precision the guilt or innocence of a suspect.
Fortunately for those innocents who are lucky enough to have The Innocence Project review their cases, DNA evidence is now allowing the determination of a truth of innocence these convicts have always professed. While true criminals usually deserve the sentences they receive, no innocent deserved a false conviction. There are hundreds of men and women in prisons and on Death Row who appeal to The Innocence Project for assistance or a review of their cases. Unfortunately, there is just not enough manpower or money to help them all. It's luck of the draw, or a very loud voice, that can attract enough attention to be fortunate enough to receive this free legal help.
Unfortunately, many of these convicts are in prison or on Death Row because of overzealous, corrupt, or just plain bad cops, prosecutors, and investigators. The great thing is, we should be seeing fewer of these types of convictions because DNA evidence has tremendously advanced the ability to prove one's innocence. Yes, that's right. Sadly, it is not guilt that must be proven in many of these cases, but innocence. That's one of the problems of our judicial system. In this day of swift and harsh convictions, the suspect is in a position of having to prove innocence rather than the other way around, as dictated by our founding fathers.
At trial the suspect must pay for their own DNA testing, even if it is provided by the prosecution. This is because even experts can be corrupt, although there are many fine scientists working in the field of forensics. This testing starts at $5,000 for a single test. Yes, $5,000. Often times more than one test is required, as there can be several samples to test: skin, semen, hair, saliva, and blood. You can see that the defense of an innocent man or woman can cost an exorbitant amount; hence the common convictions of innocent people. They simply can't afford to properly defend themselves.
This is a topic that we must all become concerned about. Not just for the protection of our rights, but because of the gross injustice done to fellow human beings. These people are husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers. They are not throwaway people.
Please consider donating to The Innocence Project if you care about justice in our country. This horrible situation could happen to someone you know, or even you. Contact The Innocence Project at http://www.innocenceproject.org/.