The Innocence Project was founded in 1992 at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York. The Innocence Project was developed by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld with the goal of assisting inmates who were innocent. Today, nearly 300 individuals wrongly convicted of crimes they did not commit, for which some were on death row, have been freed and exonerated because of DNA and the Innocence Project. The Innocence Project has now expanded nationwide and to some other countries. The work of Innocence Project Volunteers, attorneys and other who work tirelessly to prove the innocence of wrongly convicted prisoners continues.
According to the Innocence Project, exonerations have been won in 34 states and in Washington, D.C. In the cases of those wrongly convicted who have now been exonerated through DNA testing, nearly 70% are members of minority groups and in 40% of the cases of those freed, the person or persons who actually committed the crimes have been identified. In some cases, there has been misconduct where police or prosecutors had evidence that was withheld or ignored that would have contributed to the wrongly convicted person’s defense. Such was the case of three men, whose innocence was proclaimed in a Mississippi Courtroom. The New York Times told the story of that court hearing after which Phillip Bivens was not quite sure what to do next. He and co-defendants Bobby Ray Dixon and Larry Ruffin were wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of a woman in 1979. Larry Ruffin did not live to see the day he would be exonerated; he died of a heart attack in prison in 2002. Mr. Dixon testified at trial that he had been coerced into confessing, that he has seizures and could not read very well. He was still convicted, as were the others, who were told they would receive the death penalty if they did not confess. With the help of a prison guard, Mr. Bivens, now suffering from brain cancer, applied to the Innocence Project for help. It was through the hard work of the Innocence Project that the men have been found innocent. DNA led to another man already serving a life sentence for another rape committed three years later. Andrew Harris had lived just up the street from the woman whom Bivens, Ruffin and Dixon were convicted of raping and murdering. Also, her four year old son who witnessed the murder told police that night that “a bad man” killed his mother. He never said there was more than one. After 30 years the three men are finally exonerated, due to DNA testing, thanks to the Innocence Project.
In 2008, Kennedy Brewer stood in a courtroom, represented by the Innocence Project, and walked out of prison, after spending time on death row, a free man after 15 years imprisonment. Even after DNA evidence proved that Brewer did not commit the crime, a prosecutor tried to have him re-tried. That is, until the Innocence Project stepped in. The real perpetrator of that child murder and another child murder, for which Levon Brooks was wrongly convicted, was identified. Levon Brooks was also freed, due to assistance from the Innocence Project.
In 1982, Marvin Anderson was convicted in a Virginia court of rape and other sexual crimes committed against a white woman. Anderson had no criminal record, so police went to his job and obtained a color photo of him. When the victim was shown an array of six photos, Anderson’s was the only color photo; the other 5 were black and white. When placed in a line-up one hour later, Anderson was the only man who was in that photo array also in the line-up. Even though the identity of the owner of a bicycle the perpetrator had at the scene was determined, Anderson was convicted and sentenced to 210 years imprisonment. The police initially arrested him because the perpetrator told the victim that he had a white woman. One of the officers knew Anderson and that he lived with a white woman. In 1988, the man who committed the crime came forward and admitted it in open court. The same judge who presided over Anderson’s trial presided over this hearing, called John Lincoln a liar. Even a petition for clemency to the governor was denied. The Innocence Project stepped in and filed under a new statute that allows those convicted of serious crimes to order new scientific analysis on previously untested scientific evidence. Mr. Anderson was subsequently excluded as being the perpetrator.
Innocence Project and DNA Spells Freedom
The importance of the work of the Innocence Project cannot be stated strongly enough. Nearly three hundred men freed in just a few years, and a backlog of cases that the Innocence Project in states throughout the country are working on now will most likely result in even more names being added to the Profiles of Cases. Even though there may be a wait before someone contacts an inmate or family of an inmate, Truth In Justice recommends that inmates and families of prisoners seeking help from Innocence Project not become dissuaded. But all these inmates have is time…until the Innocence Project proves their innocence.