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    9 Feb 2015

    These 15 Americans Spent 350 Years In Prison For Crimes They Didn’t Commit

    The National Registry of Exonerations reports that 1,541 innocent people have been exonerated in the United States since 1989, with more mishandled cases being revisited by committed legal teams every year. These photos show 15 of them during some of their first moments of freedom.

    Michael Williams, 15.5 years

    Michael Williams is seen leaving Louisiana State Penitentiary in 2011 where he served nearly 16 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. He was released after the key witness in his case admitted to fabricating the whole story, and further investigation revealed that the police had not provided Williams’ original defense team with critical eyewitness accounts from the night of the murder. Williams was represented by the Innocence Project of New Orleans.

    Reginald Adams, 34 years
    Reginald Adams smiles on the steps of New Orleans Criminal District Court in May of 2014 after a judge reversed his conviction for a murder in 1979. The Innocence Project of New Orleans discovered that the conviction was based on a coerced confession from Adams that got every detail of the crime incorrect. The investigation also revealed that homicide detectives discovered the murder weapon and traced it to two siblings who were found in possession of items stolen from the murder victim. They did not disclose this evidence at trial and perjured themselves on the stand. Now 61, Adams has returned to his family and is readjusting to life outside of prison.

    Robert Dewey, 17 years
    Robert Dewey hugs his parents in court where he was exonerated for a first-degree murder of sexual assault for which he served 17 years in prison. At his original trial in 1996, Dewey warned the judge, “There is still a killer out there.” With assistance from The Innocence Project and attorney Danyel Joffe, advanced DNA testing was conducted on clothing and sheets from the crime scene and under the fingernails of the victim. The DNA evidence not only determined that Dewey was not guilty but the DNA matched with another inmate who was serving a life sentence for rape and murder.

    Cedric Willis, 12 years
    Cedric Willis is seen hugging his mother after his release from prison in Louisiana for a murder and several robberies he did not commit at the age of 19. During his original case, the jury never heard that DNA had excluded Willis in a similar crime committed by a person matching the description and using the same gun. Willis was represented by the Innocence Project of New Orleans, which helped him return home to help raise a son who was born just two weeks before Willis’ arrest.

    Susan Mellen, 17 years
    Susan Mellen is seen smiling with family outside of Torrance Superior Court in October 2014 where she was exonerated and released from prison for a murder she didn’t commit 17 years ago. Mellen was represented by Deirdre O’Connor of Innocence Matters, who discovered that the original trial had hinged almost entirely on the claim of one witness who was notoriously unreliable and had involved herself in over 2,000 police calls making claims she had witnessed crimes that were routinely discredited. Mellen told the LA Times, “I was in prison, but I didn’t let prison live in me. I wanted to be free no matter what” — an attitude that made her committed to service during her sentence. Upon release, Mellen was reunited with her three grown children.

    Daniel Larsen, 13 years
    Daniel Larsen was sentenced to 27 years to life on a concealed weapons charge because of California’s Three Strikes Law that requires mandatory minimums on a third offense. Larsen’s original trial attorney did not present a single witness to testify on his behalf and was eventually disbarred. The police officers who did testify at Larsen’s trial were discredited after attorneys from the California Innocence Project discovered numerous witnesses whose testimonies contradicted their statements and corroborated Larsen’s statements. The attorney general tried and failed to get Larsen’s dismissal denied on the grounds that he had waited too long to appeal his conviction.

    Robert Hill, 28 years
    Robert Hill smiles in May 2014 as he enters the Brooklyn Supreme Court, where he was cleared of a second-degree murder charge for which he served 28 years in prison. Hill’s case is one of many cases that was handled by discredited NYPD detective Louis Scarcella that are now being reopened. His case was handled by the Legal Aid Society and the law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell.

    David McCallum, 30 years
    David McCallum hugs family members after his exoneration for a murder he did not commit that put him in prison from the ages of 16 to 45. McCallum’s case was represented by Oscar Michelin and is one of many being reopened in New York after years of corruption by detectives came to light in recent years, often involving coerced confessions and withheld evidence. McCallum called his freedom “bittersweet” because he was not accompanied by his friend and fellow exoneree, Willie Stuckey, who died in prison before the two men were cleared of the crime.

    Nathan Brown, 17 years
    Nathan Brown talks with his daughter and grandson after his 2014 release from prison after he was cleared of attempted rape charges from 1997. With assistance from the Innocence Project, DNA evidence proved Brown’s innocence and helped identify the real rapist, who was serving time for an unrelated crime. Until the day of his release, Brown had never held his grandson.

    Rickey Dale Wyatt, 31 years
    Rickey Dale Wyatt was all smiles leaving the courtroom in December 2014 after he was released from a 99-year sentence for rape. Represented by the Innocence Project and the Innocence Project of Texas, Wyatt’s team had DNA analysis conducted that excluded him as the rapist. The investigation also revealed that the prosecution never disclosed, among many things, that an eyewitness did not identify Wyatt as the assailant in a lineup.

    Steven Barnes, 19.5 years
    Steven Barnes is seen crying in court on the day that charges against him of rape and murder were officially dropped. Barnes’ original conviction was based on three types of unvalidated forensic science and a claim by a jailhouse informant that Barnes had confessed while awaiting trial, despite the fact that the two had been housed in entirely separate parts of the jail. The Innocence Project helped arrange new DNA testing in 2007 with methods that had been unavailable at the time of trial, and the tests definitively excluded Barnes at the scene of the crime.

    Michael Morton, 25 years
    Michael Morton is seen expressing relief in court on the day he was exonerated for the 1986 murder of his wife, Christine, in Texas. There were numerous accounts by neighbors that they had seen the driver of a green van park nearby and go into the woods, and there was testimony from Morton’s 3-year-old son Eric, who witnessed the murder, that his father was not present and that “a monster” did it. These accounts and other key evidence was never presented at Morton’s trial. The Innocence Project and the law firm of Raley & Bowick pursued additional DNA testing after the conviction, evidence that eventually linked DNA at the scene to an inmate in California who had lived in Texas at the time of the crime.

    Reggie Cole, 16 years
    Reggie Cole is embraced by family members after his conviction on charges of first-degree murder were vacated after he served already 16 years of his life. The California Innocence Project and attorney Christopher Plourd unearthed evidence that the prosecution in his original case withheld material, exculpatory evidence, and failed to investigate the accuracy of eyewitness claims. The witnesses eventually came forward about fabricating their claims, and evidence was presented that made clear Cole had not committed the murder.

    Michael Hanline, 36 years
    Michael Hanline is embraced by his attorney after being released from prison after serving 36 years for a murder he did not commit. The California Innocence Project discovered that during the original trial, several police files credibly implicating other suspects and impeaching the key witness were sealed and therefore never presented in court. Defense attorney Michael C. Robertson, now deceased, had threatened and intimidated witnesses into testifying against Hanline to steer the investigation away from his own clients. These discoveries and new DNA testing resulted in Hanline’s exoneration and release in November 2014, ending the longest wrongful conviction on the record in California history.

    Ricky Jackson, 39 years
    Ricky Jackson spent 39 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit, the longest anyone who has been exonerated has served in the United States. The key witness in his case recanted in 2013 and said that he been coerced into testifying against Jackson and two friends, Wiley and Ronnie Bridgeman, by Cleveland police detectives in 1975. Jackson, 57, was represented by lawyers from the Ohio Innocence Project and had been serving his sentence he was a teenager.
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