From THE ATLANTIC: How Two Newspaper Reporters Helped Free an Innocent Man

taylor

Daniel Taylor didn’t commit murder — and the author, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, proved it in The Chicago Tribune. But it took the justice system more than a decade to catch up.

By Maurice Possley

THE ATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Aug. 29, 2013

During nearly 25 years as a reporter at the Chicago Tribune, I received hundreds of requests for help from convicted defendants. None was more compelling than the hand-printed letter from Daniel Taylor, a 25-year-old inmate at Stateville Penitentiary in Joliet, Illinois. In neat block letters, Daniel explained that he was serving a life sentence without parole for a double murder in Chicago in 1992. Even though Daniel had given a court-reported confession, he said he was innocent and he had police records that proved it.

The letter was addressed to Steve Mills, my reporting partner on numerous stories about wrongful conviction. When Steve brought it to my desk, I was as intrigued—and skeptical—as he was. Why had this man confessed? How had he been convicted? Was he delusional about what the police records really showed?

But Daniel’s timing was fortuitous. It was the summer of 2001, and Steve and I, along with fellow reporter Ken Armstrong, were deep into an investigation of false and coerced confessions in the city of Chicago. Perhaps, we thought, Daniel’s case would provide a window into a world we suspected—and later proved—existed: a world where defendants were said to have confessed to crimes they did not commit.

And so, in December 2001, the Tribune published our five-part series, “Cops and Confessions,” Daniel’s case was the subject of an entire installment. We had uncovered strong evidence of Daniel’s innocence—evidence that he was actually in jail at the time of the crime and that his confession was false.

I had never been so confident of a convicted defendant’s innocence. And I never imagined nearly 12 years would pass before Cook County prosecutors would admit the truth and dismiss his conviction. But it finally happened. On June 28, 2013, Daniel, who was arrested at age 17, was released at age 38, having spent more than 20 years behind bars.

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California Voters Get a New Reason to Abolish the Death Penalty

MoPo’s latest, published this week in the New Republic.

With 726 inmates sentenced to die, California has the largest death row in America. The state has executed just thirteen death row inmates since capital punishment was reinstated in 1977, and none since 2006. The path from conviction to lethal injection for those who were executed has taken as long as twenty-five years.

In May, the National Registry released a report describing the first 873 exonerations it identified – including seventy-nine state exonerations and one federal exoneration in California. The Report emphasized that the 873 were only a beginning—that the true number of exonerations still is unknown because there is no formal system for recording such cases as they occur.

Since then, the number of exonerations on the National Registry has grown to 996 and will soon top 1,000, according to Samuel Gross, Law Professor at the University of Michigan and editor of the Registry.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE IN ITS ENTIRETY.

The National Registry of Exonerations Is Up

A few of the 891 exonerees included in the new Registry.

After several years of painstaking work, the National Registry of Exonerations is a reality.

A joint project of the University of Michigan Law School and Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, the Registry is the largest collection of exonerations in the United States with nearly 900 individual cases since 1989, the year of the first DNA exoneration in America.

The Registry issued a report analyzing these cases as well as the exonerations of more than 1,100 defendants following convictions stemming from 13 separate police corruption scandals (such as the drug task force scandal in Tulia, Texas, and the Rampart scandal in Los Angeles).

The Registry is the brainchild of Michigan Law professor Samuel Gross and Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions.

In December 2011, I began to work on the Registry, researching and writing cases.

The total number of defendants exonerated during the 23-year period totals roughly 2,000an average of about one a week.

The cases in the Registry offer important insights into the false conviction phenomenon — insights that hopefully will foster criminal justice reforms designed to improve the accuracy and fairness of the criminal justice system.

To contact the Registry, click HERE.

And here’s some what USA Today has to say about the Registry Sunday evening (even if they jumped the embargo a little):

Perjury, faulty eyewitness identification and prosecutorial misconduct are the leading reasons for wrongful convictions, according to the first national registry of exonerations compiled by university researchers.

The database, assembled in a collaboration by the University of Michigan and Northwestern University, has identified 873 faulty convictions in the past 23 years that have been recognized by prosecutors, judges or governors.

The registry’s founders say the numbers, which do not include many cases in which innocent suspects plead guilty to avoid the risk of more serious punishments or cases that have been dismissed because of legal error without new evidence of innocence, represent only a fraction of the problem in the nation’s criminal justice system.

“What this shows is that the criminal justice system makes mistakes, and they are more common than people think,” said University of Michigan law professor Samuel Gross, the registry’s editor. “It is not the rule, but we won’t learn to get better unless we pay attention to these cases.”

Despite the data, the registry concluded that the “overwhelming majority of convicted defendants are guilty.”

“Most never dispute their guilt and few ever present substantial post-conviction evidence of innocence,” the registry found. “When that does happen, however, it should be taken seriously. …We cannot prevent all false convictions, but we must not compound these tragedies by stubbornness or arrogance or, worst of all, indifference.”

Read USAToday’s complete coverage HERE.

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