Prisoners Exonerated by DNA

The Innocence Project

The Innocence Project is a “national litigation and public policy organization” that was formed to free wrongly accused prisoners through DNA testing. These attorney and many more around the country have freed 300 prisoners over the last few years using DNA evidence.

The Innocence Project founded by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld at the N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in 1992. The goal of this organization is to actually reform the criminal system through DNA testing. They typically receive approximately 3000 requests from prisoners annually. They are evaluation anywhere from 6000 to 8000 cases at any given time. They are not alone in working to free prisoners that are not guilty, as there are many law firms across the country doing the same type of work. This includes law students at the University of Chicago Law School’s Exoneration Project.

Jail cell

Andre Davis


DNA Tests Proved Innocence

Damon Thibodeaux of Louisiana was recently released from prison after sixteen years after he was found innocent based on DNA testing. He had confessed to raping and murdering his step-cousin after nine hours of interrogation that was not taped. In 2007, his attorneys persuaded Pat Connick, the District Attorney of Jefferson Parrish to reopen the investigation with the attorneys sharing the expenses. As it turned out the young woman had not been raped, and the DNA evidence proved that Damon Thibodeaux was innocent. The Innocent Project is pushing police departments to tape all interrogations of suspects and witnesses.

In Chicago, Andre Davis, spent more than 30 years in prison before DNA evidence proved he did not rape and murder a 3 year old girl. He was represented by Judy Royal of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University.

Death Penalty Books of Interest

Lockdown: Escape from Furnace 1
Lockdown: Escape from Furnace 1

Fiction. This is the first in a series of very popular books about a man attempting to escape from prison.


Statistics of 300 Exonerated Prisoners

The Innocent Project publishes the number of people released, their names and their race.

The exonerees released at this time consist of the following:

  • 187 African Americans
  • 85 Caucasians
  • 21 Latinos
  • 2 Asian Americans
  • 5 whose race is unknown

Of the 300 that have been released from prison, 146 of these cases have caught the true perpetrators of these crimes. It is surely a miscarriage of justice for a man to be in prison for 30 years for a crime he did not commit. The police have a difficult job and much of what they rely on is eyewitness testimony, along with any physical evidence collected. When a prisoner confesses, even under pressure, the chances of a prison sentence are highly elevated.

Eyewitness Identification - Getting it Right

Evidence Besides DNA at a Crime Scene

There are many reasons that innocent people are convicted and sent to prison. The primary reason is misleading eye witness testimony. Of the cases that have been overturned, this has been a factor for 72 percent of them. Plus, 40 percent of those cases involved cross racial identification. Studies have concluded that people of a different race are much less accurate in accurately identifying another individual.

Another reason that people are wrongfully convicted is flawed forensic science. In approximately 50 percent of the cases there were inaccuracies in hair microscopy, shoe prints, firearm tool markings and even in bite mark comparison.

Other Problems with Regards to Trials

Another 27 percent of the cases, there were false confessions and incriminating statements which the defendants stated during interrogations. It is hard to understand why someone would ever confess to some crime they did not commit, but it happens with some frequency. It may be due to mental retardation or illness. This is why the attorneys from the Innocent Project are pushing so hard for all interrogations to be filmed or taped. That way there is an accurate record that can be played in court for the judge and jury.

The other contributing factor is false informants or the “snitch system”. This was found to be true in 18 percent of the 300 cases. Informants are often promised some special treatment to testify, which gives them some motive to lie.

Texas Leads Country in Overturned Convictions

The state that leads the nation in overturning wrongful convictions is Texas. In addition, they also have new laws concerning compensation. A wrongfully accused individual receives $80,000 per year for each year they were incarcerated unjustly. Plus, they receive an annuity of $40,000 to $50,000 annually, and this is the most generous reimbursement in the nation. They also provide job training. Many other states also have some type of reimbursement program and other benefits.

Two-Minute Science Lesson: How Forensic DNA Testing Works

Capital Punishment Facts Summary

Capital punishment is typically used for aggravated murder, drug trafficking crimes, felony murder and contract killing. Some states have the death penalty for other crimes than murder, which include treason, hijacking an aircraft, and aggravated kidnapping.

Lethal injection is the primary method used for death penalty cases, but history shows that many other methods have been utilized through the years, including electrocution, the gas chamber, hanging and the firing squad.

The death penalty is illegal in 17 states and in the District of Columbia. Clemency laws also vary greatly from one state to another, with a panel most often being appointed by the governor in most cases. The death penalty is being debated in the legislature of several stats, and it is on the ballot in California in this next election.

Death Penalty

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© 2012 Pamela Oglesby

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Comments 55 comments

Lord De Cross profile image

Lord De Cross 4 years ago

As always Pamela, you covered all the aspects of the DNA testing exoneration project. I applaud Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld for their visionary project. I just wonder how many wrongly done people were hung through history without being able to prove their innocence. Thanks for this thorough research, and I commend your fantastic effort Pamela Oglesby.

ithabise profile image

ithabise 4 years ago from Winston-Salem, NC

These programs are needed. It is terrible that innocent people have to give away much of their lives due to lies and wrongful incrimination. They should be remunerated sumptuously for all they've experienced. You gave facts for the 300 released. There was one I couldn't help thinking of: Is there any recidivism among the 300? Did prison alter their minds in such a way that, like many, they chose to return? I just can't see it happening, but the prison system is largely a sad story of dehumanization. Nice article - cheers.

lrc7815 profile image

lrc7815 4 years ago from Central Virginia

What an awesome hub Pamela99. This is such a big issue that gets far too little attention. The Innocence Project has done amazing work and is funding totally on donations. Frequently the attorneys who volunteer their time cover the costs themselves. They are real heroes in my opinion. I' m so glad you have brought this to the hubpages community and you did a great job. Well researched and documented. Voted up!

writer20 profile image

writer20 4 years ago from Southern Nevada

Wow! this is a great hub with so much information. I say thank goodness for DNA but it still takes a lot of time to get results, something like 2 weeks. One Man has been released here in Nevada because DNA proved he didn't do the crime.

Voted up useful and very interesting, Joyce.

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM

Pamela; This is a great article and needs to be written. Thank you! I heard about this on the news and I find it terrible that these innocent people are jailed for decades and DNA proves they are innocent. The forced and coerced confessions are appaling! I feel so badly for these people that have their lives stolen from them in the name of justice being found. Those years can never be returned to them or made up for them. Your research is excellent! I so enjoyed reading this article!

jose7polanco profile image

jose7polanco 4 years ago from Los Angeles

You know what, its weird but we are required to keep a chain of custody for all the evidence and procedures and record all we see and do. The court requires only proof beyond ANY reasonable doubt but still there are odds innocent people are convicted. Nowadays maybe not so many innocent people are wrongly convicted, but falsely accused people are unfairly convicted a lot more. Thanks for opening this topic, we have progress a lot and still need more, but not so many venture on this topic, thanks again.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

Joseph, I wondered the same thing as I wrote this hub. I am glad you enjoyed it and i appreciate your comments.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

ithabise, I did not read of anyone that was returned to prison and I did quite a lot of research. That is a good question. I hope that is not the case. Thanks for your comments.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

Linda, The attorneys are to be commended. The Innocence is rub with private donations from individuals, some corporations and they raise about 15% from an annual fund raising dinner.l They do some great work. Thank you so much for your comments.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

writer, Many are held for long periods of time until their cases are reviewed and the DNA testing is complete. It is expensive also, so I'm sure there are some who do not have the means or support to get the testing done. The attorneys work hard for those prisoners they really believe are innocent. I appreciate your comments.

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM

Great hub and excellent research. I heard about his on the news the other day - thanks for writing such a thought provoking piece on this topic. It saddens me that these prisoners are kept behind bars for decades and are found innocent. Their lives are stolen by 'the system' and the decades cannot be recovered. Thank goodness for this organization and their attorneys. I can't imagine a finer occupation to have in this regard.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

Suzette, I am glad you enjoyed the article and you are right. about the lost years that cannot be given back to them. Although Texas gives the most generous compensation and makes an effort to help give them a life that is better, the loss of years still cannot be refunded. Thank you for your comments.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

Jose, I think it the falsely accused really have a difficult time proving their innocence. Thank goodness for DNA evidence. At least some innocent people are being released. We have made progress as you said, but we still have a ways to go. Thank you for your comments.

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM

I guess I feel so strongly about this issue I left two comments and didn't realize it. I overlooked my first comment and apparently thought it didn't take. Oh well!

billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

Great job Pamela; this is a subject I feel strongly about, and you have covered it quite well. As always, a pleasure reading a hub written by a very talented and thorough writer.

jose7polanco profile image

jose7polanco 4 years ago from Los Angeles

Yes you know where could be the solution to lower the convicted rate of falsely accused and innocent the operational reports of police. Like in the LA riots officers lied about their reports and if that wouldn't had been video taped, officers could have gotten away with it.

We might just need more honest investigators, diligent prosecutors, and competent legal counsel. I made a few hubs about evidence and the legal process it takes.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

Billy, I'm glad you enjoyed the hub and I appreciate your comments.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

Jose. I think it is a good idea for the police to videotape all their interrogations. I would like to think most public employees are honest, but I know some are not. Thanks again for the comments.

Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 4 years ago from southern USA

I am so grateful for DNA, and just the thought of those poor innocent souls wasting their lives away for no reason. I hope all who are innocent are freed soon. Pamela, this is a very insightful and well-written hub here. Thanks for the great write. God bless. In His Love, Faith Reaper

Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 4 years ago from San Francisco

Fascinating article. Thank you for doing the research to bring our attention to this.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

Faith, Thank you so much for your thoughtful words.I am glad you like the hub. I hate the thought of an innocent person being in jail also, plus that means the guilty person is running around free. God bless you also Faith.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

Mhatter, I appreciate your words very much.

drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

You provided an excellent picture, Pamela, of what DNA testing is and how eyewitness testimony can easily be erroneous. The two videos you included are outstanding. Brava and an Up, m'dear.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

drbj, DNA testing has come such a long way and while researching for this hub I learned a few new things also. Thank you so much for your comments.

Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

To think of all the inmates throughout the years who were innocent and found guilty because they didn't have DNA testing. Wow. So thankful for it now. Excellent hub!!!

breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 4 years ago

Thank God for DNA testing. I applaud every single time an innocent person is cleared. Up ,interesting, useful and, as always, awesome.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

Linda, DNA has certainly saved the lives of these 300 people. Thanks so much for your comments.

POP, I applaud their release also and hope they catch the right criminal. I appreciate your comments.

The Frog Prince profile image

The Frog Prince 4 years ago from Arlington, TX

I am a believer in the death penalty. Your Hub points out some interesting points. Anyone sitting on death row who was there before DNA testing where DNA exists should have the right to have the tests done.

The Frog

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

Jim, I think these are the ones being released. If someone is arrested now I would assume DNA evidence would be included from the beginning. Thank for your comments.

Happyboomernurse profile image

Happyboomernurse 4 years ago from South Carolina

Well researched article about an important issue.

I first became aware of the Innocence Project when I attended the Savannah Book Festival and heard Joseph Cotton, a falsely accused rapist, and his accuser, Jennifer Thompson Canino, speak about the book that they co-authored after DNA testing done through the Innocence Project, led to Cotton's prison release.

The book is titled, "Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice & Redemption," and it is an amazing read. If it were fiction, one would be hard pressed to believe it, but knowing it was a true story, leaves the reader with a powerful impression of the great injustice that being falsely imprisoned causes.

Thanks for sharing this important information.

Voted up and shared.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

Gail, I think the Innocence Project is great. I'm sure I would enjoy reading that book. I can't imagine being falsely accused of a crime. I appreciate your comments and the sharing.

teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

It is wonderful how they can now use the new DNA testing to free those who were innocent of a crime in the first place. I hate that they had to spend time for a crime they didn't commit, but glad that they can still enjoy freedom in life.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

Teaches, I think it is wonderful that DNA can get to the truth and free those that don't belong in jail, plus hopefully get the right ones found. I appreciate your comments.

always exploring profile image

always exploring 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

This is a fascinating topic. How many died in prison who were innocent? Such a shame. I applaud the people who are working to free these people. Thank you Pam..

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

Ruby, I hate the think about that part. People are on death row for such a long time anymore that hopefully the innocent will be released. I am sure it happened in the past. Thanks for your comments.

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

This is an excellent hub with excellent sad it needs to be written. Three hundred exonerated, I wonder how many more are wrongfully imprisoned ... and as bad as that is look at the other side of the many are out on the streets that should be in prison!

Very interesting hub Pamela with, as always, great research. Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Funom Makama 3 profile image

Funom Makama 3 4 years ago from Europe

Wow. You have said it all... I am totally against the death penalty and with this DNA testing, at least innocent lifes won't be victimized. Nice insights and education. Definitely do more search on this

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

tillsontitan, I thought the same thing. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub and I appreciate your comments.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

Funom, I'm glad you found the hub interesting. I appreciate your comments.

anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 4 years ago

Interesting topic. I always feel sorry for people accused of crimes they didn't commit. I think of the lost years and how they will have a hard time adjusting once they're released. I'm glad this project is underway. Thanks for sharing.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

Anginwu, I think that is must be difficult to adjust and not be angry about the lost years also. Thanks for your comments.

Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

I think the 300 overturned verdicts is probably one of the strongest cases against having capital punishment. Your hub is packed with not only tons of information....but it is presented in a very entertaining way......the perfect hub...educational and entertaining...voted up and interesting.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

Cogerson, Thank you so much for your very kind comments. Much appreciated.

unknown spy profile image

unknown spy 4 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

this is a very interesting read Pamela. i was like...whoaahhwww.. great info and thumbs up.


sjwalsh profile image

sjwalsh 4 years ago from Brookline, MA

Very informative, interesting and educational article!

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

Mzl., I'm glad you like the hub and I appreciate your comments.

sjwalsh, Thank you so much for your comments.

b. Malin profile image

b. Malin 4 years ago

Wow, this was an Amazing Hub, Pamela. Lots of Wonderful, new Information that can help to Free/overturn Verdicts that are unjustified. Years ago, the innocent would have died. I've always believed in Capital Punishment...However, if there is doubt...Thank God, for DNA Testing.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

b. Malin, I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. I have always believed in capital punishment also, but the idea that an innocent person is put to death seems awful. I think the Innocence Project is great. Thanks so much for your comments.

kellymom1970 profile image

kellymom1970 4 years ago

Great job!! You blow my mind with the content you write about. You are a wealth of information. We sould be so thankful for DNA it can clear many more people. Thank You Pamela !

Dusty 50 4 years ago

Pamela, I backed the death penalty for an embarrassing number of years. I heard a quote that here I put a loose translation, "better 100 guilty go free than one innocent be convicted" and thought that a wise statement erring on the side that eye witness accounts were being challenged and proved to be not a little wrong but of a percentage of over 75% wrong. I thought the abortion law was fine with early detection of 1 month or so after that I would have had to hear circumstance bearing reason to consider it.

I now know that I was wrong and supporting "Death Row" then supporting "Abortion" was pretty well supporting murder in both occasions.

My position was petty well changed after a PBS show back in the late 80's or early 90's that put eye witness accounts to the test using court documentations of how the eye witness of the case used were re-enacted 6 times each in the description of where the witness was, time of day, lighting, distance and length of time and other things I'm probably forgetting. The person who acted as the target of the victim was recreated and then the eye witness 3 to 4 days later was asked to pick them from a group that resembled the perpetrator and it was something like 98 percent inaccurate. A while after seeing that show, I made my daily stop at a 7-11 to get cigarettes after work and I saw a guy running inside toward the cashier, he busted between a few people waiting to pay, grabbed the "Jerry's Kids" donation jar and headed toward the door of 1 pushes open from inside and the other pushed in from the out side that I was about to use as the guy was about to bust through the other and I stepped over and put my foot against the bottom of the door like a wedge and he hit it so hard it twisted and the glass broke out he dropped the money jar and fell down. I was knocked off balance but didn't fall and he jumped up and busted out then jumped in a topless sports car, driver waiting and I got the plate number wrote it on my palm as they left. The cops came and took a statement from all that hung around and the clerk. 4 days passed and I was asked to come down and give the details of the guys appearance and I couldn't remember the color of his hair, shirt, facial features and failed at picking anyone out of the line up. I was accused of being unwilling to get involved, I couldn't remember the color of the car. They had the car, the license, the driver and the video that the owner identified his underage son stealing his dads car and identified the other kid as a kid that was a regular at the family home, they hung out together. They pressured me for an Identification by leading me and I stuck with my original story, even though they cops showed me his picture provided by the father.

It was a 20 second hit at the door and another 15 to 20 seconds of watching him jump in the car with out having to open the door of the sports car that I did identify as an "MG Midget" and the plate number. I thought that would simplify the investigations enough that a affidavit and signature would have been plenty but they told me if I didn't co-operate I would have to appear by subpena and I ended up having to sit in the court room 3 different times and my affidavit was honored and I was harassed by the detective and prosecutor by being forced to appear and take off work.

Long story, but it taught me that even at face to face encounter I was unable to provide more than a young guy maybe 6 ft tall and relatively physically fit to bust through a chalked door hard enough to bend it and break the glass out. I decided then after recalling the show on odds of actually knowing by sight in that short of interaction, I personally am incapable of having a "snapshot" memory of a person, nore will I ever testify against any specific person with out some type of positive recognition.

I respect law enforcement, but I will never help them close a case on guessing.

You put out a great essay of this subject, easy to read and follow. I voted up, useful, awesome and interesting.

Peace and Blessings,


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

Kelly, I appreciate your comments.

Dusty, I think you really described the problem. So often things happen so quickly it is hard to be sure of what you have seen. Thanks for telling us your story of events. I wouldn't point out someone if I was guessing either. Blessings to you Dusty.

DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa

Great article. I know a few attorneys who have been involved with this project. The fact that so many people have been wrongfully convicted makes a compelling case against the death penalty.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

Deborah, I am also glad those that are wrongfully convicted finally get freedom. I agree with your comments. Thank you.

Petra Vlah profile image

Petra Vlah 4 years ago from Los Angeles

Great information Pamela and much needed, especially for the ones who are still supporting the death penalty without understanding that the judicial system is less than perfect while death is definitive. Thank you for addressing such an "uncomfortable" subject - voted up all the way.

BTW, congratulations on your interesting interview and keep up the great work and the valuable contribution you make to HP

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States Author

Petra, It is so nice to hear from your again and I hope you are doing well. Thank you so much for your comments. That are greatly appreciated.

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