Using DNA testing to free the wrongly-incarcerated
In 1998, Attorney General Janet Reno said, "DNA aids the search for truth by exonerating the innocent. The criminal justice system is not infallible." The nature of that system has been felt first-hand by Indianapolis resident Jerome Edmonds, who was freed and exonerated due to pre-conviction DNA evidence testing.
Indianapolis resident Jerome Edmonds was freed and exonerated due to pre-conviction DNA evidence testing.
Edmonds was a steadily-employed church deacon, husband and father. He had no previous criminal record. But that changed when he was arrested in 2001, extradited to Hawaii and imprisoned for over a year on suspicion for the 27-year-old rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl. It was a crime Edmonds insisted he did not commit. The case was reopened in 2001 on the basis of new evidence, including a statement from a former soldier who had been stationed in Hawaii with Edmonds. There was no solid evidence to convict Edmonds for the 1974 rape, but the Hawaiian authorities got a sample of Edmonds" DNA and proceeded with DNA testing to match him to their 27-year-old evidence. Over the next 12 months it took three attempts from three different labs to provide the conclusive results that proved Edmonds" innocence. On Sept. 11, 2002, Edmonds returned home to his family and friends. His ordeal was one many people could not have endured but, he acknowledged, "My faith in God sustained me and brought me through." Pastor David W. Greene Sr. of Second Baptist Church, where Edmonds attends, is a staunch supporter of Edmonds and his family. According to Greene, "My initial response to the call that Brother Jerome had been arrested was, "He is innocent." I knew that in my spirit. Then there was the realization that his case was going to cost money." Given his limited financial resources, Edmonds was appointed a public defender. Public defenders are usually overburdened and more likely to encourage their clients to deal their cases down to lesser sentences. Most of the persons whose cases have been overturned due to DNA testing were unable to afford the costs of a criminal defense attorney, whose fees can be upward of $50,000. Indiana University School of Law at Indianapolis is part of the Innocence Project Network, a network of law and journalism schools dedicated to raising awareness about the failings of the criminal justice system and the thousands of innocent people in jail and/or on death row. The Indianapolis School of Law"s Innocence Project is under the direction of Fran Hardy, attorney and clinical associate of law. She states, "Innocence Projects are necessary because freeing the innocent is the right thing to do. People shouldn"t want a system of justice that holds the innocent." Hardy continues, "If the law and media continue to educate the public on wrongful convictions then the public will think about what has happened and hopefully wake up and realize the importance of the issue." In July 2001, Indiana passed Statute 35-38-7, which strengthens the rights of convicted persons to have access to DNA testing. Through this breakthrough and due to the work of the Innocence Project Network, a number of Indiana men have been set free. Larry Mayes, from Hammond, is the 100th person freed using post-conviction DNA testing. According to the Indianapolis Innocence Project, Mayes spent some 20 years in prison after a 1982 conviction based on the victim"s photo lineup identification of him. The victim had twice failed to identify him during live lineups. The victim later revealed that the police had hypnotized her prior to her making the photo identification. Mayes was exonerated in 2001, when a DNA test excluded him as a match to the sperm and semen samples collected from the victim. Richard Alexander served five and half years after being falsely convicted for several sexual assaults in South Bend. The Innocence Project revealed that even after Alexander was imprisoned more assaults were committed and that his photo was placed accidentally in a photo lineup where the victim (of the latest assault) identified him as her attacker - an impossibility since Alexander was in prison. On Dec. 12, 2001, Alexander was released from prison custody. Hardy states, "Unfortunately, circumstantial evidence, false confessions, fraudulent forensic testimony, inaccurate witness identification and, sometimes, poor defense counsel will continue to convict the innocent." While the Innocence Project Network has been instrumental in the exoneration of 123 wrongly convicted and incarcerated men and women, there are thousands of others whose cases are awaiting evaluation. Jerome Edmonds says, "I am not vengeful and I was blessed to have survived. From this situation I learned to have no doubt that God is in full and complete control. I got through being incarcerated due to my faith, family and friends, and my hope is that through this testimony another incarcerated person can be helped to hold onto their faith." Edmonds shakes his head before continuing, "There are many innocent people in jail on the basis of a false testimony or an inaccurate identification. Anyone could be next. People have to understand that things must change."
The Innocence Project (www.InnocenceProject.org) is a non-profit, pro bono, legal clinic where students handle cases under the supervision of a team of attorneys and clinic staff. Created by attorneys Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld in 1992, the Innocence Project is located at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York. The Cardozo Innocence Project only handles cases where post-conviction DNA testing of evidence can yield conclusive proof of innocence. Prisoners wanting to prove their innocence must pay for their own DNA test. The Innocence Project Network has been instrumental, using post-conviction DNA testing to exonerate 123 men and women from 30 different states.