I first became interested in working with the Innocence Project when I caught a show on TV called “Dallas DNA.” The basis for the show was this: for the first time in state history, in 2006 Texans elected an African American as their District Attorney. Craig Watkins took the D.A. position for Dallas County and one of the first things he did was open a “Conviction Integrity Unit” to review cases where convictions were made before DNA technology was available, and individuals were still serving time in jail as a result. Since Dallas County had preserved all the evidence from their older cases it was possible to do it… And what happened was amazing…
Out of the first 40 cases that were identified as having testable evidence that could lead to a possible exoneration… 18 OF THEM SHOWED THAT THE PERSON CONVICTED WAS INNOCENT! That’s 45%!
I can truly think of nothing more awful than sitting in jail for decades for a crime that you did not commit. Not celebrating holidays, not seeing family or friends, and not having any appeals left for your case. These men had all but lost hope before this Conviction Integrity Unit came into existence.
But, this isn’t just a problem in Texas.
There are innocent people incarcerated all throughout the United States. Thankfully, most states have an “Innocence Project” set up. These nonprofit organizations work to exonerate those who are wrongfully convicted and are funded mainly through individual private contributions (45%) and foundations (another 30%). The Pennsylvania Innocence Project is staffed, in large part, by law students at Temple University and volunteer attorneys.
I began volunteering with the Pennsylvania Innocence Project over a year ago and have never done anything so rewarding before. I am very proud to be involved with such a great organization that is trying to right injustices.
Here are some shocking statistics:
- The Innocence Project has assisted in the exoneration and release of over 300 people wrongfully convicted
- The average person exonerated had already served 13.5 years in prison
- More than 8,000 people contact the Innocence Project each year for help
- The most common reason for wrongful convictions: faulty eyewitness testimony (which played a role in 75% of the cases where individuals were later exonerated)
Sadly, (like many nonprofit organizations) the Pennsylvania Innocence Project has more people that need help, than they do resources to go around. Many cases sit for months before they can be assigned to a law student or attorney to work on them.
If you want to help as an Advocate or if you are interested in making a monetary donation, please visit:
Know that your time and/or money would be going to help people like Eugene Gilyard, who just a few days ago (11/15/2013) was sent home after spending 15 years incarcerated in Philadelphia for a murder he did not commit. An investigator from the PA Innocence Project, Shaina Tyler, was able to secure a confession from one of the two true murderers which lead to a judge ordering a new trial for Eugene. For now, the conviction against Eugene has been vacated and he is home on house arrest while the DA’s Office conducts an investigation to see whether or not they will retry him for this case. If you want to read more about Eugene’s story click here:
So please take a minute to visit the PA Innocent Project’s Website and learn more about their amazing organization and ways that you can help.
Be Happy. -Angel