Wrongful convictions are a serious problem in America. We do not know how many people have been convicted for crimes they never committed, but we do occasionally hear the stories of those who have.
The Washington Post on Tuesday told the story of Terrance Lewis, who a judged ruled must have been innocent after he spent 12 years in prison for a murder charge. Even though the judge determined “the court believes that Petitioner is innocent…it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted Petitioner,” the judge rejected Lewis’ appeal on procedural grounds. Lewis would spend another nine years in prison before he would be released thanks to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office’s newly relaunched Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU).
Lewis spent a total of 21 years in jail for a murder he didn’t commit.
As the Post reported, Philadelphia has released 10 men who were wrongly convicted of murder since the beginning of 2018.
The releases were helped by defense attorney Larry Krasner, who took over Philadelphia’s DA office and relaunched the CIU.
“You take an oath to seek justice,” Krasner told the Post. “That means innocent people go home. It also means, if you have an innocent person in jail, the guilty one got away.”
The Post also reported that seven of the 10 men released “were convicted by longtime district attorney Lynne Abraham, a tough-on-crime prosecutor who regularly sought maximum punishments and death sentences.”
More from the Post:
The National Registry of Exonerations counted 151 exonerations last year, 68 of them in homicide cases, and found that the exonerees had spent a total of 1,639 years behind bars, or about 11 years per person. Conviction Integrity Units in prosecutors’ offices took part in 58 of those exonerations. The registry has tallied 2,500 wrongful convictions since 1989, costing defendants more than 22,000 years incarcerated.
CIU’s have been launched in 49 district attorneys’ offices across the country. Michigan, New Jersey, and North Carolina also have statewide conviction review offices.
The CIU’s look for prosecutorial misconduct, corrupt cops, and bad forensic science to exonerate the wrongly convicted.
“Some cities, such as Chicago and Philadelphia, have focused on corrupt cops who manufactured cases and won false convictions,” the Post reported. “Others, such as Houston, have cleared large numbers of cases by looking at flawed drug-testing systems that resulted in dozens of wrongful convictions.”
One of the corrupt cop cases took place in Philadelphia. Homicide detective Philip Nordo had been accused of intimidation and the sexual assault of witnesses. Defense attorneys then looked into this cases, resulting in three murder convictions being overturned. One of those innocent men, Jamaal Simmons, had never been arrested until 2009, when he was accused of murder. One of the key witnesses in the case said Nordo threatened him into identifying Simmons.
“I thought people were going to go up there and tell the truth, and I’m going to be free,” Simmons told the Post. “When I got convicted, I was crushed. Sentenced to 15 to 30 years.”
Simmons was freed in 2018.