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A History of US Citizens Wrongfully Convicted by The Judicial System

The number of US citizens that have been convicted of crimes they didn’t commit is staggering.

There are currently 2,086 exonerated convictions, totaling over 18,060 lost years and an unknowable number of innocent people ripped apart from loved ones. Lives have been destroyed and in some cases people have died behind bars, all the while knowing that they are innocent.

We take a look at a number of exonerated cases, the length of sentence given and the length of time served. In some cases, innocent people served longer than they were sentenced. A number of these cases spent years on death row, never truly knowing when they would die. These were innocent people let down by the judicial system built to protect them.

We explore a number of these incredible stories beneath our infographic in more detail.

A History of US Citizens Wrongfully Convicted by The Judicial System

Cathy Woods

Cathy was convicted of the murder of Michelle Mitchell, a student whose car had broken down and was waiting for her mother. When Michelle’s mother turned up, she found no sign of her daughter. Police later found Michelle’s body in a nearby garage. The only evidence found was a cigarette butt and witnesses saw a man fleeing the area at around the time of the murder.

In 1979, Cathy Woods, a patient at a mental hospital, told a staff member that she killed a girl named Michelle in Reno. Cathy went to trial in 1980, where the prosecution relied on her confession and records showing Cathy working in Reno at the time. In 1980, Cathy was convicted of murder.

In 2013, after requesting additional DNA testing, no link was found to Cathy, but a male profile was identified. It wasn’t until 2014, when a recently uploaded DNA profile matched the case and linked Rodney Halbower to the cigarette butt, that Cathy was exonerated.

Kirk Odom

In 1981, a young woman was attacked at her apartment by a stranger with a gun. She viewed him briefly in the dim light of the streetlamps as he entered a window before she was gagged, bound, blindfolded and raped.

Talking to Odom about an unrelated matter, a police officer thought he resembled the sketch of the assailant and passed on the information. The victim identified Odom, who was asked to take part in a line-up, from an image.

At trial, Odom and his mother both testified that he was at home when the crime occurred. The evidence consisted of testing a hair using an unreliable method. After deliberating for only a few hours, the jury convicted Odom.

Odom was released on parole in 2003 and made to register as a sex offender. In 2011, after the exoneration of another case using similar microscopy methods, Odom’s case was re-examined and DNA testing found him innocent.

Michael Morton

Michael Morton spent 25 years in jail after being wrongly convicted of his wife’s murder. Michael had left for work early in the morning, and later that day his wife’s body was found bludgeoned to death in her bed with sheets which were stained with what was later determined to be semen.

The prosecution presented no witnesses or physical evidence that tied Michael to the crime, but they hypothesized that he had beaten Christine to death because she refused to have sex with him on his birthday. Michael was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

In 2005, the Innocence Project filed a motion requesting additional DNA testing on items of evidence. However, it wasn’t until 2011 that testing was granted on a bandanna, which revealed DNA belonging to Mark Norwood, a convicted felon and the murderer.

Jerry Miller

In 1981, a young woman had walked to her car on top of a parking garage roof. As she opened the car door, someone pushed her into the car where a man then beat her, stole her jewelry and brutally raped her. The assailant then forced the victim into the trunk of her own vehicle and began driving out of the parking structure, but was stopped by a parking lot employee who recognized the car, but not the driver and asked him to wait. The assailant promptly fled and the parking lot employees heard the victim in the trunk.

While hospitalized, the victim was shown images of men, but couldn’t identify her assailant. At trial, Miller was identified in a line-up by both parking lot employees; although the victim only tentatively identified him, Miller was convicted in 1982.

In 2005, advanced DNA testing excluded Miller and implicated another man, Robert Weeks.

William Barnhouse

In 1983, a young woman was abducted from a parking lot outside a bar. Two men forced her into her car, pistol whipped her and repeatedly sexually assaulted her. She was able to escape from the car, but was shot in the buttocks while running. Her attackers then drove away, abandoning the car not long after.

A week after the attack, Raymond Jackson and James Curtis were stopped by the police on a separate case, and their photos were taken and added into a line-up. The victim subsequently identified both men and, although both men had alibis, they were charged with aggravated sexual assault.

In 2010, additional DNA testing was requested which found them innocent and found the real assailants to be two currently incarcerated offenders.

Clifford Jones

In 1980, a woman agreed to go into an apartment building to have sex with a man she had just met. The woman had second thoughts after they entered the building, but when she tried to walk away the man pulled a knife and raped her. As the man exited down the stairs, she followed and saw him with knife in hand, fighting another man in the stairway. The attacker stabbed the other man, rifled through his pockets and left.

Four months later, the woman viewed a number of photos and picked out Clifford as the rapist and murderer. Clifford voluntarily went to the police station after learning the police were looking for him, were he was picked out of the line-up.

The only evidence implicating him was the testimony of the woman, who admitted she had a $50-a-day heroin habit and was high when she picked Clifford out of the line-up.


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