As I prepare to run the NYC Half Marathon this March, I’m raising money for the Innocence Project, a nonprofit that does incredible work to exonerate men and women who have been convicted of crimes they didn’t commit, to reform the criminal justice system, and to support exonerees post-release. Through DNA testing, 367 people in the US have been exonerated after spending an average of 14 years in prison (in some cases, with time on death row); researchers have estimated that approximately 20,000 people remain falsely convicted.
These numbers can feel far away, but stories like the ones featured on the Innocence Project's website and written by many journalists I admire can make their realities much closer. The case of Willie Grimes, as traced in Benjamin Rachlin’s Ghost of the Innocent Man, highlights not only the many court missteps that sentenced Grimes to life in prison for a rape he didn’t commit, but also the endless efforts of a lawyer who ultimately won Grimes his freedom after 24 years.
There are truths that come too late, as in the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a man executed in 2004 for allegedly setting a fire to his house that killed his three daughters. After his death, in large part thanks to a tireless volunteer, as chronicled in David Grann’s New Yorker feature-turned-film Trial By Fire, further evidence proved that the initial arson investigation was faulty—Willingham did not set the fire. Texas has since updated their education and training for fire investigators.
Stories like these emphasize the work of attorneys, social workers, and volunteers like those at the Innocence Project to make sure everyone has fair representation and support. Please support their work! I'd greatly appreciate any amount you could give. Thank you.
Photo credit to the Innocence Project.