Judith Armatta

Judith Armatta is a lawyer, journalist, and human-rights activist

Convicting the Innocent

Last week I attended the Oregon Innocence Project's annual fundraising event (given my limited income, I have no business contributing but I always do!). There was a full house -- lots of well-heeled lawyers. Stephen Wax, OIP legal director -- formerly federal public defender for 31 years, gave an update of their work. Here are some highlights.

In their three years of existence, they have received about 350 requests from prisoners to investigate their cases and have investigated 238 -- since the beginning of the OIP three years ago. The majority of the requests are from people convicted of sex offenses. Forty-six percent (46%) of these cases involved a child. The OIP has taken on four cases, two involve sex offenses, one is a murder with a death sentence, another is manslaughter. In two of the cases, the prosecutors have cooperated in securing DNA testing. In the capital murder case, the prosecutor refuses to cooperate, despite considerable evidence of innocence. (Steve didn't say who the prosecutors are.) Sixteen (16) people convicted in Oregon have been exonerated to date for a total of 65 lost years.

Two of the San Antonio Four (Anna and Cassandra) were special guests and talked about their ordeal and their eventual exoneration 20 years after being charged. The four Latina women had recently come out as gay. The seven and nine year old nieces of one were coerced by their father to make the allegations of gang rape. Homophobia contributed substantially to their prosecution and ultimate conviction. The women refused to plea bargain because they were innocent. Three were sentenced to 15 years, the girls' aunt received a 37 1/2 year sentence. While in prison, they refused sex offender treatment for the same reason, their innocence, and, as a result, spent time in solitary confinement. One woman had two small children, another was pregnant and had a 2-year-old, when they went to prison. The women served from 12 to 16 years in prison. Now, they are traveling throughout the U.S. to tell their story. They were exonerated in November 2016. Here's CNN's story: http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/24/us/san-antonio-four-exonerated/

Not included, but what the women told us last night:

1. The nieces' father made up the charge because their aunt refused to date him.

2. The father later married another woman who had two sons. They had a child together. After they divorced, the father coerced their daughter to accuse one of the sons of sexual abuse. He was found guilty and sent to prison at 17 and is now a registered sex offender for life. The father has not yet met his karma.

While Texas will compensate these four women for the lost years, Oregon has no compensation law for those wrongfully convicted. Nationwide, the Innocence Project reports 2,028 exonerations, for a total of 17,693 years lost. Forty-seven percent (47%) of these exonerees were black, 12% here Hispanic. Thirty-nine (39) percent were convicted of murder, 15% of sexual assault, 11% of child sexual abuse.http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/Exonerations-in-the-United-States-Map.aspx

Oregon Innocence Project: www.oregoninnocence.org

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