Samuel Gross, an author of a report by the recently created National Registry of Exonerations at the University of Michigan, calculated that based on the proven rate of exonerations among death-row prisoners in the past two decades, U.S. courts appear to have an error rate in capital cases of between 2.5 percent and 4 percent, reported the Washington Post.
In June, researchers examining biological evidence from hundreds of Virginia rape convictions between 1973 and 1987 determined that new DNA testing appeared to exonerate convicted defendants in 8 percent to 15 percent of cases.
Applied against the approximately 140,000 prisoners on death row or serving life sentences in the United States, the findings suggest that a number of innocent individuals could be in prison for crimes they did not commit.
But the odds that many of those convicts will ever be able to prove their innocence through the existing systems of appeals are remote, given the lack of DNA evidence in the majority of cases.
Damon Thibodeaux, a deckhand on a Mississippi River workboat, cracked at the end of a nine-hour interrogation and confessed to the brutal rape and murder of his 14-year-old step-cousin, Crystal Champagne, reported the Post.
“I didn’t know that I had done it,” Thibodeaux said at one point, according to a police transcript. “But I done it.”
Before that day was over, Thibodeaux had recanted his confession, telling his court-appointed lawyer that he told police what they wanted to hear in response to threats of death by lethal injection and his grief over the death of his cousin. Nonetheless, Thibodeaux was later convicted of both crimes and sentenced to die.
Recently, after more than 15 years spending 23 hours a day in solitary confinement on death row at Louisiana’s Angola prison farm, Thibodeaux was released from prison.
Judge Patrick McCabe — who presided over the original trial in 1997 — issued a sealed order on vacating the conviction. With Thibodeaux’s release, he became the 300th wrongly convicted person and 18th death-row inmate exonerated in the United States substantially on the basis of DNA evidence, according to the Post.
To read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/louisiana-death-row-inmate-damon-thibodeaux-is-exonerated-with-dna-evidence/2012/09/28/26e30012-0997-11e2-afff-d6c7f20a83bf_story_1.html