I know we do a wrongful conviction roundup every quarter, but the injustice some people have to endure never fails to shock. This quarter’s wrongful convictions are particularly upsetting.
The Exoneration of Bobby Johnson
Let’s begin with Bobby Johnson’s heartbreaking story. Bobby was 16 years old in 2006 when he was jailed for the armed robbery and fatal shooting of a 70-year-old in Connecticut. The detective investigating the case against Bobby and his 14-year-old co-defendant (who was later acquitted) claimed to have a 100% success rate in solving murders. This boast tells you that the detective was one of those who valued closing cases over accuracy or truth. He (falsely) told the two young suspects that there was overwhelming forensic evidence against them and that they would face the death penalty if they were convicted, but would only get probation if they confessed. Bobby, who had a limited IQ and could barely read or write, was also threatened that if he didn’t confess, he would never see his family again. What could he do? He confessed.
In light of his confession, Bobby pled guilty at trial, in order to receive a 38 year prison sentence rather than roll the dice and risk a harsher sentence. It turns out, though, that in their efforts to make a case against the two boys, the police failed to investigate two other known suspects — men with long criminal records, who fit the descriptions of the offenders. A gun and a palm print found on the victim’s car link those men, not Bobby, to the murder. Prosecutors eventually found that the conviction “lacked integrity” and moved to have it set aside. Bobby Johnson was freed on September 4, 2015, after being wrongfully imprisoned for nine years.
Bad Detectives, Bad Convictions: the Exoneration of Scott Lewis
In 1991, Scott Lewis was charged with the murder of two men who were shot and killed in their apartment in what appeared to be a drug deal gone wrong. An informant claimed that he waited in the car while Lewis and his cohort, Stefon Morant, committed the crime. Within a month of the shooting, another informant told detectives that someone else had confessed, but the detectives ignored that lead. Mr. Lewis denied involvement and had witnesses who said he was at work during the shooting. Nevertheless, the jury convicted him of two counts of first-degree murder, and he was sentenced to 120 years in prison. So how did this case unravel? Well, a year later, the informant who pinned the case on Lewis and Morant participated in a federal investigation into narcotics trafficking. The informant revealed to the FBI that he had been coerced to testify against Lewis and Morant by Detective Vincent Raucci because Raucci was secretly involved in dealing drugs and wanted to eliminate Lewis and Morant as competitors. That was 1992.
Over the next two decades, Detective Raucci was accused of misconduct, linked to the local drug trade, criminally charged, fled, and eventually arrested by the FBI. A retired police lieutenant/former colleague of Raucci’s admitted that all of the incriminating information in this case provided by the informant was fed to him by Detective Raucci. Despite all that, it took until February 2014 for Mr. Lewis to be freed from jail, after a court finally vacated his conviction. On August 5, 2015, charges against Mr. Lewis were finally dismissed.
Testing Rape Kits, Revealing Wrongful Convictions
We’ve talked here about the hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits in this country, allowing sex offenders to remain at large and keeping wrongfully convicted people locked up. The National Institute of Justice is trying to work through some of that backlog, and you know what? That belated DNA testing of rape kits is exonerating some wrongfully convicted sex offenders. Edward McInnis was convicted of the 1988 rape of an 81-year-old North Carolina woman and was sentenced to life in prison, plus 20 years. He maintained his innocence, despite his limited confession. After repeated questioning wore him down, McInnis – who was 27, but could only read at a fourth grade level – had admitted that he raped the victim, though he could not provide any details of the attack beyond that. The DNA testing conclusively proved that another man committed the crime. Mr. McInnis was exonerated on August 10, 2015.
False Confessions, Wrongful Convictions
Lastly, recall our post about Daniel Anderson. Daniel Andersen’s convictions for rape and murder were overturned by an Illinois court after Daniel spent 27½ years in prison, based on a police-induced false confession. Compelling DNA evidence now establishes his innocence claim, and his conviction was overturned in July 2015.
As always, these cases are only a fraction of the wrongful convictions during the last quarter. Please see the National Registry of Exonerations for a more complete list. Nothing inspires the work that we do quite like the wrongful conviction roundup: the police misconduct responsible for the wrongful convictions must end.