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Dear Neighbors,

On Monday I spoke at a State House event honoring International Wrongful Conviction Day. We heard from defense attorneys, forensic scientists, and advocates about the need for better standards for courtroom science, and for updating the wrongful convictions law. Students from BC and Harvard Law Schools' Innocence Projects presented their work. Excellent posters by the BC students are at the end of this newsletter, with information about a few cases, and the problems exonerees face.

Most moving were the two exonerees who spoke, Victor Rosario and Fred Clay.  I was fortunate to meet Fred, along with Lisa Kavanaugh of Committee for Public Counsel Services, his attorney Jeffrey Harris and Carol Agate, Cambridge resident and part of Fred's large group of supporters.  A key organizer of support was Rev. Fred Small, also of Cambridge, who visited Fred Clay in prison for 20 years.

Fred Clay was arrested at age 16 and convicted of murder based on very questionable and discredited witness identifications.  He spent the last 38 years in prison, but was released six weeks ago.  You can watch his lawyers talking with Jim Braude.

In 2004, Sen. Dianne Wilkerson and I helped pass the Massachusetts law to compensate people who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned.  Here we are with some of them.

But we have found that the law doesn't work the way we hoped.
  • Except in DNA cases, and at least once in one of those, it's hard to prove actual innocence after decades, and the Attorney General contests every case.
  • It can take up to four years to get the services and compensation that we hoped would help ease the transition to freedom for men who leave prison with few resources, no job experience, and little education or support.  
  • The compensation cap of $500,000 means that many get much less than that. The man whose case got me interested in this issue is Lawyer Johnson, the last man on death row. After ten years in prison, he received only $275,000.
  • Out of the settlement, exonerees have to pay attorneys' fees. And if they win money from a federal civil rights suit, they have to pay back the money from their wrongful conviction compensation.
Here's WGBH radio's report on the need for change.

I hope to amend the Senate's excellent omnibus criminal justice bill this month to include solutions to those problems with the current law.

For more about cases in Massachusetts of wrongful convictions, visit the New England Innocence Project.

The following posters by students at BC Law School explain the problem and solutions.

Copyright © 2017 CTE Pat Jehlen
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