Picture this: For 25 years you’ve been waking up to the dull walls of a maximum security penitentiary and separated from your loved ones because you murdered your spouse.
One more thing: you didn’t actually commit the crime.
Last month, Michael Morton was released after being imprisoned for 25 years for the murder of his wife. With the efforts of The Innocence Project and DNA evidence, Morton was found innocent.
Attorney Barry Scheck, the creator of The Innocence Project, came to Fairfield on Monday night to discuss Morton’s case and other such efforts at the Open Visions Forum.
The Innocence Project, developed in 1992, is an organization that uses forensic DNA testing as evidence to reverse false convictions. This organization has been successful with finding the wrongfully imprisoned, including highly publicized cases involving inmates John Kogut, Reade Seligmann and John Restivo.
So what is causing these wrong convictions? According to Scheck, witness misidentification accounts for 75 percent of wrong convictions. Other causes include invalidated forensic science, false confessions and incentivized informants.
The Innocence Project has accomplished approximately 275 post-conviction DNA exonerations within 44 states, and this number can rise by about 10 in just a few weeks, said Scheck. 17 of these individuals were sentenced to death. In 123 of these cases, the real perpetrator was eventually identified. Scheck’s involvement in the legal system has raised awareness to these statistical problems within the criminal justice system.
Scheck continues to raise awareness, teaching legal ethics and directing the Criminal Education at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City where he served for over 27 years. Scheck is also the commissioner on New York’s Forensic Science Review Board, helping to regulate crime and forensic DNA laboratories within the state
Scheck’s discussion at the Open Visions Forum left audiences with varying opinions. Monique Pabon, a sophomore student, says she was expecting more excitement rather than typical statistical data: “I did not really enjoy the presentation; a video clip would’ve been nice.”
Other students were awed by Scheck’s accomplishments with challenging the legal system and working to improve it.
“We’re always quick to believe that everyone in prison rightfully belongs there,” Ashley Dessources ‘13 said. “It makes us think about who’s really in jail for the right reasons.”