Hello and welcome! This is my first ever True Crime Thursday post, and I hope to have many more after this. If you don’t already know, there is a large community of people interested in the subject of True Crime. The subject spans over a large variety of topics such as serial killers, missing persons, the judicial system, and so much more. I happen to be deeply enthralled in this subject and I have learned a lot over the past few years of listening to podcasts, watching documentaries, and reading lots of literature. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do!
Over the past decade there has been a major focus on wrongful convictions, and many attribute that to groups like the Innocence Project and podcasts like Serial. Within the true crime community the name Adnan Syed is widely known. Syed was convicted as a teenager for killing his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. Multiple podcasts, Reddit boards, and discussion groups are dedicated to his story, believing that he was wrongfully convicted. Once again, many attribute podcasts and other activists to causing his case to be reexamined and he is currently waiting his new trial after his conviction was vacated in June of 2016.
This isn’t as uncommon as you might think.
Wrongful convictions happen for many reasons, but here are some of the leading causes:
Eyewitness identification can be valid evidence, but in many cases it’s not. An example of this happening is in the case of Julius Ruffin. Ruffin was convicted of rape in 1982 because of the testimony of the victim, Ann Meng. She was a nurse and weeks after the attack she saw Ruffin in the elevator at the medical school where he was a maintenance worker. She immediately called the police and informed them that he was her attacker. Despite him having an alibi for the night of the attack, he was convicted to 5 life sentences. However, in 2003 they did DNA testing on evidence taken from the crime scene and found that it did not match Ruffin’s DNA, but instead it matched another man who was in prison for a similar offense. There are more cases where this has happened, a large portion of them being instances of cross racial identification.
Unvalidated or Improper Forensic Science
Shows like CSI or Criminal Minds influence what jurors find to be valid forensic evidence. Despite what many believe, hair microscopy, bite mark comparison, firearm tool mark analysis, and shoe print comparison have never been subject to rigorous scientific evaluation. In many circumstances this kind of evidence has been crucial in securing a guilty charge, when in fact, the guilty person was not actually guilty. In a murder case from 1989 a single hair was collected from the crime scene. There were no eyewitnesses, but the police arrested 3 people suspected in the murder. Despite the man convicted for the killing maintained his innocence, he was executed in 2000. In 2010 DNA testing proved that the single hair found near the victim did not belong to him.
In many instances confessions have proven to be false through DNA testing. So often people question why someone would confess to something they never did. First, we have to look at the demographics and circumstances of these defendants. In 35% of all proven false confession cases, they concerned individuals who were 18 years old or younger, and/or mentally handicapped. Additionally, a lack of knowledge of how the justice system works, and police failure to inform the defendant of their rights can be the root of false confessions. Another cause that is based mostly on speculation is police threats. While it can be difficult to prove the police misconduct (this is due to the fact that in most states the police are not required to record interrogations), there have been cases where police have testified years later to witnessing verbal and physical abuse in order to obtain a confession. Sometimes police will use tactics like 24+ hour long interrogations. In the notorious case of the Central Park five we see five young boys who fall under each of these categories.
What is being done to make things right in these cases? In 1992 the Innocence Project was founded with the purpose of aiding the wrongfully convicted in obtaining exonerations. In 2016 there was an all-time high, hitting an incredible 165 exonerations. Since 1989 the number has steadily climbed, and many believe it will keep climbing with new discoveries in DNA testing and the hard work being done by those within the criminal and social justice community.
To learn more about the Innocence Project and information on cases like the ones listed above, check out their website: https://www.innocenceproject.org