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Week of 2.9.07

Wrongfully Convicted?

Since 1973, 123 people have been exonerated from death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Below are some of the more high-profile cases.

Frank Lee Smith
Time Served: 14 years
Outcome: Smith died in prison before his exoneration

Frank Lee Smith After 14 years on Florida's death row, Frank Lee Smith -- whose case was profiled on the PBS program "Frontline" -- died of cancer in January. He was later exonerated of the rape and murder of an eight year-old girl who died on April 15, 1985 from injuries sustained during a home attack. Based on a composite sketch police put together from eyewitness descriptions by two neighbors, as well as the victim's mother, Smith was arrested on April 29, 1985. In court, the prosecution relied on the identification of Smith by the victim's mother and his criminal record. He was found guilty in 1986. After Smith's death in 2000, a sample of his blood was obtained by the state prosecutor's office, which was then tested against a semen sample taken from the victim. The samples excluded Smith as the depositor of the semen and he was exonerated based on exculpatory DNA testing results. The results not only cleared Smith of the crime, but identified the true perpetrator, Eddie Lee Mosley, a convicted rapist and murderer. Mosley is currently living in a center for mentally retarded defendants in Gainesville, Florida.

For more, see the Frontline report "Requiem for Frank Smith"

Taken from The Innocence Project

Kirk Bloodsworth
Time Served: 8 years
Outcome: Bloodsworth was released and pardoned in 1993

Frank Lee Smith Kirk Bloodsworth was convicted in March 1985 for the brutal killing and sexual assault of a nine year old girl. The victim was found dead in July 1984 and had been strangled, raped, and beaten with a rock. Bloodsworth was arrested based on an anonymous call telling police that he was seen with the victim the day of her death. An identification was also made by a witness from a police sketch that was based on the recollections of five other eyewitnesses. At trial, all five witnesses testified that they had seen Bloodsworth with the victim. The trial also presented testimony that Bloodsworth had said he had done something terrible that day that would affect his relationship with his wife. The "terrible" incident turned out to be his failure to buy the food his wife had requested. In 1992, the prosecution agreed to DNA testing, which excluded Bloodsworth as the perpetrator. After eight years in prison, two of those facing execution, Bloodsworth was released in June 1993 and pardoned in December 1993. He became the first person to be exonerated from death row through post-conviction DNA testing.

Today, Bloodsworth is a program officer for The Justice Project and has been an ardent supporter of the Innocence Protection Act (IPA), which was introduced in Congress in February 2000. The IPA established the "Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program," a program that will help states defray the costs of post-conviction DNA testing.

Taken from The Innocence Project and The Justice Project

Ron Williamson
Time Served: 11 years
Outcome: Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz were exonerated and released in April 1999

Ron Williamson Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz were convicted in 1988 of the murder of Debra Sue Carter in Oklahoma. Her body had been found six years earlier. Fritz was sentenced to life in prison. Williamson -- whose story is the focus of John Grisham's "The Innocent Man" -- was sent to death row. The 21 year-old victim was found raped and murdered in her apartment after returning from her waitressing job. Fritz and Williamson were known to frequent the establishment where the victim worked. The prosecution presented evidence that the victim had previously complained to a friend that they "made her nervous." Williamson had been seen at the restaurant the night of the murder without Fritz. DNA testing revealed that neither Fritz nor Williamson deposited the sperm found in the victim. Further testing proved that none of the many hairs that were labeled "matches" belonged to them. The profile obtained from the semen evidence matched Glenn Gore, one of the state's witnesses at trial, who was later arrested. Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz were exonerated and released in April 1999. Williamson had, at one point, come within five days of execution. The two had been wrongfully incarcerated for eleven years.

Taken from The Innocence Project