As of November 2008, 130 people have been exonerated from death row in the United States. DNA testing has resulted in 225 exonerations, mostly in non-capital cases, and these numbers continue to rise. The advent of DNA has helped tremendously in its ability to prove guilt or innocence, and has been instrumental in overturning many wrongful convictions. The thing is, every man and woman who has proven that they were wrongfully convicted will tell you that they are actually the lucky ones. They will tell you that there are others like them who are still in prison – and others like them for whom it is now too late, for they have been executed.
According to the Innocence Project, “only a fraction of criminal cases involve biological evidence that can be subjected to DNA testing, and even when such evidence exists, it is often lost or destroyed after a conviction. Since they don’t have access to a definitive test like DNA, many wrongfully convicted people have a slim chance of ever proving their innocence.”
Kirk Bloodsworth was one of the lucky ones. After being wrongfully convicted of the sexual assault and murder of a nine-year-old girl in Maryland, Bloodsworth came close to paying the ultimate price for a horrible crime that he did not commit. He was convicted twice of the murder, and spent almost nine years in prison. Yet he was lucky when, in 1992, the prosecution agreed to a newly developed form of testing called DNA. Bloodsworth went on to become the first capital conviction in the U.S. to be overturned as a result of DNA testing.
In Georgia, a man named Troy Davis currently sits on death row for the murder of a police officer in Savannah – also a horrible crime. Davis’ conviction consisted solely of eyewitness testimony, yet since trial 7 of the 9 eyewitnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony – casting serious doubt on the evidence that was used to convict him. Despite the strong evidence indicating that he may be innocent, Davis has now faced three execution dates, once coming within 2 hours of death, and remains at risk of execution. Unlike in Bloodsworth’s case, there is no DNA evidence available with which to prove Davis’ guilt or innocence.
DNA exonerations cannot solve the serious problems that clearly exist in our criminal justice system, as illustrated by the case of Troy Davis above. But they do illuminate the need for serious reform within the criminal justice system. Not the least of which is repeal of the death penalty.
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