Exonerated by DNA:
  Massachusetts wrongful
  convictions overturned



Anthony Powell (2004)
Stephan Cowans (2004)
Dennis Maher (2003)
Kenneth Waters (2001)
Angel Hernandez (2001)
Ulysses Rodriguez Charles
(2001)
Eric Sarsfield (2000)
Neil Miller (2000)
Marvin Mitchell (1997)

Even though Massachusetts doesn’t have a law outlining a specific process for requesting, accessing, and testing DNA,  nine men have succeeded in getting their tests—and the tests proved them innocent. But first they had to overcome serious barriers which, in some cases, delayed their freedom for years.

That’s because without a law, Massachusetts inmates are dependent on prosecutors agreeing to the testing, or they must take their requests to a judge through the state criminal Rule 30 provision for new trials. Rule 30 is a much more difficult process because the judge must be persuaded, without first performing the DNA tests, that the prisoner deserves a new trial (that is, that “justice may not have been done”). Frequently it is the results of the DNA tests which convince the judge that a new trial is in order. Rule 30 forces an inmate to prove a need for a new trial without the benefit of DNA test results, oftentimes the only corroborating evidence supporting his or her claim of innocence. 

In other words, it’s a catch 22: Massachusetts inmates can’t get a new trial without evidence from DNA testing, but they can’t get access to test the DNA evidence without a new trial.

From the interview files:

“I mean you won’t have a credible claim until you have testing. You should allow testing in order to generate a credible claim. But the idea that you have to prove your innocence before you test, I mean, how do you do that? This is a totally separate issue. They should not have to prove their innocence to get a test; they should get a test in order to prove their innocence. You cannot put the cart before the horse. The evidence pulls the person out of prison, not the other way around.”

—Greg Hampikian, professor of biology and criminal justice, Boise State University, director of the Idaho Innocence Project

These Massachusetts men were proven
innocent through DNA testing:

Anthony Powell (2004)

Stephan Cowans (2004)

Dennis Maher (2003)

Kenneth Waters (2001)

Angel Hernandez (2001)

Ulysses Rodriguez Charles (2001)

Eric Sarsfield (2000)

Neil Miller (2000)

Marvin Mitchell (1997)

These organizations have worked on behalf of Massachusetts inmates who proclaim their innocence and want to test DNA from their cases:

The Committee for Public Counsel Services, including their Innocence Program 

The New England Innocence Project  

The Innocence Project in New York  


Last page update: November 18, 2011


© 2011-2013 Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, Waltham, MA. All rights reserved.