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Associated Links

Our Globe Magazine Cover Story,

Journalists' guide: How you can localize the Troy Davis story in your state

Ethical Inquiry: Is Capital Punishment Ethical? International Center for Ethics, Justice, & Public Life, October 2010

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The Justice Brandeis Law Project has benefited from the expertise of Dick Lehr, Visiting Journalist-in-Residence in 2007 and Pamela Cytrynbaum, who acted as assistant director for the Institute from 2005-2007.

About the Justice Brandeis Law Project

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Examining systemic flaws in the criminal justice system

The Justice Brandeis Law Project (JBLP) uses investigative journalism techniques to examine possible miscarriages of criminal justice. Here we’ll tell you more about how people end up in prison for crimes they didn’t commit—and how we select and investigate cases. Below you can learn more about our work and our concerns:
•    The JBLP team. Who we are and how we do it.
•    More about wrongful convictions. Find out the statistics, risk factors, and common problems that put the wrong person in jail.
•    Reporting. Here’s what we’ve published or broadcast, along with others’ reporting on our investigations.
•    Angel’s case. Here’s how Angel Echavarria was exonerated, after 21 years in jail for a murder he always said he did not commit.
•    George’s case. George Perrot has spent 30 years in jail for a rape that even his victim says he did not commit. Today his fate rests on a strand of hair.  

The JBLP team

The Justice Brandeis Law Project is different from most innocence projects. Usually, these projects use the law to take death row cases to court, seeking to have DNA evidence tested. The JBLP uses time-consuming reporting methods to dig into especially difficult cases in which DNA may not be available, or the prisoner is not on death row.

In addition to investigating probable wrongful convictions, we also report on related issues. For instance, our article published in The Boston Globe Magazine examined why Massachusetts had no law enabling prisoners to seek post-conviction DNA testing. Within the year, the legislature passed the Post-Conviction Access to Forensic and Scientific Analysis law.

Led by Schuster Institute Founding Director Florence Graves, our staff and affiliated researchers and reporters oversee teams of paid students research assistants. We get our cases of probable innocence in a variety of ways, including from innocence projects that have piles of cases that they will never get to unless we help.

Together, the JBLP team digs into the facts of these cases, including finding and examining reams of court documents and police records; reconstructing the crime scene and timeline; locating, interviewing, or re-interviewing witnesses; and consulting experts in particular aspects of a given case.

Once we have established the facts and are persuaded that this person both received an unfair trial and is factually innocent, we submit an exhaustive memo of our findings to the Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services or to a pro bono defense attorney. Those attorneys take the cases back to court.

What you need to know about wrongful convictions

The statistics. (Source: Innocence Project)
In the United States:
•    How many exonerees? As of May 2017, DNA testing has exonerated 350 people. This figure doesn’t include reporting-driven exonerations like ours.
•    What are the demographics of wrongful conviction? Of those 350 people, roughly 70 percent were people of color or from another minority group.
      Poverty, race, and ethnicity are the biggest risk factors for being wrongfully imprisoned.
•    How many are put to death for crimes they didn’t commit? Roughly 4.1 percent of death row inmates were falsely convicted, according to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. No one knows how many are wrongly executed.
•    What happens to the crime’s actual perpetrator? They keep raping or murdering. In almost half of the first 251 DNA exoneration cases—43 percent—authorities found the real perpetrator of the crime after the wrong person served prison time for it. Those actual perpetrators committed at least 72 more violent crimes before being caught.
•    37 of 350: Pled guilty to crimes they did not commit
•    71%: Involved eyewitness misidentification

In Massachusetts:
•    As of 2015, 41 individuals have been exonerated in Massachusetts.
•    Nine of those were exonerated by DNA evidence. The remaining 31 were freed by other means. 

More statistics from the Innocence Project

Here are the six common glitches that result in wrongful convictions.

•    Eyewitness misidentification
•    Faulty forensics, or bad science
•    False confessions
•    Informants and "snitches"
•    Bad lawyering or representation in court
•    Misconduct by prosecutors or law enforcement

Our criminal justice reporting

globe-magazine-dna-story "Failing the DNA Test,"  Michael Blanding and Lindsay Markel, Nov. 20, 2011, The Boston Globe Magazine.
WBUR's Radio Boston hosts talk with Schuster Institute Senior Fellow Michael Blanding about DNA testing for prisoners in Massachusetts. michael-blanding
phillip-martin Schuster Institute Senior Fellow Phillip Martin discusses the proposed Massachusetts DNA access law on WGBH: Part 1 | Part 2
Schuster Institute Senior Fellow Hella Winston’s ongoing investigation into child sexual abuse among the ultra-Orthodox—and the associated prosecutorial cover-up. hella-winston

News

GEORGE D. PERROT
"George Perrot's one-year anniversary of freedom clouded by prosecutors' intent to appeal," Schuster Institute, Feb. 10, 2017

George D. Perrot, who spent 30 years in prison before a Massachusetts judge overturned his rape conviction, is working to rebuild his life. One year into his freedom, he enjoys spending time with his mother and being outside. But he remains in legal limbo, as prosecutors say they will appeal.Perrot hugs his attorney

“I do my best to put it out of my mind, but it is obviously hard,” Perrot told the Schuster Institute. “They stole the best years of my life. They know I am innocent and yet they continue to torture me. I am thankful for my team who continues to fight for me and an end to this living nightmare.”

Right: Perrot hugs attorney Nick Perros after Judge Robert J. Kane released Perrot on his own recognizance at a Feb. 10, 2016 bail hearing.

Echavarria hugs his daughter
Left: Angel Echavarría hugs his daughter as he leaves the courtroom, May 18, 2015. He was imprisoned 21 years before being exonerated.

   


ANGEL ECHAVARRIA

"First wrongly convicted, now wrongly delayed," Yvonne Abraham, Boston Globe, Feb. 9, 2017.


The Massachusetts Attorney General has agreed to compensate exoneree Angel Echavarria $450,000 for his 21 years of wrongful imprisonment – but Echavarria recently found out the state's settlement fund doesn't have enough money to cover the cost. “It makes me sad, you know?” he told the Boston Globe's Yvonne Abraham. “Look at what I go through, being inside so long, and we wait a year for [a settlement agreement] and then another setback, we gotta wait again.” 


Last page update: JUNE 2017

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