The emergence of DNA testing, and the ability to use the science of the body’s cells to solve crimes, has been a great help. However, in the past decades, DNA evidence wasn’t available. As a result, hundreds of people were convicted of crimes they didn’t commit. As forensic science has advanced, more is being learned about how to solve crimes. Additionally, new DNA testing techniques have led to wrongly convicted felons to be exonerated.
You don’t have to be pulling down a salary as a forensic technician to know the power of DNA evidence. With this evidence in hand, many people are challenging convictions that might not have been right. Convicted felons are getting a second chance, armed with the practically incontrovertible evidence of their innocence. Here are 25 wrongly convicted felons exonerated by DNA evidence:
1. Kirk Bloodsworth: The first American on Death Row exonerated by DNA evidence, Kirk Bloodsworth serves an inspiration to many of those who feel they have been wrongly convicted. Bloodworth was convicted of the brutal rape and murder of a nine-year old girl. He was exonerated with DNA finger-printing evidence.
2. Frank Lee Smith: Unfortunately, Frank Lee Smith died of cancer on death row in 2000. He never lived to be exonerated with DNA evidence. Because of his criminal background, and based on composite sketches, Smith was convicted of rape and murder. He was on death row for 14 years in Florida before dying. He was exonerated 11 months of his death, and DNA evidence identified the real perpetrator of the crime as Eddie Lee Mosley.
3. Ron Williamson: Convicted for a murder he didn’t commit, Ron Williamson spent 11 years behind bars. Evidence presented as a “match” to Williamson’s actually turned out, after DNA testing, to match another man — who was actually a state witness during Williamson’s trial. Williamson’s story was subsequently used as the basis for a John Grisham novel.
4. Habib Wahir Abdal: At the time of his conviction, Habib Wahir Abdal was known as Vincent Jenkins. He was convicted of rape on the basis of misidentification and problems with the way forensic evidence was handled. After serving 16 years, Abdal was exonerated when sophisticated DNA testing showed that neither of the two sperm samples found in the rape victim matched him. 5. Dennis Maher: After 19 years behind bars, Dennis Maher was able to come home after DNA evidence exonerated him from his rape conviction. Maher is known for his positive outlook — even after the injustice he faced.
6. Herman Atkins: This son of a highway patrol officer was convicted of robbery and rape in 1988. Herman Atkins served 11.5 years for this crime he didn’t commit. Finally, in 2000, Atkins was exonerated based on DNA testing. It was an especially tough case, since the prosecution threw up roadblocks, trying to keep access to the evidence from those working on behalf of Atkins.
7. Wilton Dedge: Like so many exonerated felons, Wilton Dedge was sent home without any money — or even a ride home. Dedge had been locked away for the rape of a 17-year-old girl. Since his release, after spending 22 years doing time for a crime he didn’t commit, Dedge has worked to get a system of compensation for the wrongly convicted put into place.
8. Vincent Moto: A woman accused Vincent Moto of being one of two rapists that assaulted her. He was convicted of the crime and served 10.5 years behind bars until DNA evidence exonerated him of the crime. Moto is a musician, trying to make it as an artist.
9. Larry Bostic: In order to avoid a life sentence on a rape conviction at trial, Larry Bostic pleaded guilty. However, he didn’t actually commit the crime he admitted guilt to. DNA evidence exonerated him of the crime, and he is now free after serving 18 years total.
10. Dean Cage: The only evidence against Dean Cage was the erroneous testimony of the victim of a rape. Cage was convicted at a bench trial in Chicago in 1994. Only after 14 years and DNA testing was Cage exonerated and set free. He actually received compensation for the events stemming from his wrongful conviction.
11. Anthony Capozzi: In 1987, Anthony Capozzi was convicted of two rapes. His mother believed him innocent the whole time, and after 20 years she was justified. Capozzi was exonerated with DNA evidence, and the real perpetrator was identified using this evidence.
12. James Dean: Six people were convicted of raping and murdering an elderly woman in 1990. One of these people was James Dean. Convictions were made based on false confessions and other blunders. After serving five years, Dean — along with most of the other defendants — was freed.
13. Ada JoAnn Taylor: One of the defendants along with James Dean, Ada JoAnn Taylor served 19 years for a crime that DNA evidence now says she didn’t commit.
14. Charles Irvin Fain: Convicted of kidnapping, rape and murder, Charles Irvin Fain was convicted in 1983. He was exonerated in 2001 when DNA evidence ruled him out as a suspect.
15. Bruce Godschalk: False confessions and government misconduct were factors in the 1987 conviction of Bruce Godschalk for rape and burglary. He was set free after serving 14.5 years for the crimes, and the real perpetrator has yet to be found.
16. Paula Gray: Along with four men, Paula Gray was convicted of rape and murder. She gave a false confession, and after recanting, was convicted along with the men — and convicted of perjury to boot. DNA evidence exonerated all involved.
17. Nathaniel Hatchett: At the age of 17, Nathaniel Hatchett was arrested for kidnapping, rape and armed robbery. After serving 10 years, he was exonerated when DNA evidence was tested and he was ruled out as a suspect.
18. Lesly Jean: After serving nine years, Lesly Jean was released from prison due to procedural issues, because evidence clearing him was not released. It still took 10 years more for the DNA evidence to completely exonerate him.
19. Joe Jones: After serving 6.5 years behind bars for rape and kidnapping, Joe Jones was released after being exonerated by DNA evidence that showed he wasn’t the perpetrator.
20. Chaunte Ott: New DNA evidence resulted in the release of Chaunte Ott 12.5 years after his incarceration. He had been convicted of killing a runaway girl while trying to rob her.
21. David Shawn Pope: In 1986, David Shawn Pope was convicted of aggravated sexual assault. His conviction was largely the result of faulty eye witness accounts and improper evidence. After serving 15 years, new DNA evidence exonerated him.
22. Willie Rainge: After spending 17.5 years behind bars, Willie Rainge was exonerated after new DNA evidence pinpointed the true perpetrator of the rape and murder he was convicted for.
23. Raymond Santana: Convicted of assaulting and raping a jogger in New York City, Raymond Santana was released after serving five years in prison when DNA evidence proved his innocence.
24. Phillip Leon Thurman: Blood typing evidence was used to convict Phillip Leon Thurman of rape and abduction in 1985. However, more sophisticated DNA evidence secured his exoneration and release after 19 years.
25. Eduardo Velasquez: After serving 12.5 years Eduardo Velasquez was released on DNA evidence showing he did not commit the rape and assault he was convicted of. This came even after his conviction was affirmed in 1991.