2022 In People Who DIDN'T DO IT.

Earlier this month, The Gate of the Exonerated was unveiled in Central Park, honoring the Central Park Five who were wrongfully convicted of raping a jogger in the park when they were just teenagers in the 1990s. The Gate is dedicated not just to Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, and Antron McCray but also to the 320 New York prisoners who have been exonerated to date.

We've attributed variations of the phrase "It's better that 100 guilty men go free than one innocent should suffer" to practically everyone from King Alfred to William Blackstone to Ben Franklin to John Adams to Marilyn Monroe (probably), we say we only convict those who are guilty "beyond all reasonable doubt," and yet we still have a bit of a problem in this country with sending innocent people to prison, not to mention executing them. In reality, people often seem to be far more frightened by the idea of a guilty person going free than of an innocent person suffering.

As a result of the many issues within our criminal justice system, we send a lot of innocent people to prison — even to death row. There are, however, a lot of good people and organizations out there who are trying to help free them.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, there have been 261 exonerations in 2022.

In 182 of those cases, it was determined that no crime had actually occurred.

In 156 of them, the defendants had "plead guilty."

In 172 of the cases, exculpatory evidence was withheld by either police or prosecutors.

In 197 of these cases, the defendants were Black.

In 16 of these cases, the prosecutor straight up lied.

35 of them involved false or misleading forensic evidence.

31 of the exonerated defendants had been convicted as juveniles.

In six cases the prosecutors knowingly permitted perjury.

Seven people were exonerated in one day in Chicago, all victims of framing by the notoriously corrupt Detective Reynaldo Guevara; another was exonerated later that month and another in November. One of them was Marilyn Mulero, who at just 21 was sentenced to death for the revenge murders of two men she had literally never met before the night she was convicted of killing them with two other women. As in many of his other cases, the former detective coerced several witnesses to identify Mulero as one of the assailants despite the fact that she had nothing to do with it. At the time she was arrested, she had two young sons who had to grow up without her.

Samuel Randolph IV was sentenced to death in Pennsylvania for a series of three murders he did not commit and for which police told witnesses they would be prosecuted if they didn't say Randolph did it. He spent two decades in prison, becoming confined to a wheelchair in 2009 after having been severely beaten by several prison guards while handcuffed.

Two of the people pardoned, Nancy Smith and Joseph Allen, were victims of the daycare sex abuse hysteria of the '80s and '90s. In 1993 in Lorain, Ohio, a woman named Margaret Grondin reported to police that her daughter had been sexually abused by Smith, a bus driver for the Head Start program, and a man, possibly named Joseph. After the accusations made it to the news, 15 other families came forward saying their children had also been molested by Smith, though awkwardly many of them did not take her bus or left Head Start before Smith became a bus driver.

As is usual in these cases, the stories were outlandish and involved several elements that could not possibly be true and made no sense. The parents went through several possible Josephs before landing on Allen, a man with a prior conviction for child molestation but no connection to Smith or to Head Start. Because the children's stories varied wildly in terms of the race of the assailants, Grondin allegedly put on actual blackface to "prepare" her daughter for trial.

Smith, a white woman, was released in 2013, while Allen, a Black man, was resentenced to serve 10-25 more years. They were both exonerated in February of this year after a judge reviewed several affidavits submitted on their behalf from psychologists, the first officer who interviewed the children, and Grondin's ex-husband and son who said they witnessed Grondin coaching her daughter and the other children to say what she wanted.

Abraham Bolden, the first Black Secret Service agent assigned to a presidential detail, was officially pardoned by President Joe Biden in April. Bolden has maintained for decades that in retaliation for exposing racist behavior within the Secret Service, as well as reporting that several of the agents assigned to President John F. Kennedy's detail were wasted the night before his assassination, he was framed for a crime he did not commit. Bolden was accused (and later convicted) of conspiring with Chicago counterfeiters, but the facts of the case and later testimony from witnesses support his version of events. He only served 36 months in prison but had to wait until the age of 87 to finally get his presidential pardon.

At Willie Stokes's 1984 trial for the murder of 32-year-old Leslie Campbell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the primary witness in the case, who had previously testified at a preliminary hearing that he was present when Stokes bragged about the murder, admitted he lied and said he had been told by police that he would get leniency on his own murder charges if he would say what they wanted him to say. And yet, Stokes was still found guilty. Over the course of several decades, the case fell apart as "witnesses" increasingly admitted they'd been pressured by police to implicate Stokes.

In 2021, the Philadelphia Inquirerpublished an investigation into the cops who initially arrested Stokes, and how they would take potential informants to a special building and ply them with drugs and sex in order to get them to implicate others in crimes. In January of 2022, after Stokes served nearly four decades in prison, a judge finally looked at his case and exonerated him. His is one of nearly two dozen wrongful convictions overturned by progressive prosecutor movement leader District Attorney Larry Krasner's Conviction Integrity Unit in his first term in office.

These are only a few of the 261 miscarriages of justice corrected this year, but as much joy as we have that these people are finally seeing justice, we still have to live with the horror of what was done to them in the first place. It's great to let innocent people out but we have to change our system so that we're not just replacing them with other wrongly convicted people. We can do better and we must.

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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