A Record # of Exonerations in 2015, Including 2 GA Cases

From Aimee Maxwell

I want to interrupt my previously scheduled blog post about the Googe exoneration to discuss the report released last week by the National Registry of Exonerations.  Read the entire report here.

“Exonerations in 2015” provides incredible information.  Last year there were 149 exoneration, a record number.

Some very interesting observations:

  • No-Crime Cases: A record 75 exonerations in 2015 were cases in which no crime actually occurred. Almost two-thirds were drug cases (48/75), but  SIX WERE MURDER CONVICTIONS (WHAT??) and 14 were convictions for other violent felonies.
  • Guilty Pleas: 65 exonerations in 2015 were for convictions based on guilty pleas, more than any previous year. The great majority were drug cases (46/65), but eight were homicide exonerations—all of which included false confessions.

Speaking of false confessions, 27 exonerations were based on false confessions and 22 of those cases were homicides.  No surprise that most of the defendants were juveniles or mentally handicapped or both.  Doesn’t this make you think of the heartbreaking “confession” given by Brandon Dassey in “Making a Murderer?”

DNA exonerations account for 26 exoneration in 2015.  One of the 26 is Michael Googe.  (Yes, I’m teasing the next blog.)

The other Georgia exoneration is William Lee who was on Death Row!  Lee was convicted in 1987 and sentenced to death.  Read his story here.  Some of the violations and outrageous behavior in the case:

  • evidence in the Georgia Bureau of Investigations file that was exculpatory was concealed from defense lawyer
  • the prosecutors
    • withheld evidence that suggested that the crime was committed by two other men
    • knowingly allowed a jailhouse snitch to lie on the witness stand
    • failed ,to disclose to that the only “eyewitness” (supposedly a co-conspirator) had given three separate statements prior to the trial that she had no knowledge of the crime and that neither she nor the Lee brothers were involved
    • misled the defense about a written statement supposedly written by Lee (This is so crazy, it’s impossible to properly condense this violation.  You need to read the article.)
    • failed to disclose that the jailhouse snitch had testified against other jail inmates, and received favorable parole recommendations from the prosecution and that a pending assault conviction was dismissed in return for his testimony against Lee
    • presented false evidence when it suggested that three guns linked to Lee and his dead brother came from the victim’s home, even though the prosecution had an inventory prepared by the victim before his death that showed that no guns were missing from the home
    • failed to disclose a witness’s prior statements that was inconsistent with her trial testimony
  • the co-conspirator recanted testimony
  • the defense lawyer
    • did not interview witnesses prior to trial
    • did not investigate any physical evidence
    • had only handled one death penalty case previously
      • present almost no mitigation during the penalty phase of the trial – the entire mitigation presented took up 22 lines of transcript
      • presented only one mitigation witness – Lee’s sister
      • asked that witness only seven questions (three of which consisted of giving her name and relationship to Lee)

Unfortunately, like Mr. Googe, Mr. Lee is currently serving time for another crime.  But at least he’s not serving his time on death row.  It only took 29 years.

There are so many other extraordinary stories among the other 147 exonerations.  You should definitely read it.  And tell others about it.