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Aug 7, 2009

Ernest Sonnier Freed After 23 Years [wrongful conviction for rape]

Today is the first day of Ernest Sonnier’s new life.

The 46-year-old Houston man walked out of a courthouse today free for the first time since 1986. Sonnier was wrongfully convicted of a rape he didn’t commit based on a shaky eyewitness identification and shoddy forensic science. DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project on his behalf now proves his innocence and implicates two other men as the perpetrators of the crime. A Texas judge freed Sonnier on bond today while proceedings to fully exonerate him move forward.

He was joined in court this morning by his family, along with Innocence Project Staff Attorney Alba Morales, Social Worker Angela Amel and several other Innocence Project clients exonerated with DNA testing in Texas in recent years. Sonnier will live with his mother, Altha Davis, while adjusting to freedom and continuing his fight to fully clear his name. Davis told reporters she knew Sonnier was innocent because he was with her on Christmas Eve 1985, the night of the crime, and she never gave up hope that her son would come home. “It’s been long for me, so long,” she said. “I’m happy and so sad at the same time.”

Read more about Sonnier’s case at Innocence Project website, and send him a personal message welcoming him home after 23 long years of wrongful incarceration.

Sonnier’s case is the latest in a string of wrongful convictions caused in part by faulty forensic testing at the Houston Police Department Crime Lab. Although blood-type testing on important crime scene evidence conducted before trial didn’t match Sonnier’s type — and even suggested that he may be innocent — an analysts testified at his trial that he could still be the perpetrator, based on a conclusion not supported by the analyst’s own report.

Houston has been an epicenter of forensic problems but faulty forensic testing is a national problem and must be addressed in order to prevent more wrongful convictions. Earlier this year, the National Academies of Sciences called for the creation of a National Institute of Forensic Science to provide research, support and oversight in forensic disciplines to prevent wrongful convictions and help law enforcement identify the perpetrators of crime.

You can help prevent future wrongful convictions today — sign a petition urging Congress to implement forensic reform.

The Innocence Project will post updates on the Innocence Blog in the weeks ahead as Sonnier’s continues his quest to fully clear his name.

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Posted: Aug 7, 2009 3:27pm
Jun 24, 2009
Letter from New York Exonerees


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Members of the New York State Senate and Assembly:

We are writing to ask you to enact meaningful reforms to improve New York State’s criminal justice system before the legislative session ends later this month.

Each one of us was convicted of serious felonies before DNA testing finally proved our innocence. We are from every part of New York State, and we served a combined 163.5 years – approximately 59,677 days – in prison before we were exonerated.

We are living, breathing proof that New York’s criminal justice system has failed again and again. Our cases show how the system is falling short and how it can be fixed.

The injustice we endured is compounded by knowing that reforms have not been adopted to prevent this from happening to other people. You can change that. A series of common-sense reforms would make our justice system more fair, accurate and reliable. These reforms would help law enforcement identify and apprehend true perpetrators of crime, while protecting other innocent people from wrongful convictions.

It is critical that you implement the following reforms to improve New York’s system of justice:

• Improve eyewitness identification procedures with simple changes to how live lineups and photo arrays are conducted.

• Remove barriers to DNA testing that can prove innocence, including the standards for judges to decide whether to grant post-conviction DNA testing.

• Provide better access to evidence that can prove innocence.

• Establish a task force to develop systems for preserving evidence that can prove innocence and solve cold cases.

• Ensure quality forensic evidence by expanding the scope of the state’s Forensic Science Commission.

• Provide adequate compensation and services to the wrongfully convicted, including those who falsely confessed to crimes, immediately upon their release.

• Record interrogations in felony cases.

Each of these reforms is simple, straightforward and cost-effective. If they were in place years ago, these policies could have prevented our wrongful convictions or helped exonerate us sooner.

We lost a lot because of wrongful convictions – education, careers, time with our families and basic freedoms that other people take for granted. We lost the best years of our lives. Once exonerated, we gained a resolve to help fix the system responsible for our wrongful incarceration. We don’t want anyone else to go through what we did.

We respectfully ask you to adopt reforms that can improve New York’s criminal justice system. We thank you for your consideration.


Steven Barnes, served 19.5 years, Oneida County

John Restivo, served 16 years, Nassau County

Roy Brown, served 15 years, Cayuga County

Kevin Richardson, served 5.5 years, New York City

Jeffrey Deskovic, served 15.5 years, Westchester County

Yusef Salaam, served 5.5 years, New York City
Scott Fappiano, served 21 years, Brooklyn, New York

Raymond Santana, served 5 years, New York City

John Kogut, served 17 years, Nassau County

Douglas Warney, served 9 years, Rochester, New York

Alan Newton, served 21 years, Bronx, NY

Korey Wise, served 11.5 years, New York City

James O’Donnell, served 2 years, Staten Island


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Posted: Jun 24, 2009 9:55pm


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Mary Neal
, 5, 2 children
Atlanta, GA, USA
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