Getting guilty right – The Boston Globe

Posted: March 26, 2011 by scaryhouse in Uncategorized

By Brandon L. Garrett

One morning in 1989, a college student was getting ready for work in her fifth-floor Boston apartment when she heard an odd noise. She opened the door to see what it was. A young black man forced his way inside, holding a screwdriver to her neck. Over the next hour, he raped her. He ransacked the apartment, took a camera and some money, and finally left. She called the police and gave a detailed description of the attacker.

At first, the police had no leads. They showed the victim books of mug shots, but she identified no one. She helped a police sketch artist make a composite drawing. An officer happened to see the sketch and it reminded him of a man named Neil Miller. The victim then identified Miller’s photo in a photo array. Miller was charged and brought to trial. A Boston police crime lab analyst told the jury that blood tests on evidence from a rape kit, while not conclusive, were consistent with Miller being the attacker. The jury convicted Miller, and he was sentenced to 26 to 45 years in prison.

That was where he remained for years, until the Innocence Project became involved and requested that modern DNA tests be performed on the evidence in the rape kit. A laboratory compared the evidence to a sample from Miller, and concluded that Miller was not the rapist. The DNA implicated another man connected with two other rapes, and in 2000, Miller was freed. He had served almost 10 years in prison.

Stories like Miller’s have by now become sadly familiar. As DNA testing has become a standard part of criminal investigations, it is also becoming a powerful tool for testing whether the system got convictions right. And its results are eye-opening. In the past two decades, DNA tests have exonerated and helped free more than 260 innocent people. Eighty of those had been sentenced to life in prison, and 17 had been sentenced to death. Since DNA evidence is available only for a fraction of cases, we have no way of knowing how many other innocent people have been convicted. We can be sure the number is substantial.

via Getting guilty right – The Boston Globe.

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