Justice this year

7clients freed or exonerated.
176years of wrongful incarceration.

In the past year, seven clients were freed or exonerated after a combined 176 years of wrongful conviction. One client became the 21st person exonerated by DNA testing after being wrongfully sentenced to death. Another wrote to us in 1995, and the 24 years that followed is the longest we have litigated a case to exoneration. Each client has their own unique story of tenacity, resilience and bravery to prove their innocence in a system stacked against them.

Clemente Aguirre

Exonerated after 14 yearsFlorida

(Lacy Atkins for the Innocence Project)

Clemente Aguirre with his legal team after his exoneration in Florida. (Phelan Ebenhack for the Innocence Project)

Clemente Javier Aguirre-Jarquin was 24 years old in 2004 when he entered the home of his neighbors, Carol Williams and her elderly mother Cheryl Bareis, and discovered they had been murdered. Terrified that his presence there would result in deportation back to Honduras, he left and initially told police he didn’t know anything. When he asked to speak to police later that day, he was arrested.

14years of wrongful incarceration.

Clemente’s trial lawyer failed to hire forensic experts, request DNA testing on crime scene evidence, or investigate alternative suspects, despite records indicating Carol Williams’s daughter had threatened her mother’s life. DNA testing years later excluded Clemente and pointed to Williams’s daughter, who had by then made repeated admissions that she committed the murders. In 2016, the Florida Supreme Court overturned his conviction, but prosecutors announced plans to retry him and again seek the death penalty. After additional evidence further undermined the alibi of the victims’ daughter and granddaughter, prosecutors dropped all charges as the new trial began in November 2018. Today, Clemente is living in a community home founded by fellow exonerees and is enrolling in culinary school.

Huwe Burton

Exonerated after 30 yearsNew York

(Sameer Abdel-Khalek for the Innocence Project)

Huwe Burton with members of his family at his exoneration in New York City. (Sameer Abdel-Khalek for the Innocence Project)

Huwe Burton was 16 years old in 1989 when he returned to his Bronx home and discovered his mother Keziah had been murdered. During a police interrogation two days later, while Huwe was sleep-deprived, traumatized and separated from his father, he confessed under a psychologically coercive interrogation. He immediately recanted, but the trial court refused to admit expert testimony on the unreliable nature of his confession. Huwe was convicted and served 19 years in prison and a decade on parole.

30years of wrongful incarceration.

A reinvestigation discovered that detectives who interrogated Huwe obtained false confessions from two other individuals just months before Huwe’s arrest. Newly discovered evidence suggested the murder was committed by the family’s neighbor, who had a history of violent crime and died before Huwe’s trial. Based on these revelations and the current understanding of false confessions, Huwe’s conviction was vacated and charges were dismissed in January. This November, Huwe and one of his attorneys Susan Friedman ran together in the TCS New York City Marathon.

Steven Mark Chaney

Exonerated after 32 yearsTexas

Steve Chaney at his home in Texas. (Ron Jenkins for the Innocence Project)

Steven Chaney leaves court with his legal team after his conviction was vacated in 2015. (Lara Solt for the Innocence Project)

Steven Mark Chaney had nine alibi witnesses at his trial for a 1987 murder but was convicted based on unscientific testimony of forensic dentists “matching” him to a supposed bite mark on the victim. Bite mark analysis has contributed to at least 30 wrongful convictions or indictments and has been rejected by every scientific organization that has considered its use but is still being used in pending criminal cases nationwide.

32years of wrongful incarceration.

Steven was released in 2015 after a reinvestigation demonstrated his innocence. The case prompted the Texas Forensic Science Commission to study bite mark analysis and ultimately recommend the nation’s first moratorium on the technique in criminal trials. This January, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found that the “bite mark evidence, which once appeared proof positive of… guilt, no longer proves anything.” Since his release, Steven has volunteered in prison ministry and returned to the ironworking he did before his wrongful arrest. His exoneration this year makes him eligible for state compensation.

Belynda Goff

Released after 23 yearsArkansas

Belynda Goff with her three children after her release. (Suzy Salamy for the Innocence Project)

Belynda Goff was freed this June after 23 years of wrongful incarceration. (Innocence Project)

In 1994, Belynda Goff found her husband Stephen murdered in the living room of the apartment where they lived with their young children. Her husband had confided to family that his life had recently been threatened, and on the night of his murder, Belynda’s neighbors reported hearing banging at the apartment door and observing unknown men with a baseball bat outside the home. None of this testimony was heard at trial.

23years of wrongful incarceration.

Instead, Belynda was convicted without any eyewitness or physical evidence connecting her to the crime. The police focused on her exclusively as a suspect, solely because her husband’s body was found in their home. Belynda always maintained her innocence and refused a plea bargain that would have allowed for her release years ago. This June, noting the extensive weaknesses in her conviction and new evidence that likely would result in an acquittal if presented to a new jury, a judge freed her from her wrongful incarceration. Today, she lives with her daughter and her family, and enjoys taking her grandchildren to school and volunteering at a local animal shelter.

Stanley Mozee

Exonerated after 19 yearsTexas

Stanley Mozee leaves the courtroom in Texas after his conviction was vacated in 2014. (Lara Solt for the Innocence Project)

Stanley Mozee (right) and Dennis Allen (center) with attorney Nina Morrison at their exoneration in 2019. (Ron Jenkins for the Innocence Project)

Stanley Mozee and Dennis Allen, represented by the Innocence Project of Texas, were sentenced to life in prison for the 1999 murder of a Dallas minister despite no physical evidence linking them to the scene. Four informant witnesses — all with pending criminal charges or convictions — falsely implicated them. The trial prosecutor withheld details of benefits exchanged for witness testimony as well as eyewitness evidence indicating both men were innocent. This evidence came to light when the conviction integrity unit of a newly-elected district attorney allowed the Innocence Project to review prosecution files.

19years of wrongful incarceration.

The district attorney’s office also helped track down additional documents and witnesses. DNA testing also identified blood at the scene that did not come from Stanley, Dennis or the victim. Over recent years, four Dallas district attorneys agreed in court papers that the men were wrongfully convicted and authorized reinvestigations of their case, leading to their 2014 release and this year’s exoneration. Stanley, who is legally blind, volunteers for an organization that investigates wrongful convictions and supports people returning from prison. He was awarded state compensation in September 2019, and he and his wife Shirley, who had a child together before his arrest and married after his release, are looking for their first home.

Chris Tapp

Exonerated after 22 yearsIdaho

Chris Tapp (center) with his legal team at his exoneration. (Otto Kitsinger/AP for the Innocence Project)

Chris Tapp hugs Carol Dodge after he was exonerated of the murder of her daughter Angie. (Otto Kitsinger/AP for the Innocence Project)

When 20-year-old Chris Tapp was initially questioned about the 1996 sexual assault and murder of Angie Dodge, he told police he was innocent. However, after 30 hours of interrogation over the course of weeks, Chris falsely confessed under pressure from coercive interrogation tactics, including the threat of execution, promises of leniency and being prompted with details of the crime scene. No physical evidence connected him to the crime — in fact, DNA testing conducted before trial excluded him from critical crime scene evidence.

19years of wrongful incarceration.

Prosecutors moved forward with charges anyway, and Chris was convicted based on his coerced confession. Years later, Carol Dodge, the mother of the victim, became convinced Chris was innocent after viewing the recording of his interrogation. She advocated persistently for the continued investigation that led to Chris’s exoneration in July and the identification of the person who actually committed the crime, who was arrested and charged in May.

Archie Williams

Exonerated after 36 yearsLousiana

Archie Williams after being released from 36 years in Angola prison. (Tyler Kaufman for the Innocence Project)

Archie Williams after being released from 36 years in Angola prison. (Sameer Abdel-Khalek for the Innocence Project)

Archie Williams was 22 years old in 1982 when he was swept into a law enforcement search for a black man who sexually assaulted a white woman in her home. At 5’4″, Archie was much shorter than the described assailant and had an alibi. However, based on a single eyewitness identification obtained through flawed procedures — the victim was shown his picture in three photo arrays before she identified him — he was convicted and sentenced to life without parole.

36years of wrongful incarceration.

At trial, it was known that crime scene fingerprints were not from Archie or the victim, but prosecutors argued the prints could have been left by men doing home repairs. After 23 years of state opposition, earlier this year a new judge ordered the prints be searched in the FBI’s national database. In just hours Archie’s innocence was demonstrated when the prints were found to belong to a serial assailant. During decades at Louisiana’s infamous Angola prison, Archie coached the prison boxing team and nurtured his lifelong passion for music. Since his exoneration, he sang at Amateur Night at the Apollo Theatre in New York and resumed his education at a community college at age 59.

Innocence Project client Greg Counts after his exoneration in 2018. (Sameer Abdel-Khalek for the Innocence Project)

These clients are free from wrongful conviction, but many more are waiting for justice. Donate to support the fight for freedom.

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Every exoneration achieves justice for an innocent person and pinpoints how the system needs to change. The lessons we learn from every client inform the policy reform efforts we seek nationwide.

Our 2019 reform wins