The Innocence Project started off small and from somewhat humble beginnings has expanded into a formidable force for justice. The Project also runs a blog that provides updates on success stories, reasons why innocence projects should start everywhere, what are current projects, and a whole range of other up-to-date information on what is going on!
DNA evidence is a crucial tool in garnering convictions but DNA is proving to be equally crucial in exonerating wrongly convicted prisoners of crimes that they did not commit.
From a simple perspective of justice or doing what it right, it is difficult to understand why some law enforcement agencies are so reluctant to have available evidence re-tested to ensure that the DNA evidence is solid. This is even more difficult to understand when the results to date show that there are significant numbers of innocent people doing serious prison time for crimes that they did not commit.
Personally, if some one is on death row for a crime then the State has an obligation to ensure that absolutely all avenues of innocence have been explored before that prisoner is put to death. Even more personally, I think all death sentences should be converted to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The death penalty is not the answer and neither is it a practical deterrent to crime.
On another aside. How do you compensate someone for taking away 27 years of their life? You could conceivably be incarcerated for the prime of your life for a crime that you never committed!
What is somewhat ironic with this latest Innocence Project success is that it happened in Texas which just so happens to be the leading US State for State Sanctioned Killings.
Nevertheless, this post is about James Lee Woodard who was wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of his then girlfriend in 1980 and then sentenced in 1981 to life in prison. Mr. Woodard was no saint and had some prior convictions but nothing that resembled rape or murder. The worst of the previous offences was a larceny offence hardly a precursor to rape and murder.
Perhaps the lesson in this is not only to be sure before we convict a person of a crime and send them to prison for the rest of their lives but also the value of persistence, self-belief, and the desire to do good and to do what is right.
May the Innocence Project be a success wherever it goes!