Unfortunately, guilty persons aren't the only ones who find themselves behind bars.
For so many of the innocent men and women who have been wrongfully accused, it took years of fighting and gathering more evidence before finding vindication. And even then, compensation for these false convictions has been grossly undervalued.
The Innocence Project of Texas (IPTX) - with a staff and board comprised of attorneys, investors, and college professors - provides "free, first-class investigative and legal services to indigent prisoners serving time for crimes they did not commit."
IPTX has been involved in a variety of wrongfully accused cases, from theft and burglary to sexual assault and murder. We'd like to shine a light on just three of these cases.
Ricky Dale Wyatt
Back in 1981, Ricky Dale Wyatt was arrested and charged with raping three women. They all described their attacker as "a black man weighing 170 to 200 pounds...between 5 feet, 9 inches and six feet tall, with no facial hair and possibly gold teeth." Ricky fit none of these characteristics.
He refused an offer to plead guilty in exchange for a five-year prison sentence. Even with shotty testimonies, forensic evidence, and a strong defense, he was sentenced to 99 years in jail.
Ricky sought the help of the Innocence Project after losing his appeals. With their help, evidence of suppressed fingerprints and police reports, flawed witness testimonies, and misleading DNA reports ultimately lead to his release.
He was later awarded $2.5 million along with a $15k monthly annuity.
Learn more about Ricky's case.
In 1992, Sonia Cacey was charged with the murder of her grandfather who died in a house fire. She was accused of dousing him with gasoline as he was sleeping and then setting him on fire. Motive? She was "the sole heir in [his] will and wanted to collect the inheritance."
A series of witness testimonies, coupled with medical examinations and evidence from a fire investigation, led to Sonia's conviction in 1993. She was sentenced to 55 years in prison.
It was later found that the analysis from the fire investigation was inaccurate. What was thought to be gasoline found on the man's clothing was actually residue from burning plastic. It was also found that the man had actually died of a heart attack.
In 1998, Sonia was released from prison.
Learn more about Sonia's case.
In 1992, Patrick Waller was wrongfully convicted of robbery and kidnapping. According to the Innocence Project of Texas:
"...a Dallas couple was abducted at gunpoint by two men. The men forced themselves into the couple's car and had the couple drive the car to another neighborhood, forced them to withdraw $200 from an ATM, and later to an abandoned house, where the abductors tied them up and sexually assaulted the woman."
Another couple also drove up, and the men forced that couple into the house as well. After tying up the victims, the men were seen driving away in the couples' vehicles.
All four victims later picked Patrick Waller out of a photo lineup as the man who held them at gunpoint and sexually assaulted one of the females. Based on these testimonies and an indefinite forensic analysis, Patrick was convicted.
In an effort to prove his innocence, the Innocence Project paid for additional DNA testing which resulted in Patrick's exclusion as one of the perpetrators.
Another man eventually confessed, and Patrick was released from prison in 2008. He had spent more than 15 years in prison and was later awarded $1.3 million along with a $6,300 annuity.
Learn more about Patrick's case.
The Main Causes of Wrongful Accusations
While each case is different, it is obvious - and research confirms - that there are certain characteristics found in every wrongful accusation case, including:
- A younger defendant
- A defendant with a criminal history
- A weak prosecution case
- Prosecution withholding evidence
- Lying or false accusations by a non-eyewitness
- Unintentional witness misidentification
- Misinterpreting forensic evidence at trial
- A weak defense
- Defendant offering a family witness
- A "punitive" state culture
These cases, along with so many others, are proof that law enforcement can get it wrong. Witnesses can get it wrong. The state can get it wrong. That's why I'm a criminal attorney.
Good people get blamed for terrible things, and it's my job to help them see and reach the light at the end of that very dark tunnel. Whether you've been accused of theft, assault, a DWI, or even speeding, let's talk today. I can be your advocate when everything is on the line.