At The New England Innocence Project, we know that a conviction doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is guilty. The number of innocent men and women released from prison climbs steadily each year, proving that the system does, in fact, make mistakes. But this year, despite the enormous progress that has been made, we’re fearful that the incoming administration’s views on innocence issues will drag us back decades, to a time when the notion of thousands of innocent Americans languishing behind bars was thought to be an absurdity, not a reality.
In October, President-elect Trump doubled down on his long-held belief that the Central Park Five were guilty of a horrendous 1989 rape, despite the fact that their convictions were vacated when the actual perpetrator gave a confession that was corroborated by DNA evidence. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, calls this “law and order” and thinks that it shows strength. We think it shows an alarming disregard for the lessons of the innocence movement and a callous indifference to the experience of the nearly two thousand wrongly convicted persons and their loved ones.
More than 14 million people live in New England. On any given day, roughly 32,000 of them are in prison. Some of them are innocent. The New England Innocence Project is the only independent organization working to exonerate them. We have our work cut out for us.
It’s not easy to prove someone’s innocence, and it takes a long time – justice is a marathon, not a sprint. Victor Rosario knows that. During the 32 years he spent in prison for an arson murder he did not commit, Victor became a runner – if you’re wondering how many laps around a prison yard it takes to complete a 26.2 mile marathon, Victor can tell you. He ran around the yard 76 times.
Victor was released from prison 2 years ago when the Court granted his Motion for a New Trial, but his freedom remains tentative; in November, the Commonwealth urged the Supreme Judicial Court to reinstate his conviction. Victor was at the Court to hear that argument, 2 days after he ran the New York City Marathon in 4 hours, 35 minutes, and 36 seconds (pictured above post-marathon). Victor lives with the knowledge that he may be returned to prison for a crime he did not commit. But he’s not dwelling on that – he told the Boston Globe that he is “enjoying every second” of his freedom.
Victor’s not giving up, and neither are we. But this year, more than ever, we need your help.
Annually, we receive more than 600 applications from throughout New England. Each application is thoroughly vetted, and less than 3% are accepted for further action. By the time the case is ready to go to court, the scientific, technical and investigative costs will exceed $60,000. This work is critically important on a micro level – innocent people should never be in prison – and on a macro level: wrongful convictions undermine the legitimacy and trust placed in the criminal justice system as a whole.
Vindicating innocence is incredibly important work, but it’s expensive. I ask that you support our work as generously as you can. You can donate here.
Many of our clients wait more than a decade for the chance to prove their innocence. With your help, some of them will get that chance this year.
Thank you for your continued commitment to justice,