February 17th, 2012
On Friday, February 17, 2012 Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed bill S.1987 into law, allowing potentially innocent inmates access to DNA evidence in their cases. Friday’s signing represents years of hard work and is a huge step in the right direction for justice in Massachusetts. The cost-neutral bill passed the Massachusetts Senate unanimously in July of 2011 and was again passed unanimously by the Massachusetts House of Representatives on Wednesday February 8, 2012. Representative John Fernandes, who co-sponsored the bill with Senator Cynthia Creem, urged the House to pass the bill saying, “We hold freedom highest among the rights that we cherish. One day, one week, one year, is too long for anybody wrongfully convicted to be held in prison. For the over 280 cases where DNA testing has resulted in reversals the average time in prison was 13 ½ years. No one should miss that much of their life.”
Massachusetts is the second-to-last state to pass a law of this kind and NEIP has worked hard alongside a representative group of stakeholders convened by the Boston Bar Association that included prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement, and crime lab personnel to educate lawmakers about the importance of such legislation. On the House floor on February 8, Representative Fernandes told the story of NEIP exoneree Kenny Waters and his sister Betty Anne Waters, who dedicated 18 years of her life to proving her brother’s innocence. Ms. Waters and NEIP exoneree Dennis Maher, who spent 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, testified during the judiciary hearings in June 2011 in support of the bill. Because Massachusetts did not have a DNA access law, Mr. Maher spent an additional 6 years in prison before DNA testing proved his innocence.
You can watch a video of the bill being debated here. Representative Fernandes’ remarks on the bill begin at the 78 minute mark.