In April, our NEIP team attended the annual Innocence Network Conference in Atlanta, which had a record-breaking attendance with more than 900 attendees from innocence organizations across the globe, including 250 exonerees -- a number that grows every year -- and 150 of their family members and support people.
Some highlights of the conference included a panel with members of the Central Park Five, a Moth Storytelling Performance featuring exoneree stories, as well as the Rally for Justice (click here to watch a rally video recap).
In one of the most powerful moments of the weekend, the 2018 exonerees were called to the stage one-by-one, men and women who were finally exonerated in the past year after being wrongfully convicted. They embraced each other and stood together in solidarity under the stage lights, greeted by thunderous applause and a standing ovation. Together, they served more than 1,000 years for crimes they did not commit. Boston’s very own Sean Ellis was among them, finally able to shed the shackles of his wrongful conviction.
Most of us are familiar with the phrase “innocent until proven guilty.” In fact, it is thought to be the cornerstone of our criminal legal system. However, for many, this theory of the presumption of innocence is hardly a reality. It was not a reality for the individuals on stage in Atlanta when they were arrested, charged, and convicted. And after conviction -- when the theoretical presumption is removed -- the uphill battle to prove a wrongful conviction begins. For the innocent, and innocence advocates like the New England innocence Project, we are constantly fighting a system that values finality over justice.
We were inspired by the dedication, tenacity, strength, and resilience of those we met at the conference. We are humbled by the wrongfully convicted men and women who we learn from each day.