The number of people exonerated in criminal cases dropped to 139 last year from 171 in 2016, says the National Registry of Exonerations. Perjury and false accusations were involved in a record 87 cases.
Last year, 139 people falsely convicted of crimes were exonerated. That’s a drop from 2016, when there were 171 such cases, reports NPR. The National Registry of Exonerations shows that Texas led the nation with 23 exonerees last year, followed by Illinois (21), Michigan (14) and New York (13). Michigan State University law Prof. Barbara O’Brien, editor of the registry, says a record high number of cases, 84 of the 139, were tainted by official misconduct by police, prosecutors and other government officials. Mistaken eyewitness identification and false confessions played a role, while perjury and false accusations affected a record 87 cases.
In all, 98 of the exonerations involved violent felonies: including homicides and sexual assaults. In 66 cases, no crime was actually committed. Four of the homicide exonerees had been sentenced to death. The wrongfully convicted inmate who served the longest time in prison before being exonerated was Ledura Watkins, 61, of Michigan. He spent more than 40 years in prison for murder until his release last June. The most striking difference between 2017 and earlier years was a steep decline in the number of drug crime exonerations. In 2016 there were 61 and last year 16. Most of that decline occurred in Houston’s Harris County. Officials there cleared a backlog of drug cases after testing showed defendants who had pleaded guilty were actually innocent because the substances police seized from them were not illegal drugs.