A man convicted of murder as a teenager and imprisoned 28 years ago was released from earlier this month after much of the original trial's evidence was discredited.
Although a North Carolina judge ruled that there was not enough evidence to justify the conviction of a then 15-year-old Johnny Small for a 1988 murder, the now 43-year-old remains under house arrest and restrictive pretrial conditions while prosecutors decide whether to re-file charges.
The judge determined police withheld key evidence and that it was physically impossible for a supposed eye-witness to be at the murder site at the time she reported seeing Small. A buddy of Small, who testified at the trial, said he was pressured to fabricate a story by police who threatened to charge him as an accomplice.
Almost 150 people falsely convicted of crimes were exonerated in 2015, a record number, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. The registry is a project of the University of Michigan Law School and has documented more than 1,850 such cases in the U.S. The 149 defendants who were exonerated in 2015 had served an average of nearly 15 years in prison.
According to the report:
- A record 75 exonerations were cases in which no crime actually occurred. A number of these were old murder cases involving arson that turned out to be accidental fires.
- A record 27 exonerations were for convictions based on false confessions. More than 80 percent of these false confessions were in homicide cases, mostly by defendants who were under 18 or mentally handicapped or both.
- In at least 65 of the exonerations official misconduct occurred. It was a factor in 75 percent of the homicide exonerations, a number that is even bigger in cases where there were false confessions. Eighty-two percent of those were the product of misconduct by police or prosecutors.
- A record 65 exonerations were for convictions based on innocent defendants who plead guilty. The majority of the pleas were in drug cases. Defendants who pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit tended to be mentally ill, intellectually disabled, or under the threat of an even longer prison sentence should they go to trial.
- Five of those exonerated were death row inmates, three of whom had been on death row for more than 20 years.
No matter the crime or the circumstances, every defendant has a right to representation by a qualified attorney. If you have been arrested and face criminal charges, or if you have been falsely convicted, call the Seattle law office of Steve Karimi at (206) 621-8777 or contact him online.