Guilty until proven innocent — 27 people wrongly imprisoned in NJ
Five years after McKinley Cromedy was convicted of several crimes, including aggravated sexual assault, DNA testing set him free.
Duquene Pierre spent 20 years of a 60-year sentence in prison for murder and other offenses before his convictions were reversed and he was tried for a second time.
In 2003, a second jury acquitted Sandra Ortiz on a murder charge after a judge threw out a 2001 conviction due to improper comments by the prosecution.
In all, New Jersey has seen 27 wrongful convictions overturned since 1989, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Nationwide, there were 2,021 exonerations over the same period.
Three were recorded in New Jersey in both 2016 and 2014.
According to the registry, which does its best to track the data through outlets such as press reports and case law, the average innocent inmate in New Jersey lost more than 10 years behind bars. Contributing factors to the false convictions range from a mistaken witness ID to false or misleading forensic evidence.
Lesley Risinger, director of the Last Resort Exoneration Project out of Seton Hall University School of Law, said a number of these cases are good examples "of the system going wrong both before trial and after trial."
"When they come out and they've got nothing and they lost 20 years of their life, I don't think there's any amount of money that can compensate for it," she added.
A bill signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie in 2013 upped the minimum amount for which the state can be sued by someone who's been wrongfully convicted. They're eligible for a minimum of $50,000 for each year in prison.
"Life on the outside tends to be very hard for many of these people," Risinger said.
A bill introduced earlier this year into the state Legislature would establish a commission ultimately charged with preventing false convictions in New Jersey.
"We cannot give back the years that were stolen from the innocent people who were wrongfully convicted in this state, but by developing comprehensive reforms, we can ensure that countless others are not forced to suffer the same injustices," Sen. Joe Pennacchio, R-Morris, said in a press release.
Under the measure, a permanent panel could be created that would be the go-to entity for those who feel they've been the victim of a wrongful conviction.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.