Women's Project

Women's Project Featured in Mother Jones Magazine

Kristine Bunch

The attorneys of the Women’s Project, and Center on Wrongful Convictions client Kristine Bunch, are featured in an in-depth article by Molly Redden in the current issue of Mother Jones. The article discusses Kristine’s case, the reasons behind the formation of the Women’s Project, and some of the unique characteristics of Women’s Project cases. Andrea Lewis, Kristine Bunch, and Karen Daniel were interviewed on August 5, 2015, on HuffPost Live #FreeSpeechZone.

Update 7/20/15: Hannah Overton returns to prison to continue ministry

Hannah Overton

Hannah Overton, against whom all charges were dismissed in April 2015, has returned to prison in order to resume the ministry work she began while incarcerated. Karen Daniel has written a new blog post, inspired by Overton, about some of the many exonerees who give back to their communities after leaving prison. Overton is also appearing on "The Dr. Oz Show" on Tuesday, July 21, 2015, on ABC. The episode is called "Wrongfully Accused? The Salt Killer Mom Speaks Out."

The Women's Project has been monitoring the case of Hannah Overton since Texas highest criminal court agreed to review her case in October 2013.The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has overturned Overton's capital murder conviction and granted her a new trial, finding that her attorneys were ineffective in representing her.

Overton was convicted in 2007 of killing her four-year old foster child Andrew Burd, who died of apparent sodium poisoning. Prosecutors argued that Overton force-fed salt to Andrew, and then failed to promptly obtain medical assistance for him. Overton testified to extreme behaviors exhibited by Andrew, including constant cravings for salty foods. She testified that she took Andrew to the hospital as soon as it became apparent that something serious was wrong with him. A jury found Overton guilty based on failure to obtain medical care for Andrew. Overton was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In a seventeen-page written opinion, the Court of Criminal Appeals found that Overton received ineffective assistance of counsel when her attorneys chose not to call or admit the deposition testimony of an expert in sodium intoxication at her trial. The expert had previously testified in a deposition that Andrew exhibited many of the features of a disorder associated with extreme eating habits, and that if Andrew did have such a disorder he could have consumed a lethal amount of salt voluntarily.The expert further stated that a child who ingested a lethal amount of sodium would not exhibit significant symptoms immediately, and that considering Andrew's sodium levels, he probably would have died regardless of medical intervention. The court opined that the expert's testimony likely would have changed the outcome of the trial. Although Overton also argued that she was entitled to a new trial because prosecutors allegedly withheld evidence that would have shown her innocence, the court declined to decide that issue.

Update: The Nueces County District Attorney dismissed all charges against Hannah Overton on April 8, 2015.

For more information, see Texas Monthly's detailed coverage of the case.

In Memoriam: Joyce Ann Brown

Our hearts are heavy; Joyce Ann Brown passed away on June 13, 2015. Wrongfully convicted in 1980, exonerated in 1990, she devoted her life to fighting for imprisoned women and victims of injustice everywhere. In 2012 she came to Chicago to help launch our Women's Project, and all who attended will never forget her powerful and passionate speaking presence. RIP Joyce; you will be greatly missed and long loved. 

Michelle Byrom released from prisonMichelle Byrom

We have been following the story of Michelle Byrom, who was convicted and sentenced to death in Mississippi for allegedly hiring a hit man to murder her abusive ex-husband in 1999. Michelle maintains her innocence, and according to court documents, both physical evidence and his own admissions suggest that it may have been Michelle’s son who actually committed the murder.

After Michelle's attorneys filed a petition for post-conviction relief, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed her murder conviction and ordered a new trial on March 31, 2014.

On June 26, 2015, Michelle was freed from prison after pleading no contest to a charge of conspiring to kill her husband, despite her claim of innocence.  Now battling lupus and other health issues, Michelle spent 14 of her 16 years in prison on death row.  See the Clarion-Ledger for more details.

Why Women's Cases Are Different

Innocent women accused of heinous crimes face extraordinary challenges. In many cases, they are suspected of harming their children or other loved ones.

67.1% of female exonerees were convicted in cases where no crime occurred.

As a result, when under investigation, they are coping with deep personal losses, rendering them especially vulnerable to high-pressure interrogation tactics that sometimes lead to false confessions or seemingly inculpatory statements.
When women—traditionally viewed as nurturers and protectors—are accused of murdering or sexually abusing children, they are particularly reviled by society, including, of course, by police, prosecutors, judges, jurors, and witnesses.

40% of female exonerees were convicted of killing or harming loved ones or children in their care.

In cases in which no crime has occurred—such as those arising from accidental or natural deaths that are mistaken for homicides—convictions are likely to ensue. Because the evidence in such cases is often entirely circumstantial, identifying wrongful convictions is difficult and rectifying them is complicated.
*Statistics cited on this webpage are from the National Registry of Exonerations as of June 26, 2016.