Feature Stories

Kristine Bunch returns to
Indiana to educate and inspireKristine Bunch

On June 6, 2014, Kristine Bunch returned to the state of her wrongful conviction and spoke at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, as part of a day-long event titled Law and Forensic Science in Indiana. Kristine’s conviction was overturned by the Indiana Court of Appeals in 2012, in a decision that is already well known and frequently cited. Kristine, who hopes to attend law school one day, is committed to educating law students, members of the legal community, and the public regarding factors that can lead to wrongful convictions. WTHR of Indianapolis ran a beautiful story that gives a flavor of Kristine’s inspiring remarks.

Jennifer Del PreteJennifer Del Prete Released

Jennifer Del Prete was convicted in 2005 of first degree murder of a three-month-old baby in her care at a daycare. The State’s theory was that the baby had suffered abusive head trauma, or “shaken baby syndrome,” immediately prior to her symptoms and that Del Prete was therefore the person who caused the injuries.

U. S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly held a nine-day evidentiary hearing at which more than ten medical and scientific experts testified. Even the prosecution’s main expert ultimately conceded that a child victim of abusive head trauma can have a period of time (known as a “lucid interval”) before symptoms appear. Some victims might be listless or irritable, or might vomit, before a more dramatic onset of symptoms. Del Prete described these symptoms when she told police what the baby had been like earlier that day. Experts from both sides testified that the baby had some brain bleeding more than two weeks before the onset of symptoms. Del Prete’s experts testified that there were other possible medical causes of the baby’s symptoms.

In a 97-page opinion, which discussed the medical evidence in detail, Judge Kennelly concluded that Del Prete had established by a preponderance of the evidence that no reasonable jury would find her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Although Judge Kennelly was not persuaded that the experimental testing described by one of Del Prete’s experts definitively established that shaking alone cannot cause injuries of the type the baby suffered, he did state the following in a footnote: “But it is at least equally important that, as [one expert] testified, science cannot even yet establish an injury threshold. This, in addition to the other more recent developments in this area previously discussed, arguably suggests that a claim of shaken baby syndrome is more an article of faith than a proposition of science.”

It is not known, at this time, whether the State will ultimately dismiss charges against Del Prete in light of Judge Kennelly’s skepticism towards the State’s medical testimony. Last week a spokesman for the Will County State’s Attorney said that prosecutors “remain confident” in their case. Del Prete has spent almost a decade behind bars.

Michelle Byrom Granted New TrialMichelle Byrom

Recently we featured 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.  Michelle’s case has garnered public and media attention for weeks after Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood moved to set a March execution date, despite evidence of Michelle’s possible innocence.  According to court documents, both physical evidence and his own admissions suggest that Michelle’s son might actually have committed the murder.  While Attorney General Hood sought Michelle’s execution, her attorneys filed a petition for post-conviction relief. 

As reported by CNN, the Mississippi Supreme Court responded to that petition by reversing her murder conviction and ordering a new trial.  The Court further ordered that Michelle’s case be reassigned from Circuit Court Judge Thomas J. Gardner, who presided over her first trial, to a different judge.  A copy of the state Supreme Court decision may be found here.  The Women’s Project will continue to watch Michelle’s case, and will post other updates as they become available on its Watch List page.

Sabrina ButlerDeath Row Exoneree Sabrina Butler Porter Fights to End Capital Punishment

Sabrina Butler Porter was convicted of murdering her infant son and sentenced to death in 1990.  At that time, Sabrina was the only female inmate on Mississippi’s death row.  Sabrina was acquitted on retrial in 1995, after neighbors offered evidence corroborating her account that her son’s injuries resulted from attempts to administer CPR, and the medical examiner belatedly attributed her son’s death to a kidney-related illness.  Sabrina published a book about her story, and currently works with Witness to Innocence, an organization dedicated to allowing death row survivors to speak out against the death penalty.  Last week, Sabrina visited the Kentucky Senate to advocate for pending legislation that would abolish the death penalty in that state.  Read about her experience in Kentucky here

The Center on Wrongful Convictions Women’s Project was pleased to host Sabrina as an attendee and panelist at its Conference on March 7, 2014.  For more information about her wrongful conviction and exoneration, read her story.  

Gloria Killian:  Exoneree and strong voice for justiceGloria Killian

Gloria Killian was wrongfully convicted of murder due to prosecutorial misconduct and perjury, and spent 17½ years in prison before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit overturned her conviction in 2002. Despite her devastating losses and derailed career plans—she had been a law student at the time of the murder—Gloria has become a tireless advocate for women behind bars and for criminal justice. She has written a book about her case, and CNN is featuring her story as part of its Death Row Stories series, highlighting the critical role that Sally Ride’s mother Joyce Ride played in gaining Gloria’s freedom. Gloria is Executive Director of Action Committee For Women In Prison and hosts a weekly radio show called Women Behind the Wall.

Gloria attended the Women’s Project launch in November 2012 and our conference in March 2014. For more information about her wrongful conviction, see her exoneree story on our web site.

A Long Journey Home for Kristine BunchKristine Bunch

Kristine Bunch’s 3-year-old son Tony was the center of her world. Nonetheless, she was convicted of murdering him after a tragic but accidental trailer home fire took his life in 1995.  Read about her long journey from prison to freedom in this excellent feature story in the Indianapolis Monthly magazine.  Cases like Kristine’s inspired the formation of the Center on Wrongful Convictions Women’s Project.  More...

"San Antonio 4" women proclaim their innocence after being released as a result of new Texas law concerning changes in forensic science.

The three remaining women of the "San Antonio 4" were released from prison on Monday, November 18 after spending more than 10 years in prison (the fourth women was paroled last year). The "San Antonio 4" were convicted of molesting two girls in a case with similarities to the controversial day care abuse cases that were in the news years ago. The four women have always maintained their innocence and received the right to a new trial because of a new law in Texas, Senate Bill 344. This law allows courts to grant defendants new trials in cases in which forensic science has evolved since the conviction. The two alleged victims' trial transcripts contain inconsistencies, but, more importantly, the key medical witness's testimony as to the timing of the alleged injury was cast into doubt by scientific advances. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will decide whether to grant them a new trial but the Bexar County Criminal District Attorney has indicated that he will decline to prosecute them. The women will now attempt to receive a declaration of actual innocence.

To read more about these women's experience, see 'San Antonio 4' speak out after prison release: 'We're actually innocent' - U.S. News - blog NBC.NEWS

Nicole Harris exonerated in Illinois

Nicole Harris

June 17, 2013 - Cook County prosecutors dropped all charges against Nicole Harris, a client of the Center on Wrongful Convictions and Jenner & Block LLP who was convicted eight years ago of strangling her 4-year-old son, Jaquari Dancy, to death.

The Cook County medical examiner initially ruled the death accidental, but changed the cause to homicide after learning that Harris had confessed on videotape. The confession, which Harris said was false and coerced, came after 27 hours of intermittent interrogation by detectives at Chicago Police Area 5 headquarters. The interrogation occurred two months before an Illinois law requiring police to record the entire custodial interrogation of murder suspects went into effect.

Although the recording equipment required by the new law was in place, detectives chose to record only Harris's statement and nothing that preceded it. Harris's exoneration is the 89th in Cook County since 1989, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, and the 33rd to have been wrongfully convicted based on an unreliable confession. More...