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November 2013
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Since the last newsletter:

27 exonerations added
9 contemporaneous exonerations
18 old exonerations we recently learned about

Browse recently added cases here.
1,242 Exonerations

as of 11/13/2013

www.exonerationregistry.org

One out of Five Known Exonerations is for a Crime that Never Happened

In most known exonerations, the wrong person was convicted of a crime that did occur. In a rapidly growing minority, however, the defendant was convicted of a crime that never happened – such as the recent exoneration of Jacob Trakhtenberg (profiled below).

No-Crime Exonerations by Type of Crime

No-Crime cases now account for 22% of known exonerations. The largest numbers occur among child sex abuse cases (109), followed by homicides (39), adult sexual assaults (34) and drug cases (28).

But exonerations for homicide and sexual assault are far more common than those for child sex abuse and drug crimes. If we consider No-Crime exonerations as a proportion of all cases, we see a very different picture: They account for three quarters of child sex abuse exonerations, just over half of the drug cases, but only small minorities of exonerations for homicide or sexual assault.
 
Percentage of No-Crime Exonerations, by Crime
Child Sex Abuse 75% (109/145)
Drug Offenses 55% (28/51)
Sexual Assault 14% (34/238)
Homicide 7% (39/583)

Causes of No-Crime Exonerations

No-Crime exonerations are most common in cases where the occurrence of a crime can be faked by a single person – most often the alleged victim.

In most child sex abuse exonerations, for example, the alleged crime was reported days, weeks, months or even years after the event – too late to find identifying physical evidence – and there were no witnesses other than the complainant. Likewise, in a small minority of adult sexual assault exonerations, the alleged victim lied. In most she said that consensual sex with the defendant was rape; in a few she accused the defendant of rape to cover up consensual sex with another man.

In most drug crime exonerations, by contrast, the drugs were planted on the defendant by a witness, a police informant or a police officer.

Homicides are different. They account for nearly half of all exonerations, but only 7% of them are No-Crime cases. These are almost all mistakes: cases in which a suicide or an accidental death was mistaken for a homicide – including 8 false arson-murder convictions, and 10 exonerations in “Shaken Baby Syndrome” homicide cases.

Not surprisingly, 76% of No-Crime exonerations included perjury or a false accusation. In at least 37% of these exonerations, one or more of the accusers recanted their accusations after conviction.

A Dramatic Increase in Number

No-Crime exonerations are fairly evenly spread across time since 1989, but we know of many more that we used to.

In a 2005 Report on 340 exonerations in the United States – the most complete compilation at the time – fewer than 4% were cases where no crime had occurred. The first National Registry Report included 873 exonerations, from 1989 through February 2012. Of these, 15% were No-Crime cases. As of today, 22% of the 1,242 exonerations in the Registry are No-Crime cases, including 38% of the cases added since March 2012.

In general, No-Crime exonerations get less attention than those in which someone else committed the crime for which the exoneree was convicted. One of our main goals is to identify and study exonerations that are not well known. The dramatic increase in the number of known No-Crime exonerations reflects an initial success of that effort.
 
No-Crime exonerations can be located on the Detailed View of the Registry database, by sorting the column labeled “Tags.” Cases that are tagged “NC” – “No Crime” – are those in which the exoneree was convicted of a crime that never occurred.
 

Featured Exoneration: Jacob Trakhtenberg


trakhtenberg 2Jacob Trakhtenberg was convicted in 2006 of sexually molesing his 8-year-old daughter in Oakland County, Michigan. He was exonerated in May 2013 after evidence in a civil lawsuit brought by his ex-wife showed that the girl had been coached and subjected to suggestive questioning techniques, and that Trakhtenberg's ex-wife had a history of fabricating false complaints and a strong motive to do so to gain sole custody of the girl.

We know about Trakhtenberg's case because an attorney from Detroit mentioned it in a social conversation. It was not widely publicized. No innocence project worked on it. It was simply one young "victim" who was pressured to fabricate a crime and put an innocent man in prison.

We hear about a fair number of low-publicity exonerations in Michigan and Chicago, where the institutions that sponsor us are located. In other locations, we usually locate such cases through difficult and time-consuming searches, typically years after the exoneration. There must be many more we have yet to discover. If you know of an exoneration we are missing, please tell us about it here.

New Group Exoneration in Philadelphia: 55  Convictions Overturned

Walker

"Group Exonerations," as described in the Registry's June 2012 Report, are exonerations based on evidence that corrupt police officers systematically framed innocent defendants for non-existent crimes. They are a special type of No-Crime exonerations.

The Registry does not list group exonerations on our website, but we do track and study them.

In November 2013, 55 drug convictions were dismissed in Philadelphia after the officer who arrested the defendants was himself arrested in an FBI sting for stealing from a drug dealer.

The convictions, dating back to 2002, were based on arrests by Jeffrey Walker (pictured), a Philadelphia police narcotics officer.

Walker was arrested in May 2013 after he was recorded by the FBI plotting with a confidential informant to steal drug money. During the conversation, Walker also described planting drugs in a suspect's car.

On December 6, Common Pleas Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper will rule on motions to dismiss nearly 100 additional cases linked to Walker.

 

Exoneration Not the End of the Story for Some Exonerees
 
ChatmanandSister_jpg 2

Carl Chatman (pictured with his sister, Anita) was exonerated on September 10, 2013, after a 2002 conviction for a rape that never happened. But the state failed to remove his name from two databases, including the sex offender registry.

On October 27, Chatman was arrested for failing to register as a sex offender and held in jail until his lawyer convinced authorities that he was not required to register because his rape conviction had been vacated.

While Chatman's name has since been removed accoding to Cook County authorities, many exonerees in similar positions bear the burden of ensuring that the state updates its records or else face similar consequences.
The National Registry of Exonerations is a joint project of the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. We provide detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence
Contact Us: nationalregistryofexonerations@umich.edu




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