Those Who Have Been Wrongfully Convicted and Later Found Innocent
Wrongful convictions are a tragedy that can tear apart families, ruin lives, and undermine trust in the criminal justice system. Despite advances in forensic science and legal processes, wrongful convictions still occur in California and throughout the United States. Here are a few stories of the wrongly accused being exonerated in California:
- Kevin Cooper
Kevin Cooper was convicted of the 1983 murder of four people in Chino Hills, California. He was sentenced to death and spent over 30 years on death row. Cooper’s case attracted widespread attention and garnered support from prominent figures, including DNA expert Dr. Barry Scheck and actor Susan Sarandon. The Innocence Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to exonerating the wrongly convicted, took on Cooper’s case and helped secure DNA testing of key evidence in the case. The DNA testing results excluded Cooper as the source of the blood and hair found at the crime scene, and pointed towards the involvement of other individuals. Despite this new evidence, Cooper’s appeals were repeatedly denied. However, in 2019, a federal district court judge ordered a new hearing in Cooper’s case, and his exoneration remains pending.
- Shujaa Graham
Shujaa Graham was convicted in 1974 of the murder of a prison guard in Soledad, California, and was sentenced to life in prison. Graham always maintained his innocence, but his appeals were repeatedly denied. In 2002, the Innocence Project took on his case and, working with the Northern California Innocence Project, uncovered new evidence of his innocence. This evidence included the testimony of a former prison inmate who claimed that another individual had confessed to the crime and that Graham was not involved. In 2008, after more than three decades behind bars, Graham was exonerated and released from prison.
- Ruben Anderson
Ruben Anderson was convicted of a 1994 sexual assault in San Francisco, California and was sentenced to 26 years in prison. Anderson always maintained his innocence, and the Innocence Project took on his case. Working with the Northern California Innocence Project, the Innocence Project uncovered new DNA evidence that excluded Anderson as the source of the semen found at the crime scene. In 2003, Anderson was exonerated and released from prison.
- Greg Taylor
Greg Taylor was convicted in 1991 of the murder of a woman in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was sentenced to life in prison and spent 17 years behind bars. In 2006, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, a state agency tasked with investigating claims of wrongful convictions, took on Taylor’s case. The Commission conducted an extensive investigation and, working with the Innocence Project, secured DNA testing of key evidence in the case. The DNA testing results excluded Taylor as the source of the blood and hair found on the victim and pointed towards the involvement of another individual. In 2010, Taylor was exonerated and released from prison.
These stories of exoneration in California serve as powerful reminders of the importance of protecting the rights of the accused, and the need for ongoing reforms to the criminal justice system. They also show the perseverance of those who are wrongly convicted, as well as the tireless work of advocates and organizations dedicated to exonerating the innocent and righting the wrongs of the past. While these exonerations offer hope for those still fighting for their freedom, there is still much work to be done to ensure that wrongful convictions are prevented and that the innocent are set free.