Registry tracks wrongful convictions

A new database created by academic researchers seeks to identify cases of wrongful convictions across the country and includes three Kansas cases.

The National Registry of Exonerations, created by researchers at University of Michigan Law School and the Center for Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University, chronicles more than 2,000 people falsely convicted of serious crimes in the United States in the past 23 years.

Joe Jones was exonerated in 1992 of a 1985 Topeka rape after DNA showed he wasn't the assailant. Two decades after his release, a DNA match has identified a suspect, though police are withholding the name until the DNA testing is confirmed.

Eddie Lowery, left, walks with his attorney Barry Clark on Seventh Street. Lowery was wrongfully convicted of a rape in the 1980s while he was a soldier at Fort Riley. Decades later, DNA evidence showed he did not commit the crime.

Jason Ellison was released from prison Oct. 7 after serving five years for sexual battery. New evidence cast doubt on Ellison’s conviction and a Douglas County judge released him last week.

The Kansas cases have all been highlighted in Journal-World features over the past several years and include:

Eddie Lowery: Convicted in 1981 of rape in Riley County after falsely confessing. Exonerated by DNA evidence in 2001, Lowery settled a civil suit with Riley County in 2010 for $7.5 million.

Joe Jones: Convicted in 1985 in Shawnee County for the rape and kidnapping of a Topeka woman based on erroneous eyewitness identification. Jones was exonerated in 1992 by DNA evidence, and was just the seventh DNA exoneration in the country at the time.

Jason Ellison: Convicted in 2006 of sexually assaulting an ex-girlfriend’s relative. Ellison’s lawyers produced evidence that the allegations may have been fabricated, and the conviction was overturned in 2011. The Douglas County District Attorney’s Office did not refile charges in the case.

There is no official record-keeping system for wrongful convictions or exonerations in the country, and the new registry represents the current estimate of such cases.

Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, called the registry a “good start.”

“We know there are many more that we haven’t found,” added University of Michigan law professor Samuel Gross, editor of the registry.

The New York-based Innocence Project, which works to exonerate the wrongfully convicted through DNA evidence, chronicles cases of wrongful convictions, but only those overturned through DNA evidence. The new exoneration registry includes cases, like Ellison’s, that were overturned because of other forms of faulty evidence, such as fabricated statements or erroneous eyewitness testimony.

Analysis of the registry also found:

• Exonerated defendants spent an average of 11 years in prison.

• Nine out of 10 defendants were men, and half were black.

• Half of the cases were homicides; a third were sexual assaults.

• In the cases studied in detail, 43 percent resulted from mistaken eyewitness identification.