Saturday, June 27, 2009

Freedom March for Wrongful Convictions

Organizers hosted the Freedom March for Wrongful Convictions ("FMWC") on the steps of the capitol in Lansing, Michigan on Saturday, June 27, 2009. It was part of a coordinated multi-state effort to raise awareness of wrongful convictions and cast a spotlight on the need for criminal justice reform.

Representatives from the Innocence Project, Amnesty International, Peace Education Center, and other organizations were in attendance. WLNS-TV 6 News, WILX-TV 10 News, and the Lansing State Journal were present to report about the gathering.

Walter Swift, a recently exonerated former prisoner who was released after serving 27 years of incarceration, spoke at the event and discussed his struggle to prove his innocence.

In November 1982, Walter was wrongly convicted of rape and sentenced to 55 years' imprisonment. Convicted at the age of 21 on the basis of evidence that has been discredited, Walter nonetheless languished behind bars for almost 27 years for a crime he did not commit.

Ten years ago his case came to the attention of the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal clinic founded in New York in 1992 by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld. "Evidence shows that the victim's eyewitness identification was tragically wrong", says Olga Akselrod, an Innocence Project attorney.

After a decade of investigation and campaigning by the Innocence Project, Walter was exonerated in April 2008. "Walter Swift has been fully exonerated after spending most of his adult life in prison", said Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck.

After the event Efrén spoke with Walter Swift via telephone. Walter conveyed to Efrén that he will begin mentioning his campaign for freedom when he discusses wrongful convictions and the need for reform in the criminal justice system as he travels across the state.

Members of The Injustice Must End (TIME) Committee from both the Lansing and Detroit areas were also present to express support for Efrén and the event. One member of the Lansing TIME Committee spoke at the event on Efrén's behalf, and a member of the Detroit TIME Committee was interviewed by WLNX-TV 6.

The event was a success. Organizers of the event and those in attendance will work together to continue building on their efforts and plan for an even larger gathering next year. Educating the public about the facts surrounding wrongful convictions is a very important step in creating meaningful reform in a system that has ignored human rights and the rule of law for far too long.

Wrongful Convictions Facts

There have been 240 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States.
• The first DNA exoneration took place in 1989. Exonerations have been won in 34 states; since 2000, there have been 171 exonerations.
• 17 of the 240 people exonerated through DNA served time on death row.
• The average length of time served by exonerees is 12 years. The total number of years served is approximately 2,982.
Facts Source:

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