The following opinion by Lorenzo Johnson was published by the Huffington Post on March 20, 2016.
Is society surprised that, for the third straight year, a record number of exonerations have occurred—166 in 2016? Or have innocent prisoners become the norm? It’s great that some of us are being exonerated, but what does this say about our criminal justice system as a whole—and therefore about how many innocent prisoners are not being exonerated?
Once again, another record has been set in dealing with official misconduct. The sad thing is, society has no inkling of how the same prosecutors who are responsible for these wrongful convictions fight so hard to maintain their false convictions knowingly and intentionally. Take note, in these exonerations, of how many (if any) of these prosecutors admitted to their wrongdoing or apologized to the innocent prisoner.
Since 2011, the numbers for exonerations have steadily climbed higher and higher each year. As a matter of fact, the record number of exonerations in 2016 doubled the number in 2011. The National Registry of Exonerations stated in their 2016 Report:
The exonerations in 2016 set several other records as well. They include more cases than any previous year in which: Government Officials committed Misconduct; The convictions were based on Guilty Pleas; No crime actually occurred; or a prosecutorial Conviction Integrity Unit worked on the exoneration.
As an innocent prisoner, my wrongful conviction stemmed and continues from official misconduct, ranging from police threatening/pressuring witnesses to prosecutors withholding exculpatory evidence of my innocence. My appeal has been “slow walked” because I’ve been vocal about my injustice. I guess they wanted me to sit in this cell and be quiet and serve a life sentence for a crime I never committed? Not going to happen.
In 2016 it was an average of three innocent prisoners being exonerated every week. But, in reality, these numbers do not scratch the surface of us innocent prisoners waiting to be freed. The only way to help seriously curb our injustices is to hold the officials criminally responsible once they’re found guilty of knowingly and intentionally convicting an innocent person.
A day in prison for an innocent prisoner is too long. But it takes an average of 13½-15 years for exonerees to get their freedom. I ask society, please help change our current reality.
Lorenzo Johnson served 16 and a half years of a life-without-parole sentence until 2012, when the Third Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruled there was legally insufficient evidence for his conviction. He remained free for four months, after which the US Supreme Court unanimously reinstated the conviction and ordered him back to prison to resume the sentence. With the support of The Pennsylvania Innocence Project, he is continuing to fight for his freedom. Though he does not have internet access himself, you can email his campaign, make a donation, or sign his petition and learn more at: http://www.freelorenzojohnson.org/sign-the-petition.html.