In recent events, Innocence Projects nationwide have successfully advocated for the release of wrongfully convicted Black men.
Last month in Oregon, Jesse Johnson, who had been convicted of a 1998 murder, was released from incarceration. The Oregon Court of Appeals identified that Johnson’s defense team failed to interview the sole witness of the crime. Consequently, a new trial was ordered, and his conviction was overturned.
Similarly, Leonard Mack from Westchester, N.Y., who had been imprisoned for nearly half a century on rape charges, was exonerated. DNA testing confirmed he was not the perpetrator, and the actual offender, a registered sex offender, admitted to the crime.
Another case involved Perry Lott, who had been convicted of rape in 1987. After spending three decades in prison, post-conviction DNA analysis from a rape kit verified his innocence. The primary evidence against Lott had been the victim’s identification in a police lineup, a method increasingly acknowledged as fallible and a major contributor to wrongful convictions.
In 2018, despite exonerating DNA evidence and issues with the identification, former District Attorney Paul Smith opposed Lott’s motion to vacate his conviction. However, on the brink of Lott’s evidentiary hearing, Smith proposed a sentence modification, which Lott accepted, ensuring his immediate release.
This year, the Innocence Project approached the newly elected District Attorney, Erik Johnson, to reconsider Lott’s conviction in light of the fresh evidence. After reviewing the case, Johnson concurred, leading to the vacating of Lott’s conviction.
According to The National Registry of Exonerations, Lott is among 62 Black men who have been exonerated in 2023.