Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Wrongfully Convicted, Rightfully Exonerated: The Lives of Cornelius Dupree Jr. and Anthony Massingill

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Wrongfully Convicted, Rightfully Exonerated: The Lives of Cornelius Dupree Jr. and Anthony Massingill

Article excerpt

Introduction

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." In a powerful 1963 letter titled, Letter from Birmingham Jail, written by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that contained the quote, he explained that if injustice affects one of us directly, it affects all of us indirectly. When King made this statement from the Birmingham jail during the heart of the Civil Rights Movement (CRM), he put the moral principle of justice in a broader context for American society.

The CRM, while influential in the economic, social, and political progress of Black Americans in the United States of America (USA), did not halt the blatant miscarriages of justice that continue to plague members of the Black community. One of the goals of the protests of the CRM was to address the racially disparate treatment of Black Americans at every stage of the criminal justice system. From arrests, convictions, and imprisonment, systemic racial bias embedded in the criminal justice system has compromised due process and disproportionately violated the civil rights of Black Americans, especially Black males. Every day in the USA, we find cases where Black males have been falsely charged with serious criminal offenses, spend decades in prison, and then walk away with no apology from the inequitable practices of the criminal justice system.

Since the mid-2000s, the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal organization committed to helping those wrongfully convicted in most cases with the help of forensic DNA testing and evidence, has played an significant role in overturning these false convictions. DNA testing and evidence has been used in criminal exonerations since 1989. It is widely accepted as a legal means to exonerate individuals wrongfully convicted. From 1989 to present, this forensic tool has led to the exoneration of more than 80 percent of post-conviction DNA exonerations in the USA.1

Because of this, DNA testing and evidence has become the bridge of undeniable truth between eyewitness misidentification and freedom for Black males because the analysis of DNA is considered the most reliable forensic tool. According to University of Virginia law professor, Brandon Garrett, who specializes in DNA testing to prove wrongful convictions:

DNA has led to the creation of a new kind of civil rights movement around the issues and causes that contributed to these wrongful convictions. A movement has grown around trying to find [those wrongfully convicted] and trying to use DNA to secure their release. People like me are trying figure out how in the world this happened and how we can explain these cases and what we can do to prevent them from happening again.2

From 1989 to the early part of 2017, the National Registry of Exonerations, which collects and tallies information on all known exonerations in the United States of America (USA), has recorded 1,994 known exonerations.3 Black Americans comprise only 13 percent of the population, yet comprise roughly 48 percent of individuals who were exonerated.4 Black Americans convicted of either murder or sexual assaults were significantly more likely than their White counterparts to be exonerated.5

In 2016 alone, 166 exonerations were granted in the USA.6 The state of Texas had the most exonerations, 58, during the calendar year.7 Of the 58 exonerations, 34 were Black males (59%).8 Seventeen of the 166 were exonerated in whole or in part on DNA evidence (10%).9 Ten out of the 17 were Black males (59%).10 The state of Texas had no DNA exonerations; however, set a record, 70, for the most Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) exonerations.11 In general, DNA exonerations now account for 22 percent (442/1,994) of the total of exonerations since 1989.12

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, from 1989 to 2014, only 52 individuals in Texas were exonerated due to DNA testing and evidence, with 32 (62%) of the individuals being Black males.13 In 2015 alone, the state set a record with 54 exonerations. …

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