News Roundup (Actual Innocence Edition)

Although there’s been a ton of relevant news since the last News Roundup, the most timely and interesting stories all relate to claims of actual innocence. To start with, Joseph Abbitt of Winston-Salem was exonerated yesterday. After serving 14 years for raping two teenage girls — both of whom positively identified him as the perpetrator — Abbitt was freed based on DNA evidence showing that he did not commit the crime. The News and Observer story is here.

Second, there is mounting evidence that Texas executed an innocent man. Cameron Willingham was put to death in 2004 after being convicted of setting fire to his own home, killing his three young children. As detailed in this lengthy piece in the New Yorker, a new inquiry into the case is underway, and substantial — though preliminary — evidence suggests that the fire was likely an accidental electrical fire. (A short summary of the matter can be found in this New York Times editorial.)

Third, as detailed in this story, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission is conducting a hearing today to consider the case of Greg Taylor, a Cary man serving a life term for a murder that he claims he did not commit. Whatever the outcome of the  Taylor and Willingham cases, the Abbitt case is simply the latest reminder that the criminal justice system is, after all, a human system, and all human systems are fallible.

Among the non-innocence related news recently: Reports suggest that Justice Stevens is considering retirement; a new Gallup poll reveals that people don’t like lawyers; the Heritage Foundation just issued a report arguing that some juveniles’ crimes are serious enough to merit sentences of life without parole; and Mexico is decriminalizing drug possession, as noted here.

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