Midwest Innocence Project and MacArthur Justice Center Join Forces to Expand Efforts to Overturn Wrongful Convictions in Missouri; Midwest
MISSOURI – In conjunction with the Seventh Annual International Wrongful Conviction Day – a day to raise awareness of the causes and remedies of wrongful conviction and recognize the tremendous personal, social, and emotional costs of wrongful conviction for innocent people and their families – the Midwest Innocence Project (MIP) and the MacArthur Justice Center (MJC) announce they are joining forces to expand efforts to overturn criminal wrongful convictions in Missouri and throughout the Midwest.
“We are ecstatic to partner with the MacArthur Justice Center and work together to correct injustices in our region,” said MIP Executive & Legal Director Tricia Rojo Bushnell. “This new partnership will allow us to serve even more wrongfully convicted people and reduce the number of years individuals must spend waiting before they see justice.”
Studies estimate between 2% and 5% of all inmates in the U.S. are innocent of the crimes for which convicted. In Missouri alone, 49 people have been exonerated to date. But this means there could be hundreds more innocent Missourians currently incarcerated for crimes they did not commit.
The process of overturning a wrongful conviction is long, difficult and expensive. “We recognized the need for more resources on the ground in Missouri to do the critical, but labor and resource intensive, work of investigating and litigating a wrongfully convicted prisoner’s actual innocence,” said Amy Breihan, Co-Director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s Missouri Office.
Megan Crane, who co-directs MJC’s Missouri Office with Breihan, added, “We receive countless letters from incarcerated Missourians with compelling evidence that they are innocent. We are thrilled to be able to join forces with the Midwest Innocence Project, which has an unparalleled commitment and an impressive track record in this work.”
Crane will lead the new Wrongful Conviction Project, a project of MJC’s Missouri Office, which will co-counsel with MIP attorneys to represent Missourians fighting for exoneration. Crane brings to the partnership an expertise in representing youth who were wrongfully convicted, as well as youth sentenced to extreme sentences. “Youth are at heightened risk of wrongful conviction and extreme sentencing for a variety of troubling reasons,” explains Crane. She particularly looks forward to expanding MIP’s capacity to investigate and litigate cases of Missouri youth wrongfully behind bars.
MIP and MJC have already teamed up on the case of one Missourian who was wrongfully convicted as a child: Michael Politte. Michael was only 14 years old when he was wrongfully charged with murdering his own mother. No physical evidence has ever tied Michael to the crime. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison solely on the basis of now debunked “arson science” that allegedly tied Michael to the scene, as well as junk behavioral analysis science relied upon by police who misinterpreted adolescent Michael’s traumatized reaction to his mother’s death as suspicious evidence of guilt. Today, Michael is 36 years old; he has grown up in prison over the past over twenty-one years. His case was featured on MTV on “Unlocking the Truth” and his habeas petition asserting his actual innocence is available here.
“Michael’s case has all the hallmarks of a wrongful conviction: a minimal, deficient investigation, a rush to judgment against the easiest target – a 14 year old kid who had just lost his mother – and tunnel vision by law enforcement, who ignored compelling evidence pointing to a much more likely suspect, as well as manufactured flawed science to bolster an otherwise non-existent case,” said Rojo Bushnell. “Our new partnership with MacArthur will help us make sure that Michael has the best team and the best resources to correct this injustice.”
A recent study by the prominent National Registry of Exonerations revealed that more than half of all wrongful convictions involved government misconduct. The rate of misconduct in wrongful conviction cases is even higher when the defendant is Black, and that this disparity is at its peak when Black defendants are charged with murder (78% rate of official misconduct).
“As an organization, MacArthur is focused on holding the state accountable for state-sanctioned misconduct,” added Crane. “This mission was a key motivation for launching our Wrongful Conviction Project. We look forward to joining forces with MIP to root out bad actors and drive justice reform on the ground in Missouri.”
Ms. Crane brings extensive relevant experience. Previously, she served as the Co-Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth (CWCY) at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, the first organization in the world to focus exclusively on wrongfully convicted children. Prior to CWCY, she was a capital post-conviction attorney exclusively representing individuals on California’s death row.