To an innocent person, one day in prison is too long. For Jessie Johnson, 25 years of detention at the Marion County Jail in Oregon, USA, finally ended when he walked free on 5 September.
Johnson was sentenced to death for the 1998 fatal stabbing of nurse’s aide Harriet Thompson, 28, in her Salem home. The Marion County Circuit Court ordered his release because the district attorney’s office had failed to prove Johnson’s guilt due to a lack of evidence.
He had insisted on his innocence since his arrest, trial, and conviction in 2004 when he was sentenced to death and imprisoned. The Innocence Project helped him prove that he had been wrongfully jailed, and the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed his murder conviction in 2021.
The Innocence Project is an organization that works to free the innocent, prevent wrongful convictions, and create fair, compassionate, and equitable justice systems for everyone.
Leonard Mack was also wrongfully convicted for the rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl in 1975 in Greenburgh, New York, and he spent seven and a half years in prison.
Although Mack’s incarceration was shorter than Johnson’s, the Vietnam War veteran did not want to live with the stigma of being a convicted rapist, which restricted his employment options and caused him and his family anguish, he sought a retrial. Still, he did not get it until 2020, when The Innocence Project helped him.
Mack, an African-American like Johnson, was misidentified partly due to the police’s racial bias. DNA analysis also was not available when the rape happened in 1975, denying him the proof he needed to show that the bodily fluids found in the victim’s underwear did not belong to him.
The IP had the underwear stain re-analyzed, and the DNA did not match Mack’s, exonerating him. The sample was put in the police database of suspects’ DNA, and it matched another man convicted of rape in Queens two weeks after the sexual assault of the schoolgirl in 1975 and a similar crime in 2004, to fully establish the actual rapist’s identity.
The case of Mack, 72, is the longest wrongful conviction in US history to be overturned by DNA evidence.
“For 48 years, 48 long years, I walked around in society being labeled a rapist when I knew I didn’t do it. Now that this day is here, I just thank God, I thank God that finally the truth came out. Now I can truly say that I’m free. Not when I got out of Sing Sing but when I walk out of here today,” Mack said at the state Supreme Court, where a judge exonerated him during a hearing on 5 September, USA Today reported.
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