The actual number of exonerations of the wrongly convicted in the United States in 2013—86—may seem small. But a new study by two university law schools indicates that it is a record level of reversed convictions in the U.S.
Perhaps most startling is that nearly one in five of those exonerated had initially pleaded guilty to charges filed against them.
This morning's New York Times reports that the study by the National Registry of Exonerations—a joint program of the University of Michigan Law School and Northwestern University School of Law—indicates that nearly half of the exonerations were based on initial murder convictions, including the case of a man wrongly convicted and subsequently sentenced to death in the fatal stabbing of a fellow inmate.
The report documented 1,300 exonerations since 1989, most of them after convictions for murder, rape or other sexual assaults, according to the Times.
One particular case was that of 23-year-old Nicole Harris, convicted in 2005 of murdering her 4-year-old son, after the boy was asphyxiated by an elastic band that had come loose from a fitted bedsheet. After 27 hours of interrogation by Chicago police, Harris confessed to the crime and was sentenced to 30 years.
But her trial didn't include barred testimony from a surviving 6-year-old son, who later said the tragedy occurred when he and his brother were playing a game.
In 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals vacated Harris's conviction and she is now applying to graduate schools after obtaining a bachelor's degree in psychology.