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Can millions undo years of unjust life behind bars?

By Jesse Muhammad -Staff writer- | Last updated: Nov 8, 2010 - 12:25:16 PM

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Michael Anthony Green holds an undated photo of his mother, Mary Ann Strait, who died while he was in prison. Green has spent the last 27 years imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. He was recently released after a DNA test showed he did not commit a 1983 rape of a woman who had been abducted. AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Melissa Phillip
HOUSTON (FinalCall.com) - It has been nearly three months since DNA evidence freed wrongfully convicted Black male Michael Anthony Green.

On the morning of Oct. 20 he received an enveloped document that nearly brought him to tears. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled unanimously that he is innocent of the rape crime that snatched away 27 years of life.

“When I opened up the envelope, I was so glad I almost started crying. Feels good to get that weight fully off of me,” Mr. Green, 45, told The Final Call.

According to The Innocence Project, a group focused on assisting prisoners who could be proven not guilty through DNA testing; there have been261 post-conviction DNA exonerationsin the United States.

By race, Blacks have accounted for 59 percent (155) of those exonerated while Whites account for 30 percent (79). Latinos rank third at approximately 7 percent (21).

Mr. Green, who is the 261st DNA exoneree, is now fully cleared to pursue the $2.2 million in compensation owed to him by the state. He and his attorney will be filing the necessary paperwork within a week and the state has 45 days to award him. Contrary to popular belief, he's vowed to not blow it off with “millionaire type stuff” and definitely plans to never return to prison.

“See, people banking on me being broke in a year but it's not going to happen. I'm going to be smart about this and put my money in the bank. People also think I'm going to be back in prison in six months. They can forget about that,” said Mr. Green, who plans to secure a new home in Houston.

Presently, 27 states have passed laws to compensate people who were wrongfully incarcerated. The awards vary from state to state.

Wrongfully accused and convicted

Mr. Green was released on July 30 on $500 bond after DNA tests on the rape victim's clothing proved that he was in no way linked to the crime. According to attorney, Bob Wicoff, Mr. Green was sentenced to 75 years in prison for the 1983 rape of a Houston White woman based on faulty eyewitness identification.

According to court documents, the White victim was talking on a pay phone in the Greenspoint area and was abducted at a gas station on April 18, 1983 by several Black males. They sexually assaulted her in a secluded area after midnight.

When police spotted the car they were in search of and pulled it over, the four Black men inside fled the scene. From there, the police began randomly stopping all Black men walking in the area. That's how Mr. Green was captured.

The victim was brought back to the scene while Mr. Green and another man were being held in a police car. She reportedly saw both men but denied that either of them were the ones who raped her. Strangely, things would change days later. The police showed her multiple photos including Mr. Green's. She picked his picture, then picked him out in a live line up, and eventually pointed him out in a courtroom.

Mr. Green never gave up on freedom. He studied law behind bars and in 2005 he filed for post-conviction DNA testing. In February 2009, a swab of his DNA was taken by prosecutors.

He served the longest time behind bars of any Texas resident who has been exonerated. The average length of time served by those later exonerated is 13 years.

Few law officials pay for misconduct

According to the Innocence Project, police misconduct was a factor in 37 of the first 74 DNA exonerations while prosecutorial misconduct was a factor in 33 of those cases.

This misconduct has included deliberate suggestiveness in identification procedures; the withholding of evidence from defense; the deliberate mishandling, mistreatment or destruction of evidence; the coercion of false confessions; and the use of unreliable government informants or snitches.

Wrongfully imprisoned Anthony Graves, who was convicted and sentenced in 1992 for a murder in Somerville, Texas, was released from Burleson County Jail on Oct. 27 after a district attorney filed a motion to dismiss the charges against him. His freedom resulted from the work and research of the Texas Innocence Project.

“It's still a surreal moment for me. I was going through my own personal hell for 18 years, then one day I walk out,” Mr. Graves told reporters upon his release.

Mr. Graves became a suspect in the murder of two women and four children, who were brutally stabbed and set on fire in a home. Police weretold by suspect Robert Earl Carter that he had teamed up with Mr. Graves to commit the horrendous act. Mr. Graves had always maintained his innocence and claimed he was at his home in Brenham, Texas with a relative when the crime happened in Somerville.

Mr. Carter was eventually executed in 2000 but prior to that he was documented stating that Mr. Graves, did not have a role in the murders.

“Anthony Graves had nothing to do with it. … I lied on him in court,” said Mr. Carter, according to his last words as he laid on the gurney.

Mr. Graves, who has chosen to bypass anger, said “I never really knew him (Mr. Carter). I don't have any feelings toward him today because I think that for the most part they manipulated him, too, so I can't even speak to that.”

On October 19, Alan Newton, another Black exoneree, was awarded a record $18.5 million in a civil lawsuit against New York City.

“I'm just real numb right now. It hasn't really sunk in. It's so emotional. It's something I've been fighting for the last four years, since I came home. I'm just glad things worked out at the end of the day,”said Mr. Newton.

Mr. Newton, now 49, was wrongfully convictedof rape, robbery and assault in 1985. In 2005 he filed for DNA testing but was denied under the assumption that evidence from his case had strangely disappeared. The NY jury ruled in Mr. Newton's favor and found two police officers liable for failing to produce solid evidence.

When analyzing accountability, research by the Innocence Project points out that very few police, prosecutors nor crime lab analysts have ever faced criminal prosecution for their role in wrongful convictions throughout the country.

“There have been no more than a handful of criminal prosecutions over the last 20 years, resulting in no more than one or two convictions of police and crime lab analysts for misconduct that led to wrongful convictions. There have been no convictions of prosecutors for misconduct in these cases,” the group says.

Even more startling, the group notes that officials can be sued for damages in civil cases, but police and crime lab personnel are protected by immunity. Additionally, prosecutors have immunity for virtually anything they do during the prosecution of these innocent citizens.

Their findings also shed light on the fact that very few exonerees have successfully sued police and crime lab analysts for their misconduct.

Mr. Green had the option of filing a lawsuit but told The Final Call, “I didn't want to be tied up in court for several years fighting them. So I am going to fight the system by helping others who are in the same situation.”

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