Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Meet the Exonerated: Mississippi's Death Row

Kennedy Brewer, a mildly retarded man, spent almost 15 years on Mississippi’s death row for the 1992 murder and rape of his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter who was taken from her home in the middle of the night, raped and murdered. Her body was found in a creek near her home, with cuts that the same prosecution witness said were "bite marks" from Brewer but were actually caused by insects and animals in the creek. After waiting in jail for three years for a trial to begin, Brewer was convicted of capital murder and sent to Mississippi’s death row.

In 2001, an investigation by the Innocence Project found that the semen on the victim’s body did not match Brewer’s DNA, but did match Albert Johnson’s, a suspect early in the case, whose blood was collected and preserved in the Mississippi State Crime Laboratory for more than 10 years.

Despite the results of the 2001 DNA testing, the Mississippi Supreme Court denied Brewer’s request for a new trial in 2002, so he remained in jail for over five more years until he was released on bond, pending a new trial after the Innocence Project and his attorney pushed for an appeal based upon the DNA test results. Brewer eventually won a retrial from a Lowndes County judge.

On February 15, 2008, after the Innocence Project investigation proved that Justin Johnson was guilty, Brewer became the first person to be exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing in Mississippi.

Brewer’s attorney, Carrie Jourdan, said that Brewer is trying to get back into a normal life. She said, “He's gainfully employed. He's working and he's living with his elderly, disabled mother, who he assists in taking care of. He has had no problems from a criminal legal standpoint" since he was released.

"It's well known across Mississippi that Steven Hayne works closely with police and prosecutors to make determinations in autopsies that suit their criminal investigations and prosecutions. It's also well known that Michael West will dispense with professionalism and objectivity to provide favorable testimony for prosecutors, even if his misrepresentations and fabrications could lead to the execution of innocent people. Their hubris and misconduct sent the innocent Brewer to death row and the innocent Levon Brooks to languish in prison for the rest of his life. These cases are an urgent call for a thorough review of how crime scene evidence gets analyzed and makes it into Mississippi courtrooms and how we can make sure only the most credible, objective, reliable science is used in criminal cases. -- "Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld

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