19 August 2011

Exonerated Death Row Prisoners

I have had the opportunity to photograph a number of people who have spent time on death row, but were found innocent and released. It is a horrifying idea that someone could be sentenced to death for a crime they did not commit. Meeting them and hearing the stories of these men who were saved before time ran out is unbelievable - yet true.

Recently I photographed four exonerees, pictured below.

This project is designed to develop a collection of photographs depicting those who have been freed from death row because of actual innocence, by tying them all together by holding the same "I Oppose the Death Penalty!" sign. To date, I have photographed 22 exonerees. There are 138 who have been freed since 1973. For more exoneree photos and information on this project, visit deathpenaltyphoto.org.

Below, pictured is Freddie Lee Pitts, who spent 12 years on death row in Florida. Freddie was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1963 murder of two white gas station attendants in Florida despite a complete lack of physical evidence. Prosecutors used confessions that were extracted through beatings, testimony of a suspicious eyewitness, and polygraph tests to win their case. A few weeks after Freddie was sentenced to death, a white man sentenced to life for another homicide admitted to the killings.
Read more about his story.

Below, pictured is Gary Drinkard, who spent 6 years on death row in Alabama. Gary was sentenced to death in 1995 for the robbery and murder of a 65-year-old automotive junk dealer in Decatur, Alabama. He was assigned two court-appointed lawyers; one specialized in collections and commercial work and another represented creditors in foreclosures and bankruptcy cases. These lawyers failed to present two witnesses: physicians who would have testified that Gary’s recent back injury made committing the crime a physical impossibility. The state Supreme Court reversed his death sentence and remanded the case for a new trial based on prosecutorial misconduct. He was acquitted in 2001.
Read more about his story.

Below, pictured is Shujaa Graham, who spent 5 years on death row in California. Shujaa was framed in the 1973 murder of a prison guard at the Deul Vocational Institute in Stockton, California. Despite the local community’s involvement and support, Shujaa and his co-defendant Eugene Allen were sent to San Quentin’s death row in 1976. Because the district attorney had systematically excluded all African-American jurors, in 1979 the California Supreme Court overturned the death conviction. After three years on death row, Shujaa and his co-defendant continued to fight for their innocence. Their third trial ended in a hung jury, and it was not until after a fourth trial that they were found innocent. Rather than being protected by the United States’ criminal justice system, Shujaa often points out that he won his freedom and affirmed his innocence “in spite of the system.”
Read more about his story.

Below, pictured is Nathson Fields, who spent 11 years on death row in Illinois. Nathson was acquitted in 2009, of a double homicide for which he spent almost 20 years in prison, including more than 11 years on death row. The crime occurred in 1984, when Nate, a young gang leader at the time, was accused with a co-defendant of killing rivals of the El Rukn organization. The judge in his case, Thomas J. Maloney, took a $10,000 bribe, but returned the money when he discovered he was under federal investigation. The judge went to prison for 13 years, and Nate’s conviction was overturned when the corruption was uncovered. Read more about his story.

For more exoneree photos and information on this project, visit deathpenaltyphoto.org.

Comment on this project via Facebook: facebook.com/deathpenaltyphoto.