Now free, these men thought life would get easier but many are finding it is not. Their records, after many years have still not been cleared, or if the option is available, it is economically impossible to pursue, and they have received nothing in the way of compensation for their wrongful imprisonment.
“I am one of the strongest human beings ever created. I know that now. And I say that without an ounce of ego because I paid for it.” This was Nick Yarris:
23 Years Wrongfully Imprisoned
In 1981, after one of the shortest murder trials in Pennsylvania history, Nicholas Yarris of west Philadelphia was sent to death row for the kidnapping, rape and murder of a Boothwyn, PA. resident. Nick spent 23 years on death row in solitary confinement and was the first death row inmate in Pennsylvania exonerated with the use of DNA testing. ON January 16th, 2004 Nick was released from prison and now speaks out around the world as an advocate against the death penalty. Nick is married to Karen Karbitz. They live in London and are expecting their first child.
It is also the story of the lawyers, working pro bono to free these men and who found as much reward having fought for their clients as their clients and their families experience having been freed.
The film introduces us to two attorneys that founded the Innocence Project which at the time of filming had freed 150 people through the use of DNA analysis. Great progress but also great frustration as DNA evidence isn’t available for many. There may be tens of thousands of people that are wrongfully imprisoned and will remain so.
Even when the liberating DNA evidence is found, it can still take convicts years to bring their case to court. In at least one case, the family members were more devastated, and their life and health more negatively impacted than the exonerees. In another, parents of one wrongfully convicted man spent over 150 thousand dollars, their entire retirement, to free their son.
There was even one case of an emotional reunion between a rape victim and the wrongfully convicted and exonerated man, who had served eleven years. The victim came to him seeking forgiveness and they became close friends.
While most of the exonerees were young and lacked significant financial resources at the time of their conviction, there wasn’t a preponderance of any one race - one was a police officer, another the son of a State Trooper.
It is also the story of how a group of these exonerees have with some success made it their mission to enact legislation to prevent wrongful convictions in the future and when they do occur, to allow for compensation and expungement of their records.
No matter how one may feel about capital punishment or our prison system, we can all agree that no one wants our system to imprison and consume resources incarcerating the innocent. It is a story of how our system has evolved from one of a presumption of innocence to a presumption of guilt – at least for some. After Innocence, a moving and thoughtfully produced film, won two awards at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.
In the words of one exoneree, Scott Hornoff, a police officer held mistakenly for six and a half years, “I still feel like everybody needs to hear about wrongful imprisonment because everybody is a potential juror.”
And everybody is a potential victim.