Monday, July 18, 2011

States look to right wrong convictions - USATODAY.com

States look to right wrong convictions - USATODAY.com
ASHEVILLE, N.C. Kenneth Kagonyera had been in the county jail for 13 months when he finally gave in.
Prosecutors and investigators interrogated him repeatedly, he says, and told him he faced at least 25 years in prison for first-degree murder, with life or a death sentence possible. So he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the 2000 slaying of Walter Rodney Bowman.

It just kind of wore down on me," he later told the commission investigating whether the justice system wrongly imprisoned him.

Kagonyera was sentenced to 15 years in prison, as was his co-defendant, Robert Wilcoxson. Both continue to maintain their innocence.

In September, the two men are scheduled to have a hearing before a three-judge panel that could free them. The hearing comes after the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission in April found enough evidence to indicate the men are innocent. That evidence includes the confession of another man and DNA testing that points to other suspects.

North Carolina is among a growing number of states taking steps to prevent and address wrongful convictions and grant greater access to biological evidence.

Until recently, that was largely the purview of the privately funded Innocence Project, which has been involved in 154 DNA exonerations in the USA since 1989, according the group's research director, Emily West.

Lawmakers in Massachusetts are considering legislation that would establish a right to post-conviction DNA testing. If the bill passes, Oklahoma will be the only state that does not have a law in this area, according to the Innocence Project.

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