In The Innocent Convicts, The Reporters Inc. delves into the causes surrounding wrongful convictions by profiling cases throughout the country. We show how perjured testimony, witness misidentification, faulty medical evidence, coerced confessions, evidence tampering, police misconduct, incompetent counsel, criminal justice lapses, racial injustice, and socioeconomic disparities are just some of the many reasons how, and why, a wrongful conviction can occur.
We show how this life-destroying nightmare could easily happen to YOU, or someone you know or love — no matter how honest, upstanding and law-abiding you think you might be.
As of December 2018, the National Registry of Exonerations lists 2,357 men and women who’ve been cleared of wrongful convictions in the last 25 years. 47 percent were black and 40 percent had been incarcerated for at least ten years before their exonerations. Leaders of the Registry, a project of the University of Michigan Law School and the most comprehensive collection of exonerations in the U.S., believe the list represents just a sliver of the true number of those falsely accused and still imprisoned.
At the same time, in a 2006 opinion, the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia stated that, at the very most, the number of wrongful felony convictions in America stands at no more than 0.027 percent.
The Reporters Inc. has completed principal photography on the first six episodes of The Innocent Convicts, a project intended for air as a limited documentary series on public television. We’ve secured support from PBS stations around the country.
Thanks to our generous donors, we’ve been able to conduct interviews and shoot accompanying video in North Carolina, Texas, California, Wisconsin and Minnesota in connection with the stories of Audrey Edmunds, Uriah Courtney, Tim Cole, Mike Hansen, Lamont McCoy and The Monfils Six.
We’re now in need of your help to fund post-production of the project: writing, editing and final research. Below are details about each of the cases we’re profiling.
When a 20-year-old Texas Tech student in Lubbock was brutally raped by an African American man in a parking lot near her dormitory, a fellow student, Timothy Cole, was arrested and charged. While no physical evidence linked Cole to the crime, he was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Never once did he admit guilt, refusing to take blame for a crime he insisted he did not commit. Years later, with the advent of DNA testing, the results exonerated Cole. But it all came too late. Cole died in prison after serving 13 years.
Mike Hansen is a Minnesota man who was wrongfully convicted of killing his infant daughter, based mainly on questionable medical expert testimony. Hansen served six years of a 14-year sentence before the Innocence Project stepped in to help him.
Audrey Edmunds was a Wisconsin stay-at-home mom who babysat for neighborhood families. Edmunds was accused of killing a child in her care based on “Shaken Baby Syndrome” theories, sentenced to 18 years, and served nearly 11 of those before she was able to present new research and evidence casting doubt on Shaken Baby Syndrome. Edmunds’ conviction was overturned.
Uriah Courtney is a San Diego man who, like Tim Cole, was also wrongfully convicted of a rape he didn’t commit. Courtney’s story, fortunately, has a happier ending than Cole’s because DNA evidence cleared him before he could languish and die in prison.
“The Monfils Six” is a case involving six men who were convicted of killing a co-worker (Tom Monfils) at a Green Bay, Wisconsin paper mill in the early 1990s. One of them, Mike Piaskowski, was released in 2001. Another, Dale Basten, died in 2018 after being released due to his deteriorating health. The others, Mike Hirn, Mike Johnson, Keith Kutska and Rey Moore remain behind bars. Thanks to an exhaustive investigative effort by two authors who spent seven years writing a book about the convictions (The Monfils Conspiracy), new attorneys are taking a fresh look at the case. Did police and prosecutorial tunnel vision result in the most egregious miscarriage of justice in Wisconsin history?
“The Monfils Six”
Top: Keith Kutska, Dale Basten, Rey Moore
Bottom: Mike Hirn, Mike Piaskowski, Mike Johnson
At the age of 18, Lamont McKoy was sentenced to life in prison in connection with a North Carolina drug deal that resulted in a homicide. McCoy has never wavered in his claims of innocence, refused to take a plea deal, and today — 28 years later — still stands by that declaration. Four years after McKoy’s conviction, witnesses, investigators and prosecutors involved with a different drug case presented evidence in federal court indicating that McKoy wasn’t actually responsible for the crime. Yet that information and testimony, which could potentially clear McKoy, has never been allowed into a state court for a hearing. Duke University School of Law’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic is fighting to prove his innocence.
One of the United States’ most cherished tenets is to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans. Based on extensive research, exclusive interviews and in-depth reporting, the goal with The Innocent Convicts is to beam a powerful light on the failings of law enforcement and the criminal justice system, using the cases of Tim Cole, Mike Hansen, Audrey Edmunds, Uriah Courtney, Lamont McCoy and the men convicted in the Green Bay paper mill to illustrate the injustices.
We want to spur action and elevate conversation around these issues, and present solutions.
In addition to film and television release, we intend for the documentary to be utilized as an educational tool, and be distributed to universities, law colleges, libraries, and secondary schools, as well as organizations such as the American Bar Association and the American Civil Liberties Union. The ultimate goal is to present the film in front of policymakers working to evoke social change.
Funding for the film, so far, has come from a grant from the Minnesota State Bar Association Foundation, a crowdfunding campaign via IndieGoGo, and supporter contributions via events like GiveMN.org’s annual “Give to the Max Day” and #GivingTuesday.
Your support will enable us to continue financing the production.
For more information, or to see the full project proposal, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. And to make a fully tax-deductible donation to help fund the film, click on our Support and Donate Page: http://www.thereporters.org/support-us/