Report Reveals Police Rarely Reopen Cases After Death Row Exonerations

A report in the Chicago Tribune reveals that police and prosecutors rarely pursue new leads and suspects after a wrongly convicted defendant has been exonerated of the crime and released from death row. As a result, few suspects are brought to justice for crimes once considered so heinous that they were worthy of the death penalty, and the actual perpetrators remain in society to potentially commit additional crimes. The Tribune report noted that court records indicate that an alternate suspect was identified in dozens of cases that resulted in wrongful convictions, but police charged a new suspect in just 10 cases, a reflection of the difficulty of pursuing an old case and the reluctance of authorities to admit error and seek new suspects. In three of those 10 cases, the crucial work to solve the crime was not done by law enforcement, but was completed by defense attorneys, private investigators, or students. The paper's investigation also found that law enforcement even fails to reinvestigate cases involving DNA evidence. The article states, "In some of those cases, police did not take even the simplest investigation step - entering genetic profile evidence into a database to identify the real attacker." Many death row exonerees remain under a cloud of public suspicion because law enforcement fail to find the true perpetrator of the crime. (Chicago Tribune, October 27, 2003) See Innocence.