The Hartford Courant reports that the 2-year-old Connecticut Innocence Project has had its first major success in gaining a new trial based on DNA evidence. The convict, James Calvin Tillman, was charged in a 1989 rape in Hartford. The case has become a poignant example of how the exactitudes and precision of modern science are being used to further the cause of justice. But it also shows that cases such as this one still rely heavily on old-fashioned legwork, and more than a little dumb luck.
The Connecticut program, one of 30 across the country, was inspired by the original Innocence Project, founded in New York in 1992 by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld. The programs have helped bring the total number of convicts exonerated through DNA testing in the U.S. to 180 since advanced testing became available in 1988. Of those 180 cases, just over 56 percent are African American. Huy Dao, the case director for the Innocence Project in New York, said 75 percent of the exonerated inmates were convicted as a result of mistaken identifications by victims and witnesses. Most of the cases involve sexual assault charges, and more than 50 of the 180 cases involved murder charges.