Megan Crane an Davontai Sanford

Megan Crane, director of the new Wrongful Conviction Project, with exoneree Davontae Sanford

Two advocates for the wrongly accused in Missouri and throughout the Midwest are joining forces to expand efforts to overturn criminal wrongful convictions.

The Midwest Innocence Project (MIP) and the MacArthur Justice Center (MJC) are partners in the new Wrongful Conviction Project, a project of MJC’s Missouri Office with MIP attorneys as co-counsel. Megan Crane, who co-directs MJC’s Missouri Office with Amy Breihan, will lead the project.

Crane has served as co-director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, the first organization in the world to focus exclusively on wrongfully convicted children. Previously, she was a capital post-conviction attorney exclusively representing individuals on California’s death row.

“This new partnership will allow us to serve even more wrongfully convicted people and reduce the number of years individuals must spend waiting before they see justice,” said MIP Executive and Legal Director Tricia Rojo Bushnell.  

In Missouri, 49 people have been exonerated to date. But advocates believe there could be hundreds more innocent Missourians currently incarcerated for crimes they did not commit. The process of overturning a wrongful conviction is long, difficult and expensive.

“We recognized the need for more resources on the ground in Missouri to do the critical, but labor- and resource-intensive, work of investigating and litigating a wrongfully convicted prisoner’s actual innocence,” said Breihan. “We receive countless letters from incarcerated Missourians with compelling evidence that they are innocent.”

Crane said she particularly looks forward to expanding MIP’s capacity to investigate and litigate cases of Missouri youth wrongfully behind bars. “Youth are at heightened risk of wrongful conviction and extreme sentencing for a variety of troubling reasons,” Crane said.

MIP and MJC have already teamed up on the case of one Missourian who they claim was wrongfully convicted as a child: Michael Politte. Michael was 14 years old when he was wrongfully charged with murdering his own mother in Hopewell. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison solely on the basis of now debunked “arson science” that allegedly tied Michael to the scene, as well as testimony by police who interpreted adolescent Michael’s traumatized reaction to his mother’s death as suspicious evidence of guilt. His habeas petition asserting his innocence is available at https://tinyurl.com/Michael-Politte.

recent study by the National Registry of Exonerations revealed that more than half of all wrongful convictions involved government misconduct. The rate of misconduct in wrongful conviction cases is even higher when the defendant is Black, and this disparity is at its peak when Black defendants are charged with murder (78% rate of official misconduct).

“As an organization, MacArthur is focused on holding the state accountable for state-sanctioned misconduct,” Crane said. “This mission was a key motivation for launching our Wrongful Conviction Project.”

For more information, visit https://www.macarthurjustice.org.

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