Black Men Imprisoned Wrongfully

By Tatiana Rodriguez ‘23

Racial profiling is the assumption that someone has committed or may commit a crime based on their skin color, and such biases sometimes leads to the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of black men due to the stereotype and the racism they face. According to the Innocence Project, an organization to put an end on wrongful convictions, a black person is “seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder.”

There have been many cases of people being wrongfully put in prison. It’s often revealed that the person has been wrongfully convicted years or even decades after the verdict. Dontae Sharpe, a black man in North Carolina, was recently pardoned on November 12 by the North Carolina governor after he reviewed the case. This pardon did not come easy as Sharpe worked with his attorney closely to be pardoned after his exoneration. In 1995, Sharpe was accused of murdering a white man in North Carolina even though he had an alibi. However, witness Charlene Johnson testified that she saw Sharpe kill the man during a cocaine deal. After this, Sharpe was arrested a few hours later for first degree murder. A few weeks after Sharpe’s arrest, Johnson admitted that the entire testimony was fabricated and that investigators told her to make up this lie for money and gifts. Despite the acknowledgement of this fake testimony, it took until 2019 for a higher court to hear it. After a second hearing, the judge determined that Johnson’s testimony did not make sense Sharpe did not deserve to be imprisoned under these false accusations. 

Even after being exonerated, Sharpe had to work towards a pardon in order to get compensation, and he was eventually pardoned by the governor and was allowed up to $75,000 of compensation. Sharpe felt a mix of emotions, but he now works to make sure this wrongful imprisonment does not happen to anyone else. 

Not every case ends with compensation. Recently, a black man, Kevin Strickland, was released from prison after 40 years. Strickland was originially convicted of murdering three people in 1979. The evidence used in the original trial mainly came from the only survivor Cynthia Douglas. She originally identified Strickland as the shooter and testified that, but later she said she was pressured by the police to identify Strickland. During the trial, the entirely white jury convicted him of two counts of second-degree murder. This conviction led him to face 40 years in prison.

This summer, attorney Peter Bakers reviewed Strickland’s case and believed he was innocent. She used a new law in the state of Kansas that allowed local prosecutors to challenge a conviction when they think that the defendant did not commit the crime. After facing many obstacles, Bakers was able to prove the unfairness of the trial with an all white jury and that the case was built upon lies because of Douglas’s fake testimony. Despite revealing innocence, Strickland did not qualify for any compensation because the state would only compensate people who were put into imprisonment wrongfully because of DNA evidence. 

As mentioned earlier, the Innocence Project is working towards getting justice for black people who are wrongfully imprisoned. The Innocence Project works to “free the staggering number of innocent people who remain incarcerated” and reform the justice system. They use DNA to prove innocence if possible and point out false confessions. In the grander scope of things, the Innocence Project works to create new policies and laws that prevent wrongful convictions while also making it easier to receive justice when someone is innocent.