Wrongfully convicted man set free after spending 16 years in WI prison

A man wrongfully convicted in Wisconsin due to several possible issues, including police protocols, eyewitness errors and poor defense, was recently freed.

A man who was wrongfully convicted in Wisconsin has been freed after serving nearly 17 years in prison, according to The Green Bay Press-Gazette. The man was convicted of sexual assault of a child based on questionable evidence, including investigative oversights and unreliable eyewitness testimony. Based on these issues, the man was recently granted a new trial. The district attorney's office then decided not to retry the case, and the man was formally freed.

Questionable case and charges

In 1998, the man was charged with molesting a four-year-old girl who had contracted a venereal disease. The girl reportedly gave authorities various answers when asked to identify the perpetrator. The man was one of at least three people that the girl named at some point. Police records that the Wisconsin Innocent Project obtained show that the girl was confused about the alleged perpetrator's identity. Unfortunately, those records weren't included in the official court record during the man's trial.

There are also indications that authorities overlooked evidence pointing to another suspect, the girl's uncle. Authorities took the uncle's word that he did not have the venereal disease that the girl contracted. However, after the accused man was convicted, tests revealed that the uncle did have the venereal disease. Furthermore, authorities overlooked the fact that the girl sometimes called the uncle "Mario," which is also the wrongfully convicted man's name.

Inadequate defense during the man's trial could also have contributed to his wrongful conviction. For example, an expert on eyewitness testimony was supposed to testify on the inaccuracy of young eyewitnesses. However, jurors never heard this potentially decisive testimony.

Wrongful convictions and causes

This particular case serves as a reminder that many factors may play a role in wrongful convictions. According to the Innocence Project, many of the first 325 wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing involved common variables. The following three issues contributed to the greatest number of wrongful convictions:

  • Eyewitness errors - 72 percent of the exonerations involved poor eyewitness identifications.
  • Poor or unproven forensics - unvalidated forensic science or improperly performed forensic work contributed to 47 percent of wrongful convictions.
  • False confessions - in 27 percent of wrongful convictions, the accused pled guilty, confessed or made self-incriminating remarks.

The Innocence Project also identifies government misconduct, testimony from informants and inadequate defense as frequent factors in wrongful convictions.

For many people who have been falsely convicted, establishing innocence may be difficult. DNA testing is considered definitive, but many cases do not involve any evidence that is eligible for DNA testing. For example, there was no DNA evidence to support the recently freed man's assertions that he was innocent. This limitation makes guarding against common causes of wrongful convictions essential during criminal proceedings.

Anyone facing criminal charges, regardless of the nature of the charges, should consider speaking to a criminal defense attorney. An attorney may be able to provide advice on guarding against unreliable evidence and presenting the case in an appropriate light.

Keywords: wrongful, conviction, eyewitness, testimony