Christopher Miller was convicted of rape and other charges in 2002. He was sentenced to 40 years. The hitch is, he didn’t commit the crime.
He was convicted in an apparent rush to judgment after a Cleveland Heights, Ohio, woman was attacked and raped. Her purse was also stolen, and police were able to track her cellphone.
They tracked it and eventually found it in Christopher’s possession. However, as he said at the time, he got it from a stranger who traded it for drugs.
Despite the shaky evidence, Christopher went to prison for the alleged rape until the Ohio Innocence Project became involved in his case. That group pushed for the crime scene DNA to be tested.
The newly tested evidence pointed to two other men who had been convicted of a similar crime. None of the crime scene DNA matched Christopher.
In August 2021, a judge ruled that Christopher was innocent and had been wrongly imprisoned. That made him eligible to bring a civil rights lawsuit.
Cleveland Heights and its police department still deny wrongdoing. A spokesperson said that “proceeding to try a lawsuit over events nearly 22 years ago poses a substantial risk for both sides in these circumstances.”
Nevertheless, the city settled Christopher’s lawsuit for $4 million.
“Too many years were stolen from me and my family. I can never get that time back, time to raise my children and build my life,” he said in a statement. “But I am thriving now, and I am glad to put this final chapter of my case behind me so I can move forward.”
We wish Christopher every happiness in his new life.
Wrongful convictions are not limited to murder cases
The same factors that lead to wrongful murder convictions apply to many other types of cases. There is often great urgency to find the perpetrator. Police officers become overly confident in their theories, often due to reliance on junk science. In other cases, there is police or prosecutorial misconduct. A witness is encouraged to recognize someone. Pro-defense evidence is suppressed.
These are all common reasons for wrongful conviction, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.
Wrongful convictions steal years and decades from innocent people. They often also mean that the real perpetrator goes free. That is why we must all appreciate and support the defense function in our criminal legal system. Without a fair balance of resources on both sides, miscarriages of justice are likely to continue.