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Mississippi Man Exonerated After Completing 15-year Sentence

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The story of Matthew Norwood is particularly intriguing for two reasons: 1) Norwood’s exoneration was not only supported by, but initiated by, the District Attorney 2) Norwood was exonerated after he had completed his sentence.

Norwood was charged with an armed carjacking in 1995, when he was 15 years-old and had no criminal record, based on an eye-witness identification. He maintained his innocence, but agreed to enter a “best interest” plea and attend a boot camp, rather than face a sentence of 15 years to life. After committing a number of minor violations at the boot camp, Norwood was sentenced to 15 years’ incarceration. Norwood completed his sentence in 2007. Recently, law enforcement officers uncovered evidence indicating that Norwood was not involved in the 1995 carjacking. Prosecutors notified the court of this evidence and District Attorney Shuler Smith “supported the conviction being tossed.” The Clarion Ledger quoted Smith as saying, “If there’s been an injustice, it’s my duty to correct that.”

Clearly, prosecutors have a moral obligation to ensure to the best of their ability that innocent people are not convicted. Currently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is considering amending Model Rule of Professional Conduct 3.8, which governs prosecutors’ responsibilities. The proposed changes address prosecutors’ duties to disclose, investigate, and take remedial action upon learning that there is a reasonable likelihood that a wrongful conviction has occurred.

Because Norwood was no longer incarcerated at the time he sought exoneration, he was unable to use the Mississippi post conviction statute to seek relief. Fortunately for Norwood, the case of Clyde Kennard, a man who was exonerated in Mississippi posthumously, provided the legal precedent to secure Norwood’s exoneration after release from custody.

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