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Kentucky Supreme Court In Pursuit of “Righting” the Wrongs

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Thanks to the persistent efforts of the Kentucky Innocence Project, Kerry Porter was exonerated after serving almost 15 years behind bars for a murder  he did not commit. However, with this victory, there are many questions left unanswered.

The Kentucky legislature and state Supreme Court must address discrepancies within the system that led to the wrongful convictions of Porter and others. This should be of the highest concern of the judicial system as having the wrong person behind bars means that the person actually responsible for the crime roams free.

As is the case  for the majority of wrongful convictions, faulty eyewitness testimony was at the root of Porter’s case and conviction. Modifications should be made to existing practices and procedures aimed specifically to increase accuracy in eyewitness identifications. If these procedures are not followed to the letter of the law, the Supreme Court ought to exclude the use of eyewitness identifications by prosecutors altogether.

DNA evidence came to Porter’s rescue. There was a testing of a homemade silencer that was used on the murder weapon that uncovered that Porter was not a suspect.  Currently, Kentucky law guarantees post-conviction DNA testing only for inmates facing the death sentence. Thankfully for Porter, a Louisville judge authorized the testing for him. However,  another Innocence Project client, William Virgil, who is serving 70 years for a murder he says he did not commit, was not so lucky.  A Kentucky judge denied Virgil his request for DNA testing. There should also be a requirement to preserve evidence.

Porter served 14 years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. And that’s that. He is on his own to rebuild his life, provided with no support. He is owned nothing from the state of Kentucky for the errors in its judicial system. Many states do, however, have provisions for compensating people that have been wrongly convicted, or are looking into establishing such process. Taking decades of someone’s freedom and not offering so much as a penny or any sort of social support continues to wrong the innocent.

In addition to the Kentucky Innocence Project, Porter owes his freedom to several others, including Louisville Metro Police Sgt. Denny Butler, who heads the cold-case unit and re-investigated the crime. Louisville journalist Andrew Wolfson of The Courier-Journal discovered and reported evidence pointing to Porter’s innocence while researching another case. Police and prosecutors had failed for 18 months to disclose the exculpatory evidence to Porter’s defense team — another flaw in the system that should be fixed through stronger disclosure rules.The victim’s twin brother also insisted that Porter was innocent and that someone else, who is in prison for manslaughter and had a stronger motive and more opportunity, was the real murderer.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Stengel, who filed the motion to free Porter, pointed out that Porter did not make things easy on himself. Porter had been a petty thief and crack user and destroyed his own credibility by making up an alibi that was easily disproved. While many other aspects of this case should have shed light on Porter’s innocence before now, telling the truth is a basic imperative of all involved in the process.

Go here to see an interview with Kerry Porter done during his time in prison speaking about his ordeal.

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