Roster of Exonerations Shows the Particular Vulnerability of Juveniles Under Questioning

Carl Williams was 17 years old when Cook County police arrested him in January of 1994. Williams was charged with two counts of murder and one count of sexual assault. He confessed to the crime after a police interrogation and along with four co-defendants, Williams was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole in 1996. Now, 18 years later, Williams, who claims he is innocent, has been granted an evidentiary hearing and a re-sentencing by the 1st District Appellate Court of Illinois. “The case of the wrong Carl” is a prime example of change in the way Illinois judges view confessions, said Steven Drizin, director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions – and co-founder of the Center on Wrong Convictions of Youth – at the Northwestern University School of Law. The Cook County justice system interrogates its juveniles as they do its adults.  And the center is quite certain that of the 100-plus juveniles currently serving life without parole sentences in the state, many of their convictions were based on false confessions.

The Many Examples of the Power of Innocence Projects

Four women stood at the front of a room, speaking before the small crowd with strong voices even though each had gone through a harrowing and emotional experience. The women – Joyce Ann Brown, Audrey Edmunds, Tabitha Pollock and Gloria Goodwin-Killian – had all been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. In total, they spent 45 years incarcerated, knowing all the while they were innocent and clinging to some hope that this fact would come to light. Now free, thanks in no small part to innocence projects around the nation, their testimonies before the crowd headlined the commencement of the Women’s Project at the Northwestern University law school’s Center on Wrongful Convictions this month. “In the Center’s 13 year history, we’ve represented four women, all of whom were accused and wrongfully convicted of the murders of their children,” said Karen Daniel, a co-director of the Women’s Project and a professor at Northwestern University.