Police, Prosecutor Misconduct Continues Unabated as Evidenced by Record Number of Exonerations in 2018
by Douglas Ankney
According to an analysis of the National Registry of Exonerations performed by the Death Penalty Information Center, a record 151 exonerations were reported in 2018. Victims of wrongful homicide convictions accounted for 68 exonerations. The overwhelming majority of wrongful convictions were obtained by police/prosecutorial misconduct (107) or perjury/false accusation (111), with both often occurring in combination.
Matthew Sopron was convicted of double murder and sentenced to life without parole in Chicago in 1998. At a postconviction hearing in 2018, William Bigeck—the prosecutor’s star witness who had implicated Sopron—testified that Sopron “had absolutely nothing to do with the murders.” Bigeck further stated he was 18 at the time of the crime, and he only changed his story after prosecutors threatened him with the death penalty.
Daniel Villegas was convicted of capital murder in El Paso, Texas, and was sentenced to life. He was 16 years old and falsely confessed to the crimes after a detective handcuffed him to a chair, threatened to take him to the desert and “beat his ass,” slapped him, and told him he would die in the electric chair if he didn’t confess. The Texas courts reversed his conviction due to ineffective assistance of counsel. At Vellegas’ third trial, he presented evidence of his innocence and was acquitted.
Bobby Joe Maxwell was charged with capital crimes for a series of 10 murders and five robberies in Los Angeles in 1978 and 1979. Dubbed the “Skid Row Stabber,” Maxwell won a new trial in 2010 after new evidence proved the prosecutor’s prison informant was a “serial liar.”
Maxwell later suffered a heart attack and became comatose. All charges were dropped.
DNA exonerated 14 prisoners with homicide convictions. In all 14, prosecutors presented perjured testimony or false witness accusations.