Opening Statements

Female-Focused: Northwestern's Center for Wrongful Convictions launches a groundbreaking project

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Joyce Ann Brown spent more than nine years in prison for the aggravated robbery of a Dallas fur store during which the owner was murdered. Brown was freed in 1989 after a jailhouse snitch claiming Brown had admitted her role in the robbery was found to have perjured herself at Brown’s trial.

Audrey Edmunds spent 11 years in prison for the death of a neighbor’s 7-month-old daughter attributed to shaken baby syndrome. Edmunds was released in 2008 after an appeals court ruled that a shift in mainstream medical opinion regarding shaken baby syndrome cast doubt on the scientific evidence used to convict her.

And Tabitha Pollock served 6½ years in prison for the murder of her 3-year-old daughter by her live-in boyfriend. Her conviction, under the theory of imputed knowledge, was overturned after the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that a defendant can’t be convicted of a crime committed by someone else without proof of actual knowledge.

The three told their stories as part of the launch of the Women’s Project by the Northwestern University School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. It is the first program in the country devoted to identifying and rectifying the wrongful convictions of women.

The project is premised on the idea that women exonerees’ cases are different from men’s. It will focus on litigation aimed at freeing innocent women in prison and on research into the factors that contribute to such miscarriages of justice, says Karen Daniel, co-director of the project.

Daniel cites several possible areas of inquiry, including how women are more often accused of harming their own children or other loved ones than men and are more likely to confess to a crime they didn’t commit. “I think it’s entirely possible that women respond differently to interrogations than men do,” she says.

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