Defense advocates focusing on misidentified suspects

Documentary director and producer Ken Burns is expected to participate in a live chat over Skype on Saturday, Feb. 9th as part of a fundraiser for an Alaska organization that seeks to exonerate wrongly-convicted defendants.

Burns co-produced The Central Park Five, a documentary that follows a group of New York City Latino and African-American teenagers wrongly convicted and imprisoned for the rape of a white woman in 1989.

Bill Oberly is executive director of the Alaska Innocence Project, an independent non-profit organization based on similar chapters around the country that investigate claims of wrongful conviction and then lend their support in cases on the potential path to exoneration. The organization pushed for passage of a recent Alaska law that sets guidelines for post-conviction DNA testing.

One notable Alaska case already underway is that of Newton Lambert of Juneau, convicted in the murder of Anne Benolken thirty years ago. He’s still in prison and still maintains his innocence.

Other high-profile exonerations around the country have also focused on the development of forensic DNA technology to overturn previous convictions in sexual assaults and homicides.
For example, in Texas this week, former prosecutor Ken Anderson is on the hot seat for allegedly withholding evidence. Micheal Morton, wrongly imprisoned for twenty-five years for his wife’s murder, was exonerated after DNA testing of evidence at the murder scene.

Oberly says there are a variety of reasons, sometimes several reasons in combination, why a defendant may be wrongly convicted of a crime. It could be an inadequate defense, government misconduct, bad informants and jailhouse snitches, false confessions, and improper forensic science. But he says three-quarters of all wrongful convictions are based — in part — on misidentification of suspects by eyewitnesses.

Oberly says efforts are underway to reform the process.


Bill Oberly will speak at a fundraiser for the Alaska Innocence Project at the Rockwell Restaurant on Friday, Feb. 8th at 9:00 p.m. That’s in the old Elks building on South Franklin Street.

Then, the showing of The Central Park Five will be Saturday, Feb. 9th at 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. at the Gold Town Nickelodeon Theater.

Ken Burns is expected to Skype in at 6:00 p.m. There will be free admission to attend the question-and-answer session and movie admission will not required for that part of the program.