Criminal justice summit aims to help wrongly convicted in Pennsylvania

Harrisburg

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — There’s a major effort underway to help people wrongly convicted of crimes. In Pennsylvania, even if you’re sent to prison for years for a crime you did not commit, you won’t be compensated.

A new culture of accountability–that’s what dozens of criminal justice advocates are working toward in Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania has the most exonerees in the United States, to date, 110,” said Elaine Selan, PA Prison Society official visitor.

One of those exonerees, Corey Walker, spent 23 years behind bars. He was convicted of killing a Harrisburg man in 1996. In July, a judge overturned the conviction and last month he was released.

“I left so many people behind in prison that always speak to being innocent, but no one is there to support them,” Walker said.

That’s why he and his co-defendant, Lorenzo Johnson, who also maintains his innocence, took a train from New York to be there Friday.

“There are so many individuals going through the same thing I went through and I feel there’s a need for that voice,” Walker said. “Without us, they’re nobody.”

New Yorker Jeffrey Deskovic was in prison for 16 years for a rape and murder he didn’t commit.

“Prosecutorial misconduct was a major factor in my conviction. DNA exonerated me,” Deskovic said. “With the compensation I got, I was able to rebuild my life. I got a master’s degree. I just graduated law school and passed the bar.”

35 states, the federal government and Washington D.C. have laws to compensate those wrongfully convicted. Pennsylvania is not among them.

“They were locked up for anywhere from 15 to 30 years for crimes they never committed and they’re thrown out on the streets,” said Bill Bastuk, founder and President of It Could Happen to You.

“It’s kind of counter-intuitive. You say ‘hey, if someone’s been exonerated you want to get them out as soon as possible’ but there isn’t a safety net for those people who don’t have any support system or surviving family members,” said Brandon Flood, secretary of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons.

The hope is to educate the public and lawmakers about the need for not just compensation, but automatic record expungement and a commission on prosecutorial conduct, to try to prevent these wrongful convictions in the first place.

“Areas where the legislature isn’t acting, I’m looking at what can we do in our respective shop and I’m sure the Lieutenant Governor, he shares that same sentiment,” Flood said.

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