For Wrongfully Convicted Women, Justice Is More Elusive: Lawyers

Lawyers start Northwestern Women's Project to overturn cases
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 17, 2015 1:07 PM CDT
For Wrongfully Convicted Women, Justice Is More Elusive: Lawyers
Kristine Bunch, left, with her mother Susan Hubbard, steps out of the Decatur County Sheriffs office after being released in Greensburg, Ind., Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012.   (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Charlie Nye)

Exonerating women who are wrongfully convicted of violent crimes is no easy task—just ask Kristine Bunch. She got 60 years for supposedly setting the fire that killed her 3-year-old son in 1995, and struggled to find anyone who could help, Mother Jones reports. Finally, lawyers at the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University's law school exposed a glaring hole (and possibly corruption) in the arson investigators' case. That evidence got Bunch released in 2012 after 16 years in prison, USA Today reported at the time. Then two lawyers from the Center, Karen Daniel and Judy Royal, began helping wrongfully convicted women based on a shocking statistic: Women constitute roughly 11% of violent-crime convictions but only 6% of overturned cases. But why are women's cases harder to overturn? Daniel and Royal give their reasons:

  • Women are usually convicted of violent crimes against people close to them (like a husband or son) so DNA evidence won't help; the suspect's DNA is already spread around the crime scene. By contrast, men usually assault or kill strangers.
  • An incredible 63% of women's exoneration cases turn out to be accidents or suicides rather than crimes. So instead of finding a "real culprit," Daniel and Royal may have to laboriously dismantle the prosecutors' case, perhaps with new science on arson or shaken-baby syndrome that not everyone accepts.
  • Sexist stereotypes are used against women in court. In the case of a woman wrongfully convicted of murdering her son, the prosecutor implied she did it to pursue a modeling career. "That was based on one tiny conversation expressing slight interest in maybe having a nice photo taken," says Daniel. "Almost every case has something like this."
Click for Mother Jones' full article. (More wrongful conviction stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.