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Ignoring Innocence

The Wrongfully Convicted Forced Into Plea Deals

Even after proving their innocence, defendants locked away for crimes they didn’t commit are sometimes told they have to plead guilty if they want to be released from prison. The coercive deal is known as an Alford plea, and it’s pushed by prosecutors who don’t want to admit mistakes.

Featured

Baltimore Judge Tosses Alford Plea, Rebuking Prosecutor

Demetrius Smith has long maintained he pleaded guilty to a shooting he did not commit. Now, over the prosecutor's objections, his conviction has been set aside.

Nevada Pardons Wrongfully Convicted Man Featured in Our Story

The pardon clears Fred Steese’s name after state prosecutors had pushed him into an arcane plea deal even though a judge had declared he was innocent. “I’m not a felon anymore,” Steese said.

Other Entries

Baltimore to Pay Largest Settlement in City History — $9 Million — to Man Wrongfully Convicted of Murder

James Owens, who was featured in a ProPublica investigation last year, sued police detectives for the alleged misconduct that landed him in prison for 21 years. Prosecutors had tried to make him take a controversial plea deal.

Video: This Obscure Plea Deal Offers Freedom to the Wrongfully Convicted at a Huge Cost

A confounding case in Baltimore shows just how far prosecutors will go to keep a win on the books — even at the expense of an innocent man.

Innocent But Still Guilty

Inmates are sometimes offered freedom in exchange for pleading guilty to a crime they probably didn’t commit. It’s a bad deal.

Baltimore Prosecutor Admits He Was Wrong to Block Request to Alter Alford Plea

A ProPublica story last month pointed out that the prosecutor had given up his right to veto changes to the unusual plea deal. Demetrius Smith, who was wrongfully convicted of murder when he agreed to the deal, will get a new hearing.

A Dubious Arrest, a Compromised Prosecutor, a Tainted Plea: How One Murder Case Exposes a Broken System

One innocent man’s odyssey through the justice system shows the cascading, and enduring, effects of a bad conviction.

Vegas Judge Featured in ProPublica Story Reprimanded for Ethics Violations

Judge William Kephart, who was repeatedly criticized for misconduct as a prosecutor and put at least one innocent person in prison, has been censured for a lapse on the bench.

What Does an Innocent Man Have to Do to Go Free? Plead Guilty.

A case in Baltimore — in which two men were convicted of the same murder and cleared by DNA 20 years later — shows how far prosecutors will go to preserve a conviction.

The Freedom Plea: How Prosecutors Deny Exonerations by Dangling the Prison Keys

New evidence pointed to innocence in the cases of these four Baltimore men, yet prosecutors would only let them go if they agreed to controversial plea deals.

Nevada Passes Modest Measures to Curb Prosecutorial Misconduct

Lobbying by prosecutors and police guts law that would have punished prosecutors who didn’t share evidence with defense. Debate cited case of Fred Steese, subject of ProPublica and Vanity Fair story.

Kafka in Vegas

Fred Steese served more than 20 years in prison for the murder of a Vegas showman even though evidence in the prosecution’s files proved he didn’t do it. But when the truth came to light, he was offered a confounding deal known as an Alford plea. If he took it he could go free, but he’d remain a convicted killer.

Vegas Judge Had Long History of Prosecutorial Misconduct

The behavior of Bill Kephart, who led the murder prosecution of Fred Steese, was repeatedly lambasted by the Supreme Court of Nevada. But that didn’t stop him from becoming a judge. This month he was charged with misconduct in that position too.

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