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Sabrina Butler-Smith

Exoneree Name

State: Mississippi

Convicted: 1990

Exonerated: 1995

Race: Black

DNA used in exoneration? No

Reasons for wrongful conviction:

False or misleading forensic evidence

Official misconduct

False confession


Sabrina's Wrongful Conviction

Sabrina Butler-Smith was a Mississippi teenager when she became a victim of wrongful conviction due to false or misleading forensic evidence and prosecutorial misconduct. She endured six and a half years in prison, two years and nine months of which were on death row. She has since been exonerated of all wrongdoing. She is one of only two women in the United States exonerated from death row.

On April 11, 1989, teenage mother Sabrina rushed Walter to the hospital after he suddenly stopped breathing. Doctors had attempted to resuscitate the child for thirty minutes, but failed, and Sabrina's baby died the next day. The very day of her son's death, Sabrina was arrested for child abuse due to the bruises left by her resuscitation attempts.

Sabrina's murder trial commenced in March 1990. At the trial, prosecutors sought to prove that Sabrina's account of the events leading to her son's death were false, and that she had inflicted the fatal wounds intentionally. Sabrina did not testify at her trial, and was convicted of both murder and child abuse, becoming the only woman on Mississippi's Death Row at the time.

Following her conviction, Sabrina filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of Mississippi. The courts reversed and remanded her convictions in August 1992, declaring that the prosecution had failed to prove that the incident was anything more than an accident.

In 1995, Sabrina's case went to retrial. At the trial, one of Sabrina's neighbors had come forward with evidence that corroborated her account that the injuries to her son occurred during the course of an unsuccessful attempt to administer CPR. In addition, the medical examiner changed his opinion about Walter's cause of death, which he now believed occurred due to a kidney malady. On December 17, 1995, Sabrina was exonerated after spending six and a half years in prison and two years and nine months on death row.

Sabrina's Work Today

Sabrina now lives in Memphis, is blessed with three thriving children, and previously served on the board of Witness to Innocence. She speaks as often as she can to the public and media about her heartbreaking and moving story, and also works with state governments to hopefully change legislation regarding the death penalty.

Sabrina toured Washington State telling her story and calling for abolition 12 months before the Washington State Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional. She testified on the floor of the New Hampshire legislature 3 years before New Hampshire became the 21st state to repeal capital punishment. Her media interviews include appearences on CNN, Fox News and National Geographic.

Sabrina serves on the board of Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (TADP) alongside TADP founder, Stacey Rector. She also serves as board member of Life After Innocence with founder John Eldon. She has worked with Just City executive Josh Spickler. Sabrina is also working on starting a non-profit to help women who come out of prison get their lives back by giving them a place to start.

Sabrina has been working diligently on her book that will be out at the end of the year.



  • A memoir by Sabrina Butler-Smith, the story of the first woman exonerated from death row in the US

In The Media:

5.28.21 Innocence Project - Fighting for Love and Motherhood

#ImLivingProof... that we send the innocent to die.

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