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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.

Join Sabrina's Fight >>



Exonerated: The Sabrina Butler Story

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

In The Media:

4.29.09 Female death row exoneree Sabrina Butler shares story with students

5.30.14 I Spent More Than Six Years as an Innocent Woman on Death Row

4.15.15 ‘I knew then that I didn’t stand a chance,’ says death row exoneree

10.21.16 Meeting the survivors of death row

12.13.16 Amanda Knox: Why Do Innocent Women Confess to Crimes They Didn’t Commit?

11.7.17 Exonerated death row inmate to speak at Jackson State

12.6.17 ‘Orange Is the New Black’ Keeps Missing How Wrongful Convictions Affect Women

6.26.18 - Freed from death row: Sabrina Butler-Smith's story—Disrespectability Politics Season 2, Ep. 6

10.14.18 Woman exonerated from death row to speak at DSCC Thursday

11.13.18 For death row survivors, the fight against capital punishment starts in Philly

1.16.19 Former death row inmate speaks out against NH death penalty

4.14.19 How a Former Death Row Prisoner and a Murder Victim's Daughter Joined Together to Fight the Death Penalty

4.24.19 Kids Meet a Death Row Exoneree

8.20.19 Life after death row: Witness to Innocence group brings former prisoners to Eagle County

8.20.19 Free at last: Death row exonerees share their stories with Vail Valley audience

8.21.19 Exonerated from death row, panelists address legal professionals in Eagle County

8.21.19 21,000 lost years: Former death row inmates speak in Breck... on Krystal 93 news

8.21.19 Death row exonerees speak out at Breckenridge panel

10.14.19 Executed man's daughter asks court to order DNA testing in 1985 murder conviction

10.14.19 Thirteen years after death-row inmate executed, court asked to test DNA that could exonerate Tennessee man

10.14.19 Family of man executed in Millington murder argues DNA could clear his name

10.15.19 DNA testing could exonerate man 13 years after he was executed for rape, murder

10.20.19 Believing When You're Not Seeing

12.10.19 I AM TROY DAVIS: A theatrical protest to the death penalty, performed by those most impacted.

6.14.20 Just Mercy and the Death Penalty

6.24.20 Sabrina Butler-Smith's Fight for Freedom

9.21.20 Wrongful Convictions Podcast with Jason Flom

10.8.20 The Fight for Freedom – A conversation with Photographer Martin Schoeller and Witness to Innocence Exonerees

10.10.20 21st Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty (Virtual Edition)

12.18.20 The Innocents Podcast with Alex Hannaford

1.6.21 Witness to Innocence Releases #ImLivingProof Video Series

3.21.21 CNN - They were innocent and on death row. Now, the exonerated want to ensure Biden keeps pledge

3.3.21 Good Day New York Interview with Sabrina Butler Smith and Martin Schoeller

3.31.21 Here’s The Big Social Justice Issue Richard Branson Wants You to Care About

5.24.21 Open Mike Podcast

5.28.21 Innocence Project - Fighting for Love and Motherhood

10.10.21 'It Could Happen to You' Film Premiere

10.10.21 Virgin Unite Blog - It Could Happen to You

10.18.21 Women on Death Row Panel

10.27.21 Deep Dive with Dorian Warren: The American Death Penalty

12.21.21 Sabrina Butler-Smith: The fight for freedom of the first woman ever exonerated from death row in the US

3.31.22 I Was An Innocent Woman Sentenced To Die. Here’s Why Melissa Lucio Must Be Saved

8.3.23 The Death Penalty System Cannot be Trusted to Determine Who Lives and Who Dies

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

Watch more #ImLivingProof video shorts.

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