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Breaking News: U.S. Reaches 200th Exoneration from Death Row


For Immediate Release

July 2, 2024

Media Contacts:  Dominic Slowey

(781) 710-0014

Brittany Murphy

(508) 826-2817

Death row survivors react to 200th exoneration from death row

(Philadelphia, PA)  — As of July 1, 2024, 200 prisoners in the U.S. have been exonerated and freed from death row since 1973. Even as the use of the death penalty has precipitously declined across the country, exonerations continue to occur, demonstrating serious risk of executing the innocent. The shocking milestone of 200 exonerations tells us that wherever the death penalty exists, innocent people are at risk of being wrongfully sent to death row and even executed.

Herman Lindsey, Executive Director of Witness to Innocence, who was himself innocent on death row before being exonerated, said this injustice has a simple solution: “End the death penalty, and the tragedy of executing innocent people will be stopped.” Mr. Lindsey was on death row in Florida until the state’s supreme court unanimously ruled that he should never have been convicted in the first place, much less sentenced to death. 

Witness to Innocence (WTI) is a national organization based in Philadelphia and made up entirely of exonerated death row survivors who have been raising awareness about wrongful capital convictions for over 20 years.

“A lot of people haven’t thought much about the death penalty and even support it until they meet one of us and hear our harrowing experiences,” Lindsey explains. “People are shocked to realize that this can happen, and that it’s not just one or two cases.”

In 2021, the Death Penalty Information Center dubbed this national reality an “innocence epidemic” when the number of death row exonerations had reached 185 people. Two recent exonerations have brought the number to 200: the June 19, 2024 exoneration of Kerry Cook in Texas and the July 1, 2024 exoneration of Larry Roberts in California. Both cases involved the withholding of evidence favorable to the defense, in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1963 ruling in Brady v. Maryland, and the knowing presentation of perjured testimony. In describing Mr. Cook’s case, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals wrote: “when it comes to solid support for actual innocence, this case contains it all—uncontroverted Brady violations, proof of false testimony, admissions of perjury, and new scientific evidence.” 

In Mr. Roberts’ case, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California found that prosecutors “suppress[ed] exculpatory evidence, suborn[ed] perjury, and present[ed] evidence the prosecutor knew or should have known was false” in the killing of a corrections officer. Mr. Roberts is the ninth person to be exonerated after being wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for a murder that took place while they were incarcerated on unrelated charges. 

Sadly, the two cases are far from unique. Rather, they reflect a persistent pattern in innocence cases. Official misconduct and perjury/false accusation are the two leading causes of wrongful convictions that put people on death row. Official misconduct was present in 142 exonerations (71.0% of cases) and perjury/false accusation was present in 137 exonerations (68.5% of cases). More than half of the cases involved both misconduct and perjury (111, or 55.5%), and one or the other or both were factors in 84.0% of the cases (168). 

These numbers include only the wrongful capital convictions that have managed to be overturned. The legal system creates immense procedural obstacles to proving innocence once a person has been convicted, and numerous innocent people are still languishing on death row. At least two clearly innocent people are currently facing imminent execution. Monday, a Texas court set an October 17 execution date for Robert Roberson who was convicted based on the now discredited shaken baby hypothesis. Overwhelming evidence now shows that Mr. Roberson’s daughter, Nikki, died of natural and accidental causes, but his petition requesting a hearing to present that evidence has been ignored. In June, the Missouri Supreme court set a September 24 execution date for Marcellus "Khaliifah'' Williams who has been on death row for 24 years despite DNA establishing his innocence. His conviction, like so many wrongful convictions, rests on the inconsistent and unreliable testimony of informants. The Circuit Court of St. Louis County, Missouri, has just set a date for hearing in August 2024, to assess the “clear and convincing evidence” of actual innocence that led Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell to move to vacate Marcellus Williams’s wrongful conviction and death sentence.

Death-row survivors have now been exonerated in 124 counties in 30 states, according to the Death Penalty Policy Project. More than half of those wrongful convictions come from 29 counties that have multiple death-row exonerations. While official misconduct and/or perjury was present in more than 3/4 of the cases in the counties with a single adjudicated death-row exoneration (72 of 95, 75.8%), that number was a staggering 90.3% of the cases (96 of 105) in the counties with multiple wrongful capital convictions. 

“What the evidence in these cases tells us is truly frightening,” said Robert Dunham, the director of the Death Penalty Policy Project and a member of the Witness to Innocence board of directors. “It shows us that innocent people can be sentenced to death anywhere, and that most of the time the ‘mistakes’ in the case were not accidental. More and more egregious misconduct continues to be unearthed, even in cases that have already gone through the ordinary course of appeals, further undermining public trust in the legal process and further eroding public support for the death penalty across the country.”

The United States is one of the 30% of the world’s countries that still have the death penalty. However, use of the death penalty in the U.S. is steadily decreasing. Most states—37 out of 50—have either abolished the death penalty or have not carried out an execution in at least 10 years. An additional two states have not had an execution in at least five years, for a total of 39 states with no death penalty or no executions in that time. Two additional jurisdictions either have abolished the death penalty (the District of Columbia) or have not had an execution in at least 10 years (the U.S. Military).[1]


“In the 20 years I’ve been telling my story, I’ve seen the American public lose its fervor for the death penalty,” said Ray Krone, the 100th death row exoneree and co-founder of Witness to Innocence with Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking. 

Krone was a military veteran working for the post office when, in 1992, he was convicted and sentenced to death in Arizona. The case used to convict him was made up of circumstantial evidence and junk science. He was exonerated when DNA found at the murder scene identified the actual killer and prosecutors dropped the charges. 

“DNA is not the answer” Krone cautions. Only a small number of the 200 exonerations since 1973 have been based on DNA evidence, and those cases, Krone says “are like a canary in a coal mine, alerting us to the harder to prove factors that cause most wrongful capital convictions.”

Other facts reflect the continuing decline of the death penalty in the U.S. New death sentences remain near historic lows, with just 21 new sentences imposed in 2023.[2]

The annual number of executions hovers near 30-year lows, after peaking in 1999.[3] Just six states account for more than 87% of the executions carried out by U.S. states in the past decade.[4] In 2023, for the fourth time since 2016, only five states conducted executions,[5] and only seven states imposed new death sentences.[6]


Proven innocence has played a role in this decline. Overall, the number of people facing execution on death row has decreased by almost 17% in the last five years, mostly due to reversals and resentencing.[7] Exonerations of innocent people who were on death row are included in that statistic.

“Reaching the 200th death row exoneration is truly a bittersweet milestone,” said Krone.  “Sadly in just 22 years since my exoneration, there have been 100 more exonerations of the innocent from a death sentence. It shows that our system is capable of both prosecuting and convicting the innocent. Encouragingly, though, the milestone can serve to increase public awareness of such injustice. Awareness itself, has in some instances freed those wrongfully convicted. An innocent life has been saved this time, but how many others on death row will not be so fortunate. There have been 200 mistakes. It’s time to end the death penalty experiment.”

The cases of the men and women of Witness to Innocence point to a deeper truth: there are innumerable ways in which a death penalty case can go wrong, and even when the flaws in a capital case are obvious, courts are extremely reluctant to redress them. “We have been to the edge of execution and come out of it,” Krone says. “Others have not been so fortunate. If that’s not cruel and unusual punishment, I don’t know what is.”

“The only way to ensure that this country doesn’t execute any more innocent people,” Krone concludes, “is to end the death penalty once and for all.”

Available for interview:

Herman Lindsey, WTI executive director, Death Row Exoneree (FL), case involved a non-unanimous jury and zero evidence.

Ray Krone, WTI co-founder, 100th Death Row Exoneree (AZ), case involved faulty forensics (bite mark) and DNA evidence.

Kwame Ajamu, WTI board chair, Death Row Exoneree (OH), wrongfully convicted as a teenager, case involved official misconduct and the coerced false witness testimony of a juvenile.

Sabrina Butler Smith, WTI communications assistant, 1st Female Death Row Exoneree (MS), wrongfully convicted as a teenager, case involved prosecutorial misconduct and no crime occurring, death of a child for medical reasons (similar to Robert Roberson)

Clemente Aguerre, Death Row Exoneree (FL), available for Spanish language interviews

Robert Dunham, WTI board member, special counsel at Phillips Black, director of the Death Penalty Policy Project; former executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center (2015-2023). From 1994 to 2015, he represented Pennsylvania’s death-row prisoners and was a member of defense teams that exonerated four wrongfully convicted death-row survivors.

Gretchen Sween, Counsel for Robert Roberson on death row in TX.

Richard Dieter, WTI board member and past executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center for 23 years where he established the Innocence List of death row exonerees.


Robert Dunham, DPIC Special Report: The Innocence Epidemic, Feb. 18, 2021 (web archive), updated by the Death Penalty Policy Project, June 28, 2024.  

Executions Overview: States with No Recent Executions, Death Penalty Information Center, August 16, 2023

The Death Penalty in 2023: Year End Report, Death Penalty Information Center, December 1, 2023


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