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Shujaa Graham

Exoneree Name

State: California

Convicted: 1976

Exonerated: 1981

Race: Black

DNA used in exoneration? No

Reasons for wrongful conviction:

False accusation

Prosecutorial misconduct


Shujaa's Wrongful Conviction

Shujaa Graham was born in Lake Providence, Louisiana and grew up on a plantation in the segregated South of the 1950s before moving to Southern California, where he experienced the Watts Riots and police occupation of his community. In and out of trouble, he spent much of his adolescence in juvenile institutions, and when he turned 18 he was sent to Soledad Prison. Within prison walls, Shujaa taught himself to read and write and studied history and world affairs, mentored by the leadership of the Black Prison movement. He became a leader of the growing movement within the California prison system, as the Black Panther Party expanded in the community. But then, Shujaa was framed for the 1973 murder of a prison guard at the Deuel Vocational Institute in Stockton, California and was sent to San Quentin’s death row. Because the district attorney had systematically excluded all African-American jurors, the California Supreme Court overturned his death sentence in 1979. Yet it wasn’t until 1981 that Shujaa was found innocent and released from prison. Shujaa often points out that he won his freedom and affirmed his innocence “in spite of the system.” He remembers thinking "if I ever get out, I want a platform to expose all of this," which is what he has done today.

Shujaa's Work Today Shujaa now lives in Maryland with his partner, Phyllis, and both are active members of Witness to Innocence. Shujaa serves as WTI's Peer Organizer, providing guidance and support to other exonerees, and was previously Vice Chair. He travels giving impassioned lectures on the death penalty, the criminal justice system, racism, and gang violence to people around the world.

Shujaa particularly enjoys speaking to college and high school students, because it was two high schoolers who fought to get him exonerated. “I’m filled with ideas for a better future,” he says. “I may never enjoy the fruits of this labor, but our children will.” He speaks at D.C.-area schools, including American University, Georgetown University, and Catholic University. Each year, Shujaa also visits the Arlington Community Center to speak to at-risk youth.

In 2001, Shujaa was featured in a Spanish Coca Cola commercial alongside Ray Krone, Ron Keine, and Derrick Jamison. The group traveled to Santiago, Spain, where they traveled the Camino de Santiago for six days while being filmed. Coca-Cola reported that their message reached over 200 million people in Spain, Central, and South America.

In his free time, Shujaa enjoys gardening.


  • A short documentary about death row exonerees Albert Burrell, Shujaa Graham, Ron Keine, and Greg Wilhoit

  • Directed by Alvaro Corcuera and Guillermo Abril

  • Free with Amazon Prime

In The Media:

11.12.19 Spectrum News interview of WTI members on the case of Rodney Reed

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

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

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