This is the third death row exoneration in the United States in the last two months. Kennedy Brewer is the 127th innocent person since 1973 to be freed from a death chamber.
Man convicted in ’92 murder freed by DNA evidence
By Steve Mills | Tribune reporter
A man sentenced to death in Mississippi for the rape and murder of a 3-year-old girl was exonerated Friday in the first case in the state where post-conviction DNA tests proved an inmate’s innocence.
A second man was granted a new trial and released on his own recognizance after his conviction for the murder of another 3-year-old girl was undermined by another man’s alleged confession.
The developments in the closely connected cases took place in the courthouse in Macon, Miss., where the judge vacated the murder conviction of Kennedy Brewer, who spent some 7 years on Death Row, and granted a new trial to Levon Brooks, who was sentenced to life in prison.
“It has taken 15 long years, but Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks are finally free,” Peter Neufeld, co-director of the New York-based Innocence Project, which has worked on the cases for years, said in a statement. “The evidence clearly shows that they are innocent.
“What’s troubling,” Neufeld, “is that their innocence has been clear for years, but that they remained incarcerated while the true perpetrator was at large.”
Brewer was convicted in 1995 of the rape and murder three years earlier of Christine Jackson, the child of his girlfriend. In 2002, he was freed from Death Row after DNA tests on semen on her body revealed a DNA profile that was not his, but he was held in jail several additional years as prosecutors decided whether to retry him.
Neufeld said the DNA in the case linked another man, Justin Albert Johnson, 51, to the girl’s murder. Concerned that local authorities would not handle the case fairly, the Innocence Project asked the state attorney general’s office to undertake a new investigation.
Johnson allegedly confessed on videotape to Jackson’s murder as well as to the murder of 3-year-old Courtney Smith. Brooks was convicted of Smith’s 1990 slaying and sentenced to life in prison. Johnson, said Neufeld, told local investigators he killed both girls, in both cases acting alone.
He was arrested last week, according to authorities.
The Brewer case was examined in the 2004 Tribune series, “Forensics Under the Microscope.” That series focused, in part, on controversial bite mark evidence and the dentists who offer it. A Mississippi dentist, Michael West, testified that marks on Jackson’s body were from bites that they were made by Brewer.
A dentist for the defense testified that they were bug bites, if they were bites at all.
West’s testimony has been repeatedly repudiated by other experts, and he was once suspended by the leading association of forensic dentists over questions about his methods.
The dentist also offered bite mark testimony in the trial that sent Brooks to prison.
A panel of three forensic dentists examined the evidence in the Brewer case for the Innocence Project and said West’s analysis was wrong and that the marks were not caused by human teeth.
West could not be reached for comment.