Righting a Wrong: How Oneida Co. reviews convictions

News

If you watched ABC before the NewsChannel 9 broadcast, then you caught one of their new shows, ‘Conviction,’ a show about a conviction integrity unit, made up of lawyers, detectives and forensic experts.

They examine cases to make sure the right person is locked up.

There are nearly 30 conviction integrity units across the country, including one in Oneida County, established three years ago. 

After serving after serving nearly 20 years in prison for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl, Steven Barnes walked out of the Utica courthouse a free man in 2008.

In 2008, Barnes said, “I don’t know what the Internet is. I don’t know what a cellphone is.”

DNA evidence obtained by the Innocence Project proved Barnes didn’t commit the crime.

Scott McNamara was an assistant district attorney at the time, and now, he says. “What can I do as the DA to make sure that a person like Steven Barnes, has some sort of venue, to come to?”

With that, he created the conviction integrity unit.

Much like the ABC show, they investigate cases where there is credible suspicion of wrongful convictions.

Oneida County’s CIU has reviewed more than a dozen cases since 2013.

“Mistakes are always possible in the system. I think there are safeguards in the system now that make it less likely that a mistake will occur. New techniques in identification, the forensics, which have come light years, all of those improve and enhance the accuracy of the system, but we need to double check out work,” said first ADA Mike Coluzza.

“Not everyone is lucky enough to have the innocence project take their case. So I wanted to make it so our office would look into cases and the people claiming their innocence wouldn’t have to get the innocence project, or we would look into it on our own,” McNamara said.

Coluzza said if they come into possession of additional information that either indicates a person was wrongfully convicted for any prosecutor, or even over convicted, that they have to be willing to go back and entertain the question, ‘did we get it wrong?’

The seven-member committee in Oneida consists of four assistant prosecutors, two police officers and one civilian.

The District Attorney welcome letters or e-mails from anyone in Oneida County who would like their conviction reviewed. 

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