Last Friday brought some much-needed and long-overdue news to Richard Beranek, whose case I worked on: All charges that led to his wrongful conviction would finally be dropped.
Richard served 23 years in a Wisconsin prison for a rape that he did not commit. His conviction was based largely on faulty eyewitness testimony and the debunked technique of microscopic hair analysis. DNA test results from hair and semen recovered from the crime scene did not match Richard’s, thus supporting what Richard has maintained for over two decades: he is an innocent man.
His case is yet another textbook example of flawed investigative and prosecutorial practices that are the culprits in an increasingly documented number of wrongful conviction cases nationwide. At minimum, 70 people have been exonerated after DNA testing proved that erroneous hair analyses led to wrongful convictions. In Wisconsin alone, the FBI has identified 13 cases in which this junk science was used to secure convictions. This is horrifying because there may be as many, if not more, than 13 men and women in the state who are serving prison sentences for someone else’s crime.
Eyewitness misidentification is a leading contributor to wrongful conviction, having played a role in roughly a third of the documented cases throughout the country.
Fortunately, there are efforts underway to review the many cases involving flawed hair analysis and to pass laws requiring police departments to use eyewitness identification practices that make misidentification less likely.
Richard’s case is very personal for me, not just because I was part of his team of attorneys, but because he and I were wrongfully convicted of similar crimes, in the same state, and served time in the same prison. We understand the desolation caused by wrongful incarceration and the feeling that our claims of innocence have fallen on deaf ears. Fortunately, neither of us gave up, and our cases caught the attention of some of the same talented attorneys who helped secure our freedom.
I wish Richard well in this next chapter of his life and am hopeful that he gets the support from the State that will be necessary for him to re-adjust to a world that was stolen from him for so many years.
It was an honor and a privilege to work on this case with so many accomplished and inspiring men and women, among them Bryce Benjet, Keith Findley, Peter Neufeld, Cristina Borde, Dean Strang, Hayato Watanabe, Heather McCarthy, Max Gallo, Marissa Goldstein and Karen Wolf.