Since 1973, 135 people have been released from death row after presenting evidence of their innocence. Seventeen of them owe their freedom to a group called the Innocence Project, which uses DNA testing to help improperly imprisoned inmates win their release.
We asked attorney Peter Neufeld, one of the Innocence Project's co-founders, to tell us about three wrongly convicted men who came perilously close to execution.
1 Frank Lee Smith. "Convicted of rape and murder in Florida in 1986, based largely on shaky eyewitness testimony. In 1989, Florida's governor signed Smith's death warrant, but Smith won a stay from the courts. Smith died of cancer on death row. In 2000 DNA testing proved Smith's innocence, implicating a convicted rapist and murderer."
2 Earl Washington. "Initially arrested for burglary and assault, but after two days of interrogation police claimed he confessed to the murder of a young woman. Washington had an IQ of 69 and didn't know the race or address of the woman. He came within nine days of execution. DNA exonerated him 15 years later."
3 Ron Williamson. "Sent to death row in 1988 for the murder of an Oklahoma woman. Forensic scientists testified that semen and hair left at the crime scene matched Williamson and his co-defendant. Williamson came within five days of execution. In 1999 DNA testing exonerated both men and implicated the state's key witness at Williamson's trial."