My last blog discussed how the effort to exonerate civil rights icon Clyde Kennard has paid unexpected dividends for other Mississippi exonerees who have either died or served their sentences and thus are ineligible for relief under Mississippi's post-conviction statutes. Yesterday, Tucker Carrington, director of the Mississippi Innocence Project, sent this message along about yet another exoneration based on a "Kennard Motion" in Hinds County.
In an interesting case out of Hinds County (Jackson), Mississippi, Matthew Norwood was exonerated today after prosecutors recently discovered evidence showing that he had not, in fact, been involved in an armed robbery for which he served fifteen years.
Norwood had been accused of an armed carjacking -- and identified, along with another perpetrator, by the victim. Norwood, sixteen at the time of his arrest, had always maintained his innocence. When offered a plea to several months in a "boot camp" -- as opposed to the forty years he faced if convicted at trial -- he entered a "best interest"/Alford plea. Unfortunately, he was removed from the boot camp for non-compliance and re-sentenced to serve fifteen years. He completed that sentence a couple of years ago.
During the course of an unrelated investigation of a crime that occurred around the time of the carjacking, law enforcement recently discovered credible evidence that Norwood was not involved in the robbery/carjacking. The prosecutors alerted the court, who then assigned counsel. The case had an odd posture, however. Norwood had served the balance of his sentence and was thus not able to use Mississippi's post conviction statute to gain relief.
Here's where Kennard comes into the story.....
After Kennard was exonerated, a white supremacist named Richard Barrett appealed the exoneration order to the Mississippi Supreme Court, arguing that the trial court had no power under Mississippi law to enter the order. In a short but powerful decision, the Supreme Court wrote that "rules are made to secure justice, not defeat it" and that "all courts have the inherent power to correct and make their judgments speak the truth."
This language was then tapped into by the lawyers for Norwood as precedent in their successful effort to persuade the Hinds County trial court to exonerate Norwood. As Carrington wrote, it was a classic case of "poetic justice."