©michael steele

The Exoneration Initiative (EXI) is a pioneering organization that provides free legal assistance to wrongfully convicted persons in New York. We primarily focus on the most challenging cases, those that lack DNA evidence.

Our mission is simple: To exonerate the actually innocent.

Hundreds of DNA exonerations in the United States over the last 20 years have raised serious concerns about the criminal justice system's failure to protect the innocent from wrongful conviction. But the DNA exonerations are only the tip of the iceberg, representing a mere fraction of the wrongful convictions. However without DNA evidence, very few lawyers and organizations have the expertise and the resources to effectively handle these extremely difficult non-DNA cases. EXI was founded to take on this important work.

Expanding on the efforts of DNA-based organizations such as the Innocence Project, EXI is taking the Innocence Movement to the next level. When selecting our cases we apply the lessons learned from the DNA exonerations to non-DNA cases, focusing on the problems proven to cause wrongful conviction. We then approach prosecutors and Courts urging them to take a second look at convictions and undo injustices.

The Initiative comes at a time when Courts are becoming receptive to non-DNA cases. Confronted with the reality that intolerable numbers of innocent people are languishing in jail, Courts are now considering the merits of innocence claims, looking beyond overly formalistic barriers which have prevented review for decades.

EXI's staff of highly experienced lawyers and our alliances with law schools and premier New York law firms committed to pro bono innocence work, enable us to pool the legal talent and resources needed to sustain complex litigation and give the forgotten, non-DNA population the best chance of success for exoneration.

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Derrick Deacon Exonerated at retrial, Free after 25 years in Prison
21 November 2013

EXI client Derrick Deacon was exonerated on November 18 when a Brooklyn jury acquitted him at his retrial for a 1989 murder he did not commit.

In describing Derrick's case, The New York Daily News put it well: "It's been more than 24 years since Derrick Deacon was jailed for a murder charge he's always denied, 12 years since a different killer was identified, 17 months since an appeals court ordered a new trial - and it took only nine minutes for a jury to finally clear him." Read More

At this recent trial, jurors heard from a federal cooperator was an insider gang member and knew the real killer, who had confessed to him moments after committing the murder in 1989. An eyewitness, who had passed the killer on the stairs as he fled the scene, also testified for the defense. In her emotional testimony, she stated that she was "a thousand million percent" sure that Deacon was not the man she passed on the stairs, and that she had not said so at his original trial in 1989 because prosecutors threatened to take away her children if she told the truth and exonerated him.

Finally vindicated, Deacon wept when he heard the not-guilty verdict on Monday afternoon. He celebrated his release from prison after nearly 25 years on November 20, and is thrilled to return to his family and to a future it seemed might never come. The New York Post reported on Deacon's first night of freedom, during which he enjoyed chicken wings and chili and marveled at how much has changed in the outside world since his wrongful conviction.

Devon Ayers, Michael Cosme, and Carlos Perez Fully Exonerated at Long Last
20 September 2013

Devon Ayers, Michael Cosme and Carlos Perez were released from prison on January 23, 2013, after serving more than 17 years behind bars for two 1995 Bronx homicides they did not commit: the murder of a Federal Express executive in her apartment, and the felony murder of a livery driver in his cab two days later and four blocks away. There was no physical evidence tying the murders to the men or to one another - they were connected only by the prosecution's witnesses who claimed that Ayers, Cosme and Perez committed both. They were exonerated of the livery driver's murder in December, based on reliable confessions from the true killers which proved that that the prosecution's only witnesses on both murders were wrong. On January 23, prosecutors conceded that their convictions for the second murder must also fall.

EXI worked together with attorneys from the Legal Aid Society, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP and the Center for Appellate Litigation on the case. Ayers, Cosme and Perez were released three months after motions were filed to exonerate them of both murders, and they were thrilled to be reunited with their families after so many years.

When they were released, it was agreed that the Bronx District Attorney's Office would be given 90 days to decide whether it had any credible evidence to justify re-trying them. But on the 90th day, prosecutors announced for the first time their intention to attempt biological testing on evidence recovered in the Federal Express executive's murder. This testing had been requested by the men over the past decade but the Bronx District Attorney's Office previously opposed these requests, claiming that the evidence was not relevant. It nonetheless insisted in April that the outstanding charges against Ayers, Cosme and Perez could not be officially dropped until the testing was completed, further delaying justice for these innocent men.

As expected, none of the biological testing implicated the men in the murder of the Federal Express Executive in any way. Thus, on September 20, 2013 - nearly nine months after the men were released from prison - the Bronx District Attorney's Office finally agreed to dismiss the indictments against them. It is only now that they have been fully exonerated and their names cleared that they can really begin to move on with their lives.

Had they not been exonerated of both murders, Ayers, Cosme and Perez would have had to serve 50 years to life in prison.

ABC Eyewitness News Reports on Their Release

The New York Times Reports on Their Release

The New York Times Reports on Their Ultimate Exoneration