Michael Logan was born to a loving mother and stepfather, both of whom could not always provide the finer things life can offer, but they were hardworking and morally grounded parents.
For Michael, birthdays and other gift-giving affairs like Christmas weren’t moments he looked forward to every year, because his parents often lacked the means to buy him what he wanted.
Nevertheless, he was given a stable home, attended high-performing schools, and his parents made sure that he kept his nose in the books and out of trouble.
Despite their greatest efforts, Michael – a former honor roll student during his freshman and junior years of high school – inexplicably gravitated to the wrong crowd, and made poor choices.
It started with him and a group of his peers casually stealing shoes and name brand clothes from department stores and either wearing them to school or selling them for profit.
Eventually his newly formed posse turned their sights toward larger heists.
They established a high-end burglary ring that stretched from Culver City – where Michael was reared – to the most affluent neighborhoods of Santa Monica.
It was a high-risk, high reward system that produced unimaginable financial benefits for a group of teenagers whose families often struggled to make ends meet.
Michael hid the spoils of his delinquency from his parents by storing the items he would buy out of sight – either in a makeshift trove under his bed, or foolishly in his locker at school.
And despite his extracurricular activities, he even managed to maintain a respectable grade point average, leaving his parents completely oblivious to the life he kept secret.
After a lucrative seven-month run, Michael and his crew were captured by police in the midst of a botched home invasion. It was the inevitable conclusion to a long series of federal crimes, all of which Michael took part in.
The incident prompted an investigation that unearthed evidence of the group’s previous misdeeds, sparking a tidal wave of consequences.
As minors, they were each given 10-year sentences in separate detention camps. Micheal served eight years, and was released shortly after his 25th birthday.
Gifted with natural intelligence and charisma, Michael quickly adapted to the outside world and secured legal employment, a personal means of transportation, and his own living quarters.
The next chapter of his life was in full bloom, until his past transgressions landed him back in captivity.
“I still don’t know every detail, but to sum it up, a
White girl put me in prison for six years because she couldn’t tell me apart from the nga who actually robbed her,” Michael explained angrily. “I went for a run at the park near my folks’ house and before I could blink, the cops had their guns pointed at my back.”
He continued, “They told me that I matched the description of a robbery suspect. I wasn’t given an opportunity to defend my innocence or even contact my parents who had just seen me leave the house. And when they [police] brought my accuser in to identify me, it only took her a few seconds to confirm that I was guilty. She didn’t even hesitate. To them, all of us look alike.”
Despite there being no persuasive evidence linking him to the robbery, Michael believes that his mistakes as a youth helped to convince the judge of his guilt.
“The justice system isn’t designed to treat Back men fairly,” Michael, who turns 37 in December, explained coldly. “They looked at my record and said ‘yeah, that boy did it.’ You have no idea how many guys are rotting in prison right now who swear they’re innocent and were either forced into a guilty plea or sabotaged by their past mistakes. I believe many of them.”
A new U.S. registry put together by two universities highlights more than 2,000 innocents who were falsely convicted of serious crimes since 1989. A closer look demonstrates that half of those exonerated were African American.
The University of Michigan Law School and Northwestern University School of Law worked together to compile the data, for which they collected detailed information on 873 exonerations. Nearly 1,200 additional exonerations were identified by the researchers, although there is less data for those.
Breaking down the numbers on the 873 exonerations, researchers found that five of out 10 defendants were African Americans; nine out of 10 were men. More than 100 of the 873 exonerations were prisoners that had been facing death sentences.
Out of the false convictions for homicides and sex crimes examined by the Big Ten university researchers, DNA evidence proved to be the kicker. Among the 305 charged with sexual assaults, about two-thirds of exonerations came by DNA testing. Nearly one-third of the 416 false homicide convictions were exonerated by genetic testing.
The review released by the National Registry of Exonerations revealed that innocent Blacks also had to wait disproportionately longer for their names to be cleared than innocent Whites. African Americans wrongfully convicted of murder, for example, spent an average of three more years in prison before being released than Whites who were cleared.
“It’s no surprise that in this area, as in almost any other that has to do with criminal justice in the United States, race is the big factor,” said Samuel R. Gross, a University of Michigan law professor and a senior editor of the registry, a project of the law school that aims to provide data on false convictions to prevent them in the future.
The analysis focuses on the three types of crimes for which exonerations are most common: murders, sexual assaults and drug-related offenses. It is based on 1,900 wrongful convictions from 1989 to mid-October of last year. About 7 percent of those cases involved exonerated Black defendants. Because of limited data for other groups, the authors compared only Black and White populations in detail.
“The causes we have identified run from inevitable consequences of patterns in crime and punishment to deliberate acts of racism,” wrote Gross and his fellow authors, Maurice Possley, a senior researcher, and Klara Stephens, a research fellow.
When it comes to murder, Black defendants account for 40 percent of those convicted of the crime, but 50 percent of those wrongfully convicted, they found. Whites accounted for 36 percent of wrongfully convicted murder defendants.
The report further revealed that the high murder rate within the Black community reportedly contributes to the high number of wrongfully convicted Black murder defendants, but it alone does not explain the disparity, the authors write.
Racial bias may play a role. Only about 15 percent of all murders committed by Black people involve White victims, yet 31 percent of blacks eventually cleared of murder convictions were initially convicted of killing White people, they found.
Misconduct, such as hiding evidence, tampering with witnesses or perjury, may also have contributed to the racial disparity, according to the report.
The authors found such wrongdoing was present in 76 percent of cases in which Black murder defendants were wrongfully convicted, but just 63 percent of cases in which White defendants were exonerated.
The report’s authors found similar patterns for sexual assault, with 59 percent of all exonerations going to Black defendants, compared with 34 percent for White defendants.
“Racially disparate treatment has permeated the United States criminal justice system throughout history,” explains Edwin Gimsley in a piece he wrote for the Innocence Network, a group of independent organizations that exonerate and support the innocent, and redress the causes of wrongful conviction.
“During the Jim Crow era, Blacks were legally barred from voter rolls in several southern states and were therefore barred from serving on juries. In this era of racial strife, the police, prosecution, defense attorneys, judges and jurors were almost always White. Cross-racial misidentifications, forced confessions, all-White juries, and blatant racism led to the wrongful convictions of countless innocent Black people.”
Gimsley added: “Between the 1870’s and 1960’s, a significant number of Black defendant-White victim allegations never made it to trial. The Tuskegee Institute Archive estimates approximately 3,500 lynching deaths of Blacks. How many of the lynched were actually innocent will forever be a mystery.”