By Carlin Ross
PHILADELPHIA – The Innocence Project, a team that exonerates those wrongly convicted through DNA testing and works to reform the criminal justice system, provided more details Dec. 16 on the release of Termaine Hicks, who was exonerated after 19 years of wrongful incarceration.
Led by the Philadelphia Conviction Integrity Unity (CIU) and Patricia Cummings, Hicks was exonerated only after the CIU joined the Innocence Project’s motion to vacate his conviction.
Hicks’ wrongful conviction dates all the way back to 2001 in Philadelphia, where he was wrongly convicted of a rape.
At the time, Hicks had been walking home to his child when he heard a woman screaming. After witnessing how badly she was beaten, Hicks reached for his phone to call the police at the same time they arrived at the scene.
The police shot Hicks three times in the back, only realizing they mistook the wrong person afterwards. Not only was Hicks unarmed, but he also didn’t match the description of the attacker provided by a witness, who saw the assaulter dragging the victim into an alley.
After the police recognized their mistake, the officers “conspired” to cover it up by falsely testifying at trial. They claimed Hicks had lunged at them while moving to grab his armed gun from his pocket.
However, assessments by two medical experts concluded that Hicks was shot from behind, meaning he couldn’t have been lunging toward the cops when he was shot. Additionally, the gun the cops claimed was Hicks’ supposed gun turned out to belong to an off-duty Philadelphia police officer.
Based on the fraud testimonies, Hicks was convicted of rape, aggravated assault, possessing an instrument of crime, and terroristic threats in 2002. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
According to the Innocence Project and National Registry of Exonerations, “police conduct, like this, has played a role in 35 percent of wrongful convictions resulting in exonerations since 1989.”
Although Hicks claimed that “it’s a joyful day for me and my family,” he also noted “at the same time, my thoughts and prayers are with the countless others who are not coming home today—or ever, because of an impulsive, ill-prepared, and apprehensive cop. The way that cops approach Black and brown men and women… stems from years of systemic racism. We need a whole new system.”
Vanessa Potkin, director of post-conviction litigation at the Innocence Project and representative of Hicks, stated, “Hicks’ case is yet another example of systemic police abuse that is pervasive in the criminal legal system and persists because of institutionalized protections and a lack of accountability.”
She added that “the officers involved in this case had extensive internal affairs files with numerous allegations of lying, planting evidence, excessive force, and substantiated complaints filed by civilians. Had these records been publicly available, Hicks may not have had to endure so many years of injustice or been wrongly convicted at all.”
According to the Innocence Project, police disciplinary records are currently kept confidential in nearly half of the United States, including Pennsylvania.
Hicks said he’s proud of his dedication to prove his innocence. Even when considered for parole, Hicks refused to admit guilt, maintaining his innocence.
There were moments when Hicks wanted to give up, he said, noting “one of the bullets barely missed my spine, but you’re talking to a guy who ran a couple of marathons while he was incarcerated.”
Carlin Ross is a senior at Santa Clara University who double majors in English and Philosophy. She’s originally from Bozeman, Montana.
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