An Oklahoma man serving a life sentence in prison hired a private investigator with COVID relief funds whose work, along with help from the Oklahoma Innocence Project, led to the man’s convictions being vacated. The man, Rick Dority, previously had no chance at being released, the Associated Press reports. Dority was serving a life sentence for a killing he said he didn’t commit. Now, the 65-year-old says he’s enjoying the 5-acre property in a quiet neighborhood of well-to-do homes. “If you’re gone for a lot of years, you don’t take it for granted anymore.” Dority is one of nearly 3,400 people who have been exonerated across the U.S. since 1989, mostly in murder cases.
In Oklahoma, there have been 46 exonerations. The cases underscore a serious problem facing a judicial system in which many old convictions resulted from overworked defense attorneys, shoddy forensic work, overzealous prosecutors and outdated investigative techniques. The problem is particularly acute given Oklahoma’s history of sending people to death row, where 11 inmates have been exonerated since 1981. The issue has pushed a Republican-led legislative panel to consider whether a death penalty moratorium should be imposed. The most common causes of wrongful convictions are eyewitness misidentification, misapplication of forensic science, false confessions, coerced pleas and official misconduct, generally by police or prosecutors.