We are very pleased to announce that today Sedrick Courtney became the 295th person to be exonerated byDNA testing. Mr. Courtney, who was wrongly convicted of a 1995 burglary and robbery in Tulsa, Oklahoma, served 16 years before he was released on parole last year. He was surrounded by family members today when a Tulsa District Court Judge finally exonerated him of the crime.
Like nearly 75% of the people who have been cleared by DNA testing, misidentification contributed to Mr. Courtney’s wrongful conviction. In his case, the victim claimed that she recognized his voice and face when her assailant briefly lifted a ski mask that he was wearing. Mr. Courtney and the victim had lived in the same building at one point and had socialized together on a few occasions. At trial, the state bolstered the identification through what we now know was faulty forensic testimony of a lab technician who claimed that a bleached red hair found on the ski mask could be associated with Mr. Courtney. The prosecution also argued that Mr. Courtney couldn’t be excluded as the source of hairs recovered on another mask. Even though Mr. Courtney testified on his own behalf and presented three alibi witnesses, the jury convicted him, and he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Mr. Courtney had been seeking DNA testing of the hairs and ski masks for years, but the Tulsa Police Department repeatedly claimed that the evidence in his case had been destroyed. Thanks to the persistence of Eric Wilson, the Cardozo law student assigned to his case (and a former U.S. Marine), the evidence was eventually located in September 2011. Even though Oklahoma is the only state in the nation without a law granting defendants access to DNA testing, we were able to conduct DNA testing on the hairs and masks that excluded Mr. Courtney as the assailant. Mr. Courtney is the 11th person to be exonerated from Oklahoma.