Since 1992, almost three hundred people in the United States have been exonerated by the Innocence Project. What this means is that almost three hundred people have been acquitted for a crime that they were falsely convicted of committing and were then released back into society. Many of these false convictions were the result of a lack of technology back in the time of the trials which lead to unvalidated or improper use of forensic science. Some additional reasons that people are wrongfully convicted are misidentifications from eyewitnesses and false confessions. In this paper, I plan to write about Kenneth Ireland. His story shows how wrongful convictions and exonerations are issues in the United States.
On September 3, 1986, when Kenneth was only sixteen years old, a thirty year old woman named Barbara Pelkey was found dead in the factory where she worked overnight. She had been raped and suffered a massive blow to the head. Kenneth heard about the crime while watching from his bedroom and was stunned that something that horrific could happen to someone in his small town. There was an autopsy done on the victim as well as a rape kit being collected. The rape kit found that there were sperm cells present on the vaginal and anal swabs. The investigation continued for another year without any arrests, but soon after two informants came to the police and accused Kenneth Ireland and two other men of committing the crime.
The police said that the two witnesses had claimed that Kenneth and the other men were making statements to them about their involvement in the crime. In addition to that information, these informants had also given additional unpublished details about the crime and had told the police that their knowledge of this information had come straight from Kenneth Ireland. Six months later, a third informant came to the police and told them that Kenneth had admitted to committing the crime. The informant wasn’t sure if Kenneth was awake at the time he had made the statements, nor was she sure that she hadn’t imagined them being said. All she was sure of that night was that she was drunk. Ultimately, because of these three informants, Kenneth Ireland was charged with felony murder, first degree sexual assault and third degree burglary.
Despite being one of the three men that were accused of committing the crime, only Kenneth Ireland was tried for the crime. One of the three men had drowned before the trial took place and the other was never tried for some reason unknown to me. The trial was held in 1989, and Ireland’s attorney tried to prove that the initial two informants had presented false information to the police. They were thought to be protecting another potential suspect in the case.
This other potential suspect had admitted to making inconsistent remarks to the police while the investigation was still ongoing. However, Ireland’s attorney was stopped by the judge when he attempted to present evidence regarding this other suspect. A police officer had stated during the trial that the fingerprints at the crime scene were not a match to Kenneth’s fingerprints and in addition to that a forensic analyst confirmed that the hairs from the scene were different from those of Kenneth. It was determined via the same analyst that the semen found in the rape kit was from a non-secretor. A non-secretor is a person whose blood type is not exhibited in their bodily secretions.
Kenneth Ireland, along with twenty percent of all men, is a non-secretor, and the sample was also consistent with that of the victim. This meant that nobody could be excluded from the crime. During the first round of the deliberations, the jury was split 6-6. After three additional days, the jury had found Kenneth Ireland guilty and he was sentenced to fifty years in prison. It was said that Kenneth Ireland was convicted because he could not be ruled out of the blood or seminal evidence, his lawyer didn’t challenge that evidence, and his lawyer didn’t put Kenneth on the stand.
In 1991, Ireland had appealed his conviction, stating that the two informants had been given a twenty thousand dollar reward in exchange for his implication. Ireland also declared that his attorney was unable to present evidence that would indicate another alternative suspect. This appeal would ultimately be denied. They again tried to appeal in 1999, when the biological evidence was put into DNA testing but results were proved nothing. It wasn’t until 207 that the Connecticut Innocence Project started to review Ireland’s case. With the help of new DNA testing methods, they were able to test the DNA evidence and rule out Kenneth as the person responsible for Barbara Pelkey’s murder. It then took another two years for Ireland to get a new trial, where he was proven innocent and allowed to be a
free man. He ended up spending nineteen and a half years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
As of today, Kenneth Ireland has not been compensated for his wrongful conviction and prison time. However, he and his lawyer have filed an eight million dollar claim against the state of Connecticut for the wrongful conviction. I’m not sure that eight million dollars is enough to compensate for almost twenty critical years of his life. He missed out on some of the most important years in anyone’s life and it is very difficult to put a price on something like that. Some good news is that the real killer has been found. In 2009, the blood evidence at the scene that was tested turned out to be that of Kevin Benefield. Kevin was initially a suspect when the investigation began, but the focus shifted towards Ireland.
He worked at a deli near Pelkey’s workplace and was connected to her sexually but he denied the murder. Kevin was convicted in January of 2012 of the murder and felony murder of Barbara Pelkey. Both of those crimes carry twenty five to sixty years of prison time penalties. I think that it will be much harder for things like this happen in the future in the manner that it did in Kenneth Ireland’s case. It seemed to me that one of the major areas of evidence towards his conviction was the semen sample. He could not be ruled out because it was the semen of a non-secretor and he was a non-secretor. With the advances in DNA testing technology, they can test the semen and easily identify whose it is. This would have immediately been great evidence in proving that Ireland was innocent.
I don’t really understand how the hair and fingerprint evidence weren’t weighed more heavily. If it was proven that the fingerprints and the hair at the scene of the crime weren’t his, that seems to me that it should have been pretty good evidence in his favor. To me it seems like he wasn’t given a fair chance at being proven innocent. In my opinion, this was a rather unfortunate trial for Kenneth Ireland. The fact that people were being paid off to implicate him was unlucky, and I feel like this is what really pushed him into the situation he was in.
Even though his hair and fingerprints weren’t at the scene, because these three people came to the police saying that Kenneth had admitted to committing the crime really set him up for conviction. The blood and semen, which wasn’t able to be thoroughly examined due to the limitations in technology couldn’t save him because he was one of the twenty percent of all men who are non-secretors.
Due to this, he could not be ruled out, even though to me it seems that if his hair and fingerprints weren’t present at the crime scene it wasn’t him who committed the crime. It also seems that his lawyer didn’t do a great job either. They had evidence to show the court that was denied that would have been really good for Kenneth’s case and he never had Kenneth go on the stand. I don’t know everything about the rules of a trial, but if there is evidence that can prove someone’s innocence, there must be something that you as a lawyer can do to get the court to see it. It is that important. It is terrible that Kenneth had to suffer for almost twenty years in prison for a crime that he did not commit and I couldn’t imagine what he must have went through. It really is a shame that the DNA testing technology couldn’t have been implemented or used earlier to at least lessen the nightmare that he had to endure.
In conclusion, the amount of wrongful convictions that have taken place in the United States is too high. Lying informants, incorrect eyewitness reports, and the improper use of forensic science are many reasons that people are wrongfully convicted. Thankfully, there have been incredible advances in the technology used to test DNA that can now be used to help these wrongfully convicted people get back to the free world.
It’s terrible to think of the years that they lost or even the lives that they might have lost if they were given the death penalty, but at least organizations like the Innocence Project are doing what they can to exonerate these wrongfully convicted people. The story of Kenneth Ireland is a sad tale of a young man falsely committed of raping and murdering a woman. He spent nineteen and a half years in prison for a crime he did not commit, missing out on his entire twenties and most of his thirties. These years are critical for people as they go to college, begin a career, and start a family. These are years that he cannot get back, but he is very fortunate to have the ability to move on as a free man as he looks towards the future.
Davis, Mark. “Freed by DNA, Ireland Speaks out.” WTNH TV. N.p., n.d. Web. 06
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