THE BLOG
07/27/2016 12:55 pm ET Updated Jul 26, 2017

From Wrongful Convictions To Helping Free Other Innocent Prisoners

Exonerees Jeffrey Deskovic and Derrick Hamilton have spent a combined thirty-seven years in prison. You might think that, after spending close to four decades in prison, staying involved in the criminal justice system that failed them would be the last thing on their minds.

But that was not the case with Jeffrey and Derrick. Their wrongful convictions lit a fire deep within them -- a passion for justice for the innocent.

In 1989, at the age of seventeen, Jeffrey was wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of Angela Correa, a high school classmate of his.

It took Jeffrey sixteen years in a non-stop fight to clear his name and regain his freedom. He was exonerated in 2006, thanks to DNA evidence. A federal jury found that ex-Sheriff's Investigator Daniel Stephens -- then an investigator with the Putnam County, New York Sheriff's Office -- fabricated evidence and coerced a false confession out of a young Jeffrey. After winning his lawsuit, Jeffrey used 1.5 million dollars of his own money to start the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice. Jeffrey did this to help the many others that are enduring what he endured for sixteen years of his life.

Since its opening, the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice has assisted in several exonerations: most notably, the late William Lopes, who spent twenty-one years on his wrongful conviction, and William Haughey, who spent eight years in prison while innocent before being exonerated this year.

Derrick Hamilton was wrongfully accused of the murder of Nathaniel Cash in 1991 and wrongfully convicted in 1992. In Derrick's twenty-four years of being innocent in prison, he not only kept fighting to prove his innocence, but he also helped others obtain their freedom. Derrick shattered the myth that "jailhouse lawyers" can get everyone but themselves out of prison.

How did the justice system fail Derrick? Sadly, like for so many others, Derrick's wrongful conviction was the result of misconduct by government officials. For twenty-four years, Derrick had an alibi and witnesses to support his claims. He was not present in the state (New York) where the murder took place, but was in Connecticut at the time. Due to a corrupt detective who manipulated not only the criminal justice system but the families of everyone involved, this alibi did not come to light.

Derrick was finally exonerated in a landmark ruling (People v. Hamilton) on January 9, 2015. Not only did Derrick win, but his case set a legal precedent in New York. This will help others who are in Derrick's position.

Derrick, like Jeffrey, hit the ground running. Instead of walking away, Derrick planted his feet and stayed committed to the innocent men he aligned himself with while in prison. As two of many innocent prisoners, Jeffrey and Derrick bring fresh energy to the crusade of stopping wrongful convictions. Not only are they well versed in the law, they are not afraid of educating the media about our real-life nightmares. Who is better to tell our stories beside than people who lived it?

Lorenzo Johnson served 16.5 years of a life-without-parole sentence until 2012, when the Third Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruled there was legally insufficient evidence for his conviction. He remained free for four months, after which the US Supreme Court unanimously reinstated the conviction and ordered him back to prison to resume the sentence. With the support of The Pennsylvania Innocence Project and the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, he is continuing to fight for his freedom. Though he does not have internet access himself, you can email his campaign, make a donation, or sign his petition and learn more at: http://www.freelorenzojohnson.org/sign-the-petition.html.