Huwe Burton and The Innocence Project – Reflections by Jessie Lehman Niv ’17 and Adira Blumenthal Niv ’17
The Innocence Project, founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck at Cardozo School of Law, exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.
In the last two days, Nivonim campers as well as our staff members and young alumni had the distinct honor of having Huwe Burton (shown in photo), who was wrongly convicted and finally exonerated through his efforts and the work of The Innocence Project, share his story with us via Zoom. It had a profound impact on all who were fortunate enough to be on these calls. We share with you here the reflections of Jessie Lehman, Niv ’17 and Adira Blumenthal, Niv ’17.
Jessie Lehman shares:
“Wednesday night, I had the honor of hearing from Huwe Burton, who was exonerated in 2019, with the help of The Innocence Project after serving 19 years for being falsely convicted for his mother’s murder. It was powerful and frustrating to learn how the officers investigating the case had evidence that Huwe was innocent two weeks after his arrest. This talk furthered the idea that the justice system is corrupt and often has found innocent people guilty out of mere convenience. Huwe Burton’s story was heartbreaking, but also inspiring. He knew he was innocent, and he knew that there was evidence that proved his innocence. Even after serving 19 years in prison, he continued to appeal his case and reassure himself of his innocence. As Huwe explained, to survive in prison, you needed to normalize things that were not normal. Despite the trauma he underwent, he knew he had to keep fighting no matter how long it took.
Huwe also emphasized that throughout his time in prison, his time on parole, and in his current life as an exonerated person, he was, and is constantly trying to honor and seek justice for his parents. This is aligned with the 5th commandment – honoring your mother and father. Not only was Huwe’s mother murdered without justice being served, but amid all this, Huwe’s father lost his wife to murder, lost his son to a wrongful imprisonment, and lost his life savings fighting to exonerate Huwe. A message for the future, that Huwe expressed, was to continue the awakening of injustice and fight for justice. We cannot simply condemn injustice and racism in America (and globally) while it is trending on social media. Huwe truly inspired me and I believe that if he could keep fighting for his freedom under such difficult circumstances, those of us in privileged positions can certainly put in just as much effort as Huwe did to create a more equitable and just society.”
Adira Blumenthal shares:
“On Wednesday evening, Ramah alumni gathered on Zoom to hear from Huwe Burton. Huwe was wrongfully convicted in 1989 and spent 19 years in prison for a murder that he did not commit, before his release on parole in 2009. He was finally exonerated, with help from The Innocence Project, 10 years later in 2019. The Mishnah says if you save a life, it is as if you saved an entire world, and this is truly embodied in The Innocence Project. To date, The Innocence Project has exonerated about 370 people, including 21 who served time on death row.
The police coerced Huwe into falsely confessing to the murder of his mother when he was 16 years old. Throughout Huwe’s conversation with us, he emphasized the importance of holding people accountable and how he has dedicated his life to receiving justice for his parents. He said that he is hopeful because people are finally starting to wake up and see the injustice of our “justice system” and the deep flaws with our policing system. He is glad people are finally having these conversations and starting to hold people accountable. But he warns that soon the cameras will shut off and the news will focus on the next big story, and we have to keep fighting. We have to make sure that fighting for justice is not a trend but is a continued effort.
Huwe said that for so long he was screaming at the top of his lungs that he was innocent, and now that people actually want to hear his story, he has a responsibility to tell it. He has to keep fighting because he knows there are so many more innocent people in jails and prisons that haven’t been exonerated and may not have the resources to dig up the evidence to prove their innocence. He has to keep fighting for his mother who the police disrespected by giving her only a two day investigation and falsely convicting her innocent son. And he has to keep fighting for his father, who was left alone, financially burdened by having to pour resources into Huwe’s defense, and ostracized by the community. We must keep fighting for justice, accountability, and change too. Huwe’s story is one of so many examples of the deep flaws in the policing and criminal justice system, and we must join him in this fight.