Bringing The World Home To You

© 2024 WUNC North Carolina Public Radio
120 Friday Center Dr
Chapel Hill, NC 27517
919.445.9150 | 800.962.9862
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
00000177-6edd-df44-a377-6fff43300000Hundreds, possibly thousands of people in the U.S. have been wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit. Some of them spent decades behind bars or on death row before being declared innocent. Many of them still remain imprisoned.The Innocence Network is an affiliation of organizations that work to free innocent people from prison. In April 2013, over 100 exonerees gathered in Charlotte for the Innocence Network Conference. WUNC sat down with ten exonerees to hear about their experiences for the After Innocence: Exoneraton In America web series. Below you can watch all ten videos at once or get the individual stories from the exonerees (their individual video will be linked to each full story). Watch the 10 videos - click to play all:00000177-6edd-df44-a377-6fff43300003Here are all the individual stories:

After Innocence: James Waller Speaks About What Exoneration Feels Like

Exoneree James Waller
David Persoff

“The worst thing you can be is a sex offender because it’s dirt that you can’t wash off.”

Those words were spoken by James Waller in an interview with WUNC at theInnocence Network Conference in Charlotte in April. Waller spent decades in prison and on parole after being wrongfully convicted of sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy. When he went to jail, he was 23. When he was exonerated in 2007, he was 50.

“Once I got into prison, I had to let all the anger go,” Waller said. “Because I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to work on my case. And being angry wasn’t going to do me any good.”

Waller’s conviction was based almost entirely on the word of the victim, a 12-year-old boy who misidentified Waller as a rapist. In 1982 the boy was raped in his home, and when questioned by police, the victim initially described the offender as about 5 feet 8 inches tall and 150 pounds. Waller was 6 feet 4 and much heavier. At the time of the crime, he was in his own apartment asleep beside his girlfriend, a claim that both she and Waller’s roommate confirmed.  Despite their claims and the victim’s initial description, Waller was convicted of the crime and served ten years in prison before being let out on parole.

James Waller
Credit David Persoff
James Waller

But Waller was not satisfied with parole. He wanted to be cleared of his sex offender status, and he saved up money for a DNA test. When the Innocence Project took on his case, they helped Waller prove his innocence with his DNA results, which did not match the DNA associated with the perpetrator. He was exonerated in 2007.

“It was like the whole world was lifted off of your shoulders,” Waller said of that moment. “You’ve been carrying this around for so long. And now, it’s all gone.”

Waller has gone on to write and talk about his experiences. One of his essays was included in the book How to Achieve a Heaven on Earth, which contains essays from Barack Obama and George W. Bush.  He is currently the president of the Exonerated Brothers of Texas, a non-profit organization that offers housing, educational and vocational training, counseling and other services to exonerees.


Laura moved from Chattanooga to Chapel Hill in 2013 to join WUNC as a web producer. She graduated from the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in the spring of 2012 and has created radio and multimedia stories for a variety of outlets, including Marketplace, Prairie Public, and Maine Public Broadcasting. When she's not out hunting stories, you can usually find her playing the fiddle.
Related Stories
More Stories