Mississippi Innocence Project

James Gates

In 1997, James Earl Gates was arrested in Belzoni, Mississippi for capital murder, after Dr. Michael West claimed to have matched Gates’s teeth to a mark on the victim’s body. Ten months later, primitive DNA testing was conducted on material from under the victim’s fingernails, and Gates, excluded as the perpetrator by the testing, was released. Fifteen years passed and the case remained unsolved.

In 2012, MIP reached out to the Mississippi Crime Lab about the case, and, along with law enforcement in Belzoni, Mississippi, provided the Crime Lab with information it needed to be able to locate and re-test the old evidence. New testing on the victim’s fingernail scrapings yielded a DNA profile that was then uploaded to the FBI’s DNA database – the profile matched former Belzoni resident Michael Johnson, proving that he, and not Gates, was involved in the murder.

  • Exoneration Cedric Willis
    Conviction: Capital Murder, Armed Robbery
    Years Served: 12
  • MIP Established Mississippi Innocence Project Established at University of Mississippi School of Law
  • Exoneration Levon Brooks
    Charge: Capital Murder
    Years Served: 18
  • Exoneration Kennedy Brewer
    Charge: Capital Murder
    Years Served: 13
  • Legislation Mississippi DNA Task Force Formed
  • Exoneration Arthur Johnson
    Charge: Rape
    Years Served: 16
  • Exoneration Calvin Wilks
    Charge: Murder
    Years Served: 3.5
  • Legislation DNA Preservation and Post-Conviction Testing Signed into Law
  • Legislation Compensation Statute Provides Funds to Wrongfully Convicted
  • Exoneration Kevin Norwood
    Charge: Armed Carjacking
    Years Served: 15
  • Exoneration Philip Bivens
    Charge: Capital Murder
    Years Served: 30
  • Legislation Requiring Board Licensing for pathologists performing State Funded Aubottomsies
  • Exoneration Larry Ruffin (Posthumously)
    Charge: Capital Murder
    Years Served: 30
  • Exoneration Bobby Ray Dixon
    Charge: Capital Murder
    Years Served: 30
  • Legislation Establishing non-partisan, diverse panel tasked with appointing state medical examiner and creating advisory panel to aid medical examiner office issues
  • Legislation Eye-witness ID training
  • Legislation Helped to defeat HB 788
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