111? 113? Or is it 13?

We come to this a little late, but, as University of Wisconsin law professor Ann Althouse pointed out over the weekend, Sen. John Kerry was wrong when he claimed during last Thursday’s debate that “we have 111 people who have been now released from death row … because of DNA evidence that showed they didn’t commit the crime of which they were convicted.”

According to the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center, 113 people have been released from death row since 1973. But in only 13 of those cases did DNA evidence play a significant factor in the prisoner’s release.

In the other 100 (or so) cases, says the American Civil Liberties Union, “those exonerated were found innocent because someone came forward to confess committing the crime; key witness testimony was found to be illegitimate; or new evidence was found to support innocence.”

The New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, New Republic, CBS News, and countless other outlets all ran stories quoting Kerry without checking the facts to figure it out.

It’s difficult for a reporter writing on deadline to fact-check every assertion that comes out of a candidate’s mouth, of course. But in a primary season, once a misstatement such as this gets into the echo chamber, it’s awfully hard to set the record straight.

Brian Montopoli

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.