LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — As recent decades have passed in our country's history, technological advances have grown in our justice system—creating new gateways of solidifying the guilty party through DNA evidence.
With those resources, the system has unfortunately found who was once thought to be guilty, to then be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they sat in a cell they never belonged in.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, after 2,500 exonerations since 1989, there have been more than 22,500 years served behind bars by someone who was innocent for that crime in the U.S. alone.
There's a woman from Little Rock who claims her years should be added to those statistics. And while she wages that battle, she also fights to lower the numbers that already exist.
LaQuanda Faye Jacobs spent 26 years behind bars. Today, she is no longer in prison, but far from free.
A nightmare that’s haunted LaQuanda “Faye” Jacobs for nearly three decades would begin at the age of sixteen.
On Feb. 9, 1992, Faye was taken in for questioning after a shooting near the corner of 29th and Jefferson. She said she had gone to church that morning and sung in the choir.
“I was scheduled to go back to church, me and my mother, and on the way going back, we stopped at one of the houses that I was living at and we noticed that there was a lot of police activity going on…”
She said she and her mother got out of the car to get a better understanding of the scene.
Faye remembered the officers asking for her name when suddenly she was thrown against the car and taken to the Little Rock Police Department, where she was questioned and fingerprinted.
The decades-old police reports detailed the accusations from a criminal informant linking Faye to the murder.
Faye would eventually go to trial, face a jury and be found guilty of capital felony murder.
She was sentenced to life without parole at 16-years-old.
“And just like that," she said, "my life was gone.”
Since then, Faye has maintained her innocence.
In 2014, the Midwest Innocence Project stepped in and took her case and fought to clear her name.
“Folks don’t appreciate how incredibly difficult it is to get out of prison when you’re innocent,” said Tricia Bushnell, the executive director of the Midwest Innocence Project.
The Midwest Innocence Project is a not-for-profit group that represents people who were convicted of crimes they maintain they did not commit.
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Their focus is on using DNA testing to exonerate those who have been wrongly convicted.
“If you’re innocent and no one ever established the evidence for your innocence in the first place," Bushnell said, "how are you ever supposed to prove that when you yourself are locked up with no investigator and no attorney?”
Bushnell said the Innocence Project took Faye’s case because it had the hallmarks of a wrongful conviction:
- an incentivized witness
- bad suspect identification procedure
- lack of a thorough investigation from her original attorneys
“So basically, they railroaded me into the system,” Faye said.
It wasn’t until after the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of children not being able to be sentenced to life without parole that Faye was given a new sentence.
On May 11th of 2018, Faye’s attorneys filed a petition outlining her innocence and asked the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas to overturn her conviction.
Before the State of Arkansas was required to respond to that petition though, the Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office agreed on Faye’s resentencing – changing it from life without parole to 40 years.
Once the state offered Faye time served, the Innocence Project’s ability to prove her innocence in court vanished. They can no longer challenge Faye’s conviction in court if she is not incarcerated, on probation or parole.
When we asked the Prosecuting Attorney for comment on Faye’s claim that she was wrongfully convicted, Larry Jegley declined, saying she received a fair process.
With time already served and good behavior, Faye was eventually released from prison after 26 years.
“I was just basically stripped of opportunities— which I’m still stripped of opportunities because this conviction still weighs over my head.”
Spending more than half her life in a prison cell and the title “convicted felon” still on her record, Faye has yet to get the exoneration she’s been fighting for.
The state never deemed her sentence a wrongful conviction.
“I’m excited in spite of. In spite of a conviction over my head, I’m still excited. You know... I’m happy.”
Now, she's on a mission to serve others. Because at this point, she knows the fight is bigger than just her.
Since her 2018 release, Faye has wasted no time.
She has her own home now, as well as a job.
She’s keeping busy, but she’s not done fighting for her freedom.