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New Exoneration Database Recalls Marlborough Case

The National Registry of Exonerations documents more than 2,000 people who it says were wrongly imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.

New Exoneration Database Recalls Marlborough Case

It's been well-documented that the United States imprisonment rate is the highest in the world, but a new database published Monday seeks to shed light on how frequently people sentenced to time in American prisons don't actually belong there.

The National Registry of Exonerations, created by the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, contains what its creators call an up-to-date list of more than 890 exonerations in the United States since 1989.

More than 1,170 other people, not listed in the database, had their convictions overturned or otherwise dismissed following the discovery of what the project's initial report calls "major police scandals," including at least 339 people who were exonerated following a massive corruption case in the Philadelphia's police department's 39th district in the mid-1990s.

Massachusetts' 27 exonerations make it ninth in the United States. Local residents might recall one Marlborough-related entry: that of Eric Sarsfield, who was convicted of the Aug. 24, 1986 rape of a Middlesex County woman. Sarsfield, formerly of Marlborough, was released on parole in 1999 after a nine-year prison sentence. In March, 2000, Sarsfield was excluded as the source of semen found on the victim's clothing. Additional testing from the rape kit also excluded Sarsfield. A motion for post-conviction relief was granted that year. 

As transformative as DNA testing has been to the criminal justice system, the National Registry of Exonerations says that it has been responsible for exonerating only 37 percent of the 873 people listed in its database. As a group, those 873 people have spent more than 10,000 years in prison.

Danielle Horn contributed to this report.

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