This Disabled Man Is Why Incarcerated People Can Seek DNA Testing

cellblock at wv penitentiary
Via Picryl
Zain Murdock
April 28, 2023

Earl Washington was 22 when Virginia sentenced him to life for murder. There was no DNA evidence to show that he did it, or that he was even at the site of the crime. So why did he confess?

Washington had an intellectual disability, and because of it he often complied with authority figures. The police took advantage of this by asking him leading questions. 

It wasn’t until years later that Washington won $2.25 million from a case exposing the state’s fabricated evidence. But how did that massive lawsuit and exoneration come about?

Another person on death row found out about his disability and told a lawyer – who stalled his case NINE days before he was sentenced to die. During this time, authorities admitted that his DNA wasn’t a match.

Because of Washington, a 2001 law gives incarcerated people the right to seek DNA testing at any time to prove their innocence. And in 2021, Virginia abolished the death penalty. But that’s not enough progress.

Over 33% of people killed by police have a disability – that we know of – including Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, and George Floyd. Like Washington and his neighbor, we need to advocate for disabled Black people. And what’s one of the major ways we can do that? 

We can advocate for the abolition of the criminal legal system itself!