October 2, 2023 marked the tenth annual Wrongful Conviction Day. This day honors the emotional, social, and personal costs individuals incur from when they are convicted of a crime despite their innocence. Two days later, on October 4, the Concord Academy community gathered together for an assembly in honor of Wrongful Conviction Day. CA’s Prison Justice Project invited Sean Ellis and Stephen Pina, who were both wrongfully convicted, to share their stories. Having spent time working on both of their cases, Lisa Kavanaugh P’22 ’25, director of the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) Innocence Program, joined Ellis and Pina for the assembly.

Sean Ellis was wrongfully convicted for the murder of John Mulligan, a former Boston Police Detective, in 1993. Ellis spent 22 years in prison for a crime he did not commit before he was exonerated in 2021. Trial 4, a Netflix series, follows Ellis’s fight against police corruption and systemic racism to prove his innocence. The series is eye-opening to the struggles wrongfully convicted individuals face. During the assembly, Ellis asked the community to take the time to watch Trial 4 to gain a perspective into the toll it takes for a wrongfully convicted individual to fight their case. Ellis now serves as the director of the Innocence Project, a national nonprofit that works to exonerate wrongfully convicted individuals and reform the United States incarceration system.

Stephen Pina was wrongfully convicted of a 1993 shooting in Boston. Because Pina is still awaiting his final trial to be fully exonerated, all the details of his case have not been released yet. He is making strides towards proving his full innocence with the help of the Innocence Project.

Ellis and Pina first met 30 years ago because of a simple act of kindness. Ellis was sitting in a frigid holding cell at Roxbury District Courthouse in Boston, shivering while an officer was repeatedly knocking on the cell’s metal bars. Ellis described the officer’s drumming in the assembly, saying, “[He was] playing the taps.” Desperate for warmth, Ellis tucked his arms into his T-shirt. Pina was held in the same cell, wearing a sweater. He saw Ellis curled in a ball on the ground and offered him his sweater before leaving. This marked a quick interaction between the two men, and they did not even exchange names, but Ellis did not forget this moment. Years later, the two of them ran into each other in between trials, reconnecting over their first interaction. Now, they continue to support each other, especially while Pina is still fighting to prove his innocence.

Ellis and Pina’s stories are just two examples of the hardships wrongfully convicted individuals face. Prison Justice Project will continue to host meetings throughout the year to unpack the complexities of wrongful conviction. They are also offering opportunities for the CA community to get involved with prison justice, including the “Jammin’ for Justice” benefit concert on October 19 and Running for Innocence, a 5K run on November 6 in honor of wrongfully convicted individuals.