Exonerated: 2 men share their stories of wrongful imprisonment

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PHOENIX -- Imagine spending years behind bars for a crime you never committed. It happened to two different men who were in the Valley Thursday to share their stories.

Dennis Fritz became the inspiration for a John Grisham book, after spending 11 years behind bars before being exonerated. Darryl Burton spent 24 years locked up for a murder he never committed. Now, both are coming together to tell their stories.

Fritz and another man were arrested, tried and convicted of a sexual assault and murder in Oklahoma back in 1982. After spending 11 years behind bars, his conviction was overturned when DNA evidence pointed to the informant who actually testified against him. His story became the inspiration of the John Grisham novel “The Innocent Man."

He says what happened to him, and Burton, isn't that unusual.

“There are people in the penitentiary today, many people still there, that are falsely accused,” he said.

“Prison is hell on earth,” Darryl Burton said. “And from someone who didn't believe -- I didn't believe in heaven, hell, angels or anything, until I got put into a place that was literally hell.”

Burton was convicted of gunning down a man at a St. Louis gas station, and he spent 24 years trying to clear his name. He eventually was exonerated by one of the witnesses who originally testified against him.

“So I was trying to fight my case, and I filed motions and pleadings and briefs, and it just kept getting denied,” he said. “Then I wrote a lot of letters -- hundreds of letters, 600-700 letters from the United States to Canada -- asking for help, for someone to help me.”

Both men say getting the chance to speak out about their stories gives them hope for the future.

“And then you come out into this world -- for me after 24 years -- it’s like being born again,” Burton said. “I'm like a newborn baby.”

Both men say they have moved past hate and anger and are now focusing on their futures and how they can help prevent these kinds of things from happening to other people.

If you'd like more information on Dennis Fritz or Darryl Burton, go to www.azjusticeproject.org.