Did Cody do it? 

In 2002, when he was in his teens, Cody Marble was labeled a sex criminal. His dad's still fighting for his release.

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In 2007, law enforcement found Cody in a Missoula hotel room with a scale, cooking spoons and syringes. He was looking at pornography. He later pleaded guilty to felony meth possession. "I give up hope sometimes and do stupid stuff," he says.

Nearly all the other boys Cody was incarcerated with in 2002 have died or are in jail.

Cody's alleged victim, R.T., is in Department of Corrections custody. He was found guilty in 2003 of having intercourse with a 12-year old girl. At the time, R.T. was 17. He declined an interview request from the Independent. His attorney, Brett Schandelson, declined to comment for this article.

click to enlarge Diagram of Pod C in the Missoula County Detention Facility juvenile wing - ILLUSTRATION BY JONATHAN MARQUIS

Cody's attorney, Colin Stephens, says R.T. will be subpoenaed to testify at the upcoming evidentiary hearing. Even with R.T.'s written recantation, however, it remains unclear what he'll say in front of a judge. "That's the million-dollar question," Stephens says.

How good is your snitch?

"Snitch" is the word commonly used for a jailhouse informant. Sometimes a snitch will falsely accuses other inmates to earn favor with authorities. According to the Center on Wrongful Convictions, almost half—45.9 percent—of more than 100 now-exonerated death row inmates were convicted wholly or in part by snitch testimony.

"These type of statements—false statements—play a huge role in wrongfully convicted youth," says Josh Tepfer, a staff attorney at Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth. "There's no question that an overreliance on snitch testimony that can't be corroborated has played a role in many cases of wrongful conviction."

In the last three decades, armed with new advances in DNA testing, organizations like the Center on Wrongful Convictions, in conjunction with a network of more than 60 organizations dedicated to freeing the wrongly convicted, have worked to unravel hundreds of cases on behalf of people who lack the power and resources to take on the criminal justice system.

In 1992, the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City launched the first Innocence Project. The program was unique at the time, largely because it put law students to work in a nonprofit clinic setting. Fledgling attorneys filed post-conviction appeals, conducted interviews and tracked down witnesses. That model is now used in journalism, law and criminology programs across the country, including the Montana Innocence Project.

In the late '90s, the Medill Innocence Project at Northwestern University started a program through the school's journalism department in which students began investigating wrongful convictions. Since then, Medill students have helped free 12 prisoners, including five who were on death row.

Medill students played a prominent role in clearing Anthony Porter, a mentally retarded black man who came within two days of being executed in 1998. A stay issued by the Illinois Supreme Court to evaluate Porter's mental capacity bought enough time for the journalism students to dig up evidence that eventually cleared Porter of a double murder conviction.

In 2000, Medill investigations and the resulting high-profile exonerations prompted Illinois Gov. George Ryan to put a moratorium on the state's death penalty. In 2003, Ryan commuted the death sentences of more than 160 Illinois Department of Corrections inmates to life in prison. "A system that depends on young journalism students is flawed," Ryan said at the time.

click to enlarge Cody, Blaine and Toni Marble - PHOTO COURTESY OF JERRY MARBLE

Innocence groups, combined with new advances in DNA evidence, have helped exonerate 280 people; other types of evidence have cleared hundreds of others. Prosecutors, however, often aren't keen on letting their convictions be overturned. In Illinois, where the Medill Innocence Project shook Gov. Ryan nearly a decade ago, the state's attorney general accused Innocence Project Director and veteran journalism professor David Protess and his students of using ethically questionable methods to conduct investigations.

According to The New York Times, "In November 2006, one of Mr. Protess's students identified herself as a census worker while trying to find a witness. In 2009, another student posed as a worker for the power company. In both cases, Mr. Protess says he didn't know about the tactics in advance but has no professional issue with them."

Protess denied additional claims from the Illinois attorney general that said he tried to cover up wrongdoing. "I have spent three decades exposing wrongful conviction only to find myself in the crosshairs of others who are wrongfully accusing me," he told The Times. Protess retired in June after 30 years teaching journalism at Northwestern. He now oversees the Chicago Innocence Project.

In Montana in 1997, DNA evidence along with advocacy from the New York-based Innocence Project helped to exonerate Chester Bauer of rape and assault. Jimmy Ray Bromgard was cleared of a rape charge five years later. And Paul Kordonowy, who was convicted of sexual intercourse without consent and aggravated burglary, was exonerated in 2003. All of the men were convicted in part by testimony from former Montana State Crime Lab director Arnold Melnikoff.

More recently, convicted killer Barry Beach was released without bail on Dec. 7 after a Montana district judge found information presented during an evidentiary hearing earlier this year compelling enough to warrant a new trial. Beach was convicted for the 1979 murder of teenager Kim Nees on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. He was apprehended in Louisiana and confessed to the crime. He also claimed responsibility for three killings in Louisiana.

Louisiana authorities found Beach's admission to the crimes in their state unfounded. It quickly became clear that he wasn't even in the state when the killings happened. In Montana, none of the physical evidence at Kim Nees' murder scene linked Beach to her death, and he's maintained his innocence for decades. Testimony introduced during his evidentiary hearing this year suggests that a group of women, led by a jealous ringleader who was upset that Nees was dating the father of her child, is responsible for the crime.

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