Shirley Ree Smith sits in the living room of her daughter's upstairs duplex in Alexandria, Minn. Smith is waiting to hear if California Gov. Jerry Brown will grant her clemency. "They say things happen for a reason. I'm not sure if I'll ever figure out a reason for all of this," she says. Courtney Perry for NPR hide caption

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Ernie Lopez hugs his daughter, Nikki Lopez, for the first time since 2009. Ernie was released from prison on March 2 in Amarillo, Texas, after nine years, while he awaits a new trial. Katie Hayes Luke/Katie Hayes Luke for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Katie Hayes Luke/Katie Hayes Luke for NPR

Ernie Lopez is serving a 60-year prison sentence for a crime he, and medical experts, said he didn't commit. Courtesy of Frontline hide caption

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Tammy Marquardt, now 39, spent 14 years in prison for a crime she didn't commit. Joseph Shapiro/NPR hide caption

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Television shows like CSI provide an unrealistic view of the technology available to death investigators. In this photo from a recent episode of CSI:NY, characters Det. Josephine "Jo" Danville (Sela Ward) confers with Dr. Sheldon Hawkes (Hill Harper) and Dr. Sid Hammerback (Robert Joy) in their lab. Sonja Flemming/CBS hide caption

itoggle caption Sonja Flemming/CBS

Donna and Joe Turner have been fighting for 10 years to find answers to how their daughter, Chanda, died. Bryan Terry for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Bryan Terry for NPR

A forensic pathologist prepares for an autopsy at The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator. John W. Poole/NPR hide caption

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The medical examiner's office in New Mexico is considered the gold standard that all medical examiners should meet because it employs enough staff to investigate and autopsy all sudden or violent deaths. John W. Poole/NPR hide caption

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A morphology technician at The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator stores one of the bodies that is autopsied there. The office was created by the state legislature in 1972 replacing the county coroner system. John W. Poole/NPR hide caption

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