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After 21 Years in Prison - including 16 on Death Row - Curtis McCarty is Exonerated Based on DNA Evidence

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Oklahoma City case is one of the worst cases of government misconduct in the history of the American criminal justice system, Innocence Project says

(OKLAHOMA CITY, OK; May 11, 2007) – Curtis Edward McCarty, who was convicted twice and sentenced to death for the same murder in verdicts that were both thrown out based on evidence of his innocence and an extraordinary pattern of government misconduct, was released from prison this morning after a judge dismissed the indictment against him that would have led to a third trial. The prosecution said today that it will not appeal the decision – finally clearing McCarty after 21 years of wrongful incarceration, more than 16 of them on death row.

In 1986, McCarty was convicted of a 1982 murder in Oklahoma City and sentenced to die. Citing misconduct by the prosecutor and a police lab analyst, the Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction, and McCarty was retried in 1989. He was again convicted and sentenced to death. In 1995, the appeals court upheld his conviction but threw out his death sentence; in 1996, he was sentenced to death again. In 2005, the Court of Criminal Appeals again overturned his conviction, citing the continued pattern of government misconduct – and new DNA tests showing that semen recovered from the victim did not come from McCarty.

“Every piece of evidence in this case, including evidence that was used improperly to secure convictions, now shows Curtis McCarty’s innocence,” said Colin Starger, the Innocence Project Staff Attorney on the case who argued the motion to dismiss the indictment in a three-hour hearing yesterday afternoon. “Semen recovered from the victim, material under the victim’s fingernails and a bloody print the perpetrator left on the victim’s body all come from someone other than Curtis McCarty.”

Robert H. Macy, who was the Oklahoma County District Attorney for 21 years, prosecuted McCarty in both of his trials. Macy sent 73 people to death row – more than any other prosecutor in the nation – and 20 of them have been executed. Macy has said publicly that he believes executing an innocent person is a sacrifice worth making in order to keep the death penalty in the United States. Macy committed misconduct in the manner that he prosecuted McCarty and presented the case to the jury. His misconduct was compounded when he relied on Joyce Gilchrist, a police lab analyst who falsified test results and hid or destroyed evidence in order to help secure McCarty’s convictions. Gilchrist was the lead forensic analyst in 23 cases that ended in death sentences (11 of the defendants in those cases have been executed).

“This is by far one of the worst cases of law enforcement misconduct in the history of the American criminal justice system,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “Bob Macy has said that executing an innocent person is a risk worth taking – and he came very close to doing just that with Curtis McCarty.”

Macy’s conduct in prosecuting McCarty was singled out in the Court of Criminal Appeals ruling that overturned McCarty’s first conviction; that ruling noted that the case was “replete with error” and referred to Macy’s conduct as “improper” and “unprofessional.” In each of its rulings overturning McCarty’s convictions, the appeals court noted that Gilchrist initially said hairs from the crime scene definitely did not match McCarty, then changed her records and testimony to say they definitely matched him (years later, Gilchrist either hid or destroyed those hairs when they were sought for DNA testing). The prosecution also claimed that semen on the victim’s body came from McCarty, while DNA testing now shows that it did not. The prosecution maintained that McCarty acted alone in the crime, until evidence began to emerge that he was not the perpetrator; at that point, the prosecution began to say McCarty had an accomplice (though no evidence of multiple perpetrators was ever found or introduced).

McCarty was charged in 1985 with stabbing and strangling 18-year-old Pamela Kaye Willis three years earlier in Oklahoma City. Willis, an acquaintance of McCarty’s, was found dead in the kitchen of a friend’s home on December 10, 1982. Hairs and other biological evidence were collected by police at the crime scene. Gilchrist, who testified in both of McCarty’s trials, was fired in 2001 for fraud and misconduct in McCarty’s case and others. DNA testing conducted on post-conviction appeal in 2002 showed that sperm recovered from the victim’s body did not match McCarty and the Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the second conviction in 2005. The Innocence Project became involved in the case in 2003; attorneys Perry Hudson and Marna Franklin also represent McCarty.

“For anyone who believes the death penalty is being carried out appropriately in this country, and anyone who believes that prosecutors and government witnesses can always be relied on to pursue the truth, this case is a wake-up call,” said Peter Neufeld, Co-Director of the Innocence Project. “Three separate times, an innocent man was sentenced to die because of the actions of an unethical prosecutor and a fraudulent analyst.”

McCarty is the 201st person in the United States exonerated through DNA evidence – and the 15th of those 201 who has served time on death row. McCarty is the ninth person to be exonerated by DNA evidence in Oklahoma and the third to be exonerated from the state’s death row. Robert Miller was exonerated based on DNA evidence in 1998 after serving more than 9 years on death row in Oklahoma for crimes he didn’t commit. Macy prosecuted Miller, and Gilchrist provided forensic testimony leading to his wrongful conviction.

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To see legal papers filed earlier this year in McCarty’s case, go to: http://www.innocenceproject.org/docs/McCarty_Motion.pdf and http://www.innocenceproject.org/docs/McCarty_Brief.pdf