DNA Evidence Could Clear Nine Men in Chicago
New DNA test results prove that four men were convicted of a 1994 rape and murder they didn’t commit, according to legal papers filed this week by the Innocence Project and partner organizations. The DNA results link another man to the crime, and the four men are seeking to be released from prison based on the new evidence.
The case bears echoes of another in the Chicago area, in which five men convicted of a 1991 murder are seeking to overturn their convictions based on DNA evidence that another man committed the crime. Teenagers when they were arrested, three of the men signed confessions to the crime that they now say were coerced.
In both cases, the Innocence Project is working with the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth (at Northwestern Law School), the Exoneration Project (at the University of Chicago Law School) and private attorneys. Pictured above, left to right, are Innocence Project clients Michael Saunders (convicted in the 1994 case) and Jonathan Barr (convicted in the 1991 case).
Read more about the two cases in today’s Chicago Tribune story and on the Innocence Blog.
New Video and Web Resource on Eyewitness Misidentification
In cooperation with the Innocence Project, University of Virginia Law Professor Brandon Garrett unveiled the first section of a new video and interactive web feature on the causes of wrongful conviction on the Innocence Project website.
Garrett recently published Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong. After carefully studying the first 250 wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing, Garrett notes that “eyewitness misidentifications were the single greatest cause of flawed evidence.”
Garrett highlights the case of Ronald Cotton to pinpoint some of the key factors that cause faulty identifications. North Carolina college student Jennifer Thompson misidentified Ronald Cotton as her rapist, leading to Cotton spending 10 years in prison before DNA finally exonerated him in 1995.
While eyewitness testimony can be persuasive evidence before a judge or jury, 30 years of strong social science research has proven that eyewitness identification is often unreliable. Research shows that the human mind is not like a tape recorder; we neither record events exactly as we see them, nor recall them like a tape that has been rewound. Instead, witness memory is like any other evidence at a crime scene; it must be preserved carefully and retrieved methodically, or it can be contaminated.
View the video and web resource on our website.
Innocence Project Sponsors Seminar for South Carolina Law Enforcement Officials
Last month, in conjunction with the Palmetto Innocence Project of South Carolina, the Innocence Project sponsored a seminar for South Carolina law enforcement officials, prosecutors and other legal professionals. During the seminar, participants reviewed advancements in identification methods and recording of interrogations.
Rebecca Brown, Senior Policy Advocate for State Affairs at the Innocence Project, traveled to Columbia, South Carolina to facilitate the training.
“Wrongful convictions have shown that serious flaws have caused our criminal justice system to convict scores of innocent people,” Brown said. “Several easy-to-implement procedures have been proven to significantly decrease the number of misidentifications, including sequential presentation of lineups and the electronic recording of interrogations.”
The electronic recording of interrogations, from the reading of Miranda rights onward, is the single best reform available to stem the tide of false confessions. To decrease the opportunity for suggestion in identification procedures, best practices dictate that lineups and photo arrays be performed double blind, meaning that the officer who conducts the procedure doesn’t know the suspect and the witness is told that the officer doesn’t know.
Read more about the training and learn about eyewitness identification and false confessions.
Jason Flom Donation Establishes Senior Litigation Position at the Innocence Project
Innocence Project Board of Directors member and President of LAVA Records, Jason Flom, has donated $1 million to the Innocence Project to support a new position in honor of his late father Joseph Flom. Pictured above, left to right, Innocence Project Co-Directors Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck, with Jason Flom.
The new position, to be named The Joseph Flom Special Counsel, will significantly increase the capacity of the Innocence Project to address the causes of wrongful conviction. Flom announced the new position at the Innocence Project’s annual benefit at the Waldorf Astoria on May 4.
“Jason’s contribution will have an impact in law that would be an appropriate tribute to the groundbreaking legal work of his father Joseph Flom and the enormous impact his life has had in advancing justice in the United States,” said Innocence Project Co-founder Peter Neufeld.
Joseph Flom, who passed away in February, was a pioneering corporate lawyer and will be remembered as an innovator and groundbreaker who overcame barriers in his work.
The Joseph Flom Special Counsel will bring impact litigation to set wide-ranging precedents that advance criminal justice reforms. It will also support the work of lawyers across the country that work to free the innocent with evidence other than DNA.
“For nearly a decade, the Flom family’s generosity has been vital to the progress the Innocence Project has made in our efforts to free the innocent and bring essential reforms to the criminal justice system,” said Innocence Project Co-founder Barry Scheck.
Why I Give: A Donor Profile
Asheville, North Carolina
I donate to the Innocence Project in honor of close friends and family members on their birthdays. It is my way of celebrating their life and giving promise to the restoration of another’s life. To me, it gives new meaning to a birthday and it’s been really well received. People have been thrilled because it’s meaningful and it has significant purpose.
I used to be a child protective social worker, so I’m acutely aware of systemic barriers that bias people to these inexorable paths. I fostered a young black male who was the same age as my son. So I got a front row seat in watching the trajectory of his life compared to my son’s. My son graduated high school and went on to study at MIT. My foster child has been in and out of jail due to miscellaneous charges, and I have watched him get churned through a system that is stacked against him. For me, wrongful conviction is just another example, and one of the most devastating, of putting people behind bars that shouldn’t be there.
The Innocence Project offers the hope that we can expose systemic bias and the injustice of institutional racism. Incarcerated individuals are so conveniently out of sight and out of mind. It’s the biggest gated community in our country. The Innocence Project forces those doors open and makes each of us accountable for a system we tacitly support.
Join Lisa by making a donation today in honor of a friend’s birthday, graduation or other special occasion.