The Innocence Project Online - August 2009
Freed After 21 Years
Kenneth Ireland served more than two decades in Connecticut prisons before DNA testing obtained by the Connecticut Innocence Project proved his innocence and led to his release. He was officially cleared on August 19 when prosecutors announced they were dropping all charges against him.
Freed in L.A., Facing Retrial
Bruce Lisker was freed this month after spending 26 years in California prisons for the murder of his mother, a crime he says he didn’t commit. A judge freed Lisker because he had been convicted based on “false evidence.” Los Angeles prosecutors announced August 21 that they plan to retry him for the crime.
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At a hearing in New Jersey on Monday, a state judge said he would order police to conduct a thorough search for evidence connected to the case of Stephen Brooks, an Innocence Project client who has been in prison for more than 20 years for a rape he says he didn’t commit.
Brooks was convicted based mainly on eyewitness identification, and he has been seeking DNA testing since 1988. His case is an example of the difficulties in finding evidence from old cases in Essex County, New Jersey. Innocence Project Staff Attorney Vanessa Potkin said recently that evidence in Essex County is in 'unique disarray,' and a Star Ledger editorial this week said the situation is "not just sloppy record keeping" but "sloppy justice." Learn more about Brooks’ case here.
Wisconsin Man Cleared After Three Decades
A judge this month dismissed all charges against Ralph Armstrong, who has spent nearly 30 years in Wisconsin prisons for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit. The Innocence Project has worked with Armstrong’s attorneys since 1993, one year after Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld founded the organization. (Above, left to right, Scheck and Armstrong) Prosecutors announced last week that they would not appeal the decision, meaning Armstrong was fully cleared of this crime. He remains in custody and may be transported to New Mexico because he was on parole there when he was wrongfully arrested in the Wisconsin case.
Innocence and the U.S. Constitution
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a lower court to review new evidence of innocence in the case of Georgia death row prisoner Troy Davis. The Innocence Project filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Davis’ behalf. The Supreme Court’s decision illustrates a growing national awareness of the shortcomings of eyewitness identification and the need to fully review new evidence of innocence. Innocence Project Staff Attorney Ezekiel Edwards discussed the Davis case shortly after the decision came down — watch the video here.
The Davis decision came in the wake of the court’s 5-4 ruling in June that Innocence Project client William Osborne was not entitled to DNA testing that could prove him innocent of a 1993 rape. Osborne is imprisoned in Alaska, one of three states without a law providing at least some prisoners with access to DNA testing when it has the potential to prove innocence. The Innocence Project has argued that prisoners have a constitutional right to DNA testing that can prove them innocent.
These two cases have led to different results at the Supreme Court. But both have stirred uproar from liberal and conservative editorial boards and legal observers alike, all expressing outrage that the Supreme Court has not been clearer on the right to prove innocence. Indeed, Justice Antonin Scalia specifically noted in his dissent in the Davis case: “This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.” The majority, however, clearly found that the risk of executing an innocent man was intolerable.
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Houston Man Freed, Forensic Questions Persist
Why I Give: Freida Orange
As I’ve told friends about this work and invited them to become involved, almost all of them are shocked at the injustice and eager to help. People connect with different aspects of the issue, and they can focus their advocacy on specific parts of the work. It’s easy to get involved — check out the Innocence Project’s “Ten Things You Can Do” page to get started. You can volunteer, share information about this issue with lawmakers or spread the word in your community through house parties or other events.
One of the most critical needs is often overlooked — securing compensation for exonerees and providing services immediately upon their release. It’s painful to think about people who should never have been in prison being freed without any support. I was shocked to learn that many states don’t have systems in place to support the exonerated. Although about half of the states have some kind of compensation law, not one of them gives exonerees any immediate assistance after their release. In 2008, the Young Professionals Committee held an event to support the Innocence Project’s Exoneree Fund, which provides clients with basic necessities like food and housing immediately after their release. The exonerated deserve another chance at life, and we can help make this happen.
Please consider making a gift to the Exoneree Fund today to help make a new life possible.