Watch: Damon Thibodeaux Adjust to Life After Exoneration
Posted: May 9, 2013 3:30 pm
Damon Thibodeaux watches a Yankees game with Pam Wandzel, pro-bono & community service manager at Frederickson Byron, the law firm that helped exonerate him.
Ten months after Innocence Project client Damon Thibodeaux became the 300th person to be exonerated by DNA evidence, KARE NBC Minnesota in St. Paul caught up with him to see how life post-exoneration has been. Since his release, Thibodeaux moved into his own apartment, bought a car, earned his high school diploma and got a job working within the Frederickson Byron law firm, which helped exonerate him.
“You can’t go through something like this and not be angry. It’s what you do with it that defines you,” said Thibodeaux.
See Damon in his new community.
Read about Thibodeaux’s case.
Tags: Minnesota, Damon Thibodeaux
Science News - May 9, 2013
Posted: May 9, 2013 3:10 pm
The Virginia Department of Forensic Science disclosed DNA test results that could lead to more exonerations, a judge will finally determine if evidence from a crime lab in St. Paul is reliable, and Colorado defense lawyers are challenging DNA evidence due to possible contamination. Here is the round-up of news for the week:
In order to investigate the possibility of wrongful convictions, the Virginia Department of Forensic Science has disclosed DNA test results for over 70 cases where newly tested biological evidence failed to identify the convicted person. However, two state attorneys are withholding four DNA reports as they are critical to ongoing criminal investigations.
Nearly a year after defense attorneys first challenged drug evidence at the St. Paul crime lab, a Minnesota judge has allowed final comments and will release an order as quickly as possible. The drug evidence has been challenged due to possible contamination, lack of protocols and poorly trained personnel.
Colorado defense lawyers are challenging the admissibility of DNA evidence in the case of Austin Sigg due to possible contamination. The director of the state crime lab testified in court that a tray with multiple DNA samples showed irregularities in the results.
Researchers from France found a relationship between the speed of an object when it hits a piece of glass and the number of cracks that result. While this research could be used by forensic scientists to understand how glass breaks at the scene of the crime, it is only in its basic stages.
After hearing proposals to change how the National Science Foundation (NSF) chooses to fund its research projects, presidential science advisor John Holdren staunchly defended the peer review process, which is deemed the “gold standard” around the globe. While Holdren acknowledges Congress can review the process, he believes that the proposed legislation would destroy the basic principle of fundamental research.
Tags: Colorado, Minnesota, Virginia, Science Thursday
Utah Case Demonstrates Difficulty of Exonerating Clients without DNA
Posted: May 8, 2013 5:35 pm
An article in Tuesday’s City Weekly discusses the extraordinary efforts of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center to free Debra Brown, whose case is still under appeal. Released in May 2011, Brown was declared innocent under the state’s non-DNA factual innocence statute. The Attorney General then sent a message through his Twitter account that he would not appeal the decision. Shortly afterwards, he changed his mind.
City Weekly spoke to RMIC president Jensie Anderson about the decision:
Anderson says she wasn’t surprised when she heard of the appeal—there’s little that warrants surprise in this kind of law, she says.
“Disappointed is a better word,” she says.
But it was more than disappointing for Brown. “It was a really black day,” Brown says. “It was like being pronounced cancer-free, and then, bam! You’re in third stage again.”
Brown was convicted of murdering her boss, 75-year-old Lael Brown, in 1995 and spent 17 years behind bars before her release. RMIC has presented new evidence of alternate suspects and witnesses in their advocacy for Brown’s exoneration.
The Utah Supreme Court is currently considering the appeal. If it reverses the judge’s innocence finding, Brown could be sent back to prison. On the other hand, if it upholds the decision, Brown will be eligible for state compensation and will be one of the very few who has been exonerated under the statute. Utah is one of only two states that even has a factual innocence statute, which allows for a retrial in cases where there is newly discovered material evidence of innocence but no DNA evidence.
The City Weekly writes:
As Brown waits for the Utah Supreme Court’s decision, she deals with triggers that bring her back to those years in prison. The sound of keys jingling reminds her of prison guards. She bought dark curtains for her bedroom because car lights from the parking lot remind her of a flashlight beam shining in her face. She still has nightmares of going back.
Read the full article.
Read more about the case.
Breaking News: Execution Stayed in Mississippi
Posted: May 7, 2013 4:30 pm
The Mississippi Supreme Court granted Mississippi death row inmate Willie Manning a stay of execution this afternoon, four hours before he was scheduled to die by lethal injection. Mississippi’s highest court voted 8-1.
Hopefully, Manning, who has spent 20 years on death row maintaining his innocence in the deaths of Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller, will now have the opportunity to do DNA testing that could prove his innocence. This past week, the FBI notified the state that there were flaws in both the hair and ballistics evidence that was used to convict Manning. The FBI also agreed to do the DNA testing.
Read a copy of the stay of execution order. (PDF)
More from the Clarion-Ledger.
Tags: Mississippi, Access to DNA Testing, Death Penalty
Watch: Innocence Project Attorney Discusses Willie Manning Case on Democracy Now
Posted: May 7, 2013 12:00 pm
Innocence Project Senior Staff Attorney Vanessa Potkin appeared on today’s episode of “Democracy Now” to discuss the fate of Mississippi death row prisoner Willie Manning, who is scheduled for execution tonight. Manning was convicted on circumstantial evidence, including the testimony of a jailhouse informant who had previously given a statement implicating another person.
He has consistently maintained his innocence and has been seeking post-conviction DNA testing for years, insisting that technological strides made in the past 20 years could prove him innocent of the crime.
Join us in calling on Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant to stay Willie’s execution and order DNA testing!
Watch the segment.
Tags: Mississippi, Death Penalty
The Long Road Exonerees Face to Clear Their Records
Posted: May 6, 2013 5:00 pm
Even after the wrongfully convicted are cleared and released from prison, many of them are still haunted by the injustice and the lengthy period it can take to have it expunged from their records. Despite exoneration, many felony convictions remain on federal databases and become a hindrance as exonerees try to adjust to their newfound freedom, impeding efforts to find housing and employment.
The New York Times reports:
Some states, including New York and Illinois, have a straightforward process for erasing or sealing criminal records after a wrongful conviction. But legal researchers say that most state laws are out of date with the recent waves of exonerations, and require onetime convicts already declared not guilty to once again prove their innocence.
Vincent Moto, who served nearly nine years in prison for a rape and robbery DNA testing proved he didn’t commit, was recently denied his petition to have his record expunged. Moto was exonerated in 1996.
Audrey Edmunds, who spent more than a decade in prison for the shaking death of an infant girl before new medical evidence prompted her conviction to be overturned, continues to struggle with the mark on her criminal record, though she was exonerated five years ago.
“I hate it,” said Ms. Edmunds, 52, who now lives in northern Wisconsin. “They put us through enough to begin with. They don’t give us any assistance. I’m glad to be out, but there’s got to be more support. I don’t like having this awful nightmare of a cloud hanging over me.”
Read the full article.
Read more about the challenges that exonerated people face after release.
Tags: Illinois, Wisconsin, New York, Vincent Moto, Audrey Edmunds
Revolution Books to Screen After Innocence
Posted: May 6, 2013 3:00 pm
A screening of “After Innocence” tonight at 7 p.m. at Revolution Books in New York City will be followed by a discussion with the film’s writer and producer, Marc Simon, as well as Innocence Project Case Analyst Edwin Grimsley. “After Innocence” is an award-winning documentary that features Innocence Project clients and their post-exoneration struggles to readjust to life in the free world.
Simon, formerly a Cardozo Law School student who interned at the Innocence Project, is also the writer and director of “Nursery University” and “Unraveled.”
For more information about the screening.
Tags: New York
Ohio Court Must Consider DNA Testing for Death Row Inmate
Posted: May 3, 2013 4:50 pm
Ohio’s Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that a Portage County court must reconsider DNA testing for a death row inmate who was convicted of the 1990 murders of Cora and Bearnhardt Hartig, an elderly couple.
Tyrone Noling’s previous requests for advanced DNA testing on a cigarette butt found at the scene of the crime were denied by the lower court. Previous DNA testing of the cigarette butt had excluded Noling, but Noling argues that more sophisticated testing may now be able to identify the source of the DNA.
The high court pointed to new standards and expanded criteria for testing approved by Ohio lawmakers in 2010 as their basis for allowing the appeal. The Columbus Dispatch reports:
Carrie Wood, Noling’s attorney from the University of Cincinnati-based Ohio Innocence Project, said the ruling is another step in helping prove Noling’s innocence but is also a victory for others struggling to get DNA testing approved.
“When the new law was passed in 2010, the legislature made it clear that there needs to be more testing in cases and not less,” Wood said. “Specifically, the Supreme Court found that DNA’s ability to identify the source, or a specific individual, should be significant in the decision to grant DNA testing.”
Noling and Wood remain hopeful that the county court will order testing on the cigarette butt in order to compare the DNA samples to that of an alternative suspect.
Read the full article.
Read more about Noling’s case.
Tags: Ohio, Access to DNA Testing, Death Penalty
Science News - May 3, 2013
Posted: May 3, 2013 10:45 am
A former criminalist from California who allegedly stole drug evidence is finally on trial, additional investigations have been requested for a Washington State crime lab, and a researcher studies blow flies to help investigators approximate the time of death. Here is the round up of forensic news for the week:
After being indicted for grant theft and possession of illegal drugs collected at a crime lab, a former California criminalist is finally on trial. The criminalist was discovered improperly handling drug evidence, which led to an investigation that found other evidence missing.
Although the original investigation that led to the resignation of a Washington crime lab manager due to his mishandling of case files has ended, an internal management audit and a full evidence audit have been requested. State and local prosecutors, the Washington State Forensics Investigative Council and the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors, Laboratory Accreditation Board were notified of the investigation.
A Rutgers University graduate student is researching the life cycle of blow flies to help investigators approximate the time of death of crime victims. While bodies decompose at various rates due to many variables, the life cycles of blow flies, which descend on dead bodies, are much more predictable.
In Missouri, problems with funding have delayed a project to implement a computer program that would conduct biometric analysis to prevent fraud. The facial recognition technology, similar to what was used to investigate the Boston marathon bombings, could catch individuals trying to produce multiple forms of photographic identification.
Tags: California, New Jersey, Missouri, Washington, Science Thursday
Death Row Inmate Deserves DNA Testing Before May 7 Execution
Posted: May 2, 2013 5:55 pm
By Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, Innocence Project Co-Directors
(Originally published by the Clarion Ledger.)
Last week the Mississippi Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision denied Willie Manning the opportunity to do DNA testing that could prove he is innocent of the crime that landed him on death row. Tragically, Manning is scheduled to be executed on Thursday and may never get the opportunity to do the testing that could prove whether he is innocent as he has always maintained.
We urge Gov. Phil Bryant to issue a stay so the testing can be done. While people can differ on whether the death penalty is an appropriate form of punishment, nearly everyone would agree that it should be used only in those cases where we are certain of guilt. DNA testing could provide that certainty or prove, as Manning insists, that he is innocent. It could also, as the Mississippi Supreme Court judges noted in their dissent, provide the identity of alleged second perpetrator who has never been caught.
Eighteen people who served time on death row have been exonerated by DNA evidence since it became available two decades ago. One of those men, Kennedy Brewer, was convicted in Mississippi. Like Manning, Brewer was convicted based on circumstantial evidence and unvalidated forensic science. In Brewer’s case, the prosecution relied on widely discredited bite mark testimony, and in Manning’s case the prosecution presented hair microscopy, which because of its unreliability will be subject to a recently announced FBI nationwide review. The DNA evidence in Brewer’s case proved his innocence and identified the real perpetrator who confessed to the crime and another murder for which someone had been wrongly convicted and sentenced to life. Fortunately, that man, Levon Brooks, was also exonerated.
We don’t know what the DNA evidence will ultimately prove in Manning’s case, but there is a good chance that it will be highly probative — and much more reliable than the kind of evidence that was used to convict him of the 1992 murders of Pamela Tiffany Miller and Jon Stephan Steckler. The two students were kidnapped after leaving a party at Mississippi State University and were driven to a remote location where Miller was raped and both were shot to death. At trial, there was no physical evidence linking Manning to the crime. The prosecution relied on circumstantial evidence. At one point the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned his conviction because Manning’s lawyers weren’t allowed to fully cross-examine the informant, but the court later reconsidered its decision and let the conviction stand.
Since 1994, Manning has been seeking DNA testing of the rape kit, fingernail scrapings that were recovered from both victims and hairs recovered from the scene. Rape kits and fingernail scrapings are routinely tested today because the testing can prove with near certainty who committed the crime. Before DNA evidence, prosecutors would often rely on hair microscopy to place a defendant at the scene even though the practice was never scientifically validated. After DNA evidence exonerated three people who had been wrongly convicted in part based on this type of evidence, the FBI announced this year that it would undertake a massive review of all cases in which one of its analysts testified about this type of evidence. Given that the FBI performed the hair microscopy in this case, it would seem that Manning’s case should be subject to this review — if he isn’t put to death first.
As the dissenters noted, given that it is alleged that two perpetrators committed the crime, it’s puzzling that the district attorney is so resistant to testing.
The Mississippi Supreme Court has said that the DNA testing is unnecessary because there is other overwhelming evidence of guilt. But appeals courts were also wrong in the cases of all 306 DNA exonerations, including the 18 who served time on death row. DNA testing has the potential to tell us once and for all who committed these two tragic murders, and that’s something we all should want.
Tags: Mississippi, Death Penalty, Innocence Network