Innocence Blog

Kentucky Woman Likely to be Exonerated

Posted: July 21, 2014 5:30 pm

A woman who has been granted a retrial by a Kentucky appeals court after someone else confessed they had committed the crime is likely to be exonerated, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. Susan Jean King was convicted of manslaughter in 2008 for the 1998 slaying of Kyle Bredeen and sentenced to 10 years in prison. While maintaining her innocence, King pled guilty to the manslaughter charge rather than face a trial for murder and potential life sentence.
The Kentucky Innocence Project began investigating the case after doubts were raised about King’s ability to throw Bredeen’s body off of a bridge and into the Kentucky River, where it was found. King has only one leg and weighed just 97 pounds at the time of the crime. In May 2012, Richard Jarrell Jr. confessed to Louisville narcotics Detective Barron Morgan that he had killed Bredeen and two other people. Morgan sent Jarrell’s statement to the Kentucky Innocence Project.
Detective Morgan hailed the appeals court ruling, saying it vindicated both him and King, according to the Courier-Journal. Morgan won a $450,000 settlement from the city of Louisville for being demoted in violation of the state’s whistleblower act after he helped King by sending Jarrell’s statement to the Kentucky Innocence Project.
A circuit court judge had earlier rejected King’s request for a retrial, saying that he could not determine if Jarrell’s confession were true. In granting King’s retrial, the Court of Appeals noted the detailed and accurate nature of Jarrell’s confession and held that if the confession had been available when the case was first in court, it likely would have changed the result.
King spent more than six years in prison before serving out her sentence in 2012. Read the full story.

Tags: Kentucky



Support Mounts for Death Row Inmate’s Innocence

Posted: July 17, 2014 3:45 pm

More than a year ago the Innocence Project and lead counsel for Florida death row inmate Clemente Aguirre presented compelling new evidence for overturning his conviction. Today, attorneys who served as prosecutors or government appellate attorneys have filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Florida Supreme Court to reverse Aguirre’s capital murder convictions based on DNA and other evidence pointing to an alternate suspect.
Aguirre has been on Florida’s death row since 2006 for the murders of a mother and daughter, Cheryl Williams and Carol Bareis, two of Aguirre’s neighbors who were found stabbed to death in their trailer in Seminole County on June 17, 2004.
In the brief, the lawyers — all of whom have sought or defended the death penalty in a multitude of cases — argue that it would undermine the legitimacy of the justice system to deny Aguirre a new trial in light of the strong DNA evidence pointing to his innocence. The lawyers also contend that the inadequate representation that Aguirre received at trial entitles him to a new trial.
Aguirre, an undocumented Honduran with no criminal record, initially told the police that he didn’t know anything about the murders of his neighbors. Later the same day, however, he asked to speak with police again and admitted that he had gone to their home at approximately 6:00 a.m. that morning and saw that both women had been stabbed to death. After discovering William’s body in the doorway of the trailer, he picked up the knife near her body because he was afraid the killer was still present. After discovering Bareis had been murdered too, he panicked, threw the knife into the yard, and went home to his neighboring trailer.
At trial, the prosecution presented the limited DNA evidence tested in the case to show that Williams’s blood was on Aguirre’s clothes and shoes and that his fingerprint was on the knife. But neither the prosecution nor the defense conducted testing on any of the more than 150 bloodstains that were photographed and swabbed from the crime scene. And Aguirre’s lawyer didn’t even view, much less retain a forensic expert to examine, any of the 197 items of evidence that were collected in this case. Even though the evidence was consistent with Aguirre’s version of events, which he testified to at trial, he was convicted and sentenced to death.
In August 2011, Aguirre’s new counsel at the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel – Middle Region, in consultation with the Innocence Project, sought DNA testing of some of the previously untested evidence. None of the testing of more than 84 items matched Aguirre. Most matched to the two victims, but there were two bloodstains that were identified as coming from Williams’ daughter (and Bareis’ granddaughter), Samantha Williams. When the rest of the evidence was tested, none of the stains matched Aguirre, but another six were identified as Samantha Williams’. Samantha has made multiple statements (one of which was captured on police video) suggesting her own culpability for murders and witnesses testified at a hearing that Samantha and her mother had a troubled relationship and a heated argument the night of the murders.
More from today’s press release.

Tags: Florida, Death Penalty, Clemente Javier Aguirre-Jarqui



Network Attorney Talks about Securing Client’s Freedom

Posted: July 16, 2014 5:00 pm

Three weeks after a Michigan man was released from prison when DNA evidence proved his innocence of a 2006 rape, his attorney described the timeline of accepting the case and securing his freedom. Thomas M. Cooley Innocence Project Co-Director Marla Mitchell-Cichon spoke to Detroit Legal News about the organization’s work to overturn Donya Davis’ conviction.
Mitchell-Cichon says, “Mr. Davis wrote the project shortly after his conviction in 2006. At the time, Michigan’s DNA testing law, MCL 770.16, did not allow for DNA testing in post-2001 cases. In 2009, that law was amended and the Project began to review Davis’ case.”
She spoke about the perils inmates will face if the current DNA testing law expires, which is set to happen in 2016:

MCL 770.16 is Michigan’s only post-conviction DNA testing law. Innocent Michigan prisoners may not have an avenue to obtain the DNA testing needed to prove innocence when the law expires. The incorrect assumption is that Michigan criminal defendants have access to DNA testing at the time of trial. However, our project has reviewed convictions as recent a 2009 where material biological evidence was not tested prior to trial. MCL 770.16 has been set to expire twice and I plan to continue to advocate for the extension of MCL 770.16 beyond the 2016 sunset.

Although the prosecutor’s office said last month that Davis’ release didn’t mean he was exonerated, Mitchell-Cichon believes in his innocence.
“Mr. Davis is free on bond. However, the original criminal charges are pending against Mr. Davis and a pretrial is scheduled for August 1. We believe the DNA testing obtained by the Cooley Innocence Project conclusively proves Mr. Davis’s innocence. The testing of male DNA identified on both of the victim’s thighs points to another man, not Davis,” Mitchell-Cichon said to Detroit Legal News.
Read the full article.

Tags: Michigan



Tune-In and Watch: Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and Artists’ Committee Co-Chair Tony Goldwyn Talk About The Divide

Posted: July 15, 2014 5:25 pm

WeTV’s first scripted drama, The Divide, about a powerful district attorney whose career is jeopardized by an investigation conducted by a fictional innocence clinic, will premier Wednesday, July 16th at 9:00 p.m. EDT. The series will be executively produced and directed by Scandal star and Innocence Project Artists’ Committee Co-Chair Tony Goldwyn, who has been invested in innocence issues since reading about the Kenny Waters case, which ultimately inspired him to direct the film Conviction, telling Waters story.
Watch the trailer.
Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck joined Goldwyn on CBS This Morning today to talk about the inspiration behind the new series and the groundbreaking use of DNA technology to free innocent people from prison and to reform the justice system.
Watch the CBS This Morning segment.

Tags: Dispatches



Attorney Says Dismiss Conviction of “Fairbanks Four” Man

Posted: July 14, 2014 5:30 pm

Nearly a year after the Alaska Innocence Project filed court documents citing new evidence that may suggest that four men — dubbed the Fairbanks Four — who were convicted of the 1997 deadly beating of a classmate are actually innocent, an attorney for one of the men is asking for his conviction to be overturned.
In a special report that appeared in Saturday’s edition of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, University of Alaska Fairbanks journalism professor Brian O’Donoghue reported that Eugene Vent’s attorney was never notified by authorities of another man’s confession.
“If I had gotten the information in 2011 when it was available to the state of Alaska,” defense attorney Colleen Libbey said Friday, according to the News-Miner, “I would have filed something immediately to get my client out of jail.”
Hours after John Hartman was found dead, Vent and George Frese confessed to killing him. They implicated two other boys, Marvin Roberts and Kevin Pease and all four were convicted of the murder. In the years following, Vent and Frese recanted and claimed their confessions were false. All four men have served nearly 17 years.
Libbey is referring to information passed on from California prison authorities to the Fairbanks police in December 2011 in which a former Fairbanks man serving a double-life sentence in California described taking part in Hartman’s murder. William Z. Holmes’ supervisor personally provided the information to Fairbanks officials and according to the Alaska Innocence Project, there is email correspondence between a detective and the District Attorney’s Office confirming notification about Holmes. Libbey didn’t learn about Holmes until this February when cold case detectives followed up on his later confession to the Alaska Innocence Project.
“I was upset. I was shocked about this memo,” Libbey said Friday to the News-Miner. “I didn’t know anything about Holmes until 2013 when the Innocence Project contacted me.”
When Holmes sent his confession to the Alaska Innocence Project in August 2012, he said that he was driving a car with three other students with the intention to “have some fun” and mess with “drunk Natives.” Ultimately they drove by a “white boy walking alone.”
“We all got excited and say, ‘We got one!’ ” Holmes wrote.
In court on Thursday, Libbey contended that the prosecution is concealing potential exculpatory evidence.
“Failure to produce the evidence in a timely manner has delayed justice and continued incarceration for a wrongful conviction,” said Libbey to the News-Miner.
Read the full article.

Tags: Alaska



Tune-In: BET Series Vindicated Premieres Second Season

Posted: July 11, 2014 4:30 pm

On Sunday, July 13 at 10:00 p.m. EDT, BET will premiere its second season of Vindicated, in consultation with the Innocence Project. The series, hosted by Morris Chestnut, profiles people who have been wrongfully convicted and exonerated through DNA and other means.
You can catch up on the show’s first season during a marathon showing starting Saturday, July 12 at 8:30 a.m. EDT.
Learn more about the series.

Tags: Dispatches



North Carolina Man to be Released

Posted: July 11, 2014 2:40 pm

Darryl Howard waves to his family and legal team after the hearing. Photo credit: Sameer Abdel-Khalek
Six weeks after Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson reversed Darryl Howard’s convictions for the 1991 murder of a mother and her daughter based on new DNA evidence and prosecutorial misconduct, Hudson said at a bail hearing today that he plans to free Howard on unsecured bond. Howard couldn’t be released from the court room today because of a temporary stay issued by the court of appeals at the request of the prosecution, but the Innocence Project is working to have the stay lifted.
In May, Hudson found that prosecutor Mike Nifong, who was disbarred and held in contempt for his actions in the Duke Lacrosse case, violated Howard’s constitutional rights by failing to turn over the exculpatory evidence and soliciting false and misleading testimony from the lead detective in the case.

Darryl Howard’s wife, Nannie Howard, hugs Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck. Photo credit: Sameer Abdel-Khalek
Read more about the case.

Tags: North Carolina, Darryl Anthony Howard



Conviction Revisited; Witnesses Say Prosecutor Coerced Them to Lie

Posted: July 10, 2014 4:15 pm

Nearly three decades after a New Orleans man was convicted of drug possession, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear arguments about overturning the conviction based on prosecutorial misconduct. Milton Isaac, who was found guilty of possessing 21 packets of heroin with the intent to distribute them in 1986, was sentenced to life, but has already been released on parole.
The Associated Press reported that two witnesses who testified for the prosecution now say that the prosecutors coerced them to lie in court. That prosecution was led by Harry Connick Sr., who the Innocence Project New Orleans says withheld evidence favorable to the defense in at least nine death row cases, including John Thompson who spent 18 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
According to Isaac’s attorneys, he wasn’t accused of being a drug dealer, but of planning to give the heroin to a friend who was said to be going through withdrawal. But former Assistant District Attorney Glynn Alexander said the amount of drugs found on Isaac warranted the distribution charge.
“The legal issues in this case essentially boil down to whether it is reasonable for Louisiana courts to deny claims before they are raised, to reject testimony they have never heard, and to determine that witnesses’ recantations are untrustworthy solely because they contradict earlier testimony,” Michael Admirand, one of Isaac’s attorneys, said in an email, according to the Associated Press.
During post-trial hearings in 2008, Isaac’s former girlfriend Carolyn Harris, and Edgar Barabino, whose house Isaac was at when arrested, testified that Alexander threatened them to lie. The judge ruled that the pair’s testimony was believable and that Isaac would not have been convicted if jurors heard about the coercion at trial.
Harris originally recanted in 2000, saying Alexander had offered her immunity from prosecution and had promised that Isaac would get no more than a 10-year sentence. Barabino followed suit in 2007, saying that a prosecutor threatened to bring drug charges against his family unless he cooperated. Alexander denied both claims.
The state appellate court overturned the favorable 2008 ruling and then the high court declined to hear the case.
Read the full article.

Tags: Louisiana



Former Texas District Attorney up against Misconduct Claim

Posted: July 8, 2014 5:30 pm

Nearly four years after a Texas man was exonerated of crimes he did not commit, he has filed a grievance with the State Bar which states that a former district attorney engaged in misconduct by withholding evidence from the defense that pointed toward his innocence. Anthony Graves served 18 years in prison — 12 of them on death row — after being wrongfully convicted of playing a role in the horrific murders of two women and four children before evidence of his innocence freed him in 2010.
The Eagle reported that Graves’ complaint against former Burleson County District Attorney Charles Sebesta could lead to his disbarment if found guilty. Sebesta chose to have the case heard by an administrative judge in private as opposed to being heard before the public in district court.
Graves and his co-defendant Robert Cater were charged in 1992 with the murders of a family whose home had also been set on fire. Carter originally told investigators that Graves had participated in the killings, but later told Texas Rangers that he only named Graves because he felt pressured to identify a co-defendant and that Graves was actually not involved. Carter made similar statements to Sebesta before trial and again on his deathbed.
Graves is pleased that the State Bar has determined there is “just cause” to move forward with his prosecutorial misconduct claim against Sebesta.

“I sought justice for a long time while imprisoned, having to trust the court system and the legal profession to care about justice, and to do the right thing,” Graves said in a statement. “I am glad to see the State Bar of Texas now act favorably on my grievance at this stage.”
Graves’ attorney, Kathryn Kase, executive director of the Texas Defender Service, said she was disappointed Sebesta chose to have his complaint heard in private.
“A prosecutor’s duty is not simply to secure convictions, but to see that justice is done,” she said. “Conviction of an innocent man like Mr. Graves through prosecutorial misconduct is abhorrent and undermines public trust.”

Read the full article.

Tags: Texas, Death Penalty



Michael Morton’s Memoir Hits Shelves Tomorrow

Posted: July 7, 2014 11:12 am

VIDEO: Watch Michael Morton discuss how he turned his journal entries into a book in a recent interview with KirkusTV.
Michael Morton spent nearly 25 years in prison for murdering his wife, Christine, until DNA testing proved his innocence and implicated the real perpetrator. Nearly three years after his exoneration, Morton put pen to paper and recounted his experience being wrongly convicted and his fight for freedom.

Morton’s memoir, “Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey From Prison to Peace,” will be released tomorrow, July 8 and is available for pre-order now.

Parade magazine published an excerpt from the book’s prologue. 

Like a train, the heavy door built speed as it barreled along its worn track, the portal to the real world growing smaller as the barrier of thick and battered bars roared into place.

It locked with a cold, bone-shaking boom that rattled me— literally—me, the guard outside my door, and any other inmates unlucky enough to be nearby.

I was alone in my cell, alone in the world, as alone as I had ever been in my life.

And I would stay there—alone—listening to that door close, over and over and over again, for the next twenty-five years.

Read more from Parade



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