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More than 5,000 rape kits unexamined in LAPD lab

Posted: January 12, 2007

Testimony conreltinued Thursday before the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. The panel heard that the Los Angeles forensic lab is sevey backed up due to a lack of funding.

Click here for the full story. (LA Times, 01/11/07, Payment required for full article)


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UPDATE on Willie "Pete" Williams case

Posted: January 28, 2007

Georgia Innocence Project intern helped win freedom for Willie "Pete" Williams.

"It really does kind of feel like a dream," said the Georgia State University student, who worked on the case with veteran attorneys Bruce Harvey and Sandra Michaels. "The cameras and everything are kind of weird. But this isn't about me. This is about him spending nearly 22 years in prison."


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CSI isn't like real world crime labs

Posted: February 2, 2007

An op-ed piece appearing today in the LA Times by Innocence Project co-founders Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld makes clear that the bulk of work in crime labs across the U.S. today is not DNA testing - it involves disciplines like pathology, serology, hair microscopy, fingerprints, bite marks and arson analysis. Some of these are more art than science.

DNA IS THE HOT TOPIC in forensic science, but such evidence isn't used in most criminal cases. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, for instance, reports that only 10% of its lab's work involves DNA, and a national study found that DNA accounted for just 5% of crime lab work. In most courtrooms, verdicts are still being swayed by methods that have undergone very little scientific scrutiny.

Continue reading...(LA Times, free subscription required)

 



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New Mexico Senate passes eyewitness identification reform bill

Posted: February 6, 2007

The New Mexico Senate passed a bill that would reform police lineups and reduce eyewitness misidentifications. The bill passed by a vote of 22-20 and will now go to the state House of Representatives. The bill would require police to conduct photo lineups sequentially, rather than simultaneously, an important reform (read more here), and includes several other vital reforms.

“This bill simply recognizes that police officers are human; we want to try to eliminate as much human error as possible and make sure that we get the actual perpetrator of a crime convicted,” Sen. John Grubesic, a Santa Fe Democrat, told the Sante Fe New Mexican.
On Monday, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and Staff Attorney Ezekiel Edwards (Mayer Brown Eyewitness Fellow) posted this letter online, calling for the passage of the New Mexico bill. The letter reads, in part:
It’s not complicated: mandating reform in eyewitness identification procedures is a win-win situation, resulting in fewer innocent people being sent to prison, more guilty people getting caught, and our communities becoming safer.
“For years, Democrats and Republicans alike have embraced policies that are tough on crime. Now it is time they get smart about crime, too. In light of the daunting number of wrongful convictions caused by erroneous eyewitness identifications, along with the copious scientific research documenting the factors that enhance its error rate, our leaders must prioritize aggressive reform of police procedures in this arena. Supporting bills like New Mexico Senate Bill 5 is a good place to start.”
Several blogs posted the Scheck and Edwards letter on Monday, including Talk Left, and a Christian Science Monitor story today discusses how states are turning to sequential lineups to improve the quality of eyewitness identifications.

 




Tags: New Mexico, Eyewitness Identification

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Welcome the Innocence Project's new website!

Posted: February 7, 2007

Yesterday we launched this improved website, including tons of new features for you to explore the causes of wrongful conviction and learn about reforms that are underway to prevent injustices from happening in the future.

One of the new features is this blog, which will be updated every weekday and will include additional features very soon. Be sure to also take a look at the National View map and to explore the case profiles section, including background information on all 194 DNA exonerations to date in the United States.

We will also be sending the first issue of our new monthly e-mail newsletter in the next few days. Sign up online now to receive updates on our work in your inbox.

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Forgiving injustice

Posted: February 8, 2007

In a Christian Post column, Mark Earley describes the peaceful and forgiving attitudes of James Waller, of Dallas, and Willie “Pete” Williams, of Atlanta, both of whom have been proven innocent by DNA testing in recent months. Earley writes:

Every now and again, I come across a news story that stops me dead in my tracks. Last week, I came across two such stories about mind-boggling injustice and mind-bending mercy.

Read the full column. (Christian Post, 02/06/07)
  

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Several states -- and the federal government -- are considering DNA database expansions despite backlogged labs

Posted: February 9, 2007

A bill before the Arizona Senate would expand that state’s DNA database to include samples of everyone arrested (but not necessarily convicted) for a crime in the state. However, the state lab had a backlog of 80,000 samples from convicted felons as recently as 2004 and would have to spend millions of dollars to update its lab and hire additional staff to handle triple the current volume of samples. An Arizona Daily Star editorial on Thursday argues against the expansion:

…expanding the DNA database is problematic for several reasons.

First, there are concerns over the loss of civil liberties. Simply being arrested does not mean a person has committed a crime, and many people who are arrested are never charged. Yet those people's DNA would become part of the database.

A more practical concern with expanding the DNA database is that the state doesn't have the resources to test an additional 75,000 people a year — the estimate given by Senate staff that examined the possible impact of the legislation.
...Senate staff found that the bill would cost an additional $3.75 million per year for DNA tests, DPS would have to hire 15 new workers to handle the increased volume of samples, and the state would have to expand its testing facility at a cost of $8 million to $10 million.

Read the full article here. (Arizona Daily Star, 02/08/07)
Several other states are currently considering bills expanding DNA database collection, while funding for crime labs remains woefully inadequate nationwide. Congress also quietly passed an amendment in January authorizing the federal government to collect samples from anyone arrested by federal authorities. The FBI lab, which would process these millions of samples, already has a backlog of 150,000 samples.

More informations on DNA database expansion and crime lab backlogs:



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DNA testing leads to actual perpetrator in Georgia case

Posted: February 12, 2007

Willie “Pete” Williams served 21 years in prison before DNA testing, obtained by his attorneys at the Georgia Innocence Project, proved his innocence. Those same DNA results have now led police to another man, Kenneth Wicker, who has been arrested and charged with the 1985 rape for which Williams was convicted.

Wicker pled guilty to similar crimes in 1985 and was presented as an alternate suspect by Williams’ lawyers in a 1986 appeal. The victim had picked Williams out of a photo lineup, however, and said she was 120 percent certain he was the perpetrator.

Williams' attorney at the time, Michael Schumacher, said Friday the April 1985 attacks were not linked to Wicker because authorities were already locked in on Williams as a suspect.

Schumacher even brought up the Wicker assaults in a 1986 hearing while trying to get his client a new trial. That hearing, where the attorney even had brought Wicker into the courtroom, most likely laid the groundwork that led to Wicker's arrest Friday.

"There's no way he'd be arrested now without that," Schumacher said. "I laid the trail of crumbs for someone else to come and pick up."

There are eerie similarities in looking at police reports from the time….
Williams was accused of raping a woman April 5, 1985, and attempting to rape another five days later. He was arrested April 28, 1985.

"But the attacks continued with the same M.O., down to the same words — he asked the victims about 'Carol,' " Schumacher said.

Read the full story. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 02/10/07, Payment required for full article)
Williams has not been officially exonerated yet – he is awaiting a court hearing that will officially clear his record. Check back here for updates.

More on this case: 

Learn more about eyewitness misidentification in our Understand The Causes section.



Tags: Georgia, Willie Williams

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Editorial urges New York to form state innocence commission

Posted: February 15, 2007

Six states have formed innocence commissions to review their criminal justice systems and ensure that wrongful convictions are prevented in every way possible. The Innocence Project advocates for similar entities in other states. A bill currently pending in New York would create a commission, and the Utica Observer-Dispatch supports it.

(Roy) Brown was not the first and certainly not the only person to be wrongly convicted of a crime. But New York can do more than just lament this injustice, it can work to right other wrongs and prevent conviction of innocent people.

One suggestion for doing that is the creation of an innocence commission. Assemblyman Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, has a bill to establish a commission of 10 unpaid appointees, made up of police, prosecutors, judges, crime victims, defense attorneys and educators. The panel would analyze a case after a judge has ruled that someone was wrongfully convicted.

We urge the Legislature and Gov. Eliot Spitzer to create such a commission. No human endeavor is without error, and sometimes innocent people are unjustly punished.
Read the full editorial here. (Utica Observer-Dispatch, 02/14/07)
Eight people have been proven innocent by DNA in New York in just 13 months, Roy Brown was the most recent in January.

Exonerees Alan Newton, Doug Warney, Scott Fappiano,  and Jeff Deskovic have joined the call as well. Click here for more information on innocence commissions.

The Texas legislature is also considering creating an innocence commission, read more here.

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Dallas DA will work with Innocence Project of Texas to review hundreds of cases

Posted: February 16, 2007

In a groundbreaking move, new Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins announced this week that volunteer attorneys and law students from the Innocence Project of Texas would begin reviewing the cases of 354 people convicted in Dallas of rapes, murders and other felonies. Most of these defendants had applied for testing and been rejected by judges on the recommendation of former Dallas DA Bill Hill. The project has drawn support from prosecutors, defense attorneys, victims groups and other innocence organizations.

Organizers are working to line up participants and hope to start the screening process in the next two months. The work is expected to take several months to complete, said Jeff Blackburn, who heads the Innocence Project of Texas.

Ms. Moore said the office is prepared to request testing in any case for which it is recommended. If the cost of testing becomes an issue, she said, private laboratories might be approached about providing a bulk rate to the county.

Barry Scheck, co-director of the national Innocence Project, said he had "no doubt" that if biological evidence is available and tests are performed, more wrongful convictions will be discovered.

"There just always are," he said.

Read the full story here. (Dallas Morning News, 02/16/07)
 
  • Thirteen Dallas men have been proven innocent by DNA testing, read their stories here.
  • Broad criminal justice reforms are being considered by Texas lawmakers, read more here.
  • Visit the Innocence Project of Texas website here, or learn about other projects in Texas and nationwide.



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Wisconsin panel urges outsourcing of DNA testing to ease backlog

Posted: February 16, 2007

Backlogs currently plague crime labs nationwide. A report released this week by the Wisconsin Criminal Justice Study Commission urged the state to hire more than 30 additional crime lab technicians and to send hundreds of samples to private labs for testing. Officials hope to eliminate the backlog by 2010.

Judges, police, lawyers and others who make up the commission said that eliminating the backlog is a matter of community safety...

The Wisconsin Criminal Justice Study Commission said that outsourcing is expensive and isn't a long-term solution to the backlog. But the commission said on Thursday that it offers the best chance of processing the hundreds of cases waiting on state crime lab shelves.
Read the full story here. (Channel 3000, 02/15/07)
VIDEO: Watch the news report. (Channel 3000, 02/15/07)
The Wisconsin Criminal Justice Study Commission is one of six Criminal Justice Reform Commissions nationwide. Click here to read how these commissions can create true systematic reforms.

Blog Archive: Several states – and the federal government – are considering DNA database expansions despite backlogs.

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Charges dropped in NYC case after DNA proves woman's confession was false

Posted: February 20, 2007

False confessions are among the leading causes of wrongful conviction. In 2006 alone, two New York men – Jeff Deskovic and Doug Warney – who had confessed to murders were exonerated by DNA evidence, proving that their confessions were false.

For every case in which biological evidence is available to prove innocence or guilt, there are many without evidence that can be tested.

In some cases, a false confession leads police to charge someone with a crime, but before the case goes to trial evidence is uncovered that proves the confession was false. In late January, prosecutors in New York City dropped charges against Lourdes Torres, a 31-year-old woman who had confessed to a murder after 18 hours in interrogation. She had been held in jail for over four years awaiting trial before charges were dropped when DNA test results pointed to two men in the murder.

In an interview from Riker's Island Penitentiary, Torres told NewsChannel 4 that she believed detectives when they promised her freedom in exchange for giving a written confession to the fatal stabbing of her lover, 49-year-old Romeo Acuna, in his Jackson Heights apartment in September 2002.

"They told me if I signed the paper, they were going to take me out of jail," said Torres. "I did not kill him. I'm innocent. I wasn't even in the apartment when that occurred."

Read the full story and watch video here. (WNBC New York, 01/25/07)

Recording custodial interrogations helps eliminate false confessions and also helps police do their job. The reform is gaining support from a diverse array of criminal justice groups around the country. Read more about it here.

Steve Drizin, a staff attorney at the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern School of Law in Chicago, maintains a blog on False Confessions. Read the “Bluhm Blog” here.

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Dallas DA joins Innocence Project in push to clear James Curtis Giles

Posted: February 23, 2007



Conclusive evidence has proven that James Curtis Giles was wrongly convicted of a 1982 rape in Dallas, and prosecutors said Thursday that they would not oppose the Innocence Project’s motion to overturn Giles’ sentence. He served 10 years in Texas prisons before he was paroled.

Evidence has since shown that another man, named James Earl Giles, participated in the crime. Evidence leading to James Earl Giles was collected by Dallas Police before James Curtis Giles was convicted, but never handed over the defense attorneys. The jury foreman in James Earl Giles’ case has said that the prosecutor visited the jury during deliberations and told them to put away a dangerous man, according to news reports. 

"There has been no interest in getting to the truth of his case, even though the truth has been sitting there all along," she said. "The true perpetrator was across the street. So literally the truth of the case has been staring everyone in the face for the last 20 years." ...
Read the full story. (Dallas Morning News, 02/23/07)
Giles is the 13th man proven innocent by DNA testing in Dallas County, and a court hearing is expected in the next two weeks.

New Dallas DA Craig Watkins made the groundbreaking announcement last week that his office would work with the Innocence Project of Texas to review 354 cases for possible post-conviction DNA testing.

Read more about the other 12 men proven innocent by DNA testing in Dallas County.



Tags: James Giles

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CNN viewers respond to James Waller story

Posted: February 23, 2007

CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 aired a segment last night on the case of James Waller, one of 13 men proven innocent by DNA testing in Dallas County. Comments have poured into CNN’s website.



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UPDATE: West Virginia lawmakers consider eyewitness identification reforms

Posted: February 23, 2007

The West Virginia Senate heard testimony on Wednesday on a bill that would improve eyewitness identifications and strengthen the state’s criminal justice system. After deliberations, the bill was advanced by the Judiciary Committee.

The bill would give law enforcement statewide a uniform policy regarding eyewitnesses. It also requires witnesses be told that the suspect may not be in a lineup, that they don't have to make an identification and that "it is as important to exclude innocent persons as it is to identify the perpetrator.''
"It affects the victims as well. They have not put away the perpetrator of the crime,'' Sen. Jon Hunter, D-Monongalia and a co-sponsor, said of bad identifications. "What this really does is help law enforcement in the long run.''
Read the full story here. (Charleston Daily Mail, 02/23/07, LexisNexis subscription required)
Read our previous blog post on this bill.

Read the full text of the bill.

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National Public Radio story on Dallas DA's move to review 352 cases

Posted: February 26, 2007

Read or listen to Friday’s NPR story on DA Craig Watkins’ historic move to partner with the Texas Innocence Project in reviewing hundreds of cases for possible testing.

Read our previous blog entries on this issue.

 

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Georgia Exoneree Pete Williams adjusts to his new life

Posted: February 27, 2007

Exonerated this month after serving 21 years for a crime he didn’t commit, Willie “Pete” Williams is still adjusting to life outside of prison. NPR Morning Edition today reports on his new life and his friendship with exoneree Calvin Johnson, who was proven innocent by DNA testing in 1999. Johnson serves on the Innocence Project Board of Directors.

"Being free — there's nothing that can actually replace that," says Williams, who was released in January. "Freedom, it means everything."The long years of incarceration have taken their toll on Williams, who continues to question whether his newfound freedom is real.

"I still have problems with that," he says. "I wake up 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, taking a look around, making sure that I'm not inside of a prison."Read and listen to the full story. (National Public Radio, 02/27/07)
After Innocence, a moving documentary film about the struggle of seven men to readjust to life after exoneration, was recently released on DVD. Read about the documentary and how you can support the exonerated.

Read more about Pete Williams and Calvin Johnson.

Efforts to compensate the wrongly convicted are gaining support nationwide. Currently, 21 states have some form of compensation law. Yesterday’s blog covered a proposed measure in Florida and today a Miami Herald editorial advocates for passage of the legislation.

A compensation bill is also pending in Washington state and an editorial today supports passage of the bill. Read previous blog posts on this bill.

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Backlogs continue to plague crime labs nationwide

Posted: February 27, 2007

When forensic labs are understaffed and underfunded, the chances are higher that mistakes will be made or shortcuts taken. Justice is compromised when thorough testing is not available due to delays or shortfalls. Many states nationwide – along with the FBI crime lab – are facing such backlogs.

In Tennessee, a crime lab backlog shows no sign of easing. 68 TBI analysts currently do 250,000 tests a year.

Kentucky’s crime lab is months behind, with 450 DNA cases waiting for testing.

An audit has also found backlogs in the Maryland crime lab.

Previous blog posts – Arizona, Wisconsin, Florida and the federal government are all considering database expansions despite backlogs.

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Third trial delayed again for Oklahoma man

Posted: February 28, 2007

Curtis McCarty has been convicted twice and sentenced to death three times. In McCarty’s first two trials, notorious lab analyst Joyce Gilchrist falsely testified that hairs and other biological evidence proved that McCarty could have been the killer.

A story today in the Oklahoma Gazette reviews the slow pace of events in McCarty’s case.

Six years ago, the FBI examined the state’s forensic work and testimony from McCarty’s second trial in 1989, finding serious flaws.

The reason? Former Oklahoma City police chemist Joyce Gilchrist, who was terminated in 2001 after an internal investigation prompted by the FBI report.

Gilchrist’s testimony, based on her analysis of hair evidence, was discredited — the basis for an appeals court to overturn McCarty’s conviction and death sentence, resulting in the upcoming trial.

The appeals court ruled Gilchrist, acting in bad faith, either intentionally lost or destroyed key evidence, which could have been examined by the defense to prove McCarty’s innocence.

Defense attorneys used Gilchrist as the main reason the case should be dropped.

“She destroyed that evidence in order to hide the truth,” said Innocence Project attorney Colin Starger. “Can this prosecution be saved from its prior taint? We submit it cannot.”

Read the full story here. (Oklahoma Gazette, 02/28/07)

Read our previous blog post on this case.

Read the motion and brief filed earlier this month on McCarty's behalf. (PDF)

Joyce Gilchrist’s false forensic testimony has led to at least two other wrongful convictions; read more about the cases of Jeffrey Pierce and Robert Miller.

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San Antonio Express News supports state innocence commission

Posted: February 28, 2007

26 people have been exonerated by DNA testing in the state of Texas. Voices are joining the call for state lawmakers to create an innocence commission, which will review criminal justice procedures and aim to prevent future wrongful convictions.

An editorial today in the San Antonio Express News supports the initiative.

Read our previous blog posts on a Texas Innocence Commission.
Six states have innocence commissions, read more here

 

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Eyewitness identification experts blogging from landmark conference

Posted: March 1, 2007

A group of attorneys attending the "Off The Witness Stand" conference at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice starting today will be blogging live from the events. If you can't make the conference, check out their posts.

Read more on the conference.

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Pennsylvania's innocence commission meets this month

Posted: March 1, 2007

One of six state commissions charged with reviewing criminal justice policy to prevent future wrongful convictions, the Pennsylvania Innocence Commission is scheduled to meet for the first time on March 26. An article today profiles Gary Asteak, a public defender who will be one of 30 commission members.

Although the first committee meeting is nearly a month away, Asteak, a public defender for 25 years until his retirement from that job a few years ago, has prepared an agenda. ''Of particular interest to me is the quality of indigent defense services,'' he said.

Most public defender offices, he said, have ''no uniform standards for services, no limit on the number of cases a public defender can have, and frequently no review of the quality of work the public defenders are doing. There's no special training.''

Asteak has three other areas of concern: Procedures used to identify suspects, including live or photo lineups; methods used to introduce confessions to a jury; and use of snitches.

Police, he said, should be monitored in how they prepare witnesses before using them to identify a suspect.

Read the full story. (The Morning Call - Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, 03/01/07, Payment required for full article)
Read more on Innocence Commissions.

Previous blog posts: Texas and New York are among the states considering innocence commissions. An editorial yesterday in San Antonio joined the called for a Texas commission. A New York Times editorial in January supported the commissions nationwide (subscription required).

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New Dallas DA wants to be "smart on crime"

Posted: March 5, 2007

From today’s Washington Post:

Craig Watkins is still settling into his 11th-floor office overlooking the city skyline, hanging up pictures, arranging his plaques -- and revolutionizing the criminal justice system he oversees.

Sworn in as Dallas County district attorney on Jan. 1 -- he is the first elected black district attorney in Texas -- Watkins fired or accepted the resignations of almost two dozen high-level white prosecutors and began hiring minorities and women.

And in an unprecedented act for any jurisdiction in the nation, he announced he would allow the Texas affiliate of the Innocence Project to review hundreds of Dallas County cases dating back to 1970 to decide whether DNA tests should be conducted to validate past convictions.

Read the full story here. (Washington Post, 03/05/07) DNA testing has proven the innocence of 13 wrongly convicted people in Dallas in the last five years. Wakins announced last month that his office will cooperate with the Innocence Project of Texas to review hundreds of cases in which a convicted person applied for testing and was denied. Read more about this groundbreaking move here.

 

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Maryland expert fabricated credentials, testimony is questioned

Posted: March 9, 2007

The former head of the Maryland State Police firearms division suddenly retired days ago and then committed suicide, and police revealed yesterday that an investigation showed that he lied repeatedly on the witness stand about his credentials. Joseph Kopera, 61, had worked as a forensic expert for 37 years on state and federal cases in every Maryland jurisdiction as well as in Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys told the Baltimore Sun last night that this revelation could lead to new trials for dozens of inmates that Kopera helped to convict.

"It raises huge red flags, and it's particularly disturbing because he had been doing this for so long that God knows how many cases he's been involved in," (Public Defender) Michelle Nethercott said yesterday evening in a telephone interview from Annapolis, where she was testifying in favor of a bill that would require oversight of police crime labs in Maryland.

As a firearms examiner - first with the Baltimore Police Department and then the state police - Kopera collected and then analyzed bullets, shell casings, weapons and other forensic evidence. Given the length and breadth of Kopera's work, prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys alike said yesterday that the implications of the investigation could be tremendous, with the analysis of every bullet and every weapon that has passed through Kopera's crime laboratory called into question. …
"The potential problem cannot be overstated," said Thomas J. Fleckenstein, a former Anne Arundel County assistant state's attorney. "Every case he has ever been involved in is open to question. There will be a lot of prosecutors having a lot of heartburn."
Read the full story here. (Baltimore Sun, 03/09/07)
The Innocence Project has worked on many cases in which the discovery of crime lab misconduct has led to the exoneration of innocent people. Forensic fraud is troubling because in many cases handled by these notorious experts, evidence that could have proven innocence has been lost or destroyed after conviction. Cases is which DNA evidence can lead to exoneration are rare, and they point to larger problems in the criminal justice system.
  • Former West Virginia lab chief Fred Zain testified in 12 states over the course of his career, and his faulty work led to the wrongful conviction of Gilbert Alejandro, James Richardson, William O’Dell Harris and others.
  • The Innocence Project represents Thomas Siller, who was convicted partly based on false testimony by a notorious forensic analyst, Joseph Serowik, whose forensic fraud also led to the wrongful conviction of Anthony Michael Green.
  • The Innocence Project is also involved in the case of Curtis McCarty, who has been convicted twice and sentenced to death in Oklahoma and is currently awaiting his third trial. His first two trials were tainted by the faulty forensic testimony of Joyce Gilchrist, who was also involved in the wrongful convictions of Jeffrey Todd Pierce and Robert Miller.
  • Read more about forensic science misconduct.


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James Waller pardoned in Texas

Posted: March 12, 2007

A Dallas man who first asked for DNA testing 18 years ago has finally been cleared by the state of Texas. On Friday, Governor Rick Perry pardoned James Waller, who spent 10 years in Texas prisons and 13 years on parole for a rape he didn’t commit.

Waller appeared in court in January with his attorneys from the Innocence Project as the District Attorney filed a motion agreeing with the finding of innocence.

Read more about the case.

View the pardon papers.

Thirteen Dallas men have been proven innocent by DNA testing; read about their cases here.

New Dallas DA Craig Watkins agreed to allow the Innocence Project of Texas to review 354 Dallas cases for possible DNA cases. Read more.

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Massachusetts crime lab director resigns under pressure

Posted: March 12, 2007

Carl Selavka, who ran the Massachusetts State Police crime lab for nearly seven years, has resigned as his lab is scrutinized for possible misconduct. Officials said that the resignation was "an admission that he didn't meet his job responsibility."

The lab is currently undergoing an audit due to problems with the way DNA database samples have been handled in the past. The lab’s database administrator was suspended without pay in January after it was revealed that he had failed to report DNA database matches to prosecutors.

Read today's Boston Globe article on Selavka's resignation.

Read previous blog entries on the Massachusetts State Police crime lab.

Read about crime lab oversight in our Fix the System section.

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Murder victim's mother calls for more crime lab funding in Florida

Posted: March 13, 2007

The mother of a six-year-old girl found murdered and sexually assaulted last September is taking her call for more crime lab funding to Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida. Evidence in the case has not been fully tested, as Florida’s five state crime labs face serious backlogs.

Read this story and watch video here
. (NBC 2, Fort Myers, Fla., 03/11/07)

Crime lab backlogs prevent police and the courts from working efficiently and create the possibility of error. For our recommendations on crime lab reform, see our Fix the System section.

More on crime lab backlogs in Florida and elsewhere:

Florida DNA labs are so backed up that officials may limit the number of items police can send from each case.

Montana labs continue to suffer from serious backlogs.

Several states, and the federal government, are considering DNA database expansions despite backlogged labs.


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Federal court issues major DNA opinion

Posted: March 14, 2007

The Second Circuit Court yesterday released an important opinion for defendants seeking post-conviction DNA testing. The federal appeals court ruled that a lower court must consider whether Frank McKithen, a New York inmate convicted of attempted murder, has a constitutional right to have evidence in his case DNA tested. The lower court, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, had previously dismissed McKithen’s case on procedural grounds. The case will now go before the same court again.

The circuit court’s decision begins:

Eighty-four years ago, Judge Learned Hand observed that “[o]ur procedure has been always haunted by the ghost of the innocent man convicted,” but posited, optimistically, that “[i]t is an unreal dream.” (United States v. Garsson, 291 F. 646, 649 (S.D.N.Y. 1923).)

Today, with the advance of forensic DNA technology, our desire to join Learned Hand’s optimism has given way to the reality of wrongful convictions — a reality which challenges us to reaffirm our commitment to the principle that the innocent should be freed.
Read more on the opinion on Appellate Law & Practice, an appellate law blog.

Read the full opinion.


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USA Today Column: Other counties should follow Dallas

Posted: March 19, 2007

Joyce King wrote in Friday's USA Today that new Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins is setting a powerful example for jurisdictions around the country.

Victims deserve to have the actual perpetrators brought to justice. Preserving evidence and opening up cases based on questionable convictions would go a long way toward accomplishing that goal.

Watkins is just one district attorney in one county trying to do the right thing. It's time for other cities to join Dallas in ensuring justice for the victims of crime and for those wrongly convicted.
Read the full column. (USA Today, 3/16/07)



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U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in Fry case

Posted: March 20, 2007

In a case that could clarfiy a standard for appeals in cases where defendants were prevented from offering key evidence, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today in the case of Fry v. Pliler. John Fry was convicted of first-degree murder in California and sentenced to life in prison. At his trial, the judge prevented testimony of a witness who would have stated that she heard another man admitting guilt in a crime matching the one for which Fry was convicted. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that although the witness’s testimony “would have substantially bolstered” Fry’s defense, it still constituted “harmless error.”

The Supreme Court today reviews the Ninth Circuit’s denial of Fry’s petition.

The Innocence Network filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing that the error in this case “can not be said to be harmless.” Read the amicus brief here.  (PDF)

Click here for an analysis of the case on the SCOTUS Blog.

Click here for briefs filed by the parties in this case.

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False testimony from "expert" could lead to hundreds of new trials

Posted: March 22, 2007

Public defenders filed papers on Tuesday in Baltimore seeking a new trial for a police sergeant convicted of killing his mistress because his conviction was based partially on the testimony of Joseph Kopera, the former Maryland ballistics examiner who lied on the stand repeatedly about his credentials.

Experts say that Kopera, who resigned three weeks ago under controversy as the head of the Maryland State Police firearms division and committed suicide the next day, may have falsified results of forensic tests. As a result, hundreds of convictions based on his testimony could be overturned.

Read the full story. (Baltimore Sun, 3/22/07)

Read our previous blog post on this story. (3/9/07)
 

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Innocence Network conference draws hundreds

Posted: March 26, 2007

More than 300 people from dozens of organizations and perspectives in the innocence movement around the world met in Cambridge, Massachusetts, over the last three days to discuss the past year’s work as well as challenges and goals ahead. The group included more than 50 people exonerated after being wrongly convicted of crimes they didn’t commit – the largest group of exonerees ever to attend such a conference.

 

  • Click here for more on the Innocence Network.
  • Email us for further contact information on presenters and conference materials.
  • Watch the Innocence Blog for photos and more from the conference in the days to come.


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Rogue DNA databases operate outside of the law

Posted: March 27, 2007

Forensic labs in at least five states maintain their own databases that aren’t controlled by any laws and don’t meet the standards of the FBI’s DNA database. California, Florida, Illinois, Missouri and New York store DNA profiles that are ineligible for CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) – the database managed by the FBI and authorized under federal law.

"They're rogue databases that operate without the public's knowledge and without the security and privacy considerations of the government databases," says Stephen Saloom, the Innocence Project's policy director. "This is an issue the public ought to decide."

Read the full story. (USA Today, 3/26/07)
Read more about DNA privacy issues.

Many states – and the federal government – are working to expand their DNA databases despite staggering backlogs in labs. Read more.


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Tennessee Man Still on Death Row

Posted: June 22, 2007 12:25 pm

Paul House has spent 22 years on Tennessee’s death row for a murder conviction based on faulty scientific evidence. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that he should get a new hearing because post-conviction DNA testing invalidated the prosecution’s theory that he raped and then murdered a woman more than 20 years ago. The Innocence Project filed an amicus brief in support of House’s motion before the Supreme Court, arguing that courts should be allowed to give more weight to hard scientific evidence on appeal. The Court’s ruling was one that will have a profound impact on defendants in all 50 states.

Now, a group of Tennessee legislators is calling for the governor to grant House a pardon.

"Governor Bredesen, we understand that the authority to grant pardons is one of the most serious and awesome responsibilities of your office," the letter states. "However, in the case of Paul House, we believe that it is warranted."
Read the full article here. (Nashville Scene, 6/20/07)





Tags: Tennessee

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Anthony Capozzi exonerated in New York

Posted: April 3, 2007

Anthony Capozzi was released from state custody early this morning, officials said. He became the 23rd New Yorker to be proven innocent by DNA testing yesterday when an Erie County judge vacated his sentence and prosecutors dropped charges against him. He served 20 years for two rapes he didn’t commit.

The assistant district attorney who prosecuted Capozzi issued an apology last week:

“I deeply regret the outcome of this case,” she wrote. “I realize it brings little comfort or consolation to Mr. Capozzi or his family. I handled this case fairly and honestly based on all the evidence and information that was available at the time. This is the most troubling and upsetting circumstance in my 25 years as a lawyer and judge, and I am truly sorry for what happened in this case.”
Read Buffalo News stories on this case:

 Read more about Capozzi’s case and other people exonerated by DNA evidence.

Previous Blog Entry: Capozzi case leads to renewed calls for a New York innocence commissions

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After Innocence screening and panel in Kansas Thursday

Posted: April 3, 2007

Kansas Attorney General Paul Morrison and other panelists will discuss the issue of wrongful convictions on Thursday in a panel discussion after a screening of the documentary film After Innocence on the Kansas University campus.

Read the full story. (Lawrence Journal-World, 4/3/07)

Learn more about After Innocence and view a trailer of the film.

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Dallas exoneree joins DA Watkins for panel discussion

Posted: April 5, 2007

At a recent panel discussion in Dallas, James Waller shared the story of 10 years in prison and 14 years on parole for a crime he didn’t commit. Other panelists included new Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins, who is working with the Innocence Project of Texas to review more than 300 cases for potential DNA testing. The event was organized by the Dallas / Ft. Worth Association of Black Journalists.

“Everybody thinks that the civil rights struggle is over, it’s not. There’s a new civil rights struggle, dealing with criminal justice,”… Watkins said.

“We’ve got to change the way we look at the criminal justice system and do certain things to make sure that we don’t have people who look like us, or any other folks, being labeled as criminals for the rest of their lives,” said Watkins.

Read the full story. (Black Press USA, 4/4/07)
Read more about Waller’s case or listen online to his recent appearance on North Carolina Public Radio.

Previous Blog Entries: Read more about Dallas DA Craig Watkins and his plan to reform the county’s criminal justice system.

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Dallas man cleared after 24-year quest for justice

Posted: April 9, 2007

In a hearing this morning in Dallas, Innocence Project attorneys and attorneys from the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office will present evidence that proves James Curtis Giles didn’t participate in the 1982 gang rape for which he served 10 years in prison. Giles, 53, has been on parole as a registered as a sex offender for 14 years. Giles became the 13th Dallas County man to be proven innocent by DNA testing. No other county in the U.S. has had as many wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing.

A story in today’s Los Angeles Times explores Giles’ long journey to this day – a journey he shared at times with three other wrongly convicted men: James Waller, Kevin Byrd and A.B. Butler.

"We sat together, ate together and tried to clear our name together," James Waller recalled of his prison days with Giles. Waller was convicted of raping a 12-year-old boy. "When I went into the courtroom, I really thought I would be going home. I never would think I would go to jail for something I didn't do. But I did. That was Dallas County: get a conviction no matter how."

Read the full story here. (Los Angeles Times, 4/9/07, Payment required for full article)

More News Coverage: Quest to clear name at end (Dallas Morning News, 4/9/07)

Name's the same, but DNA could clear rape suspect (CNN, 4/9/07)

Click here for more details on Giles’ case

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Law student played key role in Giles case

Posted: April 9, 2007

Lauren Kaeseberg, a third-year law student at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, has worked closely with Innocence Project Staff Attorney Vanessa Potkin on James Giles’s case for more than a year. She was standing in court this morning with Giles, Potkin and Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck as the Innocence Project joined Dallas prosecutors in presenting evidence that clears James Giles of the 1982 rape for which he was wrongly convicted.

A story in today’s Dallas Observer blog highlights Kaeseberg’s role in the case.

Last summer Kaeseberg came to Dallas with Vanessa Potkin, one of the lawyers involved with the Innocence Project. “It was a great experience for me as a law student,” she says. “We found and interviewed witnesses and prepared affidavits. It was a really interesting hands-on experience that doesn’t come along too often for a law student.”

Read the full story here. (Dallas Observer Unfair Park Blog, 4/9/07)
Kaeseberg is a teaching assistant in the Innocence Project clinic, where 20 Cardozo law students work with staff attorneys on cases in which defendants are seeking DNA testing to prove their innocence. Kaeseberg is planning to work for the Innocence Project of New Orleans when she graduates in May.



Tags: James Giles

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Dallas DA aims to restore credibility with a special prosecutor for DNA appeals

Posted: April 11, 2007

New Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins was in the courtroom Monday when evidence was presented to clear James Giles 24 years after he was wrongly convicted of a rape he didn’t commit. Watkins praised Giles yesterday for his perseverance. “If it wasn’t for him putting this fight on, I wouldn’t be here,” Watkins said Monday.

Watkins announced in February that his office would work with the Innocence Project of Texas to review more than 300 Dallas convictions for possible DNA testing. And on Tuesday he asked Dallas County commissioners to fund a special prosecutor position to review post-conviction DNA cases.

"We have an opportunity here in Dallas County to make a statement ... an opportunity to right the wrongs of the past," Mr. Watkins told commissioners.

Read the full story here. (Dallas Morning News, 04/11/07)




Tags: Innocence Commissions

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Eyewitness reforms gain momentum nationwide

Posted: April 20, 2007

Eyewitness identification was a factor in more than 75 percent of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing. This legislative session, 16 bills including eyewitness identification reforms were introduced in a dozen states. One, in West Virginia, has been passed and is awaiting the governor’s approval. Ezekiel Edwards, Innocence Project staff attorney/Mayer Brown eyewitness fellow, told the National Law Journal that DNA exonerations have helped drive interest in these reforms.

Whether the pending bills pass or not, Edwards said there is definitely more activity now, which he attributed to wrongful convictions.

"They allow us to kind of look back at the cases as a collective and see what went wrong and the overreaching answer is eyewitness identification," said Edwards, who recently testified in favor of West Virginia's bill.

Read the full story here. (National Law Journal, 4/20/07)
What do these reforms include? Click here to learn more about blind sequential lineups and more in our Fix The System section.

Read about pending reforms in Texas and California and the West Virginia reforms that were recently approved by the legislature.



Tags: Eyewitness Identification

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National Public Radio: DNA Evidence Frees 200th Prisoner

Posted: April 5, 2007 7:00 am

Yesterday's NPR News & Notes featured an interview with Jerry Miller, the 200th person exonerated by DNA evidence. Also featured on the show were Innocence Project Barry Scheck, who said that an African-American man charged with sexual assault by a white woman (as Miller was) is still in the most dangerous place in the American legal system and a feature on documentary film "The Trials of Darryl Hunt." The film premieres on HBO tomorrow night (April 26th) at 8 p.m. Click here to watch a trailer.



Tags: Jerry Miller

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National Public Radio: DNA evidence frees 200th prisoner

Posted: April 26, 2007

NPR News & Notes featured an interview this week with Jerry Miller, the 200th person exonerated by DNA evidence. Also featured on the show were Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck, who said that an African-American man charged with sexual assault by a white woman (as Miller was) is still in the most dangerous place in the American legal system.

For a sample of articles and videos on the 200 Exonerated campaign, click here.

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Darryl Hunt documentary airs tonight on HBO

Posted: April 6, 2007

National Public radio aired a story this week on "The Trials of Darryl Hunt," a documentary film about a North Carolina man proven innocent by DNA evidence after spending 20 years in prison. The film airs tonight at 8 p.m. on HBO. Click here for a trailer.

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Court TV anchor calls Innocence Project event “poignant, meaningful and spirited”

Posted: April 30, 2007

Jami Floyd, the anchor of Court TV’s Best Defense, writes in her blog that the Innocence Project’s Celebration of Freedom & Justice was one of the most spectacular events she had attended in a long time.

Even though 200 people were wrongly convicted only to be cleared years later by the miracle of science; even though we honored a group that has lost a collective 2500 years of their lives; even though many have yet to receive an apology, let alone compensation from the states that wrongfully sent them to prison.  It was a night of celebration because these men are free.

Now we must figure out why they went to prison in the first place.  And fix it.

Read the full blog post. (Best Defense Blog, 04/25/07)
Watch Jami Floyd’s on-air comments about the event.

Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck appeared on Best Defense before the event last week and discussed the causes of wrongful conviction. Watch his appearance here.

Watch video of the exonerees in attendance at the event

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National Public Radio talks with Dallas District Attorney

Posted: May 2, 2007

National Public Radio featured an interview this week with Craig Watkins, the Dallas District Attorney who is working with the Innocence Project of Texas to review more than 300 cases in which a convicted defendant has claimed innocence but been denied DNA testing. Thirteen people have been proven innocent by DNA in Dallas County alone, more than in any other county in the nation.

Watkins told NPR’s Michel Martin that “Out of 13 exonerations that we have had in the past five years, they were as a result of testing 35 cases. That's almost half. And so I believe that when we test 400, if we just look at the numbers, there is obviously going to be someone that has been wrongfully convicted that's actually sitting in prison right now.

Download the show in MP3 format.
Read more about the work underway in Dallas and the 13 men proven innocent by DNA testing in that county.



Tags: Access to DNA Testing

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Harrisburg newspaper: Exonerations should spark death penalty moratorium

Posted: May 2, 2007

Citing six people exonerated from death row in Pennsylvania in the last 21 years, the Harrisburg Patriot-News this week called for a halt in the state’s death penalty while criminal justice reforms take place. Gov. Ed Rendell signed three death warrants last week, the paper reports, but has admitted that the criminal justice system in flawed. Pennsylvania has 225 prisoners awaiting execution, among the highest death row populations in the country.

Poor defendants almost never have the means to hire competent private defense counsel, or the resources to engage investigators, obtain expert witnesses or pay for tests. Even the cost of transcripts can be beyond reach.

Three individuals have been executed in Pennsylvania, all of them after they voluntarily gave up their appeals, since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978. Another 225 prisoners are awaiting execution in this state, one of the highest Death-Row populations in the country.

Gov. Ed Rendell, who signed three more death warrants last week, has conceded that there are flaws in the system. But he has resisted calls for a two-year moratorium on executions sought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches and other groups.

Read the full editorial here. (Harrisbury Patriot-News, 4/30/07)
Last month, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck joined exoneree Ray Krone and local groups at a rally in Philadelphia calling for a statewide moratorium on executions. Read more here.

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Anderson Cooper 360 investigates the

Posted: May 2, 2007

The popularity of crime dramas like CSI and Law & Order have led to public interest in forensic science, but the science on the shows isn’t always real. In an article in this week’s New Yorker, reporter Jeffrey Toobin investigates the state of hair and fiber analysis and separates the fact from the fiction.

Tonight at 10 p.m. on CNN, Toobin joins Anderson Cooper for a special report on the state of forensic science. Both reports discuss the Innocence Project’s work on behalf of Jimmy Ray Bromgard as an example of faulty hair or fiber analysis that can lead to wrongful convictions.

Read Toobin’s post on Cooper’s blog here.

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Bill Moyers interviews exoneree Jerry Miller tonight on PBS

Posted: May 4, 2007

Jerry Miller is the 200th person to be exonerated by DNA testing in the United States. He was cleared by a Chicago judge last week, after serving 24 years in prison and 11 months on parole as a registered sex offender for a crime he didn’t commit. Tonight on PBS, he will join Bill Moyers, of the Bill Moyers Journal, for a special interview and report on DNA exonerations and their effect on the criminal justice system.

Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck wrote a post on the show’s blog. Read it here.

Watch the show tonight at 9 p.m. EST on PBS. Click here for local listings.

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Watch Bill Moyers interview 200th Exoneree Jerry Miller

Posted: May 7, 2007

Jerry Miller of Illinois was recently proven innocent by DNA testing after having served 24 years in prison and one year on parole for a crime he didn’t commit. He was interviewed Friday on PBS's Bill Moyers Journal. Watch the interview here.

Join the Discussion: Read a blog post by Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck on the Bill Moyers Journal website and leave your feedback to the blog and the interview.

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Tonight on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360:

Posted: May 7, 2007

The popularity of crime dramas like CSI and Law & Order have led to public interest in forensic science, but the science on the shows isn’t always real. In a recent article in the New Yorker, reporter Jeffrey Toobin investigates the state of hair and fiber analysis and separates the fact from the fiction.

Tonight at 10 p.m. on CNN, Toobin joins Anderson Cooper for a special report on the state of forensic science. Both reports discuss the Innocence Project’s work on behalf of Jimmy Ray Bromgard as an example of faulty hair or fiber analysis that can lead to wrongful convictions. This show was rescheduled from last week.

Read Toobin’s post on Cooper’s blog here.

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Compensation bill for Florida exoneree fails for second time

Posted: May 8, 2007

Florida is one of 29 states that lack a law compensating the wrongfully convicted after their release. Alan Crotzer was exonerated by DNA testing and released from Florida prison in 2006 after serving more than 24 years for a rape he didn’t commit. The Florida Senate ended its 2007 session this week without passing a proposed bill that would pay Crotzer $1.25 million.

In today’s USA Today, columnist DeWayne Wickham writes that the legislature should have compensated Crotzer for the injustice he suffered:

That idea shouldn't be a hard sell. Crotzer was robbed of what could well have been the most productive years of his life by a wrongful conviction. And in the 15 months since his release, he has struggled — without any useful job skills — to put his life back in order. How long will he be forced to wait for Florida to pay the debt it owes him?

What is it going to take to get Florida and the other states that don't have them to enact a compensation statute?

DNA testing has made it possible for some people who have been imprisoned by mistake to go free. Now we've got to find a way to get state lawmakers such as Pruitt to move expeditiously — and predictably — to help make these victims whole.

Read the full column here. (USA Today, 05/08/07)
Miami Herald: Exonerated convict may not get compensation (05/02/07)

How does your state stack up? View a map of compensation bills nationwide.

Read more about compensation laws.



Tags: Florida, Alan Crotzer, Exoneree Compensation

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Fingerprint errors found in Florida crime lab

Posted: May 9, 2007

Florida officials have found mistakes in fingerprint comparison by an expert at the Seminole County Sheriff’s crime lab that may have led to the conviction of innocent people, and the state lab is reviewing hundreds of cases in which the expert’s testimony was the sole evidence against a defendant.

"There could be the possibility of someone being imprisoned wrongly," said Chris White, head of the State Attorney's Office in Seminole.

Read the full story here. (Orlando Sentinel, 5/4/07)
Backlogs have plagued Florida’s state labs in recent months, read more.



Tags: Florida

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New Jersey man to be released after nearly two decades in prison

Posted: May 15, 2007

This morning, a New Jersey judge overturned the conviction of Byron Halsey, who was wrongfully convicted in 1988 of the brutal murders of two children. Halsey was released at 3 p.m. and he told a crowd of family and friends that he was thankful to be free. "I wasn't going to let anyone take my life from me," he told reporters. He said he kept his hopes high for release during long years in prison because his grandmother told him to "keep fighting."

DNA testing indicates that another man committed the sexual assault and murder of a 7-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy in Plainfield, NJ, and prosecutors joined the Innocence Project in filing a motion to overturn the conviction. Judge Stuart Peim granted the motion at a short hearing this morning.Read the Innocence Project press release on today's hearing.


News coverage of the hearing:

VIDEO: CBS 2 New York: DNA evidence exonerates man wrongfully convicted of child murder

NJ Star Ledger: DNA acquits man convicted of killing two children

MSNBC (via Associated Press): DNA test frees man convicted of 2 child slayings



Tags: New Jersey

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Editorial: A suspect justice system

Posted: May 17, 2007

An editorial in today's Newark Star-Ledger calls for prosecutors to act soon on the charges pending against Byron Halsey in New Jersey.

Most frightening is the lack of speed with which the criminal justice system corrects its mistakes. Prosecutors are still debating whether to retry Halsey. Though he walked into the sunlight on Tuesday, he is hardly a free man. He was released on $55,000 bail, required to wear an electronic monitor and remains under indictment.

That's the case even though both the prosecution and defense joined in the motion to vacate his conviction after lawyers from the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization that became involved in Halsey's case three years ago, said DNA shows a neighbor is the source of the semen found on the little girl's underwear. That neighbor, Clifton Hall, is in prison for three sex crimes committed in the early 1990s in Plainfield.

Considering the initial DNA results came back in December and more conclusive ones followed in January, it's difficult to comprehend why it will take another two months to decide whether Halsey will be tried again or the charges dropped altogether.

Halsey deserves to know now.

Read the full editorial here. (Newark Star-Ledger, 5/17/07)
Halsey was released from prison on Tuesday after seving more than 19 years for the murders of two children that he didn't commit. Read the Innocence Project press release on the case and media coverage of Halsey's release.



Tags: New Jersey

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NJ’s highest court tells judges to warn jurors about eyewitness error

Posted: May 22, 2007

Eyewitness misidentification was involved in 77 percent of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA evidence. Yesterday, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that judges in the state must warn jurors that eyewitnesses may be wrong, no matter how confident they seem on the stand.

In a unanimous opinion, the state's high court said the "fallibility of eyewitness identifications" led them to revise the instructions judges read to jurors on how they should decide a suspect's guilt under the law.
"We believe that particular care need be taken in respect of this powerful evidence -- the eyewitness," Supreme Court Justice Jaynee LaVecchia wrote for the court. "Eyewitness identification testimony requires close scrutiny and should not be accepted uncritically."

Read the full story here. (Newark Star-Ledger, 5/22/07)

The justices also found yesterday that cases involving cross-ethnic, yet same-race, identifications did not require a special cross-racial identification jury charge. Read more about this on the Eyewitness Identification Reform Blog.



Tags: New Jersey, Eyewitness Identification

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NY Times: New Dallas DA means end to old ways

Posted: June 4, 2007

The first five months in office for new Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins has brought major change to the county’s justice system, and an article in yesterday’s New York Times considers the differences between Watkins and prosecutors of decades past. But political change often moves slowly:

“I encounter resistance every day,” Mr. Watkins said. “It’s part of my job. It doesn’t make any difference. Let them be on the wrong side of history.” But, he said, his critics “are just waiting for me to make a mistake.”
Since 2001, DNA testing has overturned 13 Dallas County wrongful convictions. Only the states of Illinois, New York and Texas have more exonerations than Dallas County itself. Watkins announced in February that his office would cooperate with the Innocence Project of Texas to review more than 400 cases in which an inmate applied for DNA testing to prove innocence and was denied the tests. In May, his office named a new special prosecutor to focus on this review process as well as other DNA-related cases.
“We’re getting ready to make history, not only in Dallas County and Texas but the rest of the country,” said Jeff Blackburn of the West Texas Innocence Project at Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock. “We have what no other county or state has — a D.A. determined that innocent people don’t get convicted.”
“You don’t have to be bloodthirsty to be elected,” Mr. Blackburn said. “People are not as crazy as prosecutors and judges think.”
Read the full story here. (New York Times, 6/3/07)




Tags: Access to DNA Testing

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Houston lab probe leads to more questions

Posted: June 18, 2007 11:22 am

The final report of an extensive audit of the Houston crime lab uncovered dozens of incidences of forensic neglect and potential misconduct. But the report did not examine how potentially-mishandled evidence impacted convictions, according to the independent investigator in charge of the audit.

"It is important that somebody does what we did not do, which is to really look at whether it (HPD's work) really mattered in the larger context in the case," said Michael Bromwich, whose two-year, $5.3 million crime lab investigation ended last week. "To the extent that the people care about whether there were cases of injustice, some mechanism has to be devised to address those cases in a way that people feel this final but important step has been adequately addressed."

Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 06/17/07)

Read more about the investigator’s final report in our blog or download the full report here. View a list of Texas exonerees here.



Tags: Texas

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Independent labs mean fair testing

Posted: June 19, 2007 11:01 am

A two-year audit of the Houston Police Department’s crime lab came to a close last week, with the final report including troubling revelations about lab work that led to hundreds of criminal convictions. A column in the Houston Chronicle details two major causes of forensic mistakes and misconduct: underfunding and a close relationship with law enforcement. When labs are part of a police department, Ellen Marrus writes, they view themselves as a tool of the prosecution and not an independent scientific body.

As the screws are tightened on the HPD crime lab, law enforcement officials will look for ways to ensure the problems will not be repeated in the future. Our system of justice depends on clear and concise presentations of credible evidence, and we need to take the necessary steps to ensure that our crime labs can provide it.

Read the full article here. (Houston Chronicle, 06/16/07)
Read previous blog posts on the Houston lab audit, download the full report, read more about crime lab backlogs and crime lab oversight.



Tags: Texas

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The legacy of the Duke case

Posted: June 19, 2007 1:55 pm

An editorial in today’s Anniston (Alabama) Star looks forward to the legacy of the case of three Duke lacrosse players falsely accused of raping a woman in North Carolina. Charges were dropped earlier this year and the original prosecutor was disbarred yesterday. The editorial says the Duke case should lead the public to hold overzealous prosecutors accountable for operating outside of the law.

As the Innocence Project’s record attests, men and women are falsely accused more regularly than one would imagine. Most of them do not have the luck of being fabulously wealthy and are not able to hire top-dollar lawyers.

These unseen victims are often set on a path to jail by zealous prosecutors who aren’t willing to look at all the facts. Those falsely accused rarely become a cause for the right or the left. They mostly languish in prison hoping someone will pay attention.

Read the editorial here. (Anniston Star, 06/19/07)
Read yesterday's blog post on this issue



Tags: Government Misconduct

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Trashing the truth: Denver Post examines evidence preservation

Posted: July 23, 2007 1:49 pm

In a major four-part series this week in the Denver Post, reporters investigate the state of evidence preservation nationwide and the ramifications of the sometimes-illegal, sometimes-accidental destruction of thousands of biological samples in cases where DNA testing could prove innocence or confirm guilt.

Today’s article, the second of four parts, follows a trail of destroyed evidence and inconsistent policies around the United States and considers needed reforms.

Authorities across the country have lost, mishandled or destroyed tens of thousands of DNA samples since genetic fingerprinting revolutionized crime solving 20 years ago.

Evidence from cold cases goes misplaced across Colorado.

Delicate traces of human biology sit stuffed into pizza and fried-chicken boxes in rat-infested New Orleans evidence vaults.

And specimens are dumped by the truckload in Los Angeles, Houston and New York - sometimes soon after high-profile exonerations.In a country whose prime-time TV lineup glorifies DNA forensics, many real-life evidence vaults are underfunded and mismanaged, struggling to keep up with technological advances and lagging behind most corner groceries in the way they track valuable crime-scene items.

Read the full articles, watch video clips and more, at DenverPost.com. (7/23/07)
Read more about evidence preservation in our Fix the System section.

The Denver Post also reported last week on the case of Timothy Masters, who was convicted in 1999 of a murder he says he didn’t commit. Read more in our previous blog post.




Tags: Evidence Preservation

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Michigan case highlights causes of wrongful convictions

Posted: August 1, 2007 2:43 pm

A questionable eyewitness identification and the testimony of a jailhouse snitch led to Frederick Freeman’s conviction of a 1986 murder in Michigan. Now, Freeman and his attorneys are seeking to have his conviction overturned on evidence that he was wrongfully convicted, and a two-part series starting today in the Detroit Metro Times investigates his case.

Read the full story here
. (Detroit Metro Times, 08/01/07)

Another story in today’s Metro Times considers the role of eyewitness identification in more than 75% of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing. The story explores the case of Ronald Cotton, who was misidentified and convicted of rape in North Carolina in 1987. Jennifer Thompson-Cannino was the victim in the case and now speaks nationally about the problems with eyewitness identification.

"Not all eyewitness identification is bad. What I find is that a lot of eyewitness identification retrieves people's memory incorrectly. By the time we make identification, there's so much in our memory that, really, our memories are not pure. That's what happened to me," she says.

Raped for 30 minutes as a college student in North Carolina in 1984 after a man broke into her apartment, Thompson-Cannino says she made it a point to study her attacker at the time."I was a very convincing witness because I honestly believed that I had made the right identification. I was so sure," she says.

Read the full story here. (Detroit Metro Times, 08/01/07)

Part two of the Frederick Freeman will appear next week. Look for the link here on the Innocence Blog.



Tags: Frederick Freeman

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Missouri’s new $5.9 million crime lab may help reduce case backlog.

Posted: June 26, 2007 3:30 pm

A second full-service crime lab is scheduled to open in Springfield, Missouri, in October 2008.  Currently, the state’s one central lab and six field labs can only run a limited number of tests, and the wait for testing can take up to 10 months. Governor Matt Blunt announced new plans for the crime lab on Monday.

At a news conference with Blunt in Springfield, Rep. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, said, "The crime lab in Jefferson City is working overtime, and the backlog of cases demands more resources so that justice is not delayed."
Read the full text of the article here.
 
Blog archive: crime lab backlogs in Florida and Wisconsin.



Tags: Missouri

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Byron Halsey hearing today in NJ

Posted: July 9, 2007 11:36 am

Byron Halsey was released from prison in May after serving 19 years for the brutal murders of two young children in Plainfield, New Jersey. At a hearing this afternoon in New Jersey, prosecutors will announce whether Halsey is officially exonerated based on DNA evidence proving his innocence.

The hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth, NJ. After the hearing, Halsey and Innocence Project attorneys will hold a press conference on the courthouse steps.

Check back on the Innocence Blog this afternoon for an update on the results of the hearing.

News Coverage of today’s hearing: NJ Man Freed by DNA Awaits Fate (Washington Post, 07/09/07)

Read more about Halsey’s case here.

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Social scientists say Illinois identification report is unreliable

Posted: July 12, 2007 1:49 pm

Last year, a report released by Illinois police departments claimed that a non-scientific eyewitness identification review had called into question the practice of using “sequential double-blind” lineups, a reform underway nationwide and supported by the Innocence Project. But this month a panel of leading social scientists reports in a law journal that the Illinois report was fatally flawed and its results should be viewed with extreme caution.

This month’s report, which was published in the journal Law and Human Behavior, states that the Chicago report’s “design guaranteed that most outcomes would be difficult or impossible to interpret. The only way to sort this out is by conducting further studies.”

The Center for Modern Forensic Practice of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice organized the July report’s “blue ribbon” panel of authors, which included Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman of Princeton and Harvard professor and author Daniel Schachter.

According to James Doyle, Director of the Center for Modern Forensic Practice, “We convened some of the nation’s leading experts to look at the Illinois report because it’s critical that criminal justice policy be based on sound science. They found, unequivocally, that the Illinois report cannot be relied on to determine whether sequential double-blind procedures are effective. Most importantly, they recommend that future study of these procedures be designed in consultation with qualified scientists from the beginning, so that such studies can produce solid, reliable guidance for practitioners and policymakers.”

Read the John Jay press release and the full article here. (John Jay College)
Sequential double-blind lineups, which are supported by the Innocence Project as a means to reduce misidentifications, are conducted by an administrator who does not know the identity of the suspect. Lineup members, or their photos, are presented one at a time to avoid any comparison between them. Social science research has supported these reforms for three decades, and field studies of identification reforms continue nationwide.

The Eyewitness Identification Reform Blog this week called the Chicago report “junk science” and calls for further study. Read the blog post here.

Eyewitness misidentification was a factor more than 75% of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing. Read about reforms supported by the Innocence Project here.



Tags: Eyewitness Identification, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Congressional panel hears testimony on criminal informants

Posted: July 19, 2007 4:19 pm

A hearing this morning of two U.S. House of Representatives judiciary subcommittees featured the testimony of several national experts on the use of criminal informants by police. Among those testifying was Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. Her written testimony advocates for better oversight on the use of criminal informants:

The government’s use of criminal informants is largely secretive, unregulated, and unaccountable. This is especially true in connection with street crime and urban drug enforcement. This lack of oversight and quality-control leads to wrongful convictions, more crime, disrespect for the law, and sometimes even official corruption. At a minimum, we need more data on and better oversight of this important public policy.
Read Natapoff’s full written testimony (PDF) or an abstract of her January article from the University of Cincinnati Law Review: “Snitching: The Institutional and Communal Consequences

Read testimony of other witnesses at today’s hearing.

Read a blog post about today’s hearing on the Texas criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast.

Read more about how snitches and informants can contribute to wrongful convictions in our Understand the Causes section.



Tags: Informants/Snitches

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Update: Chad Heins held on $1 million bond

Posted: July 19, 2007 5:42 pm

Chad Heins, an innocent man who will be tried a second time in Florida for the murder of his sister-in-law, will remain incarcerated while awaiting trial after a judge set his bond at $1 million today. His father and stepmother traveled from Wisconsin to pledge their home as security for the bail, but the $80,000 value of the home was insufficient. Heins's 1996 conviction was overturned in December 2006 after DNA evidence showed another man's DNA on several pieces of crime-scene evidence. Heins again pled not guilty today and the trial date was set for December 3.

Read the full and watch video coverage here: Heins Retrial Set for December. (First Coast News, 07/19/2007)

Read more about the case in previous blog posts.

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North Carolina lawmakers approve sweeping reforms

Posted: July 24, 2007 5:14 pm

The North Carolina House and Senate gave unanimous approval yesterday to bills that will reform the state’s criminal justice system based on the lessons learned from wrongful convictions.

Under the new rules, many of which some local police departments already follow voluntarily, a lineup would be administered by someone not in the investigation and has no information about the potential suspect, with some exceptions.

The lineup would be administered by presenting photos or individuals to the eyewitness one at a time, rather than all at once, as a way to lead to an accurate outcome. Investigators also must document the witness' confidence level of an identification.

Another change would require all interrogations in a homicide investigation to be recorded by video or audio as a way to ensure that officers perform them properly.

Read the full story here. (The Charlotte Observer, 07/23/07)
North Carolina is among several states to take major steps in 2007 toward a fairer criminal justice system. Learn more about reforms enacted nationwide this year.

Read more on the Eyewitness Identification Reform Blog.



Tags: North Carolina, Eyewitness Misidentification

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California officials say exoneree shouldn’t be compensated because he pled guilty

Posted: July 25, 2007 4:57 pm

James Ochoa was 20 years old when he pled guilty to a carjacking he didn’t commit in order to avoid a 25-year-to-life sentence the judge threatened him with if he was convicted. With a guilty plea, he was sentenced to two years in prison. Ten months into his prison term, DNA evidence proved that another man committed the crime. Ochoa was released and exonerated.

Now Ochoa is seeking compensation under a law in California that grants about $100 per day of wrongful incarceration to those wrongfully imprisoned and later proven innocent. The law says that exonerees who “contributed to” their conviction don’t qualify for compensation. Because Ochoa pled guilty prosecutors are saying that he contributed to his conviction.

A column in the Los Angeles Times calls for Ochoa to be compensated with no more delay:

The cops, the district attorney and a judge already have had their fun with James Ochoa, behaving like dogs with a chew toy. Now it's the attorney general's turn to snarl, take a bite or two, and fling him around some more.

All in the name of justice, of course.

Read the full column here. (06/30/2007)
Read a blog post on this topic from Reason Magazine.

A hearing on Ochoa's compensation claim is scheduled for October 11.

Read more about Ochoa’s case.



Tags: James Ochoa, Exoneree Compensation

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Court TV Best Defense blog profiles Louisiana exoneree

Posted: July 26, 2007 7:00 am

Travis Hayes was wrongfully convicted in Lousiana at age 17 and served eight years before he was exonerated by DNA testing.

Court TV's Best Defense blog profiled Hayes on Tuesday, and anchor Jami Floyd frequently highlights the causes of wrongful conviction. Read more.



Tags: Travis Hayes

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A blog marathon to support the Innocence Project

Posted: July 27, 2007 2:11 pm

Kathy Handley, a blogger in Oklahoma City, will stay up for 24 hours straight this weekend and blog at least every half hour about exonerations, wrongful convictions and criminal justice reforms taking place nationwide. Her aim is to raise money for the Innocence Project through the Blogathon, an annual online event in which hundreds of people blog for 24 hours to raise money for worthy causes. So far, more than 500 bloggers have raised over $70,000 for various causes. 100% of donation goes directly to the selected non-profit, and does not pass through any other group.

Handley’s blog, Welcome to the Monkey House, has raised $151 so far for the Innocence Project and she has pledged to match the first $200 donated. Visit her blog here.

The Innocence Project thanks Handley for her generous gesture and for spreading the word about wrongful convictions. You can help us spread the word, too. Click here to join our email list and invite your friends to join as well.

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Massachusetts, Michigan and Louisiana take aim at crime lab problems

Posted: July 31, 2007 2:35 pm

An editorial in yesterday’s Patriot Ledger calls on Massachusetts officials to focus on rectifying longstanding problems in the state crime lab in order to ensure fair justice for all. The paper says "this mess will be doubly hard to clean up"

"‘It’s not just about convictions," Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett said, a point the State Police should remember. It’s about determining the truth. That’s going to take time and money, but it must be done.

Read the full editorial here. (Patriot Ledger, 07/30/07)
Changes in the state’s forensic community were announced last week, when officials named a senior Boston prosecutor to be the new head of both the State Police crime lab and the medical examiner’s office. The former director resigned last month amid controversy over DNA testing. Read more here.

Meanwhile, Michigan lawmakers are considering a unique plan to fund crime labs and Louisiana labs have used federal grants to nearly eliminate the backlog in sexual assault cases.

 
  • Pending legislation in Michigan would add a surcharge of $1.35 to all phone bills, raising about $200 million. Some of these funds could go to state forensic labs. Read the full article. (ABC 12)
  • Louisiana’s crime lab backlog in sexual assault cases has been reduced from 3,100 unprocessed sexual assualt evidence kits in 2003 to 200 kits, according to an article in the Baton Rouge Advocate.
Read more about the Innocence Project’s call for crime lab oversight.

Read our recent blog posts on crime lab oversight and backlogs.



Tags: Crime Lab Backlogs

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Video interview: Developments in Dallas

Posted: August 3, 2007 2:31 pm

Watch a video interview with Mike Ware, the prosecutor who recently joined the Dallas District Attorney’s Office to lead the new Conviction Integrity Unit.

“It’s a historic time in Dallas,” Ware says. Watch the video here. (Fort-Worth Star-Telegram, 07/31/07)

And read more about recent developments in Dallas in yesterday’s blog post.



Tags: Clay Chabot

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Sunday on DatelineNBC: A second trial for an innocent man?

Posted: August 3, 2007 2:35 pm

David Lemus spent 15 years in prison for a New York City nightclub murder he swears he didn’t commit. He was freed in 2005, but is now facing trial again for the same murder. A special two-hour documentary Sunday on DatelineNBC profiles the case and asks why Lemus still faces charges in this case. Read a blog post on the case by producer Dan Slepian on Dateline’s website:

In 1990, David Lemus was offered a deal: 8 1/3 to 15 years in prison for a guilty plea. He said no, that he was innocent but was then convicted anyway. Despite spending a full 15 years in prison, despite two homicide detectives, a juror, a prosecutor, and even the victim's family saying he is innocent, the Manhattan DA is once again trying Mr. Lemus.

Think it can't happen? Think again.

Read the full post here. (DatelineNBC, 08/01/07)
The show airs at 7 p.m. EDT Sunday on NBC. Watch a video preview and view pictures and comments here.

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Released without an apology

Posted: August 6, 2007 11:08 am

"It’s like a bad story on the twilight zone," David Pope tells a PBS reporter about his wrongful conviction. "The man wakes up in jail and he keeps waking up there and he can’t believe it’s really happening."

A recent episode of Life & Times, on Los Angeles PBS affiliate KCET, covered wrongful convictions and the lack of compensation for many exonerees nationwide.

In a guest blog on the show’s website, Innocence Project Co-Directors Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld write that compensation should come packaged with reforms:

Even in their first days of freedom, the euphoria that many exonerated people feel is tempered by a personal understanding of the larger problem and an unwavering resolve to help fix a broken system. They don’t want anyone else to be robbed of life and liberty as they were.
Watch the episode and read the full blog post here. (KCET)
Read more about David Pope’s case and the case of Herman Atkins, who was also featured on the episode.

Read more about proposed exoneree compensation reforms.



Tags: Herman Atkins, David Shawn Pope, Exoneree Compensation

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Exoneree: Don't execute an innocent man

Posted: August 7, 2007 10:54 am

Kirk Bloodsworth was the first person in the United States to be exonerated by DNA testing after receiving a death sentence. He was misidentified by five eyewitnesses in a Maryland murder case and served eight years behind bars before he was exonerated. In an article yesterday on the Huffington Post blog, Bloodsworth compares his case with that of Troy Davis in Georgia, who is scheduled to be executed despite recantations from eyewitnesses who testified against him.

Had DNA testing not been available, I would still be in prison today. In Troy Davis' case, along with the vast majority of criminal cases in this country, DNA or other biological evidence is not available; hence eyewitness testimony holds tremendous importance in establishing guilt or innocence. Unfortunately, eyewitness testimony is highly subjective and susceptible to numerous forms of contamination from poorly conducted police lineups, to the lack of careful documentation of the identification, which increases possible manipulation of witness certainty.While Troy Davis awaits execution mounting evidence casts a large shadow of doubt his conviction. The flaws of our broken criminal justice system in Georgia now threaten to take the life of a man based solely on highly suggestive, unreliable evidence.

Read the full post here. (Huffington Post, 08/07/07)
Read more about the Troy Davis case. (Amnesty International)



Tags: Kirk Bloodsworth

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Eyewitness blog: The problems with jury instructions

Posted: August 15, 2007 1:49 pm

The instructions that judges most commonly give to juries when an eyewitness testifies, called a Telfaire instruction after a 1972 circuit court decision, asks jurors to consider the “strength” of the identification and the circumstances under which the identification was made . In a recent post on the Eyewitness Identification Reform Blog, public defender Ben Hiltzheimer argues that Telfaire is based on outdated research and needs to be updated to reflect new practices and knowledge in the field of eyewitness identification.

It's time to stop misinforming juries based on the antiquated, unscientific musings of an old Court, and to start letting science into the courtroom at every phase of trial. The Constitution demands it, and the rights of the wrongfully accused depend on it.

Read the full post here.
Read about eyewitness misidentification as a cause of wrongful conviction.



Tags: Eyewitness Identification, Eyewitness Misidentification

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It Matters to You

Posted: August 17, 2007 9:57 am

Last week, we asked people why criminal justice reform matters to them, and they responded. Watch the online video here with some responses.

Many people responded by sending us emails explaining why criminal justice reforms matter to them. It is clear that the issue of wrongful convictions is one that touches us all. Below are excerpts from two of the responses we received from advocates for reform:

"I am very much interested in criminal justice reform, because my very best friend in serving time in an Oklahoma prison for a crime that he did not committ and due to very inadequate representation by a public defender." Katy – Enid, Oklahoma
 
"The more people like us who spread this message, the more people will respond, because everyone has been mis-used in some way...either small or large.

I was one of those persons who spent time for a crime I did not do. I truly believe in my heart that if the prosecutors did their job, I would not have gone to prison. I can relate to all the wrongly convicted." Mary Ann – Port Neches, Texas
 
"Regarding why criminial justice reform matters, I would start by saying the these are people's lives we are talking about (similar to war).  As time is our most precious commodity, the notion of an innocent person spending time in prison is a tragedy of epic proportions. 

One cannot sufficiently compensate someone who has lost many years...so it is imperative to ensure beyond a shadow of a doubt that the innocent are not wrongfully convicted."  Eric  – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Do you have something to say? Send us an email (be sure to include your city and state, and to tell us if you’re willing to share your thoughts on the blog) at info@innocenceproject.org. Or record your own video and upload it to YouTube or email it to us.

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Special master urged for Houston crime lab review

Posted: August 21, 2007 2:27 pm

In testimony yesterday before two Texas House of Representatives committees, the independent investigator who recently completed an extensive audit of Houston’s crime lab called for the appointment of an independent official to review cases for possible retesting.

Michael Bromwich, a former U.S. Justice Department Inspector General, found extensive problems with training and testing at the Houston lab during the two-year review he led. Bromwich yesterday repeated his call for a special master to evaluate more than 600 cases in which inconsistencies were identified by the audit. But Houston’s mayor, police chief and district attorney, have all rejected Bromwich’s request.

(Police Chief Harold ) Hurtt and (Harris County District Attorney Chuck) Rosenthal again rejected the idea of appointing a special master.

Rosenthal said his office has already contacted the judges in almost 200 cases where problems with evidence analysis may have affected the outcome.

He said those judges will appoint attorneys for defendants who want one, and they will go through the evidence.

Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 08/21/2007)
Read more about the history of the Houston crime lab scandal in previous blog posts.

Read about the exoneration of George Rodriguez, which helped uncover the problems in the Houston crime lab.



Tags: George Rodriguez

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Court TV blog features Korey Wise case

Posted: August 21, 2007 3:19 pm

Every Tuesday, Court TV's Best Defense blog features a DNA exoneration case. This week, anchor Jami Floyd writes about Korey Wise, who was one of five teenagers wrongfully convicted in the Central Park Jogger case in New York City. Wise served more than 11 years before he was exonerated in 2002. Read more about Wise and the other Central Park exonerees on the Best Defense blog or on our site.

Read a 2002 New York Magazine story on the Central Park Jogger case.



Tags: Korey Wise

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Did a secret deal lead to a Dallas wrongful conviction?

Posted: August 22, 2007 12:48 pm

Clay Chabot has already served 21 years in prison for a rape and murder that he has always maintained he didn’t commit. The main evidence against Chabot at trial was the testimony of his brother-in-law, Gerald Pabst, who claimed that he was with Chabot and helped robbed the victim, but that Chabot raped and killed her.  Pabst, who initially said he was nowhere near the victim’s home when the crime happened, ultimately testified that he was in another room at the victim’s house during the rape and murder.  Chabot has always insisted that he had no motive to commit the crime and had nothing to do with it.  But based on Pabst’s testimony, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.  

New DNA testing shows that semen recovered from the victim’s body after the crime came from Pabst – not from Chabot.  No credible evidence links Chabot to the crime.  Earlier this month, Pabst was arrested for capital murder in connection with the decades-old crime.

Pabst was initially charged with murder but that charge was dropped after he testified against Chabot. This week, one of Chabot’s former attorneys questioned whether Dallas prosecutors made a deal with Pabst to secure his testimony against Chabot:

Houston lawyer Randy Schaffer, who represented Mr. Chabot from 1989 to 1995, said that he has always believed there was a deal between the state and Mr. Pabst before he testified.

"I figured the state made a deal with a killer because it gave them a witness," Mr. Schaffer said. "There was a culture of dishonesty [in the district attorney's office] that was as natural as getting up in the morning and brushing your teeth."
Chabot was convicted on a Friday afternoon and paperwork seeking to dismiss the murder case against Pabst was started on the following Monday. He Pabst eventually pled guilty to stealing and pawning the victim's radio, and he was freed after serving only 30 days in jail.. If a deal was made with Pabst, the law would have required that defense attorneys be told.

And while prosecutors prepare to try Pabst for murder, Chabot remains incarcerated, waiting for word on whether he will get a new trial. Innocence Project Staff Attorney Nina Morrison told the Dallas Morning News that Pabst’s testimony was the only evidence against Chabot:
"The new DNA testing shows Pabst was a perjurer who, at the very least, lied to the jury when he denied raping the victim and only got 30 days in jail after he testified against Clay," Ms. Morrison said. "No reasonable jury today would believe a word he says, and without him, there's no case against Clay Chabot."

Read the full story here.
Read previous blog posts on the Chabot case.



Tags: Clay Chabot

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Barry Scheck discusses wrongful convictions on NPR

Posted: August 30, 2007 8:05 am

Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck, author Stuart Taylor and Oregon prosecutor Joshua Marquis joined National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm Show this morning to discuss prosecutorial misconduct and wrongful convictions.

Taylor, a National Journal columnist, is the co-author of a new book, Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case, which is due to be released next week. The group discussed how prosecutorial misconduct and flawed eyewitness identification procedures have led to wrongful convictions that were later overturned with DNA testing.

Listen to the show here.

Taylor’s book is already generating discussion in the media and on blogs. Pre-order it at Amazon.com or read a media roundup in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Taylor discusses the first 205 people exonerated by DNA evidence in his recent National Journal column, Innocents In Prison.


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Wrongful Convictions Hurt Victims' Families, Too

Posted: September 5, 2007 3:01 pm

A post yesterday on the new blog of the organization Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights explains how the victim’s family suffers from a wrongful conviction.

When the wrong person is convicted of and sentenced for a murder, it is not only the innocent defendant who suffers; the family of the murder victim suffers as well.

Jeanette Popp’s story makes this clear. For years after her 20-year-old daughter Nancy DePriest was raped and murdered during a robbery of the Pizza Hut where she worked, Jeanette Popp believed she knew who was responsible: two men named Chris Ochoa and Richard Danziger, who were arrested a couple of months after the crime and eventually sentenced to life in prison. Jeanette had no idea that while Ochoa and Danziger were in one Texas prison, an inmate at another prison, Achim Marino, was writing letters to the county district attorney and to then-Governor George W. Bush, saying that he was the one who had robbed the Pizza Hut and killed Nancy DePriest. Marino said that he acted alone and had no idea why two other men had confessed.

… It has now come out that Ochoa’s confession followed two grueling days of police questioning, during which police openly threatened Ochoa by telling him that he would receive the death penalty if he didn’t cooperate (and even going so far as to jab his arm with a pen in a gesture mimicking lethal injection.)

Jeanette Popp believes the death penalty should be abolished so that it can no longer be used as a threat to coerce confessions from innocent people. But when she first learned that the two men she had believed were guilty might not be guilty after all, her most pressing question was, has the original story been a lie? Everything she thought she knew about her daughter’s murder was now called into question.

Read the full blog post here.
Visit the Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights website.

Read more about the cases of Chris Ochoa and Richard Danziger.

Watch a video interview with Chris Ochoa.




Tags: Richard Danziger, Christopher Ochoa

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Northwestern Blog: Police should open closed cases when new arrests are made

Posted: September 10, 2007 2:24 pm

Claude McCollum is serving life in a Michigan prison for a 2005 murder he has always said he didn’t commit. McCollum may have a chance to prove his innocence in the months ahead, however, as another man, named Matthew Macon, was arrested in late August in connection with five other murders, which resemble the murder for which McCollum is serving time. In McCollum’s case, he was convicted despite evidence that biological material at the crime scene matched an unknown male and did not match McCollum. He was convicted partly based on admissions he made to police, involving how he could have committed the crime while sleepwalking. His relatives, and relatives of the victim, called this week for police in Lansing, Michigan, to reopen his case.

Lee Kronenberg, who was married to Carolyn Kronenberg (the victim in the murder for which McCollum was convicted), said … he wants to make sure the right person is held responsible for the killing, but until new information is brought to light, he supports the jury's decision.

"In the interest of justice, more information should be sought from Mr. Macon," he said. "The jury found (McCollum) guilty and I support the jury's decision. But I want justice."

Read the full story here. (Detroit Free Press, 09/04/07)
Steven Drizin, the Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, writes today on his blog that McCollum’s case has the hallmarks of a wrongful conviction. He goes on to say that police should reopen some closed conviction cases when they have evidence in a string of crimes, such as serial murders. A number of DNA exonerations – including those of Jerry Frank Townsend and David Vasquez – have come after police arrested serial killers.

Read Drizin's full post.



Tags: Jerry Frank Townsend, David Vasquez

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Judge orders evidence preserved in Texas case

Posted: September 10, 2007 4:12 pm

A Texas judge today ordered officials to preserve a hair for possible DNA testing in the case of Claude Jones, who was executed in 2000. Testing on the hair, which was collected from the scene of a 1989 murder, could prove whether Jones was executed for a crime he didn’t commit. The Innocence Project joined with the Texas Observer, Innocence Project of Texas and Texas Innocence Network in filing papers on Friday requesting the evidence preservation and testing. A hearing is scheduled for October 3 on the DNA testing.

This case will be featured tomorrow morning at 11 a.m. (Tuesday 9/11/07) on Court TV’s Best Defense.

Read more in today's Innocence Project press release.

Read today’s stories on the case in the Texas Observer, Reuters Newswire and International Herald Tribune.



Tags: Claude Jones

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Texas execution case on CourtTV today

Posted: September 12, 2007 7:00 am

Watch CourtTV’s Best Defense today at 11 a.m. ET to learn more about the case of Claude Jones, who was executed in 2000 in Texas for a murder he always said he didn’t commit. On Friday, the Innocence Project joined with the Texas Observer, Innocence Project of Texas and Texas Innocence Network in filing papers requesting evidence from Jones’s case be preserved and tested for DNA. Yesterday, a Texas judge ordered that the evidence be preserved and set an October 3 hearing on whether DNA testing can proceed on a hair from the crime scene that could prove Jones’s innocence.

Visit the Best Defense Blog.

Read the Innocence Project press release.

Media coverage:
Final execution case with Bush as Texas governor under scrutiny (Associated Press, 09/10/07)
Read more in Monday’s blog post.



Tags: Death Penalty, Claude Jones

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New study calls for prosecutors to open files before trial

Posted: September 19, 2007 12:15 pm

A study released this week by the Justice Project calls for a nationwide expansion in the sharing of evidence between prosecutors and defense attorneys before criminal trials. The study’s authors say that improving discovery (file sharing) procedures would prevent wrongful convictions by ensuring that exculpatory evidence is not withheld from defense attorneys.

Some states, including North Carolina, Florida, Colorado, New Jersey, and Arizona, have passed laws expanding discovery, but this week’s report calls for all states to make this reform a priority.

Edwin Colfax, the Justice Project’s Director of State Campaigns, wrote yesterday on the Texas Kaos blog that Texas is among the states most desperately in need of discovery reform.

Adequate discovery supports the bedrock constitutional principle that the accused are innocent until proven guilty. Expanding discovery prior to trial is a cost-effective way to ensure that the right people are being put behind bars as quickly as possible.  Public safety is not served when innocent people are incarcerated and the guilty remain at large with the potential to commit more crimes.

Read the full blog post. (Texas Kaos, 09/18/07)
Download the full report and read more background on the Justice Project’s website.

More Texas blog posts on open discovery:
Grits for Breakfast I Was the State
 

Several wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing were caused, in part, by prosecutors withholding exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys. In the case of Roy Brown, prosecutors had evidence before Brown’s trial suggesting that another man had committed the crime, but those documents were not given to defense attorneys.

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Hearing set for October in Long Island case

Posted: September 19, 2007 12:20 pm

Marty Tankleff was a senior in high school in 1988 when his parents were killed. He allegedly confessed to the crime and has served more than half his life in prison for killing his parents – a crime he has always maintained he didn’t commit. An appeal based on new evidence of his innocence will be heard by a New York appeals court on October 4. The Innocence Project is among groups that have urged the court to grant Tankleff a new trial based on evidence that Tankleff’s confession was false and other new evidence in the case. In a press release yesterday, Tankleff’s attorneys called for justice after nearly two decades.

“In light of the overwhelming evidence that Marty's conviction was unjust, the outcome of this case will say more about our system of justice than it will about Marty.  No system of justice can claim legitimacy if it incarcerates a man so obviously innocent.  Our optimism, therefore, is based on the quality of our judicial system, the integrity of appellate judges who are separated from local politics and ultimately our faith that truth will prevail.

Read the full press release here.

Read the Innocence Project’s Amicus brief in this case, as well as other briefs filed on Tankleff’s behalf and the District Attorney’s response. Listen to Innocence Project Staff Attorney Olga Akselrod and others as they discuss Tankleff’s case on public radio in March 2007.



Tags: Marty Tankleff

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Discussion of new discovery laws on Texas blog

Posted: September 20, 2007 11:53 am

The Texas criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast is the home of a lively discussion today on the recent Justice Project report advocating open file sharing between prosecutors and defense attorneys in criminal cases.

Galveston Judge Susan Criss writes today that she requires both sides to share more documents than the law requires:

I read what you wrote in (Grits for Breakfast) about discovery in criminal cases. I make both the prosecutor & defense attorney enter into an agreed discovery order when they come to court for their status conference to set the trial date. This is either the first or second appearance they make. If they do not sign it, or just one side signs it, I enter the order anyway.
Everyone knows this discovery is ordered in every case. And they know I will enforce it. I got input from several prosecutors & defense attorneys when I drafted it. If they have something unusual that is not provided for in the order, the defense can file a motion & have a hearing.
Read the full blog post, download Criss’s agreement document and make a comment. (Grits for Breakfast, 09/20/2007)
Download the Justice Project report, or read yesterday’s Innocence Blog post on open file discovery.

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Michigan man may get new trial, 2 years after conviction

Posted: September 24, 2007 4:13 pm

A Michigan county prosecutor has asked a judge to grant a new trial to Claude McCollum, who was convicted two years ago of a rape and assault on the campus of Lansing Community College in Michigan. McCollum has always maintained his innocence and has said that his alleged confession was coerced by police asking if he could have hypothetically committed the crime. DNA evidence from the crime scene was shown at trial to exclude McCollum and come from an unknown male.

New evidence in the case has led County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings to join McCollum’s attorney is asking for a new trial, officials said. This is the first time Dunnings has asked for a retrial after a conviction. Dunnings has not spoken publicly about the nature of the new evidence, and says it is “totally independent” of charges filed recently against another man in similar assaults.

"As the evidence became more developed, and another piece popped up, I felt that the evidence was of such a compelling nature that a jury had to hear it," said Dunnings, who reopened the investigation Sept. 11. "One of the responsibilities of a prosecutor is to see that people receive justice and a fair trial, and not just to convict people."

Read the full story here. (Detroit Free Press, 09/22/07)
Read previous blog posts on the McCollum case.

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Court grants new trial in Michigan; task force calls for recording of interrogations

Posted: September 25, 2007 11:06 am

A Michigan judge yesterday granted a new trial to Claude McCollum, who was convicted two years ago of a rape and assault he says he didn’t commit. The county prosecutor joined with McCollum’s attorney on Friday in asking the court to grant a new trial based on new evidence. The Lansing State Journal is now reporting that a videotape has surfaced that may show McCollum on a different part of the Lansing Community College campus when the assault took place in a classroom.

Attorney Hugh Clarke Jr., who said he is planning to represent McCollum, was pleased with the court's ruling.
"It doesn't surprise me how fast they acted, given the potential injustice inflicted on Mr. McCollum at the hands of the government," he said.

Read the full story here. (Lansing State Journal, 09/25/07)
McCollum says he told police hypothetically that he could have committed the crime while sleepwalking. This admission contributed to McCollum’s conviction, and only part of the interrogation was recorded. He says he repeatedly denied involvement in the crime, but those statements do not appear on the videotape.

A task force formed by the State Bar of Michigan has called for legislation mandating the recording of interrogations statewide. Although recording of interrogations has been shown to prevent false confessions – a factor in 25 percent of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing – there is currently no Michigan law requiring that law enforcement agencies record any part of any interrogation.

Seven states and the District of Columbia have some statewide requirement for recording of interrogations. Is yours one? View our map to find out.

Learn more about reforms underway to require the recording of custodial interrogation and prevent false confessions.

Read more coverage of this case in a blog post by false confession expert Steve Drizin at the Center on Wrongful Convictions in Chicago.

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Former prosecutor calls for governor to sign California bills

Posted: September 26, 2007 3:03 pm

Three bills awaiting the signature of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would reform the state’s criminal justice system to provent wrongful convictions. In an op-ed in today’s Sacramento Bee, former federal prosecutor Thomas Sullivan calls for the state to improve its justice system for all parties involved.

I have sat on both sides of the table -- prosecuting crimes as a U.S. attorney and representing the accused as a defense lawyer. This broad experience has shown me that if we can bolster the reliability of evidence in the courtroom, we can strengthen our system of justice for everyone's benefit. California now has a vehicle for that brand of change with three significant bills. If enacted, the trio would enhance the overall accuracy of evidence -- and ensure that California heeds the lessons of (wrongful convictions).

Read the full column here. (Sacramento Bee, 09/26/07)
Read more about the pending bills in our previous blog post.

Watch a video of California exoneree Herman Atkins, explaining how these reforms would prevent others from suffering the injustice he did.




Tags: California, Herman Atkins, False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification, Informants/Snitches

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DNA tests uncover secret deals in Dallas

Posted: September 28, 2007 3:41 pm

Innocence Project client Clay Chabot has already served 21 years in prison for a Dallas, Texas, rape and murder that he has always maintained he didn’t commit. The main witness against him was his brother-in-law, Gerald Pabst, who was arrested last month after DNA tests showed that he was involved in the crime and lied on the stand during Chabot’s trial. An article in today’s Dallas Observer investigates the secret dealings of the Dallas District Attorney’s office in the 1980s – including the unspoken agreement that allowed Pabst to lie on the stand and walk free.

Chabot remains in a Texas prison while (Dallas District Attorney) Craig Watkins decides if the case against him will be dismissed. Even if the case isn't dismissed, Chabot will get a new trial.
"What's important is now, regardless of what happened back then, we've arrested and charged Pabst and we intend to try him," says Mike Ware, special assistant in charge of conviction integrity, a post newly created by Watkins. "And if we make any deals in this case or any other case, they are going to be disclosed and they are going to be aboveboard."

Read the full story here. (Dallas Observer, 09/28/07) 
 

Read previous blog posts about this case.

False testmony by incentivized informants was a major cause of dozens of the 208 wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing. Read more about this issue here.



Tags: Clay Chabot

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DNA testing proves Houston man's innocence

Posted: October 3, 2007 5:02 pm

DNA testing has proven that Innocence Project client Ronnie Taylor has been in prison for 12 years for a rape he did not commit. The DNA results also implicate another man, who is already in prison. Taylor is still in prison and the Innocence Project will work with the Harris County District Attorney’s office to secure his release as soon as possible.

Taylor’s wrongful conviction highlights the history of scandal at the Houston Police Department Crime Lab, which came under fire in 2002 after reports raised questions about the quality of DNA testing at the lab. DNA testing has already reversed two wrongful convictions caused in part by faulty testing at the HPD lab, and there are serious questions about the testing done before Taylor’s trial.

A crime lab expert testified at Taylor’s trial that she did not find semen on a bedsheet from the bed where the rape took place. It is on that same sheet that recent testing identified semen from the rapist. It was this testing that proved Taylor’s innocence.

“Ronnie Taylor’s wrongful conviction is the result of serious problems in the Houston Police Department Crime Lab,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project. “The HPD Crime Lab failed to identify a stain on a sheet as semen. If the HPD Crime Lab had correctly identified the semen stain, DNA testing could have been conducted and Ronnie Taylor might not have been convicted. The faulty testing conducted in the HPD Crime Lab led to Ronnie Taylor’s wrongful conviction and prevented law enforcement from apprehending the true perpetrator.”

Read the Innocence Project press release here
.
Read media coverage on Taylor’s case:

Houston Chronicle: DA’s office says DNA testing shows man innocent of rape

A two-year independent audit of the HPD crime lab was completed in August. Read the reports here, or read previous blog posts on the lab.

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Breaking News: Ronnie Taylor released in Houston

Posted: October 9, 2007 3:20 pm

Ronnie Taylor was released from a Houston courtroom this morning, a free man for the first time in 14 years. DNA tests have now shown that Taylor was wrongfully convicted of a rape based on eyewitness misidentification and crime lab errors.

Today’s press on the case:

Associated Press: Texas man cleared on rape charges ordered released from prison on $10 bond

Read the Innocence Project press release on the case.

In an op-ed piece in Sunday’s Houston Chronicle, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck joined with Texas State Senators John Whitmore and Rodney Ellis (the chairman of the Innocence Project Board of Directors) to outline a plan for testing to proceed in these cases before any injustice continues to stand. Read the op-ed here.


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Dispatch from the field: Colorado sets an example by exploring evidence reforms

Posted: October 17, 2007 7:00 am

BY: Rebecca Brown, Innocence Project Policy Analyst


(NOTE: This is the first post in a new Innocence Blog feature called "Dispatches from the Field." These posts will bring you a personal perspective from Innocence Project attorneys, policy analysts, exonerees and others as breaking news and major events happen. Thanks for reading.)


I’m writing from Denver, Colorado, where I will be testifying later today before the state’s new Task Force on the Preservation of Evidence.  I’m here to educate the panel members about the importance of preserving biological evidence for both solving criminal cases and protecting the innocent, and to help them understand how law enforcement agencies can – simply yet effectively – collect, preserve and catalogue crime scene evidence. The existence of this panel, which brings together a cross-section of state criminal justice experts, represents significant momentum to improve the quality of justice in Colorado. We at the Innocence Project are happy to be part of this reform process.

After a groundbreaking four-part series this summer in the Denver Post highlighted shortcomings in the state’s evidence preservation policies, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter formed this task force to review state policies and make recommendations for reform. Colorado’s current preservation law fails to require the automatic retention of biological evidence, and only mandates the preservation of biological evidence when a court has granted a hearing pursuant to its post-conviction DNA testing law.  The law explicitly states that there is neither “a duty to preserve biological evidence” nor liability on the part of those who fail to preserve evidence. There is no statewide inventory or catalogue system, making it extremely difficult in some cases to find evidence attached to both innocence claims and old or “cold” cases. There have been reports of evidence room purges throughout the state, including in Denver and Colorado Springs. It is time for a statewide system to be put in place, and this panel is the right way to start. In the DNA age, states have a duty to handle biological evidence with an eye to its ability to factor into criminal investigations and legal appeals in the future.

As I will tell the panel today, none of the 208 people exonerated by DNA testing would be where they are today if evidence in their cases had been lost or destroyed. Through DNA exonerations, we have seen the need for critical reforms – in areas like identification and forensic policy – and we have also seen the incredible power of this technology to solve old crimes – exonerating the innocent and identifying the guilty. Some states have been slow to adapt policies to the new technology, and far too many law enforcement departments around the country continue to operate with no formal system for cataloguing and preserving  evidence. When the evidence room gets full, older items are often thrown out to make more room or lost in long-term storage. In the interest of justice, that simply can’t continue to happen

In 2004, Congress passed the Justice for All Act, recognizing the importance of preservation by offering millions of dollars in criminal justice funding to states that follow certain preservation practices. An article last week in USA Today revealed that much of this money is going unspent because states have either not applied for these funds or have been rejected due to their preservation policies. We expect to see more federal funding programs tied to proper evidence handling in the near future – giving states even more incentive to act now in updating these policies.

It is inspiring to see Colorado taking steps to improve evidence preservation and it is time for more states to follow this example. Interest from the press and the public sparked this momentum in Colorado and you can make this happen in your state. Click here to reach out to the media, elected officials or your local law enforcement agency to tell them you’re concerned about evidence preservation in your state.

The Innocence Project Policy Department is also happy to provide resources to help law enforcement agencies review and reform evidence handling practices. Please contact us at info@innocenceproject.org for more information.



Tags: Evidence Preservation

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Michigan man freed amid doubts about his guilt

Posted: October 17, 2007 12:23 pm

Claude McCollum, who had been incarcerated since 2005 for a murder he says he didn’t commit, walked out of a Lansing, Michigan, jail yesterday after prosecutors asked a judge to throw out the conviction due to new evidence in the case. McCollum was arrested in 2005 and convicted in 2006 for allegedly killing a professor on the campus of Lansing Community College. The judge decided this week McCollum could wear an electronic monitoring device instead of being held on bond. State Police officials told reporters yesterday that the new evidence is a confession from another man, who is also facing charges in at least five other murders.

McCollum, 30, was convicted based partially on statements he allegedly made to police about how he could have committed the crime while sleepwalking. DNA evidence from the crime scene was shown at trial to exclude McCollum and come from an unknown male. Officials have not disclosed whether this biological evidence has been compared to the profile of the new suspect.

After his release Tuesday, McCollum, 30, told reporters: "It was one of the greatest feelings in the world. There was a time when I had doubts, but something told me things were going to work out, and that I'll finally see this day."


Read the full story here. (Detroit Free Press, 10/17/07)
Read previous blog posts about this case.

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Innocence Project calls on Alabama governor to stop execution and grant DNA tests

Posted: December 3, 2007 5:25 pm

The execution of Alabama death row inmate Tommy Arthur is set for Thursday, despite a pending appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court and the Innocence Project’s repeated requests that Gov. Bob Riley stop the execution and order crucial DNA testing that could prove Arthur’s innocence or guilt.

Read a new letter from the Innocence Project to Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, as well as more of today’s breaking news on the case here.

Updates will be posted throughout the week here on the Innocence Blog.





Tags: Death Penalty, Tommy Arthur

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Hearing tomorrow in Dallas case

Posted: October 18, 2007 5:34 pm

For 21 years, Clay Chabot has said he had nothing to do with the brutal 1986 murder for which he was convicted. Tomorrow, his conviction is finally expected to be thrown out by a Dallas judge, after DNA testing proved that a key prosecution witness lied on the stand to protect himself and convict Chabot.

The Innocence Project, which joined with the Dallas County Districty Attorney’s office in calling for Chabot’s conviction to be vacated, is seeking Chabot’s release on bond tomorrow.

Read the Innocence Project press release here.

Read previous blog posts on Chabot’s case.



Tags: Clay Chabot

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Innocence Project calls for evidence reforms in Colorado

Posted: October 18, 2007 5:31 pm

Innocence Project Policy Analyst Rebecca Brown told Colorado’s DNA task force yesterday that state evidence preservation standards are vital to ensuring fair justice in criminal cases.

Brown stressed that any new effort to reform Colorado's statute also could aim to protect cold-case evidence, alluding to recent discoveries that crucial materials have been lost in dozens of unsolved cases.

"It's an incredible waste" of criminal justice resources, Brown said, to see crime-scene items lost or destroyed.

Most panel members - the vast majority appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter boast backgrounds in law enforcement - reached a consensus that uniform standards should be pursued.

Read the full story here. (Denver Post, 10/18/07)
In an Innocence Blog dispatch yesterday, Brown wrote that “none of the 208 people exonerated by DNA testing would be where they are today if evidence in their cases had been lost or destroyed.” Read the full post here.

Read more about evidence preservation here.View our map to see where your state stands on the preservation of evidence.
 



Tags: Evidence Preservation

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Barry Scheck testifies before Georgia identification panel today

Posted: October 22, 2007 10:00 am

In an effort to examine eyewitness identification procedures used by law enforcement agencies statewide, Georgia legislators this year created a House Study Committee on Eyewitness Identification Procedures. Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions and was a factor in the convictions of all six innocent Georgians who have been exonerated by DNA.

Today, at the panel’s third meeting, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck will testify on eyewitness misidentification as a cause of wrongful conviction and will also outline reforms underway nationwide to improve the accuracy of identification procedures. Iowa State Psychology Professor Gary Wells will testify on social science research in the field of eyewitness identification, and Jennifer Thompson-Cannino will discuss her experience as the victim in a case involving misidentification.

Download the panel’s full schedule here.

Read a previous blog post on this topic
.





Tags: Eyewitness Misidentification

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In support of New York reforms

Posted: October 22, 2007 4:10 pm

It’s time for criminal justice reform in New York State, writes Ezekiel Edwards today on the Drum Major Institute blog. Edwards, an Innocence Project Staff Attorney and Mayer Brown Eyewitness Fellow, writes that 23 people have been exonerated by DNA testing in New York after being wrongfully convicted, but “the 260 years that those 23 innocent people spent in prison has not been tragic enough to move our policymakers into action.”

Details on these 23 cases and a clear path to reform are included in a major report released last week by the Innocence Project. An except from Edwards’ blog post:

Even in the face of repeated injustice, and with full knowledge that the above factors have repeatedly caused wrongful convictions, New York has barely lifted a finger.

• Why is it that 17 states considered legislation this year to improve eyewitness identification procedures (with bills passing in five states and making progress in seven others), but New York did nothing?

• Why is it that 22 states have statutes mandating the preservation of crime scene evidence, but New York does not?

• Why is it that six states --- five of which have had far fewer known wrongful convictions that New York --- have formed Innocence Commissions to identify the causes of wrongful convictions and develop remedies to prevent them, but New York has not?

• Why is it that, even though DNA has exonerated more people in New York who falsely confessed than in any other state, of the nine states that require at least some interrogations to be recorded, New York is not one of them?

• Why are there more than 500 local jurisdictions across the country that record at least some interrogations, but only two of these are in New York State?

Read the full blog post here. (DMI Blog, 10/22/07)
Download the full report here.

Read about the 23 New York exonerations.

On October 29, the Drum Major Institute will host a forum on wrongful convictions in New York City with Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins. The forum is free and open to the public. Click here to RSVP.


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States expand crime labs to meet rising demand and reduce backlogs

Posted: October 24, 2007 5:01 pm

As crime labs across the country continue to suffer from enormous backlogs and the costs of conducting expensive forensic analysis, states are responding by attempting to increase their capabilities. Missouri and Texas have proposed crime lab expansion plans aimed at improving facilities and increasing the number of trained staff members.

Backlogs of forensic evidence can slow the legal system and lead to forensic errors or misconduct. Read more about the Innocence Project’s recommendations for crime lab oversight here.

Voters in Texas will determine this month whether to drastically expand crime lab capabilities in the state. If passed, the measure on the November 6 ballot would allow several state agencies to take out a total of $1 billion in bonds for crime lab maintenance and construction, including $7 million for a new crime lab in El Paso. Read more here.

The Springfield, Missouri, crime lab will undergo a nearly $600,000 expansion project next year. Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt announced earlier this month that he is recommending the budget increase in order to train new staff members and reduce the burden on other state crime labs. Springfield’s lab could increase forensic analysis capacity by as much as 30 percent, according to an article in the Springfield News-Leader.

Read previous blog posts about crime lab backlogs and reforms nationwide
.



Tags: Crime Lab Backlogs

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Charges dismissed in Michigan case

Posted: October 24, 2007 5:25 pm

Claude McCollum, of Lansing, Michigan, spent nearly two years of a life sentence in prison for a murder he says he did not commit. He was released from prison Oct. 16 on bond after prosecutors discovered “powerful evidence” of his innocence, and a Michigan judge today dismissed the charges against him at the prosecutor’s request.

Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III said at a news conference this afternoon, "It's horrible for an innocent man to be convicted."

Asked what he would say to McCollum, Dunnings said, "I wish him well. And I sincerely mean that."

“The prosecutor’s office has finally awakened, and this man’s problem has come to an end,” McCollum’s attorney, Hugh Clarke Jr., said minutes after learning about the dismissal.
Read the full story here. (Lansing State Journal, 10/24/07)
Read more background on the case in previous blog posts.

 

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Dispatch from Dallas: Eugene Henton is freed

Posted: October 26, 2007 3:40 pm

By Vanessa Potkin, Innocence Project Staff Attorney

I’m writing from Dallas, where I spent the morning in court with two men who are already free after being exonerated through DNA testing and two wrongfully convicted men who had hearings seeking their release from custody.

Eugene Ivory Henton walked out of the courtroom today a free man for the first time in more than a decade. Mr. Henton served nearly two years in prison in the 1980s for a sexual assault DNA now proves he didn’t commit and was later imprisoned again for unrelated charges and given harsh sentences reserved for repeat offenders.

After Mr. Henton and his attorneys secured the DNA testing that cleared him of the wrongful sexual assault conviction last year, he filed for the sentences on unrelated charges to be reconsidered in light of the fact that his contact with the criminal justice system was forever marred by the wrongful conviction. The Texas court system did the right thing by throwing out those harsh sentences – and today a judge resentenced Mr. Henton to time served. He walked out of the courtroom into the arms of his family. Technically, he was exonerated in 2006 (and is one of 13 Dallas County men exonerated by DNA testing since 2001), but today he is finally free.

In the courtroom with me this morning were Texas exonerees James Waller and James Giles. Mr. Waller and Mr. Giles were exonerated by DNA testing this year. The two of them knew each other while wrongfully incarcerated at the massive Coffield state prison and have rallied around others joining their “family of exonerees.”

In Mr. Chabot’s case we agree with the Dallas District Attorney’s office and the judge that his conviction should be overturned, and we’re waiting for Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, to rule on that request. Meanwhile, a hearing on bail in his case has been continued until next week.  We will keep you updated here on the Innocence Blog as there are developments in the case.

Learn more:

Read about Clay Chabot’s case here.

Read about Eugene Ivory Henton’s case:

Dallas Morning News: Judge orders release of prisoner exonerated by DNA

Eugene Ivory Henton’s Innocence Project case profile




Tags: James Giles, Eugene Henton, James Waller, Clay Chabot

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Dispatch from Austin: A panel of experts to oversee Texas crime labs

Posted: October 29, 2007 2:45 pm

By Gabriel S. Oberfield, Innocence Project Research Analyst

I’m writing from Austin, Texas, where today I’m attending a meeting of the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Today’s meeting is an important milestone for forensic science because the commission, created in 2005 to investigate allegations of serious negligence and misconduct affecting the integrity of forensic results, finally received funding this year to complete its duties. During the 2007 session, the Texas legislature budgeted for the commission’s operation and for full-time staff. This is an extremely positive development, and it is  exciting to see a newly energized commission in action.

This panel was created out of necessity. The federal government offers crucial funding to forensic laboratories, but only when jurisdictions can show they have a process in place to independently investigate allegations of serious forensic negligence or misconduct. Texas receives these funds – part of the Paul Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grant Program – and as a result of Congress’s insistence on the existence of such a quality assurance process, Texas also now has an oversight mechanism in place.  

Texas deserves credit for creating this panel, which provides an extremely important additional check on the quality of forensic evidence. We anticipate that the commission, now functional, will help ensure that serious forensic negligence or misconduct is properly investigated; problems are addressed; and that where the errors may have tainted yet other cases, those cases are reviewed.  Doing so can not only right past wrongs, but can help ensure the integrity of forensic evidence in future cases – and restore Texas jurors’ ability to have faith in such evidence.  In the wake of significant forensic negligence or misconduct in any state, such assurances are critical to the performance of our justice system.

As posts on this blog over the last few weeks have shown, Texas is a state with a history of problematic forensics. Ronnie Taylor’s release in Houston earlier this month showed that those problems haven’t all been resolved, and that lab errors can send innocent people to prison. The Innocence Project has filed two requests with the Texas Forensic Science Commission (to investigate the cases of Brandon Lee Moon and Cameron Todd Willingham), and we’re hopeful that these investigations are undertaken by the newly funded panel. By tracing back wrongful convictions and determining why they happened in the first place, we can help prevent future injustice.

While federal law does not require creation of permanent commissions, Texas’s creation of an independent state body to oversee the quality of forensics represents a real commitment to the future of forensic analyses in that state, and is part of what seems to be a national trend. While the demand for forensic technologies continues to grow, state and local lab technicians are forced to juggle substantial caseloads and struggle for the funding, equipment and staffing they deserve. Some national organizations accredit and regularly inspect state and local forensic labs, but many states recognize that forensic labs can only provide the high quality work expected of them when they have an expert, independent entity ensuring the quality of work – and identifying the support they need to provide that quality, which is so critical to justice.

Just this year, Minnesota created a Forensic Laboratory Advisory Board “to ensure the quality and integrity” of the state’s labs and Missouri created a similar Crime Laboratory Review Commission. Maryland legislators empowered the state’s office of Health and Mental Hygiene to oversee that state’s forensic labs, bringing the same rigor with which that department manages the state’s clinical laboratories to its forensic labs as well.

For a host of reasons, we’re encouraged by the movement to ensure that forensic labs – a cornerstone of the criminal justice system – are provided the support and direction necessary to provide the quality forensic results that the system demands of them.  The Innocence Project knows well that by ensuring quality forensics, states can prevent future wrongful convictions from ever occurring.





Tags: Dispatches

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Video: Dallas DA says his job is to seek justice, not just convictions

Posted: October 30, 2007 11:45 am

At a speech in New York City yesterday, Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins said “it’s easy to get on television and tell someone you’re going to be tough, but a hard concept is telling your constituents you’re going to be smart on crime.”

Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck joined Watkins at the panel discussion, hosted by the Drum Major Institute, calling Watkins’ work in Dallas “historic.”

Watkins, elected in 2006, is the first African-American District Attorney in Dallas history. He created a Conviction Integrity Unit to review possible past wrongful convictions. Dallas has had more wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing than any other county nationwide.

Watch a video of Watkins at yesterday’s event.

Read more about yesterday’s event on the Drum Major Institute blog.

View photos from yesterday’s event on Flickr.




Tags: Texas

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Funeral arrangements for exoneree Stephan Cowans

Posted: October 31, 2007 6:10 pm

Stephan Cowans, who served more than five years in prison for an armed assault he didn’t commit, was found dead Oct. 26 in his Randolph, Massachusetts, home. He was apparently shot by someone he let into his house, according to a media report. We are the Innocence Project are deeply saddened by the loss of Mr. Cowans.

Following are the funeral arrangements:

Friday, Nov. 2 Elliot Congregational Church, 56 Dale Street, Roxbury, MA, 02119. Viewing at 6 p.m. and service  at 7 p.m.

Read more about this tragedy in our previous blog post
.



Tags: Stephan Cowans

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California lab report finds no error, Neufeld calls findings “hopelessly compromised”

Posted: November 2, 2007 3:28 pm

Officials announced this week that an internal investigation of alleged errors at the Santa Clara County, California, crime lab has cleared a lab technician of wrongdoing. The district attorney’s internal report was sparked by the Northern California Innocence Project’s allegation that a lab analyst had testified falsely about chemical analysis in the case of Jeffrey Rodriguez, who spent five years in prison for a robbery he says he didn’t commit. Rodriguez was freed last year amid significant evidence of his innocence.

In an article in today’s San Jose Mercury News, Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld calls the district attorney’s report “hopelessly compromised,” because it was not an independent review by an outside agency. A federal program provides funding for forensic labs if they can show that they have a process in place to independently investigate allegations of serious negligence or misconduct. The Innocence Project has said that an internal investigation does not meet this standard.

The internal report, conducted by district attorney investigator Gil Vizzusi, appears to minimize Moriyama's errors - suggesting they were simply imprecise testimony - and states that Rodriguez's innocence "has not been established."

The attorney who succeeded in overturning Rodriguez's conviction, Irma Castillo, called the report "really troubling to me." …

(Innocence Project Co-Director) Peter Neufeld contended that Carr's office had a vested interest in upholding the science of the lab because (lab analyst Mark) Moriyama's examinations were used in scores of Santa Clara County cases.

Read the full story here. (San Jose Mercury News, 11/02/07)

More background:

The Santa Clara County Bar Association is hosting a special meeting today with local prosecutors and defense attorneys on the topic of forensic testing.

Innocence Project Research Analyst Gabriel S. Oberfield wrote an Innocence Blog post last week on crime lab oversight commissions and investigations.

Read more about crime lab oversight in our Fix the System section.



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Radio interview on bills before Michigan legislature

Posted: November 8, 2007 7:00 am

In an interview yesterday on Michigan Public Radio, the co-director of an organization that works to overturn wrongful convictions in Michigan said bills currently pending before the state’s legislature would improve access to DNA testing and help to prevent future wrongful convictions.

Donna McKneelen, the Co-Director of the Cooley Innocence Project at Cooley Law School (an Innocence Network member), said innocent inmates could possibly be denied DNA testing due to restrictions in the current law. A pending bill, HB 5089, would amend that law to remove unnecessary restrictions on applying for testing. McKneelen also said she supports the bill that would provide compensation to exonerees.

Listen to McKneelen’s interview here.





Tags: Michigan, Exoneree Compensation, Access to DNA Testing

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Movies, on screen and online, argue for innocence

Posted: November 8, 2007 10:05 am

The Innocence Project receives dozens of requests each year from filmmakers interested in bringing the stories of the wrongfully convicted to the screen. And the Internet has also made it possible for families and friends of the wrongfully convicted to argue their case online. Hundreds of home-made videos are available on websites like YouTube, pleading for the public to take a look at a case and demand justice.

The reason for the volume of requests is obvious. Few fears are as universal as the fear of being wrongfully accused and imprisoned, and few stories are as compelling as those about the failures of a justice system in which we put an incredible amount of faith.  

Read the full story here. (ABC News, 11/07/07)
Among the most popular documentaries on the topic of wrongful conviction are “The Thin Blue Line,” “Paradise Lost,” and “After Innocence.”

Sites like YouTube have also given people a chance to voice their concerns about an unfair criminal justice system. We recently asked blog readers to send us their thoughts on wrongful convictions for a video called “It Matters to Me.” Watch that video and other Innocence Project videos on our YouTube page.

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Editorial: Questions remain at California crime lab

Posted: November 9, 2007 12:19 pm

An editorial in today’s San Jose Mercury News calls for labs in the state to follow the intent of a federal law that requires independent investigations of allegations of forensic wrongdoing. A recent internal investigation at the Santa Clara County lab was “an inherent conflict,” the editorial says. Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld has called the lab’s internal investigation “hopelessly compromised.”

In a case involving the imprisonment of a man falsely convicted of armed robbery, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office took the convenient path by ordering its own investigators to review allegations of errors by the county crime lab. In turning the matter over to her own Bureau of Investigations, District Attorney Dolores Carr apparently met the letter of federal law. But her decision certainly ran counter to common-sense reading of Congress' intent and the spirit of the law. The county crime lab reports to Carr, and prosecutors and crime lab examiners work closely together, so there was an inherent conflict.

Read the full editorial here.
Read a previous post on Santa Clara’s crime lab investigation.

Innocence Project Research Analyst Gabriel Oberfield wrote recently on the Innocence Blog that Texas was taking a step toward true independent crime lab oversight with the state’s newly funded Forensic Science Commission. Read his post here.



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Dispatch from Philadelphia: Why I tell my story

Posted: November 9, 2007 12:45 pm

By David Shephard, Exoneree; President, Northeast Council on the Wrongfully Convicted

Twenty-three years ago I was convicted in New Jersey of a horrible rape I didn’t commit, simply because I worked at the Newark airport, near where the victim’s stolen car was found. I was in prison for almost a decade before DNA testing proved my innocence and led to my release. I was 32 years old and I walked into a changed world. I had to rebuild old relationships. I had to look for a job and explain what I had been doing during my twenties. It wasn’t easy.

Now I’ve been out for 12 years and I’m proud to say I live a happy and productive life. I have a beautiful family, I work hard at my county’s Department of Citizen Services and, whenever I can, I tell anyone who will listen about my case and the causes of wrongful conviction. This morning I’m writing from Philadelphia, where I joined Innocence Project Executive Director Maddy deLone on a panel at the 29th annual conference of the National Association of Women Judges. I’m excited to be here, because telling my story is one of the most important contributions I can make to the innocence movement.

I tell my story because people in this country still have too much faith in our broken criminal justice system. They watch TV and they think the courts are just like they seem in “Law & Order.” I can tell you from experience that they aren’t. I’ve spoken to thousands of people over the years, and many of them already knew about the problem of wrongful convictions before they met me. I’ve learned, however, that they don’t really feel the depths of the issue until they meet an exoneree. It doesn’t have to be me – it can be anyone who has been through the minefield of wrongful conviction. I was speaking in southern New Jersey last week and during my speech I saw faces changing from skeptical to intrigued to devoted. Events around the world are often posted on this blog. If you read about an exoneree’s speech in your town, go hear it. You won’t regret it.

This morning, I spoke to an audience of judges from across the country, all of whom have firsthand knowledge of how our justice system works. But even among this group of insiders, I was the first exoneree many have met in person. And the same holds true for anyone I meet: you can read about this problem all you want, but until it has a human face, it isn’t real.

During this morning’s panel, I told the audience that every inmate with a valid claim of innocence should have access to DNA testing. Why should we have this all-powerful science and not use it? It’s a tragedy that eight states still don’t have laws allowing inmates to apply for DNA testing when it can prove innocence. Even in many of the 42 states with DNA access laws, defendants are still often denied access due to technicalities. If the prosecutor in my case hadn’t agreed to test the evidence, I might not be writing this today. But this issue is bigger than me, it’s bigger than the 208 DNA exonerees. It’s a national problem and we need a national standard for DNA testing access. I told my story this morning, and I will continue to speak out, because there are more innocent people behind bars and we shouldn’t rest until they are free.

David Shephard was exonerated in New Jersey in 1995. He lives with his family in Newark, New Jersey, and serves as the Founding President of the Northeast Council of the Wrongfully Convicted. Learn more about his case here.





Tags: David Shephard, Access to DNA Testing, Dispatches

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DNA tests planned in Colorado man’s exoneration bid

Posted: November 14, 2007 12:46 pm

Tim Masters has been in prison since 1999 for a murder he says he didn’t commit, and the DNA tests he has been requesting are finally scheduled. Masters was 15 when his classmate was murdered in 1987. When he was convicted of the murder 12 years later, his “violent” drawings from high school were key evidence against him.

Now, prosecutors say they are ready to move forward with DNA testing on evidence collected from an alternate suspect, who may have also had ties with prosecutors in the Masters conviction.

Defense attorneys and members of the public have criticized police and prosecutors in the Masters case, and Larimer County District Attorney Larry Abrahamson said this week that he feels his office has been unfairly attacked.

"It just needs to be emphasized that our position has always been that we want to do what's right. We want the truth to be known. But there is a process for that, rules for that," Abrahamson said. "We did everything we feel was proper and legal. It's an accusation. Just because we're accused of doing something doesn't mean we've done something wrong."

Read the full article (Fort Collins Coloradoan, 11/14/2007)
Read about the pending DNA tests in this case. (Fort Collins Coloradoan, 11/5/2007)

Read a previous blog post on Tim Masters’ case.



Tags: Timothy Masters

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Another misidentification conviction prevented

Posted: November 14, 2007 12:53 pm

Stories on this blog often focus on wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing, including more than 150 convictions based on faulty eyewitness identification. We don’t often write about the thousands of cases in which a suspect is arrested and charged but cleared before trial when DNA or other evidence proves their innocence. These cases are the close calls that could have become wrongful convictions, and they number in the thousands. In a National Institute of Justice study of 10,000 cases in the 1990s, 25 percent of suspects were cleared before trial by DNA tests. How many defendants didn’t have additional evidence to refute a questionable eyewitness identification or unreliable science?

The case of Richard Houston Jr. in Modesto, California, illustrates the power of eyewitness identification to lead to a wrongful arrest. Houston spent 55 days in the county jail waiting for trial on an armed robbery he didn’t commit after an eyewitness said he was “100 percent sure” he saw Houston in the dark from 125 feet away with his shirt pulled over his nose. He identified Houston in a “show-up” procedure on the night of the crime, where police brought the eyewitness to the house where they found Houston, pulled Houston’s shirt over his nose and shined lights on him for the eyewitness.

A district attorney, however, watched a surveillance videotape recently from a store where the victim saw the gunman. The tape showed that Houston could not have been the perpetrator and Houston was released after serving nearly two months in jail.

"I felt reborn when I walked through the gate," said Houston, 20, about his release from the Stanislaus County Public Safety Center. Houston splits his time between Modesto, where his stepmother lives, and his father's home in Stockton. "I spent 55 days in jail. That time's double when you're in there for nothing."
While cases like Houston’s illustrate that eyewitness identification can often be unreliable, prosecutors and defense attorneys disagree on whether they prove that the system is broken, or that it works.
For the wrongfully accused who wind up in Houston's shoes in Stanislaus County, there's a chance their innocence could be overlooked. In her experience, situations such as Houston's happen at least several times a year, said Martha J. Carlton-Magaña, a Modesto defense attorney who worked for the Stanislaus County public defender's office for two decades before retiring in April. It's impossible to know for sure how often this happens, because DNA evidence, which isn't available in most cases, is the primary tool for exonerations.

"Our system is broken in this county because we don't have the checks and balances in place that we should," she said.
Chief Deputy District Attorney John Goold said Houston's release shows the opposite.
"As much as possible, we can't have people in jail who did not commit crimes. When it happens, we want to find out as soon as possible," he said. "In all honesty, you have to say the system as a whole worked, even though he had to spend some time in jail."
Read the full story here. (Modesto Bee, 11/13/2007)
Read more about eyewitness identification as a cause of wrongful conviction.



Tags: Eyewitness Misidentification

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Openings and closings: Fair justice relies on effective crime labs

Posted: November 15, 2007 12:55 pm

With two Michigan crime labs set to close in 2008 due to insufficient funding, law enforcement officials said recently that cutting back on forensic testing will have a drastic impact on the state’s ability to identify and prosecute criminals. “That’s a longer time they will be out there doing crime,” Delta County Undersheriff Ed Oswald said. “It’s not good for Michigan.”

And every time a state cuts funding for crime labs, the chance of forensic error is increased. Overburdened and understaffed labs are less able to store, retrieve and test evidence in a reliable, efficient manner. With growing demands from state DNA databases and law enforcement agencies, many labs, like those in Michigan, are stretched to the breaking point.

In Wisconsin, a murder prosecution has been held up for months while forensic testing drags on at a private lab, which was employed to avoid backlogs at state labs. Three Minnesota counties have asked the state legislature for three consecutive years to fund a new crime lab, because backlogs at the state lab have delayed investigations in the county.

Texas voters last week passed an amendment to the state constitution which allowed several state agencies to fund new projects, including a new crime lab in El Paso and increased funding for labs elsewhere in the state. Several observers of the state’s criminal justice system, however, opposed the bill because it also funds the construction of three new prisons and a new juvenile facility. Read more on the Grits for Breakfast blog.

Read more about crime lab closures in Michigan, Wisconsin lab backlogs, a new lab in El Paso and hiring in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to reduce the crime lab backlog.

Read previous blog posts on crime lab backlogs.




Tags: New Mexico, Michigan, Wisconsin, Crime Lab Backlogs

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Column: NJ Exoneree has a right to oppose death penalty

Posted: November 19, 2007 6:25 pm

Byron Halsey was exonerated earlier this year after spending 19 years in New Jersey prison for two brutal child murders he didn’t commit. The DNA testing that freed Halsey also pointed the guilt of another man, Clifton Hall, who is already imprisoned for a sexual assault in New Jersey. Hall was charged today with the murders.

And Halsey recently said in an interview that he supports the pending measure in New Jersey that would repeal the state’s death penalty.

"I could have been killed, and I was innocent," he said...

"They said I was a monster, everybody wanted to stone me," he says. And when, in an obvious jury compromise, he was spared death, people in the courtroom booed.

"They wanted me dead."

Read the full story here. (Newark Star-Ledger, 11/19/07)
Read more about Halsey’s case.




Tags: Byron Halsey, Death Penalty

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More proof of innocence in Florida case

Posted: November 20, 2007 10:55 am

Chad Heins has been imprisoned for 13 years in Florida for the murder of his sister-in-law, a crime he has always said he didn’t commit.  Based on DNA testing secured by the Innocence Project, Heins’ murder conviction was thrown out last December, but the prosecution is re-trying him for the crime. New DNA test results reported yesterday provide further proof of his innocence.

Heins has been an Innocence Project client since 2001, and DNA tests in 2003 first showed that an unknown man’s hairs were on the victim’s bed and the same man’s skin cells were under her fingernails. The new results show that semen from her bed also matches the unknown man. Prosecutors had previously argued that a stray hair from a stranger had accidentally ended up in the victim’s bedroom.

"It completely blows out of the water any notion that the sheet picked up a stray hair," (Innocence Project Co-Director) Barry Scheck said. "That is completely absurd."

Chad Heins' stepmother in Wisconsin said she is grateful for any news that bolsters his innocence but said waiting for justice has been frustrating.

"It's kind of like you don't know what to feel because he's still in there. You hate to get your hopes up," said Mary Heins. "It's like, how much more time before this is over?"

Read the full story. (Florida Times-Union, 11/20/07)
Read more about Heins’ case in previous blog posts.
 



Tags: Florida, Chad Heins

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Editorial calls for new trial in conviction based on unreliable science

Posted: November 21, 2007 3:02 pm

Lee Wayne Hunt was convicted two decades ago in North Carolina of a murder he says he didn’t commit. The lone piece of physical evidence tying Hunt to the crime scene was the testimony of an FBI expert who said bullets in Hunt’s possession matched the bullets used to shoot the victims. Media reports this week revealed that the FBI has been providing unreliable bullet lead testimony for 40 years, and the FBI itself has said the testimony was false and misleading. The Innocence Network has helped create a new task force to assist and monitor the review of more than 2,500 cases in which faulty forensic played a part.

Editorials and blog posts have appeared around the country and the web this week, urging the FBI to act quickly to ensure that wrongful convictions caused by this unreliable science are overturned. An editorial in today’s Raleigh-Durham News & Obersver calls for a new trial for Lee Wayne Hunt.

America's tradition of justice requires not only a showing of guilt beyond reasonable doubt, but arriving at that determination through a fair process. In that light, Hunt deserves a hearing before a jury that can hear Hughes' relevant testimony but that cannot be swayed by the FBI's flawed, prejudicial bullet analysis.

Read the full editorial here. (News & Obersver, 11/21/07)
More editorials and and blogs:

Tacoma, Washington, News Tribune: FBI clammed up on bullet evidence (11/21/07)

Wichita, Kansas: Bullet evidence was full of holes (11/19/07)

Dozens of blogs around the country commented on this story this week. Read them here.

Read previous Innocence Blog posts for more
.



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Colorado task force says state should improve evidence preservation

Posted: November 29, 2007 1:38 pm

A 21-member panel formed this year by Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter has developed a set of recommendations that could lead to evidence preservation reforms in the state during the 2008 legislative session, members said this week. The group was created after a Denver Post series revealed serious problems with the way law enforcement agencies in Colorado – and nationwide – handle the storage and preservation of critical biological evidence. In the DNA age, this evidence has the power to overturn wrongful convictions and identify perpetrators.

"We all agree there ought to be a duty on the part of law enforcement to preserve DNA evidence involving the most serious crimes," said retired Denver District Judge Jeffrey Bayless.

Read the full story here.

The Innocence Project assisted in the research undertaken by the Colorado task force. Read Policy Analyst Rebecca Brown’s October blog post from Colorado.





Tags: Evidence Preservation

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200+ exonerations are a “tipping point” in call for better public defense

Posted: November 30, 2007 10:37 am

In a column in the December issue of the libertarian magazine Reason, senior editor Radley Balko writes that we need to look no further than the 208 wrongful convictions  overturned by DNA testing to see that the American public defense system is woefully lacking. While 80 percent of defendants charged with felonies in state court get a public defender, a 1999 Justice Department study found that 97 percent of law enforcement resources in the country’s 100 largest counties goes to police, courts and prosecutors – leaving just 3 percent for public defense. Only about 7 percent of felonies go to trial – the rest end in plea bargains. Eleven of the 208 exonerees pled guilty to crimes they didn’t commit, and other wrongful convictions were clearly caused by bad lawyering.

If we’re serious about giving everyone a fair crack at justice, indigent defendants need access to the same sorts of resources prosecutors have, including their own independent experts and investigators. If we’re going to generously fund the government’s efforts to imprison people, we need to ensure that everyone the government pursues is adequately defended and protected from prosecutorial overreach. The ongoing stream of exonerations in felony cases suggests we’re a long way from that goal.

Read the full column here. (Reason, December 2007)
And the criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast says this morning that there must be a crisis if the libertarian Reason is calling for an improvement in public defense.
When even Reason magazine thinks government is underspending on one of its functions, it's hard not to think we might have reached a tipping point in regards to changing public perception in the wake of 200+ DNA exonerations.

Read the full blog post. (Grits for Breakfast, 11/30/07)




Tags: Bad Lawyering

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Wrongful convictions a factor in death penalty case before U.S. Supreme Court

Posted: January 7, 2008 4:40 pm

This spring, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear arguments in a case challenging the constitutionality of capital punishment for the crime of child rape. Defendant Patrick Kennedy, convicted of raping his 8-year-old stepdaughter, brought the case, arguing that execution for rape is cruel and unusual punishment. In a friend-of-the-court brief at the Supreme Court, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has raised the concern that impressionable witnesses (such as children) increase the chances of wrongful conviction.  The Louisiana law, the group says, presents “an intolerably high risk” that innocent defendants will be put to death.

Read more about Kennedy v. Louisiana here.

Download the NACDL Amicus brief.

New York Times: Justices to decide if rape of a child merits death

The court also heard oral arguments this morning in Baze v. Rees, asking whether Kentucky’s lethal injection practice amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. While a decision on this case is pending, most states have ceased to carry out lethal injections. Read more about Baze v. Rees here.





Tags: Kentucky, Louisiana

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The Innocent Man near top of bestseller list

Posted: January 8, 2008 4:10 pm

John Grisham’s book about the injustice suffered by Oklahoma exonerees Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, “The Innocent Man,” was released in paperback six weeks ago. For those six weeks, the book has hovered near the top of the New York Times best-seller list, this week at #2. The book has reached countless readers and helped to raise awareness of the problem of wrongful convictions.

Have a comment or reaction to “The Innocent Man”? Send us an email and we’ll publish your responses here on the Innocence Blog.

Want to buy the book? Use this link and a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Innocence Project.





Tags: Oklahoma, Dennis Fritz, Ron Williamson

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Readers respond to book on wrongful convictions

Posted: January 10, 2008 5:15 pm

On Tuesday, we asked blog readers for their feedback on “The Innocent Man,” John Grisham’s book about the wrongful convictions of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz. We heard from many of you, and two of the responses are posted below.

If you ever have feedback to posts on this blog, email us here. (info [at] innocenceproject.org). Tell us if we can post your comments, and include your name (first name only is fine) and your city and state. We’ll occasionally post feedback we receive.

Helen Elliott, Edmond, Oklahoma:
 

I grew up in Southeastern Oklahoma and am a graduate of East Central University in Ada. I found the story of these wrongful convictions appalling, but not surprising. It's an example of stories I heard my whole life about the so-called justice system in our little corner of the world. I'm glad that this story was able to be told. It also brings to light the good works of the Innocence Project, with the hopes of bringing around reforms related to DNA testing. I've always been a fan of Grisham's work; I think this is his best yet.

J. Dowling, Southern California:
 

Grisham's book was excellent. It left me both angry & depressed for Ron Williamson & Dennis Fritz. As a retired police detective of 33 years from a medium sized police agency in Southern California, I am especially incensed by both the prosecutorial and police misconduct in this case. I am just sorry that the Justice Department did not go after the police and the prosecutor for massive violations of civil rights in that Oklahoma case. Anyone who truly cares about the American justice system will be very angry after they read Grisham's book. His book has now inspired me to volunteer my time and services to those in California that have been wrongly convicted. Kudos to Grisham for giving us all a huge wake-up call.

 

In an interview published in yesterday’s Jackson Free Press, Grisham says he met many wrongfully convicted people while researching the book, and “it doesn’t take too many conversations with men who are imprisoned and will probably never get out, who are innocent, to kind of flip you, to make you suddenly aware of this problem. That’s what happened to me.”

Read the full story here. (Jackson Free Press, 01/09/08)

Grisham, who serves on the Innocence Project Board of Directors, also supports the new Mississippi Innocence Project at the University of Mississippi.



Tags: Mississippi, Dennis Fritz, Ron Williamson

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Federal report finds flaws in forensic grants program

Posted: January 18, 2008 3:50 pm

For the second time in three years, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice has founds serious shortcomings in the way the National Institute of Justice and the Office of Justice Programs administer federal grants to state forensic labs. On Wednesday, January 23, Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld will testify before a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee at a hearing questioning whether the Justice Department has effectively administered the programs – known as Coverdell Grants. The Innocence Project has raised serious concerns about the way allegations of forensic misconduct are handled under the grant program.

The Justice for All Act of 2004 calls for states receiving federal money for forensic testing to have an independent entity in place to investigate allegations of misconduct. A 2005 report from the DOJ Inspector General found that OJP was not enforcing the oversight provision. A new report, released today, finds that oversight is still lacking. Inspectors contacted over 200 oversight agencies certified by OJP to conduct independent investigations, and found that a third of them were incapable of conducting investigations.

From the report:

For example, one entity named by a certifying official told us that it conducted financial audits and had no authority to conduct investigations of negligence or misconduct in forensic laboratory work. An official from another entity told us that his entity did not have the capabilities and resources to conduct investigations involving DNA analysis and would have to request funds from the state legislature to contract for DNA expertise if it received such an allegation. More than half of all entity officials told us that they had not been previously informed that their entities had been certified to conduct independent external investigations as required by the Coverdell Program.

Read the full report here.
Read more about Wednesday’s hearing

Read the Innocence Blog next Wednesday for a dispatch from Washington by Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom.

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Cross-Posted: Georgia lawmakers advance eyewitness identification reform

Posted: February 13, 2008 11:02 am

Ben Hiltzheimer wrote this week on the Eyewitness Identification Reform Blog about reforms pending before Georgia's legislature. The full post is here:

GA House Committee Approves Eyewitness ID Reforms

A Georgia House of Representatives committee recently approved two pieces of legislation designed to reform police procedures for collecting eyewitness evidence.

The Non-Civil Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to approve HB 997 and 10 to 5 to approve HR 1071. The legislation now heads to the House Rules Committee for consideration with a favorable recommendation.

The bill, known as the Witness Identification Accuracy Enhancement Act, calls for the state law enforcement agency to develop a set of guidelines for the collection of eyewitness evidence in showups, photo arrays, and live lineups. It also calls on the state public safety training center to work with prosecutors to develop a training program for implementation of the procedures.

The House Resolution outlines specific best practices for conducting the identification procedures. Importantly, the resolution “strongly encourages” double-blind lineup procedures, where the administrator of the lineup would be a “neutral independent administrator, when feasible, and no person familiar with the identity of the suspect should be present during a photographic lineup or physical lineup.” This is arguably the most important requirement of the two pieces of legislation, as social scientists are broadly in agreement that the communication of subtle cues — either inadvertent or intentional — to witnesses by lineup administrators regarding the identity of the police suspect is the primary flaw in status quo lineup practices that lead to misidentification, and ultimately wrongful conviction.

The full test of the best practices outline in the resolution are as follows:
(1) It is strongly encouraged that the administrator of a photographic lineup or physical lineup should be a neutral independent administrator, when feasible, and no person familiar with the identity of the suspect should be present during a photographic lineup or physical lineup;
(2) Prior to beginning a photographic lineup or physical lineup identification procedure, the administrator should instruct the witness that:

(A) The witness does not have to make an identification, and the identification procedure is important to the investigation whether or not an identification is made;
(B) The individuals depicted in the photographic lineup or physical lineup may not appear exactly as the witness observed on the date of the crime because features such as hairstyles and facial hair are subject to change;
(C) The perpetrator may or may not be among those shown in the photographic lineup or physical lineup;
(D) When a neutral independent administrator is conducting the photographic lineup or physical lineup, the administrator is not aware of whether the suspect is included in such photographic lineup or physical lineup; and
(E) Regardless of whether an identification is made, law enforcement will continue to investigate the crime; and(3) When conducting a photographic lineup or physical lineup, the administrator should preserve the outcome of the procedure by documenting any identification or nonidentification result obtained from a witness. All witness responses to the photographic lineup or physical lineup participants should be documented using the witness´s own words, either in writing or with an audio or video recording.
 

State Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield is the author of this welcome piece of legislation, and has made significant progress in bringing the interested parties together to move it through the legislative process over the last couple of years.

Unfortunately, law enforcement officials continue to resist the resolution, despite the systemic wrongful conviction problem that continues to plague the Georgia criminal justice system.
[Terry Norris, executive vice president of the Georgia Sheriff’s Association] told Committee Members that while the resolution is not legally binding, he still feels the State is dictating to law enforcement what to do.
Given that law enforcement agencies across the state have failed to adopt well-settled best practices on their own and the substantial cost associated with failing to do so, a legislative mandate hardly seems out of line. We’ll be following this one closely.
Read more about eyewitness identification reforms supported by the Innocence Project.

All seven people exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing in Georgia were convicted in part based on eyewitness misidentifications. Read about their cases here.

Visit the Eyewitness Identification Reform Blog



Tags: Georgia, Eyewitness Identification, Eyewitness Misidentification

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One year of freedom for Georgia exoneree

Posted: February 14, 2008 12:07 pm

This week marks the one-year anniversary of Willie "Pete" Williams' exoneration in Georgia. He was convicted based on eyewitness misidentification in 1985 and sentenced to 45 years in prison. He was exonerated on February 13, 2007 by postconviction DNA testing after serving nearly 22 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

Read more about Willie “Pete” Williams' case here.

Read yesterday’s blog post on eyewitness identification reforms in Georgia.

Other exoneration anniversary this week:

Thursday: Bruce Godschalk (Served 14.5 Years, Exonerated 2/14/02)



Tags: Bruce Godschalk, Willie Williams, Eyewitness Identification

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Two Mississippi men are cleared after 15 years

Posted: February 15, 2008 3:20 pm

At hearings this morning in a packed Mississippi courthouse, two Innocence Project clients convicted of separate child murders in the same small Mississippi town were cleared based on new evidence proving their innocence. This day comes after nearly 15 years behind bars for Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer, who were joined in court this morning by more than 100 of their relatives.

Brewer, who served much of his time on death row, was fully exonerated today after all pending charges against him were dropped. He is the first person exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing in Mississippi and the 213th nationwide.

Brooks was released this morning after his conviction was vacated, and he will be fully exonerated when charges against him are dismissed, which we expect in the next few weeks.

Read today’s press release for more on these landmark cases.

Due to the gaps in forensic oversight revealed by these two cases, the Innocence Project has called for a top-to-bottom review of forensics in Mississippi. We have also called for an examination of the role of Steven Hayne, the widely discredited medical examiner who performed the autopsies in these two cases. Read the Innocence Project’s letter seeking the appointment of a State Medical Examiner.

Media coverage of Hayne’s role in the convictions of Brewer and Brooks:

Clarion-Ledger: Innocence Project letter blasts Steven Hayne's work

Reason Magazine Blog: President of Mississippi State Medical Association Denounces Dr. Hayne

Media Coverage of today’s releases:

Commerical Dispatch: Brewer goes free on 1992 child murder, rape charges

Clarion-Ledger: Brewer cleared of charges in child slaying

Jackson Free Press: Free at last

Hattiesburg American: DA’s having trouble keeping up with DNA

More Mississippi news:

Meanwhile, Mississippi legislators are considering a bill that would create a statewide task force on the handling of DNA evidence. A State Senate committee passed the bill earlier this week, citing Brwer and Brooks’ cases. Read more about that issue here. (Clarion-Ledger, 02/13/08)



Tags: Kennedy Brewer

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Florida editorial calls for eyewitness reform

Posted: February 20, 2008 12:08 pm

Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing, yet many jurisdictions have not implemented simple reforms that are proven to increase the accuracy of lineups and other identification procedures.  An editorial in the Daytona Beach News-Journal calls for Florida lawmakers to enact new procedures for law enforcement officials that would prevent misidentification.

One of the easiest, and potentially most effective, fixes involves a simple tweak to a basic police tool: the lineup. This practice -- in which police actually line up a row of people, or display a set of photographs and ask a witness to identify one as the criminal -- is subject to flaws, particularly when the officer administering the lineup knows who the suspect is. Even though the officer might not intend to taint witness identification, it happens, through subtle "tells" such as fleeting changes of facial expression.

The solution is to remove that officer from the lineup process, substituting another officer -- one who has never seen the suspect and doesn't know who the ringers are. This procedure, called a "double-blind" lineup, is the best way to ensure that eyewitness IDs are as accurate as possible. In addition, police should take care to ensure that all subjects in a lineup are as physically similar as possible.

These two fixes are simple. They require no new technology and, because they simply substitute one officer for another, little extra police time. Moreover, they're fully supported by irrefutable research. Witnesses tend to trust their eyes, but by now police and lawmakers should know better.

Read the full editorial here.

What is your state doing to improve eyewitness identification procedures? Find out on our interactive map.

Read a guest post from the Eyewitness Identification Reform Blog on a proposed eyewitness reform bill in Georgia
.




Tags: Florida, Eyewitness Identification

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Analysts said Houston lab was "clearly out of control" before closing last month

Posted: February 22, 2008 4:45 pm

A new report on the Houston Police Department Crime Lab reveals testing errors and lost evidence at the long-troubled lab in the months leading up to the DNA lab’s closure in January. This new controversy comes after the Houston lab had apparently recovered from years of scandal. The lab’s DNA section was first closed in 2002, when evidence of misconduct and negligence was first revealed. A two-year independent audit of the lab found hundreds of cases with testing problems, raising questions for defendants who were convicted based on test results from the lab. Three wrongful convictions based on faulty test results have been overturned by DNA testing in recent years, and several more cases are currently in testing.

The DNA lab was closed in January after an investigation revealed that the DNA director had helped employees cheat on routine proficiency tests. The report released today uncovers additional allegations of misconduct. 

Contaminated samples and questionable procedures were among problems Vanessa Nelson relayed in September to investigators probing allegations of policy violations by the DNA division leader, which led to her resignation last month.
Nelson's comments were part of a 73-page investigative police report obtained by the Houston Chronicle for a story in its Friday editions. The internal probe was the latest problem for the crime lab, where issues over accuracy and shoddy work has cast doubt on thousands of cases.

"Analyst morale is at an all-time low, and I question whether or not the section should suspend testing until the entire issue is resolved," Nelson told investigators Sept. 8.

Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 02/22/2008) 
 

Read more about problems at the Houston crime lab and the Innocence Project’s recommendations for crime lab oversight nationwide.

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Allegations continue to grow against Mississippi pathologist

Posted: February 25, 2008 3:49 pm

In the wake of the Feb. 15 hearings that cleared two Innocence Project clients after a combined three decades in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, more allegations of misconduct have been raised against medical examiner Steven Hayne and forensic dentist Michael West. An attorney for a New York woman charged with manslaughter in the death of her daughter has asked for a state review of Hayne’s finding that the victim was suffocated. But since Mississippi has lacked a state medical examiner since the mid-1990s, there is not an official avenue to review Hayne’s findings. The Innocence Project sent a letter Feb. 14 to the commissioner of the Mississippi Dept. of Public Safety, asking him to appoint a State Medical Examiner immediately.

Read today’s article here. (Jackson Clarion-Ledger, 02/25/08)

And Reason Magazine Senior Editor Radley Balko has continued to report the results of his extensive investigations into Hayne’s conduct. Balko’s post Thursday on the Reason Magazine blog examined a Louisiana murder case in which Hayne and West testified regarding bite marks and sexual assault, leading Jimmie Christian Duncan to be sentenced to death. Duncan’s lawyers at the Louisiana Capital Post-Conviction Project have said there is evidence pointing to Duncan’s innocence and more misconduct by Hayne and West.

Read more here. (Reason, 02/21/2008)

Read Balko's post today on the "The Bite-Marks Men: Mississippi's criminal forensics disaster"

Watch television news coverage of Hayne’s controversial autopsies. (WLBT, Jackson, MS)





Tags: Bitemark Evidence

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Dallas editorial: There's no excuse for blocking an innocence commission

Posted: February 28, 2008 4:14 pm

An editorial in yesterday’s Dallas Morning News references this article on Chris Ochoa’s wrongful conviction and calls for Texas legislators prioritize the creation of an innocence commission that would review failures of the state’s criminal justice system and recommend remedies.

DNA is only recovered and useful as evidence in a fraction of cases. Pliable, confused suspects still can be plucked off the streets and pressured by authorities. Not all police use the latest investigation techniques in such areas as suspect lineups.

It's outrageous that Texas House members have blocked legislation that would form a commission to analyze such shameful wrongful convictions and recommend improvements, even state standards.
The jury system has no equal in the search for justice and truth. But there's no excuse for not trying to make it better yet.

Read the full editorial here. (Dallas Morning News, 02/27/08)

And blogs across the country have been discussing Ochoa’s case this week as well. Both Grits for Breakfast and Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer referred to Ochoa’s case as an example of how the death penalty can be used to extract false confessions from innocent defendants.

Read more about Ochoa’s case here
.



Tags: Christopher Ochoa, Death Penalty

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How much is Steven Hayne using state labs for his botched autopsies?

Posted: March 5, 2008 1:46 pm

The Innocence Project today sent formal requests to nearly two dozen Mississippi officials, requesting documents that will show how much Medical Examiner Steven Hayne has been using state labs for autopsies that are clearly erroneous.

Hayne’s forensic misconduct has come to light in recent weeks, following court hearings last month where two Innocence Project clients – Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks – were cleared after serving 15 years for murders they didn’t commit. Hayne’s faulty work contributed to both men’s convictions.

Read today’s Innocence Project press release on the new developments, and download the full content of the letter.

Learn more about the cases of Brewer and Brooks here.

Also today, a column in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal calls on Mississippi officials to reform forensic and legal practices to ensure that the innocent aren’t convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.

Aside from ending the personal injustices endured by Arthur Johnson, Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer, The Innocence Project is also showing the state how it can do better.

For instance, the Legislature could add Mississippi to the 42 states that already provide post-conviction DNA testing where there's a claim of innocence.

Mississippi could modernize the Crime Lab, which is seeking a total of $9 million this year out of the state's nearly $6 billion general fund budget.

Mississippi could hire a medical examiner, who would be the first since the last one left in 1995.

Mississippi could expedite post-conviction hearings when new or additional evidence tends to show a jury has been misled, even if the evidence against a person was offered in good faith.

Read the full column here. (Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, 03/05/08)
 
Read Radley Balko’s post on the Reason Magazine blog about today’s Innocence Project document requests.

 



Tags: Mississippi, Kennedy Brewer

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DA says Colorado prisoner shouldn’t get a new trial despite destroyed evidence

Posted: March 18, 2008 11:50 am

Last week, Colorado lawmakers introduced a bill to grant new trials to inmates when evidence in their cases was destroyed despite court orders to preserve it. The bill has drawn broad bipartisan support, and is expected to pass. Along with the bill, one lawmaker has made the case for a new trial for a specific prisoner, Clarence Moses-El, who was convicted more than two decades ago of a Denver murder and has sought DNA testing to prove his innocence. Those tests can’t be done, however, because Denver police destroyed evidence in the case after a judge ordered them to preserve it for possible DNA testing.

Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrisey said Friday that he had received a lawmaker’s request regarding Moses-El but that he doesn’t plan to pursue a new trial in the case.

"There is absolutely no indication, based on the totality of all the evidence and the thorough review conducted by myself and numerous judicial officials, that a new trial would result in any different outcome," Morrisey said in a letter responding to Sen. Ken Gordon, D-Denver.

Last Saturday, Gordon hand delivered a letter to Morrisey, with a request for a new trial for Moses-El or some other relief because the DNA evidence in the case was destroyed by Denver police after a judge's ordered it preserved.

Read more here. (Colorado Rocky Mountain News, 03/15/08)
Read Friday’s blog post about the bill in Colorado’s legislature.




Tags: Colorado, Evidence Preservation

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California columnist: State aims to save pennies by refusing exoneree compensation

Posted: March 18, 2008 11:25 am

California exoneree James Ochoa is seeking $31,700 in compensation for the 10 months he spent in prison for a carjacking that DNA proves he didn’t commit, but state officials have announced that they plan to deny his request because he pled guilty. The law states that an exoneree can be compensated if he didn’t “contribute to his conviction.” Although state representatives involved in drafting the law have said excluding guilty pleas wasn’t the intent of the law, a hearing officer in charge of compensation claims is citing this clause in his recommendation to deny Ochoa’s claim. A final hearing in the case is set for April.

Los Angeles Times columnist Dana Parsons writes today that the state is making a mistake to deny Ochoa’s claim:

With California in financial trouble (who isn’t?), I thought you’d like to know how the state is saving you money. It could have agreed to pay James Ochoa $31,700 for doing 10 months in the state pen for a carjacking he didn’t commit.

It said no…

Ochoa, then 20, was arrested at his Buena Park home in May 2005 not long after a robbery-carjacking outside a nearby nightclub. The victims described the carjacker and an officer thought it matched Ochoa, whom he’d recognized from an earlier stop. The two victims were taken to Ochoa’s home and identified him as he sat in his driveway. Before the trial that December, however, DNA testing by the Orange County crime lab excluded Ochoa as the person inside the victim’s car, which had been recovered. Unbowed, the district attorney’s office proceeded with the case….

To avoid the possibility of a life sentence for a crime he knew he didn’t do, Ochoa took a two-year deal. He was 20, had a bogus eyewitness identification staring him in the face and wasn’t too keen on a potential lifetime sentence.

What would you do?

Read the full column here. (LA Times, 03/18/08)
Read the March 6 Innocence Blog post on this case.

Read more about James Ochoa’s case.





Tags: California, James Ochoa

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Dispatch from the Innocence Network conference

Posted: March 28, 2008 6:50 pm

By Matt Kelley, Innocence Project Communications Associate

Hundreds of people all corners of from the innocence movement are in Santa Clara, California, today for the Innocence Network's eigth annual conference. The conference is a highlight of the year for those of us working in the movement, and already in the first few hours we've seen the beginnings of exciting collaborations: between exonerees from across the country, policy point people of several innocence organizations, attorneys working together on wrongful conviction cases, and law students seeking careers in the innocence movement.

This afternoon, nearly 50 exonerees gathered for a panel discussion called "Exoneree Leadership in the Innocence Movement." Men and women who together served hundreds of years in prison for crimes they didn't commit shared their stories and began the process of collaborating to strengthen the community of exonerees nationwide. It was an inspiring discussion.

I had the honor this morning of accompanying Rickey Williams, an Innocence Project client exonerated in Louisiana in January, as he traveled to the San Jose airport to reunite with an old friend, Calvin Willis. Rickey and Calvin were together in Louisiana's notorious Angola State Prison, and Rickey credits Calvin as the man who handed him the address for the Innocence Project. Calvin was exonerated by DNA testing in 2003, but the two hadn't seen each for years before that. This morning, they finally met again.

“I never even told him about my charges, because I didn’t like talking about that," Rickey told me this morning. "I just told him I was innocent, and he told me I’d be getting out right behind him. Here I am, and here he is.”

The two hugged and fell back into talking about old times and how they got through each day together in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. These reunions are the reason for the Innocence Network conference, and I felt lucky to witness it.

Check back on the Innocence Blog as we’ll be posting updates throughout the weekend.

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Exoneree Jeff Deskovic speaks tonight in New York

Posted: April 2, 2008 2:45 pm

Tonight in New York City, exoneree Jeff Deskovic will talk about his wrongful conviction and the 15 years he spent in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. The event, which is open to the public, will be held at 6 p.m. at Baruch College, at 55 Lexington Ave. in Manhattan (room number VC 3-215).

Deskovic was arrested when he was just 16 years old. After long hours of improper interrogation without food, Deskovic falsely confessed to the crime. He was convicted despite DNA results showing the biological evidence of someone else at the crime scene. In 2006, the Innocence Project requested that the same evidence be subjected to more sophisticated DNA testing so it could be checked against a state database of convicted offenders, and it matched the identity of the person who committed the crime. Deskovic was exonerated, and today he speaks around the country about his experiences and his work to prevent future wrongful convictions.

Read more about Deskovic’s case here.

Deskovic is one of more than 75 DNA exonerees who were wrongfully convicted arrested when they were between 14 and 22 years old. They lost the prime of their lives for something crimes they didn’t docommit.. The Innocence Project today launched a national campaign to mobilize young people in an effort to free the innocent and prevent wrongful convictions. Learn more in today’s blog post on the new campaign.





Tags: Jeff Deskovic

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Upcoming events in Seattle and New Hampshire

Posted: April 10, 2008 10:40 am

A cello concert tomorrow night in Seattle and a symposium April 17 in New Hampshire will help raise funds and awareness about the causes of wrongful conviction and the countless innocent people still waiting for justice.

Paul Rucker will perform a solo cello concert in Seattle tomorrow night (Friday, April 11) to raise money for the Innocence Project. Tickets are $5-$15. More information (and a video of Rucker performing) is here.

Exoneree Dennis Maher will speak at a symposium on April 17 at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire. The discussion, entitled “When Justice Fails, Perspectives of the Exonerated Defendant and His Prosecutor,” will also feature comments from J.W. Carney Jr., who was the prosecutor in both of Maher’s convictions and also worked actively for Maher’s exoneration when evidence of his innocence came to light. The event is free and open to the public. Learn more here.





Tags: Dennis Maher

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California case challenges prosecutorial immunity

Posted: April 14, 2008 1:15 pm

Prosecutors nationwide have traditionally been shielded from lawsuits brought by wrongfully convicted individuals. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that this immunity is necessary to ensure that prosecutors can do their jobs without fear of personal legal implication.

But last year, the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that supervising prosecutors could be liable if they failed to create a system that safeguarded against wrongful conviction. And now a lawsuit – brought by Thomas Goldstein, who served 24 years in prison before being released on evidence of his innocence – alleges that Los Angeles’ head prosecutor can be held liable for the use of a jailhouse informant in Goldstein’s case. The U.S. Supreme Court announced today that it will hear this case during its next term.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office, the nation's largest prosecution office, once made regular use of jail informants, but at the time it had no system for sharing information among prosecutors countywide about which informants were reliable and what they had been promised.

Goldstein was ordered released after 24 years in prison after the sole eyewitness recanted and doubts emerged about a supposed confession by Goldstein to an informant. Years after his conviction, Goldstein learned that his jailhouse accuser -- a three-time felon -- had lied in court when he denied having received promises of special treatment from another county prosecutor in exchange for his testimony.

"This suit is 29 years in the making, and it's about accountability," said Goldstein. "[It] will put every prosecutor's office on notice that they need a system for sharing information. And by doing so, it will result in fewer wrongful convictions."
The lawsuit names John Van de Kamp, Los Angeles County’s chief prosecutor at the time of Goldstein’s conviction and now the chair of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, one of the country’s most active innocence commissions.
...Van de Kamp sees a note of irony in the situation. He is the chair of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, a group set up to prevent wrongful convictions. It has pressed for a law that would require corroboration before testimony from a jailhouse informant could be used in a criminal trial.

The Legislature approved such a bill last year, but it in October Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it. He called the measure "unnecessary" because this "perceived problem . . . arises in very few criminal cases."

Read the full article here. (LA Times, 04/13/08)
Read more about the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice.





Tags: Informants/Snitches, Government Misconduct

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Oversight on the horizon in Mississippi?

Posted: April 14, 2008 2:25 pm

The news on forensic science in Mississippi hasn’t been good in recent months. The exonerations of two Innocence Project clients – Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks – revealed false testimony and misconduct by medical examiner Steven Hayne and forensic dentist Michael West. The cases highlight the need for forensic oversight – and the consequences of not having a Mississippi State Medical Examiner, a position the legislature created to ensure standards in autopsies. The position has been vacant for more than a decade. During that time, Hayne says he has performed tens of thousands of autopsies. He may be using federally funded state labs for some of these autopsies. He has violated state laws governing medical practice during that time.

But there is some good news today. After repeated calls for improved forensic oversight from the Innocence Project, the Mississippi Innocence Project, members of the public and several newspapers, Gov. Haley Barbour has nominated a new commissioner for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. The nominee – Circuit Judge Stephen Sampson – says his first priorities will be improving the state crime lab and naming a chief medical examiner to fill the long vacant position.

Read about Sampson’s nomination here. (Clarion-Ledger, 04/12/08)

Last week, the Innocence Project filed a formal request for Hayne’s medical license to be revoked. And a story published Sunday on Reason Magazine’s Hit-and-Run blog details another possible wrongful conviction in which Hayne made errors and oversights called “egregious” by fellow doctors.

This morning, Mississippi Innocence Project Director Tucker Carrington was interviewed on Mississippi Public Broadcasting. Listen to the interview here.



Tags: Kennedy Brewer

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Supreme Court decides lethal injection case, hears arguments on capital punishment for sex offenders

Posted: April 16, 2008 2:10 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court today signaled that executions in the United States could resume, with a decision in the high-profile case of Baze v. Rees, which challenged the constitutionality of the country’s most common method of lethal injection. In a decision that split justices among several lines of argument, the final vote was 7-2 to allow lethal injections to continue. The justices adopted a standard that an execution method is only unconstitutional if it poses a “substantial risk of serious harm.”

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine has already announced that the state will resume executions after the decision.

Justice John Paul Stevens, who voted in the majority that reinstated the death penalty in the U.S. in 1976, joined the majority in Baze v. Rees, but in result only. He wrote in his concurring opinion that “the time for a dispassionate, impartial comparison of the enormous costs that death penalty litigation imposes on society with the benefits that it produces has surely arrived." He went on to cite the possibility of executing an innocent person as another reason the U.S. should reconsider its support of the death penalty.

There has been a de facto moratorium on executions in the U.S. while states waited for the court’s decision in this case. Today’s decision means that the chances of an innocent person being executed are once again very real, as executions will likely resume immediately. One Innocence Project client on death row, Tommy Arthur in Alabama, was scheduled for execution before challenges to lethal injection led to a delay in the execution date. Will Alabama Gov. Bob Riley grant him the DNA testing that could prove his innocence before allowing him to be executed? Learn more about Arthur’s case here and send an email to Riley here.

Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck commented on today’s decision, and the irony that it came down on the same day Thomas McGowan is expected to walk free in Dallas.

“It’s a bitter irony that on the same day the Supreme Court paved the way for more executions and is considering expanding the death penalty beyond murder cases, a man is being released from prison in Texas after serving 23 years for a crime that DNA proves he didn’t commit.  The same flaws in the criminal justice system that led to Thomas McGowan’s wrongful conviction exist in countless case where DNA testing is not an option – cases that sometimes end in death sentences.  Our challenge as a nation is not to make it easier to execute people, or make more people eligible for the death penalty, but to do everything possible to make our criminal justice system more fair and accurate.” 

Read more about Baze v. Rees on the SCOTUS blog.

Also today in Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Kennedy v. Louisiana, in which death row inmate Patrick Kennedy challenges the constitutionality of capital punishment for child rape. In a friend-of-the-court brief at the Supreme Court, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers raised the concern that impressionable witnesses (such as children) increase the chances of wrongful conviction. The Louisiana law, the group says, presents “an intolerably high risk” that innocent defendants will be put to death.

Read more about Kennedy v. Louisiana on the SCOTUS blog
.





Tags: Death Penalty

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McGowan set free in Dallas, lineups under scutiny

Posted: April 16, 2008 5:42 pm

Thomas McGowan was released from custody today in Dallas after serving nearly 23 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. The judge and district attorney apologized to McGowan for the injustice he suffered, and he joined with his supportive family in celebrating after he release.

Read the Innocence Project press release on McGowan’s case and proposed eyewitness identification reforms in Texas.

Media coverage of McGowan’s release:


Associated Press: DNA frees man who spent almost 23 years in prison

Eyewitness Identification Reform Blog: Another Flawed Lineup, Another Exoneration in Dallas County, and a Glimmer of Hope

Dallas Morning News: DNA evidence clears another Dallas County inmate (with slideshow of 15 people cleared by DNA testing in Dallas)

 

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"The first day of my life"

Posted: April 17, 2008 10:22 am

Innocence Project client Thomas McGowan walked out of a Dallas courtroom yesterday, a free man for the first time in 23 years. McGowan was convicted of a rape he didn’t commit in the mid-1980s, based mostly on an eyewitness misidentification. He was in his mid-20s when convicted and will turn 50 later this year. He is the 17th person cleared by DNA testing in Dallas – more than any other county in the country.

"Words cannot express how sorry I am for the last 23 years," said state District Judge Susan Hawk, moments after overturning his convictions. "I believe you can walk out of here a free man."
…McGowan, wearing a button-down shirt and slacks, looked trim and relieved. He said he prayed frequently and was benefiting from some "powerful forces." While in prison, one of McGowan's sisters died, and he said he missed watching his sibling's children grow up.

"I know God forgives, so hey, I've got to forgive, too," McGowan said. "It's not going to benefit me to be harboring anger or resentment."

"I've been living a life of a living hell and my nightmare is finally over with," McGowan said after the hearing. "This is the first day of my life. I'm going to go forward."
Media coverage of McGowan’s release:

Video: KVUE: Man exonerated for rape gives forgiveness

Associated Press: DNA frees man who spent almost 23 years in prison for rape

Dallas Morning News: Richardson man cleared by DNA

Eyewitness Identification Reform Blog: Another Flawed Lineup, Another Exoneration in Dallas County, and a Glimmer of Hope

 

Read about the misidentification that led to McGowan’s wrongful conviction and reforms proposed to prevent future injustice.



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A cancer within the system

Posted: April 18, 2008 4:25 pm

One of the nation’s most active innocence commissions, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, reported yesterday on the woeful state of indigent defense in many California counties.

"This is like a cancer within the system of providing indigent defense, and it's spreading," said Gerald Uelmen, executive director of the so-called Fair Commission, calling the spread of low-bid, flat-fee private firms "a race to the bottom."
Inexperienced, overburdened and negligent defense representation has contributed to countless wrongful convictions, and inadequate defense for the poor nationwide continues to contribute to cause injustice and inequality in the system everyday.

The commission recommended that California lawmakers create a panel to oversee the way counties fund public defense, and also recommended a law to ensure that the state funds investigators and experts for poor defendants.

Read the full story here: San Jose Mercury News, 04/18/08

Read the commission’s full report here.

Read the Innocence Blog post last week on indigent defense shortages around the country and signs of hope on the horizon.

Read more about how overworked – or negligent – defense attorneys have contributed to the problem of wrongful convictions.

Read more about the work of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice and other innocence commissions around the country.





Tags: Bad Lawyering

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Illinois man released after attorneys reveal another man’s confession

Posted: April 21, 2008 4:48 pm

Alton Logan served 26 years in Illinois prison for murder before he was released on Friday based on new evidence of his innocence. While DNA evidence is not involved, Logan joins a vast group of people released from prison years after an apparent wrongful conviction. His family members collected $1,000 for bond in the courthouse lobby on Friday and he is now awaiting a decision from the Illinois Attorney General on whether to retry him.

Logan was convicted of a 1982 murder in a McDonald’s restaurant and sentenced to life in prison, narrowly avoiding the death penalty. His release was sparked by an affidavit provided by two Illinois attorneys, revealing that their client in another murder case, Andrew Wilson, had confessed to them that he committed the McDonald’s murder alone. The confession came before Logan was sentenced in the case.  The attorneys had Wilson sign an affidavit admitting his guilt, but kept it locked away because they weren’t allowed to break attorney-client privilege. Wilson told them they could release the affidavit if he died, and he passed away last year in prison.

CBS News’ “60 Minutes” reported on the case last month, including interviews with Logan and Wilson’s two lawyers, one of whom says in the interview that he thought about Logan’s case almost every day for 26 years, but he felt obligated to maintain his attorney-client privilege with Wilson.

“There might be other attorneys who have similar secrets that they’re keeping,” attorney Jamie Kunz said. “What makes this case so different is that (we) came forward… and (talked) to Wilson before his death, and get his permission: ‘If you die, can we talk?’ Without that, we wouldn’t be here today.”
But Logan says in a prison interview that he can’t understand why the two attorneys didn’t release the information sooner. He also says the system is built to convict people and often misses the truth.
“They are quick to convict, but they are slow to correct their mistakes,” Logan said.
The “60 Minutes” segment is a must-see for anyone interested in the issue of wrongful convictions. Watch it here.

Read the extensive media coverage of Logan’s release:

Chicago Tribune, Associated Press, Chicago Reader Blog, and more…

In November, “60 Minutes” covered another possible wrongful conviction involving attorney-client privilege. An attorney for a man who committed suicide in prison has revealed that his client committed a murder for which Lee Wayne Hunt is still incarcerated in North Carolina. Hunt was convicted based on bullet lead analysis by the FBI, which has been shown to be faulty and inaccurate evidence. The Innocence Network is currently working with other groups to review cases of possible wrongful convictions based on faulty bullet lead analysis.

Watch the “60 Minutes” segment and read the Innocence Network’s press release on the review of all bullet lead analysis convictions nationwide.



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California exoneree will be compensated

Posted: April 23, 2008 4:02 pm

A California board voted today to award $30,000 in compensation to James Ochoa for the 10 months he spent in prison for a carjacking he didn’t commit. Ochoa was exonerated in 2006 when DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene proved his innocence. He pled guilty to the crime to avoid the possibility of a long sentence if convicted at trial.

California law provides $100 per day of wrongful incarceration, but only if the defendant did not “contribute to the bringing about of his arrest or conviction.” A hearing officer’s report submitted to the board argued that Ochoa should be denied compensation because his guilty plea brought about his wrongful conviction. The board voted in favor of granting the compensation, however.

"Every step of the way James had been screwed by government authorities. Finally, this board stood up and did the right thing," Ochoa lawyer Scott Borthwick said immediately after the hearing.

Read more. (OC Weekly blog, 04/23/08)
An author of the compensation law and the state innocence commission have both said that the “guilty plea loophole” needs to be removed to ensure that people like Ochoa don’t need to argue for compensation in future cases.

Read more about Ochoa’s case here.





Tags: James Ochoa

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Another innocent man released in Dallas, summit set for next week

Posted: April 29, 2008 2:50 pm

James Lee Woodard, who served more than 27 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, walked out of a Dallas courtroom this morning a free man for the first time since 1981. He is the eighteenth man cleared by DNA testing in Dallas County, more than any other county in the nation. In the wake of his release today, Texas State Sen. Rodney Ellis officially announced that a landmark Summit on Wrongful Convictions will be held May 8 in Austin. The summit will bring lawmakers, lawyers, civic leaders and exonerees together to work on addressing and preventing wrongful convictions in Texas. Read more about the summit here.

Days after he was arrested on New Year’s Day in 1981, Woodard began writing letters proclaiming his innocence and seeking to prevent a wrongful conviction. He was charged with sexually assaulting and strangling a 21-year-old woman he was dating at the time. He was convicted mainly based on the testimony of two eyewitnesses, and his lawyers at the Innocence Project of Texas say prosecutors had evidence at trial of the possible involvement of other suspects, but withheld that evidence from Woodard’s defense.

"On the first day he was arrested, he told the world he was innocent ... and nobody listened," Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas, said during Tuesday's hearing.

Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 04/29/08)
Watch video of James Woodard's comments in the courtroom today. (WFAA, 04/29/08) 
To bring about Woodard’s release, his lawyers at the Innocence Project of Texas worked closely with the Dallas District Attorney’s Office and its Conviction Integrity Unit. Read more about the cooperation on the Dallas Observer’s Unfair Park blog.

Of the 18 people cleared by DNA testing in Dallas County to date, 14 have been fully exonerated by DNA testing. Fifteen of the 18 were convicted under former District Attorney Henry Wade. For an exoneration to be official, the defendant must receive a pardon from the governor or a writ of habeas corpus from the Court of Criminal Appeals (the state’s highest criminal court). Read about the 14 Dallas DNA exonerations here.

Two weeks ago, Innocence Project client Thomas McGowan was released in Dallas after serving 23 years in prison for a rape and burglary that DNA now proves he didn’t commit. An editorial this week in the Texas Baptist Standard says McGowan’s case illustrates why Texas should support a moratorium on capital punishment and why the possibility of executing an innocent person should prompt Christians to support a moratorium worldwide. Read the editorial here.



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Dallas DA will push for conviction reviews across Texas

Posted: April 30, 2008 5:10 pm

In the wake of yesterday’s release of James Lee Woodard, Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins said he will lobby for the creation of Conviction Integrity Units across the state. Watkins took office in 2007 as Texas’ first African-American District Attorney, and quickly created a Conviction Integrity Unit to review past cases for possible wrongful convictions. The unit was instrumental in overturning Woodard’s conviction. Before his release yesterday, Woodard had served 27 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.

"This is a perfect time to do it," Watkins said (of conviction reviews across the state). "We have to look at it. We have to balance that time when we are being a politician, and when we are a human being."
…Before walking out of the courtroom to "breathe in fresh, clean air," Woodard praised Watkins' office for having a public integrity unit that was willing to work with the Innocence Project to prove his innocence.
"I used to have nightmares about the DA's office, but now they are among my best friends," Woodard said in an earlier interview.

Read the full story here. (Star-Telegram, 04/30/08)
Read more media coverage of his case here.

Woodard was represented by the Innocence Project of Texas, a member of the Innocence Network. Read a blog post on the case by IPOT Executive Director Natalie Roetzel here.

Tomorrow night, May 1, IPOT will host a benefit event in Dallas featuring four leaders in the legal community – District Attorney Craig Watkins, IPOT Chief Counsel Jeff Blackburn, Judge John Creuzot and Southern Poverty Law Center Founder Morris Dees. Learn more here.

Two weeks ago, Innocence Project client Thomas McGowan was released in Dallas. Read more about his case here.

In light of the unprecendented number of wrongful convictions in Texas overturned by DNA testing, state leaders are holding a Summit on Wrongful Convictions at the capital in Austin on May 8. Learn more here.



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Dallas discussion continues on blogs, will be featured Sunday on "60 Minutes"

Posted: May 2, 2008 2:33 pm

Coverage and conversation of James Lee Woodard’s release in Dallas has continued on the web, television and radio this week, as the American public has been shocked at the story of an 18th person cleared by DNA evidence in a single county. We’ve received dozens of emails from readers interested in getting involved to prevent more wrongful convictions from happening today. Read and comment on some of the blog coverage here:

Talk Left: Dallas County Sets Wrongful Conviction Records

GritsforBreakfast: Beyond the Iceberg’s tip: Dallas to extend innocence investigations beyond DNA cases

StandDown Texas: Another Dallas County Exoneration

American Bar Association Journal: 18th Innocence Man Freed in 1 Texas County; Officials Vow Change

Texas State Sen. Rodney Ellis will hold a day-long Summit on Wrongful Convictions in Austin next Thursday. More details on the summit here.

And CBS News’ “60 Minutes” will cover the Dallas County exonerations and Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins’ quest for “smart justice” on Sunday. More here.

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Friday links

Posted: May 2, 2008 5:28 pm

There is so much news every week about wrongful convictions, crime labs, criminal justice reform and other related topics that all of it doesn’t make it onto the Innocence Blog. In this new weekly post, we’ll share some links each Friday to stories we find interesting and relevant. If you have links you’d like to see next week, email them to info@innocenceproject.org

Exoneree Curtis McCarty talks about spending 18 years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit
(KOKH, Oklahoma City)

Kansas City man seeks DNA testing after spending 20 years in prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit (Kansas City Star, 04/29/08)

Ballistic results cast doubt on Detroit crime lab (Detroit Free Press, 04/26/08)

New Oklahoma crime lab opens doors (Edmond Sun, 05/01/08)

Missouri lawmakers approve crime lab funding, but less than requested (Springfield News-Leader, 05/02/08)





Tags: Curtis McCarty

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Friday links

Posted: May 9, 2008 3:10 pm

More stories from across the country this week on wrongful convictions, forensics and criminal justice reforms.

Dallas Morning News editorial: Bad prosecutors should face prison

NPR Morning Edition: Dallas man exonerated after 27 years in prison

Fingerprint error leads to wrongful arrest in Georgia case

American Bar Association Journal: Bite-Mark Evidence Loses Teeth

Innocence Project files for testing in Pennsylvania case (Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, 05/08/08)

Lack of funds stalls Virgina DNA testing project
(Associated Press, 05/08/08)

Texas exoneree Brandon Moon blogged this week about spending Cinco de Mayo in Texas prisons, and his trip to Texas for the Summit on Wrongful Convictions.





Tags: Brandon Moon

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Virginia pauses massive DNA review to wait for federal funds

Posted: May 13, 2008 5:00 pm

The state of Virginia is seeking a $4.5 million federal grant to continue an unprecedented systematic review of DNA evidence in hundreds of convictions. The project, ordered over two years ago by then-Governor Mark Warner, has halted temporarily after spending $1.4 million in state funds.

The process has its roots in the 2002 exoneration of Innocence Project client Marvin Anderson. After officials declared that evidence in Anderson’s case had been destroyed, samples of evidence were found preserved in the notebook of a lab technician, along with samples from hundreds of other cases. After DNA testing on this evidence led to the exonerations of Anderson and two other men (Julius Earl Ruffin in 2003 and Arthur Lee Whitfield in 2004), the Innocence Project urged officials to conduct a broader review of cases. Gov. Warner ordered a review of a 10 percent sample of the 300-plus cases in which the technician had saved evidence. Two more men (Phillip Thurman and Willie Davidson) were proven innocent by this review and Gov. Warner ordered a systematic review of all convictions with biological evidence.

The review came under fire last year for not moving quickly enough because testing had not been completed on even 30 cases. The Washington Post now reports that lab workers have gone through 534,000 case files and sent thousands of relevant samples for testing.

The review has identified more than 2,100 files that contain forensic evidence with named suspects. The state has sent hundreds of samples to a private Fairfax County lab, Bode Technology Group, for testing.
Virginia’s lab director Peter. M. Marone said the testing will continue with state funds if the grant doesn’t come through.
"We're just trying to make sure we'll expend federal grant money rather than state money," he said.
Read the full story. (Washington Post, 8/12/08)
The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project is monitoring the case review and has raised questions about why the state is not notifying defendants when testing is being conducted in their cases. Read more on the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project blog (http://www.exonerate.org/category/blog)

Read more about the cases of Anderson, Ruffin, Whitfield, Thurman and Davidson.

Watch a video interview with Marvin Anderson.



Tags: Virginia, Willie Davidson, Julius Ruffin, Phillip Leon Thurman, Arthur Lee Whitfield

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Florida exoneree receives settlement

Posted: May 14, 2008 12:20 pm

Miami city commissioners recently agreed to pay Jerry Frank Townsend a $2.2 million settlement as a result of his wrongful conviction of six murders and one rape despite his dubious confessions. Townsend served over 21 years for crimes he didn’t commit in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.

The main evidence against Jerry Frank Townsend: his own confessions. But those confessions were fundamentally flawed. Townsend has an IQ of 58, making him vulnerable to police coercion. Following his 1979 arrest, he was questioned for five days by Miami police and the Broward Sheriff's Office, without an attorney present.

Prodding by both police departments led Townsend to claim responsibility for a host of crimes in Miami-Dade County, Broward County -- even California. Townsend's confessions were rife with inconsistencies, but he was sent to prison anyway.
Read the full Miami Herald article here.
Townsend’s lawsuit against the Broward County Sheriff’s Office still stands. Meanwhile the Florida Governor is expected to sign a new bill into law that would provide $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration to Florida exonerees. However, the law would render several of those waiting to be compensated ineligible for the funds.

Learn more about Jerry Frank Townsend’s case here.

Learn more about Florida’s “Wrongful Incarceration Act” here.

 



Tags: Florida, Exoneree Compensation

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Friday links

Posted: May 16, 2008 5:41 pm

This week’s news and opinions on wrongful convictions and forensics

Study shows that ‘Wild cards’ reduce misidentifications

Forbes: What’s wrong with CSI

DNA testing moves forward in Florida case

Testing halted in Kentucky death row case

Grits for Breakfast: Arson convictions based on invalid science


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Consensus grows for Texas innocence commission

Posted: May 19, 2008 3:28 pm

Top judges, lawmakers and newspapers in Texas are calling for the creation of a state innocence commission to study the causes of wrongful conviction and recommend policy reforms to prevent future injustice.

The Austin American-Statesmen editorial board wrote this weekend that they hoped the May 8 Summit on Wrongful Convictions in the Texas Senate would spark renewed momentum for an innocence commissions.

“It is unacceptable that innocent people are convicted while the real culprits get away with rape, murder and other violent crimes. That approach is not tough on crime - it’s dumb on crime. …Anyone interested in justice - regardless of political philosophy or party affiliation - has a stake in finding a solution.”

Read the full editorial here. (Austin American-Statesman, 05/17/08)
An editorial in Saturday’s Houston Chronicle calls on lawmakers to avoid partisan bickering over the creation of a panel to study the issue.
There is nothing to be gained by lawmakers' debating yet again whether a problem exists. The evidence is overwhelming that it does. Far better to create a commission now, so that next session the Legislature can begin to work to free all Texans who have been wrongly convicted.

Read the full editorial here. (Houston Chronicle, 05/17/08)
And judges and lawmakers have come out in support of a state commission. From yesterday’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
Wallace Jefferson, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, the state's highest civil court, voiced support for a commission in 2005 and 2007. Now he said he is specifically calling on state lawmakers to find money for the effort.

"I haven't heard an objection that persuades me that it is not a good idea," Jefferson said. "What better way to spend public dollars than to make sure the innocent doesn't go to jail?"

Read the full story here. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 5/19/08)
More than 100 key leaders from across the Texas criminal justice system attended the landmark Summit on Wrongful Convictions in Austin on May 8. Read more about the Summit here.

Watch video interviews with three men exonerated by DNA evidence after serving years in Texas prisons for crimes they didn’t commit.

Visit our national reform map to learn about other innocence commissions across the country.




Tags: Innocence Commissions

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Cross-racial identification and jury instruction

Posted: May 20, 2008 1:30 pm

In 66 of the 216 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing, cross-racial eyewitness identification was used as evidence to convict an innocent defendant. Cross-racial identification is when the witness and the defendant being identified are of different racial backgrounds. Three decades of social science research has shown that cross-racial bias exists in identification. As Zeke Edwards (a Mayer Brown Eyewitness Identification Fellow at the Innocence Project) noted in a blog post last week, the American Bar Association falls short in the language they recommend judges read to juries in cases involving cross-racial identification.

First, the initial language is conditional. “You ‘may’ consider, if you think it is appropriate …,” instead of you “should” consider.

Second, there is no mention of the numerous scientific studies that have shown, empirically, that cross-racial bias exists. In cases where experts have not testified at trial on the subject (i.e., most cases), jurors are left ignorant of the copious social science research on the topic. Instead of stating that “scientific studies have shown,” the court cites the amorphous “ordinary human experience.”
Edwards goes on to cite a better jury instruction, which he encourages lawyers to propose in cross-racial identification cases.

Read his full post here. (Eyewitness Identification Reform Blog, 05/16/08)



Tags: Eyewitness Identification

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Innocence Project client set to be exonerated Wednesday

Posted: May 20, 2008 5:50 pm

Walter Swift is expected to be released from custody in Michigan tomorrow after serving 26 years in prison for a rape that a wide range of evidence now shows he didn’t commit. A hearing is set for 10:30 a.m. in a Detroit courtroom, where prosecutors will join the Innocence Project is asking a judge to dismiss all charges against Swift, and he will be released. A press conference is scheduled for 3 p.m.

Email us for details on attending the press conference.

And stay tuned to the Innocence Blog for more news on Swift’s case tomorrow. We’ll be sending an email alert after he’s released. If you aren’t already a subscriber, sign up here.



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Guest blog: Walter Swift and misidentification

Posted: May 21, 2008 4:50 pm

Vincent Pullara, Jr., a sophomore at Baruch College in New York City, has worked as an Innocence Project intern for more than a year. He has also become a prominent student leader at his school and has used this platform to raise awareness of wrongful convictions among his classmates and the community. Last month, he organized a guest speech at Baruch by New York exoneree Jeff Deskovic.

And today he begins sharing his views as a guest blogger at Young People For, an organization devoted to building a network of progressive young adults across the United States. His first blog is about today’s release of Walter Swift:

Earlier today, the Innocence Project helped free another innocent man from prison, after more than a decade-long investigation into his case. “He was convicted based on a deeply flawed and completely unreliable eyewitness identification, “said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project.

… It is important to realize that today doesn’t just mark the day of Swift’s return to freedom, but that of his family as well. Audrey Kelly Mills, Swift’s 27-year-old daughter was profoundly grateful for her father’s release. “He’s a free man,” she said. “I got my daddy for Father’s Day.”

Read Vincent’s full post on YP4.org.


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Innocence news from around the country

Posted: May 23, 2008 3:45 pm

Our Friday roundup of news and views that didn’t make into the blog this week.

Another editorial in favor of a Texas innocence commission, from the Lufkin News

Nature magazine examines the issue of eyewitness identification


Alternet asks: Walter Swift is finally released. But is he really free?

The Road to Abolition: A new book on how New Jersey Abolished the Death Penalty by Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak

Judge to allow dead witness's testimony in Texas case

Massachusetts Governor says state crime lab is improving




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Chicago man set to be freed tonight, press conference tomorrow

Posted: May 27, 2008 5:20 pm

Innocence Project client Dean Cage is expected to be released from a downstate Illinois prison late tonight after serving more than 12 years in Illinois prison for a rape that DNA now proves he didn’t commit. Charges against Cage have already been dismissed, and he will become the 217th person exonerated by DNA evidence when he is released. He will speak at a press conference tomorrow in Chicago with his family and attorneys.

Cage’s wrongful conviction is another case of eyewitness misidentification due to flawed procedures. In November of 1994, a 15-year-old girl was abducted on her way to school and raped by an African-American man. She worked with police to create a composite sketch of the perpetrator, and police received a tip a week later that a man matching the sketch worked at a meat-packing plant nearby. Officers brought the victim to the meat-packing plant and asked her if she recognized the perpetrator. She pointed to Dean Cage and later identified him based on the sound of his voice. The officer leading the rape investigation also conducted the identification procedure. Research and experience have shown that the risk of misidentification is sharply reduced if the police officer administering a photo or live lineup is not aware of who the suspect is.

Tomorrow’s press conference will be held at 1:30 p.m. CST at the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, 750 N. Lakeshore Dr., 8th Floor, Chicago (entrance on Superior St.).

Read today's Innocence Project press advisory on Cage's case. We’ll post more on the blog tomorrow after Cage is released.

Today’s news coverage of Cage’s case:

Chicago Tribune: DNA exonerates man convicted of sexual assault

Chicago Sun-Times: DNA frees man convicted of rape 14 years ago



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News coverage of Dean Cage's release in Chicago

Posted: May 28, 2008 5:50 pm

Dean Cage was freed last night in Illinois after serving 12 years for a crime he didn’t commit, and he spoke at a press conference this afternoon about his commitment to improving the Illinois criminal justice system so the injustice he suffered doesn’t happen to anyone else.

Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld said at the press conference that the Illinois legislature had created a commission a year ago to study wrongful convictions but has yet to appoint a single member.

“If this commission were operating as it’s supposed to, it could help prevent a substantial number of wrongful convictions and restore confidence in the state’s criminal justice system,” Neufeld said. “Perhaps most chilling is the reality that people across Illinois are still being wrongfully convicted based on eyewitness misidentification that could be prevented if the state enacted simple, straightforward reforms that are proven to work.”

Read today’s Innocence Project press release.
News coverage of Dean Cage’s release:

Chicago Tribune (with video and photos): Now free, man cleared in ’94 rape talks of life in prison

CBS News: Innocent Man Cleared of Rape Charges

Fox News: DNA Clears Chicago Rape Suspect After More Than 12 Years in Priso

Chicago Sun-Times: DNA frees man convicted of rape 14 years ago

Chicago Sun-Times: Mom reacts after son freed

Associated Press: DNA frees man after 12 years in prison

Eyewitness Identification Reform Blog: Another mis-ID wrongful conviction revealed in Illinois





Tags: Dean Cage

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The week in review

Posted: May 30, 2008 5:13 pm

A wealth of news appeared this week on wrongful convictions and criminal justice reforms. With Dean Cage’s exoneration on Wednesday, we didn’t get it all on the Innocence Blog. Here are a few of the stories we found intriguing and enlightening this week:

An executed Australian man was posthumously pardoned due to evidence of his innocence, the case entered the public eye as the result of “Gun Alley,” Kevin Morgan’s book about the case. The Mississippi Innocence Project is reviewing about 80 convictions with signs of forensic fraud, and will seek to overturn any of them in which a defendant was wrongfully convicted. Between 60 and 70 of these cases involve notorious medical examiner Steven Hayne.

Meanwhile, the Dallas District Attorney’s Office has approved DNA testing in three cases where defendants have claimed innocence and applied for testing but were denied by the previous district attorney.

The New York Times reviewed the “distinctly American” practice of electing our judges and the effect it has on the justice system. And a Buffalo detective involved in the cold case investigations that led to two overturned wrongful convictions in recent months announced that he is running for State Senate.

Another wrongful conviction was avoided in Vacaville, California, when carjacking charges were dropped against an innocent man, but the cost of a wrongful arrest based on eyewitness misidentification can be severe.

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Executions set to resume tonight in Texas

Posted: June 3, 2008 3:55 pm

After a nine-month hiatus from executions, Texas is set to execute Derrick Sonnier tonight for two Houston murders for which he was convicted in 1993. Texas officials have scheduled 12 executions between now and the end of the year, reclaiming Texas’ place as the nation’s most active death penalty state.

Texas also leads the country in the number of inmates exonerated by DNA testing after serving years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, and last week brought DNA proof of a death row inmate’s innocence. Innocence Project client Michael Blair has been on Texas’s death row for 14 years for a murder he has always maintained he didn’t commit. Prosecutors agreed with the Innocence Project in requesting that Blair’s conviction be tossed, and a judge ruled that the request should move forward. The state’s highest criminal court could now fully exonerate Blair from death row.

In an op-ed in yesterday’s Austin American-Statesman, the sister of Carlos De Luna wrote that her brother was executed in Texas two decades ago for a crime he didn’t commit and that she believes Texas hasn’t learned critical lessons from her brother’s case.

Unfortunately, in the 19 years since his execution, the numerous problems that led to his wrongful conviction have never been addressed and continue to plague the Texas capital punishment system. With executions in the state about to resume, I hope that legislators and the courts will learn lessons from my brother's story.

Read Rose Rhoton’s full op-ed here. (Austin American-Statesman, 06/02/08)
More coverage:

Background on the Michael Blair case


Grist for Breakfast: Texecutions resume tonight

Amnesty International’s list of scheduled executions nationwide

Previous Innocence Blog posts:

Supreme Court decides lethal injection case


As executions resume in U.S., so does the risk of executing the innocent






Tags: Death Penalty

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Children of the Exonerated

Posted: June 5, 2008 4:22 pm

Today on the ‘Young People For’ blog, Innocence Project intern Vincent Pullara, Jr. writes that wrongful convictions don’t only inflict suffering on the innocent defendant and the victims of the crime, but also on their families – especially their children.

Imagining the life of a child of an exoneree is extremely troubling. America has already produced a whole generation of fatherless children. But when you relate the number of wrongful convictions in this country to the number of fatherless children, you start to wonder about another scary number—how big is the generation of fatherless children as a result of wrongful convictions?

That is the story of Dwayne Allen Dail’s son, who was born the same year his father was convicted in North Carolina of a rape he didn’t commit. Dail was exonerated by DNA testing in 2007, and released close to his son’s 18th birthday. The Charlotte Observer had the following quote from Dail’s son, then 18-year-old Chris Michaels. "He's missed my whole life. ... I missed him all the time growing up," Michaels said. "He's here now -- and that's all that matters."

Read Vincent’s full post here. (YP4 blog, 06/05/08) 




Tags: Dwayne Dail, Luis Diaz, Walter Swift

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Editorials and Blogs: Texas court is right to study the system

Posted: June 10, 2008 2:55 pm

Two major editorials in recent days have praised the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for launching a Criminal Justice Integrity Unit. The announcement of the new group comes on the heels of a major Summit on Wrongful Convictions in Austin last month, and also got the attention of more than a dozen blogs.

The Dallas Morning News said on Sunday that the court was taking a step in the right direction, but lasting change needed to come from legislative action. Read the full DMN editorial here.

The Lufkin Daily News said that “with a history of dubious justice in Texas, the decision by a state appeals court to create an integrity unit is welcome.” Read the full Lufkin editorial here.

Blog coverage of the new unit:

Capitol Annex: Signs the Court of Criminal Appeals Fears the Upcoming Election: An Integrity Unit

Grits for Breakfast: Hervey on innocence proposals: “We’re past meet and discuss”

CrimProfBlog: State sets up watchdog unit for criminal justice system

Unfair Park: So, The State Will Have an Integrity Unit. Which Will Do What, Exactly?




Tags: Texas

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Three Texas men face retrial despite claims of innocence

Posted: June 12, 2008 5:31 pm

Anthony Graves was first convicted in 1994 and sentenced to death for his alleged role in the horrific murders of two women and four children in rural Sommerville, Texas. Graves became a suspect when another man, Robert Earl Carter, told police that the two men committed the crime together. Carter was also sentenced to death row and was executed in 2000. In 1997, however, Carter began saying publicly – and to state officials – that Graves had no role in the crime. Minutes before his execution, he said it a final time: “Anthony Graves had nothing to do with it. I lied on him in court.”

Graves’ conviction was overturned by a federal court in 2006 and he is now facing a retrial. But at the heart of legal battles leading up to the retrial is the question of whether Carter’s original testimony that Graves was involved can be presented at trial as evidence against Graves. An article in today’s Austin Chronicle considers this question, and provides an update on Graves’ case.

In a separate high-profile Texas case that has seen years of legal wrangling, two men convicted of killing four teenage girls in Austin in 1991 are also facing a retrial despite DNA evidence that they say proves their innocence. Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott allegedly confessed to their roles in the crimes in 1999, but the men say the confessions were coerced. An infamous photo of the interrogation shows an officer with a gun to the back of Scott’s head.

Both men were convicted – Springsteen was sentenced to death and Scott to life. Springsteen’s death sentence was commuted after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that defendants 17-year-old and younger couldn’t be executed. Springsteen’s conviction was thrown out by an appeals court in 2006 and Scott’s was tossed in 2007. The men are now facing retrials, but Springsteen’s lawyer said yesterday that DNA evidence proves his client and Michael Scott innocent.

Read the full story here. (Austin American-Statesman, 06/12/08)



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Public defense crisis spreads across the nation

Posted: June 13, 2008 1:35 pm

Budget cuts are threatening public defense systems in Kentucky, Minnesota, Florida and Atlanta – prompting serious concerns that thousands of poor defendants could go without legal representation. Overburdened and underfunded indigent defense can lead to wrongful convictions of poor defendants who can’t afford a lawyer. The Innocence Project has seen this problem in several wrongful convictions already overturned by DNA evidence, and there are countless innocent people still in prison today because they didn’t have adequate representation. An ABC News report today examines severe shortages in four states:

The cuts leave states scrambling to find a solution to a constitutional dilemma: The Sixth Amendment requires the government to either provide poor defendants with lawyers or release them.
"It is an impending legal crisis in our state," Joseph Lambert, the chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court, told ABC News. "Without adequate defense counsel, the public simply cannot be confident that persons are not being wrongfully convicted of crimes," Lambert said.

Read the full story. (ABC News, 06/13/08)
Read Wednesday’s Innocence Blog post on the anticipate closure of an Atlanta public defenders’ office.

Read about wrongful convictions caused in part by bad lawyering and later overturned by DNA testing.





Tags: Bad Lawyering

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Supreme Court strikes death penalty for child rape

Posted: June 26, 2008 2:27 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday issued overturned laws that allow defendants convicted of sexually assaulting children to be executed, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing in the majority of a 5-4 decision that “the death penalty should not be expanded to instances where the victim’s life was not taken.” The decision, in Kennedy v. Louisiana, will lead to resentencing of defendant Patrick Kennedy, who was convicted of raping an eight-year-old girl.

An editorial in today’s USA Today says the court is right to continuing narrowing the death penalty, especially due to the inequality of its application and the chances of executing an innocent person.

When the court brought back the death penalty 32 years ago, it set a standard that executions be administered evenhandedly.

Reality has turned out otherwise. The odds of receiving a death sentence are three or four times greater when the victim is white than if the victim is a minority. Defendants sometimes lack competent legal representation. Evidence can be flawed.

Worst of all is the potential for a mistaken execution. DNA testing has exonerated 16 inmates who served time on death row, according to the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal clinic that handles cases in which post-conviction DNA testing can prove innocence. Such proof, of course, is of no use to a prisoner who has been executed.

Read the full editorial here. (USA Today, 06/26/08)
 

The National Association of Criminal Defense lawyers filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Kennedy v. Louisiana, arguing that cases with impressionable witnesses – like young children – could have a higher rate of wrongful conviction. Read more about the case, and download NACDL’s brief, here.





Tags: Louisiana

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DNA identifies apparent perpetrator in Michigan case

Posted: June 27, 2008 9:40 am

Ken Wyniemko was exonerated five years ago in Michigan after serving nearly nine years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. This week, prosecutors announced that the DNA profile that led to Wyniemko’s exoneration has identified a new suspect in the case, a man who is currently incarcerated for other crimes. They refused to release the identity of the individual while the investigation was ongoing.

Wyniemko, who testified Wednesday before the State House Judiciary Committee in support of a bill to compensate the wrongfully convicted upon their release, discussed the new developments in his case with reporters.

"I'm real curious to see if the guy committed any other crimes during the time I was in prison," Wyniemko says.

Read the full story here. (Detroit MetroTimes, 06/25/08)
Of the 218 DNA exonerations in the U.S. to date, real perpetrators have been identified in 83 cases. Those perpetrators were convicted of at least 74 additional violent crimes after the conviction of the innocent person – crimes that could have been prevented if the right person had been identified and apprehended earlier.

Read a recent blog post by Wyniemko on his work to prevent wrongful convictions and to help the recently exonerated build new lives after release.

 




Tags: Kenneth Wyniemko

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15 years of freedom for Kirk Bloodsworth

Posted: June 27, 2008 11:32 am

Tomorrow marks the fifteenth anniversary of Kirk Bloodsworth’s exoneration in Maryland. After serving nearly nine years in Maryland – much of it on death row – for a crime he did not commit, Bloodsworth became the first person exonerated by DNA testing in the U.S. who had spent time on death row.

Today, Bloodsworth works to ensure that others don’t suffer the same fate he did. In addition to being a public advocate, Bloodsworth is a Program Officer for The Justice Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to criminal justice reform. Through his work, Bloodsworth helped get the Innocence Protection Act – which includes the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Grant Program – passed in 2004.

Although the program was authorized to provide up to $25 million over five years to help the wrongfully convicted pay for post-conviction DNA testing, access to both the grant money and to DNA evidence has not yet reached those in need. As of January, when Bloodsworth wrote a blog for the Huffington Post, Congress had approved $14 million in funding for states to conduct post-conviction DNA testing under the Bloodsworth program. The Department of Justice, however, had never approved any state applications, and therefore had not sent a dollar of grant money in the over three-year life of the law.

But recent congressional attention to this program (from both the Senate and House Judiciary Committees) may pave the way for progress. The Innocence Project is working with all parties to help make sure these critical funds reach states that need and deserve them.

In addition, seven states – Alabama, Alaska, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and South Dakota – have no state laws guaranteeing DNA access, and many other states have access laws with problematic stipulations. In Arkansas, a person cannot apply for DNA testing if a direct appeal is available. In Idaho, a person must apply for testing within one year of being convicted. If that had been the case in Maryland, Kirk Bloodsworth would still be in prison.

Sign the Innocence Project’s petition for universal DNA access.

Read more about Kirk Bloodsworth’s case here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Monday: David A. Gray, Illinois (Served 20 years, Exonerated 6/23/99)

Tuesday: Verneal Jimerson, Illinois (Served 10.5 Years, Exonerated 6/24/96)




Tags: Kirk Bloodsworth, David A. Gray, Verneal Jimerson

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DNA clears another Dallas man

Posted: June 27, 2008 3:21 pm

New DNA testing shows that Patrick Waller was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to life for a 1992 Dallas rape, and he may be released as soon as next week, Dallas County prosecutors said yesterday. Waller was 22 when he was arrested in connection with the rape, and he has served nearly 16 years in prison to date.

Waller was one of the first Dallas prisoners to request DNA testing after the state passed a DNA access law in 2001, but the office of former District Attorney Bill Hill refused to agree to testing. He was again denied in 2005. The office of current District Attorney Craig Watkins has taken a different approach, investigating the cases of prisoners previously denied access to testing and conducting new tests when appropriate. It was the investigation of Watkins’ Conviction Integrity Unit that has cleared Waller in this case.

Waller was convicted and sentenced to life in prison as one of two men who raped a woman in an abandoned Dallas building in 1992. DNA testing approved by Watkins’ office led to the identity of one of the two perpetrators – Byron Bell, 38, who is serving time in prison for a burlary committed months after the rape for which Waller was wrongfully convicted. Prosecutors have said that Bell admitted to his involvement in the case and disclosed the identity of the other perpetrator, Leonardo Simmons, who has also admitted to his role in the crime.

Waller is the 19th person cleared by DNA testing in Dallas County to date. He is represented by Dallas defense attorney Gary Udashen. The Innocence Project of Texas and the Innocence Project have consulted on the case.

Read today’s news report on the case. We will post more on the Innocence Blog next week as the case develops.

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Friday news roundup

Posted: June 27, 2008 4:16 pm

Below are the stories on criminal justice reform, wrongful convictions and forensic science that we didn’t get to on the blog this week:

Crime lab reform, investigations and funding were in the news this week. The Houston Police Department Crime Lab resumed DNA testing after a six month suspension due to discovery of misconduct. A new Michigan State Police budget set aside $1 million for crime labs to ease backlogs across the state, outsourcing to private labs has helped Florida’s state lab cut its backlog in half since 2005, and a Wisconsin state lab has added two dozen analysts and tripled its space to decrease backlogs.

The U.S. Supreme Court had a busy week on criminal justice issues, issuing a decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana overturning state laws that allow the death penalty for child rape, and in Indiana V. Edwards, in which the justices decided 7-2 that mentally ill inmates can be denied the right to represent themselves at trial.

An Indiana judge denied DNA testing access to Roosevelt Glenn, who has been in prison for nearly two decades for a rape he says he didn’t commit. Glenn is represented by the attorneys at the Indiana University School of Law’s wrongful conviction clinic.

South Carolina legislators approved a bill to allow prisoners claiming innocence to seek DNA testing through the courts. The bill will now go to the governor – who could sign it into law or veto it. If the bill becomes a law, South Carolina will be the 44th state with a DNA access statute.




Tags: Crime Lab Backlogs

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Another false confession revealed

Posted: July 1, 2008 3:48 pm

Robert Gonzales, 22, spent more than two years in a New Mexico jail awaiting trial for a murder he didn’t commit before DNA testing led authorities to the actual perpetrator of the crime. Gonzales, who has a history of mental illness, allegedly confessed to his involvement in the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl in 2005, and a grand jury decided that the confession was enough evidence to hold him for trial. But new DNA testing indicates that Israel Diaz, in custody for another crime, actually committed this murder and rape. Gonzales’ attorney, Jeff Buckels, said he confessed because he wanted to please the officers interrogating him.

"For Robert, it basically was a matter of finding out 'What is it that these police officers want me to say,?'" said Buckels. " When he found out, he said it."

Read the full story here. (KOAT Albuquerque, 06/27/08)
Read more on this case on the Center on Wrongful Convictions’ blog.

False confessions or admissions have played a part in more than 25 percent of the 218 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing to date, and have been involved in a countless number of cases like Gonzales’, in which a defendant is arrested based on a confession or admission, then released when other evidence reveals the truth.

The Innocence Project recommends electronic recording of police interrogations to prevent false confessions. Read more on this critical reform here.




Tags: False Confessions, False Confessions

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Judge: Chicago police can keep study data secret

Posted: July 2, 2008 5:38 pm

An Illinois judge ruled this week that the Chicago Police Department doesn’t have to share all of the raw data from its controversial and discredited 2006 report on eyewitness identification procedures. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed a lawsuit last year seeking access to the data used in the report, which has been soundly discredited by leading social scientists for its lack of scientific methods. The judge ruled that the police must share closed case data, but could keep information on active cases a secret.

Access to data from closed cases alone isn't sufficient, argued Locke Bowman of the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of NACDL.

A healthy public debate requires full disclosure, he said.

"If the data supports the report's findings that traditional lineups work better than reform methods, the Chicago Police have nothing to hide," he said after the ruling. "But if the data doesn't support those findings, it's time for the Chicago Police Department and departments around the state to change the way they handle eyewitness identifications."

Read the full story here. (Chicago Tribune, 06/30/08)
And a post on the Eyewitness Identification Reform blog points to an interesting first-hand account of Chicago’s lineup procedures posted in the comments section of the Chicago Tribune website.

Three decades of solid social science research has pointed to sequential lineups as a critical reform to reduce misidentifications. The Innocence Project and other leaders in the field have called for additional field study – using solid scientific techniques -- of the reform. A blue-ribbon panel of social scientists convened to review the difference in data between various studies of eyewitness education procedures, found that the Chicago report’s "design guaranteed that most outcomes would be difficult or impossible to interpret. The only way to sort this out is by conducting further studies." Read more here.





Tags: Eyewitness Identification, Eyewitness Misidentification

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The weekly roundup

Posted: July 3, 2008 8:30 am

Here are some of the stories we were following this week, but just didn’t get around to blogging about.

The Innocence Project filed for DNA testing in the case of client Robert Conway, who has served nearly two decades in Pennsylvania prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit.

New evidence surfaced in Texas, suggesting that Lester Leroy Bower is on death row for a crime he didn’t commit, but he hasn’t been able to get DNA testing approved in the case. He is scheduled to be executed this summer, and the blog Grits for Breakfast asked how prosecutors “could even consider opposing DNA testing of old evidence before they put a defendant to death this summer who's claiming actual innocence.”

The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice issued a report calling the state’s administration of the death penalty "dysfunctional" and "close to collapse." Read media coverage here and download the full report here.

Funding was approved for a new state crime lab in Missouri, an upstate New York county planned a new $30 million crime lab, and Massachusetts children got a hands-on experience with forensics when a state lab investigator visited a local library.




Tags: Innocence Commissions, Death Penalty

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Innocence Project and local allies urge New York State to adopt criminal justice reforms

Posted: July 3, 2008 2:30 pm

At a New York State Senate Democratic Task Force hearing in New York City, Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom and others testified about the prevalence of wrongful convictions in the state and the need for criminal justice reform. A New York Times article outlines the proposals discussed at the hearing, including preservation of DNA evidence, eyewitness identification reform, creating a state criminal justice reform commission, and requiring electronic recording of all custodial interrogations.

Bronx-native Alan Newton, who was exonerated through DNA testing in 2006, spoke at the hearing in support of the reforms, along with Marty Tankleff who was wrongfully convicted in Long Island for the murder of his parents because of a false confession.

“I was one of the lucky ones,” said Mr. Tankleff, who testified at the forum before rushing off to his college class. “I was a white guy who lived in a nice area with a great family.”
Read the full New York Times article here.
The hearing was the second in a series of four forums (called “Preventing Wrongful Convictions in New York State: Systematic Reforms to Convict the Guilty and Protect the Innocent”) to be held across the state by the Senate Democratic Task Force headed by State Senator Eric Schneiderman. At each forum, legislators and the public hear testimony from experts and exonerees on reform issues. With 23 DNA exonerations, New York State has one of the highest rates of wrongful convictions later overturned through DNA testing -- yet the state lags behind in criminal justice reform.

Read the Innocence Project press release about yesterday’s forum:

Read “Lessons Not Learned,” the Innocence Project’s report on wrongful convictions in New York State and reforms that can prevent them.



Tags: New York

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NYC man marks second exoneration anniversary as a college grad

Posted: July 7, 2008 3:18 pm

Innocence Project client Alan Newton spent over a decade searching for the physical evidence from his case. When it was finally found— right where it was supposed to be all along — Newton had spent 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He was finally exonerated two years ago yesterday.

Thanks to the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund and the support of Moët Hennessy USA, Newton is able to celebrate the second anniversary of his exoneration as a college graduate. He graduated with honors from Medgar Evers College with a degree in Business this June. Now, he plans on going to law school to give back to his community.

Watch a four-minute interview with Newton on the Innocence Project’s YouTube page.

Newton’s case is among many where adequate preservation of evidence could have freed an innocent person much earlier – if at all. To date, 27 states across the country have no laws or statues requiring evidence preservation — including New York, Newton’s home state. Even states that have statutes are not without their problems. Some states require preservation only for certain crimes. Others do nothing to sanction those responsible for destroying or discarding evidence.

Learn more about evidence preservation here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Wednesday: Keith Brown, North Carolina (Served 4 years, Exonerated 7/09/99)

Byron Halsey, New Jersey (Served 19 years, Exonerated 7/09/07)

Friday: James C. Tillman, Connecticut (Served 16.5 years, Exonerated 7/11/06)

Saturday: Lafonso Rollins, Illinois (Served 10 years, Exonerated 7/12/04)



Tags: Keith Brown, Alan Newton, Lafonso Rollins, James Tillman

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Dispatch from Dallas: The growing impact of ultra-sensitive DNA testing

Posted: July 10, 2008 12:51 pm

By Cassie Johnson, Forensic Supervisor at Orchid Cellmark, DNA Laboratory


DNA testing is the most powerful type of identity testing available, and it is used for many different purposes: to establish paternity and lineage, or in criminal investigations. With DNA testing, we can uniquely identify every person in the world, unless that person has an identical twin.

Thanks to major improvements in DNA testing technology over the last few years, the tiniest shred of biological evidence can assist in almost any type of crime. Most of the criminal cases we’ve traditionally worked on have been homicides and sexual assaults, but DNA testing is now being used around the world in nonviolent crimes such as burglaries. We could test a pinpoint of biological evidence, whether it’s blood, semen, saliva, or skin cells, and develop a DNA profile. The potential sources of DNA are almost limitless. As DNA testing has progressed, it has become substantially more sensitive, and it works increasingly well on compromised or degraded samples. We’re now able to generate a DNA profile from a sample in which testing would previously never have been attempted.

The criminal justice system uses four main types of DNA testing: STR, Y-STR, mini-STR, and mitochondrial:

• STR testing has been around the longest and is the type of testing most commonly used by crime labs, defense attorneys and prosecutors.

• Mitochondrial DNA testing is often used to generate a DNA profile from hair, bones, or teeth, and is a specialized type of testing that has been used since the mid-1990s.

• The Y-STR test uses the same technologies and principles as STR testing. However, Y-STR testing only looks at areas that are on the Y chromosome, which makes it male-specific. In our experience, it is also more sensitive than STR testing, so we may be able to obtain a profile with less starting material.

• Mini-STR is the newest form of DNA testing and is especially useful on samples that are highly degraded. It is perhaps even more sensitive than STR or Y-STR testing. This year, Rickey Johnson became the first person to be proven innocent through mini-STR DNA testing.

In every case, our job is to develop profiles from evidence regardless of the eventual outcome. We have conducted testing in the cases of several Innocence Project clients, and these are cases that truly demonstrate the potential of DNA testing to change people’s lives. In James Waller’s case, a state lab attempted to conduct DNA testing several years earlier and couldn’t get a result—but the process of testing used up the evidence, which is not uncommon.

We didn’t have any of the original evidence like the rape kit or the bedsheet to go back and test. The only thing that was left over for testing was a liquid “extract,” meaning a leftover lab sample of the evidence. Fortunately, the state lab preserved the liquid extract and made it available to us for Y-STR testing. We were able to obtain a DNA profile from the extract; it did not match his profile and therefore showed that he could not have contributed the sample. Something similar happened in Scott Fappiano’s case. In that instance, it was Orchid Cellmark that had retained the extracts from the early 1990s. Those extracts ultimately led to Mr. Fappiano’s freedom.

Orchid Cellmark is very proud to be able to donate its expertise in DNA testing to the Innocence Project, which continuously fights for those who have been wrongfully convicted. Working on these post-conviction cases reminds us how powerful DNA testing can be, whether it be in solving a cold case or exonerating the wrongfully accused.

 

Orchid Cellmark, based in New Jersey with laboratories all over the country – including Johnson’s lab in Dallas, has conducted DNA testing in Innocence Project cases for years and provides some testing pro bono. Their laboratories have conducted testing that exonerated several Innocence Project clients in recent years. In many of these cases, Orchid Cellmark’s testing has also helped identify the true perpetrators of crimes for which innocent people were convicted.

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Dispatch from Ft. Lauderdale: A shared interest

Posted: July 14, 2008 4:50 pm

By Milton Hirsch, Criminal Defense Attorney

In addition to being the answer to a lot of history-of-law questions that begin, “Who was the first ... ?”, Thurgood Marshall is the answer to the question, “Who was the last Supreme Court justice who ever tried cases to juries?” In his days as head of the NAACP Defense Fund, Marshall traveled the south, defending indigent and usually innocent black men in small-town courtrooms where the verdict was, more often then not, a mere formality.

It is, therefore, entirely appropriate that the National Black Prosecutors Association “NBPA”) has named its most prestigious award after the late Justice Marshall. It is equally appropriate that this afternoon the NBPA presented the Thurgood Marshall award to the Innocence Project. I accepted the award on the Innocence Project’s behalf (my principal qualification to do so being that I was free for lunch).

I've worked closely with the Innocence Project on several cases, including the group's first three cases in Florida: one in Tampa; one in a very small town in central Florida (I believe the town was named either “Reduce Speed” or “Road Narrows,” but perhaps I misremember); and one in Brevard County, which lies on the Atlantic Coast a couple of hours north of Palm Beach. The prosecutor whom I telephoned in Tampa was a model of professional integrity. She told me without hesitation that if we had a good-faith basis to believe that an innocent man was in prison and that a then-novel scientific test would resolve the matter, she would stipulate to the testing at once. The prosecutor in Reduce Speed (or whatever) was less eloquent and more suspicious but, ultimately, not less ethical. He, too, agreed to DNA testing. The prosecutor in Brevard County fought DNA testing for three years. When we finally got the test results and they exonerated our client, the Brevard prosecutor spent three more years arguing that – yes, he actually said this on the record – it no longer mattered whether the client was innocent or not.

From a statistical standpoint, three isn’t much of a sample size. Based on the foregoing, two-thirds of prosecutors act in pursuit of justice, and of the highest standards of our profession. Given a larger sample, my guess is we’d get a much higher percentage. I began my legal career as a prosecutor, working under Miami-Dade State Attorney Janet Reno (who is now a member of the Innocence Project Board of Directors). There was never any doubt in my mind, nor in the minds of my colleagues, that if we had a reason to believe we might have convicted the wrong man and simply did nothing about it, Ms. Reno would have thrown us out the nearest window.

And apart from ethical considerations, a prosecutor’s most pragmatic concerns militate in favor of the work of the Innocence Project. If the man who didn’t really commit the murder, or the rape, or the mugging, is sitting in jail, then the man who really did commit the murder, or the rape, or the mugging, is out there somewhere, probably emboldened by his success in evading discovery. We won’t start looking for the right man till we realize we’ve got the wrong man. We’ve all heard it from cocktail-party critics of the legal profession: You slimy lawyers will resort to anything to get your slimy clients out of jail. But DNA testing, like any scientific refinement, isn’t about getting clients – slimy or otherwise – out of jail; it’s about making the law a less blunt instrument for separating the innocent from the guilty. When DNA testing proves that the man who was convicted is the man who actually committed the crime, no one is better pleased than I. It means that the system to which we’ve devoted our lives worked as advertised.

It is, I think, a coming of age for the Innocence Project that a national organization of prosecutors honors us with its Thurgood Marshall award. It is a recognition of the tautology that all lawyers (all the good ones, anyway), whether north or south of the “v,” have a shared interest in seeing the truth unearthed and justice done.

Also, I got a free lunch. Did I mention the lunch?

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Two years of freedom, after 23 years behind bars

Posted: July 16, 2008 5:10 pm

After serving 23 years in Missouri prison for a rape he didn’t commit, Johnny Briscoe was exonerated on July 19, 2006. Saturday marks the second anniversary of his exoneration.

Briscoe’s case highlights the unreliability of eyewitness identification. When a line-up was arranged for the victim back in the early 1980s, Briscoe was the only man (out of four) wearing an orange jumpsuit – “Halloween orange,” he would later tell The Denver Post.  Possibly influenced by the jumpsuit, the victim misidentified Briscoe as her assailant — despite having spent an hour with the perpetrator in a well-lit room.

Eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful conviction, and there are convictions everyday in the U.S. based only on identification. There are ways to reduce inaccuracy and prevent injustices from occurring today. Click here to learn about the Innocence Project’s recommended reforms.

Briscoe was represented by pro bono attorneys affiliated with Centurion Ministries, a non-profit legal organization based in New Jersey. Centurion and the Innocence Project are two of four organizations accepting wrongful conviction cases from across the country. View a list of innocence organizations here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Tuesday: Steven Linscott, Illinois (Served 3 years, Exonerated 7/16/92)

Today: Steven Toney, Missouri (Served 13 years, Exonerated 7/16/96)

Thursday: Joe Jones, Kansas (Served 6.5 years, Exonerated 7/17/92)



Tags: Johnny Briscoe, Joe Jones, Steven Linscott, Steven Toney

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U.S. Congresswoman to hold panel on wrongful convictions and DNA exonerations in Dallas tomorrow

Posted: July 18, 2008 1:00 pm

U.S. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) will host panel discussions tomorrow in Dallas on wrongful convictions and DNA exonerations. The first panel will feature Texas exonerees James Woodard, Charles Chatman, and Billy Smith and the second will feature U.S. Congressman John Conyers (D-Michigan), Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis (who also chairs the Innocence Project’s Board of Directors), Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins and Jeff Blackburn of the Innocence Project of Texas.

Dallas County has had 19 wrongful convictions exonerated by DNA evidence, second in the nation only to Cook County, Illinois. The state of Texas as a whole leads the nation with 32 DNA exonerations.

Read the press release on the Innocence Project of Texas blog.



Tags: Texas, Charles Chatman, Billy James Smith, Innocence Commissions

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NC lawmakers approve compensation increase

Posted: July 22, 2008 3:57 pm

The North Carolina legislature voted Friday to increase the compensation paid to the exonerated after their release to $50,000 per year served, from $20,000. The bill, which would increase the maximum payment to $750,000 and bring North Carolina in line with the federal standard for an annual compensation amount, now goes to Gov. Mike Easley for his signature. The bill also includes critical services for men and women released from prison after serving years for crimes they didn't commit. They could receive a year of job training and tuition at a state college or university.

"What I want to you to think about is if your child were accused of a crime and were sent to prison as Dwayne Dail and others have been," Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, a Carrboro Democrat, told her colleagues in the Senate.

Read the full story here. (News Observer, 07/19/08)
Pictured above: Dwayne Dail served 18 years in North Carolina prison for a crime he didn't commit before his exoneration last year. He received $370,000 in compensation earlier this year, but will now be eligible for an additional $380,000.

 



Tags: Exoneree Compensation

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Friday roundup

Posted: July 25, 2008 4:10 pm

More news on wrongful convictions and forensic science from around the world this week. Have a tip for the Innocence Blog? Email us at info@innocenceproject.org

A new study by London scientists has found that high levels of anxiety – such as the threat of physical harm – can strongly impair a person’s ability to make an eyewitness identification. The study further confirms years of social science research indicating that eyewitness identifications by victims of crimes are unreliable.

Read an analysis of the study on the Eyewitness ID Reform Blog


Download the full study text

Serious budget cuts in Arizona may force the state crime lab to charge law enforcement agencies for testing it used to conduct for free. One sheriff said this decision may force agencies to "kind of cherry-pick which cases they're going to send up to the lab for analysis."

An upcoming book by Rutgers Law Prof. George C. Thomas questions to the success of the American legal system in obtaining the truth in criminal cases. In “The Supreme Court on Trial,” George C. Thomas argues that by exposing hundreds of wrongful convictions legal advocates have shown that our system is broken and needs reform. The reforms he suggests range from practical fixes to an extreme overhaul of our criminal justice system. Read a review on the CrimProfBlog.

Buy the book here.

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NJ conviction should be overturned at hearing today, Innocence Project argues

Posted: July 29, 2008 3:20 pm

Darrell Edwards has been in New Jersey prison for more than a decade for a 1995 murder he has always said he didn’t commit. At a hearing today in Newark, Innocence Project attorneys are arguing that he deserves a new trial due to a wide array of new evidence – including DNA test results – that constitutes strong proof that he was wrongfully convicted.

“We believe Darrell Edwards is innocent, and the new evidence should result in a new trial at the very least,” said Vanessa Potkin, the Innocence Project Staff Attorney handling the case. “The DNA test results alone meet the legal standard for vacating Darrell Edwards’ conviction and granting a new trial – and the other new evidence we’ve submitted to the court shows that his conviction was based on faulty information and erroneous witnesses.”

Read the Innocence Project press release here.
Newark Star-Ledger: Newark man will tell court DNA evidence clears him of murder charge

Check back on the Innocence Blog for updates in the case as they happen.





Tags: New Jersey

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Freeing the innocent and identifying true perpetrators

Posted: August 1, 2008 11:00 am

By Thomas McGowan, Texas Exoneree

Thomas McGowan served 23 years in Texas prison for a rape he didn’t commit.  DNA exonerated him, and the real perpetrator was identified. Today on the Innocence Blog, McGowan writes about finding the person whose crime stole 23 years of his life. DNA testing has exonerated 218 wrongfully convicted people to date, and in nearly 40% of those cases, the actual perpetrator of the crime was subsequently identified.

I never saw Kenneth Wayne Woodson; I don’t know if he ever saw me. He went to prison a year later than I did. I’m glad he confessed, but I think the only reason he did is because of the DNA hit. If Woodson had been caught at first, then he wouldn’t have had time to assault anybody else. Now the word is out, even though he can’t be punished for  this crime.

For years I was thinking, how could the witness make a mistake? Last week I learned that Woodson’s photo was in the same lineup that my photo was in.  When she pointed to my picture she said she thought I was the perpetrator, but the police told her she had to say “yes” or “no.” The police pressured her and told her that she had to be sure. Everybody makes mistakes. I don’t hold anything against her.

Woodson is probably one of those people that just doesn’t care. I used to see guys like him sometimes. Guys like that get out of prison two or three times and then they come back. Six months later the same guy comes back and asks me: “Hey, you still here?” Those guys got two or three chances. I couldn’t get one chance and I was innocent. I think the hardest thing was when I came up for parole after doing 20 years. I had two life sentences stacked. I was looking to make it out of there alive. But they weren’t going to let me out. I used to pray to God, “Please, if nothing else, I don’t want to die in prison. I don’t want to go to my grave with my family and friends thinking I did a crime like this.”

DNA is the truth. In my case, we also have a man that confessed that he did the crime. You can’t get the truth any better than that. I served Woodson’s time for him. Ain’t no telling what else he did. I don’t even know what I would say to the dude other than, “It was your fault.” I know everyone can change, but he might be one of those men who finds it real hard to change. People have got to want to do the right thing. For a while, I thought the whole world was crazed and lost. But I can see now that there are still good people in the world.  

Lots of other things are coming into focus now, too. Having a job would make me feel like I have a full life. I would like a job where I can work with people, like at a nursing home or a hospital. It’s just a matter of time until somebody feels like they want to give me a chance. Since three months ago when all of this started happening, it keeps getting better and better. That’s really what I’m working towards. I’m trying to have a life.




Tags: Texas, Thomas McGowan

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Ronald Cotton Marks 14 Years with a Bestselling Book

Posted: July 1, 2009 2:10 pm

Fourteen years ago this week, Ronald Cotton walked out of a North Carolina prison a free man for the first time in more than a decade. In two trials in 1985 and 1987, Cotton was convicted of rape and burglary largely based on the victim’s misidentification. In May 1995, DNA testing finally proved Cotton’s innocence.

After his release, Cotton worked hard to rebuild his life. He took on two jobs to get himself back on his feet. He got married and has a daughter, who today is 10 years old. But Cotton’s remarkable post-exoneration success story did not end there.
    
Two years after his exoneration, Cotton met face to face with the victim in the case, Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, who had misidentified him as her attacker. According to an MSNBC article, Thompson-Cannino recalled telling Cotton when they first met that “if she atoned every day for the rest of her life, it would not be enough to make up for the years [he] had lost.” Cotton responded by telling Thompson-Cannino that he had already forgiven her.  In a recent interview on the Today Show, Cotton explained his response, saying “I couldn’t carry on serving my time in the prison system holding grudges and thinking about retaliating against a person that made an honest mistake. I had to proceed on in life regardless.”

Since that first meeting, the two have become close friends and today they have joined together to fight against injustice. They give speeches about their experiences, advocate for reform, and have worked to expose the causes of wrongful conviction. They focus, in particular, on pursuing reforms to eyewitness identification procedures – urging states to mandate changes that are proven to reduce misidentifications. Their advocacy has contributed to successful reforms across the country, including their home state of North Carolina.

Most recently, Cotton and Thompson-Cannino worked with author Erin Torneo to write "Picking Cotton," a best-selling memoir written about their experiences and the need for criminal justice reform. In the book, which was released earlier this year, Cotton and Thompson-Cannino tell  their stories in their own words, discuss the need for improved police procedures, and demonstrate the importance of forgiveness.

Buy your copy of “Picking Cotton” at Amazon.com through this link and a portion of proceeds will benefit the Innocence Project.

Other Anniversaries This Week:

Thursday: Dennis Williams, Illinois (Served 17.5 Years, Exonerated 7/2/96)
Thursday: Kenneth Adams, Illinois (Served 17.5 Years, Exonerated 7/2/96)
Thursday: Willie Rainge, Illinois (Served 17.5 Years, Exonerated 7/2/96)



Tags: Ronald Cotton

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North Carolina improves exoneree compensation

Posted: August 7, 2008 3:40 pm

North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley this week signed a bill greatly improving the compensation and services the state provides to the wrongfully convicted after their release. The new law, effective immediately, increases the compensation paid to the exonerated from $20,000 per year served to $50,000 per year. The maximum payment is $750,000. The new law also provides job training and free tuition to state colleges and universities.

25 states have exoneree compensation laws. What’s the law in your state? Find out here.

Pictured: Dwayne Dail served 18 years in North Carolina prison for a crime he didn't commit before his exoneration last year. He received $370,000 in compensation earlier this year, but will now be eligible for an additional $380,000. Dail was featured this week in an article on Officer.com, a news magazine for law enforcement professionals. Read the article, entitled “When the Innocent Become Victims,” here.




Tags: Dwayne Dail, Exoneree Compensation

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Four years of freedom for former death row inmate

Posted: August 8, 2008 5:10 pm

At age 19, Ryan Matthews was sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit. Due mostly to faulty eyewitness identification, Matthews spent five years on death row before being exonerated on August 8, 2004—making him the 14th person proven innocent by DNA after serving time on death row. Tomorrow marks the fourth anniversary of his exoneration.

Matthews was convicted with his friend, Travis Hayes, who falsely confessed to the pair’s involvement in the crime after hours of interrogation. Hayes was finally exonerated in 2007.

Like Matthews and Hayes, many exonerees who missed out on young adulthood had to start their lives almost from scratch. Because one-third of exonerees in the United States were between the ages of 14 and 22 when they were arrested, many never got a college education or job experience.  These exonerees served a combined 947 years in the prime of their lives for crimes they didn’t commit.

The Innocence Project is working with youth leaders and youth groups around the country to raise awareness about wrongful convictions and take action to prevent future injustice. Visit our  “947 Years: In Their Prime. In Prison. Innocent,” campaign to get involved today.
 



Tags: Travis Hayes, Ryan Matthews

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Fourth anniversary of Florida exoneration

Posted: August 12, 2008 4:05 pm

When Wilton Dedge was arrested for a December 1981 rape, he weighed 125 pounds and stood at 5’5” — not at all like the tall, muscular, 160-pound man the victim had originally described to the police. Despite the mismatched between her description and Dedge, she identified him as her attacker. Due to the misidentification and other unreliable evidence, Dedge would serve 22 years for a crime he didn’t commit. Finally exonerated on August 11, 2004, he marks the fourth anniversary of his exoneration today.

Dedge’s case underscores not only the fallibility of eyewitness identification, but also the importance of granting access to DNA testing when it can prove innocence and overturn a wrongful conviction. Once the tests are conducted, state laws must also ensure that the new evidence can be heard in court.

It took Dedge five years to obtain access to the DNA testing that proved his innocence, but then It took three more years for his release. Prosecutors argued that the test results were not permissible in court because they had been obtained before a new DNA access law was in place. According to the law, they argued, he had proven his innocence too early.

Seven states still don’t have a law guaranteeing inmate access to postconviction DNA testing—meaning more inmates could suffer the same injustices as Dedge. Click here to learn if your state allows access to testing.

Help us ensure DNA access for inmates across the country by signing our petition for DNA testing access today.

Dedge’s case is featured in the award-winning documentary “After Innocence.” Buy a copy of the film today from Amazon.com (a portion of proceeds benefits the Innocence Project) or rent it from Netflix.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Thursday: Gary Dotson, Illinois (Served 10  years, Exonerated 08/14/89 )
Roy Criner, Texas (Served 10 years, Exonerated 08/15/2000)

Friday: Eduardo Velasquez, Massachusetts (Served 12.5 years, Exonerated 08/15/01)
 

 



Tags: Roy Criner, Wilton Dedge, Gary Dotson, Eduardo Velasquez

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The week in review

Posted: August 15, 2008 11:07 am

It was a big week for reform. Follow the links below for stories this week on measures, meetings and commentary around the country aimed at preventing future injustice. Meanwhile, prosecutors in Florida and Alabama spoke out against defendants seeking to prove their innocence, and a Mississippi man got a trial date for murders that sent two innocent men to prison for 15 years each.

In Texas today, the Innocence Project is calling on the state Forensic Science Commission to investigate the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed for three murders he said he didn’t commit, and Ernest Willis, who was convicted on the same faulty arson science as Willingham and later freed. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals also held the first meeting of its new Criminal Justice Integrity Unit. The blog Grits for Breakfast reports on the meeting here.
 
Prosecutors and law enforcement officers were in a “tug-of-war” this week over control of a new crime lab in Orange County, California. A DNA exoneration in Orange County highlighted the need for independent crime labs, after the prosecutor unsuccessfully pressed forensic analysts to alter their reports on testing that exonerated a wrongfully convicted man.

The New York Times’ Adam Liptak questioned why expert testimony in criminal trials must come from the opposing sides of the courtroom – a practice fairly unique in the world. Two op-eds argued that funding for defense experts would level the playing field for defendants.

Evidence preservation continued to garner headlines this week, a Reno column today says “the cause of justice must be upheld and preserved. And this means preservation of physical evidence.”

Canada’s highest court affirmed the exoneration of an Ontario man and pointed to the “frailties of eyewitness identification.”

Defendants and prosecutors in Alabama and Florida continued to stand at odds this week. William Dillon’s lawyers in Florida said prosecutors were delaying meetings to keep their innocent client in prison, and the prosecutor responded by saying “File your damn motions and stop being a cry baby.” The Attorney General of Alabama called on the State Supreme Court of lift its stay of Tommy Arthur’s execution, saying the stay was “wrong as a matter of law and fact.” The Innocence Project has consulted with Arthur’s attorneys on the case, and Innocence Project supporters continued this week to send emails to Alabama Gov. Bob Riley urging him to order DNA testing in Arthur’s case.

Justin Albert Johnson is set for trial in Mississippi on September 8 for the murders of two three-year-old girls in the early 1990s. Innocence Project clients Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks each spent 15 years in prison for these murders – Brewer was on death row – before they were exonerated earlier this year.
 



Tags: Kennedy Brewer

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Are you in the know?

Posted: August 26, 2008 2:49 pm

We’ll be sending our August e-mail newsletter tomorrow, recapping exonerations, policy reforms and all kinds of other developments for the month of August. Are you on the list? If not, sign up here and get your first newsletter tomorrow.

If you’re a die-hard Innocence Blog reader, we also invite you to subscribe to daily email updates of the blog, or add our RSS feed to your feed reader.

Thanks for helping us spread the word about wrongful convictions.



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The case for recording interrogations

Posted: August 27, 2008 2:25 pm

In a forthcoming article in the California Law Review entitled “Mourning Miranda,” professor Charles D. Weisselberg argues that the safeguards guaranteed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Miranda v. Arizona decision (which requires law enforcement officers to read a suspect his or her rights before detaining them) have become ineffective and even detrimental to the criminal justice system. Law enforcement officers, Weisselberg writes, have learned how to skirt Miranda and interrogate a suspect without a lawyer present.

Blogger Grits for Breakfast wrote yesterday about Weisselberg’s findings, saying that recording interrogations would be a step toward more just police procedures. About 25% of the 220 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing involved a false confession or admission, and very few of these were recorded.

From the Tuscaloosa news (via Grits):
The F.B.I., in documents defending its policy [not to require taped interrogations], argued that taping was not always possible, particularly when agents were on the road, and that it was not always appropriate. Psychological tricks like misleading or lying to a suspect in questioning or pretending to show the suspect sympathy might also offend a jury, the agency said.

“Perfectly lawful and acceptable interviewing techniques do not always come across in recorded fashion to lay persons as proper means of obtaining information from defendants,” said one of the once-secret internal Justice Department communications made public as part of the investigation into the dismissals of the United States attorneys.
That's not an acceptable reason to oppose taped interrogations, particularly in circumstances where a suspect has been isolated and read their Miranda rights. Just like cockroaches scatter when you turn on a light, my guess is that recording and thus exposing these tactics to scrutiny by judges and juries would, in the long run, result in their defenestration. At a minimum, recording would allow more comprehensive post-investigative analysis by researchers to identify unproductive approaches and best practices. Until then, for the foreseeable future, coercive tactics will remain a routine part of American police interrogation.
Download Weisselberg’s paper here, and read the Grits for Breakfast post (and other commentary on police interrogation and electronic recording) here.


Watch an interview with exoneree Chris Ochoa, who explains how police pressure led him to confess to a crime he didn’t commit.

 



Tags: Christopher Ochoa, False Confessions, False Confessions

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Michigan exoneree: It's time to fix the system

Posted: August 27, 2008 2:19 pm

Writing in the Detroit Free Press on Sunday with Michigan Innocence Clinic Co- Director David A. Moran, exoneree Ken Wyniemko calls for criminal justice reforms to prevent future injustice in the state. Wyniemko was released and exonerated in 2003 after serving more than eight years for a rape he didn’t commit. Last week, prosecutors announced that the DNA evidence from the crime scene in Wyniemko’s case had proven that another man, Craig Gonser, had committed the rape.

This case exemplifies why we need to be more skeptical of eyewitness identifications and reform the procedures by which victims and witnesses identify suspects. When the victim picked Wyniemko out of a police lineup in 1994, Ken was 43 years old, 5-foot-10, and 185 pounds. The police, apparently, weren't concerned that the victim had described a much taller, heavier and younger man.

Craig Gonser, the man whose DNA was at the scene of the crime, was 26, 6-foot-6, and 290 pounds in 1994.

Those discrepancies are so glaring that they're worth emphasizing: The victim picked out a man who was eight inches shorter, 105 pounds lighter, and 17 years older than Gonser, even after giving a description that was much closer to the truth. Further, Ken bears almost no facial resemblance to Gonser.

Read about the reforms proposed by Wyniemko and Moran to prevent future misidentifications and wrongful convictions in Michigan.

Watch a video interview with Wyniemko.




Tags: Michigan, Kenneth Wyniemko

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One year free, and a new life begun

Posted: August 28, 2008 5:20 pm

One year ago today, Dwayne Dail walked out of a North Carolina prison and into his family’s arms. Dail served 18 years for a child rape he didn’t commit, before his attorneys at the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence discovered biological evidence from his case stored in a police department closet. For years, Dail had written and appealed to everyone he could think of – and even asked to be executed at one point. “I wanted the state of North Carolina to be responsible for my murder and not just another inmate,” he said. Finally he found the NCCAI, whose work led to his release.

Today he lives in Florida with relatives, and he was recently compensated by the state of North Carolina – which improved its compensation statute this month to bring it in line with federal standards of $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration.

Watch a video interview with Dail after his release
.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Monday: Lonnie Erby, Missouri (Served 17 Years, Exonerated 8/25/03)

Tuesday: Barry Laughman, Pennsylvania (Served 16 Years, Exonerated 08/26/04)
Eddie Joe Lloyd, Michigan (Served 17 Years, Exonerated 08/26/02)

Today: Bruce Nelson, Pennsylvania (Served 9 Years, Exonerated 08/28/91)





Tags: Dwayne Dail, Lonnie Erby, Barry Laughman, Eddie Joe Lloyd, Bruce Nelson

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Dallas exoneree reconnects with his son

Posted: August 28, 2008 5:28 pm

While Patrick Waller languished in a Texas prison for a crime he didn’t commit, he always thought about his children. After DNA testing proved his innocence and led to his release on July 2, he reunited with son Chris, who was two years old when Waller went to prison and is 18 today.

Mr. Waller, 38, the 19th man in Dallas County since 2001 exonerated by DNA evidence, spent many sleepless nights pondering his life, while tossing and turning on a thin mattress in a 9 ½-foot by 15-foot jail cell.

At times, rage filled him. Other times, frustration consumed him. Sometimes, disappointment engulfed him.

But he never lost hope.

He couldn't. His four children needed him.

"Of all the things that happened to me, the worst is missing out on my kids' lives," said Mr. Waller, who has a relationship with two of his children and expects to meet his 16-year-old son this week.

"I can't get that back." Read the full story here. (Dallas Morning News, 08/28/08)
Waller , who is represented by the Innocence Project of Texas, is still awaiting a ruling from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that will make his exoneration official. We’ll post here on the Innocence Blog when that happens.

Read more about Waller’s case here.



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Compensation bill for California man is on governor's desk

Posted: August 29, 2008 2:38 pm

James Ochoa served 10 months in California prison, and 5 months in jail awaiting trial, for a carjacking DNA proves he didn’t commit. He was exonerated in 2006, but to date he hasn’t been compensated under California’s law – which pays exonerees $100 per day of wrongful imprisonment. As we’ve reported here before, Ochoa was initially denied access to compensation because he pled guilty – after a judge told him he could get 25 years to life in prison if he went to trial and lost. He was given a two-year sentence after pleading guilty.

The California compensation statute reads that, in order to receive compensation, the exoneree must not have “contribute(d) to the bringing about of his arrest or conviction for the crime with which he was charged." California officials first said the law excluded Ochoa because he pled guilty. But members of the state assembly took action to rectify this situation, and a bill to pay Ochoa $31,700 was passed earlier this month. The bill now awaits a signature by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

An improvement to California’s compensation law – which would eliminate the loophole that almost denied Ochoa’s compensation and increase the amount of compensation by a cost-of-living adjustment each year – is also awaiting the Governor’s signature. Republican Assemblyman Todd Spitzer discussed Ochoa's case in a recent speech in support of improvements to the general compensation law.

“As a society we have a responsibility to make that [injustice] right,” Republican Assemblyman Todd Spitzer said...“To be wrongfully charged, to sit in prison for 10 months and also Orange County Jail for an additional five months] for $31,700? That's unconscionable.”

Read the full blog post here. (OC Weekly)
Innocence Project supporters in California are sending letters to Gov. Schwarzenegger this week urging him to sign the bill into law. If you’re in California – send your own letter to the Governor today. Otherwise, please forward the action to your friends and family in California.





Tags: California, James Ochoa

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DNA clears Dallas man after 26 years in prison, could be released Friday

Posted: September 16, 2008 2:05 pm

Johnnie Earl Lindsey has been behind bars since 1981 for a rape he has always said he didn’t commit, but his attorneys say new DNA test results could lead to his release on Friday. Michelle Moore, a Dallas public defender affiliated with the Innocence Project of Texas, is representing Lindsey on appeal and has filed for his release based on DNA tests showing that another man sexually assaulted the victim in this case. Lindsey is the 21st person cleared by DNA testing in Dallas County.

Lindsey was convicted by a jury based mostly on the victim’s identification of him. She initially identified him as the perpetrator a year after the attack, when a six-photo lineup was mailed to her. She had identified the perpetrator as a shirtless African-American man, and Lindsey was one of the two shirtless men in the lineup.

"Juries back in the day believed that when a woman was raped, she must be able to identify her attacker," Ms. Moore said. "We know so much more now. There have been so many studies about how bad eyewitness accounts can be."

Read the full article here. (Dallas Morning News, 09/15/08)
Stay tuned to the Innocence Blog for an update on Lindsey’s case after his hearing on Friday.




Tags: Johnnie Earl Lindsey

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Friday roundup

Posted: September 5, 2008 3:07 pm

New projects and investigations launched this week by innocence organizations, law schools, prosecutors and attorneys general across the country show the momentum nationwide to overturn wrongful convictions and address the root causes of wrongful conviction to prevent future injustice. Here’s this week’s roundup:

Questions were raised about standards of DNA collection and preservation in Massachusetts after improper procedures were revealed in a high-profile case. Mass. is one of 25 states without a DNA preservation law.

The Mississippi Attorney General said this week that the state is underfunding DNA tests and DNA collection and a new task force is examining the state problem.

San Jose opened California’s largest crime lab, training began in Maryland before a new law expanding the state’s database took effect and cutbacks in Georgia led to furloughs for prosecutors and could cause lab closings.

The Midwest Innocence Project this week launched an investigation into a 1988 fire that killed six Kansas City firemen and led to the conviction of five people who say they’re innocent. The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, a first-of-its-kind panel dedicated to investigating cases of possible wrongful conviction, finished reviewing its first case, deciding that there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the conviction of Henry A. Reeves. And  Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins asked county officials to allow filming in his offices in coming months for a Discovery Channel documentary.

Some of the best policy analysis and research to help improve our criminal justice system comes, of course, from our nation’s law schools – and now many of those schools have blogs. Marquette University Law School launched a new faculty law blog, and a post by Keith Sharfman finds that “blogging’s potential as a medium for serious legal discourse can no longer be doubted.” 

A column on Law.com asks: “Is the future of legal scholarship in the blogosphere?”

Here at the Innocence Project, we read law school blogs everyday. Among our favorites are Crim Prof Blog and Evidence Prof Blog

New York University Law School has formed a new Center on the Administration of Criminal Law, which will seek to promote “good government practices in criminal matters.”



Tags: California, North Carolina, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Texas, Innocence Commissions, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing, DNA Databases

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More revelations in Mississippi

Posted: September 8, 2008 2:17 pm

Last month, Mississippi officials cut ties with medical examiner Steven Hayne, whose forensic misconduct led to at least two wrongful convictions that have been overturned. In a post on the Reason Magazine blog yesterday, Radley Balko discusses a trove of documents showing that state officials knew about problems with Hayne’s work as long as 15 years ago, but did nothing about it.

Balko says he will roll out significant documents from this dossier over the coming days on the Reason blog. Stay tuned.

Read more about the cases of Innocence Project clients Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, and the misconduct of Steven Hayne.





Tags: Mississippi, Kennedy Brewer

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Gov. Schwarzenegger can’t wait another year

Posted: September 11, 2008 4:00 pm

Cross-posted from The California Progress Report
By Herman Atkins

Over 20 years ago, a woman was brutally raped and robbed in a shoe store in Riverside. To this day, no one knows who committed the crime. But because of other people’s mistakes, I spent almost 12 years in prison for his crime—until the Innocence Project used DNA to prove I was innocent. Even though I lost 12 years of my life and suffered the indignities and horrors of more than a decade in California’s prisons, I am one of the lucky ones. For most people, there is no DNA to prove their innocence and no free lawyers to help them.

Four bills that would help reduce wrongful convictions in California were introduced in the legislature this year, and two have finally made it to the Governor’s desk. The state’s budget crisis killed the other two bills even though they had very moderate price tags. Nonetheless, the two bills on Gov. Schwarzenegger’s desk are important first steps and he must sign them now.

Failing to enact these reforms puts public safety at risk. As in my case, when an innocent person is convicted, the investigation stops and the real perpetrator is often never found. We cannot wait one more year to take action to reduce wrongful convictions.

The first bill, SB 1589, would require corroboration for jailhouse informant testimony. Informants have good reasons to lie: they are getting something in exchange for what they say. Yet, they are persuasive. In fact, informants are the leading cause of wrongful convictions in death penalty cases. We already require corroboration for co-defendant informants; SB 1589 simply extends that same precaution to jailhouse informants.

The second bill, AB 2937, would provide more services to wrongfully convicted people and remove some of the hurdles to compensation for the innocent. Currently, wrongfully convicted people receive even less assistance than parolees who actually committed the crime. Indeed, my wife and I have established a foundation to provide assistance to wrongfully convicted people because the state does nothing. As the chair of the Council for the Wrongfully Convicted, I had the opportunity to testify before the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice about the difficulties we face after exoneration. My testimony led the Commission to recommend the reforms in this bill.

Also known as the Arthur Carmona Justice for the Wrongfully Convicted Act, AB 2937 is named after a brave young man who was wrongfully convicted at just 16 years old, and whom I had the opportunity to work with before he was tragically killed earlier this year. Arthur and I shared a couple of things in common: we were both wrongfully convicted based on mistaken eyewitness identification and police misconduct, and we also both had loving and dedicated families who fought for and supported us. Even with our strong support systems, we both struggled to cope with life outside of prison with virtually no help from the state that took our best years from us.
The Arthur Carmona Act would change that by ensuring that wrongfully convicted people have the same access to resources that ex-offenders receive when released from prison. It would also require that criminal records relating to a wrongful conviction are sealed, and would remove procedural hurdles to compensation for the factually innocent.

All of these reforms are based on recommendations by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, which spent the last three years studying our justice system and developing recommendations to make it better and more accurate. The Commission was created by the Senate in 2004, and the legislature has even passed similar bills based on the Commission’s recommendations in the last two sessions. But Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed these bills in the past, causing even a commentator on Foxnews.com to lead with the headline: “Schwarzenegger Vetoes Justice.” Now the Governor can redeem himself, at least partially.
The bills that did not make it to the Governor this year, SB 1591 and SB 1590, would have addressed two other common causes of wrongful convictions – eyewitness misidentification and false confessions. Mine was a case of eyewitness misidentification, so I understand the need for reform, and am disappointed that our budget crisis has once again gotten in the way of justice.

Every year that goes by without these reforms, we risk sentencing more innocent people to prison or even the death penalty, we let guilty people go free, and we continue the cycle of injustice by failing to help the wrongfully convicted who are released. Justice cannot wait one more year; Gov. Schwarzenegger must sign the bills in front of him today.

Please contact Gov. Schwarzenegger and urge him to sign SB 1589 and AB 2937.

Herman Atkins lives with his family in Fresno California. He is the founder of the LIFE Foundation, which provides immediate support to wrongfully convicted people on release from prison. He is also the chair of the Council for the Wrongfully Convicted, a coalition of innocent men and women who were wrongfully imprisoned. His story is one of eight featured in the acclaimed documentary, Life After Exoneration. He is a frequent lecturer and public speaker on wrongful convictions and the struggles of the wrongfully convicted on release.Read Herman's last post on the Innocence Blog.




Tags: California, Exoneree Compensation, Informants/Snitches

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New film on wrongful convictions premieres in Toronto

Posted: September 11, 2008 3:55 pm

“Witch Hunt,” a new film about wrongful sexual assault convictions in California, premiered this week at the Tornoto Film Festival, with its final screening set for tomorrow. The film, narrated by Sean Penn, features the cases of several people freed from prison after serving years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. The filmmakers were joined at the premiere by lawyers from the Northern California Innocence Project and nine parents and (now grown) children featured in the film.

Watch a trailer on YouTube


Read a Q & A from Toronto with filmmakers Dana Nachman and Don Hardy
.

Visit the film’s website




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Dispatch from Chicago: An education in justice and advocacy

Posted: September 12, 2008 10:15 am

By Lauren Kaeseberg, Attorney, Stone & Associates, LLC, Waukegan, Ill.
Former Innocence Project Clinic Student

Working as a Cardozo School of Law student the Innocence Project showed me firsthand the real-life effects of a broken criminal justice system. Time and resources are extremely scarce, and cases are hurried through the courts. In an age where 95 percent of cases resulting in felony convictions are settled in a plea bargain, evidence is rarely tested and the government is rarely held to its burden of proof. I learned that the maxim “innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t survive outside of law books.

In my first year of defense practice, I have been forced to face the reality that by the time an individual has been indicted, the cards are stacked – often irreversibly – against them. The de facto presumption of guilt in our system is pervasive and incredibly hard to shake. Then, once a defendant is convicted, a system already stacked against them becomes that much more difficult to navigate. Appellate standards of review are seemingly insurmountable, long sentences have become the norm, and prisons are far away from family and home.

To represent an individual accused of a crime is a humbling experience. I am grateful for what I learned in the Cardozo clinic at the Innocence Project. My education and experience working to overturn wrongful convictions continues to inform my work on a daily basis. I learned the importance of being up-front and honest with my clients – I am careful to never give false hope, and to include them in the process and ensure their understanding of the system as it engulfs them.

While I am frustrated by the failings of our system, I am kept alive professionally by a different, yet parallel, emotion – empowerment. I chose to study at the Innocence Project clinic in order to learn from the best at how to be both a lawyer seeking justice and an advocate seeking change. My time there embedded in me a deep sense of purpose and hope. I find inspiration in the knowledge that a relatively small group of lawyers can ensure that justice is done. Moreover, as the policy work of the Innocence Project has established, a small group of people can turn the system on its head and open up the eyes of the public so that they may catch a glimpse of the problems within the system.

The lessons learned through the 220 exonerations to date are undeniable, and they force us all to be better lawyers and advocates. Each exoneration is another reminder that we must not allow the standard to be lowered in the criminal justice system. In order for there to be real justice, we cannot forget that the standard must remain innocent unless proven guilty.


From 2005 to 2007, Lauren Kaeseberg worked at the Innocence Project as a student in the legal clinic and then as a teaching assistant. She graduated from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in 2007, and today works as a criminal defense lawyer in Waukegan, Illinois.


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Innocence Network urges U.S. Supreme Court to maintain safeguards against prosecutorial misconduct

Posted: September 16, 2008 3:18 pm

In a new Supreme Court brief, the Innocence Network is arguing that top-level prosecutors must be held accountable when they set policies that ignore or violate people’s rights and lead to wrongful convictions. False testimony from a jailhouse informant was central in the 1980 murder conviction of Thomas Goldstein, who is suing the former Los Angeles County District Attorney because the office had no safeguards in place at the time of Goldstein’s conviction to prevent snitches from testifying falsely.

Read today’s Innocence Project press release on the Innocence Network’s friend-of-the-court brief in the Goldstein case and download the full brief.

Also today, the Texas criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast focuses today on the difficulty to prove innocence in non-DNA cases, especially those involving snitches and informants.

A situation involving a mendacious jailhouse snitch out of Orange, Texas shows how such cases play out when DNA evidence doesn't exist to prove innocence to a certainty. KPRC-Channel 2 in Houston recently told the story of Daniel Meehan (Sept. 4) whose 1998 conviction and 99-year sentence was based in part on testimony by an informant who now says he lied to get his own cases dismissed and that prosecutors told him what to say.

Read the full Grits post here. (9/16/08)
A bill passed this year by the California legislature and currently awaiting Gov. Schwarzenegger’s signature would require corroboration of jailhouse snitch testimony. Send Schwarzenegger an email today urging him to sign the bill and prevent wrongful convictions in his state.

More resources:

The Snitch System” – a report by the Center on Wrongful Convictions in Chicago.

Learn more about the role of snitch testimony in wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing.




Tags: California, Informants/Snitches, Government Misconduct

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Young Professionals support the Innocence Project at NYC event

Posted: September 19, 2008 12:45 pm

The Innocence Project’s new Young Professionals Committee held its first fundraiser on Monday night at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City. The event was a success, featuring speeches by Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and exoneree David Shephard, who served more than nine years in New Jersey for a crime he didn’t commit. Above, Scheck and Shephard onstage at the event.

The event raised money for the Innocence Project Exoneree Fund, which supports Innocence Project clients with basic necessities like housing, shelter and clothing after their release.

Read about the event and view a photo slideshow in the New York Sun

View more photos of the event here.

Interested in hosting an event in your community? We’d love to help. Click here to get started.

Do you want to join the young professionals committee or learn more about upcoming events in New York? Email us here.





Tags: David Shephard

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Paul House: the hair isn’t his, but the charges remain

Posted: September 23, 2008 11:43 am

Last week, Tennessee prosecutors revealed that a hair found in the hand of a murder victim more than 20 years ago did not belong to Paul House, the man who spent more than two decades on death row for the murder. House, 46, was granted a new trial late last year and released in July while the new trial was pending. He has multiple sclerosis and cannot walk or feed himself. He lives with his mother.

The trial is set to begin on October 13, and prosecutors said last week they planned to go forward with the trial despite new mitochondrial DNA test results showing that a hair found in the palm of the murder victim belonged to neither House nor the victim’s husband.

House’s first conviction was overturned by a state judge after the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case and ruled that no reasonable juror would convict House based on the current evidence. The Innocence Project filed a friend of the court brief in that case.

In a letter to the Nashville Scene yesterday, Tennessee State Rep. Mike Turner wrote:

As a State Representative I am committed to ensuring that the citizens of Tennessee have faith in the justice system.. The case of Paul House casts grave doubt on the “justice” of the system. Given that the state of Tennessee is dealing with a significant budget shortfall how can we justify the cost of another trial for Mr. House with no evidence pointing his guilt? How much money has already been spent attempting to keep House on death row? Now with even more DNA evidence pointing to House’s innocence how can General Phillips justify his decision to move forward with a new trial?
Read Turner’s full letter. (Nashville Scene, 09/22/08)

Coverage of developments in House’s case:

Knoxville News: Prosecutor confirms hair in victim’s hand not House’s





Tags: Death Penalty, Paul House

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U.S. Supreme Court stays Georgia execution

Posted: September 23, 2008 5:45 pm

Just hours before Troy Davis was scheduled to be executed in Georgia for a crime he has always said he didn’t commit, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay this evening, delaying the execution so an appeal challenging Davis’ conviction can move forward. See today’s earlier blog for more on the case.

News of today’s Supreme Court stay:

Associated Press: US Supreme Court delays execution of Ga. man


 



Tags: Death Penalty

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Five years free, and still no compensation

Posted: September 23, 2008 5:15 pm

Today marks the fifth anniversary of Calvin Willis's exoneration in Louisiana. After serving 21 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Willis was finally released when post-conviction DNA testing excluded him as the perpetrator of a 1981 rape.
 
In June 1981, an intruder entered a home in Shreveport, Louisiana, where three girls (aged 7, 9, and 10) were sleeping. The 10-year-old awoke to a man standing above her. The attacker proceeded to choke her and banged her head against the wall. The victim fled to the back yard, but the perpetrator caught up, kicking her in the stomach. During the struggle, the victim lost consciousness and was sexually assaulted. Police were not contacted until the next morning, when a woman returned to the house.
 
Although police said one of the girls identified Willis as her attacker, the girl later said she never saw Willis’ photo and she did not identify him in court. He was also considerably smaller than the attacker described to police by the girls. A rape kit was collected from the victim, and semen from the perpetrator was identified, showing that the perpetrator must have type O blood. Calvin Willis has type O blood, as do 49 percent of African-American men in the United States. This evidence was presented at Willis’ trial to show that he could have been the attacker.

In 1998, the Innocence Project began to search for evidence in Willis’ case. DNA testing on items from the crime scene proved that another man was the attacker and led to Willis’ release on September 18, 2003. He was officially cleared on September 23, 2003.
 
Upon his release Willis said, "People don't know what exonerated is. When you have been in prison for 20 years there is a stigma. I am going to file for a full pardon from the governor." Two years after Willis was exonerated, Louisiana passed a law compensating the wrongfully convicted for $15,000 per year served, up to a maximum of $150,000. (The federal standard is $50,000 per year.) Willis, however, has yet to be compensated.

Watch a video interview with Willis and his friend, exoneree Rickey Johnson, here.

Find out if your state offers compensation and how you can help here.
 
Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Monday: Chester Bauer (Served 8 Years, Exonerated 9/22/1997)

Saturday: Frederick Daye (Served 10 Years, Exonerated 9/27/1994)



Tags: Calvin Willis, Exoneree Compensation

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Alabama Supreme Court denies request to set execution date

Posted: September 25, 2008 3:02 pm

Tommy Arthur has been on Alabama’s death row for a quarter century for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit. In July, he came within hours of execution for the third time, before the Alabama Supreme Court voted 5-4 in favor of a stay while a lower court determined whether Arthur should get DNA testing or not. The Innocence Project has consulted with Arthur’s attorneys, and supports the DNA testing that could prove Arthur’s innocence or guilt.

On Tuesday, the Alabama Supreme Court again ruled in Arthur’s favor, rejecting an appeal from Alabama Attorney General Troy King to set an execution date for Arthur. The Supreme Court decided 6-2 that the state must wait for the Jefferson County Court to rule on the DNA testing claim before it set an execution date.

Read the full story here. (Birmingham News, 09/25/08)

Thousands of Innocence Project supporters have sent letters to Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, urging him to order DNA testing for Tommy Arthur. Send your letter today.

Download recent filings in the case



Tags: Alabama, Death Penalty, Tommy Arthur

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Friday digest

Posted: September 26, 2008 6:01 pm

A few cases we didn’t get a chance to write about this week on the blog. If you have tips for blog posts, send them our way at info@innocenceproject.org.

National Public Radio reported on a Texas case where the family of Timothy Cole, an innocent man who died in prison, is seeking his posthumous exoneration based on DNA evidence of his innocence. The victim in the crime, who misidentified Cole at his trial, is working closely with his family, and the NPR story features an interview with Innocence Project of Texas Chief Counsel Jeff Blackburn. Listen here.

The mother of a murder victim is working with the man convicted of killing her daughter to prove his innocence. She has long suspected that the wrong man was convicted, and as more evidence points to his innocence, she is helping to support his appeals.

Prosecutors in Florida are asking that a judge deny William Dillon’s request for a new trial, which he filed after DNA testing on a key piece of evidence pointed to his innocence.

A 22-year-old man North Carolina was free for the first time since eighth grade, after a judge threw out his conviction.

And Innocence Project Attorney Vanessa Potkin spoke this week with radio KBMS in Oregon. Listen here.



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Dispatch from Austin: The Criminal Justice Integrity Unit meets

Posted: September 29, 2008 5:40 pm

The Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit held meetings in Austin on Thursday and heard from witnesses on a variety of topics, including snitch testimony and evidence collection and preservation. The Integrity Unit was created earlier this year by the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals to review criminal justice practices in the state and its members include a cross-section of the criminal justice community.

Scott Henson, who writes the blog Grits for Breakfast and works as a consultant with the Innocence Project of Texas, attended the meeting and wrote about his reactions on Grits. Here’s what he found:

Pat Johnson, who's the field supervisor for DPS' state-run crime labs and a member of the Integrity Unit panel, performed an informal survey of non-DPS crime labs in Texas operated by local jurisdictions. Respondents said that less than 10% of evidence collected at crime scenes was gathered by lab personnel, with most of it being collected by cops. Austin PD is the main exception, he said, with an entirely civilian Crime Scene Investigation unit.

A majority of labs, when asked how good a job they were doing, replied that some improvements were needed.

One lab said they did not believe they were receiving all available evidence that should be examined, while a majority said "we don't know."



John Vasquez from the Texas Association of Property and Evidence Inventory Technicians (TAPEIT) gave an interesting presentation about evidence preservation failures and the need for greater professionalism and implementation of best practices by police department property rooms. TAPEIT has about 600 active members who work in law enforcement agencies around the state, he said. (See their rather active message boards.)



One of the CCA "Integrity Unit" members, Texas House Corrections Chairman Jerry Madden, posed a question to Justice Project President John Terzano regarding snitches during his presentation yesterday that inspired me to (perhaps rudely?) interject from the audience a response to his concerns. (I was attending as part of my consulting gig with the Innocence Project of Texas.)

Terzano was arguing that informants whose testimony will be compensated by money, reduced charges or more lenient sentences for other crimes they've committed should be subjected to a pre-trial reliability hearing in which a judge, outside the purview of the jury, makes an independent determination whether the informant is a reliable source.

Read the three posts on the meeting. (Grits for Breakfast, 09/26/08)
 



Tags: Texas, Innocence Commissions, Evidence Preservation, Informants/Snitches

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Six years free: Jimmy Ray Bromgard

Posted: October 2, 2008 4:10 pm

Today marks the sixth anniversary of the day Jimmy Ray Bromgard was exonerated in Montana, after serving more than 14 years for a crime he did not commit. Bromgard was convicted at 18 and released at 32, losing the prime years of his life behind bars. Participating in a prison program for sex offenders could have led to his early release, but he refused to take them.  “I would have had to admit my guilt,” he said after his release. “I'd rather sit there in prison for all my life than admit my guilt."

On March 20, 1987, an intruder broke through a window into the home of an eight-year-old girl in Billings, Montana, and raped her. The perpetrator escaped after the attack, stealing a purse and jacket. Later in the day the victim was examined, and police collected hairs and semen from the crime scene.

Based on the victim's description, the police drew a composite sketch of the intruder. An officer linked the sketch to a local teenager he knew, Jimmy Ray Bromgard. After officers videotaped a lineup including Bromgard, the tape was shown to the victim, who said she was "60% or 65% sure" that Bromgard was the perpetrator. During trial, the victim continued to say she was unsure whether Bromgard was the assailant. Yet, Bromgard's assigned counsel never objected to the victim's identification.

The prosecution tied Bromgard to the crime by using the testimony of a state forensic hair examiner, Arnold Melnikoff, who claimed hairs found on the victim's bed were similar to Bromgard's, and further argued there was less than a one-in-10,000 chance that the hairs did not come from Bromgard. Melnikoff’s testimony was fraudulent; there has never been a standard by which to statistically match hairs through microscopic inspection.

Despite stating he was at home and asleep when the crime was committed, Bromgard's attorney did not follow up the investigation or obtain an expert to challenge the state's forensic expert. Bromgard was convicted of three counts of sexual intercourse without consent and sentenced to 40 years in prison. Bromgard spent his twenties in prison, and was finally freed after the Innocence Project attorneys obtained DNA testing on his behalf, which proved that biological evidence from the crime scene came from another man.

Fraudulent science may have played a large role in Bromgard's wrongful conviction, but  Bromgard's own court-appointed lawyer also failed to show the inconsistencies in the state's case. Click here to read more about bad lawyering.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Earl Washington, Virginia (Served 17 years, Exonerated in 2000)

George Rodriguez, Texas (Served 17 years, Exonerated in 2005)

Albert Johnson, California (Served 10 years, Exonerated in 2002)



Tags: Montana, Jimmy Ray Bromgard

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A call to action in Michigan

Posted: October 3, 2008 4:39 pm

With five weeks left in the Michigan State Senate’s legislative session, the deadline for lawmakers to extend a critical DNA access law is fast approaching. For months, the Senate Judiciary Committee has stalled progress of a bill to extend the state’s DNA access law, which allows prisoners to apply for DNA testing to prove their innocence and expires on January 1, 2009. If the committee doesn’t send the bill to the full Senate soon, prisoners in Michigan could lose their last chance at proving their innocence.

In an article in today’s Detroit News, Michigan exoneree Ken Wyniemko calls for lawmakers to extend the right to DNA testing because there are more innocent people behind bars in the state.

"Time is running out," said Wyniemko of Rochester Hills, who is among four people in Michigan freed from prison with the help of DNA. "Nobody else should have to go through what I went through, and what the others went through."

Read the full article here.
Innocence Project supporters across Michigan this week are sending letters to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

Do you live in Michigan? Send your letter today.

Have friends or family in Michigan? Forward them info on this campaign so they can protect justice in their state.

Yesterday’s blog post on this issue included a video interview with Wyniemko about the pending legislation.





Tags: Michigan, Access to DNA Testing

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The week in review

Posted: October 3, 2008 5:50 pm

A roundup of stories we didn’t get to on the Innocence Blog this week.

Charges were dropped this week against Arthur Johnson, a Mississippi man who spent 16 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. Johnson was represented by attorneys at the Innocence Project New Orleans. More on his case next week.

Claude McCollum was released in 2007 after serving more than a year in Michigan prison for a murder he didn’t commit. He was released when evidence of his innocence began to surface, but it wasn’t until this week that he heard an apology from prosecutors. "I truly am deeply sorry," County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III said Sunday to McCollum during a talk at a local church attended by McCollum and about 30 others.

And New York exoneree Jeffrey Deskovic protested outside the taping of a new reality show featuring Jeanine Pirro, the district attorney who refused to grant DNA testing in Deskovic’s case while he was in prison. He was exonerated in 2006 when DNA proved his innocence of the 1989 murder for which he had been wrongfully convicted.

In addition to exonerating Arthur Johnson, Innocence Project New Orleans issued a report detailing cases in which New Orleans prosecutors failed to disclose critical evidence to defense attorneys, and calling on candidates for the office to improve evidence sharing practices in the future.

And an editorial in the Tuscaloosa News praised the Alabama Supreme Court for denying the state Attorney General’s request to set a new execution date for Tommy Arthur.





Tags: Jeff Deskovic

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Putting the pieces back together: Illinois exoneree talks about his first year of freedom

Posted: October 8, 2008 12:20 pm

Jerry Miller spent nearly 25 years in Illinois prison for a rape he didn’t commit, and one year on parole as a registered sex offender, before DNA testing obtained by attorneys at the Innocence Project proved his innocence. On April 23, 2007, he became the 200th person exonerated by DNA testing in U.S. history. Yesterday, he spoke to a meeting of criminal defense lawyers in Champaign, Illinois.

"If you just be realistic about life, what in life is perfect?" the 50-year-old man asked a room full of defense attorneys. "Struggle makes character."

"The system is not perfect, and I'm a prime example of that," Miller told the attorneys. "I never gave up. You lose hope but you can't never give up."

Read the full story here. (Urbana-Champaign News-Gazette, 10/08/08)
Miller says it has been difficult readjusting to society after his release, but he’s getting on track now. He recently started attending a truck driving school to train for work as a driver.

Read more about life after exoneration here.

Watch a three-minute video interview with Miller.





Tags: Jerry Miller

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Deadline approaches in Michigan

Posted: October 8, 2008 12:10 pm

As the deadline nears for Michigan lawmakers to renew a DNA access bill, there is speculation about when – or whether – the State Senate will act to extend the rights of prisoners to apply for DNA testing that can prove their innocence.

Donna McKneelen, the co-director of the Innocence Project at Cooley Law School in Lansing,  says enacting the testing law is necessary to protect the rights of defendants, and public safety.

"Unless the state Senate makes this bill a priority," she says, "innocent people will remain in prison while the actual perpetrators of crime remain at large."

Read an update here. (Detroit Metro Times, 10/08/08)
Read coverage of the issue in the Grand Rapids Media Mouse blog.

Innocence Project supporters in Michigan are speaking up to their Senators this week, urging them to extend the law. If you live in Michigan, send your email now.

If you live outside of Michigan, send the campaign to friends in the state.





Tags: Access to DNA Testing

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New York man marks second exoneration anniversary

Posted: October 10, 2008 3:40 pm



After spending two decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Scott Fappiano was exonerated on October 6, 2006. Tuesday marked his two-year anniversary.

Fappiano was convicted of a Brooklyn, New York, rape in 1983 and sentenced to 20-50 years in prison. The victim of the crime was the wife of a New York City police officer, and the officer witnessed the attack. While the victim identified Fappiano in a photo lineup and a subsequent lineup, the officer identified one of the lineup “fillers” as the perpetrator. (Fillers are the lineup participants who are not suspects.)

Fappiano was granted access to DNA testing in 1989, four years after he was convicted, but tests at the time were inconclusive. The Innocence Project accepted his case in 2003, and secured more advanced testing. The tests, conducted in 2005, proved that Fappiano could not have been the perpetrator. Greeting his family after his conviction was vacated in October of 2006, he said, "I missed having a family. I feel like I never left. Maybe I'm in shock. I feel like I could go on like tomorrow is just another day."

If the Innocence Project had been unable to locate evidence from the crime scene in 1983, Fappiano may never have been cleared. New York City has had a history of problems with evidence preservation; when Fappiano was exonerated, the Innocence Project had six open cases and 17 closed cases where evidence could not be found.

Find out if your state requires the preservation of evidence.


Other Exoneree Anniversaries This Week

Brian Piszczeck, Ohio (Served 3 years, Exonerated 1994)

Douglas Echols, Georgia (Served 5 years, Exonerated 2002)

Samuel Scott
, Georgia (Served 15 years, Exonerated 2002)

Kevin Byrd, Texas (Served 12 years, Exonerated 1997)

William Harris, West Virginia (Served 7 years, Exonerated 1995)

Calvin Washington, Texas (Served 13 years, Exonerated 2001)





Tags: Kevin Byrd, Scott Fappiano

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Florida exonerees speak out

Posted: October 15, 2008 1:16 pm



Two men who spent decades in prison for crimes they didn’t commit told their stories last week to students at the University of Tampa. Alana Crotzer and Larry Bostic spent a combined 42 years in prison before DNA testing exonerated them and led to their release.

Crotzer (above right, with DNA analyst Ed Blake, whose lab conducted testing in Crotzer's case) talked about work he does today mentoring teens in the state department of juvenile justice. He said he is readjusting to life outside of prison, and only looking forward.

"I lived through a lot of stuff," said Crotzer, 47, who was charged with kidnapping, robbery and rape in 1981 when he was 19. "They kept me for all of my 20s, all of my 30s and half of my 40s. But I don't have to be bitter. My life has to go on."

Read the full story here. (Tampa Tribune, 10/9/08)
Read more about Bostic and Crotzer’s cases.

More than one-third of exonerees were arrested between the ages of 14 and 22. They lost the prime of their lives for crimes they didn't commit. Learn more about the impact on wrongful conviction on young people and get involved today.



Tags: Larry Bostic, Alan Crotzer

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Seven years of freedom for Ohio man

Posted: October 17, 2008 4:40 pm



Tomorrow, Anthony Michael Green will mark the seventh anniversary of his exoneration in Ohio. Although he was freed in 2001, he and the Innocence Project had been working since 1997 to clear his name. In all, he spent 13 years in prison before DNA testing proved his innocence.In 1988, a Caucasian woman in a health clinic was raped at knifepoint. The attacker cleaned himself with a washcloth before fleeing the room, and threw it on the floor. The victim immediately rinsed herself off and called security. The police collected the washcloth and brought the victim to a medical center, where a rape kit was prepared. Green, who had previously worked for the clinic, became a suspect because a security officer said the victim's physical description of the attacker reminded him of Green.

The prosecutor's main evidence at trial relied on the victim's misidentification of Green and on misleading blood type testing from a state expert. The expert testified that Green could have contributed the semen found on the washcloth – along with only 16 percent of the male population. But the percentage of the population that could have contributed the sample was actually much higher. Based in part on this faulty testimony, Green was convicted and sentenced to 20-50 years in prison.

Green’s stepfather, Robert Mandell, investigated his case relentlessly in an attempt to overturn the wrongful conviction. It was not until Mandell located the washcloth in a courthouse storage room in 2001 that DNA testing could be conducted, proving Green’s innocence. After proving his innocence, Green said, "You can't get the lost years back. You just have to pick up the pieces and go on with your life."

The DNA testing in Green’s case didn’t only exonerate him, but also led to the identity of the real perpetrator. A man named Rodney Rhines confessed to the rape after reading an Ohio newspaper article that documented Green's ordeal. Also, the city of Cleveland agreed to compensate him and created the "Anthony Michael Green Forensic Laboratory Audit." The audit addresses the causes of faulty and falsified forensics, a factor that played a significant role in many wrongful convictions. Read more about unreliable and limited forensic science here.

Other Exoneree Anniversary This Week:

Thursday: Troy Webb, Virginia (Served 7.5 Years , Exonerated 10/16/1996 )





Tags: Anthony Michael Green, Troy Webb

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Twelve Years of Freedom

Posted: October 24, 2008 5:05 pm

Today  marks the 12th anniversary of Fredric Saecker's exoneration in Wisconsin. He served six years in prison before DNA testing – paid for by his mother – proved his innocence and led to his release.

In June 1989 a woman was kidnapped from her home in Bluff Siding, Wisconsin. The perpetrator raped her twice and then left her by the side of her road. The victim initially described the attacker as 5-feet-7-inches tall, but the 6-foot-3-inch Saecker became a suspect after police found him near the victim's home wearing a bloodstained T-shirt. Under questioning from police, Saecker allegedly made incriminating statements. He was convicted of the crime in 1990 and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Although his mother obtained DNA testing on his behalf in 1993 and the results proved his innocence, his request for a new trial was denied until 1996. Finally, the District Attorney dismissed all charges against him and he was released.

Countless people have been wrongfully convicted in the United States based on false confessions or admissions of guilty. Read more about why innocent people sometimes confess to crimes they didn’t commit.

Other Exoneree Anniversaries this Week:

Tuesday: Edward Honaker, Virginia (Served 9.5 Years, Exonerated 10/22/1994)

Today: Victor Ortiz, New York (Served 11.5 Years, Exonerated 10/24/1996)




Tags: Wisconsin

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Detroit Prosecutor Calls Crime Lab Findings 'Appalling'

Posted: October 30, 2008 4:03 pm

After an audit last month found a 10% error rate on gun testing in the Detroit Police Department crime lab, city officials shut down the entire lab so problems could be investigated. With the lab still closed, the Detroit City Council held hearings on the lab yesterday. County Prosecutor Kym Worthy told council members that she was not happy with the lab’s performance.

"I cannot have anybody convicted based on this kind of evidence that's inaccurate," said Worthy, who received the report Wednesday. "An error rate of zero is the only acceptable rate."

Council members called for an independent audit of the entire lab and five years of cases, a review that Worthy said would cost $800,000. And a Detroit police commander said the problems found in the ballistics section were “indicative of a systemic problem.”

Read the full story here. (Detroit Free Press, 10/30/08)
Read more about the Detroit lab closure in previous blog posts.



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Half a Life Behind Bars, Two Years Free

Posted: October 31, 2008 5:20 pm

Jeff Deskovic was exonerated on November 2, 2006, after spending half of his life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Sunday marks the second anniversary of his exoneration.

On November 15, 1989, a teenage girl was out taking pictures for her photography class in Westchester County, New York. Two days later her body was found by police dogs, and she appeared to have been raped. Sixteen-year-old Deskovic first became a suspect because he was late to school the day of her disappearance. Although he was a classmate of the victim and they shared two classes together, police grew more suspicious when Deskovic began his "own investigation" of the case.

Detectives asked him to submit to a polygraph test, and they brought the young Deskovic to a private polygraph business run by local officers. During the test, no lawyers or parents were involved, and he was only given coffee. He spent over six hours inside the small room as detectives continued to interrogate him, claiming he failed the tests. By the end of the interrogation, Deskovic was crying and curled up under the table. After six hours of questioning and three polygraph tests, Deskovic allegedly confessed to committing the crime.

At the trial the police misconduct was ignored, and details were distorted by the state. While DNA tests on the rape kit excluded Deskovic as a source of the semen, the state argued the victim had consensual sex before the crime and that Deskovic murdered her in a jealous rage. The jury was also told that he had confessed to the crime. Deskovic was convicted and sentenced to 15 years to life.

In January 2006, the Innocence Project took on Deskovic’s case, and sought to retest the biological evidence using newer technology, making it eligible for the state DNA database. The results matched a man already in prison for another murder.

Deskovic was 33 when he was released. Upon his release he spoke of the bond he felt with the victim, "We had a commonality. We were both victims of the man who killed her — in different ways, obviously. She is more of a victim than I am, but I am still a victim."

Since his exoneration, Deskovic has fought to ensure that others do not become victims of wrongful convictions. He speaks to high schools, churches, and colleges, and fights for legislative reform to prevent other wrongful convictions. Visit his personal website here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Steven Linscott, Illinois, (Served 3 years, Exonerated 7/15/92)





Tags: New York, Jeff Deskovic

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Twelve Years on Death Row

Posted: November 3, 2008 4:00 pm

Today marks the 13th anniversary of Rolando Cruz's exoneration in Illinois. In 1985, he another man, Alejandro Hernandez, were wrongfully convicted of the brutal rape and murder of a 10-year-old girl. The men spent 12 years on death row before DNA testing proved their innocence and led to their release. On February 23, 1983, Jeanine Nicarico disappeared from her Chicago home. The police discovered her body several days after she had gone missing. After months of investigation, Alejandro Hernandez became a suspect, and he directed police to Rolando Cruz in exchange for a reward. The two men incriminated each other in exchange for cash rewards.

Since the police had no physical evidence linking the men to the crime, the case against them was based on the men's alleged statements. Witnesses testified that Cruz and Hernandez seemed to have intimate knowledge of the crime. The most incriminating evidence came from the sheriff's detectives who testified that Cruz had confessed to having "visions" of the murder that closely resembled the details of the crime. Despite no record confirming these visions, it was used as evidence and a jury convicted them.

Cruz’s conviction was overturned on appeal, but he was retried and convicted again. Then, with the help of professors and students at Northwestern University, Cruz was finally able to overturn his conviction and secure DNA testing on sperm cells found near the crime scene. The results proved the men could not have committed the crime, but prosecutors retried Cruz again. On November 3, 1995, Cruz was finally acquitted after his the third trial. Charges against Hernandez were dropped a month later.

If DNA evidence from the crime scene had not been preserved in this case, Cruz and Hernandez may have been executed for a crime neither of them committed.

What’s the evidence preservation law in your state?

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

David A. Gray, IL, (Served 20 years, Exonerated 1999)

Bruce Dallas Goodman, UT, (Served 19 years, Exonerated 11/3/2004)

Walter Smith, OH, (Served 10 years, Exonerated 11/8/1996)

Bernard Webster, MD, (Served 20 years, Exonerated 2002)



Tags: Illinois, Rolando Cruz

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Friday Roundup

Posted: November 7, 2008 5:30 pm

It was a big week for the United States – we have a new President elect, a new landscape in Congress, and new state legislatures across the land. We blogged earlier this week about the opportunities for bipartisan criminal justice reform on the horizon.

Meanwhile, politics bumped news on wrongful convictions and forensics from the national radar for a few days. Here are some of the stories you might have missed:

A panel discussion last night at Southern Methodist University in Dallas brought together exonerees and officials from all corners of the criminal justice system. Innocence Project client James Waller told the audience why he kept his anger at bay while appealing his conviction. "If I were to stay angry," he recalled, "I wouldn't have been able to work on my case. Bein' angry wouldn't do me no good." Blogger Bethany Anderson covered the event here.

At several other events around the country this week, exonerees told their stories and discussed the reforms that can prevent wrongful convictions in the future.

Florida prosecutors said they have new “people of interest and new DNA tests” in the case of William Dillon, who has served 27 years for a murder he says he didn’t commit.

And a new innocence organization will open its doors in Glasgow on November 12.



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A Forensic Case Ignites the Blawgosphere

Posted: November 12, 2008 5:05 pm

Bloggers around the world are focused on forensics this week, after the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument Monday in the case of Melendez-Diaz vs. Massachusetts. The case turns on whether criminal defendants have a Constitutional right to cross-examine lab analysts that conducted forensic testing in their case.

During oral arguments on Monday, Justice Stephen Breyer cited the friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Innocence Network, which argued that denying defendants the chance to challenge forensic evidence against them raised the chance of a wrongful conviction. Read more case details, and download the Innocence Network brief, here.
 
Here’s a sample of what bloggers are saying:

Lyle Denniston writes at the SCOTUS Blog that this case, like so many others, could swing on the vote of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy:

The case, at its core, is simple: is a crime lab report a form of testimony, so that the prosecution may not use it at trial to buttress its case unless the technician or chemist who prepared it is at the trial to defend the test results under cross-examination?

Kennedy initially saw a potential problem if the Court were to answer yes to that question.  He foresaw ”a very substantial burden” on the prosecution and on the courts, and told counsel advocating for confrontation that he was significantly underestimating the impact.  But, as the hearing moved along, Kennedy saw as “a very important point” that California has not experienced such a burden and “gets along all right” with summoning lab analysts to the stand with some frequency. He faulted the two lawyers arguing against confrontation for lacking a rationale that would keep the prosecution’s use of unexamined lab reports in check.
Preaching to the Choir writes that this case “ought to be a no-brainer”:
The 6th Amendment protects the right of criminal defendants to confront their accusers. It's obvious that an eyewitness who will testify he saw you commit the crime is an accuser as is the police officer who found the baggie of white powder in your coat pocket. But what about the lab tech who tested that white powder and decided it was cocaine? Well, isn't the person who says the stuff you had is illegal just as much of an accuser as the person who says you had it? Like I said, it seems pretty obvious to me.
And Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast points out that Justice Antonin Scalia was the most ardent supporter of requiring analysts to testify:
Justice Scalia was the most ardent champion of requiring confrontation, reports Denniston, while the main concerns were pragmatic: Would the requirement overburden crime labs that in most cases (as in Texas) already experience significant backlogs? Even so, Scalia agreed with the argument put forward by Melendez-Diaz's attorney, as quoted in USA Today:
"Introducing forensic laboratory reports (without live witnesses) is the modern equivalent of trial by affidavit," said Stanford University law professor Jeffrey Fisher, representing Luis Melendez-Diaz
And Steve Hall of the StandDown Texas Project summarized more coverage from blogs and some mainstream media outlets.

 

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Eight years free

Posted: November 14, 2008 4:52 pm

Anthony Robison spent ten years in prison for a rape he did not commit and thirteen years fighting for the DNA testing that would finally exonerate him. Today marks the eighth anniversary of his exoneration.

On the day of the crime, Robinson was picking up a car for a friend at the University of Houston. University police blocked his car and accused him of raping a woman. According to the victim, her attacker was a black man wearing a jacket. Despite the victim stating the perpetrator had a moustache, which Robinson did not, he was brought in for questioning. No physical evidence linked him to the crime. Based solely on the victim’s testimony, Robinson was sentenced to 27 years in 1987. When reflecting on how he felt at the time of his wrongful conviction, Robinson said, “It was not so much the fear of imprisonment. It wasn’t so much the fear of what was going to happen. Everything that I had lived for, everything that I had done had been boiled down to — we think you’re a rapist with no evidence whatsoever other than your skin and someone saying you did this.”

After serving ten years of his sentence, he was paroled and began raising funds to obtain DNA testing on the evidence used in his trial. He saved $1,800 through working jobs such as an order clerk at a local oil field supply company and other temporary jobs. Although he was a college graduate and a former Army officer, his status as a registered sex offender excluded him from higher paying jobs. Robinson hired an attorney, Randy Schaffer, and obtained access to DNA testing on evidence in his case. The results proved what he had known all along – another man had committed the crime.

On November 14, 2000, Governor George W. Bush pardoned Robinson. Since his exoneration, Robinson has spoken to lawmakers and the media, playing a key role in the passage of a law in Texas compensating the wrongfully convicted after their release.

Robinson went on to graduate from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, and currently works in international law.

While Robinson worked on parole in order to pay for DNA testing, many others are unable to pay for the expensive tests. Make a donation today to help the Innocence Project pay for DNA testing for our current clients.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

David Brian Sutherlin, Minnesota (Exonerated 2002)

Paula Gray, Illinois (Served 9 years, Exonerated 2002)

Donald Reynolds, Illinois (Served 9.5 years, Exonerated 1997)

Billy Wardell, Illinois (Served 9.5 years, Exonerated 1997)





Tags: Texas, Anthony Robinson

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Friday Roundup

Posted: November 14, 2008 5:00 pm

Cases, causes and comments we didn’t get to cover on the Innocence Blog during the week:

At a Bar Foundation luncheon Wednesday in Memphis, Innocence Project Staff Attorney Craig Cooley talked about the importance of preserving biological evidence:

“They can’t find any of the evidence,” Cooley told those at the luncheon who included prosecutors as well as criminal court judges. “I have five cases in Shelby County. In two cases, we found it. In three cases, we can’t find anything. … Evidence preservation is a huge issue that we are trying to change.”
The need for preserving evidence is clear: DNA testing has helped police solve cold cases and also helps to exonerate the innocent. But news from crime labs this week also shows the importance of forensic oversight and funding.

Last month, we learned that the Los Angeles Police Department had 7,000 untested rape kits. This week, the LA County Sheriff’s Office acknowledged that it has another 5,600 untested rape kits. Human Rights Watch estimates that some 400,000 rape kits could be awaiting tests nationwide. Meanwhile, the federal government has cut spending aimed at reducing backlogs. A New York Times editorial on Monday called on federal lawmakers to act immediately to address these backlogs.

William Dillon, who has been in Florida prison for more than two decades for a murder he says he didn’t commit, will have another day in court on Tuesday. Dillon’s attorneys, working with the Innocence Project of Florida, say new DNA testing proves his innocence, and will present this evidence to a judge at Tuesday’s hearing.

Attorneys at the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project got a bill this week for $37.78 from the Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office, for documents and recordings in the case of Thomas McMillen. The sheriff’s office had originally said the copies would cost $700, but media reports pointed out that state law requires public agencies to charge only actual reproduction costs for information requests. An editorial in the State Journal-Register says that this episode illustrates the need for Freedom of Information reform in the state.

The Texas State Legislature is considering reforms to enhance the jury experience statewide, and the Innocence Project of Texas submitted written testimony yesterday to the House Judiciary Committee on the topic. The testimony begins:
“While most of the discussion here today is likely to focus on payments to jurors for their time, jury recruitment and other such measures, we cannot forget that some of the worst juror experiences come not from waiting in long lines or losing time at work but participating, unknowingly, in the false conviction of an innocent person.”
The testimony goes on to point out that reforms to prevent wrongful convictions also help juries function more effectively, because they all aim to get more accurate information to jurors. Read the full testimony here.

Also in Texas this week, Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins was named one of Governing Magazine’s Public Officials of the Year – and was featured on the magazine’s cover.



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After 27 Years, Florida Man Walks Out of Prison

Posted: November 19, 2008 2:20 pm

 

After serving 27 years in Florida prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit, William Dillon was freed last night in Florida on bond after a judge ordered a new trial in his case. He will wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and may face another trial in the case.

The Innocence Project of Florida has worked on the case with Dillon’s lawyers, who say DNA testing on a T-shirt from the crime scene proves Dillon’s innocence. We’ll post updates here on the Innocence Blog as the case develops.

“Well I’ll tell you what, we didn't think we'd be living to see him come home,” said Amy Dillon, William’s mother. Dillon said he's not at all bitter about spending a large portion of his life in prison.

"I'm not going to sit here and dwell on anything that's missed or passed or anything.  I'm just going to move ahead right now from this day forward," Dillon said.Watch video of Dillon’s release and press conference. (Channel 13, Central Florida)
Dillon's conviction was based partly on the testimony of dog handler John Preston, a retired Pennsylvania State Trooper whose methods have since been discredited. Preston was also involved in the wrongful conviction of Wilton Dedge, an Innocence Project client who served 22 years in prison before he was exonerated by DNA testing in 2004.

 

 



Tags: Wilton Dedge, William Dillon

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Study Finds Few Texas Police Departments Have Written Eyewitness Procedures

Posted: November 19, 2008 3:45 pm

A new study released today by the Justice Project found that only 12% of Texas law enforcement agencies responding to a survey said they had written policies for lineup procedures. Nearly 75% of the 1,034 agencies in the state answered the survey.

From the report:

This overall lack of sound, scientifically-based policy indicates that the State of Texas must pass legislation that requires departments to adopt written policies that implement best practices for the conduct of eyewitness identification procedures.

Download the full report here
.
The Innocence Project recommends that law enforcement agencies develop written identification procedures based on practices shown in scientific study to reduce the number misidentifications. View our recommendations here.

Blogs covering the report today:

Grits for Breakfast

Dallas Morning News - Unfair Park





Tags: Eyewitness Identification

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Friday Roundup: Seeking New Trials

Posted: November 21, 2008 3:01 pm

Lots of case news and events around the U.S. to cover this week:

Innocence Project client Anthony Wright has been in Pennsylvania prison for 15 years for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit. He is seeking DNA testing on evidence in the case, but the Philadelphia District Attorney is fighting his requests for testing and courts have denied his appeals. This week, the Philadelphia Inquirer said “the best and only way to resolve the dispute is to proceed with the DNA test.

DNA tests in the Norfolk Four case have already implicated the real perpetrator of the crime, but three men who say they had nothing to do with the murder are still behind bars. More than two dozen FBI agents called for a pardon last week, and the New York Times joined them this week.

A federal appeals court will hear arguments in the case of Troy Davis on December 9, and former FBI Director William Sessions wrote in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week that Davis deserves another day in court.

Police interrogation of juveniles was in the news this week, with the high-profile case of an eight-year-old boy charged with shooting his father and a neighbor. Prosecutors released the videotaped interrogation of the boy, and experts around the world are saying that the police procedure in questioning an eight-year-old without a parent or lawyer was inappropriate.

A federal appeals court yesterday tossed out the conviction of a man found guilty in 1994 of killing nine people at a Buddhist temple in Arizona. Jonathan Doody was 17 when arrested, and his conviction rested on his alleged confession after 12 hours of interrogation.

"In short," the ruling says, "Doody paints an overall picture of downplayed warnings, a softly induced waiver of rights and conduct conveying the message that Doody would not be left alone until he confessed, all targeted at an unsavvy, increasingly sleep-deprived teenager."
And innocence organizations around the world held events and rallies in the last week:

The Center on Wrongful Convictions in Chicago celebrated its tenth anniversary. The group is one of the pioneers of the innocence movement and has exonerated dozens of wrongfully convicted Americans across the country. The Chicago Tribune calls the group the “the heroes of the wrongfully convicted.”  Watch a video looking back at the Center’s incredible first 10 years here.

William & Mary held its first annual Innocence Symposium and students from the University of Bristol Innocence Project in the United Kingdom took to the streets to educate the public about the problem of wrongful convictions.

Finally, we extend a warm welcome to the Montana Innocence Project, which opened its doors this year.


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New York Man Could Be Freed Tomorrow

Posted: November 24, 2008 1:44 pm

Innocence Project client Steven Barnes is expected to be released from prison tomorrow  after serving nearly two decades for a rape and murder that he has always maintained he didn’t commit. A hearing is expected to be held in Oneida County Court, and the Innocence Project released a joint statement with county prosecutors today.

Read the full statement and media coverage of the case here.

We’ll post more on the blog as the case develops today and tomorrow.





Tags: Steven Barnes

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Steven Barnes Freed in NY, Should Be 'A Wake-Up Call'

Posted: November 25, 2008 5:15 pm

Innocence Project client Steven Barnes was released this morning from a courthouse in upstate New York, after serving nearly 20 years in prison for a 1985 rape and murder he has always said he didn’t commit. New DNA tests on evidence from the crime scene strongly support Barnes’ claim of innocence, and led a state judge to vacate his conviction this morning. (Above photo, Barnes and his mother, Sylvia Bouchard, after he was released today. Photo courtesy Utica Observer-Dispatch)

Barnes’ 1989 conviction rested in part on unvalidated forensic testimony, including soil comparison and analysis of an imprint allegedly left on the outside of Barnes’ truck by the victim’s jeans.

“Unvalidated and exaggerated science convicted Steven Barnes and cost him nearly two decades, but real science finally secured his freedom,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “This is the latest in a long line of wrongful convictions based on improper or invalid forensic science that were ultimately overturned through DNA testing. Until there are clear national standards about what kind of forensic science can be allowed in court, more people like Steven Barnes will be wrongfully convicted while the actual perpetrators of violent crime remain at large.”

Read today’s Innocence Project press release here.

A former New York judge today said the Barnes case should be a wake-up call for the everyone involved in the criminal justice system.
It should constitute a change for the New York State legislature and governor who make criminal justice policies," Robert Julian said. "It should be a change for the incoming Chief Judge of the State of New York. It should be a change for each prosecutor in the state."
Read the full story here. (WKTV, 11/25/08)
More news coverage of Barnes’ release today:

News 10 Now: Video of Barnes’ release

Associated Press: Judge overturns NY man's murder, rape convictions

Utica Observer-Dispatch: Barnes: ‘I knew this day would come’

Syracuse Post-Dispatch: After 20 years in prison, Marcy man walks free





Tags: Steven Barnes

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Friday Roundup

Posted: November 28, 2008 4:40 pm

Innocence news from around the country this week:

A federal judge refused to disqualify herself from the civil case of exoneree Ulysses Rodriguez Charles after the city of Boston alleged that she displayed “favoritism” toward Charles.
 
The Albuquerque Police Department is running ads in a local paper seeking informants. As most Innocence Blog readers know, snitch testimony is a major cause of wrongful convictions, and paid or incentivized informants are at the center of the problem. 

Irish photographer Denis Minihane won a Justice Media award for his shots of Innocence Project client Walter Swift.

Professors at the University of Texas at Arlington received a grant to study the reentry process for the exonerated. 

Innocence Project of Florida client Jimmy Ates will have a hearing December 17 on his petition to overturn his conviction for a murder he says he didn’t commit

And North Carolina defendant Ronnie Wallace Long was back in court this week in his continuing quest to clear his name of a 1976 rape.



Tags: Ulysses Rodriguez Charles

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His First Year of Freedom

Posted: December 4, 2008 4:50 pm

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the day Chad Heins walked out of a Florida prison after spending 13 years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit. After his exoneration, he returned to his home state of Wisconsin to live with his family.

The Heins family’s nightmare began on April 17, 1994. Chad had recently moved from Wisconsin to Florida and was living with his brother, Jeremy, and sister-in-law, Tina. Jeremy was in the Navy and on board his ship that night. Chad woke up on the couch at 5:45 a.m. to find three small fires burning in the house. He ran to Tina’s bedroom and found that she had been stabbed to death. Although Heins immediately called police, he quickly became a suspect in the case. Despite the lack of physical evidence, prosecutors developed a case against him. They theorized that Heins had made a sexual pass at his sister-in-law. When Tina Heins refused, they alleged, he broke into a jealous rage and repeatedly stabbed her.

Aside from his presence in the apartment, no evidence suggested that Chad Heins was Tina Heins' murderer. There was no blood on his clothes or under his fingernails, no scratches or scrapes on his body. Furthermore, DNA tests performed on pubic hairs in the victim's bed did not belong to Tina, Chad or Jeremy. However, at trial, two jailhouse snitches testified that Heins spontaneously confessed his guilt to them. Despite the lack of physical evidence, Heins was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

In 2001, Heins wrote to the Innocence Project, which took the case with help from the Innocence Project of Florida. Together with Heins’ pro bono attorney, the Innocence Project filed a motion for DNA testing on the skin cells collected at an autopsy from underneath the victim's fingernails. Additional testing was done on the pubic hairs and semen found at the crime scene. The test results proved that the skin cells, semen and hair all came from an unknown male. As Heins' innocence became clear, key evidence surfaced. During the original trial, prosecutors suppressed evidence that indicated a third person's fingerprints were found in the apartment. After the test results and the suppressed evidence were released, a Florida judge tossed Heins’ conviction and he was exonerated on December 4, 2007. He had been only 19 years old when Tina was murdered and today he is 34.

Learn more about Heins’ case, and read about jailhouse informants as a cause of wrongful conviction.

Other Exoneree Anniversaries:

Marcellius Bradford, Illinois (Served 6.5 years, Exonerated 2001)

Dewey Davis, West Virginia (Served 7 years, Exonerated 1995)

Larry Ollins, Illinois (Served 13.5 years, Exonerated 2001)

Calvin Ollins, Illinois (Served 13.5 years, Exonerated 2001)

Omar Saundars, Illinois (Served 13.5 years, Exonerated 2001)



Tags: Florida, Chad Heins

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New Jersey Judge Denies New Trial; Innocence Project Will Appeal

Posted: December 5, 2008 5:50 pm

A New Jersey judge yesterday denied Innocence Project client Darrell Edwards a new trial despite DNA test results and other strong evidence proving his innocence. The Innocence Project plans to appeal the decision on his behalf.

Edwards was convicted of a 1995 Newark, New Jersey, murder he has always said he didn’t commit. DNA testing was completed in 2007 on a sweatshirt allegedly worn by the perpetrator and the gun used in the murder. A major male profile and two minor profiles were developed from skin cells and sweat left behind on the items, and none of these profiles matched Edwards.

Additional new evidence uncovered by the Innocence Project strongly points to Edwards’ innocence. One of the state’s two main eyewitnesses testified at Edwards’ trial that she had seen him run away from the crime scene and dispose of the gun and sweatshirt. She said she saw the man at night, from a porch 271 feet away. Since trial, she has recanted her identification, saying she was “just guessing” and that she had been influenced by police officers. She also said she was high on heroin, drinking alcohol and was not wearing her prescription eyeglasses.

     

In addition, new scientific evidence presented to the judge by the Innocence Project proves that facial identification of an acquaintance is not possible from 150 feet in daylight – let alone identifying a stranger from 271 feet at night. See the image above for a representation of a person’s face at 20 feet and 100 feet.

Edwards' primary lawyer from the Innocence Project, Vanessa Potkin, said Casale was wrong and she planned to appeal.

"The evidence shows that he was wrongfully convicted and he's entitled to a new trial," she said. "The totality of the evidence points to Darrell Edwards' innocence and that the crime was actually committed by someone else."

Read the full story here. (Newark Star Ledger, 12/05/08)
Read more about Edwards’ case here.

 



Tags: New Jersey, Darrell Edwards

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DNA Tests Could Exonerate Connecticut Man

Posted: December 8, 2008 1:53 pm

Prosecutors in Connecticut arrested a 51-year-old man on Friday in connection with the 1988 murder of a 17-year-old girl after DNA testing of evidence from the crime scene pointed to his involvement. And another man, who has always said he was wrongfully convicted of the same murder, is seeking his released from prison based on the same DNA tests.

Miguel Roman has been behind bars since 1988 for allegedly killing 17-year-old Carmen Lopez. Authorities reopened the case after the Connecticut Innocence Project, which represents Roman, asked them to conduct DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene. The test results excluded Roman and pointed to another man, Pedro Miranda, who authorities plan to charge with Lopez’s murder and two other unsolved murders from 1986 and 1987.

Read the full story here. (Hartford Courtant, 12/08/2008)

We will post updates on this case here on the Innocence Blog as we receive them.





Tags: Connecticut

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Let’s Be Friends!

Posted: December 10, 2008 2:40 pm

The Innocence Project community on Facebook just passed 5,000 members! Are you part of the conversation? Join us here.

We just launched a Twitter account, too. Follow us today for frequent updates on the Innocence Project’s work.

While we’re at it, we might as well tell you that we’re also on MySpace and YouTube.

Are you part of another online community where we should have a presence? Send us an email to let us know.

Thanks for being part of the Innocence Project’s online community.

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Three Years of Freedom for Georgia Man

Posted: December 10, 2008 5:17 pm

Robert Clark spent nearly a quarter of a century in Georgia prisons for a rape he did not commit. Three years ago this week, he was exonerated and released from prison based on DNA testing proving that another man was the perpetrator. (Left, Clark on the day of his exoneration, with Innocence Project Staff Attorney Vanessa Potkin)

Since the day of his arrest, Clark maintained his innocence. He was arrested one week after a woman was abducted and raped in Atlanta. Clark was arrested after he was spotted driving the victim's car. He was initially not a suspect because he didn’t match the description of the perpetrator. The victim had said the attacker was 5’7”; Clark is 6’2”. He was included in a photo lineup and a subsequent live lineup, however, and the victim chose him as the perpetrator. Clark was the only person included in both the photo and live lineups.

During the trial, the victim testified there was no doubt in her mind Clark was her attacker, saying, "I will never forget the face, the skin color, and his voice." Clark said he had borrowed the car from his friend Tony Arnold, but police never followed the lead. Clark was convicted and sentenced to two life terms plus 20 years.

Twenty-one years after Clark was convicted, the Innocence Project was able to secure court-ordered DNA testing on biological evidence collected from the victim’s body after the attack. The test results showed that Clark could not have been a source of the sperm cells found on the victim. Furthermore, prosecutors searched state and federal DNA databases of convicted felons. The DNA profile taken from the rape kit matched Tony Arnold, who was serving time for an unrelated conviction. Upon Clark's exoneration, Arnold was charged with the rape for which Clark had been wrongfully convicted.

In 2007, Clark received $1.2 million in state compensation, in individual legislation written specifically for him. Georgia is still one of 25 states without a law compensating the wrongfully convicted upon release.

Today, Clark has a steady job, owns an apartment and says that support from his community and the Innocence Project Exoneree Fund helped him get on his feet: "People have been very supportive. They've donated money, gifts, sent letters. I appreciated that a lot. I say thank you and God bless you and show my appreciation by trying to do what is right."

Learn more about the Innocence Project’s proposed reforms to eyewitness identification procedures to prevent wrongful convictions like Robert Clark’s.

Watch a video interview with Clark here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Timothy Durham, Oklahoma (Served 3.5 years, Exonerated 1997)

Alejandro Hernandez, Illinois (Served 10.5 years, Exonerated 1995)

Richard Alexander, Indiana (Served 5.5 Years, Exonerated 2001)

Kerry Kotler, New York (Served 10.5 years, Exonerated 1992)

James O'Donnell, New York, (Served 2 Years, Exonerated 2000)

Marlon Pendleton, IL (Served 10 years, Exonerated 2006)

Billy James Smith, Texas (Served 19 Years, Exonerated 2006)

John Jerome White, Georgia (Served 10-22.5 Years, Exonerated 2007)

Nicholas Yarris, Pennsylvania, (Served 21.5 Years, Exonerated 2003)



Tags: Robert Clark

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Prosecutors Drop Charges in Florida Case, 27 Years Later

Posted: December 11, 2008 12:45 pm

William Dillon was freed from Florida prison last month after serving 27 years for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit. DNA testing secured by the Innocence Project of Florida and Dillon’s public defender proved that biological evidence from another person was on a bloody T-shirt used against Dillon at his trial.

Dillon’s conviction rested on other highly questionable evidence, including testimony of a dog handler who was also involved in the wrongful conviction of Wilton Dedge, an Innocence Project client who was exonerated in the same county in 2004.

Mike Pirolo, Dillon's public defender, described Wednesday's development as bittersweet.

"Sweet that justice was done and he's a free man," he said. "Bitter that 27 years of his life was taken away that he'll never get back."

Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 12/10/08)
Read more on the Innocence Project of Florida blog.

More coverage:

Exonerated Wilton Dedge Inspired Dillon (Florida Today, 11/20/08)

Video of Dillon’s release from prison (WFTV)

The Innocence Project is currently reviewing Dillon’s case for possible inclusion in our database of DNA exonerations in the United States.



Tags: Florida, William Dillon

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Houston Man on His Way to Exoneration

Posted: December 11, 2008 6:00 pm

After spending five years in prison, a Houston man is set to be released tomorrow because DNA testing shows he did not commit a 2002 child rape.  The Harris County District Attorney's Office announced this afternoon that it would make arrangements for a bond hearing to take place December 12 in Houston.

Convicted in 2003, Ricardo Rachell was originally sentenced to serve 40 years after being charged and convicted of sexually assaulting an eight-year-old child. Despite having been denied a DNA test in his original trial and subsequent appeals, Rachell's case is one of 540 currently under investigation by Harris County District Attorney Kenneth Magidson and his office as a result of Houston's crime lab debacle.

DNA evidence collected by Houston police during their investigation of Rachell was never tested, which was a mistake, Magidson said. He said his office has reopened the case and identified a new suspect, who has not been charged.
Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 12/11/2008)
In a press release today, Magidson made assurances that his office would continue to investigate cases where DNA testing could prove innocence. Over the last several years, the Innocence Project has called for the review of several hundred Harris County cases that may have been tainted by improper work in the Houston crime lab. Read the Harris County DA's Office press release here and a timeline of events in the Rachell case here.

Read more about the Houston Crime Lab on our blog or view a list of Texas exonerees here.

 



Tags: Texas, Access to DNA Testing, DNA Databases

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Friday Roundup: Walking Free

Posted: December 12, 2008 6:04 pm

DNA testing cleared three people this week – in Florida, Texas and Connecticut. We reported on all three, but here are quick updates on their case:

In Florida, prosecutors dropped charges against William Dillon, who served 27 years for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit. Dillon was represented by the public defender’s office and the Innocence Project of Florida. His attorneys announced today that he will seek compensation from the state.

Ricardo Rachell was freed today in Houston after serving five years for a rape he didn’t commit. See today’s blog post for more.

And Miguel Roman is still behind bars tonight in Connecticut, four days after prosecutors charged another man in the murder for which Roman has served 20 years. Roman is represented by the Connecticut Innocence Project, which is seeking his release and exoneration. More on his case is here.

An op-ed in the Hartford Courant said Roman’s case makes it clear that Connecticut needs criminal justice reform to protect the innocent.

James Lockyer, the founder of the Association in Defense of the Wrongfully Convicted, an innocence organization in Toronto, was nominated for the Globe and Mail Nation Builder award for his commitment to freeing the innocent from Canada’s prisons.

While the Alabama Attorney General sought to prevent DNA testing in the case of death row inmate Tommy Arthur, the Tuscaloosa News called for a moratorium on executions while the process could be studied.

And a Mississippi Supreme Court Justice wrote in an unrelated opinion that the exonerations of Innocence Project clients Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks point to the strong likelihood that innocent people have been executed in the state.

“Just as a cockroach scurrying across a kitchen floor at night invariably proves the presence of thousands unseen,” he wrote, “these cases leave little room for doubt that innocent men, at unknown and terrible moments in our history, have gone unexonerated and been sent baselessly to their deaths.” 

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The Exonerated of 2008

Posted: December 16, 2008 4:58 pm



Subscribers to the Innocence Project’s online newsletter today received the December issue, featuring short profiles of the 13 people exonerated so far this year by DNA testing. Check out the article online here.

Want to get next month’s newsletter? Please subscribe here.

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Friday Roundup: Two Are Freed, While Three Continue to Fight

Posted: December 19, 2008 5:05 pm

Friday Roundup: Two Are Freed, While Three Continue to Fight

Two people were freed from prison this week as new evidence cast doubt on their convictions and three others were fighting to overturn convictions for crimes they say they didn’t commit.

Miguel Roman was freed today in Connecticut after 20 years in prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit. See today’s blog post on his case for more.

Jimmy Ates, who served ten years in prison for allegedly killing his wife, was released in Florida after a prosecutor requested his conviction be tossed. Ates’  conviction was based in part on FBI bullet lead analysis tests, which have since been shown to be unreliable. His is the first conviction nationwide overturned based on this evidence.

A Colorado man, Timothy Kennedy, was in court this week fighting to overturn his conviction in a 1991 double murder he says he didn’t commit. DNA evidence from the crime scene proves Kennedy’s innocence, his attorneys say.

In Michigan, Efren Paredes is seeking a commutation from Gov. Jennifer Granholm for a murder he says he didn’t commit. Paredes, who was 15 when he was arrested, told a parole board: "I will not take responsibility for a crime I did not commit. I never will do that even if it meant I could leave today."

A Chicago man is suing for damages based on the two years he spent in prison for a robbery he says he didn’t commit. Michael Glasper, 39, served two years of a life sentence before an appeal he wrote himself led to a new trial, which ended in acquittal.

Crime labs were also making news this week:

Detroit Prosecutor Kym Worthy created a panel to review convictions involving ballistic evidence dating back to 2003. The lab’s firearms testing division was closed in September after an audit found a 10% error rate.

An editorial in the Athens Banner-Herald called for the state to address a 10,000-case backlog to stop delays in criminal cases.

The dispute over control of the Orange County (California) crime lab continued this week, as experts warned that having a district attorney control a crime lab is a conflict of interest.

And the Innocence Institute of Point Park University launched the first issue of Justice Magazine, focusing on crime scene investigation and “junk science.”

 

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Three Years Later, Virginia Case Review Goes On

Posted: December 24, 2008 12:02 pm

Three years ago this week, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner pardoned two former state prisoners, announcing that a random audit of 10 percent of cases in the files of a former analyst had led to DNA tests that proved the innocence of Phillip Thurman and Willie Davidson.

The sequence of events leading to the audit, and the exoneration of Thurman and Davidson, was sparked by an Innocence Project case in 2001. That year, attorneys at the Innocence Project obtained DNA testing in the case of Virginia inmate Marvin Anderson, who had been convicted of rape in 1982. Evidence from Anderson’s case, thought to have been lost, had been located in the notebook of Mary Jane Burton, who performed conventional serology testing in Anderson’s case. The DNA test proved that Anderson could not have committed the rape for which he was convicted. In 2003 and 2004, evidence saved by Burton was instrumental in proving the innocence of Virginia inmates Julius Earl Ruffin and Arthur Lee Whitfield.

Burton’s unusual practice of saving evidence in her notebooks has now contributed to five exonerations in all, and Warner ordered a full review of her case files after the exonerations of Thurman and Davidson in 2005. The review is ongoing, read an update on the progress from a post on the Innocence Blog in August.

Other Exoneration Anniversaries This Week:

Dwayne Scruggs, Indiana (Served 7.5 Years, Exonerated 12/22/1993)

Entre Nax Karage, Texas (Served 6.5 Years, Exonerated 12/22/2005)

Keith Turner, Texas (Served 4 Years, Exonerated 12/22/2005)

 

 



Tags: Marvin Anderson, Willie Davidson, Phillip Leon Thurman

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Friday Roundup

Posted: December 26, 2008 1:23 pm

As 2008 winds to a close, more than 20 people are spending the holidays at home for the first time in years after their wrongful convictions were overturned by DNA testing. Some of them have been officially exonerated while others are still waiting in limbo for pardons, new trials or further hearings.

We want to wish a happy New Year to the Innocence Project's online community - thank you for all of your support this year. The blog will be quiet for a few days; we'll be back a week from today on Friday, January 2. There's plenty of wrongful conviction news to review in the meantime - take a look below for some of the top stories from this week, or visit our links page for the personal sites of exonerees and more in-depth coverage of DNA testing, forensic science and the causes of wrongful conviction.

Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to the Innocence Project - all gifts by midnight on December 31 will be matched dollar for dollar.

Here's the news:

William Dillon, who was freed last month in south Florida after 26 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit, is the 226th person exonerated by DNA testing nationwide. He is spending the holidays with his family, who said they didn't know if this day would ever come:

"This is something we didn't expect. It's such happiness. It's unbelievable," his father, Joe Dillon, said at his Satellite Beach home. "This is everyone's present. We don't need any other presents."
James Anderson, a client of the Innocence Project Northwest, spent his fifth straight Christmas in prison yesterday, but he is expected to be released soon. Investigators from IPNW have shown that he was in California at the time he allegedly committed an armed robbery in Washington. A winter storm delayed his release.

One of the biggest wrongful conviction stories of 2008 was the exoneration of Innocence Project clients Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks. The two men were sent to prison in Mississippi for murders they didn't commit, based in part on false testimony from medical examiner Steven Hayne. After evidence of Hayne's forensic conduct surfaced, Mississippi officials stopped using him to conduct state autopsies. A story in today's Jackson Clarion-Ledger says state officials are getting closer to hiring a state medical examiner to oversee and standardize autopsies in Mississippi.

In February, a documentary about the wrongful drug convictions in Tulia, Texas, will air on PBS. Expected in March is "American Violet," a ficitonalized film based on the events in Tulia. Take a look at the Innocence Project's reading list for Nate Blakeslee's book about Tulia and a dozen other great reads on wrongful convictions.

In other Hollywood news, filiming is expected to begin next month in Michigan on a film about Betty Anne Waters, who put herself through college and law school to help exonerate her brother, Kenneth Waters.

Thanks for reading this year - we'll see you in a week.



Tags: William Dillon

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Two Connecticut Men Seek New Trial Based on DNA and Other Evidence

Posted: January 7, 2009

Ronald Taylor and George Gould are currently serving 80 years for the 1993 murder of a local shop owner. Both men have always maintained that they did not commit the crime, and new DNA evidence secured by an unlikely source may help them get a new trial.

Taylor and Gould were both found guilty of murdering Eugenio Vega DeLeon 15 years ago. They were convicted largely based on eyewitness testimony and other circumstantial evidence. The men are currently waiting for a judge to decide whether they should get a new trial.

A private investigator hired by the public defender's office says that DNA found on an electrical cord used to tie the victim's hands together matches neither Taylor nor Gould. Despite the fact that this testing was done in 2006, New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington's office has yet to run the DNA profile from the cord in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) databank – which could identify who actually committed the murder. In nearly 40% of DNA exoneration cases nationwide, the actual perpetrator was later identified, often through DNA database searches.

The man who helped secure the DNA testing on the cord, Gerald O'Donnell, is a former Cheshire police officer who previously did work for Dearington's office. Over the course of three years, O'Donnell has compiled a thorough report that supports Taylor's and Gould's case; among his findings:

  • fingerprints found on the door handle of a safe in the victim’s store (where he was killed) are not Gould’s or Taylor’s, and police are now either unable or unwilling to locate the fingerprints for new analysis,
  • the state's main witness now admits in a taped interview that she lied at trial because police were threatening to send her to jail, and
  • another witness recanted her testimony, now saying that she was pressured by police to say she saw two black men in the victim's store.
Gould and Taylor served time on the same cellblock as Miguel Roman, who was released from prison a couple of weeks ago when DNA testing supported his claim of innocence.

Read the full story here. (Hartford Courant, 1/4/09)

Read more about Miguel Roman’s case.

Read more about James Tillman, who was exonerated through DNA testing in Connecticut in 2006.



Tags: Connecticut, James Tillman, Eyewitness Misidentification, DNA Databases, Fingerprints

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Hearing Tomorrow Could Exonerate Steve Barnes of All Charges

Posted: January 8, 2009 2:30 pm

After serving nearly 20 years in prison for a rape and murder he didn't commit, Innocence Project client Steven Barnes may be fully exonerated tomorrow. Barnes and Innocence Project Staff Attorney Alba Morales will appear in Oneida County court tomorrow in Utica.

Barnes was released from prison in late November after DNA testing showed he is innocent. His conviction was vacated, but the indictment against him was not dismissed, meaning he could be retried for the crime at any time. The Oneida County District Attorney’s Office, with cooperation from the Innocence Project, has been reinvestigating the case since Barnes was released. 

If the indictment against Barnes is dismissed, he will become the 227th person exonerated by DNA evidence.

Barnes' conviction is just one example of how improper or invalid forensic science can lead to wrongful convictions. His conviction was largely based on unvalidated forensic science, including soil comparison and analysis of an imprint allegedly left on the outside of Barnes’ truck by the victim’s jeans. He was found guilty of second-degree murder, rape and sodomy of a teenage girl 1985. However, test results conducted last year on materials collected from the victim’s body and clothing did not match Barnes, which led to his release from prison in November and tomorrow’s hearing that may exonerate him officially.

We’ll post more on the blog tomorrow after the hearing.

Read more on the Barnes case on the Innocence Blog.

Today’s news coverage of Barnes’ case:

Utica Observer Dispatch: Barnes’ charges to be dismissed Friday in teen's '85 murder

WKTV: Friday hearing could exonerate Steven Barnes for 1985 rape and murder




Tags: New York, Forensic Oversight, Steven Barnes

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Still Shackled

Posted: January 12, 2009 1:30 pm



Charles Chatman served 27 years in Texas before he was exonerated last year based on DNA evidence proving his innocence. He was 21 years old when he was wrongfully convicted and 48 when released. He’s been free for a year now, but he recently told NBC that he has struggled to adjust to life on the outside and feels held back by the gaping hole in his life.

Though DNA proved his innocence, Chatman says he still feels shackled at times. He has been unsuccessful at finding jobs. He takes newspaper clippings with him to interviews to explain where he's been for more than a quarter of a century.

Though people seem sympathetic to his situation, they still won't hire him.

"They apologize because they can't give me the job," Chatman said. "I don't have a work history, I don't have work references, and anything that I knew how to do before I went in, I haven't been able to do in 27 years."

Read the full story here. (MSNBC, 01/12/08)
Many exonerees struggle to adjust to life outside of prison after spending years behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit. No state offers any immediate assistance to the exonerated, and only 25 states (and the federal government) have laws compensating the wrongfully convicted. Learn more about compensations laws and life after exoneration here.

Chatman was a client of the Innocence Project of Texas, visit their website here.



Tags: Charles Chatman

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Louisiana Exoneree Will Be Missed

Posted: January 12, 2009 5:07 pm

Clyde Charles, a Louisiana man who served nearly two decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit before DNA testing proved him innocent in 1999, died last week at the age of 55. He left behind several brothers and sisters who fought for his freedom.

Charles, who is African-American, was 27 years old when he was arrested in Houma, Louisiana, for allegedly raping a white woman. He was tried a year later by an all-white jury. The prosecution presented the victim’s eyewitness identification of him as the attacker (which occurred while she was in the hospital and police brought Charles to her bedside in handcuffs), and the testimony of a lab analyst that two Caucasian hairs found on Charles’ clothing were “similar” to the victim’s hairs. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

The Innocence Project took on his case in 1999 and obtained post-conviction DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene. The results proved that Charles could not have committed the crime and he was freed. Sadly, he only enjoyed eight years of freedom before he passed away at his home last week.

His sister Lois Charles Hill, who worked for Charles’ freedom from the day of his arrest, said although he was released from Angola in 1999, it was last week that he became truly free.

“This week, it’s about my brother, and all I can say is that a man set free after serving 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, on January 7, became truly free indeed,” Hill said.

“I have no regrets. Two weeks ago while visiting my brother at his home, while talking, Clyde looked at me and said, ‘Lois, I know what you did for me. I know you stood beside me when many people had fell along the way, and that made me feel real good. You can’t buy that kind of love.’ I have my brother’s love, and that is the best gift I have ever received,” Hill said.
The family will hold a memorial service in Charles’ memory on Saturday. Read more here.

The Innocence Project mourns his loss.





Tags: Clyde Charles

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An End to Plea Bargains

Posted: January 13, 2009 2:27 pm

Of the 227 wrongful convictions overturned in the United States by DNA testing, 12 defendants pled guilty to crimes they didn’t commit. Almost always, they pled guilty to avoid the threat of longer sentences – or in some cases the death penalty. False confessions and admissions of guilt are a leading cause of wrongful convictions, and one Nebraska prosecutor recently said the possibility of injustice was one reason he would stop accepting plea bargains altogether starting February 1.

Randall Ritnour, the district attorney for Gage County, Nebraska, saw first-hand in recent months how plea bargaining can lead to injustice. His county is the home of the “Beatrice Six” case, in which six defendants were cleared of murder last year by DNA testing. Five of them had pled guilty and testified against a sixth, Joseph White. Although Ritnour wasn’t the prosecutor in 1985 when the six were convicted, he said presiding over the defendants’ exonerations has opened his eyes to the possibility of injustice.

White’s co-defendants have said they testified against him to avoid the possibility of execution or longer sentences. White has been fully exonerated; Nebraska officials will meet on January 26 to consider pardon applications from his five co-defendants.

"You can't help but have something like that influence your thinking to some extent," Ritnour told The World-Herald Friday. "Hopefully, this would limit the potential for that kind of mistake to happen again. Our point is to do the right thing, and the right thing is to charge people with the crime they actually committed, not to bounce around making deals."
Read the full story here. (Omaha World Herald, 01/03/09)
Even if prosecutors across the country wanted to follow Ritnour’s course, however, the American court system couldn’t handle the spike in jury trials without drastic increases in funding. More than 90 percent of felony convictions in state courts across the U.S. are obtained by guilty plea. As Scott Greenfield writes on Simple Justice:
Plea bargaining, for all its many flaws and horribly coercive nature, has a purpose.  Our legal system lacks the facilities and finances to try most cases, and depends on the vast majority of cases to "go away" via a plea to allow it to work.  While this may not necessarily be desirable, it is a reality that government relies upon in budgeting and building.  Change the equation by forcing the vast majority of cases to trial and the system can't withstand the burden.





Tags: Joseph White, False Confessions

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False Confessions and the Integrity Unit

Posted: January 14, 2009 3:29 pm

At a meeting yesterday of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals’ Criminal Justice Integrity Unit, Professor Richard Leo testified about how false confessions happen. Scott Henson recaps Leo’s testimony on his blog Grits for Breakfast and compares the common causes of false confessions with the facts in the ongoing “Yogurt Shop” case in Austin.

Leo insisted that police interrogation tactics are the primary cause of false confessions, but thinks that a secondary cause has to do with individual personality types. At risk individuals include juveniles, the mentally retarded, the mentally ill, people who are highly suggestible or compliant, or who have poor memory or high anxiety.

Most false confessors, he said, are "mentally normal" individuals, but those in a risk group are more likely to falsely confess.

There are three types of false confessors, said Leo: Voluntary, Compliant, and Persuaded. To use a current, local example, all three of these false confession types were in play in Austin's Yogurt Shop murders.

Read Henson’s full post here. (Grits for Breakfast, 01/13/09)
We wrote about the “Yogurt Shop” case in this space last week, when the two incarcerated defendants in the case were in court for a hearing on DNA test results excluding them on evidence from the crime scene. Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott were convicted of killing four teenage girls in an Austin yogurt shop 17 years ago, and allegedly made admissions of guilt. They say their admissions were coerced by police officers. A final DNA test report is expected in the case this week.
 



Tags: Innocence Commissions, False Confessions, False Confessions

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One Year Free, Already on His Feet

Posted: January 14, 2009 5:35 pm



One year ago today, Innocence Project client Rickey Johnson walked out of a Louisiana courtroom a free man for the first time in 25 years. In the photo above, he embraced his daughter on the morning of his release.

Today, he marked his one-year exoneration anniversary in a unique way: by opening a business. During his 25 years in Louisiana’s Angola prison, Johnson learned to be a master leatherworker; he now makes beautiful boots, clothing and accessories of all sorts. Today, he opened a leather goods store, RJ Leather Shop, in his hometown of Leesville, Louisiana. He plans to sell his creations in the shop and make special custom products for customers.

Johnson received $150,000 in state compensation in his first year of freedom. Although he acknowledges that no amount of money can truly compensate him for half of his life, he says the money helped him begin to get on his feet.

Almost all exonerees receive nothing immediately upon their release, and only those in 25 states are eligible for state compensation. Many struggle to rebuild their lives after they are freed. Read more about life after exoneration, and Innocence Project’s work with our clients after their release, here.

Other exoneration anniversaries today:

Ronnie Taylor, Texas (Served 12 Years, Exonerated 2008)

Dale Brison, Pennsylvania (Served 3.5 Years, Exonerated 1994)



Watch a video of Rickey Johnson reuniting with his long-lost friend, exoneree Calvin Willis.





Tags: Rickey Johnson

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Friday Roundup: Reviewing Forensics

Posted: January 16, 2009 5:29 pm

Here are some stories of innocence and reform we couldn’t get to on the Innocence Blog this week:

The Baltimore Police Department has refused to release a report detailing problems with DNA testing at its troubled crime lab, according to the Baltimore Sun. Investigators discovered last year that lab employees had not entered their own DNA samples into a control database, meaning that test results from the lab could have been contaminated without detection. "To say this report would compromise an ongoing criminal investigation, that's ridiculous," said Michele Nethercott, director of the Innocence Project in Maryland, which works to exonerate wrongly convicted people. "Since the lab operates on public funds, the public should be entitled to some accountability about how it operates."

In December, the Innocence Project filed a formal allegation with the Maryland State Police requesting a thorough investigation of negligence at the Baltimore crime lab.

A task force will review nearly 1,000 convictions involving fingerprint analysis at the Los Angeles Police Department crime lab, after the lab falsely implicated at least two people due to faulty fingerprint comparison. Efforts to reform the lab are moving slowly, officials say, because the department needs $500,000 to review practices and protocols in the 80-person fingerprint unit.

The New Orleans Police Department opened a new evidence storage facility this week, responding to a report which raised serious problems with temporary trailers used as vaults since Hurricane Katrina destroyed the department’s facilities in 2005. The hurricane destroyed evidence from thousands of cases, including some biological samples that could have exonerated wrongfully convicted inmates. But the problem wasn’t solved after the storm, as the department moved salvaged evidence into cluttered, unsecured trailers.

An article in the Denver Post recaps the last year in the life of Tim Masters, who spent a decade in Colorado prison for a murder he always said he didn’t commit. He was freed in January 2008 after DNA tests indicated that he had nothing to do with the crime. On adjusting to life outside of prison, Masters says: "In prison, I battled to maintain my sanity by just not thinking of what had happened to me, where I was and what the future might hold. As a free man, I no longer want to go through life like that. This is both good and bad. The good part is I am aware of people and my surroundings. The bad part is I am also well aware of what I've lost."

A new television series called “Dallas DNA” will take viewers behind the scenes in the Dallas District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which works to review past cases in which new evidence could possibly overturn a wrongful conviction.

An article in Scientific American examines ways in which the mechanics of evolution are useful in our daily lives – and cites forensic DNA testing as an example.



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Two Years Free

Posted: January 23, 2009 4:50 pm



 

Today is the second anniversary of the day Alan Crotzer walked out of a Florida prison a free man for the first time in a quarter-century.

Crotzer was convicted of rape, kidnapping and robbery in Florida in 1981 after being misidentified in photo lineups and tried alongside one of the three actual perpetrators of the crime. He was sentenced to 130 years in prison.

More than 20 years later, Crotzer and his pro bono attorneys obtained access to DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene. The results proved Crotzer’s innocence and he was released from prison – after spending more than 24 years behind bars for a crime he  didn’t commit.

In April 2008, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed a bill compensating Crotzer $1.2 million for his wrongful incarceration. The bill only compensated Crotzer, and at the time the state had no bill compensating all exonerees upon their release. One month later, in May, Crist signed a universal exoneree compensation bill for the state. Florida is now one of 25 states with an exoneree compensation law.

Watch a slideshow of photos by Vance Jacobs chronicling Crotzer’s release and his first months of freedom.

Other exoneree anniversaries this week:

Travis Hayes, Louisiana (Served 8 Years, Exonerated 1/19/2007)

Robert Miller, Oklahoma (Served 9.5 Years, Exonerated 1/22/1998)





Tags: Alan Crotzer

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U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Lawsuit by Freed California Man

Posted: January 29, 2009 5:46 pm

Thomas Goldstein served 24 years in California prison before a federal appeals court ruling in 2004 found that he had been wrongfully convicted and led to his release. His 1979 murder conviction was based largely on testimony of a jailhouse snitch, who said he had not received anything for his testimony – a claim which was later revealed to be untrue.

After being freed, Goldstein sued former Los Angeles District Attorney John Van de Kamp, seeking to hold the prosecutor liable for not having procedures in place to track testimony from unreliable snitches. In 2008, Goldstein’s case went before the U.S. Supreme Court, which considered whether office policies created by Van de Kamp were protected by prosecutorial immunity. Individual prosecutors have absolute immunity from lawsuits seeking to hold them accountable for their trial-related “adversarial” conduct but not for “investigative” or “administrative” actions.

In a unanimous decision this week, the court found that Van de Kamp could not sue in this instance.
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the opinion that immunity covered claims about a failure to train or supervise prosecutors or to set up an information system with material that calls into question the truthfulness of informants.
Breyer said allowing the lawsuit to go forward would permit criminal defendants to bring claims for other trial-related training or supervisory failings, affecting the way in which prosecutors carried out their basic courtroom tasks.
Read the full story here. (Reuters, 01/26/09)
Before the case was argued, the Innocence Network filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Supreme Court, arguing that Van de Kamp’s role in this case was administrative, not trial-related. The Supreme Court disagreed.

Download the Innocence Network amicus brief here.

View other amicus briefs and read commentary on the decision at the SCOTUS blog.





Tags: Informants/Snitches, Government Misconduct

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Friday Roundup: News from Connecticut, Texas, Maryland and More

Posted: January 30, 2009 6:05 pm

Connecticut exoneree James Tillman, who served 16 years in Connecticut prison for a rape he didn’t commit, told members of a Greenwich church this week that he is “blessed to be alive.”

Also in Connecticut, Pedro Miranda pled not guilty on Tuesday to three murders between 1986 and 1988. Investigators say DNA from the crime scene of at least one of these murders matches Miranda’s profile. Another man, Miguel Roman, served 20 years in Connecticut prison before he was freed based on the same DNA tests. Roman is still awaiting a final decision in his case.

Two arson cases made news this week. Texas officials are investigating whether the state executed Cameron Todd Willingham based on flawed arson science. And investigators in Maryland were able to conduct DNA testing for the first time on evidence left behind at the scene of an arson fire.

With several states considering abolishing the death penalty – and the issue of wrongful convictions  a factor in each – Amnesty International considered the question of innocence and the death penalty.

And the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case in which an undercover informant allegedly heard incriminating statements from his cellmate.





Tags: James Tillman

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Another Bite Mark Conviction Overturned

Posted: February 3, 2009 1:30 pm

Last week, we reported here on the release of Robert Lee Stinson from a Wisconsin prison after serving 23 years in prison for a murder DNA shows he didn’t commit. Stinson was convicted in part based on unreliable testimony claiming to match bite marks on the victim’s body to Stinson’s teeth. 

Radley Balko pointed out yesterday on Reason magazine’s Hit & Run blog that this case is another blow to the questionable science of bite mark analysis and particularly the work of forensic dentist L. Thomas Johnson, who testified at Stinson’s trial that bite marks on the victim’s body matched Stinson’s teeth. Johnson said he recently retested his conclusions in the case and would not change his findings. A panel of four experts gathered by the Wisconsin Innocence Project disagreed with him, saying the bite marks could not have come from Stinson.

Read Balko's post here.

Read more on Stinson’s case from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
.

Read about wrongful convictions involving bite mark evidence here
.



Tags: Bitemark Evidence

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Friday Roundup: Coming Together in Texas

Posted: February 6, 2009 5:17 pm



 

Exonerees and advocates were working around the world this week to spread the word about wrongful convictions and reforms to prevent injustice. Here are some stories we didn’t get to on the Innocence Blog:

Two posts yesterday on the Huffington Post called for federal legislative and legal reforms. Constitution Project Founder Ginny Sloan and George Mason Professor Jon Gould wrote that  “Only by investing in reasonable criminal justice reforms now can we avoid enormous human and financial costs later.” Center on Wrongful Conviction Director Rob Warden wrote about the Innocence Project’s upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case and the opportunity for the new U.S. Solicitor General-designate to change the administration’s position on the constitutional right to DNA testing.

We wrote this week about the hearing in Texas to posthumously clear the name of Timothy Cole, who died of an asthma attack in prison while serving time for a rape he didn’t commit. Thirteen exonerees joined lawmakers, representatives of the Innocence Project of Texas and Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck at the state legislature yesterday to call for eyewitness identification reforms. The photo above, from left to right, Thomas McGowan, Stephen Phillips, Patrick Waller, Johnnie Lindsey, James Woodard, Eugene Henton, Keith Turner,
Charles Chatman, James Waller, Larry Fuller and Billy Smith. (Photo, Clay Graham)

Exonerees elsewhere were also hard at work this week mentoring young people and educating the public about wrongful convictions. Illinois exoneree Dana Holland is working with at-risk youth in Chicago. And New York exoneree Jeff Deskovic wrote an article last week for the Westchester Guardian about three exonerees who passed  away in recent years. (PDF)

Reader’s Digest this week published a profile of Joseph Salvati, who served 30 years in Massachusetts prison for a murder he didn’t commit.

New Jersey Senator Raymond Lesniak spoke about Innocence Project client Byron Halsey on Sunday at an International Human Rights event. Lesniak won the event’s top prize for his speech and $10,000 for his organization, the Road to Justice and Peace.

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Texas Judge Rules for Posthumous Exoneration

Posted: February 9, 2009 2:35 pm

A Texas judge ruled on Friday that Timothy Cole’s name should be cleared of the 1985 rape for which he was wrongfully convicted. Cole died in prison in 1999 while serving for the rape, which he always said he didn’t commit. His family has been fighting to clear his name, and DNA testing results obtained last year proved that another man committed the crime.

Cole is the first person posthumously cleared by DNA testing in Texas history. His exoneration will become official with either a pardon from the Texas Governor or a writ of habeas corpus from the state Court of Criminal Appeals.

"I have his name back. I just have to wait for the Governor, and I know he'll be calling," Cole's mother Ruby Cole Session said. "But I'm so happy."

Read more and watch video of Session here. (News 8 Austin, 02/06/09)
More Coverage:

Associated Press: Judge Clears Dead Texas Man of Rape Conviction

National Public Radio: Judge Posthumously Clears Man Convicted Of Rape

A dozen Texas exonerees spent Thursday meeting with lawmakers at a state legislature advocacy day, Scott Henson has a firsthand account at Grits for Breakfast.



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Seven Years Free and Speaking Out

Posted: February 10, 2009 4:09 pm



It was seven years ago Saturday when Bruce Godschalk walked out of a Pennsylvania prison, finally free after serving nearly 15 years for a rape that DNA proves he didn’t commit. After a composite sketch led police to identify Godschalk as a suspect in a 1986 rape, they interrogated him for hours on end. The interview ended with an audiotaped confessions from Godschalk, including facts about the crime not know to the public.

Later, Godschalk would say that the facts were fed to him during the interview, and that he simply repeated information from police in order to get the interrogation to end. Godschalk fought for several years for DNA testing that could prove his innocence. When he finally obtained testing with the help of the Innocence Project in 2001, police said they had already sent evidence to a lab without the consent of the Innocence Project, that the tests had consumed all of the available evidence, and that the results were inconclusive. This was not true, however, and biological evidence that had previously been declared lost was turned over by police to the crime lab. The results proved Godschalk’s innocence and he was freed.

Since his release, Godschalk has been active in working to promote criminal justice reforms around the country. Late last year, he joined Innocence Project Policy Analyst Rebecca Brown at the National Youth Leadership Forum conference.
Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Sunday: Anthony Gray, Maryland (Served 7 Years, Exonerated 1999)

Monday: Donte Booker, Ohio (Served 15 Years, Exonerated 2005)

Lesly Jean, North Carolina (Served 9 Years, Exonerated 2001)




Tags: Donte Booker, Bruce Godschalk, David A. Gray, Lesly Jean

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Friday Roundup: Spreading the Word

Posted: February 13, 2009 5:31 pm

Our friends around the web were helping us spread the word this week about wrongful convictions. Hundreds of new members joined the Innocence Project online community to get email newsletters, action alerts and breaking news updates and they are inviting hundreds more to join them. You can invite a friend here.

Meanwhile, the Overbrook Foundation, an Innocence Project supporter, was blogging about our upcoming case before the Supreme Court. And our community is growing on Facebook and Twitter. Come join us.

Now on to the news of the week:

The Mississippi State House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow death row prisoners the right to post-conviction DNA testing. The bill now moves on to the State Senate.

On our homepage today is the story of Betty Anne Waters, who put herself through college and law school to fight for her brother’s exoneration. A feature film starring Hillary Swank as Betty Anne is currently in production. Read more.

Rick Casey wrote in the Houston Chronicle that the forensic science report expected soon from the National Academy of Sciences could show that the rest of the country suffers from the crime lab problems Houston experienced over the last decade. “Crime labs too often produce not science but science fiction,” Casey wrote, adding that he hopes the report will spark reform on the ground in Texas.

This week was the 22nd anniversary of the murder of Peggy Hettrick in Colorado, a crime for which Tim Masters was wrongfully convicted and spent nearly a decade in prison. The Fort Collins Coloradan this week obtained the transcripts of interviews conducted with former prosecutors by regulators who would eventually discipline them. Former Prosecutor Terence Gilmore said he believes the murder will never be solved.

Boston Phoenix reporter David S. Bernstein was named the New England Press Association Journalist of the Year and won another award for his investigative work on the wrongful conviction of Stephan Cowans in Boston.

And North Carolina Exoneree Darryl Hunt spoke to students at Campbell University Law School.



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New Video with Chicago Exoneree Dean Cage

Posted: February 17, 2009 3:55 pm

Innocence Project client Dean Cage was exonerated in May 2008 after serving more than 11 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. He now lives in Chicago.

Watch a new video with Cage from Loyola University’s Life After Innocence Project.

 



Tags: Dean Cage

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More Media Coverage of Forensics Report

Posted: February 19, 2009 5:36 pm

We posted yesterday some feedback and media coverage of the watershed forensics report released by the National Academy of Sciences. Here are some more stories running around the world today. We’ve noted which stories allow comments, so you can click through and join the discussion:

NPR On Point: Crime Labs and Dismal Science - One-hour radio show with Judge Harry Edwards (the co-chair of the committee that published the report), Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck, L.A. County Crime Lab Director Barry Fisher and John Jay College Prof. James Doyle. (Allows comments)

New York Times: Study Calls for Oversight of Forensics in Crime Labs

USA Today: Report: Real-world Police Forensics Don’t Resemble ‘CSI’

LA Times Op-Ed: Clueless ‘Science’

LA Times: Report questions science, reliability of crime lab evidence

NPR Morning Edition: Call for Forensics Overhaul Linked to 'CSI' Effect (Allows Comments)

Simple Justice: National Academies of Science: Trust Nothing (Allows Comments)





Tags: Forensic Oversight, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics

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Nine Years Free

Posted: February 20, 2009 5:31 pm

Wednesday marked the ninth anniversary of Herman Atkins’ exoneration in California. After serving nearly 12 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit, Atkins was freed on February 18, 2000 based on DNA testing proving his innocence.

He was wrongfully convicted of 1988 of a robbery and rape. After the crime in the spring of 1986, the victim was taken to the police station and shown several photos in an identification procedure. She did not identify anyone, but saw a photo of Atkins elsewhere in the station. After identifying the other photo, the victim was shown a photo lineup including Atkins and identified him again.

Since his exoneration, Atkins has graduated from college and gotten married. He and his wife, Machara, have started the Life Interventions for Exonerees foundation to help exonerees get back on their feet after their release. This week, LIFE launched its new website, at www.exonereelife.org. Atkins wrote last year on the Innocence Blog about why he and Machara founded the Life Foundation.

Other Exoneration Anniversaries This Week:

Wednesday: Peter Rose, California (Served 8 years, Exonerated (2/18/05)





Tags: Herman Atkins

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Osborne and the Blogosphere

Posted: February 24, 2009 3:23 pm

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Innocence Project client William Osborne, who is seeking DNA testing that could prove his innocence of a 1993 Alaska rape. And on Thursday, Georgetown University Law School in Washington, D.C., will host an unprecedented gathering of people directly affected by the injustice of wrongful convictions. Joining several exonerees at Thursday’s discussion will be Michele Mallin, a rape victim who recently joined with the family of Timothy Cole to clear his name years after he died in prison.

Learn more about the case and Thursday’s event.

Discussion of the Osborne case is hearing up this week on the blogosphere. Yesterday at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum wrote that he is not persuaded by arguments that allowing DNA testing when it can prove innocence opens floodgates to frivolous requests. Today, at the Atlantic, Megan McArdle responds to Drum, writing that DNA testing is an extremely affordable way to determine the truth and should be a right. Lively discussions are going on at both sites.

The Innocence Project has a guest blog post about the case today at Justice Watch, and Erica Goldberg wrote an extensive preview of the case last week on the SCOTUSblog.

We’ll be posting more about the case throughout the week.





Tags: William Osborne

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Friday Roundup: Freedom and Compensation

Posted: February 20, 2009 5:26 pm

News in the world of wrongful convictions this week was dominated by the release of a watershed report by the National Academy of Sciences, but there was plenty going on elsewhere, too. Here’s a roundup of the week’s news that we didn’t get to on the Innocence Blog:

Innocence Project Policy Analyst Rebecca Brown testified before a Nebraska legislative committee about the importance of compensation laws for the wrongfully convicted. Also testifying were Joseph White and JoAnn Taylor, two defendants from the “Beatrice Six” case who spent two decades behind bars for a murder and rape they didn’t commit before DNA freed them last year. 

Jonathan Kezer was freed Wednesday after serving 16 years in Missouri prison for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit. An investigation led by the local sheriff uncovered the evidence that cleared Kezer.

Buffalo News columnist Rod Watson this week pondered the fate of detective Dennis Delano, whose cold case investigations helped clear two people – Anthony Capozzi and Lynn DeJac – after serving they had served years in prison. Delano is currently suspended from the department and faces disciplinary action for allegedly breaking department rules and sharing confidential information with the media.

Georgia exoneree Calvin Johnson will speak on Sunday at a special event hosted by the Georgia Innocence Project. Johnson served more than 15 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit before DNA testing proved his innocence in 1999.

And a California student newspaper profiled Northern California Innocence Project Director Cookie Ridolfi. "It's very frustrating when you know that you have a case where something very unfair happened and you can't right that wrong," she said. "It's very common. But when you can change somebody's life, it makes it all worthwhile."






Tags: Calvin Johnson

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Live Webcast Today: Exonerees and the Supreme Court

Posted: February 26, 2009 10:54 am

Today’s Innocence Project event in Washington, D.C., featuring exonerees, legal experts and others directly affected by wrongful conviction, will be broadcast live on the web at 12:30 p.m. EST here. Tune in, and follow our live tweets at www.twitter.com/innocenceblog

If you're in the D.C. area, head over to today's event - it's free and won't be one you soon forget.

Speakers at today's event include:

Marvin Anderson, who served 15 years in prison for crimes he didn’t commit. He was exonerated with DNA testing in 2002 – becoming the first person in Virginia exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing.

Rickie Johnson, who served 25 years at Louisiana’s notorious Angola Farm Penitentiary for a 1982 rape he didn’t commit. Johnson was exonerated in 2008 after the Sabine Parish District Attorney quickly agreed to DNA testing in his case.

Dennis Fritz, who was convicted of murder in Oklahoma and served 11 years in prison before DNA testing exonerated him in 1999. The wrongful convictions of Fritz and his co-defendant, Ron Williamson, are the subject of John Grisham’s best-selling nonfiction book, “The Innocent Man.”

Michele Mallin, who was brutally raped in 1985 when she was a 20-year-old sophomore at Texas Tech. She was the fifth victim of a serial rapist on campus, and she identified Timothy Cole as her assailant. Cole was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison. In 1999, Cole died in prison at the age of 39. Last year, Mallin learned about evidence of Cole’s innocence and joined his family in an effort to exonerate him posthumously. Mallin testified at an unprecedented hearing in Austin earlier this month, where a judge recommended throwing out Cole’s conviction.

Det. Jim Trainum, a 25-year veteran of the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police Department who oversees the department’s Violent Crime Case Review Project, reviewing “cold cases.” Trainum, who handles murder cases, obtained a false confession from an innocent suspect several years ago and now educates fellow police officers and others about wrongful convictions.

David Rudovsky, one of the nation’s leading authorities on post-conviction remedies under federal law. Rudovsky is a Senior Fellow at University of Pennsylvania Law School and has written scholarly articles and litigation-related books on criminal law, constitutional criminal procedure and evidence. He recently presented about the Osborne case to a National Institute of Justice conference.

They will be joined by several other people exonerated through DNA testing and other leading attorneys in the field. The event is sponsored by Georgetown’s Office of Public Interest and Community Service, the Innocence Project and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project.

Read more about the Osborne case.

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Osborne Case Draws Near

Posted: February 27, 2009 1:17 pm

Oral arguments are scheduled for Monday in the case of District Attorney’s Office vs. William Osborne. Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld will argue before the U.S. Supreme Court that prisoners have a constitutional right to DNA testing when it can prove their innocence. We’ll update the case here – and on twitter – as we have details on Monday. For more background on Osborne, get briefs, press releases, media coverage and more on the case here.

Yesterday, exonerees and others whose lives were directly affected by wrongful conviction came together in Washington, D.C., to discuss the case and the importance of DNA testing. Watch a video of the event here. Today, Louisiana exoneree Rickie Johnson spoke to students about the case at a Virginia High School’s Case Day.

And legal experts from across the country continued this week to speak out on Osborne’s behalf. In today’s New York Daily News, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Mogenthau wrote that Alaska prosecutors have no logical reason for failing to grant Osborne a DNA test.

When a defendant who has always protested innocence will pay for a test that will resolve that protest one way or the other, only stubbornness can explain denying him access to the evidence. What can Alaska be afraid of - finding that it has imprisoned the wrong man?
Attorney David C. Fathi writes in today’s Huffington Post that he strongly disagrees with the choice by the Obama administration to proceed with the brief filed under Bush that argues against the right to DNA testing.
The Bush administration argued in its brief -- now effectively adopted by the Obama administration -- that the decision about whether to allow DNA testing should be left up to the states as part of a "vibrant democratic process." But some things shouldn't be put up for a vote -- and the liberty of a possibly innocent person is one of them.





Tags: William Osborne

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U.S. Supreme Court Hears Osborne Arguments

Posted: March 2, 2009 11:43 am

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments this morning in the case of District Attorney’s Office for the Third Judicial District, et al. v. Osborne, in which Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld argued that prisoners have a constitutional right to DNA testing that can prove their innocence.

Briefs and resources on the case are here. A sample of national media coverage from yesterday and this morning is below, and we’re posting real-time updates on twitter.

We will post a link to argument transcripts this afternoon.

NPR Morning Edition: Court to Examine Prisoners' Right to DNA Evidence

New York Times editorial: The Right to DNA Evidence

Associated Press: High Court Looks at Prisoners' Right to DNA Test



Tags: William Osborne

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Maine Art Show Benefits the Innocence Project

Posted: March 5, 2009 2:22 am

 
An exhibit this month in Portland, Maine, featuring the works of photographer Donald Verger will benefit the Innocence Project. Verger said he was inspired to support the Innocence Project’s work after he was wrongfully accused of a crime two months ago.

On the afternoon of New Years Eve, Verger was shopping in Portland, Maine, when two police officers stopped him. A salon had been robbed hours before and Verger was similar to the victim’s description of the perpetrator. The officers conducted a “show-up” identification in which the victim viewed him on the street and said he was the robber. Verger was arrested and spent two nights in jail before friends bailed him out.

Verger said he had nothing to do with the crime, and the charges were finally dropped a month later – but not before his eyes were opened that anyone can be wrongfully accused (or convicted) of a crime they didn’t commit. He tells the Portland Press Herald that he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.


(Verger’s attorney Peter) DeTroy also noted that not all people accused of serious crimes have the means to hire a top-shelf defense team. Had Verger been indigent, DeTroy said, "I think he would have been indicted (and gone to trial), I truly do."
That same thought occurred to Verger even as he was riding to jail in the back of the police cruiser. It was an epiphany of sorts, he said, knowing that he was innocent, that he had a lot of well-placed people who would (and did) write letters on his behalf, and that however traumatizing the whole thing was, he would soon get his life back.
But what, he wondered, if he were poor? Or homeless? Or not Caucasian? Or uneducated?
"I don't know that that person would be out of jail and not prosecuted for a crime they did not commit," he said.

The incident inspired Verger to devote his show this month to raising money for the Innocence Project. The show’s opening reception is scheduled for tomorrow night at the North Star Music Café in Portland, and 100% of proceeds through the month will benefit the Innocence Project.

Above: Verger’s photo “Dawn of Peace”

Read a story on Donald Verger’s case in today’s Portland Press Herald.

Learn about the event and see more of Donald Verger’s artwork
.

More coverage: Munjoy Hill News - Photographer Donald Verger Helps Himself by Helping Others

My Father's Innocence Project
(Blog post by Donald's son Rob Verger)




Tags: Maine, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Marking Two Years Free, Roy Brown Pushes for Change in New York

Posted: March 5, 2009 3:13 am

Today marks the two-year anniversary of Roy Brown’s exoneration in upstate New York. Brown, who served 15 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, testified last week before a New York State Bar Association panel on the causes of wrongful convictions and proposed reforms to prevent injustice.

"If you're innocent and in jail, chances are you are going to sit there," Brown told the task force. "Too many guilty people get away, and too many innocent people sit there. It's just wrong."

Brown was instrumental in securing his own freedom. While seeking DNA testing in his case, Brown obtained police documents identifying a man named Barry Bench as an alternate suspect. He learned more about Bench and began to suspect that he was the killer. Around Christmas of 2003, Brown wrote to Bench, asking him to come clean and help Brown clear his name. Days later, Bench committed suicide.

In 2005, the Innocence Project began working on Brown’s case. A year later, DNA evidence proved that Bench’s saliva was on the victim’s shirt. No evidence connected Brown to the murder. He was released in late 2006 and officially exonerated on March 5, 2007. Since his release, he has been an outspoken advocate for criminal justice reform.

Read more about his case here.

Other anniversaries this week:

Wednesday: David Allen Jones, California (Served 9 years, exonerated 3/4/04)

Sunday: Richard Johnson, Illinois (Served 4 years, exonerated 3/8/1996)

Anthony Powell, Massachusetts (Served 12 years, exonerated 3/8/2004)



Tags: Roy Brown

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Friday Roundup: Fighting for Freedom

Posted: March 6, 2009 6:00 pm

News from around the country that we didn't get to on the Innocence Blog this week:

An Ohio man could be freed as early as Tuesday, nearly 25 years after being convicted of a rape DNA now proves he didn’t commit. A joint project between the Ohio Innocence Project and the Columbus Dispatch led to DNA testing in the case of Joseph R. Fears, Jr., who was convicted of an Ohio rape in 1984. A judge today called for a hearing in his case Tuesday. Stayed tuned to the Innocence Blog for developments.

Innocence Project Staff Attorney Craig Cooley argued this week in a Pennsylvania court for DNA testing in the case of client Robert Conway.
A federal judge in California said Bruce Lisker was wrongfully convicted of stabbing his mother in 1983 and should be set free or retried.

The Innocence Project of Florida is seeking a new trial on behalf of Billy Joe Holton after DNA results in the case excluded him as a possible contributor of evidence at the crime scene.

And a Detroit man who has spent 36 years in prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit is seeking a new trial with the help of Proving Innocence and the Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted.
The systemic failures that caused many of these wrongful convictions are still present today and continuing to cause injustice. Exonerees, organizations and lawmakers were working this week to fix the system:
An editorial in Colorado called on lawmakers to protect the advances they made last year on the preservation of DNA evidence.

The Pennsylvania Innocence Project has officially opened its doors at Temple University School of Law – filling a crucial need in planning to handle wrongful conviction cases in the state.
Just 16 days after he was released from prison, Joshua Kezer told an audience at the University of Missouri about his wrongful conviction and release. He was joined by exoneree Dennis Fritz.

Recent exoneree William Dillon will speak tomorrow in Florida.

New York DNA Exoneree Steven Barnes began this week working for Oneida County Workforce Development, helping released prisoners find work and housing. He told WKTV that “to come out into the community and try to get out on the right foot sometimes...you need assistance and help."
 



Tags: William Dillon, Dennis Fritz, Evidence Preservation

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Texas Lawmakers Consider an Innocence Commission

Posted: March 10, 2009 4:04 pm

A Texas legislative committee heard testimony yesterday on a bill proposing the creation of an innocence commission to review wrongful conviction cases and analyze possible reforms that could prevent future injustice. Blogger Scott Henson testified on behalf of the Innocence Project of Texas. He wrote at Grits for Breakfast:

Texas' recent string of DNA exonerations have provided a unique window into the mechanics of false convictions. This bill would create a mechanism for formally identifying sources of error and suggesting ways to reduce their number in the future. Of course, we already know many of these causes - including faulty eyewitness ID procedures, mendacious informants, false confessions, and flawed forensics - but those are only the most prominent examples, hardly an exhaustive list.

Read the full post here.
State Sen. Rodney Ellis (the Innocence Project Board Chairman) has filed a similar bill in the Texas Senate.

Seven states have similar commissions, including one created by Texas’ Court of Criminal Appeals in the absence of a state system. View our interactive map for information on the other innocence commissions around the country.





Tags: Innocence Commissions

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Five to Go

Posted: March 12, 2009 4:44 pm



Yesterday, South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds signed a new law making his state the 45th in the country to explicitly grant access to post-conviction DNA testing to prisoners claiming innocence.

Like many post-conviction DNA access laws around the country, however, South Dakota’s new law includes procedural hurdles that could make it difficult for some prisoners to get DNA testing.

Download the full text of South Dakota’s new law here, and find out the specifics of your state’s law here.

The remaining states with no DNA access law are Alaska, Alabama, Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Mississippi.





Tags: Access to DNA Testing

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Guest Blog: Writing Cotton

Posted: March 19, 2009 5:18 pm

By Erin Torneo
Co-Author, "Picking Cotton: A Memoir of Injustice and Redemption"
 

Writing Picking Cotton has taken me from a hotel lobby in Greensboro to the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the abolition of the death penalty, from the lethal injection chamber in Raleigh’s Central Prison to the streets of Savannah, GA.  Once, while in San Francisco for the Soros Fellowship Conference, I even found myself at Alcatraz with Jennifer and Ron, sightseeing. When the tour invited us to step inside a solitary confinement cell, Ron hung back. “Not going in?” I asked, after Jennifer and I took our turns inside the dark cramped cell. “Hell no,” he replied, laughing. It was just one of many moments that reminded me that their seemingly ordinary, decades-old friendship is just as improbable as Ron, who spent nearly eleven years of his life wrongfully incarcerated, wanting to visit a prison on his day off. The journey, suffice to say, has been incredible, bringing me deep into some of the complex issues surrounding wrongful convictions and forever changing the way I will think about crime and punishment in the United States.

“I don’t know if I’ll be of any help at all,” Jennifer’s rape crisis counselor told me the spring afternoon I went to interview her at Elon College. What could she remember, after all this time? But it became very clear as we spoke that she had one particularly strong memory: the day she accompanied Jennifer to the physical lineup. “I remember it was one of the most take-your-breath away things, the fear,” she said. She vividly recalled the details of the physical lineup, mentioning the one-way window. I interrupted her to tell her in fact, there had been no glass, nor wall at all, as verified by the police report and the investigating officer. The seven suspects were standing merely feet away from both of them. She was astounded. “Isn’t that strange? In my mind, I had given us the distance of at least having a wall there. I had given us that safety.” She paused and then said, “How frightening. I think I prefer the safety of my memory.”

It was just a small example of the undercurrent that runs through the book— the fragility of memory itself. Their case has become a hallmark of the relationship between eyewitness misidentification and wrongful convictions because of how little we really understand about how memory works. I have seen Jennifer — and more recently Michele Mallin — vilified by people for their mistaken eyewitness testimony. It is further proof of the need to educate people about the many variables that can contribute to misidentification. By putting the reader in Jennifer’s shoes, I hope Picking Cotton helps to illuminate just how difficult making an eyewitness identification is—even when you are sure—and remind people everywhere that she was a victim of a brutal crime that derailed her life.  Jennifer pursued justice in the hopes that her assailant — whom she knew had gone off to rape a second woman an hour after she escaped—would never be able to hurt another woman. The failure was systemic—not personal—and her brave decision to forfeit her privacy (many victims never come forward in other wrongful conviction cases) is the reason many states have adopted reform measures.

Working on the book has also taught me that newly won freedom can be as bewildering as the first days of incarceration, which you can see once you shift to Ron’s point of view. Though many exonerees today make headlines for the millions of (well-deserved) dollars they receive after winning lawsuits, it is important to know that Ronald Cotton is not one of those exonerees. When he first got out, he tried to return to school to get his GED, but eventually quit so he could take a second job and earn more money. He wanted to move out of his sister’s home and into an independent life. Now he works five, sometimes six days a week at an insulation plant, where the heat and the fumes take their toll on his sinuses. Lately, the faltering economy has impacted the work available at the plant. Ron’s regular shifts are no longer guaranteed, and he struggles to make ends meet.

As the first post-conviction DNA exoneree in North Carolina, Ronald Cotton’s case paved the way for many of the progressive measures the state later adopted. Jennifer actually helped to lobby the state to create the compensation bill that entitled Ron to roughly $110,000. Since that time, North Carolina has updated its compensation law twice, but Ron was excluded from the improved benefits (which, in addition to significantly more money, also include job training and tuition). Perhaps North Carolina officials will reconsider the terms of the statute and offer the same benefits to all six of its exonerees.

The State v. Cotton case touches on many important issues in the innocence movement — the fact that the DNA was not destroyed though Ron had exhausted all of his appeals, the access he had to DNA testing, how simple changes to photo array and physical lineup procedures can reduce eyewitness identification errors, the importance of having state resources in place that can help the exonerated back on their feet, but most of all, it shows that the effects of wrongful convictions are devastating on both sides.

Ron waited 11 years for justice to prevail, but in the end, so did Jennifer.

Erin Torneo is the coauthor of "Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption," the true story of an unlikely friendship forged between Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton, the man Cannino incorrectly identified as her rapist and sent to prison for eleven years. 



Tags: Ronald Cotton

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Friday Roundup: Seeking A Clean Slate

Posted: March 20, 2009 5:19 pm

It was another busy week in the innocence movement – with testimony on forensics before the Senate Judiciary Committee and Mississippi adopting DNA access and evidence preservation laws. Here are some more stories on wrongful convictions and forensic evidence from around the world in the last few days:

Sean Hodgson was freed this week in England after serving 27 years in prison for a rape and murder DNA now proves he didn’t commit. He petitioned for DNA testing more than a decade ago but was told – falsely – that evidence in his case had been destroyed. Testing on that evidence finally proved his innocence this year.

Two Illinois men who were pardoned in the 1990s after serving years in prison were dealt a setback in court this week. Stanley Howard and Dana Holland were seeking to expunge their records of wrongful convictions, but the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that gubernatorial pardons based on innocence do not automatically clear criminal records. Holland was exonerated by DNA testing in 2003 after serving more than 10 years. Howard was sentenced to death based on a confession he says was coerced through torture. He was cleared based on non-DNA evidence.

The Georgia House of Representatives approved a bill today that would compensate John Jerome White with more than $700,000 for the years he spent in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The bill still needs to be approved by the Senate and signed by the Governor before White is compensated. Georgia is one of 25 states without a statewide compensation law; but the legislature has passed bills in recent years compensating individuals.

A story on National Public Radio’s Day to Day this week explored the fallibility of eyewitness identification evidence. In a guest post on the Innocence Blog yesterday from Erin Torneo explored the story behind the new book “Picking Cotton” and the ripples of injustice still felt 11 years after a wrongful conviction.

And the Los Angeles Times considers questions raised about fingerprint evidence by the recent National Academy of Sciences report on forensics.





Tags: Dana Holland, John Jerome White, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics

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The Importance of Expunging Wrongful Convictions

Posted: March 25, 2009 6:11 pm

Entre Nax Karage served more than six years in Texas prison for a murder he didn’t commit before DNA testing proved his innocence in 2005. Unfortunately, he’s still paying the price for the injustice.

According to court papers filed recently by Karage, he was hired in April 2008 by Wackenhut to work as a security guard at a bank branch. He says that he was then fired two months later, however, after an online background check turned up the wrongful murder convictions which should have been removed from his record.

Criminal record databases are often outdated and could include information on convictions that have been overturned by DNA testing or other evidence. The Imperative Blog, which follows news about employment-related background checks, asks today if “we need an Innocence Project for employment applicants.”

Ensuring that a criminal record has truly been expunged is one of the struggles facing the exonerated upon release from prison. For more on life after exoneration, and today’s update on exoneree compensation efforts around the country, click here.





Tags: Entre Nax Karage

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Friday Roundup: Hearings on the Horizon

Posted: March 27, 2009 2:03 pm

A federal appeals court granted review this week in the case of Innocence Project client Kevin Siehl. Innocence Project attorneys are seeking DNA testing on a washcloth, knife and cigarette butt from the scene of a murder for which Siehl says he was wrongfully convicted.

The Detroit Free Press reported on the case of Temujin Kensu, who has served more than two decades in Michigan prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit. His appeals have been repeatedly denied and there’s no biological evidence that could prove his innocence. Six people, however, testified at his trial that he was 400 miles away at the time of the shooting.

A Texas judge scheduled a two-day hearing in May in the infamous 1991 “yogurt shop murders” in Austin. New DNA testing on crime scene evidence in the case has revealed profiles that exclude two men in prison for the murders, which they say they didn’t commit.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch checked in with recent exonerees and found that the path to restoring lost lives after exoneration is a difficult one.

A crime lab employee in upstate New York was fired for allegedly falsifying documents and failing to follow lab procedures. Reason Magazine continued its coverage of a case of possible forensic misconduct in Mississippi. An Ohio coroner said crimes are going unsolved because of growing lab backlogs. And an audit found that the Illinois State Police sat on money intended to reduce the state’s crime lab backlog.

The new book “Picking Cotton” continues to garner rave reviews and strong sales. The book is number 20 on the New York Times bestseller list, and is number six on Amazon.com’s true crime bestseller list. But your copy here and a portion of proceeds will go the Innocence Project.
 
Author Dave Eggers talked to Mother Jones this week about “Surviving Justice,” a book of first-person stories from exonerees that he edited with Lola Vollen.

And Innocence Project Co-Directors Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld will be awarded the prestigious Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law from the University of Virginia next month for their contributions to criminal justice and legal reform.
 

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Friday Roundup: What’s Next?

Posted: April 3, 2009 6:06 pm

Miguel Roman was officially exonerated in Connecticut this week, and there are dozens of additional cases around the country in which exculpatory evidence – DNA or otherwise – has surfaced and may lead to exoneration. Here’s a roundup of cases and other news that we’re watching closely:

A comprehensive review of thousands of Virginia cases is ongoing, and testing has uncovered evidence of innocence in at least two additional cases there. Victor Anthony Burnette is seeking a pardon from Gov. Tim Kaine and lawyers for Thomas Haynesworth say DNA clears him as well.

Articles in the Wall Street Journal and Slate considered new forensic research aiming to determine physical characteristics from DNA tests. While investigators say this could be a helpful tool to corroborate other evidence, others worry that this discipline, which is not 100% accurate, could lead to wrongful convictions.

The new Pennsylvania Innocence Project officially opened this week and has begun working to uncover injustice in the state.

Mississippi adopted a new exoneree compensation law this week, and Georgia lawmakers awarded $500,000 to John Jerome White, who spent 22 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted. There’s momentum in several other states to pass compensation laws – will your state be next?

The exonerated continued working to raise awareness of wrongful convictions and press for criminal justice reform this week. Several exonerees, including Innocence Project client James Waller, testified on behalf of a package of reforms in the Texas legislature.

Marty Tankleff, who was freed in 2007 after serving 17 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, spoke about a new book on his case in a City University of New York podcast. And British exoneree Michael O’ Brien will discuss his book “The Death of Justice” at a festival in May in the United Kingdom.





Tags: James Waller

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Forensics and Conflict of Interest

Posted: April 6, 2009 12:36 pm

An editorial in today’s USA Today urges lawmakers to act on the National Academy of Sciences’ recent recommendation to separate crime labs from prosecutors’ offices and police departments. The NAS recommendation came as part of the group’s February report urging comprehensive reform of the forensic sciences and recommending the creation of a National Institute of Forensic Sciences. USA Today strongly backs the report’s call for independent crime labs:

Forensic science in criminal courts has been a part of American culture long before CSI became a prime-time obsession. Mark Twain was writing about fingerprints in criminal cases in the 1880s, before there was an FBI or anyone even imagined DNA. The allure is easy to understand. Juries and judges finding someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt would really like there to be no doubt at all, a desire that science could help fulfill. But science can't live up to that promise until the scientists serve the truth, not one side or the other in an adversarial courtroom.
An op-ed counterpoint article from Ralph Keaton, Executive Director of the American Society of Crime Lab Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board, argues that the vast majority of labs connected to law enforcement agencies “exonerate suspects as routinely as they implicate suspects” and that moving to paid private labs doesn’t eliminate bias from the process.
I would submit that the cost, both financially and in lost productivity, to make such a transition is too great to make this the best way to achieve the desired outcome. The desired result is the elimination of all bias and undue influences on forensic testing and reporting of forensic testing results.

Read the articles and join in the discussion. (USA Today, 4/6/09)
The Innocence Project agrees with Keaton that the desired result is to eliminate all bias and undue influence in forensic testing and analysis. The National Academy of Sciences report highlighted the potential for crime labs housed within law enforcement agencies to reach conclusions favorable to those agencies – not necessarily because they intend to reach such results, but because so-called “context bias” or “context confounds” can lead scientists to inadvertently reach conclusions when they know the expected outcome.

Read more about the National Academy of Sciences report and the Innocence Project’s recommendations for forensic science reform.





Tags: Forensic Oversight

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Seventeen Years in Prison, Four Years Free

Posted: April 6, 2009 5:19 pm

Today marks the fourth anniversary of Brandon Moon’s exoneration in Texas. After spending 17 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit, Moon was freed in 2004 and officially exonerated on April 6, 2005.

On the morning of April 27, 1987, an El Paso woman was attacked and sexually assaulted in her home. She contacted police and biological evidence was collected at the hospital. Days after the crime, the victim viewed a photographic array that included Moon's picture. She indicated that Moon looked like the perpetrator but that she couldn't be sure. Days later, the police arrested Moon, and the victim identified him in a live lineup as the perpetrator of the crime. Moon was the only person in both the photographic and live lineup procedures.

At his trial, the victim testified that she was able to remember much of the perpetrator’s appearance, but could not determine his eye color or whether he had a moustache. The prosecution also presented testimony from a serologist who said that Moon was a possible contributor of the semen recovered from clothing at the victim’s home but incorrectly said that the semen could not have come from the victim’s husband or son. Moon testified that he was on his college campus at the time of the attack, and the defense presented evidence that Moon had been excluded as the source of hairs from the crime scene. He was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 75 years in prison.

In the years after his conviction, Moon continued to proclaim his innocence and began filing motions to have the evidence tested. He also contacted the Innocence Project, which accepted his case and obtained DNA testing on his behalf. The results proved Moon's innocence, and also pointed to serious flaws in the serology used in the trial.

After 17 years in prison, he was freed in December 2004 and his exoneration became official four years ago today.

Read more about Brandon Moon’s wrongful conviction here
, visit his website exoneree.net, or watch a video interview with Moon and two other Texas exonerees.





Tags: Brandon Moon

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Race and Wrongful Conviction in Connecticut

Posted: April 9, 2009 2:45 pm

When Miguel Roman was arrested in 1988 for the murder of a 17-year-old Connecticut woman, he was interrogated mostly in English – a language he didn’t speak. His trial proceeded in English, and despite Roman’s continuous claims of innocence, he was convicted. He would serve two decades in prison before DNA proved his innocence and implicated another man in the crime.

A column by Helen Urbiñas in today’s Hartford Courant argues that a language and cultural barrier may have contributed to Roman’s wrongful conviction. She goes on to say that society’s lukewarm welcome for Roman’s exoneration may also be colored by his limited command of the language.

When I spoke some months ago to a juror who had served on Roman's case, he recalled Roman's demeanor, how disconnected he seemed from it all, how difficult it was to read him. I asked the juror then if he thought that Roman's inability to speak English well had anything to do with it. Maybe, he said.

It's a question that underscores the importance of what the Innocence Project is trying to do — using DNA, science, to offset some of the biases that creep into our courts. Of the 235 convicts exonerated through DNA testing in the U.S, nearly three-quarters were people of color.
This argument has been raised before – even in Roman’s case. In 1992, the Connecticut Supreme Court denied an appeal from Roman argued that his conviction had been unconstitutional. One justice – Robert Berdon – dissented. He wrote:
When the defendant’s primary language is Spanish, and the police officers insist on conducting the interrogations in English, the entire process smacks of unfairness that will results in the perception by the Hispanic community that the criminal justice system is titled against them….In order for the public to have confidence in our criminal justice system, it is important not only that we do justice but also that all racial and ethnic segments of our population perceive that justice is done.
In his dissent, Berdon went on to quote another of his recent dissents in 1992, in the case of James Calvin Tillman:
In our system of justice, not only must the accused be afforded a fair trial, but equally important there must be a perception of fairness by the community and the accused. Anything less not only undermines the credibility of this branch of government but also threatens the very fabric of our democracy.
As many readers of this blog know, Tillman was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2006. Although signs of unfairness were evident in the cases of both Tillman and Roman in 1992, it would be more than 14 years before either attained justice.





Tags: Connecticut, Miguel Roman, James Tillman

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Friday Roundup: Crime Labs, Confessions and a Hollywood Encounter

Posted: April 10, 2009 5:50 pm

Crime labs were all over the news this week. We reported Monday on a USA Today editorial calling for crime labs to be independent from law enforcement agencies and earlier today on an Arizona case that makes it clear that proper evidence testing is a matter of life and death.

Here are some more stories and resources on forensics we didn’t get a chance to post this week:

A lab technician who worked in Colorado and California has allegedly admitted that he didn’t follow procedures when conducting toxicology tests in thousands of cases.

The National Academy of Sciences Committee on Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Science Community posted a wealth of forensic research and presentations on its website this week – including the complete submissions from dozens of presenters at its five public meetings.

The Innocence Project of Florida and the Innocence Network together filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Florida Supreme Court urging justices to allow a client to challenge his conviction because an FBI agent gave unreliable testimony based on the discredited practice of bullet lead analysis.

Detroit’s crime lab has been closed since September after an audit discovered a 10% error rate in ballistics testing. A Detroit Free Press columnist checked in on the lab’s status this week and called on the city to support the prosecutor’s office in its review of cases possibly affected by lab errors.

False confessions were in the news as well this week, with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prolonged police questioning "isolates and pressures the individual…and there is mounting empirical evidence that these pressures can induce a frighteningly high percentage of people to confess to crimes they never committed." In a 5-4 decision, the justices overturned the conviction of Johnnie Corley because he had been held for more than six hours before being questioned.

CBS News’ “48 Hours,” Saturday night will examine the case of American student Amanda Knox, who is charged with the murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher. Knox says she gave a coerced false confession after 14 hours of questioning and physical abuse.

Attorneys in Maryland are seeking to present new evidence in the case of Jesse Barnes, who was convicted in 1972 at age 17 of a murder he says he didn’t commit. He allegedly confessed after seven hours of interrogation but lawyers say the details of the confession don’t match the crime scene.

Dennis Dechaine, who has been in prison in Maine for two decades for a murder he says he didn’t commit, added to his defense team this week when attorney F. Lee Bailey agreed to consult with his lawyers. The Innocence Project also consults on Dechaine’s case.

Last but not least, an update on “Betty Anne Waters,” the upcoming film about the exoneration of Innocence Project client Kenneth Waters and the role of his sister, Betty Anne, in pursuing justice for her brother. The film, in which Hilary Swank stars as Betty Anne, finished shooting this week in Michigan and Ann Arbor News reporter Jo Mathis has an update from the set.



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Enforce Existing Federal Forensic Science Oversight Program

Posted: April 13, 2009 4:03 pm

Writing on The Hill’s Congress Blog today, Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom calls for the U.S. Department of Justice to make sure crime lab problems are properly addressed by enforcing the regulations under the Paul Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grant Program. Saloom writes:

In order for the Coverdell grant program to operate as Congress intended, the Obama Administration must manage the program properly and give grant applicants the tools they need to properly investigate forensic problems. Specifically, the Department of Justice, which administers the program, should:
• give grant applicants clear guidance on what constitutes an appropriate oversight entity and process for investigating forensic problems;
• encourage applicants to provide supporting documentation with their applications;
• make it easier for members of the public to file allegations under the Coverdell program;
• make sure funded labs are referring problems to their investigative entities;
• monitor thoroughness and independence of investigations; and, once all of these steps have been taken,
• withhold funding when the requirements are not met.
Read his full post here. (The Hill, 4/13/09)
Download the Innocence Project’s new report finding that only 13% of designated forensic oversight agencies meet requirements of federal law.


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Two Oklahoma Exonerations, Ten Years Later

Posted: April 15, 2009 5:48 pm

Ten years ago today, on April 15, 1999, Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson were released and exonerated after being incarcerated in Oklahoma prisons for 11 years for the rape and murder of a 21-year-old waitress. Williamson had served on death row and once came within five days of execution; Fritz had been serving a life sentence. The story of the two men has reached millions around the world through John Grisham’s first nonfiction book, “The Innocent Man,” which focuses on the case. Grisham is now a member of the Innocence Project Board of Directors and speaks frequently about wrongful convictions and criminal justice reform.

Fritz and Williamson’s wrongful convictions were based in part on the false testimony of jailhouse snitches and the misleading characterization of the biological evidence in the case. A forensic analyst also testified about unvalidated forensics allegedly linking the men to the crime, including hairs from the crime scene that the analyst said were “consistent” with Fritz’s hair. The analyst also gave misleading testimony about serology evidence from the crime scene.
 
Several years after his conviction, with his appeals exhausted, Fritz turned to the Innocence Project for help. The Innocence Project worked with local attorneys to secure DNA testing of the biological evidence from the crime scene. The results proved that neither Fritz nor Williamson had committed the crime, and implicated Glen Gore, a central witness for the state in Fritz's trial. Gore was subsequently convicted of the rape and murder and is serving a sentence of life without parole.

Since his release from prison, Fritz has traveled widely, raising awareness of wrongful convictions and advocating for post-conviction access to DNA testing in those states without such a law.  His recent appearance before the South Dakota legislature with law professor Christine Hutton was instrumental in the passage of the new law in that state. He has also written a book, “Journey Toward Justice,” recounting his arrest, his trial, and the years of imprisonment during which he assiduously maintained his innocence and worked on his case. 
 
Sadly, Ron Williamson passed away five years after his release on December 4, 2004.

Buy "The Innocent Man" and "Journey Toward Justice" through the Innocence Blog and a portion of proceeds will support the Innocence Project.

Watch video of John Grisham discussing Fritz and Williamson’s cases.

Other Anniversaries this week:

Tuesday: Nathaniel Hatchett, Mississippi (Served 10 years, Exonerated 4/14/08)

Friday: Victor Larue Thomas, Texas (Served 15 years, Exonerated 4/17/02)



Tags: Dennis Fritz, Ron Williamson

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Friday Roundup: Identification and Informants

Posted: April 17, 2009 6:45 pm

A Georgia death row inmate lost his federal appeal this week and a Chicago man goes to trial next week for the third time for a murder he says he didn't commit. Here are stories of injustice and reform from the week:  

A federal court rejected Troy Davis’ appeal this week and announced a 30-day stay of execution so he could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Davis has been on Georgia’s death row for two decades for a murder he says he didn’t commit and has come within hours of execution three times before receiving stays.

Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn wrote that Juan Rivera’s third trial for a murder he says he didn’t commit – set to begin on Monday – sounds eerily similar to the wrongful conviction and repeated trials and appeals of exoneree Rolando Cruz.

The Texas Senate passed bills this week requiring law enforcement agencies in the state to establish written identification procedures, and requiring corroboration for testimony from jailhouse informants. Meanwhile, the Globe and Mail reported that Ontario has nearly phased out the use of jailhouse informants.

The Constitution Project released a groundbreaking report on the state of indigent defense in America. The report, “Justice Denied,” says that public defense systems are struggling across the country, and that many are failing. Read more about the effects of bad and overburdened lawyers in wrongful conviction cases.






Tags: Informants/Snitches, Bad Lawyering, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Missed Today’s Newsletter? Sign up Now!

Posted: April 21, 2009 4:26 pm

This afternoon, we sent out our monthly email newsletter, with updates on our clients from Pennsylvania to Alabama to Texas and a big legislative win in Montana. If you missed today’s newsletter, sign up now to make sure you get next month’s update. (And you can peek at the issues you missed here).

We’re on Facebook and Twitter, too – and those communities are there for you to connect with us and with your fellow criminal justice reformers. We invite members of our community to post on the facebook wall or send us a note on twitter anytime.

Thanks for being a member of our online community.



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Challenging Discredited Science in Texas

Posted: April 22, 2009 5:38 pm

A bill passed by the Texas Senate this week would provide an avenue for prisoners to challenge convictions based on discredited forensic science. 

In recent years, an increasing number of arson and gunshot convictions in Texas have triggered alarm as new technology proved earlier evidence wrong, and convictions were cast into doubt — including at least one case in which the prisoner was executed.
The measure by state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, would allow discredited scientific evidence that figured in a criminal conviction to be considered by an appeals court in order to establish the innocence of a defendant.

“This could help restore someone’s liberty in cases where discredited evidence was used to convict them,” Whitmire said.

Read the full story here. (Marshall News Messenger, 04/20/09)
Unvalidated and improper forensic science is a leading cause of wrongful conviction.  In February, the National Academy of Sciences released a report calling for significantly strengthened oversight, research and support in the forensic sciences. An Innocence Project review showed that unvalidated and improper forensic science contributed to more than half of the first 225 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing.


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Houston crime lab implicated in another possible wrongful conviction

Posted: April 28, 2009 5:00 pm

Twenty two years after being wrongfully convicted for a rape and robbery in Texas, a Houston man may be released on bail this week on the heels of new DNA tests proving his innocence.

Gary Alvin Richard was arrested for the January 1987 attack of a 22-year-old nursing student and was convicted based largely on evidence processed by the Houston Police Department crime lab, the same lab that came under fire in 2002 after local reports raised questions about the quality of DNA testing. According to the Houston Chronicle, there are a number of problems with Richard’s case:

The victim identified him some seven months after the attack. HPD crime lab analysts came to conflicting conclusions about the evidence, but reported only the results favorable to the case. Physical evidence collected in what is known as a “rape kit” has been destroyed, a victim of poor evidence preservation practices, leaving nothing for DNA testing now.

Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 4/24/09)
During his original trial, HPD crime lab supervisor James Bolding testified that Richard was a non-secretor, meaning that analysts would not be able to determine Richard’s blood type through his body fluids. However, while tests done last week confirmed that semen from the rape kit came from a non-secretor, it also showed that Richard is a secretor. Therefore, the semen found on the rape kit could not be his.

While Richard’s defense claims that the blood tests prove his innocence, prosecutors aren’t as sure. The Houston District Attorney’s office concedes that Richard should be released on bail, but has said that it is too early in the reexamination process to clear Richard of all charges. Three Harris County men have already been proven innocent through DNA testing after mistakes at the HPD crime lab led to their wrongful convictions: Josiah Sutton, George Rodriguez and Ronald Taylor.

Read more about the history of the Houston crime lab scandal in previous blog posts.

 



Tags: Texas, George Rodriguez, Josiah Sutton, Ronald Taylor, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing

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Houston Man Freed After 22 Years

Posted: May 1, 2009 2:10 pm

Gary Alvin Richard was freed yesterday in Houston after DNA testing on evidence from a 1987 rape called his conviction into question. The Harris County District Attorney’s office said it would review the facts of Richard’s case and decide whether to retry him.

Richard was convicted of attacking a nursing student back in 1987 based heavily on blood evidence. However, a later investigation revealed some evidence that could have cleared Richard was not testified to by the crime lab technician.

"I have mixed feelings," said Robert Wicoff, Richard's attorney. "I'm grateful for Gary Richard. I'm glad we were able to find justice for Gary, but there are a lot of other cases, where I'm convinced innocent men are in prison."

If exonerated, Richard would be the fourth Harris County man cleared because of problems within HPD's crime lab. The lab has been under review since it was revealed tests of bodily fluids were faulty.
District attorney Pat Lykos believes Richard's case highlights the need for an independent crime lab run by scientists, not police.

Read the full story and watch a video of Richard’s release. (KTRK, 04/30/09)

Read more about Richard’s case at the Innocence Project of Texas blog and the Houston Chronicle.


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Friday Roundup: Reviewing Injustice

Posted: May 1, 2009 6:09 pm

New York’s chief judge announced today that the state’s Court of Appeals is creating a task force to review exoneration cases and recommend possible reforms to prevent injustice. Here’s more coverage since we posted earlier today.

Texas has a similar judicial task force, and representatives are seeking to create a more robust panel in the legislature named after exoneree Timothy Cole.

North Carolina has another kind of task force to investigate possible wrongful convictions. The state’s House of Representatives this week voted to expand the group’s reach – giving it power to force witnesses to testify.

A proposed law in Colorado to repeal the death penalty and use resources to instead investigate cold cases in the state made progress in the Senate today but still faced an uncertain future.
 
Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto will host a conference on forensic evidence in criminal proceedings and avoiding wrongful convictions next Saturday, May 9.

A conference today in Dallas brought together exonerees for a discussion of the challenges of life after exoneration.

Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and exoneree Jerry Miller spoke today at the GEL Conference in New York City. And exoneree William Dillion spoke about his case and the need for reforms yesterday in Wellington, Florida.

And an article in the Missourian checked in with Josh Kezer, who was freed two months ago when new evidence pointed to his innocence.
 



Tags: Jerry Miller, Innocence Commissions

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A Celebration of Freedom and Justice

Posted: May 8, 2009 6:02 pm

More than 600 people joined us in New York City on Wednesday for our third annual Celebration of Freedom & Justice. The event honored Bob Balaban, director, producer and actor for producing and directing the play The Exonerated; Jason Flom, a long-standing Innocence Project board member and President of Lava Records; and the law firm of Weil Gotshal for their extensive pro bono support of the Innocence Project. The night included performancesby Blue Man Group and Phoebe Snow and readings by Aidan Quinn and Brooke Shields.

CNN anchor Jami Floyd blogged about the event:

There were more than 600 people in the room, all supporting the mission. But it’s not enough.

If you do the numbers, there are probably thousands more innocent people in prison; and fighting to win the release of an innocent person is the noblest thing a lawyer can do. If Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld retire tomorrow, they’ve done more good work than most lawyers do in a lifetime. But the heroism of two men is not enough.

Read Floyd’s full post here and watch video here.
At the event, Innocence Project Board Member John Grisham announced the formation of the Innocence Project Artists’ Committee, a group of writers, directors, actors, visual artists and musicians who support the Innocence Project and are helping raise awareness about wrongful convictions. The committee includes Stephen Colbert, James Gandolfini, Nora Ephron, Judy Collins, Nia Long, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick and many more. Read more about the new group here.

 

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Friday Roundup: Seeking DNA Testing

Posted: May 8, 2009 6:35 pm

A Texas man is seeking DNA testing in a three-decade-old case and there are renewed calls on prosecutors and crime labs across the country to conduct testing in tens of thousands of backlogged cases. Below are a few stories from around the U.S. this week on wrongful convictions, forensic science and life after exoneration:

A 61-year-old Houston man is continuing his fight for DNA testing that he says can prove him innocent of a rape he was convicted of in 1981. Donald Burke served 18 years in Texas prisons and was released more than 10 years ago.

Thirty-eight people have been exonerated in Texas to date by DNA testing, more than any other state. And a bill improving compensation for the wrongfully convicted after their release appeared close to passing the Texas legislature yesterday. A final vote is expected soon.

The ABA Journal called on prosecutors and state officials across the country to commit resources to clearing backlogs of untested evidence. Testing this evidence can help solve cold cases, apprehend repeat offenders and exonerate the wrongfully convicted.

An article in ProPublica questioned whether there is a connection between the growth of government DNA databases and the firms that produce testing equipment.

More news from Mississippi this week. A county is considering hiring Dr. Stephen Hayne, a medical examiner who has been widely discredited and whose faulty findings contributed to at least two wrongful convictions.

Mississippi hasn’t had a state medical examiner since the mid-1990’s and many counties in the state relied on Hayne for years to conduct autopsies. He was removed from the list of approved pathologists nearly a year ago after his role in wrongful convictions was uncovered. Despite concerted efforts from state officials to hire a new medical examiner, that process has stalled.

We report some of these stories on twitter throughout the week as they happen. If you’re on twitter, follow us @innocenceblog. We’ll follow you back.



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Texas Compensation Could be Retroactive

Posted: May 20, 2009 6:02 pm

As we’ve written here, a bill awaiting the signature of Texas Gov. Rick Perry would increase the amount of state compensation paid to the exonerated upon their release and would also pay exonerees for time they served on parole. But the bill would also assist a group that has been eligible for no compensation under state law – those exonerated before the state passed its first compensation law in 2001.

When Joyce Ann Brown and Lenell Geter were cleared in Texas (by evidence other than DNA) in the 1980s, they were not eligible for state compensation. State Sen. Rodney Ellis, who sponsored the bill and serves as the Innocence Project Board Chairman, has said parts of the bill are retroactive and that he will reach out to people who are potentially eligible.

Brown served more than nine years of a life sentence for a 1980 robbery and murder at a fur shop. She was released in late 1989.

Geter served 16 months of a life sentence for a 1982 wrongful conviction for the armed robbery of fast-food businesses. He was cleared in 1984.

"When I was released, you had to fight [to be compensated]. ... I have never received a dime," said Brown, who founded and directs Mothers (Fathers) for the Advancement of Social Systems (MASS), a nonprofit that helps former prisoners re-enter society. She co-wrote the book Joyce Ann Brown: Justice Denied.

Geter sued former Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade, other authorities and municipalities including Greenville, where he was arrested. He received what he described as a small out-of-court settlement representing "about a year's salary" – close to the $24,000 he earned as a 26-year-old engineer in Greenville when arrested in 1982.

His and Brown's eligibility under the new bill, though uncertain, would be a salve on old wounds, said Geter, who now is a motivational speaker, youth mentor and the father of three daughters in Columbia, S.C. He wrote the book Overcome, Succeed & Prosper.

Read the full story here. (Dallas Morning News, 5/20/09)
Also pending in Texas is a bill to create a state innocence commission to review wrongful convictions and evaluate reforms to address the causes of injustice. A bill creating the commission has passed the House and is pending in the Senate. Read more here.



Tags: Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation

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One Year Out

Posted: May 21, 2009 5:15 pm



One year ago today, Walter Swift walked out of a Detroit prison a free man for the first time in 26 years, exonerated of rape and robbery charges for which he had been wrongly convicted at age 21. Today, after one year of freedom, he speaks actively in support of reforms to prevent injustices like this from happening to anyone else.

Swift’s conviction in 1982 was plagued by numerous miscarriages of justice, including the use of flawed identification procedures by police, an inadequate court-appointed lawyer, and the exclusion of forensic evidence that could have helped show Swift’s innocence at his trial. Despite strong questions about his guilt, he was convicted and sentenced to 55 years in prison.

The Innocence Project became involved in Swift’s case in 1996, and would be working on it for over a decade. After an exhaustive search for DNA evidence from the case did not yield any results, lawyers and law students at the Innocence Project turned their attention to exposing other evidence that could help overturn Swift’s conviction. They obtained an affidavit reconfirming the alibi testimony of Swift’s former girlfriend, a law enforcement officer, and discovered that Swift’s attorney had engaged in misconduct in other cases. As this was uncovered, the police officer, the lab analyst and even the prosecutor in Swift’s original case all came forward to acknowledge Swift’s innocence and to help the Innocence Project overturn his conviction.

Swift was finally exonerated of all charges on May 21, 2008. Since his exoneration, he has been reunited with his daughter, Audrey Mills, who was only two years old when her father was wrongly convicted. In July, Swift traveled to Ireland with her and Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck to visit Niamh Gunn, a student who had worked for the Innocence Project and continued her involvement with the case when she returned home. While there, Swift was featured on Irish national television and was able share his story with the public. Last month, Swift also appeared as a panelist at a forum sponsored by the Freedom Institute for Economic, Social Justice and Political Empowerment which addressed flaws in public defense.

Since Michigan still does not have compensation laws for those who are wrongfully convicted, Swift has not yet gotten anything from the state for of all the years he spent in prison. As with all the other injustices he has faced, Swift has not let this stop him from pursuing what is right. According to the Michigan Messenger, Swift’s “goal in life now is to make sure what happened to him does not happen to other people”; as he says in his own words: ‘“I want to be prominent and active in legislative reform and help men and women like myself.”’ Swift may have wrongly lost many years of his own life in jail, but he is determined to spend these next years fighting to make sure that more innocent people do not end up behind bars.
    
Other Exoneration Anniversaries This Week:

Tuesday: Michael Mercer, New York (Served 10.5 Years, Exonerated 5/19/2003)

Saturday: Marvin Mitchell, Massachusetts (Served 7 Years, Exonerated 5/23/1997)

Orlando Boquete, Florida (Served 12 Years, Exonerated 5/23/2006)
 



Tags: Walter Swift

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Friday Roundup: Unvalidated Forensics

Posted: May 22, 2009 2:09 pm

As the new Just Science Coalition calls for forensic reform in the United States, cases involving unvalidated forensics continued to make news this week:

Joseph Ramirez has been convicted four times in Florida for a 1983 murder, and each trial involved a form of unvalidated forensic evidence – from toolmark comparison to shoeprint identification. Reporter Maurice Possley wrote about his case this week at the Crime Report.

Meanwhile, an Oklahoma man was charged with murder based on bite-mark evidence.

For more stories on forensic science and calls for reform, remember to check the news page at the new Just Science Coalition website. Innocence Project supporters continued to sign the coalition’s petition this week calling for a federal agency to support and oversee forensic science in the U.S. Add your name today.

A column in the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram this week praised Dallas for its Conviction Integrity Unit and called on Tarrant County (which includes Fort Worth) to improve its reviews of possible wrongful convictions and its evidence preservation practices. On Thursday, Tarrant County DA Joe Shannon, Jr., responded to the column, writing: “Because of our history of integrity, openness and discretion, Tarrant County has been spared the rash of wrongful convictions that have made headlines elsewhere.”

Guardian columnist Eric Allison wrote this week about his theory on why prisoners seem to be good at determining when a fellow inmate has a legitimate claim of innocence.

A civil jury recently found “clear and convincing evidence of innocence” in the case of Massachusetts exoneree Ulysses Charles, making him eligible for up to $500,000 in damages.

Many readers of this blog are already members of our Facebook Cause, but we now have a Facebook page, too. Join here – and let us know if there are other social network sites where you’d like the see an active Innocence Project presence.





Tags: Ulysses Rodriguez Charles

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A Year After His Release, Dean Cage Is Still Fighting For Justice

Posted: May 29, 2009 1:50 pm




One year ago this week, Dean Cage was freed from an Illinois prison. He had served nearly 12 years of a 40-year sentence before DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project proved his innocence and led to his exoneration.

Above, from left to right, Innocence Project Staff Attorney Alba Morales, Dean Cage, Dean’s mother Jerley Cage and Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld.


Upon being cleared, Cage reunited with his family in Chicago. He told CBS News that “the support of [his] family, reading novels, playing basketball and faith” helped him to get through some of his toughest times in prison. Although he had missed watching his sons grow up, both of his grandparents’ funerals, and being by his mother’s side during her many surgeries, Cage felt blessed to finally be free. He said: "If you believe in something, fight for it.…The truth will come out in the end.” But Cage realized that he would face new challenges in the years to come. At the time of his release, he did not have any money or material possessions to his name.

Cage recently filed a lawsuit against the City of Chicago and others, alleging that he was framed in an effort to quickly end the investigation and reach a conviction. He told the Chicago Tribune this week that although the adjustment to life outside of prison has been difficult, he is beginning to feel more comfortable and recently started working at a restaurant on Chicago’s South Sude.

"It's been kinda rough," Cage said with his mother at his side. A scrapbook of exoneration cases he kept for years while in prison lay open before him. "If I didn't have the support of my family, I don't know what I would have done," he said.

Other Anniversaries This Week:

Tuesday: Larry Peterson, New Jersey (Served 16.5 Years, Exonerated 5/26/2006)
Willie Jackson, Louisiana (Served 17 Years, Exonerated 5/26/2006)

Wednesday: Paul Kordonowy, Montana (Served 13 Years, Exonerated 5/27/2003)
 



Tags: Dean Cage

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Friday Roundup: The First Day and The First Year

Posted: May 29, 2009 3:54 pm

Jerry Lee Evans was freed in Dallas this week after serving 22 years in prison for a crime DNA proves he didn’t commit. Patrick Waller and Steven Phillips, two of the 18 people exonerated by DNA in Dallas before Evans, joined him on Larry King Live Wednesday night. They wrote on King’s blog about their first day of freedom:

Waller: “My first day of freedom was a true breath of fresh air! I actually kissed the ground – after I kissed my mother of course.”

Phillips: “That day I was finally exonerated after 26 years of wrongfully serving time for crimes I didn’t commit – that was a day The Lord made!”

And earlier today we posted about Dean Cage’s first year of freedom. He told the Chicago Tribune this week: “"If I didn't have the support of my family, I don't know what I would have done.”

Meanwhile, Tim Kennedy could be freed in Colorado while awaiting on a new trial for a 1991 murder he has always said he didn’t commit. He was convicted based in part on the FBI’s use of comparative bullet lead analysis (CBLA), a discredited technique discontinued in 2005, which was used to trace a bullet from the crime scene to a box of bullets in his possession.

Kennedy’s case and others are posted on the Just Science Coalition’s news page – visit Just-Science.org for weekly updates on forensic news.

CBS affiliate KPHO in Phoenix profiled the Arizona Justice Project, a member of the Innocence Network. The project is working to reach out to prisoners whose cases could be wrongful convictions.

New York exoneree Jeffrey Deskovic will speak about his case in New York City on Monday. More information is available on Facebook.



Tags: Steven Phillips, Patrick Waller

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Reform Bills Fail to Pass in Texas

Posted: June 2, 2009 3:41 pm

Several bills intended to prevent wrongful convictions in Texas were left unpassed when the Texas legislature ended its session yesterday. Although Gov. Rick Perry recently signed an improvement to the state law compensating the exonerated, several bills addressing the causes of wrongful convictions didn’t make it that far.

Proposed laws included an expansion to DNA testing access and reforms requiring recorded interrogation and improved eyewitness identification procedures. These reforms have been proven around the country to prevent wrongful convictions and to help law enforcement agencies apprehend the real perpetrators of crimes.

Another reform that wasn’t passed yesterday would have made posthumous pardons possible in cases like that of Tim Cole, who died in prison in 1999 while serving for a crime he didn’t commit.

His conviction relied heavily on mistaken identification by the victim, who earlier this year came out supporting efforts to clear Cole's name.
His family described an emotional welcome from legislators in February. Cole's mother, Ruby Session and his youngest brother, Cory, spent months lobbying for the reforms - Cory logged 14,000 miles and three blown tires as he traveled from Fort Worth to Austin to testify and lobby.

"We had everything in place," Cory said. "We really did have it, and it would have been sweeping changes."

Read the full story here. (Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, 06/02/09)
And Innocence Project of Texas Policy Director Scott Henson wrote on his blog Grits for Breakfast about his disappointment that the state may have to wait two years for these critical reforms.
We didn't need more study by the Legislature on this issue, we needed action. Eyewitness ID errors make up 80% of DNA exoneration cases and the Court of Criminal Appeals' Criminal Justice Integrity Unit said it should be the Legislature's highest priority for preventing false convictions. But unless the issue is added to a call in a special session, at least two more years will pass before the Lege can begin to rectify the problem.

That's inexcusable. It's not okay for the Legislature to know that innocent people are being convicted under the statutes they've written and simply decline to prevent it.

Read Henson’s post here. (Grits for Breakfast, 06/01/09)
New York is in dire need of similar reforms, and we asked supporters in the state yesterday to reach out to lawmakers urging them to ensure that New York State passes these critical measures before the end of the session. If you’re in New York, send a copy here.

If you’re outside of New York, we ask you to reach out to your lawmakers to tell them reforms to prevent wrongful convictions are important to you. Find out about the laws in your state here and then find your representative’s contact information here.





Tags: Timothy Cole

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New York Lags on Reforms

Posted: June 8, 2009 6:35 pm

An Innocence Project report released today finds that New York outpaces almost every other state in the number of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing but has fallen behind others in reforms to prevent future injustice. And diverse voices across the state have called on lawmakers to act this session to address wrongful convictions.

Westchester Journal News columnist Noreen O’Donnell wrote today that it would be a shame if reforms were delayed again in New York by further study. Sylvia Barnes Bouchard, the mother of New York exoneree Steven Barnes, wrote in the Syracuse Post-Standard that the injustice suffered by her son – and his family – can be avoided by critical reforms.

Right now, Gov. David Paterson and leaders in the state Legislature are deciding whether to make our justice system more fair, accurate and reliable so that law enforcement can identify the guilty and protect the innocent. The current legislative session ends later this month, and our elected officials can adopt critical reforms before then to prevent wrongful convictions that devastate individuals' lives, families and entire communities.Steven is one of 24 people in New York wrongfully convicted and then exonerated with DNA testing. These cases are just the tip of the iceberg, since DNA testing is possible in just a tiny fraction of cases. But the exonerations show how our criminal justice system has failed, and how it can be fixed.Read her full column here. (Syracuse Post-Standard, 06/07/09)
And individuals across the state are writing to state leaders urging them to take action on these reforms during this session. If you’re in New York, please write to your lawmakers now.




Tags: Steven Barnes

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Will Texas Legislators Return for Innocence Reforms?

Posted: June 9, 2009 5:45 pm

Texas Gov. Rick Perry told reporters this afternoon that the state legislature will definitely have a special session this summer to deal with “a number of really good pieces of legislation.” Perry said that among the pending legislation that should be addressed is a bill that would have given him the power to posthumously pardon Tim Cole, who was exonerated ten years after he died in prison while serving for a crime he didn’t commit.

Texas lawmakers ended their session last week with several critical reforms addressing wrongful convictions still on the table. Although an improvement to exoneree compensation was passed and signed by Perry this year, bills requiring recorded interrogation and improved eyewitness identification were stalled by legislative maneuvering.

Read today’s update here. (Dallas Morning News, 06/09/09)




Tags: Texas, Timothy Cole

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One Year Out and Counting: Thomas McGowan Just Wants To Help Others

Posted: June 11, 2009 11:16 am



One year ago today, Thomas McGowan was officially exonerated in Texas after serving 23 years in prison for a rape and burglary he didn’t commit. The Innocence Project, which represented McGowan, obtained DNA testing in his case in 2008. The results proved that another person had committed the sexual assault for which McGowan had served more than two decades in prison.

Above, left to right, Texas exonerees James Giles, Thomas McGowan, James Waller and Charles Chatman.

After his release, McGowan spoke with CBS News about what it felt like to be a free man. He said: "It's the best high. It is. New life… It feels good to go down the street, I am not there at a place with barbed wire, and fences.” He was amazed by how much had changed since he had gone to prison, and remarked that “everything is new, a whole new world."

In a blog he wrote on the Innocence Project’s website after his exoneration, McGowan stated that he wanted to obtain a job because it would make him feel that “he had a full life.” He said he hoped to get a position where he could help people, like at a nursing home or a hospital.

McGowan had also built close ties with fellow exonerees in Texas. He meets twice a month with others freed in Texas after serving years for crimes they didn’t commit, to “hang out and talk” and provide support for one another.

Two weeks ago, McGowan and the rest of the group appeared at the courthouse to greet and offer assistance to the newest Dallas county exoneree, Jerry Lee Evans.





Tags: Thomas McGowan

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The Science of Memory

Posted: June 16, 2009 5:42 pm

As readers of this blog know, eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing. More than three decades of social science research has shown that human memory is fallible and that reforms to eyewitness identification procedures can reduce misidentifications. Could neuroscience also hold some clues to the mystery of memory?

A recent article in Seed Magazine reported on a unique multi-university project underway to explore the intersections of neuroscience and the law. A group of 40 neuroscientists, lawyers and philosophers are working together to examine the biology behind memory and to answer the question of how memory works.

One reason that such technologies are so alluring is that people tend to be poor judges of the quality of their memories. The circumstances in which eyewitnesses find themselves might render their recollections particularly untrustworthy, says Elizabeth Loftus, a professor of psychology at the University of California and a pioneer in the field of eyewitness research. “When it comes to brief episodes of memory, like in many criminal cases, poor lighting, passage of time, biased or suggestive questioning all can produce an erroneous memory,” she says.
Scientists working on the project are careful not to promise that their research will lead to new forms of evidence, however.
“We can tell surprisingly well what people are thinking from brain scans,” says (Princeton Psychology Professor Ken) Norman. “But if you’re going to convict someone, ‘better than chance’ is not good enough.” (Standford Law Prof. Hank) Greely also believes that neuroscientific information may be unduly persuasive to people.

Read the full story here. (SEED Magazine, 6/13/09)
Read more here about eyewitness misidentification and wrongful convictions.





Tags: Eyewitness Misidentification

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A Disappointing Decision and a Renewed Call for Reform

Posted: June 18, 2009 5:45 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 today to deny DNA testing in the case of Innocence Project client William Osborne, who is seeking tests that could prove his innocence of a 1993 Alaska rape. The court ultimately ruled that the finality of a conviction is more important than making sure the right person was convicted.

Today’s decision is deeply disappointing and flawed, but it will have a limited impact because most cases are resolved at the local or state level. One effect of the decision will be to bring new urgency to the movement to ensure that all prisoners in all states with valid claims of innocence have access to DNA testing that can prove their innocence.

Please take action today and sign the Innocence Project petition for DNA testing access.

Download the full Supreme Court brief and other materials from the Osborne case here, and read a sample of today’s media coverage below.

New York Times: Justices Rule Inmates Don’t Have Right to DNA Tests

CBS News Court Watch: Court Content to Follow, Not Lead, On DNA Testing

NPR: Court Rules Convicts Have No Right To DNA Tests

Associated Press: High Court Says Convicted Lack Right to DNA Testing




Tags: William Osborne

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New York Exonerees Call for Reform

Posted: June 18, 2009 4:25 pm

A group of New York exonerees and their families sent letters today to elected state officials urging them to take action this session to address the causes of wrongful conviction. A group of 13 exonerees sent a joint letter to lawmakers, writing:

Each one of us was convicted of serious felonies before DNA testing finally proved our innocence. We are from every part of New York State, and we served a combined 163.5 years – approximately 59,677 days – in prison before we were exonerated.

We are living, breathing proof that New York’s criminal justice system has failed again and again. Our cases show how the system is falling short and how it can be fixed.

The injustice we endured is compounded by knowing that reforms have not been adopted to prevent this from happening to other people. You can change that. A series of common-sense reforms would make our justice system more fair, accurate and reliable. These reforms would help law enforcement identify and apprehend true perpetrators of crime, while protecting other innocent people from wrongful convictions.
Read the letters here.

Also this week, New York State Bar Association President Michael E. Getnick urged state lawmakers to establish a commission on the provision of quality defense services in the state.





Tags: Bad Lawyering

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Friday Roundup: The Struggle for DNA Access

Posted: June 19, 2009 12:00 pm

The big news in the innocence movement this week came from Washington, D.C., yesterday, where the U.S. Supreme Court denied Innocence Project client William Osborne access to the DNA testing that could prove his innocence. (The Innocence Project’s comment on the case is here and the full Supreme Court opinion is here).

The impact of yesterday’s decision will be limited, however, because most prisoners obtain access to DNA testing at the state level. Osborne’s case is an example of one in which DNA access at the state level is difficult, and Kenneth Reed’s is another.

A prestigious group of DNA and legal experts filed a brief this week in a Louisiana appeals court backing a judge’s decision to grant DNA testing in Reed’s case. Reed, an Innocence Project client, was sentenced to life for a 1991 Louisiana rape he says he didn’t commit and he is seeking DNA testing that could prove his innocence.

The Ohio Supreme Court will hear the case of a former Ohio police officer seeking DNA testing to prove his innocence.

A Missouri man convicted of a 2005 murder he says he didn’t commit was denied a new trial this week.

The family of Texas exoneree Timothy Cole is hoping state legislators will return for a special session to review a bill allowing Gov. Rick Perry to issue Cole a posthumous pardon.

The Dallas Morning News crime blog ran a Q&A this week with public defender Michelle Moore, who has represented seven of 20 people cleared through DNA testing in Dallas.

A man who spent 17 years in prison in Japan for a murder evidence shows he didn’t commit visited his hometown this week and received an apology from the police chief.

‘‘I apologize from the bottom of my heart for imposing on you this hardship for such a long time,’’ the chief told 62-year-old Toshikazu Sugaya.




Tags: Access to DNA Testing, William Osborne

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A Strong Response to the Supreme Court

Posted: June 22, 2009 3:35 pm

In a 5-4 decision last week, the U.S. Supreme Court denied DNA testing access to Innocence Project client William Osborne, ruling that the finality of a conviction is more important than making sure the right person was convicted.

The disagreement from the press and the public was swift and strong. The New York Times called the ruling “appalling.” The Washington Post said “access to DNA evidence should not be based on the luck of the draw.”

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram called the decision a “devastating setback for prisoners.” The Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger added: “In its ruling the court made clear it cares more about procedure than making certain the right person has been convicted.”

Political strategist Robert Creamer wrote today on the Huffington Post that “in the view of the majority of the court, justice and due process are irrelevant.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder issued a statement separating the decision from the interest of fair justice. “Today’s decision is limited: the Court merely spoke about what is constitutional, not what is good policy,” Holder said. “This administration believes that defendants should be permitted access to DNA evidence in a range of circumstances.”

Discussion boards and social networks have been active with discussion of the decision, as well. Several commenters on the Innocence Project Facebook Page expressed dismay with the decision, and hundreds of people have criticized the decision on twitter.

The Innocence Project is now more determined than ever to pass DNA access laws in the three states that lack them (Alaska, Massachusetts and Oklahoma). DNA access statutes in other states, like Alabama and Kentucky, are in desperate need of improvement. Join our call for fair justice today by signing the petition for DNA access.





Tags: William Osborne

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Thirteen Years and Counting

Posted: June 24, 2009 4:05 pm



Thirteen years ago today, Verneal Jimerson was exonerated of all charges surrounding his alleged involvement in what has become known as The Ford Heights Four Case. In 1985, Jimerson had been found guilty of committing a rape and double murder in Ford Heights, Illinois. He served nearly 11 years on death row before his release.

Five defendants spent a combined 75 years in prison for the murders before DNA testing proved their innocence. Several of the most prominent causes of wrongful conviction were involved: including false confessions, unvalidated forensic science, bad lawyering and more. The group was finally freed in 1996. Read a summary of the cases here.

One of Jimerson’s first stops as a free man was to visit the graves of his parents, both of whom had died while he was in prison. Moreover, because he had been in jail so long, Jimerson hardly knew his three grown daughters and had never met his five grandchildren. When asked how he felt about the time he had lost with members of family, Jimerson told the Chicago Tribune “Sure it hurts. It hurts a lot. But I've got to move on. Because by the grace of God I'm not going to let anger just eat me out." Upon his release, Jimerson was happy to be able to reconnect with some of his relatives and told the Chicago Sun-Times that he was determined to find a job and get a driver’s license.

In 1999, Jimerson received about $9 million as part of a wrongful prosecution settlement between Cook County and the Ford Heights Four. At the time, it was the largest civil rights settlement in U.S. history.

Other Exoneration Anniversaries This Week:

Monday: David Gray, Illinois (Served 20Years, Exonerated 6/22/99)




Tags: Verneal Jimerson

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The Osborne Case: A Misguided Decision and the Path Forward

Posted: June 24, 2009 4:43 pm

In a guest post today on the American Constitution Society blog, Innocence Project Staff Attorney Nina Morrison analyzes last week's Supreme Court decision on DNA access and how it will affect efforts to obtain DNA testing for prisoners seeking to overturn wrongful convictions. She writes:

In an already much-criticized decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 last week that Innocence Project client William Osborne could not use the federal civil rights law to obtain DNA testing for the purpose of proving his innocence of the rape for which he was convicted and sent to prison in 1994. The decision was disappointing and surprising given the broad national consensus about DNA testing's unprecedented capabilities to exonerate the innocent. But the court ultimately decided that principles of finality and deference to state law trumped fundamental fairness, even where scientific proof of actual innocence is concerned.

Read the full post at the ACS Blog.




Tags: William Osborne

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Innocence Denied

Posted: June 29, 2009 4:10 pm

In a new Q&A on the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund blog, Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld talks about the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to deny DNA testing to Alaska prisoner William Osborne. While the decision was disappointing, Neufeld also says it represents “a call to action for all of us to pass legislation granting DNA testing in the three states with no laws on the books and improve the existing laws in other states.”

He goes on to discuss the disproportionate number of African-Americans and Latinos among people exonerated by DNA testing (70% of the 240 DNA exonerees are people of color).

LDF: Can one draw any meaning out of these numbers and what they say about racial disparities in the criminal justice system?

Neufeld: In many ways, the numbers speak for themselves. It’s impossible to look at the racial breakdown of the people who have been exonerated through DNA testing and not see that our criminal justice system disproportionately impacts people of color. Digging deeper, most of the DNA exonerations are people of color who were wrongfully convicted of sexually assaulting white people. Two-thirds of the exoneration cases are cross-race sexual assaults, while the Department of Justice says that less than 15% of all rapes are cross-race. There’s a long history of the American criminal justice system treating the rape of a white woman by a black man as a particularly vile crime. One consequence of treating such crimes with particular zeal is that people of color will be wrongfully convicted more frequently.

The DNA exoneration cases also illustrate the intersection of race and class. In case after case, defendants could not afford top-quality lawyers to challenge prosecutors who often over-stepped the line to secure a conviction – and in the vast majority of cases, the defendants were people of color. Years later, when they are exonerated through DNA testing, they are released without adequate financial compensation and little or no services from the state.Read the full post at The Defenders Online.




Tags: William Osborne

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Three Years Free, Planning for the Future

Posted: July 6, 2009 2:42 pm



On July 6, 2006, three years ago today, Alan Newton walked out of a Bronx courthouse a free man after serving 21 years in prison. He was wrongfully convicted of rape and related charges in 1985 based in part on an eyewitness misidentification. For years, the evidence from his case was thought to be lost or destroyed, but with the help of the Innocence Project, it was finally uncovered in 2005. When subsequent DNA testing conclusively excluded Newton as the perpetrator, his convictions for rape, robbery, and assault were all vacated.

On the day he was freed, Newton spoke with the New York news media about his time in prison and his struggle to obtain DNA testing. Rather than focusing on what had happened to him, Newton instead expressed sympathy for the victim and turned his attention to what could be done in the future. In speaking to NY1, he said “the false arrest and unjust conviction and the amount of time I served should serve as an example, because you have a lot of other brothers in the system who are truly innocent also, and their predicament needs to be brought to the forefront.” Newton also discussed his own plans for the future, which included finishing his college education.

Above, Newton and family members on the day of his release in 2006.

Since his release, Newton has followed through with his education plans. He recently graduated with honors from Medgar Evers College with a degree in business. A scholarship from the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund helped Newton pursue his degree. While in school, he served as a counselor for other students, using his story to encourage them to stay in school. Next, Newton plans to continue his education by attending law school.

In addition to his remarkable educational achievements, Newton has become a leader working for criminal justice reform. He frequently speaks to audiences about his story to raise awareness about the issues and to highlight the need for better eyewitness identification procedures and evidence preservation laws. Not content to stop there, Newton has also co-founded A.F.T.E.R. (Advocates for Freedom, Transformation, and Exoneree Rights), an organization which provides services and support to exonerees. He plans to continue this work as he continues on the path toward practicing law himself.

Other Exoneration Anniversaries This Week:

Thursday:

Byron Halsey, New Jersey (Served 19 Years, Exonerated 7/9/07)

Keith Brown, North Carolina (Served 4 Years, Exonerated 7/9/97)

Saturday:

James Tillman, Connecticut (Served 16.5 Years, Exonerated 7/11/06)





Tags: Alan Newton

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The Supreme Court and Unvalidated Science

Posted: July 6, 2009 3:09 pm

An editorial in the Birmingham News makes a strong case for federal oversight and support of forensic science across the U.S. – especially in the wake of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. In the Melendez-Diaz case, the court ruled 5-4 that defendants have a right to cross-examine experts who conduct forensic tests in their case.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, says “serious deficiencies have been found in the forensic evidence used at criminal trials.” The Birmingham News editorial agrees that there are major problems with forensic science and calls for the creation of the National Institute of Forensic Science, a reform recommended in the recent National Academy of Sciences report on forensics and supported by the Innocence Project.

In our view, cross-examining forensic scientists is only a partial answer to the problem.

Congress needs to follow the advice of the National Academy of Sciences report -- specifically, to create an agency that can evaluate and improve these scientific techniques in criminal cases, set standards for their use and provide better oversight for practitioners and labs.

This is not just about making sure people aren't wrongly convicted of crimes, although that's part of it. Juries have often been led to believe that forensic tests on things like bullets and hairs are more authoritative than they are. Some people are sitting on Alabama's Death Row right now based largely on this kind of untested science. Even fingerprint identification has proved in some cases to be wrong.Read the full editorial here. (Birmingham News, 07/02/09)
Learn more about the National Academy of Sciences report and sign a petition supporting the creation of a National Institute of Forensic Science here.




Tags: Alabama, Forensic Oversight

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Painting the Exonerated

Posted: July 9, 2009 2:06 pm

By: Dan Bolick, Artist & Retired Art Teacher
Export, Pennsylvania

[Editor’s Note: Below is a guest post from Dan Bolick, whose solo exhibition “Resurrected” is currently on view at the Westmoreland Museum in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. In Part One of his post today, he writes about how he came to paint portraits of exonerees. Tomorrow, in part two, he writes about the experience of getting to know the exonerated and the power of art to open people’s eyes to injustice. He is speaking about the project tonight at the gallery. Images of several paintings are available here and details on tonight’s lecture are available by calling (724) 837-1500. At left is Bolick’s portrait of Drew Whitley, who was exonerated through DNA evidence after 16 years in prison or a crime he didn’t commit.]

I taught art for the inner-city Pittsburgh Public Schools for many years, and during that time I worked with many kids who wound up on the wrong side of the law.  Some got caught up in the legal system and found themselves being accused of petty crimes that they didn’t commit.  After being gone from my class for awhile they would return wondering “Why me?”  I tried to explain that the criminal justice system is not always fair, is somewhat broken and is simply best to be avoided.  I would tell them that sometimes the easy people to blame get fingered for crimes they didn’t commit.

The same kids would often get into trouble over and over again.  They were caught up in a viscous cycle and their crimes escalated as their anger over their situation increased.  During my final few years of teaching I saw more angry students than ever before.   Eventually the anger was directed at me, the school became a physically unsafe place to work, and I retired.

I became a full-time painter.  I attempted to paint that anger.  It was a cathartic experience for me.  Eventually, I was given the opportunity to have a solo exhibition of my paintings at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. But what to paint? Having removed myself from the classroom and painted the angry portraits eliminated the tension that I had felt, I wanted to paint something that could help people.

I decided to focus on the wrongfully convicted, to help make ordinary citizens aware of this terrible problem in society.  I first reached out to several exonerees and got no response. But I wasn’t going to let the project die.  After a month went by I began to research the Innocence Project and similar organizations across the country and came across a play called “Voices of Innocence,” written by four death row exonerees in New Orleans.  I figured that if they had already turned their horrible experiences into art they would be more open to my project.  I was right.  They agreed to allow me to come down to New Orleans to meet with them.

I would eventually paint portraits of ten men who suffered the unimaginable injustice of wrongful conviction, and my exhibition is currently up at the Westmoreland Museum. In another post tomorrow, I will discuss the memorable experience of working with exonerees and my hopes to keep this project alive.

[UPDATE: Read part two of this post here.]



Tags: Drew Whitley

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Art and Injustice

Posted: July 10, 2009 10:49 am

By: Dan Bolick, Artist & Retired Art Teacher
Export, Pennsylvania

[Editor’s Note: This is the second part of Dan Bolick’s post on his artistic process in painting portraits of exonerees for an exhibition at the Westmoreland Museum. Part one is here, and more details on the exhibition are here. At left is Bolick’s portrait of Michael Graham, who was cleared after 14 years on death row. Part one of Bolick's post is here.]

In May 2008 I met John Thompson. JT, who spent 18 years incarcerated for a murder he did not commit – 14 of those on death row – is the founder of Resurrection After Exoneration, which provides support for the wrongfully convicted after they are released from prison. The organization has built an incredibly inspiring and cooperative community.

I showed JT some photos of my portraits and explained my project to him. He was enthusiastic about it and began to contact other exonerees who would allow me to do their portraits. During my first trip to New Orleans I met with and photographed five of the ten men I would eventually paint.

Ryan Matthews spent 5 years on death row for a murder he did not commit before DNA testing proved him innocent.  He was rather quiet and said he had found peace.

Dan Bright works with at-risk youth in New Orleans. When I showed him photos of some of the angry youths I had painted, he said that those faces were his face when he was that age. He said that he would love to come to Pittsburgh to tell the kids his story. He told me of how he was in a parish prison when Hurricane Katrina hit. The guards ran away, abandoning the prisoners. They escaped the prison as the hurricane hit it and made their way to an overpass to await rescue. They stayed together and told their rescuers that they were prisoners. Dan spent 10 years on death row for a murder he did not commit.

Greg Bright was sentenced to life imprisonment for a murder he did not commit. He was exonerated after more than 27 years. He told me that at the time when he was first incarcerated at age 20, he was totally illiterate.  He taught himself to read by sounding out the words to “The Lords Prayer,” which he found in the Bible. At age 47, when he was exonerated, he was writing his own legal briefs.

I also met Curtis Kyles, the subject of the excellent book “Desire Street.” Curtis was sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit and spent 18 years in prison, including 14 on death row. Curtis was put on trial five different times for the same murder.

I left New Orleans with sketches and hundreds of photos of these five exonerees and a feeling of being very privileged to have been allowed into their inner circle.  When I arrived back in Pittsburgh I was able to meet with Drew Whitley, who spent 18 years behind bars before DNA testing proved his innocence. He also said he would participate, and I felt the project coming together.

In October of 2008, JT called me and invited me back to New Orleans. Resurrection After Exoneration was planning to inaugurate a new building and Innocence Project New Orleans was having a fundraiser at the Downtown Sheraton Hotel with John Grisham as the keynote speaker.  JT wanted to know if I would be able to show my art work at both places over a two-day period.  Also, JT was inviting as many as 20 exonerees to the festivities who I could meet with and photograph for my painting exhibition.  I jumped at the chance!

On this trip, I met exonerees Albert Burrell, Calvin Willis, Michael Graham and Clyde Charles. Sadly Clyde died this past January. He is missed by all of the exonerees.

I painted portraits of these ten exonerees, and the show opened at the museum on June 13th with a powerful reception. I have found through this experience that most people do not wish to talk about the issue of wrongly incarcerated people. But when the issue is turned into art and these men are humanized, people become passionate and freely give their opinions. During the opening there were more than a few tears shed. Art can be very powerful.

I want to keep the project going. I hope to paint additional exonerees in the months ahead and bring the paintings to more audiences around the country, because this is a critical issue and I believe art opens to the door to an important dialogue about injustice.



Tags: Clyde Charles, Ryan Matthews, Calvin Willis

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Friday Roundup: Freed, and Still Fighting

Posted: July 10, 2009 6:05 pm

There’s freedom in the air this week after Independence Day. Two men – an uncle and nephew – were granted a new trial in Michigan today, and two others were freed Tuesday in Chicago after two decades in prison. Even after exoneration, however, some former prisoners find a hard road. Here’s a roundup of news from the week:

DeShawn Reed and his uncle Marvin Reed were granted a new trial in Michigan today, more than eight years after they were convicted of a shooting they say they didn’t commit. The case was the first legal victory for the new Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School.

Ronald Kitchen and Marvin Reeves were freed in Chicago after two decades in prison when the state Attorney General’s office opted not to press charges. Kitchen says he confessed to murders he didn’t commit after detectives beat him.

Meanwhile, Missouri became the 16th state to mandate recording of interrogations by law enforcement agencies. We reported on the Kitchen/Reeves case and advances in recording of interrogations here. More on Kitchen and Reeves from the Chicago Tribune is here.

But even after earning freedom, some exonerees find little support in the outside world. Arthur Whitfield was exonerated in 2004 in Virginia, but told a Virginian-Pilot reporter this week: "I understand that life isn't easy, but I thought it would be a little bit better than what it is."

A New York City detective wrote in a New York Times blog Q & A that detectives need to be aware of the possibility of a false confession when conducting an interrogation.

Author John Grisham, a member of the Innocence Project Board of Directors, announced this week he’s working on a screenplay about the Norfolk Four case, and documentarian Ken Burns is making a film about the Central Park jogger case, in which five teenagers spent years in prison for a rape they didn’t commit.

The Innocence Project of Florida and local attorneys continued to call for an investigation of dog scent cases in Florida.

California Innocence Project Director Justin Brooks discussed a recent case on a new podcast.





Tags: False Confessions

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Sotomayor and the Osborne Case

Posted: July 15, 2009 3:26 pm

While Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor fielded questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee for the second day today, court watchers considered the significance of her answer to a question on DNA testing from Illinois Senator Dick Durbin.

Durbin asked Sotomayor about the recent case of District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne (in which the Innocence Project represented Alaska prisoner William Osborne, who is seeking DNA testing that could prove his innocence).

Here’s the exchange:

DURBIN: And this is a recent case before the Supreme Court I'd like to make reference to, D.A.'s Office v. Osborne, involving DNA. It turns out there are only three states in the United States that don't provide state legislative access to DNA evidence that might be -- might exonerate someone who is in prison.
I am told that, since 1989, 240 post-conviction DNA exonerations have taken place across this country, 17 involving inmates on death row. Now, the Supreme Court in the Osborne case was asked, what about those three states? Is there a federal right to access to DNA evidence for someone currently incarcerated who questions whether or not they were properly charged and convicted? And the court said, no, there was no federal right, but it was a 5-4 case. So, though I don't quarrel with your premise that it's our responsibility on this side of the table to look at the death penalty, the fact is, in this recent case, this Osborne case, there was a clear opportunity for the Supreme Court right across the street to say, "We think this gets to an issue of due process as to whether someone sitting on death row in Alaska, Massachusetts or Oklahoma, where their state law gives them no access, under the law, to DNA evidence."

So I ask you, either from the issue of DNA or from other perspectives, isn't it clear that the Supreme Court does have some authority in the due process realm to make decisions relating to the arbitrariness of the death penalty?

SOTOMAYOR: The court is not a legislative body. It is a reviewing body of whether a particular act by a state in a particular case is constitutional or not. In a particular situation, the Court may conclude that the state has acted unconstitutionally and invalidate the act, but it's difficult to answer a question about the role of the Court outside of the functions of the Court which is we don't make broad policies. We decide questions based on cases and the principles implicated by that particular case before you.
One blogger wrote at DailyKos that while Sotomayor’s reluctance to criticize a recent court decision is understandable, she may have missed an opportunity to “defer to wisdom than caution when the two part ways.”

Full coverage of the Osborne case, including the decision and briefs, is here.





Tags: William Osborne

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Racial Justice in North Carolina

Posted: July 15, 2009 4:40 pm

The North Carolina House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill yesterday that seeks to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system by allowing capital murder defendants and death row prisoners to challenge prosecutions based on evidence of racial bias. Only one other state – Kentucky – has a similar law.

Members of minority groups are disproportionately represented among DNA exonerees –70 percent of the 240 people exonerated with DNA after serving years for crimes they didn’t commit were people of color. Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld recently told the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s Defenders Online blog that racial bias and the possibility of cross-racial misidentification are both causes of wrongful conviction. Neufeld said:

It’s impossible to look at the racial breakdown of the people who have been exonerated through DNA testing and not see that our criminal justice system disproportionately impacts people of color. Digging deeper, most of the DNA exonerations are people of color who were wrongfully convicted of sexually assaulting white people. Two-thirds of the exoneration cases are cross-race sexual assaults, while the Department of Justice says that less than 15% of all rapes are cross-race. There’s a long history of the American criminal justice system treating the rape of a white woman by a black man as a particularly vile crime. One consequence of treating such crimes with particular zeal is that people of color will be wrongfully convicted more frequently.

The DNA exoneration cases also illustrate the intersection of race and class. In case after case, defendants could not afford top-quality lawyers to challenge prosecutors who often over-stepped the line to secure a conviction – and in the vast majority of cases, the defendants were people of color. Years later, when they are exonerated through DNA testing, they are released without adequate financial compensation and little or no services from the state.
More on the North Carolina bill from Facing South:
Specifically, the Racial Justice Act would allow defendants in death-penalty cases to use statistics to try to show that race played a factor in the application of the death penalty in their cases. If the statistics showed significant racial disparities in how the death penalty has been applied, a judge could block a prosecutor from pursuing the death penalty in that case, or overturn a jury's decision to impose a death sentence. It would also allow inmates currently on death row the opportunity to argue that their death sentences were racially motivated. If a death sentence were thrown out under the bill, it would be converted to a sentence of life in prison without parole.  

The act is a landmark piece of legislation for a state where blacks make up 20 percent of the total population but 60 percent of those on death row. The timing is also critical as North Carolina continues to debate the future of capital punishment.

…The NC Racial Justice Act goes to a second vote in the state House today, and then it will move back to the state Senate, where it faces a difficult challenge. Observers expect the bill will go into conference committee, where House and Senate negotiators would try to work out a compromise bill that could pass in both chambers. The Senate previously approved a version of the Racial Justice Act in May, but it contained controversial clauses meant to resume the death penalty in North Carolina. Those clauses were later removed in the House.

Read the full article here. (Facing South, 07/15/2009)




Tags: Death Penalty

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New Report: Ways to Prevent Misidentification and Wrongful Convictions

Posted: July 16, 2009 4:06 pm

An Innocence Project report released today examines eyewitness misidentifications, the leading cause of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing, and recommends simple reforms states and local jurisdictions can take to address the problem.

Titled “Reevaluating Lineups: Why Witnesses Make Mistakes and How to Reduce the Chance of a Misidentification,” the report lays out the problems with traditional eyewitness identifications procedures and lists six simple reforms to reduce misidentifications.

As shown in the graph below, eyewitness misidentification was a factor in 75% of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing.



Nine states have taken action to prevent eyewitness misidentifications, and 17 more states have considered legislation on the issue in the last two years. The Innocence Project announced today that it will focus on implementing reforms over the next year in 10 states, including New York, Texas, Kentucky, New Mexico, Ohio, Michigan and Rhode Island.

“We know from social science research and real-world experience that these reforms work. We’re looking forward to working with police and policymakers in several key states over the next year to help them understand the need to improve lineups and the benefits of these reforms,” Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom said.  “Victims are denied justice, innocent defendants are sent to prison and the public’s safety is at risk when real perpetrators go undetected.”

Read the executive summary here.

Download the full report.

Read today’s press release.

Share the link to the new report on Twitter or Facebook.



Tags: Eyewitness Identification, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Friday Roundup: Fighting Injustice and Reforming Forensics

Posted: July 24, 2009 6:10 pm

Here's this week's roundup of news on innocence, injustice and forensic science:

The Texas Forensic Science Commission met today in Houston to plan next steps in the panel’s review of the arson convictions of Cameron Todd Willingham and Ernest Willis. Grits for Breakfast has more.

Attorneys for Illinois prisoner Michael Tillman are seeking a new trial based on allegations that Tillman falsely confessed after being tortured by Chicago Police officers under the command of former Detective Jon Burge.

A Michigan judge this week ordered a new trial for Lorinda Swain, who has served eight years in prison for a crime she says she didn’t commit. Swain was convicted in 2002 of sexually assaulting her 13-year-old son, who has since recanted statements he made against her. Attorneys and students at the University of Michigan Law School Innocence Clinic worked on the case.

Also in Michigan, prosecutors opposed a new trial for Davontae Sanford – who was convicted at age 17 of a murder he says he didn’t commit – despite a confession from another man who says he committed the crime.

The Governors of Massachusetts and Virginia are proposing new state laws to adjust the ways courts handle forensic evidence in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts.

For more forensic news, visit the Just Science Coalition website.





Tags: Cameron Todd Willingham

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Artists Stand Against Wrongful Convictions

Posted: August 5, 2009 4:09 pm



Artists and entertainers around the world are taking action to help free the innocent from prison and prevent future wrongful convictions. Dozens of artists have joined the Innocence Project Artists’ Committee to raise awareness about the issues and to integrate the issues into their work.

Actors, writers, directors and musicians who are part of the Innocence Project Artists’ Committee include Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, James Gandolfini, Stephen Colbert, Blue Man Group, Nia Long, Nora Ephron, Trent Reznor, Helen Mirren and dozens of others.

In addition, several musicians are donating a portion of tour profits to the Innocence Project this summer. Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal kick off a 30-date U.S. tour this Saturday in Philadelphia, and a portion of proceeds will go to a variety of good causes, including the Innocence Project. Fans help Bonnie and Taj choose which issues to address – click here to vote for Social Justice & Human Rights to help support the Innocence Project. If you’re planning to attend the New York or Connecticut concerts, be sure to stop by the Innocence Project table to meet staff members and learn more about our work. Buy tickets – and premium backstage packages supporting our work – here.

The Monsters of Folk – a new group including singer-songwriters M. Ward and Conor Oberst, along with My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James and producer-musician Mike Mogis – will also be supporting the Innocence Project this summer, dedicating $1 from each ticket to the November 6 New York City show to the Innocence Project. Buy tickets here.





Tags: Artists Committee

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New Video: Discussing Innocence and Exoneration

Posted: August 6, 2009 10:40 am



Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and exoneree Jerry Miller spent a half hour onstage at the GEL 2009 conference in New York City. They discussed the stunning details of Miller’s wrongful conviction in 1982 and his adjustment to life since his exoneration in 2007.

Watch the full video here.





Tags: Jerry Miller

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Pardons in "Norfolk Four" Case Fall Short

Posted: August 6, 2009 5:47 pm

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine announced today that he had granted conditional pardons to three former Navy sailors based on “serious doubts” about their guilt of a 1997 Norfolk murder. Known as the “Norfolk Four,” the defendants have sought for years to clear their names of a crime DNA shows they didn’t commit. (Clockwise from top left, the men are Joseph Dick, Eric Wilson, Danial Williams and Derek Tice)

Three of the four (Dick, Williams and Tice) remain in prison today and could be released soon based on the governor’s announcement, which reduces their sentences to time served. Attorneys for the men said today they were happy the defendants would be freed, but extremely disappointed that Kaine refused to acknowledge their innocence and fully clear them. DNA testing on several items at the crime scene has been matched to another man, who has pled guilty and confessed to committing the crime alone.

"The Governor’s decision is illogical. He agrees that there was absolutely no physical trace at the crime scene of any of the innocent sailors and that their conflicting confessions create substantial doubt. His pardon statement today never asserts that the Norfolk Four were involved in this terrible crime in any way," said George Kendall, Joe Dick's attorney.  "Instead, all he has said is that our clients have failed to conclusively prove that they are innocent. Governor Kaine's failure to grant absolute pardons based on innocence to these innocent Navy men further compounds the many mistakes of the Norfolk police and prosecutors that led to their wrongful imprisonment."

Added Don Salzman, Danial Williams' attorney, "Governor Kaine has set an impossible standard for the grant of an absolute pardon.  The Norfolk Four case is no different than the other 40 or so false confession cases that led to complete exonerations based on DNA evidence."
Read more about the case on the official Norfolk Four site.

More on today’s announcement:

Associated Press: VA Governor Pardons Three in 1997 Rape/Slaying

Virginian-Pilot: Gov. Kaine pardons three members of the Norfolk Four

Gov. Kaine’s statement.





Tags: Norfolk Four

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Friday Roundup: A Big Week

Posted: August 7, 2009 6:20 pm

It was a big week for freedom. On Wednesday, Kenneth Ireland was freed in Connecticut. On Thursday, three Virginia men were pardoned, and today Innocence Project client Ernest Sonnier walked out of a Texas courtroom a free man for the first time in 23 years.

The three sailors pardoned yesterday in the Norfolk Four case were also freed from prison today.

Time Magazine and CNN investigated the questionable science behind dog scent evidence, and Florida exoneree Bill Dillon discussed the role of a police dog in his wrongful conviction on Detroit’s WCSX radio.

A new interview with Anthony Steel surfaced on the web this week, two years after his death. Steel spent spent more than two decades in a British prison for murder before evidence of his innocence led to his release. He never spoke publicly about the case while alive.

The Detroit Metro Times ran a feature this week on Deshawn and Marvin Reed, who were freed from prison after eight years with the help of the new University of Michigan Innocence Clinic.

A hearing is set for Monday for a judge to review DNA test results in the case of Tommy Arthur, who is on Alabama’s death row for a crime he says he didn’t commit.

Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom spoke with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about the need for improvements in evidence handling and preservation.



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Ernest Sonnier’s First Days of Freedom

Posted: August 10, 2009 12:30 pm

Ernest Sonnier spent the weekend with his family for the first time in 23 years after he was freed from prison Friday based on evidence of his innocence. The Innocence Project will continue working to fully clear Sonnier’s name, as DNA testing has implicated the two real perpetrators of the crime for which Sonnier was convicted. The facts of the case are here.

More than 17 relatives – encompassing five generations and ranging in age from 18 months to 94 years – joined Sonnier at the Harris County Courthouse Friday as he was freed on bond pending further proceedings. Two other men proven innocent by DNA testing – James Giles and James Waller – were also on hand to congratulate and support Sonnier and his family.

Hundreds of Innocence Project supporters sent personal messages to Sonnier this weekend welcoming him home. Send yours here.

Here’s a sampling of media coverage of Sonnier’s release over the weekend:

Houston Chronicle: A Time for Hugs and Happiness (with video)

KHOU: Man Who Spent 23 Years in Jail Released on Bond After DNA Testing (with video)

KBMT: Man Freed After 23 Years in Prison Due to DNA Evidence (with video)

New York Times: Man Held for 23 Years Is Set Free by DNA Tests

AFP: DNA Tests Clear US Man After 23 Years in Prison

Associated Press: Texas Man Convicted of Rape Freed After DNA Tests

Grits for Breakfast: 'Nuther Exoneration Implicates Houston PD Crime Lab

Talk Left: DNA Frees Another TX Man – This One After 23 Years

Washington Post: Photo of James Giles and Ernest Sonnier





Tags: James Giles, James Waller, Ernest Sonnier

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Examining the Houston Crime Lab

Posted: August 12, 2009 6:17 pm

Ernest Sonnier walked out of a Houston courtroom last week a free man for the first time in 23 years, and his case is the latest to be overturned after faulty testing at the Houston Police Department Crime Lab contributed to a wrongful conviction.

An editorial today in the Houston Chronicle points out that two years after the conclusion of a $5 million investigation into problems at the lab, countless cases still need to be evaluated for possible retesting. In addition, the paper writes today that the case is a sign of the need for independent crime labs.

Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck said, “There are still thousands of cases from the Houston Crime Lab that need to be reviewed, and that needs to happen quickly.”
He praised the administration of DA Lykos for ending prosecutorial foot dragging, creating a unit to examine convicts' credible claims of innocence, and being “focused on getting to the truth.”
In addition to swiftly reviewing those remaining cases, local officials need to move forward with a plan to create a regional crime lab independent of police and prosecutor influence

Read the full editorial here. (Houston Chronicle, 08/11/09)
Last week, Chronicle columnist Rick Casey addressed another cause of wrongful conviction in a two-part series on eyewitness identification and the Timothy Cole case. Chronicle cartoonist Nick Anderson contributed a cartoon about faulty lineups




Tags: Eyewitness Identification, Forensic Oversight

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Forensics in the News

Posted: August 17, 2009 3:42 pm

CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" launches a new series tonight investigating faulty forensic science around the United States and proposed reforms that could prevent wrongful convictions. Tonight's episode is expected to feature an interview with Innocence Project client Ernest Sonnier. Tune in at 10 p.m. EST.

In another case involving faulty forensic testing, The Oregon Attorney General's office recently said prisoner Philip Scott Cannon should be freed while prosecutors consider a new trial. He was convicted of three murders based in part on bullet lead analysis, which has since been discredited.

Read more about forensics in the news and take action to support federal forensic reform.



Tags: Unvalidated/Improper Forensics

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Forensics Series Continues Tonight on CNN

Posted: August 20, 2009 3:15 pm

CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” has been investigating questions about forensic disciplines in a special series on forensics this week. Last night, CNN contributor Sanjay Gupta visited the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab to report on hair analysis, bullet analysis and DNA testing practices. Watch video of his visit here.

And CNN medical producer Stephanie Smith posted on the AC360 blog today about Innocence Project client Steven Barnes and the role of unvalidated forensics in wrongful convictions.

The show continues tonight at 10 p.m. ET with a report on Dr. Steven Hayne in Mississippi, who has been accused of reaching conclusions that go beyond science to fit what prosecutors need to secure convictions. Tonight's broadcast will feature an interview with Tyler Edmonds, who was sentenced to death row partly as a result of Hayne's testimony. Edmonds was released after the Mississippi Supreme Court threw out his conviction -- in a ruling that called Hayne's testimony "scientifically unfounded."

Two Innocence Project clients were exonerated last year after Hayne's testimony contributed to their wrongful convictions; read more about their cases here.

Learn about recommendations for forensic reform and take action at the Just Science website.





Tags: Steven Barnes, Kennedy Brewer, Forensic Oversight, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics

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Marvin Anderson Marks Seven Years of Freedom

Posted: August 21, 2009 1:10 pm



Today marks the seventh anniversary of the day Marvin Anderson was pardoned by Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, ending a two-decade nightmare that began when he was just 17 years old.

Anderson was convicted in 1982 of a rape he didn't commit and sentenced to 210 years in prison. He was released on parole after 15 years, but he continued to fight to overturn his wrongful conviction. It would be five more years before DNA testing obtained with the help of the Innocence Project finally proved his innocence. Today he works as a truck driver and a firefighter.

More than one-third of the people exonerated through DNA testing were arrested, like Anderson, before their 22nd birthday. They lost the prime of their lives for crimes they didn't commit and there's very little doubt they left innocent people behind them in prison when they walked out. Together, people wrongfully convicted in their youth served a combined 947 years in prison for crimes they didn't commit.

For a video on Anderson's case and multimedia features on 10 other cases, and to take action today, visit the Innocence Project's youth action campaign - "947 Years"

Learn more about the extraordinary events that led to Anderson's exoneration.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:


Charles Dabbs, New York (Exonerated 8/22/91, Served 7 Years)
Michael Evans and Paul Terry, Illinois (Exonerated 8/22/2003, Served 26 Years)





Tags: Marvin Anderson

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Friday Roundup: Uncovering Misconduct

Posted: August 21, 2009 5:45 pm

Long-time Innocence Project client Ralph Armstrong was cleared in Wisconsin this week after almost three decades in prison. His case is one of the worst examples of prosecutorial misconduct the Innocence Project has ever seen. Here’s more on Armstrong and a roundup of some other news from the week:

Several people discussed the implications of misconduct – and prosecutorial immunity – on Facebook and Twitter after the Armstrong case broke. Join the conversation on facebook and twitter.

CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” continues its series on forensic science tonight at 10 p.m. EST with a report on Dr. Steven Hayne in Mississippi, who has been accused of reaching conclusions that go beyond science to fit what prosecutors need to secure convictions (this story was pushed back by breaking news last night). Read the AC360 blog here.

Reason Magazine reported on the release of Bernard Baran in Massachusetts and asked why the prosecutor in the case has never been investigated or disciplined for his role in the case.

We reported here on the U.S. Supreme Court’s groundbreaking decision in the case of Troy Davis, and Innocence Project Staff Attorney Ezekiel Edwards spoke about the case with DemocracyNow!

The Guardian focused on eyewitness misidentification and the case of William Mills.

Connecticut Innocence Project client Kenneth Ireland was fully cleared this week – he told the Associated Press being freed is like “waking from a coma.”

Two Chicago men freed last month were officially cleared Wednesday when they received certificates of innocence, which entitle them to collect compensation under the state law (about $192,000 after serving 21 years in prison).

Virginia lawmakers voted to compensate Arthur Lee Whitefield and Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland said he supports a bill that would expand prisoner access to DNA testing that can prove innocence.


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NJ Judge to Order Evidence Search

Posted: August 24, 2009 6:09 pm

A New Jersey judge said today that 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 is seeking DNA testing that could prove his innocence.

Prosecutors have repeatedly told Brooks that evidence collected from the crime scene has been lost or destroyed, but the Innocence Project argued at a hearing today in Newark that a thorough search has not been conducted or documented. Judge Jerome St. John agreed to order the search, saying his order was a starting point and that he may order additional evidence searches in the case. The Innocence Project said the development is a good first step.

An editorial in today’s Star Ledger called for the evidence search, and for better evidence handling procedures in New Jersey. “New Jersey law allows a prisoner access to DNA testing whenever that evidence becomes available,” the editorial said. “Until it's located in Brooks' case, his guilt or innocence remains a mystery. That's not just sloppy record keeping, that's sloppy justice.”

Read the full editorial here.

More news coverage:

Associated Press: N.J. judge says search for DNA evidence in Newark man's sex assault case should resume

Read more on Brooks’ case.





Tags: Stephen Brooks

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Groundbreaking New Reports Show Texas Executed an Innocent Man

Posted: August 31, 2009 12:06 pm

An exhaustive report released today by the New Yorker finds that Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 in Texas for murders he didn't commit. The report follows years of investigation into the case, and concludes that the arson analysis used to convict Willingham was wrong — and that none of the other evidence used to convict Willingham was valid.

The findings in the New Yorker report and other evaluations of Willingham's case have brought renewed calls for a moratorium on executions and comprehensive reforms of forensic science in the United States.

Read the full New Yorker story here.

Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck writes in the Huffington Post today that this case should lead to sweeping improvements in the forensic sciences:

Whether our criminal justice system has executed an innocent man should no longer be an open question. We don't know how often it happens, but we know it has happened. Cameron Todd Willingham's case proves that.

The focus turns to how we can stop it from happening again. As long as our system of justice makes mistakes -- including the ultimate mistake -- we cannot continue executing people.
Today's 16,000-word New Yorker story comes a week after independent arson expert Craig Beyler submitted his report to the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which is conducting a review of Willingham's conviction. Beyler, like a panel of national arson experts assembled three years ago by the Innocence Project, found that the science used to convict Willingham was wrong. The Texas Forensic Science Commission announced that it is reviewing Beyler's report and will release its conclusions next year.

Today's Coverage of The Case:


Innocence Project Press Release: New Report Shows that Cameron Todd Willingham, Executed in Texas in 2004, Was Innocent

New Yorker: Trial by Fire

New Yorker Video: Flashover

Huffington Post: Innocent, But Executed

New York Times Editorial: Questions About an Execution

Background


Expert Panel Review of Willingham and Willis convictions.

Background on the cases of 17 people exonerated through DNA testing after spending years on death row.

Understand the Causes: Unvalidated or Improper Forensic Science

The Just Science Coalition: Supporting Forensic Reform to Improve the Accuracy of the Criminal Justice System





Tags: Forensic Oversight, Death Penalty, Cameron Todd Willingham

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News and Opinion on a Wrongful Execution in Texas

Posted: September 1, 2009 6:30 pm

We posted yesterday on the New Yorker’s exhaustive investigation showing that Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas for a crime he didn’t commit. Below are links to some coverage of the story, along with reaction and opinion from across the web:

Bob Herbert wrote today in the New York Times that “it was inevitable that some case in which a clearly innocent person had been put to death would come to light.”

Jonah Lehrer writes at The Daily Dish blog that the Willingham case brought to mind the Just World Hypothesis, which suggests that we “rationalize injustices away, so that we can maintain our naive belief in a just world.”

Allan Turner wrote in the Houston Chronicle that the Willingham case may bolster federal forensic reforms.

Desiree Evans asked at Facing South: “How many more Willinghams exist on Texas’ death row?”

Tomorrow (Wednesday, September 2) at 3 p.m. EST, New Yorker reporter David Grann will take readers’ questions in a live chat. Join in here.



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Join New Yorker's David Grann in a Live Online Chat

Posted: September 2, 2009 1:40 pm

David Grann’s thorough investigation of the Cameron Todd Willingham case in this week’s New Yorker is the strongest case on record that an innocent person has been executed since capital punishment was reinstated. The story has also heightened attention and dialogue about the death penalty and the reliability of forensic science.

Grann investigated the story for nearly a year, and he will take questions from readers today about the process, the case and what it means in the context of the criminal justice system today.

UPDATE: Read the transcript of the live chat here.



Tags: Cameron Todd Willingham

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Friday Roundup: Convictions Questioned Across the Country

Posted: September 4, 2009 2:00 pm

A landmark New Yorker report this week showed that Texas executed an innocent man, meanwhile North Carolina freed Joseph Abbitt on Wednesday after he spent 14 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit, and a Georgia man settled a lawsuit after spending 17 months in a New York jail due to a fingerprint mistake. These weren’t the only wrongful convictions in the news this week, however. Here are some stories we didn’t get to on the blog:

The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission considered this week Greg Taylor’s claim that he was wrongfully convicted of murder.

A New York judge heard evidence this week that Fernando Bermudez is in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. The Innocence Project filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

DNA tests in Florida threw the conviction of Anthony Caravella into question. Caravella has spent 25 of his 41 years behind bars for a murder he says he didn’t commit.

Suzanna Holdsworth spent three years in a U.K. prison for a child murder she didn’t commit before she was freed last year based on evidence that the boy’s death was accidental. She speaks in a new Guardian video this week about the help from legal aid and her partner that set her free, and the dangers posed by cutbacks in legal aid.

Editorials and columns continued to pop up around the country this week in response to the news that Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 in Texas, was innocent.

• John Feehery wrote on The Hill’s Pundits Blog that the case and should lead us to question the death penalty.

• Byron Williams wrote in the Oakland Tribune says the Willingham case proves that the system will never be perfect.

• The Charlotte Observer wrote in an editorial today that the Abbitt and Willingham cases are proof the system makes too many mistakes to risk executions.

• Dahlia Lithwick wrote in Newsweek about that the Constitution sat idly by while an innocent man was executed.
A new feature on the Innocence Project website examines the role of exonerees in passing critical reforms to prevent future wrongful convictions. Another new article – posted today – profiles exoneree Thomas McGowan, who met recently with the original investigating officer in his case and the victim who misidentified him. “We still have an opportunity to make things right,” McGowan said.



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Friday Roundup: The Case Develops

Posted: September 11, 2009 5:50 pm

Below is news on cases new and old from the week in wrongful convictions:

The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission found unanimously that evidence suggests Gregory Taylor is in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. A judge will now review his case.

The wrongful execution of Cameron Todd Willingham stayed in the news this week:

New Yorker reporter David Grann discussed the Cameron Todd Willingham case on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Chicago attorney John Maki wrote about the tunnel vision in Willingham’s case on the Huffington Post.

A Vermont judge granted a new trial to Eric Williams, who was convicted of arson murder but has since said he falsely confessed.

Milwaukee police added five more murder charges for Walter Ellis. Chaunte Ott, who served 13 years for a murder now connected to Ellis, is suing the city.

The New York Society for Ethical Culture is holding a lecture and Innocence Project fundraiser Sunday to discuss the role of DNA in society and criminal justice.

Loyola University Chicago Professor Laura Caldwell wrote on a Chicago Crime Writers’ about the extraordinary case of  Alton Logan – who was featured last year on CBS News’ “60 Minutes."



Tags: Chaunte Ott

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Texas Prosecutor Untroubled by Willingham Evidence

Posted: September 18, 2009 4:12 pm

ABC News' "Nightline" focused on the wrongful execution of Cameron Todd Willingham last night, interviewing the original arson investigator and prosecutor, who both say they are comfortable with their role in the case despite clear new evidence that Willingham was innocent.

Willingham was convicted of setting a fire in his own house that killed his three daughters. An exhaustive report in the September 7 issue of the New Yorker deconstructs the evidence against Willingham, proving that the fire was an accident and the other evidence used against Willingham was false.

John Jackson, who was the prosecutor in the case and is now a senior judge, tells ABC News reporter Terry Moran that the unanimous findings of arson experts in recent years that the fire was an accident have cast strong doubt on the forensics used against Willingham at trial. He admits that "without question" the scientific evidence was not valid. Asked if this new evidence gives him pause about sending a man to death, however, Jackson says "not a man like Todd."

Jackson goes on to claim that because Willingham liked the band Iron Maiden, he was likely to be a devil worshipper. He also says it's likely that the fire burned in a pentagram pattern on the floor, further showing "an obsession with Satan" that he says makes it "more likely" that Willingham intentionally set the fire - even though there is no evidence that the fire was anything more than a tragic accident

Watch the Nightline segment here.

Post the Nightline segment to Twitter or Facebook.

Read background on the Willingham case and download documents and media coverage
.



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Friday Roundup: The Devil and DNA

Posted: September 18, 2009 6:26 pm

This week saw more news in the wrongful execution case of Cameron Todd Willingham: the trial prosecutor (who is now a judge) alleged in an interview with Nightline that Willingham was a devil worshipper and that this makes it “more likely” that Willingham set the fire that killed his children. Watch the video on YouTube.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was in Washington, D.C., where he broke his silence on the Willingham case, saying that he had reviewed the case in 2004 and allowed the execution to go forward. Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck responded: "Governor Perry refuses to face the fact that Texas executed an innocent man on his watch."

Meanwhile, case work continued around the country by the Innocence Project and our many partners and sister organizations.

The University of Michigan Innocence Clinic said this week that new evidence cleared Karl Vinson of a 1986 child rape, and accused the Detroit Prosecutor’s Office of dragging its feet.

Lawyers in Connecticut presented evidence pointing to the real perpetrator in the cases of Ron Taylor and George Gould, who say they were wrongfully convicted of a 1993 murder.

A new University of Buffalo study found serious problems with bite mark evidence.

Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins spoke Thursday at Oklahoma State University about his creation of the country’s first Conviction Integrity Unit.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune profiled John Thompson, who was cleared after spending 14 years on Louisiana’s death row. Thompson is the founder of Resurrection After Exoneration, which provides housing and other services for the exonerated.



Tags: Cameron Todd Willingham

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Six Years Free, Living a New Life

Posted: September 24, 2009 5:25 pm

This week marks the sixth year anniversary of the day Calvin Willis was freed from a Louisiana prison. He served nearly 22 years for a rape he did not commit before DNA testing secured by the Innocence Project led to his 2003 release.  

Eyewitness misidentification
was a principle factor in Willis' wrongful conviction. The witnesses were young girls, aged 9 and 7; the victim was 10.  Much of the case against Willis was built not only on the girls' conflicting statements as to what happened, but on a pair of underwear found at the house (some ten sizes bigger than the size Willis wore), semen, and scrapings found under the victim's fingernails that matched Willis' blood type.  DNA tests showed that the semen on the shorts and the fingernail scrapings did not belong to Willis.
 
It was not a family member or a friend, as in many cases, who first advocated Willis' innocence, but a paralegal formerly unacquainted with Willis. Janet Gregory spent years advocating on Willis' behalf and was instrumental in his exoneration. An upcoming Lifetime original movie called The Wronged Man, tells the story of Willis' case and his unusual friendship with Gregory.We'll have more about the film on the Innocence Blog before it premieres.

Since his exoneration, Willis got married and now lives in California. Last year, Willis was reunited with a longtime friend from prison and fellow DNA exoneree - Rickie JohnsonWatch footage of their reunion here.      

Other Exoneration Anniversaries This Week:

Gilbert Alejandro, Texas (Served 3.5 Years, Exonerated 9/21/94)
Larry Bostic, Florida (Served 18 Years, Exonerated 9/21/07)
Chester Bauer, Montana (Served 8 Years, Exonerated 9/22/97)
Patrick Waller, Texas (Served 15 Years, Exonerated 9/24/08)



Tags: Calvin Willis

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Op-Ed: Unresolved Questions in Alabama Case

Posted: September 29, 2009 6:02 pm

An op-ed in Sunday’s Birmingham News by Innocence Project Staff Attorney Jason Kreag lays out the argument for DNA testing in the case of Alabama death row prisoner Tommy Arthur.

The Innocence Project has consulted with Arthur’s attorneys on DNA matters in the case, and the state is again seeking an execution date without conducting thorough DNA testing that could prove Arthur’s innocence or guilt.

Kreag writes:

Once again, Tommy Arthur is about to receive an execution date. And once again, state Attorney General Troy King is standing in the way of DNA testing that could prove Arthur’s guilt or innocence.

It is a familiar — and troubling — series of events. Four times, Arthur has been scheduled to die, only to have a court step in and stop his execution. The state then spends weeks or months fighting efforts for DNA testing, and courts eventually set another execution date.

This time, the state attorney general wants everyone to believe that DNA testing has been conducted and that it somehow confirms Arthur’s guilt. That’s not true.

Read the full editorial here. (Birmingham News, 09/29/09)




Tags: Tommy Arthur

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Montana Man Marks Seven Years Free

Posted: October 2, 2009 12:48 pm

This week marks the seventh  anniversary of Jimmy Ray Bromgard’s exoneration in Montana, after serving more than 14 years for a crime he did not commit. Bromgard was convicted at 18 and released at 32, losing the prime years of his life behind bars. Participating in a prison program for sex offenders could have led to his early release, but he refused to take the classes.  “I would have had to admit my guilt,” he said after his release. “I'd rather sit there in prison for all my life than admit my guilt."

Bromgard was convicted based in part on forensic science misconduct. The prosecution tied Bromgard to the crime by using the testimony of a state forensic hair examiner, Arnold Melnikoff, who claimed hairs found on the victim's bed were similar to Bromgard's, and further argued there was less than a one-in-10,000 chance that the hairs did not come from Bromgard. Melnikoff’s testimony was fraudulent; there has never been a standard by which to statistically match hairs through microscopic inspection.

Unvalidated or improper forensic science has played a role in more than 50% of the 244 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing to date. Forensic problems include the kind of fraudulent testimony that led to Bromgard’s conviction, but they also include testimony in fields -- such as bite mark comparisons or firearm analysis -- that simply have not been subjected to rigorous scientific research.

To learn more about recommended federal forensic reforms and to sign a petition supporting improved support and oversight for forensics, visit the Just Science Coalition website.

Read more about Bromgard’s case here.

Other Exoneration Anniversaries This Week:


George Rodriguez, Texas (Served 17 years, Exonerated 9/29/05)

Steven Phillips, Texas (Served 24 Years, Exonerated 10/1/08)

Arthur Johnson, Mississippi (Served 15.5 Years , Exonerated 10/1/08)

Earl Washington, Virginia (Served 17 years, Exonerated 10/2/00)

Albert Johnson, California (Served 10 years, Exonerated 10/3/02)





Tags: Jimmy Ray Bromgard

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Thank You, Blog Readers

Posted: October 2, 2009 6:41 pm

Thanks to hundreds of generous donors from all over the world, including many regular Innocence Blog readers, we reached our September goal of $25,000 to help us pay for DNA testing for Innocence Project clients! We are deeply grateful for your support.
 
Our DNA testing campaign was a great success, but it’s never too late to help us free the innocent. You can make a tax-deductible donation online or by mail. Every dollar supports the Innocence Project's work to overturn wrongful convictions and reform the criminal justice system.
 
And if you’re not able to donate but want to get involved in other ways, check out our “10 Things You Can Do” page here.

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Friday Roundup: A Troubling Development in Texas

Posted: October 2, 2009 6:50 pm

We wrote this week about Gov. Rick Perry’s troubling move to remove three members from a panel charged with reviewing arson evidence that led to Cameron Todd Willingham’s 2004 execution. Because of the shakeup, the panel's meeting scheduled for today was cancelled.

The fallout continues -- here are stories from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal Law Blog, USA Today, Volokh Conspiracy and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Join the conversation about this case on our Facebook page.

This week’s move by Gov. Perry, together with other forensic stories in Texas and around the country, have underscored the need for an independent, science-based federal entity to support and oversee forensic science:

An article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram investigated questions about the reliability of autopsies.

The Houston Chronicle published an editorial about wrongful convictions and dog scent lineups. “We love dogs, but we have our limits. We don't think they should be allowed to vote, hold public office or provide court testimony,” the paper's editors wrote.

David Scott of Indiana is seeking to clear his name. He was freed last year after serving 23 years for a murder he didn’t commit, but he still has the crime on his record.

Wilder “Ken” Berry, a wrongfully convicted Illinois man who was cleared in 2006 was appointed to serve on a board that advises the state department of corrections on its policies.


KPBS public radio profiled the work of the California Innocence Project.



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Police Chiefs and Wrongful Convictions

Posted: October 6, 2009 2:13 pm



Innocence Project client Thomas McGowan (above left) is set to speak about the role of eyewitness misidentification in his wrongful conviction this afternoon at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference in Denver. McGowan will be joined on a panel by the victim in the case for which he was wrongfully convicted, and Mike Corley (above right), the Texas police officer who originally investigated the crime.

We wrote about this unique partnership of crime victim, officer and exoneree recently, and the three will tell their stories today at a conference with more than 15,000 law enforcement leaders.

Wrongful convictions are a prominent issue at this year’s IACP conference – Rob Warden, the executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law – presented Sunday at a panel on the causes of wrongful conviction. He was joined by Center on Wrongful Convictions Legal Director Steven Drizin and former U.S. Attorney Thomas P. Sullivan. Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom is also attending the conference.
 
Dallas Morning News reporter Tanya Eiserer is blogging from the conference this week on the DMN Crime Blog.



Tags: Thomas McGowan

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Wrongful Convictions and Police Chiefs, Part II

Posted: October 7, 2009 6:20 pm

Innocence Project client Thomas McGowan spoke yesterday on a panel at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference in Denver. He was joined by the victim of the crime for which he was wrongfully convicted and the original investigating officer, Mike Corley, who is now the Assistant Chief of the Richardson, Texas, Police Department.

The Dallas Morning News Crime Blog covered the panel here
.
 
Read about McGowan’s recent meeting with Corley and the crime victim here
.
 
Also speaking at the event was Darryl Hunt, who spent nearly 19 years in North Carolina prisons for a murder he didn’t commit before he was exonerated through DNA testing. Joining Hunt were his attorney, Mark Rabil, Winston-Salem Police Sgt. Chuck Byrom and North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence Director Christine Mumma. Read more about Hunt's case here.
 



Tags: Darryl Hunt, Thomas McGowan

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Scott Fappiano's New Life

Posted: October 8, 2009



Three years ago this week - October 6, 2006 - Innocence Project client Scott Fappiano was exonerated after having served 21 years in prison for a Brookyn, NY, rape he didn't commit.

Since his release, Fappiano has built a new life. On October 18, he will be married to his fiancee Joanne, his girlfriend before he went to prison. He is planning to enroll next year in school to become a funeral director.
 
His ordeal began in 1983. An armed male broke into the Brooklyn home of an NYPD officer and his wife. The perpetrator instructed the woman to tie up her husband in the bed with a length of telephone wire, and he proceeded to rape her. The victim was taken to the hospital, where a rape kit was collected. Swabs from the kit tested positive for the presence of sperm, as did a pair of jogging pants worn by the victim after the attack.

The woman described her attacker to police as a white male of Italian descent, and was shown a series of photographs of individuals. She pointed to Fappiano as the attacker, and then chose him again in a live line-up in which several police officers stood in as "fillers." That same day her husband, the police officer, viewed a live line-up, too.  He chose one of the fillers.
 
Fappiano was tried twice for this crime. Serology tests before trial showed the blood from a stained towel and a cigarette butt matched the victim's husband. Other tests were inconclusive. After the jury could not reach a verdict in his 1984 trial, he was tried again in 1985. He was convicted of rape, sodomy, burglary and sexual abuse and the court sentenced him to 20-50 years in prison.

The Innocence Project began representing Fappiano in 2003, but it took two years for the evidence from the case to turn up - including the jogging pants worn by the victim during the crime that could not be tested previously. DNA testing showed that while the sweatpants contained DNA that matched the woman's, the male DNA found did not match Fappiano's - nor did it match the victim's husband. 

Fappiano is one of 13 New York exonerees whose wrongful convictions were caused in part by eyewitness misidentification. His case and others have led to a push for reforms to the way lineup procedures are conducted. Learn more about progress of these reforms in the recent Innocence Project report: "Reevaluating Lineups: Why Witnesses Make Mistakes and How to Reduce the Chance of a Misidentification."

Other Exoneration Anniversaries this Week:

Leonard Callace
, New York (Served 5.5 years, Exonerated 10/5/92)

Brian Piszczeck, Ohio (Served 3 years, Exonerated 1994)

Douglas Echols, Georgia (Served 5 years, Exonerated 2002)

Samuel Scott
, Georgia (Served 15 years, Exonerated 2002)

Kevin Byrd, Texas (Served 12 years, Exonerated 1997)

William Harris, West Virginia (Served 7 years, Exonerated 1995)

Calvin Washington, Texas (Served 13 years, Exonerated 2001)





Tags: Scott Fappiano

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Friday Roundup: Overturning Injustices from 1995 and 1915

Posted: October 9, 2009 6:15 pm

Richard Miles could be freed in Dallas on Monday after an investigation by Centurion Ministries turned up evidence that he didn’t commit a rape for which he was convicted in 1995.

Syndicated radio host Tom Joyner is seeking posthumous pardons for two of his great-uncles, who may have been executed for a crime they didn’t commit in South Carolina in 1915.

Coverage continued across the country this week of the 2004 wrongful execution of Cameron Todd Willingham. The Buffalo News said the case makes a clear argument for forensic reforms. We reported on other developments in the case earlier in the week here.

The blog Grits for Breakfast wondered how the state can best review other claims of wrongful conviction based on faulty arson science. The Texas Observer reviewed several of those cases.

A story in Washington Lawyer examined the landmark 1963 Gideon v. Wainwright Supreme Court decision that guaranteed the right to an attorney, and found an “unfulfilled promise.” “Thousands of people across the country go to jail every year without ever being competently defended or even talking to a lawyer,” Bob Kemper writes. Read more.

The Herald de Paris reported on the case of Hiroshi Yanagihara, who confessed to an attempted rape he didn’t commit in Japan and spent two years in prison before he was cleared.

An upcoming three-part series from the BBC will examine problems with eyewitness misidentification.

The Voice of America reported on calls for forensic reform.

A new study from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia casts further doubt on the reliability of the “Mr. Big” investigation technique used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.




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Another Use of Arson Science, and More Twists in a Texas Case

Posted: October 15, 2009 4:15 pm

The Cameron Todd Willingham case continued to make headlines this week, with comments from Gov. Rick Perry, a new statement from an arson expert and news about challenges to arson science made by the governor’s former general counsel.

Willingham was executed in 2004 for allegedly setting a fire that killed his three children. He proclaimed his innocence throughout the ordeal and several expert reviews have found that Willingham was convicted based on faulty arson science. Read more background on the case here.

Perry spoke out about the case yesterday, saying Willingham was a “monster” and a “bad man.” Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck responded by saying that the only way to move forward on the case is to empower the forensic science commission to continue its work: “The Texas Forensic Science Commission needs to finish the investigation that it started more than two years ago.”

Houston Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg asked: “What’s [Perry’s] problem with a science commission that investigates science?”

The expert who prepared a report for the commission said Wednesday that Perry has a conflict of interest in the case because he approved Willingham’s execution, and that his conduct has been “unethical and injurious to the cause of justice."

And the blog DogCanyon reported yesterday that David Medina, Perry’s former general counsel, was indicted in 2007 for allegedly burning his own home, but was cleared when he challenged similar aspects of arson science in his defense.

More on the case this week from NPR and the Dallas Morning News.





Tags: Cameron Todd Willingham

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Friday Roundup: Arson, Confessions and DNA Backlogs

Posted: October 16, 2009 5:45 pm

We reported yesterday on new developments in the Cameron Todd Willingham case in Texas and New Yorker reporter David Grann blogged on still further developments today.

Ashlee Shelton and Kurt Rosenberg wrote that other questionable arson convictions around the country - including one in Pennsylvania - should also be scrutinized.

A Michigan murder trial is on hold while the defendant challenges the judge's denial of testimony by a false confession expert.

The New York Bar Association is calling for recording of interrogations to prevent false confessions in the state.

A New Brunswick man will be compensated after he served 10 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit.

Florida Rep. Vern Buchanan argued that the state's DNA backlog is compromising public safety. A Herald-Tribune editorial supported his position.

The founders of the Wisconsin Innocence Project reflected on the organization's tenth anniversary.



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Journalism Program in Standoff with Prosecutors

Posted: October 21, 2009 1:46 pm

An investigative journalism class in Illinois is in a standoff with prosecutors after the state requested student records such as grades, notes and emails.

Students at the Medill Innocence Project at Northwestern University have worked for three years on the case of a south suburban Chicago man who has spent 31 years in prison for a crime he says didn’t commit. Their work has uncovered new evidence of his innocence, which will be presented at an upcoming hearing.

In advance of the hearing, Cook County prosecutors have requested that the Medill project turn over student records, the Chicago Tribune reported this week. Professor David Protess said his group has shared case-related information with prosecutors, but the school is refusing to hand over unrelated materials.

"I don't think it's any of the state's business to know the state of mind of my students," Protess said. "Prosecutors should be more concerned with the wrongful conviction of Anthony McKinney than with my students' grades."

Read the Chicago Tribune story here. (10/19/09)
The Tribune followed its original story with another yesterday including reactions from the prosecutor who requested student records.
"All information is relevant," (Prosecutor Anita Alvarez) told reporters Monday. "There are more notes that have not been turned over. We want to make sure cases are secure and that we don't have the wrong person convicted."
The case has sparked a storm of media coverage and commentary this week from across the country (and across the twittersphere).

One blogger at National Review (and Medill alum) questioned whether Medill students are protected by Illinois’ shield law for journalists, and a commenter (another Medill alum) defended the project.



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Two Men Freed in Dallas, Another Seeks Justice in New York

Posted: October 23, 2009 6:10 pm

The innocent continue to walk out of prisons across the country, and Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins thinks today's exoneration of two men might be the "biggest yet" for his office.

Claude Simmons Jr. and Christopher Scott were freed today in Dallas after spending 12 years in prison for a murder that evidence now shows they didn't commit.

Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins, whose county has seen more DNA exonerations than any other in the country, said today's non-DNA exonerations may inspire other prosecutors' offices and police departments around the country to reopen questionable old convictions for investigation. "I expect this case will get a lot of attention, and I expect you'll see other police departments get involved in cases like this. We're going to lead the way in how to dispense justice," he told the Dallas Observer.

Meanwhile, a New York man has been granted a new trial in a 1977 murder that evidence shows he didn't commit. Dewey Bozella has been in prison for more than 25 years, and said he was overjoyed at the news of his new trial. "It was like a miracle had happened," he said. Bozella is represented by pro-bono attorneys at the firm WilmerHale. The Innocence Project represented Bozella until it was clear that evidence did not exist for DNA testing, at which point the organization reached out to WilmerHale to take on the case. Over the last two years, WilmerHale attorneys have uncovered substantial evidence that Bozella is innocent and that another man actually committed the crime.

Kenneth Ireland has been free for two months, since DNA testing proved him innocent of a 1986 Connecticut murder he didn't commit. Ireland, who was 18 when he was arrested and 39 when he was freed, spoke with Fox this week about adjusting to life outside of prison.

A man was exonerated and compensated after spending 27 years in a Chinese prison for a rape he says he didn't commit. He was retried and acquitted this year in Henan Province, and a court has now awarded him 1.02 million yuan (about $146,000) in compensation.

The Cameron Todd Willingham case continued to draw coverage and discussion this week. We posted yesterday on the letter from 400+ Texans to forensic commission chairman John Bradley. JR posted today at Daily Kos on the letter and other developments in the case. Randi Kaye covered the story this week for CNN's Anderson Cooper 360. Her latest report from Texas is set for tonight at 10 p.m. ET.

An L.A. Times editorial today said Gov. Rick Perry's decision to reconfigure the Forensic Science Commission "looks highly suspicious." Innocence Project Online Communications Manager Matt Kelley wrote about the case -- and the outlook for the Forensic Science Commission -- today on the American Constitution Society blog.

We reported earlier this week on the case of prosecutors subpoenaing student information from the Medill Innocence Project. The case continues to make news, with a report yesterday in Time magazine.And, finally, the most offbeat DNA story the week: An Australian man was charged with a robbery after blood recovered from a leech found at the crime scene matched his profile.


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A Test of Convictions

Posted: October 26, 2009 2:05 pm

CNN.com reports today on the inspiring case of Innocence Project client Dean Cage and his fiancée, Jewel Mitchell. The two became engaged in 1994, just a few months before Cage was arrested for a sexual assault he didn’t commit. Mitchell spoke with CNN about the pain of losing her fiancé to prison and the difficult years of waiting for him:

"It was almost like he was dead," Jewel says. "That's how bad it hurt."

Last year, DNA testing proved Cage’s innocence and he was set free, after serving more than 12 years for a crime he didn’t commit. He and Mitchell were reunited, and CNN will post part two of its story tomorrow. We’ll post a link here when it’s live.

CBS News also posted a story today on Cage's case. 

Read more about Cage’s case here.




Tags: Dean Cage

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Charges Dismissed in Texas Case

Posted: October 28, 2009 6:05 pm

A Texas judge today dismissed murder charges against two men who served more than six years in prison for 1991 murders in Austin, Texas, they have long maintained they didn’t commit. Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott were freed on bond in June after DNA testing from the crime scene pointed to someone else. Today, prosecutors asked a judge to drop the charges against them.

The men allegedly made admissions of guilt during police interrogations, but later said they were coerced and threatened. One image from the interrogation room shows an officer holding a gun to Scott’s head.

Springsteen was originally sentenced to death for the crime and spent five years on Texas’ death row before his conviction was overturned in 2006. Scott was sentenced to life in 2003 and served six years behind bars before he was freed in June.

Scott, gripping his wife’s hand, was reserved outside court.

“This has been a long time in coming,” he said. “I’m happy to be here.”

Read the full story here. (Austin American-Statesman, 10/28/09)
Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said in a statement that dropping charges was her only path of action. “Given that we now have unknown DNA evidence in the case, I believe it would be imprudent and, in fact, unfair to proceed to trial at this time,” she said.





Tags: False Confessions

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Friday Roundup: Fighting for Exoneration and Reform, from Inside and Outside the System

Posted: October 30, 2009 6:22 pm

This week saw a New York prisoner freed on evidence of his innocence and charges dropped in a notorious Texas case while countless prisoners and advocates continue to fight on. Here are a few stories of innocence and reform from the week:

Centurion Ministries and the Innocence Project of Florida are seeking DNA tests for Florida prisoner Gary Bennett, who was convicted of murder more than 25 years ago based in part on the testimony of discredited dog handler John Preston.

The Medill Innocence Project standoff with prosecutors stayed in the news this week: Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck discussed the case on NPR, and the New York Times reported on developments.

Exoneree Ronald Cotton and crime victim Jennifer Thompson-Cannino spoke on Kansas City public radio about eyewitness identification reform and their book “Picking Cotton.”

Blogger Scott Greenfield wrote at Simple Justice about the legendary career of journalist Pete Shellem, who investigated wrongful convictions at the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, PA and died last weekend. Shellem’s funeral will be held Monday.

A lieutenant in the Los Angeles Police Department wrote in the Christian Science Monitor this week that critical reforms to eyewitness procedures and police interrogations can prevent wrongful convictions.

A report from researchers at the George Mason University found that a caseload crisis has pushed Missouri’s public defense system "to the brink of collapse."

Ernest Willis, who spent 17 years in prison for an arson murder before he was exonerated, this week called on Gov. Rick Perry to halt executions in the state. Wills was convicted based on evidence very similar to the evidence used against Cameron Todd Willingham. Texas Monthly posted a video interview with Willis. We updated the Willingham Resource Center with these stories and more media coverage of the case this week.



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Wrongful Convictions and Prosecutorial Immunity

Posted: November 4, 2009 5:42 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments this morning in a case centered on wrongful convictions and the issue of whether prosecutors are protected by absolute immunity, even when their misconduct extends beyond the courtroom.

Two men filed a civil rights lawsuit against Iowa prosecutors who allegedly coerced false testimony and fabricated evidence to convict them of crimes they say they didn't commit. Prosecutors in the case have claimed that they are protected by absolute immunity, and have stated outright that there is no constitutional "right not to be framed.”

During arguments, Chief Justice John Roberts expressed concern about creating a “chilling effect on prosecutors” by allowing them to be sued. Justice John Paul Stevens, however, said it was “perverse” that a prosecutor can be sued if he or she fabricates evidence and then hands it to another prosecutor to conduct a trial, but can’t be sued if he or she completes that trial. He wasn’t the only justice to raise concerns:

"So the law is the more deeply you're involved in the wrong, the more likely you are to be immune? That's a strange proposition," Justice Anthony Kennedy said.
The case comes to the Supreme Court following a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which found that the men could sue because they had presented evidence that the prosecutors in the case had violated their right to due process. In reviewing the Eighth Circuit decision, the Supreme Court is essentially considering the extent of prosecutorial immunity under historical precedent and the Constitution.

The two men at the center of the case, Terry Harrington and Curtis McGhee, served 25 years in prison for a murder they’ve always said they didn’t commit. On appeal, the men discovered records showing that prosecutors had coerced a witness to testify against them and that police and prosecutors had withheld evidence pointing to another suspect. They were freed this year.

One argument raised by the prosecutors is that allowing these men to sue will open floodgates for prisoners to allege misconduct by prosecutors. Attorneys for Harrington and McGhee argue that this case is so egregious that it would meet even a strict standard under which defendants could sue prosecutors.

In an editorial this morning, the Washington Post agrees:
The vast majority of prosecutors perform honorably and understand that they are duty-bound not just to secure convictions but to seek justice. Those who don't often suffer no consequences at the hands of state or bar organizations, as a brief in support of Mr. McGhee and Mr. Harrington convincingly argues. For these few renegades, perhaps the prospect of being held liable will help to keep them in line or, at least, hold them accountable.  
News coverage of the case, Pottawattamie County v. McGhee:

Associated Press: Court Worries About Stifling Prosecutors

NPR Morning Edition: Can Prosecutors Be Sued by the People They Framed?

Washington Post Editorial: The Right Not to Be Framed

Analaysis of the Case by SCOTUSblog

Transcript of today’s oral arguments.

Briefs and filings in the case at SCOTUSwiki.





Tags: Government Misconduct

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Friday Roundup: Arson in Texas, Videotape in Louisiana and "The Good Wife"

Posted: November 6, 2009 6:45 pm

At a special hearing in the Texas Senate on Tuesday, new Forensic Science Commission chairman John Bradley will answer lawmakers’ questions about the panel’s ongoing work. He told Texas Lawyer that he plans to “recommend that the commission move forward and complete a report in the Willingham case. I think it’s in the best interest of the public to have the report come out.” Read more about the Cameron Todd Willingham case here.

Two staffers at the Innocence Project New Orleans present the case for recording police interrogations in an op-ed today in the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “Videotaping interrogations benefits everybody in a case,” they write.

The Los Angeles Police Department has come under fire in recent months for a backlog of untested evidence in sexual assault cases. A new audit released finds that the department has reduced the backlog by 64 percent.

The State Bar of Wisconsin reported on the 10th anniversary of the Wisconsin Innocence Project and gave an update on Chris Ochoa, exonerated in 2002, who now works as a defense attorney.

Attorneys at the Wisconsin project also filed a motion this week arguing that a Michigan man has spent 12 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.

Wrongful convictions continue to pop up in pop culture. An eyewitness identification and a faulty lineup were featured in an episode of the CBS drama “The Good Wife” this week.

A northern California PBS station this week premiered the documentary film “$100 a Day,” about exoneree compensation in California.


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Nine Years After Exoneration, Practicing Law Across Borders

Posted: November 13, 2009 3:45 pm

Anthony Robinson spent ten years in prison for a rape he didn't commit and 13 years fighting for the DNA testing that would finally exonerate him. Today, he is a successful attorney practicing in China and Texas and Saturday marks the ninth anniversary of his exoneration.

An eyewitness misidentification played a key role in Robinson’s wrongful conviction. On the day of the crime, he was picking up a car for a friend at the University of Houston. University police blocked his car and accused him of raping a woman. According to the victim, her attacker was a black man wearing a jacket. Although the victim said the perpetrator had a mustache and Robinson didn’t, he was brought in for questioning. No physical evidence linked him to the crime. Based almost entirely on the victim’s testimony, Robinson was convicted in 1987 and sentenced to 27 years in prison.

He would later reflect on the feeling of being wrongfully accused: “It was not so much the fear of imprisonment. It wasn’t so much the fear of what was going to happen. Everything that I had lived for, everything that I had done had been boiled down to — we think you’re a rapist with no evidence whatsoever other than your skin and someone saying you did this.”

After serving ten years of his sentence, he was paroled and began raising funds to obtain DNA testing on the evidence used in his trial. He worked a variety of temporary jobs to raise the funds for DNA testing. Although he was a college graduate and a former Army officer, his status as a registered sex offender excluded him from higher paying jobs. Robinson hired an attorney, Randy Schaffer, and obtained access to DNA testing on evidence in his case. The results proved what he had known all along – another man had committed the crime.

On November 14, 2000, Governor George W. Bush pardoned Robinson. Since his exoneration, Robinson has spoken actively about the issue of wrongful conviction to lawmakers and the media and played a key role in the passage of a law in Texas compensating the wrongfully convicted after their release.

After Robinson was cleared, Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis and other Houston attorneys helped raise funds for him to attend law school. He graduated from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University in 2004, and currently works in international law. He is also a member of the Innocence Project of Texas Board of Directors and the Texas Exoneree Council.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Bruce Dallas Goodman, Utah (Served 19 Years, Exonerated 11/9/04)

Joseph White, Nebraska (Served 19 Years, Exonerated 11/10/08)

David Brian Sutherlin, Minnesota (Exonerated 11/13/02)

Paula Gray, Illinois (Served 9 years, Exonerated 2002)





Tags: Anthony Robinson

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Friday Roundup: An Arson Case Keeps the Spotlight

Posted: November 13, 2009 5:32 pm

On Tuesday, Texas Senators questioned John Bradley, the new chairman of the state Forensic Science Commission. We reported on the hearing here. Bradley said the commission would eventually continue its investigation into the arson science used to convict Willingham, who was executed in 2004, but warned that the investigation could stretch into 2011. One state Senator said the commission could emerge stronger from the attention it has received through this process.

A column by Rick Casey in the Chronicle questioned whether Bradley, a prosecutor, is the right person to lead an inquiry into scientific practices.

In an editorial yesterday, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram criticized Gov. Rick Perry for refusing to hand over the clemency report in Willingham’s case in response to a Houston Chronicle request. The Chronicle is suing the state for access to the document.

In other news, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled this week that Greg Wilhoit, who spent four years on Oklahoma’s death row before he was acquitted on retrial, has a viable legal claim against the state for his wrongful conviction.

An op-ed in the San Jose Mercury News by Kathleen Ridolfi and Maurice Possley of the Northern California Innocence Project points to prosecutorial misconduct’s high cost to taxpayers.

Brian Dugan was sentenced to death in Illinois this week for the murder of a 10-year-old girl in 1983 — a crime for which two innocent men -- Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez — spent 12 years each on death row. Read more and watch a video interview with Cruz.

Lawyers in Wisconsin are seeking a new trial for Reynold Moore, who was convicted in 1995 with five other men for allegedly committing a 1992 murder. A new book about the case — “The Monfils Conspiracy” is available here.

Death row exoneree Kirk Bloodsworth spoke this week at the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota.

North Carolina exoneree Ronald Cotton and crime victim Jennifer Thompson-Cannino will speak November 18 at Vanderbilt University.

A new searchable Supreme Court database offers information and analysis on the court’s rulings since 1953.




Tags: Cameron Todd Willingham

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Friday Roundup: Two Freed in New York

Posted: November 20, 2009 5:50 pm

It was a big week for freedom in the face of injustice, but the fight against wrongful conviction and unreliable forensics goes on. Here are few stories we didn’t get to on the Innocence Blog this week:

Fernando Bermudez, who served 18 years in New York prisons for a murder evidence shows he didn’t commit, was freed just after 2 p.m. today, pumping his fist in the air before embracing his wife. We posted on the case last week, when his conviction was tossed out.

Yesterday in New York City, Lebrew Jones was freed on parole, ending 22 years in prison for a murder he has long said he didn’t commit. The Innocence Project consulted on the case with Jones’ pro bono lawyers at David Polk and Wardwell. Watch a video of his release and read more about his case.

The Innocence Network filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case of an Ohio man convicted of murder in 1996 based on gunshot residue evidence, which has been shown to be unreliable. Derrick Wheat is seeking a new trial to present evidence that the gunshot residue findings used against him were questionable.

New York Times columnist David Carr covered the ongoing dispute between prosecutors and the Medill Innocence Project over student records, and the Daily Northwestern posted an exclusive interview with Professor David Protess.

The Ohio Public Defender’s Office launched a new project to review and appeal cases of possible wrongful conviction that don’t involve DNA evidence.

Two Innocence Network member organizations posted new videos this week. The Center on Wrongful Convictions posted a video about the wrongful conviction of Alan Beaman and the Michigan Innocence Clinic posted a video about the release release of Dwayne Provience. Reason Magazine also covered the Provience case.

Two men freed after a combined 35 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit spoke at Arizona State University. The BBC featured the case of John Thompson, who served 14 years on Louisiana’s death row before he was set free. 

Iowa State University Psychologist Gary Wells, a leading expert on eyewitness identification, spoke recently about two new eyewitness studies he’s conducting.

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Friday Roundup: Freedom for Thanksgiving

Posted: November 27, 2009 10:06 am

Happy post-Thanksgiving from all of us at the Innocence Project. This week, we’re giving thanks for all of the 18 people exonerated through DNA testing this year and thinking about the work ahead to free the countless innocent people who remain behind bars in the U.S.

In case you missed it, this week we asked five Innocence Project clients what they are most thankful for. Their inspiring answers are here.

Here’s some other news we didn’t get to on the Innocence Blog during the week:

Mario Rocha is in his first semester of college after serving a decade in prison for a murder evidence shows he didn’t commit.
 
Johnnie Savory, a Chicago man released on parole in 2006 after 30 years in prison, is still seeking DNA testing that could prove his innocence. Learn more about his case and sign a petition for DNA testing here.

A new hearing has been set for February
in the case of a North Carolina man seeking to overturn his 1991 conviction for a crime he has always maintained he didn’t commit.

The Montana Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a lower court must hold an evidentiary hearing in the case of Barry Beach, who has served 25 years for a murder he says he didn’t commit.

Today is Black Friday, which means holiday shopping season has begun. To support the Innocence Project as you shop online this year, download the We-Care Reminder, a tool that lets you direct a percentage of online purchases from over 1,000 stores (including Target, Amazon.com, Orbitz and many more) to support our work at no cost to you.

Gift donations to the Innocence Project also make great holiday presents. Make a gift donation here.

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Chad Heins: Two Years Free

Posted: December 4, 2009 3:19 pm

This week marks the second anniversary of the day Chad Heins (left) walked out of a Florida prison, free at 33 years old for the first time since he was 19.

Heins was convicted in 1996 of murdering his sister-in-law Tina Heins. Chad recently moved from Florida to Wisconsin and was staying with his brother Jeremy and Jeremy’s wife, Tina, when Tina was killed in her bedroom.

Jeremy, who was in the Navy, was on board his ship the night of the crime. Chad had returned home at 12:30 a.m. that night, two hours before his sister-in-law, and was asleep on the sofa during the crime. He woke up around 5:45 a.m. to find three small fires burning in the living room and kitchen, one on the very sofa where he slept. After putting out the fires and disarming the smoke alarm, he discovered Tina Heins in her bedroom; she had been stabbed 27 times.

Heins immediately became a suspect.  During his trial, a forensic analyst testified that DNA testing performed on three hairs collected from the victim's bedroom showed that the hairs came from one person, and that person wasn't Chad or Jeremy Heins. Two jailhouse snitches testified at his trial that Heins had spontaneously confessed his guilt to them, and he was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder and attempted sexual battery on December 20, 1996, and sentenced to life in prison.

In 2001, Heins wrote to the Innocence Project, which took the case with help from the Innocence Project of Florida. In 2003, along with pro bono counsel Robert Beckham of Holland & Knight, the Innocence Project filed a motion for DNA testing on skin cells collected at autopsy from underneath the victim's fingernails. She had defense wounds on her hands, meaning that biological evidence from the attacker could be under her fingernails. The DNA test results showed that male DNA under Tina's fingernails did not come from Chad or Jeremy Heins. Additional testing showed that the profile from the hairs was consistent with the DNA from the fingernails -- all belonging to an unknown male.

Attorneys for Heins also learned that a fingerprint had been discovered before trial on the faucet of the blood-stained sink in the Heins' bathroom, where it was undisputed that the perpetrator attempted to clean up after the murder. Although the fingerprint did not match Chad, Jeremy or Tina, prosecutors did not relay this information to the jury.  

Heins' conviction was vacated in 2006 based on the DNA evidence, but prosecutors demanded a retrial - further delaying Heins' freedom.  The Innocence Project sought DNA testing of semen found at the crime scene. The results showed that the semen came from the same person as the hairs and the cells found under the victim's fingernails.  On December 4, 2007, prosecutors dropped the pending charges against Heins and he was freed. Days after his release, Heins moved to Wisconsin to rejoin relatives.

Watch a video interview with Heins and read more about his case in our Know the Cases section.

Other Exoneration Anniversaries This Week:

Dale and Ronnie Mahan, Alabama (Served 11.5 Years, Exonerated 11/30/1998)

Calvin Lee Scott, Oklahoma (Served 20 Years, Exonerated 12/3/03)

Gerald Davis, West Virginia (Served 8 Years, Exonerated 12/4/1995)

Calvin Ollins, Illinois (Served 13,5 Years, Exonerated 12/5/01)

Larry Ollins, Illinois (Served 13,5 Years, Exonerated 12/5/01)

Marcellius Bradford (Served 6.5 Years, Exonerated 12/5/01)

 



Tags: Chad Heins

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Supreme Court Reviews Miranda Warnings

Posted: December 8, 2009 5:20 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in a case challenging the wording of the Miranda rights that law enforcement officers read to suspects before questioning. Miranda rights, established in a 1966 Supreme Court decision, alert suspects to their rights before and during an interrogation, including the right to remain silent and to speak with an attorney. At issue in Monday’s case was the wording about the right to have an attorney present throughout an interrogation.

These details are critical to preventing wrongful convictions, because 25% of the wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing involved false confessions, many of which were made by suspects who were interrogated by police without a lawyer present.

Monday’s case, Florida v. Powell, involved a Tampa, Florida, case where the defendant, Kevin DeWayne Powell, signed a statement that included the language: “You have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any of our questions. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed for you without cost and before any questioning. You have the right to use any of these rights at any time you want during this interview.''

Powell’s attorneys challenged the Tampa version of the rights, saying they didn’t meet the Miranda standard, which includes a clause informing suspects that an attorney can be with them during questioning, as opposed to before. The Florida Supreme Court agreed, tossing his conviction because the rights were too vague. According to SCOTUSblog, some of the U.S. Supreme Court Justices suggested at oral arguments that narrowing the required rights could be dangerous, while Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia argued that the court had established a standard set of rights that did not include a warning about the continued presence of a lawyer.

Read the full analysis at SCOTUSblog.

Read more coverage of oral arguments in the Miami Herald
.

Learn more about the role of false confessions in wrongful convictions
.





Tags: False Confessions

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Friday Roundup: From Australia to the U.S., Public Defense Falls Short

Posted: December 11, 2009 6:20 pm

 

Farah Jama, a 22-year-old Australian man, was freed this week after a court found that he had been convicted based on contaminated DNA evidence. He had served over a year in prison, and an editorial today in the Sydney Morning Herald said funding for public defense is below 1997 levels and is contributing to injustices.

Indigent defense funding shortfalls have been a prominent issue in the U.S. this year as well, and Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck will join a panel of experts Monday in Detroit at a hearing organized by the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

A New York man was cleared this week after four years in prison for a rape evidence now shows he didn’t commit. William McCaffrey was cleared of rape charges after the victim in the case recanted her testimony.A former president of Florida State University and the American Bar Association called on Florida’s Supreme Court to form a panel to review wrongful convictions and recommend measures to prevent injustice. Wilder “Ken” Berry served eight years in Illinois prisons before he was freed on evidence pointing to his innocence. Today he works as a senior paralegal at one of Chicago’s biggest law firms and serves on an Illinois Department of Corrections advisory board.Bruce Lisker was freed in August after 26 years in prison when his murder conviction was overturned based on evidence of innocence. LA Observed published its third article this week in a series following Lisker’s return to society.

The Minnesota Daily profiled the work of the Innocence Project of Minnesota and the case of Sherman Townsend.

Cedric Willis, who served 12 years in a Mississippi prison before he was exonerated, will receive $500,000 from the state. While he’s happy to receive the compensation, Willis told the Jackson Free Press: “You just can’t get back those years.” An editorial in the Free Press called for prosecutors to be held accountable.

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Set Free After 28 Years

Posted: December 15, 2009 3:34 pm

Donald Eugene Gates was freed today in Arizona, after spending nearly three decades in federal prisons for a murder and rape DNA now shows he didn’t commit.

He will travel to his home state of Ohio for the week, but a hearing next week in Washington, D.C. could fully clear him.  

Gates was convicted of the 1981 rape and murder of a 21-year-old college student based in part on unreliable forensic testimony from an FBI analyst who was later discredited, and the testimony of a paid government informant. He is represented on appeal by attorneys at the Public Defender Service of the District of Columbia. The Innocence Project consulted on DNA testing in the case.

Prosecutors requested further tests before agreeing to clear Gates, and a D.C. judge gave them eight days to complete the tests. The judge ordered Gates freed immediately, however, and ruled that he shouldn’t be forced to register as a sex offender, allowing him to travel home to Ohio.

D.C. Judge Fred Ugast, who presided over Gates' trial in the 1980s, says he's grateful technology made it possible to "right a wrong."

Read the full story. (Associated Press, 12/15/09)
Read more on the case here:

Blog of Legal Times (12/14/09)



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Georgia Man Freed After 2008 Conviction Is Overturned

Posted: December 16, 2009 1:55 pm



Yesterday, Michael Marshall was freed in Georgia after spending more than two years behind bars for a crime DNA proves he didn’t commit.

He is the 247th person exonerated through DNA testing in the United States, and his case is a troubling example of the failure of many jurisdictions across the country to address the causes of wrongful conviction. Marshall was convicted based in part in part on an unreliable eyewitness identification procedure, and although DNA testing could have been conducted before his conviction, it was not.Marshall was homeless in 2007 when a police officer decided he resembled a composite sketch of a perpetrator in a truck theft case. He was identified by a man who saw the perpetrator steal the truck and would eventually plead guilty, receiving a four-year sentence.  

Yesterday, Michael Marshall was freed in Georgia after spending more than two years behind bars for a crime DNA proves he didn’t commit.

He is the 247th person exonerated through DNA testing in the United States, and his case is a troubling example of the failure of many jurisdictions across the country to address the causes of wrongful conviction. Marshall was convicted based in part in part on an unreliable eyewitness identification procedure, and although DNA testing could have been conducted before his conviction, it was not.

Marshall was homeless in 2007 when a police officer decided he resembled a composite sketch of a perpetrator in a truck theft case. He was identified by a man who saw the perpetrator steal the truck and would eventually plead guilty, receiving a four-year sentence.

Moments after the crime happened, police officers pursued a man driving the stolen truck. The perpetrator escaped capture, but officers noted that he dropped a T-shirt, cell phone and cell phone case during his flight. These items were collected, and testing obtained this year by the Georgia Innocence Project found the DNA profile of another man on all three items, proving that Marshall was not the perpetrator. A check of the national DNA database found a match to another man, whose name has not been revealed.

Lawyers at the Georgia Innocence Project point to two troubling aspects of Marshall’s conviction. First, the identification procedure was deeply flawed. Marshall was identified in a highly suggestive “show-up” procedure ten days after the crime, in which a victim who witnessed the crime was brought to the location of Marshall’s arrest.

The second issue is the lack of DNA testing before Marshall’s conviction. Although DNA testing was available and widely used in 2007, there is no record that the shirt, phone or phone case were subjected to DNA testing before Marshall’s conviction.

Watch video of Marshall’s release here. (Fox 5 Atlanta)

Read more about Marshall’s case on the Georgia Innocence Project website.

Above, Marshall enjoys his first moments of freedom with Georgia Innocence Project intern Christina Rupp.

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Friday Roundup: The Innocence Network Recaps a Successful 2009

Posted: December 18, 2009 4:30 pm

A report released today by the Innocence Network delves into the cases of the 27 people exonerated this year through the work of the network’s 54 member organizations. The 27 exonerees served a total of 421 years behind bars.

Yesterday, James Bain was freed from prison in Florida after serving 35 years for a crime he didn’t commit. He served more time in prison than any other DNA exoneree in American history, and his case was featured on CBS Evening News last night.

University of Central Florida researchers set four one-bedroom apartments on fire yesterday as they tested methods of detecting arson. The forensic science behind arson investigations has come under fire recently amid controversy over the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in Texas.

A trial is set to begin in March in Connecticut in the case of Duane Foster, the man accused of committing the sexual assault for which James Tillman served more than 16 years in prison. Tillman was freed in 2006 after DNA testing proved his innocence and implicated Foster. 

The Houston Chronicle ran an editorial on the recent report revealing fingerprint errors in the Houston Police Department crime lab, writing that “Houston still needs to move forensic investigations out of its police department.”

A new article in the Marquette Law Review examines the legal system’s blindness to eyewitness identification problems. While some police in Kansas City said they would study new lineup procedures but local departments are reluctant to change. “At this juncture I’d be somewhat reluctant to make a bunch of sweeping changes just because it’s the vogue thing to do on the East Coast,” Liberty Police Lt. Mark Balzer told the Kansas City Star.

Four Maryland crime labs will receive $1.2 million in federal stimulus funds to clear DNA testing backlogs.

An editorial in the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana called for sweeping changes to prevent wrongful convictions in the state.

Yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of the day Clyde Charles was exonerated in Louisiana after serving 17 years in prison. Sadly, Charles passed away on January 7 of this year at age 55. This week also marks the exoneration anniversaries of Kerry Kotler, McKinley Cromedy, Phillip Leon Thurman, Clarence Elkins, Frank Lee Smith, Antron McCray, Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam and Raymond Santana.



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Compensating the Exonerated in New Jersey

Posted: December 21, 2009 2:17 pm

Just weeks after a new Innocence Project report revealed devastating gaps in the support states provide to people exonerated after serving years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, New Jersey’s Star Ledger ran an editorial this weekend about the serious need for the state to improve compensation laws immediately.

The Star Ledger writes:

Under New Jersey's current unjust conviction law, a prisoner who is exonerated can receive up to $20,000 for each year spent in prison, or twice what the person earned in the year before imprisonment, whichever is greater.
A bill proposed by Senate President Richard Codey would raise the limit to $50,000, which is the federal standard. After five years the amount would be adjusted for inflation. The bill also would allow a court to order other services, such as vocational training, counseling and assistance with tuition, housing or health insurance “as appropriate.”…

Clearly, the current law is inadequate. Offering fair compensation to an innocent person who was wrongly imprisoned is simply the right thing to do.
To date, in New Jersey, there have been five people wrongfully convicted, incarcerated and eventually released since 1995.  All five men were released based on DNA evidence and all five men filed civil suits to recover additional damages.  The proposed statute would apply to the pending cases.

Even though New Jersey is one of the 27 states to compensate the wrongfully convicted, it still falls short.  There is still a lot of room for improvement with financial support and social services which is why it’s necessary for New Jersey to pass the proposed bill.

Read the full editorial here.

Read more about the need for compensation and existing shortcomings in legislation here.

 

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Ten Great Moments of the Decade

Posted: December 30, 2009 11:00 am



It goes without saying that DNA testing and the issues surrounding wrongful convictions have left their mark on the criminal justice system in the last ten years. When the decade began, DNA testing had been used in American courtrooms for more than 11 years, but exonerations were still fairly rare.

In the last ten years, 182 people have been exonerated through DNA testing and states have passed dozens of laws addressing the causes of wrongful convictions. Yet there is plenty of work to do — countless innocent people remain behind bars as we pass into 2010 and the threat of wrongful convictions in today’s courtrooms is still very real.

As we look forward to freeing more innocent people than ever in the decade ahead and enacting major reforms to prevent wrongful convictions, here is a list (in chronological order) of 10 seminal moments from the 2000s.

"Actual Innocence” is published (2000)— Written by Innocence Project Co-Directors Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, with Jim Dwyer,  this groundbreaking book examines the emergence of DNA testing and the causes of wrongful conviction it unveiled. During the decade, it became a blueprint for overturning wrongful convictions and reforming the criminal justice system.

Larry Mayes becomes the 100th Exoneree (2001) — Mayes spent 21 years in Indiana prisons before DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project and the Innocence Project at the Indiana University School of Law proved his innocence and led to his release.

Illinois clears death row (2003) — Pointing clearly to the frightening rate of exonerations in his state (since 1977, 13 death row prisoners had been cleared while 12 had been executed), Gov. George Ryan granted blanket clemency to all 167 people on death row on January 10, 2003.

Congress passes the Justice for All Act (2004) — The JFAA is the most significant legislation to ever address wrongful convictions in the United States. It provides an avenue for federal prisoners to seek DNA testing and funds incentives for states to offer similar testing and to improve DNA testing capacity. It also provides compensation for federal exonerees.

 “After Innocence” premieres (2005) — An award-winning documentary chronicling the lives of seven men released from prison after serving years for crimes they didn’t commit, After Innocence brought  the issue of wrongful convictions to America’s movie theaters and living rooms. Watch a trailer here.

“The Innocent Man” published (2006) — John Grisham’s first non-fiction book tells the heartbreaking story of a murder in Oklahoma and an unimaginable injustice suffered by two innocent men. The book reached best-seller status around the world and a film version is in development. Following the book’s publication, John Grisham joined the Innocence Project’s board of directors. Several other excellent books also chronicled wrongful conviction cases during the decade, check back tomorrow for the decade's must read list.

Jerry Miller becomes the 200th Exoneree (2007) — It took 12 years to exonerate the first 100 people through DNA testing. It was just seven years later that Innocence Project client Jerry Miller became the 200th person exonerated through DNA. He served 25 years in Illinois prisons before he was cleared.

Dennis Fritz and Peggy Carter Sanders Dance on Stage (2008) — the history of criminal justice in the United States is filled with poignant moments of injustice overturned, from tear-filled homecomings to stirring speeches and courtroom victories. One of the most memorable is the moment Dennis Fritz, who was exonerated after 11 years in prison for an Oklahoma murder he didn’t commit, unexpectedly danced onstage with the mother of the murder victim at a New York event. Watch this touching moment on video here.

50th Member Joins the Innocence Network (2008) — the Innocence Network is an international affiliation of groups working to overturn wrongful convictions. As the field has broadened over the last 10 years, more organizations have been created to meet the growing need for pro bono legal services and advocacy. In 2008, the Innocence Network reached a membership of 50 organizations, today there are 54.

National Academy of Sciences releases forensic report (2009) — Faulty forensic evidence played a role in more than half of the wrongful convictions later overturned through DNA testing. Many forensic techniques used in courtrooms today have never been subjected to rigorous scientific evaluation. In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences released a landmark report calling for the U.S. federal government to create a federal entity to oversee and support the forensic disciplines. Learn more here.

Photo: Innocence Project client Luis Diaz was exonerated in Florida in 2005 after 25 years in prison for a series of crimes he didn't commit. Courtesy South Florida Sun Sentinel.



Tags: Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation, False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification, Forensic Oversight, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing, False Confessions, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics, Informants/Snitches, Bad Lawyering, Government Misconduct, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Ten Great Books of the Decade

Posted: December 31, 2009 12:26 pm



As we wrote yesterday in our post on ten great moments of the decade, it has been an eventful and successful 10 years for individuals and groups working to overturn wrongful convictions – but there’s plenty of work left to do.

As we embark on a new decade, here’s a roundup of 10 must-read books on wrongful convictions and criminal justice reform from the last 10 years, in no particular order. There were many more great books on the issue in the 2000s than we can name here, however, so please visit our book list for more good reads.
 
Picking Cotton” by exoneree Ronald Cotton and crime victim Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, with Erin Torneo. Set to come out in paperback on January 4, this book was a highlight of 2009 and tells the moving story of a wrongful conviction and the fight for reform from the perspectives of an exoneree and crime victim.

Actual Innocence”, by Innocence Project Co-Directors Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, with Jim Dwyer,  this groundbreaking book examines the emergence of DNA testing and the causes of wrongful conviction it unveiled.

Exit to Freedom,” an autobiography by Georgia exoneree Calvin Johnson, with Greg Hampikian of the Idaho Innocence Project, describes Johnson’s 1983 wrongful conviction, his fight for freedom and the challenges of building a new life after exoneration.

The Innocents,” is a visually stunning collection of exoneree photos by Taryn Simon, with commentary by Innocence Project Co-Directors Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld.

Surviving Justice: America’s Wrongfully Convicted and Exonerated,” includes first-hand accounts of injustice and exoneration from 13 men and women who were wrongfully convicted. Edited by Dave Eggers and Lola Vollen.

Journey Toward Justice,” is Dennis Fritz’s personal account of his conviction in Oklahoma for a murder he didn’t commit.

True Stories of False Confessions,” gathers articles and stories of false confessions, one of the leading causes of wrongful conviction. Edited by Rob Warden and Steve Drizin of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at the Northwestern University School of Law.

Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town,” by Nate Blakeslee, explores injustice and the drug war through the lens of a wrongful conviction scandal in Texas.

The Innocent Man,” John Grisham’s first non-fiction book tells the heartbreaking story of a murder in Oklahoma and an unimaginable injustice suffered by two innocent men: Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz.

Bloodsworth,” by Tim Junkin, is the story of Kirk Bloodsworth, the first person exonerated through DNA testing in the U.S. after serving time on death row.
 

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Happy New Year

Posted: December 31, 2009 11:45 am

Happy New Year from all of us at the Innocence Project to our wonderful blog readers and our online community. We're looking forward to working with you the bring about more exonerations in 2010 and to pass critical reforms across the country that will prevent injustice from happening.

There are just a few hours left to make a tax-deductible donation to the Innocence Project in 2009, the deadline is midnight tonight. We wouldn't be here without your support. Please make an online donation today.

Thank you for your dedication and generosity, here's to overturning injustice together in the New Year!

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Supreme Court Dismisses Prosecutorial Misconduct Case

Posted: January 5, 2010 4:22 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a case on the limits of prosecutorial immunity yesterday after two wrongfully convicted defendants announced that they had settled their lawsuit against Iowa prosecutors.

Terry Harrington and Curtis McGhee spent 26 years in Iowa prisons for a murder evidence shows they didn’t commit before they were freed in 2003. They were suing prosecutors in Pottawattamie County, Iowa, for allegedly coercing false testimony and fabricating evidence to convict them.

The Supreme Court was considering whether the prosecutors should be immune from civil lawsuits, but dismissed the case yesterday after the two parties announced a $12 million settlement.

Read more:

Christian Science Monitor: Supreme Court Drops Key Case on Limits of Immunity for Prosecutors

LA Times: Prosecutor Conduct Case Before Supreme Court is Settled

Previous coverage of this case on the Innocence Blog





Tags: Government Misconduct

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How to Stop False Confessions

Posted: January 7, 2010 9:45 am

A new article in the journal Law and Human Behavior by John Jay College Professor Saul Kassin and several other false confession experts examines the causes of false confessions and calls for law enforcement agencies videotape all interrogations to prevent injustice.

False confessions were a factor in about one-quarter of all wrongful convictions overturned to date through DNA testing. The contributing factors discussed in the new article are found in many DNA exoneration cases, including juvenile or mentally challenged suspects, intoxicated suspects, long periods of interrogation and infliction of harm by interrogators.

Kassin and the paper's other authors reach a clear conclusion: recording interrogations prevents false confessions. Empirical studies have shown that recording reduces the chance for false confessions. More than 500 jurisdictions across the country already record interrogations, and they have found that the practice also creates a valuable record for police and prosecutors to use at trial. The paper also calls for reforms to interrogation methods in tandem with the introduction of recording.

Download the full paper here.

Gideon, blogging at a public defender, delves deep into the article and offers tips for public defenders dealing with confession cases. Read his post here.

Read about the Innocence Project's recommendations on recording of interrogations.

Watch a video of Texas exoneree Chris Ochoa describing his false confession and eventual exoneration.





Tags: False Confessions, False Confessions

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Improper Forensics and Two Decades in Prison

Posted: January 8, 2010 10:40 am



In 1989, Steven Barnes was convicted of the rape and murder of 16-year-old Kimberly Simon in Utica, New York. The prosecution's case against Barnes was based in part on unvalidated and improper forensic science.  After serving almost two decades in prison, Barnes was officially exonerated one year ago this week  

Today, Barnes works helps oversee a youth program for his county's workforce development office and recently moved into his own apartment. He frequently speaks to community groups and policymakers about the importance of addressing the causes of wrongful conviction to prevent injustice.

Faulty forensics were a central cause of Barnes' wrongful conviction. Three types of forensic evidence were used against Barnes:  fabric print analysis, soil comparison, and microscopic hair analysis.  None of these three techniques has been proven in empirical studies to be reliable and aspects of this evidence clearly misled the jury in Barnes' case.

The fabric print analysis allegedly linked the victim's unusual jeans to a dust print on the outside of Barnes' truck, but the methods used to determine a link were unproven and unreliable. Soil from Barnes truck was chemically compared to soil at the crime scene, but technicians didn't offer an analysis of whether the soil in either sample was particularly unique.

Testimony regarding microscopic hair comparisons in particular can mislead juries to believe that a similarly is actually a "match." According to a report released in 2009 by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), "No scientifically accepted statistics exist about the frequency with which particular characteristics of hair are distributed in the population.  There appears to be no uniform standards on the number of features on which hairs must agree before an examiner may declare a 'match.'"  Nearly one in five wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing involved faulty hair analysis.  

Despite the groundbreaking recent NAS report on forensic science, there remains a grievous lack of oversight of crime labs across the country.  Moreover, methodologies and standards vary by examiner. Countless innocent people have been sent to prison in the U.S. based on faulty forensics while the real perpetrators of crimes remain free.  In response, the Innocence Project, spearheading the Just Science Coalition, has developed a plan for reform that includes the creation of a national Office of Forensic Science Improvement and Support (OFSIS).  OFSIS, with input from law enforcement, prosecutors, crime laboratories, the judiciary and the defense bar, will support research in forensics practices, set mandatory accreditation and certification standards and ensure compliance with those standards.

These reforms are critical to prevent future injustices like the one endured by Steven Barnes. Learn more about federal forensic reforms and take action here.

Other Exoneree Anniversaries This Week:

Mark Diaz Bravo, California (Served 3 Years, Exonerated 1/6/94)

David Vasquez, Virginia (Served 4 Years, Exonerated 1/4/89)

Larry Holdren, West Virginia (Served 15 Years, Exonerated 1/4/00)



Tags: Steven Barnes, Forensic Oversight

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Friday Roundup: Learning from DNA Exonerations

Posted: January 8, 2010 5:40 pm

As we begin work to overturn wrongful convictions and reform the criminal justice system in 2010, it’s critical that we learn from the exonerations of 2009. When a wrongful conviction is overturned , we can see exactly how the system failed and work to prevent the same injustice from happening again.

This week on the Innocence Blog, we reported on cases from developments from New Jersey to Texas. Here are a few stories we didn’t get to during the week:

A Buffalo News editorial this week looked at the recent Innocence Network year-end report and wondered how many more innocent people remain behind bars. “How much longer will it take,” the newspaper’s editors asked. “How many more innocent people must die waiting their turn for justice, before our government installs as routine the kind of safeguards these consciences-at-large are urging upon us?”

Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck visited the Colbert Report on Thursday night, and reminded Innocence Project Artists’ Committee member Stephen Colbert that he shouldn’t assume every conviction is clear cut because we now have DNA testing: 90% of criminal cases don’t involve biological evidence.

An article in January’s issue of Scientific American investigates eyewitness identification procedures and finds identifications in criminal cases “shockingly inaccurate.”

Conway Tutani writes in Zimbabwe’s Herald newspaper that Zimbabwe likely has a higher rate of wrongful convictions than many other countries, and even fewer avenues to address injustice.

InnocenceProject.org was featured on radio around the world as Voice of America’s Website of the Week. And we’re nominated for a Shorty Award for the best twitter in the nonprofit category. Vote for us here.



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The Cost of Faulty Forensics

Posted: January 13, 2010 6:40 pm

Two years ago this week, Ronald Gene Taylor (left) was officially exonerated of a Texas rape after serving 12 years in prison.

DNA testing could have been conducted before his trial, but an analyst from the Houston Police Department Crime Lab testified incorrectly that there was no biological evidence to test. It would be more than a decade before this error was corrected.

Early in the morning of May 28, 1993, a woman awoke in her Houston apartment to find a man holding a knife to her neck. She was unable to break free, and the man raped her on her bed before fleeing the apartment. During the investigation, Houston police officers collected the sheet from the victim’s bed, specifically noting a wet spot. Although the woman initially said she could not identify the perpetrator, she was allowed to watch a videotaped lineup at her home nearly six weeks after the crime, where she picked Taylor, after suddenly remembering that the perpetrator had a missing tooth.  In 1995, Taylor was convicted by a jury of sexual assault and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

The Innocence Project took on his case in 2006 and sought DNA testing on the same sheet that reportedly contained no evidence to test. Semen was identified on the sheet and, and the results didn’t only exonerate Taylor, they also pointed to the identity of the real perpetrator.

Taylor’s case underlined ongoing forensic problems in Houston. In 2002, the HPD Crime Lab came under scrutiny for faulty forensic practices and the DNA lab was shut down while an independent review was conducted. The review revealed startling deficiencies in the DNA unit, ranging from poor documentation to serious analytical and interpretive errors that resulted in highly questionable results through the use of inaccurate and misleading statistics.

According to the review, standard operating procedures “consisted of procedures and reference materials cobbled together over time without periodic re-evaluation and reorganization. There were few technical reviews of analysts’ work, including review of their test results, interpretation of data, and reporting.” The lack of oversight likely resulted in serious misconduct, including at least  four cases of fabrication of scientific results, called “drylabbing,” which the report called the “the most egregious form of scientific misconduct that can occur in a forensic science laboratory,” and a “hanging offense” in the scientific community. Read the full independent report here.

Although the Houston lab has made strides since 2002, such as receiving national accreditation in 2006, it still has a long way to go. The lab closed again in 2008 after its chief resigned over staff training problems. Recently, new questions have been raised about the lab’s fingerprinting procedures. Taylor is one of three people exonerated through DNA testing after being wrongfully convicted based on faulty tests from the lab, and another pending case could lead to an exoneration.

Meanwhile, in the two years since his release, Taylor has begun to build a new life. Shortly after being freed, he married his long-time fiancée, Jeanette Brown. The couple lives in Atlanta.

Other Exoneration Anniversaries This Week:

Larry Fuller, Texas (Served 19.5 years, Exonerated 1/11/07)

Gregory Wallis
, Texas (Served 17 years, Exonerated 1/10/07)

Ricardo Rachell, Texas (Served 5.5 years, Exonerated 1/14/09)

Rickie Johnson, Louisiana (Served 25 years, Exonerated 1/14/08)

Dale Brison, Pennsylvania (Served 3.5 years, Exonerated 1/14/94)





Tags: Ronald Taylor

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"The Wronged Man" on Lifetime Movie Network

Posted: January 15, 2010 12:40 pm



“The Wronged Man,” a moving new Lifetime film, tells the story of Calvin Willis’ wrongful conviction in Louisiana and the fight to free him. The movie premieres on Lifetime Movie Network Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET and plays again Monday night, January 18, at 8 p.m. ET.

Watch a trailer here and find Lifetime Movie Network in your local listings.

Calvin Willis served more than 21 years in Louisiana prisons for a child rape he didn’t commit before DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project proved his innocence and led to his exoneration. For 15 years, a paralegal named Janet "Prissy" Gregory advocated on Willis’ behalf, filing appeals for a new trial and raising money to pay for DNA testing. Gregory is played in the film by Julia Ormond. Willis is played by Mahershalalhashbaz Ali. Pictured above is a scene from the film with Ormond (left), Tonea Stewart (playing Momma Newton, the grandmother who raised Calvin) and Ali.

Learn more about Willis’ case. Watch an Innocence Project video of Willis' reunion with long-time friend and fellow exoneree Rickie Johnson.

Airing with the film is a new Public Service Announcement featuring Julia Ormond on wrongful convictions and the work of the Innocence Project. Watch the PSA here.

Did you see the film? Share your thoughts with other viewers here.



Tags: Calvin Willis

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Friday Roundup: Ringing the Liberty Bell

Posted: January 15, 2010 5:30 pm

Here are some of the stories we didn’t get to on the Innocence Blog this week. For breaking news, follow us on Twitter @innocenceblog.

James Bain served 35 years in Florida prisons for a rape he didn’t commit before DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project of Florida led to his exoneration in December. On Monday, he will ring the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia in a celebration of one of his heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Oklahoma State Sen. Constance Johnson filed a bill yesterday that would create a commission to study the causes of wrongful convictions and recommend reforms to address them.

A wave of drug-related crime has led to a spike in demand for forensic tests in Mexico. Educational opportunities for aspiring forensic analysts are expanding as well.

British exoneree Sean Hodgson could receive several million Pounds in compensation after serving 27 years in U.K. prisons for a crime he didn’t commit. He spoke with the BBC this week about the challenges of life after exoneration.

A new paper from University of Houston Law Center Professor Sandra Guerra Thompson explores how state courts across the U.S. have handled evidence of eyewitness misidentifications.



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Texas Forensics Panel to Reconvene, but Arson Case Isn’t on Agenda

Posted: January 21, 2010 5:40 pm

The work of the Texas Forensic Science Commission was delayed last year when Gov. Rick Perry suddenly replaced several panel members days before a key meeting was to be held. The commission is now scheduled to meet again on January 29, but the controversial case of Cameron Todd Willingham is not on the agenda.

New commission chair John Bradley said he wants to focus first on commission procedures, but the Innocence Project and the former panel chairman said the group’s work has been delayed too long. Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck told the Associated Press that the January 29 agenda “deflects attention from what everybody wants answered" and former commission chairman Sam Bassett said the panel is "unnecessarily delaying the investigations we had going."

The commission was scheduled to hear in October from an arson expert on evidence in the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 despite strong evidence of his innocence. Before the October meeting could be held, however, Gov. Perry replaced Basset and three other commission members. The group hasn’t met since then.

Visit the Texas Forensic Science Commission website to download the full agenda for the January 29 meeting in Harlingen, Texas.

We hope to broadcast the meeting live on the Internet, check the Innocence Blog next week for details.





Tags: Cameron Todd Willingham

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Friday Roundup: Waiting for Freedom

Posted: January 22, 2010 5:02 pm

Here are some stories of injustice, forensics and reform that we didn’t get to on the Innocence Blog this week:

Greg Taylor has been in prison in North Carolina for 17 years for a crime he has always said he didn’t commit. A hearing in his case is set for February 9, and a three-judge panel this week denied prosecutors’ request for a delay.

A Wisconsin man seeking to overturn his conviction for a murder he says he didn’t commit was denied a new trial by a state judge this week. A recent book tells the stories of Rey Moore and five other men convicted in the case.

We wrote last week about the exoneration of Michael Tillman in Chicago based on evidence of his innocence and signs that he was tortured into making a false confession. The New York Times reported that more than 20 other African-American men who say they were tortured by Chicago police during the same period remain behind bars today.

Questions continue to swirl around the accuracy and reliability of polygraph tests and voice-stress analysis, but a report in Ohio found that thousands of law enforcement agencies across the country still use the devices regularly.

A package of reforms addressing the causes of wrongful convictions and aiming to prevent injustice passed an Ohio House committee and is headed for a vote by the House.

DNA testing is being used more frequently in property crimes. Every day we see stories in the press of DNA testing in home burglaries (like this one today in New Hampshire). Officials in Dallas, Texas are on the cutting edge of using DNA tests to solve car thefts. Dallas County recently received a $500,000 to expand the program.

A new paper from Richard Leo and Jon Gould argues that the legal community should give social science research more weight in determining the causes of wrongful convictions and fixing the system to prevent future injustice.

Psychology Today blogger Art Markham explored the best ways to conduct lineups when one of the perpetrators has a scar or other identifying characteristic.

Exoneree Dennis Fritz was in Washington, D.C. this week participating in an American Association for the Advancement of Science panel focused on survivors of human rights violations.



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Friday Roundup: Forensics Under Review in Texas

Posted: January 29, 2010 6:40 pm

The first meeting of the Texas Forensic Science Commission in more than six months focused on procedural issues and Cameron Todd Willingham’s case wasn’t discussed directly. The Innocence Project streamed the meeting live online today, and blogger Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast blogged it live here.

The web stream was made possible by our pro bono partners at Unicorn Media and the producers at Rio Bravo Films.

In other Texas news, Hank Skinner is set to be executed in Texas Feburary 24 despite his pending requests for DNA tests that could prove his innocence. Students at the Medill Innocence Project have been investigating the case and the Texas Tribune ran a two-part story this week.

Still more news from Texas: new evidence suggests that prosecutors coached a witness to identify an innocent man in 1995. Richard Miles was freed last year after 14 years in prison based on new evidence of his innocence. The main witness against him at trial now says he was coached by prosecutors. The prosecutors denied the allegations.

A Michigan man who has been in prison for 25 years for a murder he says he didn’t commit could get a parole hearing soon, state officials said.

Evidence was sent to be testing in the case of Indiana prisoner Willie T. Donald, who has served nearly two decades for a crime he has always said he didn’t commit.

The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to its decision last year in Melendez-Diaz that defendants have the right to cross-examine forensic analysts who conducted tests in their case. A new rule in New York allows police to conduct investigations based on partial DNA matches. The rule was enacted despite arguments from the New York Civil Liberties Union that it should have gone before the legislature.

Reversing an earlier decision, a Los Angeles hiring committee this week approved 27 new forensic analyst positions in an effort to reduce the city’s backlog of untested rape kits.


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Texas Forensics Panel to Discuss Willingham Case at Next Meeting

Posted: February 1, 2010 3:32 pm

The Texas Forensic Science Commission met Friday for the first time in six months, but the meeting focused on committee procedure and the controversial case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004, was not discussed.

Commission Chairman John Bradley committed, however, to discussing the case at the committee’s next meeting, set for April 23 in El Paso.

"Yes, they will be on the agenda. Yes, they will be discussed," Bradley said, referring to open cases under review.
Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom, who attended the meeting, noted that Bradley attempted to develop new procedures that would have given him more power, but members of the commission insisted that the new rules clearly call for consent and approval from the group:
"The rules Mr. Bradley proposed create needless bureaucracy, steer the commission away from the Legislature's intent, limit the commissioners' authority and vest more power in him as the chair," Saloom told the Associated Press.
And Houston Chronicle columnist Rick Casey wrote today about Bradley’s decision to bar a documentary film crew from the meeting room, which was reversed 90 minutes after the meeting began:
Bradley evicted an Austin-based documentary crew before the meeting started. One of its members called the attorney general's office in Austin, which sent a message to Barbara Dean, the assistant district attorney who has attended all of the commission's meetings, providing legal guidance since its inception.

An hour and a half into the meeting, Dean, seated behind Bradley, tapped him on the shoulder and quietly spoke into his ear. He announced a 10-minute break, and when the meeting resumed the film crew was in the room.
Read more about Friday’s meeting:


Associated Press: Texas Panel Meets, Skips Talk of Willingham Case

The Monitor:  Forensics Panel Dodges Discussion of Controversial ExecutionRick Casey in the Houston Chronicle: The Revolt of the Scientists  Grits for Breakfast: Live Blog of the Meeting
 



Tags: Forensic Oversight

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250 Exonerated, and the Need for Reform

Posted: February 4, 2010 4:40 pm

More than three decades after he was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, Innocence Project client Freddie Peacock was exonerated at  a hearing this afternoon in Rochester, New York. He became the 250th person exonerated through DNA testing in the United States. His case and those of the 249 before him show how the criminal justice system is flawed and how it can be fixed.

To mark the 250th exoneration, the Innocence Project released a new report today: “250 Exonerated, Too Many Wrongfully Convicted.” Supporters around the country are amplifying the call for reform by sending letters to editors of local newspapers -- send yours here.

Peacock, 60, served more than five years in New York prisons for a rape he didn’t commit before he was released on parole in 1982. For the next 28 years, he fought to clear his name -- even trying to refuse the end of his parole because he thought that remaining in the criminal justice system might make it easier for him to prove his innocence.  

"Freddie Peacock was released many years ago, but he hasn't been truly free because the cloud of this conviction hung over him," Olga Akselrod, the Innocence Project Staff Attorney handling the case, said today.

Peacock’s wrongful conviction sheds light on two of the most common causes of wrongful convictions: eyewitness misidentification and false confessions. Peacock, who has serious mental illness, was arrested and charged with raping a neighbor in 1976 based in part on a questionable eyewitness misidentification. Although he told police that he had been hospitalized for mental illness, they proceeded to interrogate him, eventually alleging that he confessed to the crime, though he could not tell officers where, when or how the victim was raped. He was tried and convicted of the crime and sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

Learn more about Peacock's case and take action today by sending a letter to your local newspaper.



Tags: Freddie Peacock

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Freddie Peacock's Long Journey to Exoneration

Posted: February 5, 2010 3:15 pm

By Maggie Taylor, Senior Case Coordinator

Yesterday, I had the honor of sharing an incredible day with a person who had previously lived in my mind as handwriting, case documents and a very memorable name — Freddie Peacock. I first heard Freddie’s name in 2005 when I evaluated his case for potential acceptance at the Innocence Project, and I was thinking of his letters yesterday as he finally achieved the exoneration he sought for so long.

In two weeks I'll celebrate my sixth anniversary with the Innocence Project, where I work in the intake and evaluation department.  My job, and the job of eight wonderful colleagues in my department, is to help determine which cases the Innocence Project can accept. To do so, we reconstruct a case as best we can through documents: from the often-heartbreaking letters of prisoners and from lab reports, police reports, trial transcripts and other legal documents. We examine a case from every angle, looking for two things: a viable innocence claim and biological evidence that, if tested, should tell us if the person asking for our help is innocent.  Our jobs, though fascinating and challenging, focus almost exclusively on lives on paper.

When Freddie first wrote to us, his request was different from many of the pleas we read. He needed our help to restore his good name. When I worked up Freddie's case in 2005, it was compelling not only for the biological evidence that could prove his innocence, but because he had been out of prison since 1982, and still fought for exoneration. In fact, Freddie had been off parole since 1992, and before that had voluntarily remained on parole because he thought he would have a better chance of proving his innocence.

He existed in my mind for years as a compelling story but he came to life when I met him on Wednesday. We arrived at his apartment on Wednesday afternoon and were greeted by Freddie, his sister Edith and his longtime friend and advocate Bill Marshall.  Freddie, now 60, is a very tall man, with a genuine smile and brown tortoise shell glasses. Edith had just taken Freddie to the barber and they were planning his court outfit.  Freddie picked up the tie he planned to wear the next day and handed it to Bill, who put it around his own neck, tied it, and put it on Freddie to check the length. 

Freddie sat quietly as staff attorney Olga Akselrod and Cardozo student Jess Smith walked him through what would happen on exoneration day.  As Edith, who was to be the family's official spokesperson at the press conference, prepared for difficult questions, we heard about how Freddie's wrongful conviction had affected the family.  She talked about how worried she had been when Freddie went into prison.  She feared Freddie's mental illness would make him a target of violence, and I thought about the scores of other inmates with mental illnesses who write to us for help.

The courthouse the next day was flooded with reporters and camera operators. The hearing was brief. Edith cried with relief as soon as the judge began signing the paper vacating Freddie's conviction. Olga asked for just three or four minutes to talk about Freddie's ordeal on the record; the judge granted two. No apologies were offered to Freddie. At the end of the hearing the judge wished Freddie luck, and we filed out of the courtroom just ten minutes after we had entered. Edith turned to her friend Jeanette, who had accompanied her, and said how glad she was it was all over, Jeanette silently tucked Edith's hair behind her ear.

At the press conference Olga praised Freddie for his spirit and tenacity in proving his innocence. She noted how terrifying it is to keep reaching out for relief to the same system that wronged you. Innocence Project Co-director Peter Neufeld pressed for laws mandating the recording of interrogations to help prevent false confessions, like the one Freddie allegedly gave police over three decades ago. Freddie sat with his head down, staring at his hands in his lap, as his sister described the burden of his wrongful conviction.
 
After the press conference we called the Innocence Project office so the staff and students could congratulate Freddie, an Innocence Project ritual. When Freddie said hello he was greeted with applause and cheers. He beamed, and laughed, and his sister told everyone on the line, "Y'all are family now."  I've been one of those voices cheering from the other end of the line on many occasions, and it was great to see that call from the other end, how happy it seemed to make Freddie and his sister.

Freddie’s family held a party after the hearing in the rec room of Freddie’s apartment complex. Freddie's family and friends gathered for lasagna, chicken, fruit and sandwiches.  Freddie joked with everyone and talked about basketball with Peter, who noted that he and Freddie were the same age and had the same basketball heroes. Freddie's pastor, who was out of town and couldn't make it to the exoneration, called in with congratulations. Freddie cut a white sheet cake with blue roses that said, "Congratulations, Freddie, it's been a long journey."



Tags: Freddie Peacock

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Media Coverage in Freddie Peacock Case

Posted: February 5, 2010 4:20 pm

Yesterday, Freddie Peacock became the 250th person exonerated by DNA evidence in the United States. We posted background on his case and a new report on the first 250 exonerations.  This afternoon, Innocence Project Senior Case Coordinator Maggie Taylor wrote here about her experience with Peacock’s family at the exoneration hearing in Rochester.

Innocence Project supporters around the world are marking the 250th exoneration by sending letters to newspaper editors in their communities, calling for reforms to prevent future injustice. Send yours here.

Here's a selection of media coverage of yesterday’s exoneration:


New York Times: Vindication Now Arrives After a Battle of 28 Years

Los Angeles Times: DNA Evidence Clears NY Man

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Article and Video

Dozens more news outlets, TV stations and blogs around the country carried Peacock’s story. Notable blog posts included Simple Justice, The Root, The Agitator, Overbrook Foundation and Black Voices.




Tags: Freddie Peacock

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Friday Roundup: 250 And Counting

Posted: February 5, 2010 5:50 pm

It was a momentous week at the Innocence Project, but aside from Freddie Peacock becoming the 250th DNA exoneree in the nation, stories of injustice, exoneration and reform continued to pop up around the world.

The Griffith University Innocence Project in Australia is moving forward with DNA testing in the case of Shane David, who has been in prison for 20 years for a murder he says he didn't commit.

Innocence Project client Dean Cage appeared on the Dr. Phil show this week to discuss life after exoneration and the issue of eyewitness misidentification.

The widow of a murder victim in Albuquerque is suing the city police department, alleging that her husband was killed in part because the department had arrested the wrong people for a crime committed by the alleged perpetrator of the murder. If police hadn't been sidetracked by a false confession, she says, they could have prevented her husband's murder.

Innocence Project client Marvin Anderson was included in the NAACP's Unsung Heroes of Black History Month website.

Three exonerees spoke at a Midwest Innocence Project fundraising on Wednesday. Ken Kezer talked about the difficulties of building a life after exoneration.

The award-winning play  "The Exonerated" premieres tomorrow in Long Beach, California.

For more forensic news, check out the Just Science Coalition's weekly forensic roundup, updated each Friday.




Tags: Dean Cage

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After Two Decades in Prison, Helping Other "Homecomers"

Posted: February 9, 2010 2:35 pm

After serving more than 18 years in prison — including a full decade after DNA results first pointed to his innocence — Darryl Hunt was exonerated six years ago this week in North Carolina.

Hunt, who was only 19 years old at the time, was convicted of first-degree murder based on the testimony of eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen him with the victim. He was sentenced to life in prison, but his conviction was overturned by the North Carolina Supreme Court. In 1989, Hunt was retried before an all-white jury and again convicted of first-degree murder. Although DNA testing on crime scene evidence pointed to Hunt’s innocence in 1994, it would take another decade and numerous unsuccessful appeals before the DNA profile from the crime scene was run in the state database at the request of Hunt's attorneys. The results conclusively exonerated Hunt and pointed to another man who has since pled guilty to the murder.

After his release, Hunt returned to his hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and founded the Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people after their release from prison.

The Project recently changed the formal name of its re-entry program, which helps formerly incarcerated individuals re-integrate into society through job-training and counseling, to the Homecomers Program. As Hunt has said, the name "homecomers" is a positive alternative to "ex-offender," because, "People who are rejoining their communities after serving their sentences deserve a second chance to change and become productive citizens.

That change begins with the label we give them. Words are not neutral, and the term 'ex-offender' continues to follow them in a negative way even while they are trying to turn their lives around." Hunt continues to speak across the country, advocating on behalf of exonerees, while promoting a message of criminal justice reform and compassion. Learn more about the Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice.

An award-winning 2005 documentary, "The Trials of Darryl Hunt," chronicles the events leading to Hunt's exoneration, including footage taken throughout his long ordeal. The film has raised awareness around the world about the problem of wrongful conviction. Netflix subscribers can watch it online and it’s available for sale on Amazon.com (a portion of the purchase at Amazon through this link will support the Innocence Project). Watch the trailer here.

Other Exoneree Anniversaries This Week:

Stephan Cowans
, Massachusetts (Served 5.5 years, Exonerated 2/2/04)

Richard Danziger, Texas (Served 11 years, Exonerated 2/6/02)

Christopher Ochoa
, Texas (Served 11.5 years, Exonerated 2/6/02)

David Shawn Pope
, Texas (Served 15 years, Exonerated 2/2/01)





Tags: Darryl Hunt

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Advocates Seek Innocence Commission and Compensation Reform in Florida

Posted: February 22, 2010 6:10 pm

Efforts to pass significant wrongful conviction reforms are gaining steam in steam in Florida.

We reported earlier this month that State Sen. Mike Haridopolos had asked the Florida Supreme Court to form an innocence commission, which would review exonerations in the state and recommend measures to prevent future injustice.

Another effort is underway to repeal a so-called “clean hands” provision, which restricts exoneree compensation only to people who had a felony conviction before or during their wrongful incarceration.

The Miami Herald last week called on the state legislature to remove the clean hands provision from the law, saying that a minor felony shouldn’t lead an exoneree from missing their due compensation. The Herald also made a strong call for the creation of an innocence commission.

Another editorial last week, in Florida Today, also called on the state Supreme Court to create an innocence panel, saying “one wrongful conviction is too many, but the growing number in Brevard (County) and across Florida is a plague that can't be ignored.”

The Innocence Project of Florida, a member of the Innocence Network, is advocating on behalf of both of these reforms. Visit the IPF blog here.




Tags: Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation

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Friday Roundup: Opposition in Mississippi and Updates on Exonerees

Posted: March 12, 2010 4:30 pm

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood opposes a House bill that would require people performing autopsies in the state to be nationally board certified.  Tucker Carrington, director of the Innocence Project at the University of Mississippi School of Law, said: “If I mess up some guy’s case, there has to be some organization that can take my license.  How can a bill be any less controversial? It is just asking that people be licensed.”

Two former Duke lacrosse players who were cleared of sexual assault accusations almost three years ago have moved on with their lives. Collin Finnerty resumed college at Loyola in the fall of 2008 and played lacrosse for the past two seasons.  He is being considered for the Tewaaraton Trophy, awarded to the nation's top lacrosse player each year.  Reade Seligmann also resumed college in the fall 2008, enrolling at Brown and continuing to play lacrosse.  He also became involved in the Innocence Project, most recently working to organize a symposium of experts on eyewitness identification. 

Joshua Kezer, who spent 16 years in prison for a murder he did not commit before being exonerated in 2009, will be featured on CBS’s "48 Hours Mystery" this Saturday, March 13, at 9 p.m.  Kezer was accused of murdering a 19-year-old woman he had never met in 1994.

On Thursday, Innocence Project client Jeffrey Deskovic testified at a Connecticut Judiciary Committee hearing against a bill that would limit appeals for people sentenced to death.  Since his exoneration in 2006, Deskovic has advocated against the death penalty, noting that if he hadn’t been a minor when he was wrongfully convicted he might have been sentenced to death.



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Texas Man Set to Be Executed Despite Untested DNA

Posted: March 15, 2010 6:01 pm

In an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck joined others in calling on Texas Gov. Rick Perry to order a stay in Skinner’s case so that DNA testing can proceed. Skinner’s attorneys made a similar request in a letter to Perry last week.

Scheck was joined in the op-ed by Cory Session, whose brother Timothy Cole was exonerated posthumously in Texas last year, and Rodney Ellis, a Texas state senator and the chairman of the Innocence Project Board of Directors. They wrote:

In Tim Cole’s case, solid science came too late. Perry was right to pardon him, but he would do well to learn from this case and make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

One such person might be Hank Skinner, who is set to be executed March 24. Skinner has requested DNA testing for 10 years, and there is no good reason for state officials to continue blocking these efforts.

We don’t know whether Hank Skinner is guilty or innocent. But we know the governor has the power to step in and delay the execution so DNA testing can be done to resolve this case once and for all — before Skinner is executed.

Read the full op-ed here.

Last week, former Texas prosecutor Sam Millsap wrote in the Houston Chronicle that Texas should conduct testing in Skinner’s case in order to avoid the possible “horror of executing an innocent man.”

Calls for testing in Skinner’s case come after months of worldwide attention to the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in Texas in 2004 despite evidence of his innocence. Since Willingham’s execution, several independent scientific studies have determined that the forensic analysis used to convict him was wrong. A 16,000-word story in the New Yorker magazine last year went on to discredit all of the evidence used against Willingham, including the forensic analysis, the informant's testimony, other witness testimony and additional circumstantial evidence.

Learn more about Hank Skinner’s case
.

Learn more about Willingham’s case.

Seventeen people have been proven innocent and exonerated by DNA testing in the United States after serving time on death row. Learn about their cases here.

Photo: Texas Tribune


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Calls for DNA Testing Grow in Hours Before Scheduled Execution

Posted: March 24, 2010 3:05 pm

Ellis, the chairman of the Innocence Project Board of Directors, evoked in his letter the memory of Tim Cole, who died in prison in 1999 and was posthumously exonerated through DNA testing. Perry delivered a posthumous pardon to Cole’s family at a ceremony last week.

“In honor of Tim Cole,” Ellis wrote, “I ask that you give Mr. Skinner a 30-day reprieve so that DNA testing can be performed and we can be absolutely certain that Mr. Skinner is truly guilty – before it’s too late.”

Join Ellis and more than 10,000 others – send your letter now.

We’ll post case updates to the Innocence Blog today and this evening as soon as we have them.

Photo credit: Texas Tribune


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Renewed Calls for Florida Commission Following Exoneration

Posted: March 31, 2010 6:15 am


Florida Innocence Project Executive Director Seth Miller wrote about the developments on the organization’s blog today.

Visit our Innocence Commissions page for more information about similar groups currently at work across the country.

Photo: Florida Supreme Court (Credit: Gregory Moine)



Tags: Innocence Commissions

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Skinner Case: The Moments Before the Stay

Posted: April 1, 2010 3:31 pm

In deciding whether to hear Skinner’s appeal, the Supreme Court made it clear that the case raises important broader issues that require a closer look. The Houston Chronicle recently offered an analysis of the case and former Innocence Project attorney Colin Starger wrote about the legal possibilities here.

Watch Skinner’s video interview on CBS11.


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86 Exonerees in One Room

Posted: April 19, 2010 2:50 pm

The weekend continued with sessions on a huge variety of topics, from legal storytelling to false confessions, to life after exoneration and ethics (a full agenda and list of speakers is here). One track of sessions was dedicated to the exonerated attendees; facilitator Chris Corrigan wrote a blog post about his experience at the conference.

To see what others were saying about sessions during the weekend, visit the twitter hashtag #ATLinnocence.

Stay tuned in the days ahead for more from the conference, including video and more photos.

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Texas Forensic Science Commission Expands Willingham Panel

Posted: April 23, 2010 1:45 pm

Kerrigan said she'd serve on the subcommittee if it had more than three members. The commission voted to include both her and Evans as part of a four-member subcommittee.

As Bradley steered the meeting toward other business, he said: "If one were to read public materials about the Forensic Science Commission, one might jump to the conclusion that this commission was formed for the purpose of investigating one case and discussing it endlessly. That would be inaccurate."

Read the full post from the Austin American-Statesman here.

In fact, Willingham’s case was initially set to be heard by the commission in October.  But Gov. Rick Perry abruptly removed the commission’s chair and installed John Bradley, who in turn has continued to delay the investigation by forming subcommittees and spending months reviewing commission procedures.

The commission meeting will continue for several hours and is being live-blogged by several media outlets, including the Austin American-Statesman (linked above) and the Dallas Morning News here.

Read more news and editorial coverage of today’s meeting.

Dallas Morning News 4/23/10

Texas Tribune 4/23/10

Dallas Morning News Editorial 4/22/10

Austin American-Statesman 4/21/10



Tags: Cameron Todd Willingham

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Texas Forensic Panel Moves Slowly, Takes Willingham Case Behind Closed Doors

Posted: April 26, 2010 7:35 pm

The meeting received wide-ranging media coverage in Texas over the weekend, a sample of coverage is below:

Dallas Morning News live blog of the meeting

Houston Chronicle: State Panel Revives Review of Arson Inquiry

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Four-Member Panel to Discuss Willingham Case in Private

Dallas Morning News: Forensic Panel to Investigate Questionable Forensic Science

Austin American-Statesman: Forensic Panel 'Just Beginning' Willingham Arson Inquiry

Texas Tribune: The Big Stall

Grits for Breakfast: Willingham Case Stalled in Seemingly Stacked Panel at Forensic Commission

Visit our Willingham resource page for background on the Willingham case.



Tags: Cameron Todd Willingham

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U.S. Supreme Court Will Hear Death Row Prisoner's Case

Posted: May 25, 2010 2:39 pm

Skinner was convicted and sentenced to death in 1995 for killing his live-in girlfriend and her two adult sons – a crime he says he didn’t commit. After drinking alcohol and consuming Xanax the night of the murder, he said he was too intoxicated to have committed the crimes and has suggested that DNA testing may lead to an alternate suspect.

Skinner is seeking DNA testing conducted on evidence that wasn’t used at the trial, including vaginal swabs, two bloody knives and hair found in the victim’s hand.

Read more on the U.S. Supreme Court and Skinner here:

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Supreme Court to Hear Texas Death Row Case (05/25/10)

Texas Tribune: