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Charges dropped in KY confession case after DNA proves innocence

Posted: January 11, 2007

Matthew Fields, an 18-year-old Louisville man, was charged with a sexual assault two years ago after he allegedly confessed to police. Charges were dropped Wednesday after DNA from the scene matched a convicted felon, according to press reports.

"I think he was frightened, he was scared," (Defense Attorney Rob) Eggert said. "And he was under the impression that if he said he did it, he could go home."

Click here to read the full story. (Courier-Journal, 01/11/07, Payment required for full article)
This case is an example of the thousands of wrongful convictions that can be prevented by timely DNA testing. In his confession, Fields said that he had not ejaculated. The evidence was not sent to the lab until defense attorneys requested testing. If this evidence had been destroyed, mishandled, lost or never tested, Fields may have been convicted.

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Innocence bills introduced in Texas Senate

Posted: February 4, 2007

Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis introduced two bills today — one calling for the creation of a Texas Innocence Commission and another boosting compensation in that state for the wrongly convicted.

"Enough is enough," said Ellis, who also chairs the Innocence Project's Board of Directors. "Day after day, week after week, we learn of more innocent Texans who have had their lives torn from them in tragic error. It is time for Texas to create an Innocence Commission to launch in-depth investigations each time an innocent person is wrongfully convicted, review what went wrong in these cases, why, and spell out the changes necessary to ensure these injustices are not repeated."



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U.S. to vastly expand DNA database

Posted: February 5, 2007

Congress passed a little-noticed amendment in January that permits the federal government to collect DNA samples from anyone arrested by federal authorities, the New York Times reported today.

Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld said the government is reaching too far.

“Whereas fingerprints merely identify the person who left them,” Mr. Neufeld said, “DNA profiles have the potential to reveal our physical diseases and mental disorders. It becomes intrusive when the government begins to mine our most intimate matters.”
As many as 1 million additional DNA samples could be sent to the FBI lab under this law. Officials said they weren't certain how the lab would handle the increase in work, which currently receives 96,000 samples a year and has a backlog of 150,000 samples from convicted people waiting to be processed.


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Jeff Deskovic: Exonerated at 32, still feeling 17

Posted: February 4, 2007

A New York Times article today profiles Jeff Deskovic, who was freed in September, 2006 after serving 15 years for a murder he didn't commit.

Read the full story. (New York Times, 02/04/07, free subscription required)

More information on Jeff Deskovic:

 



Tags: New York, Jeff Deskovic

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New York Times editorial: The True State of CSI Justice

Posted: January 29, 2007

An editorial running today in the New York Times argues for the creation of innocence commissions nationwide.

Modern DNA testing is steadily uncovering a dark history of justice denied. More than 190 DNA exonerations in 18 years show ever more alarming patterns of citizens, wrongly convicted, suffering in prison. Consider the eight felons finally exonerated through DNA challenges in New York State in just the last 13 months. Or the 12 people who had to fight long and hard to prove their innocence in Dallas County, Tex., alone in the past five years. New York and Texas are, in fact, the leading states in yielding these hard-fought exonerations. This is hardly a credit to their justice systems since the victories are won by dedicated pro bono lawyers, not by state monitors charged with finding injustice.

Click here to read the full editorial. (NY Times, 01/29/07, paid subscription required)
Click here to read about how innocence commissions can spark true reform.

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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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TN death row inmate demands release or a new trial

Posted: February 7, 2007

Lawyers for Paul Gregory House filed an appeal on Tuesday asking a federal judge to release him from his “illegal conviction and death sentence” unless the state grants a new trial within 90 days.

Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that House, who is on Tennessee’s death row, could challenge his conviction because of new scientific evidence. House was convicted of rape and murder more than 20 years ago and has proclaimed his innocence from day one. Post-conviction DNA testing has shown that the jury heard false information about the forensic evidence collected and tested in the case.

Now, House’s case is back in the courtroom of the same federal judge who upheld his death sentence years ago.

"I’d like to think the judge would rule quickly," says Stephen Kissinger, the federal public defender representing House. "We are sitting around discussing whether this innocent person’s constitutional rights were violated while he is still sitting on death row."
But if the history of this convoluted case is any indication, a quick resolution is optimistic at best.
Read the full story. (Nashville Scene. 02/07/07)

 



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Proposed Connecticut budget includes $500,000 compensation for exoneree

Posted: February 7, 2007

James Tillman, who was exonerated last year in Connecticut after serving 18 years for a rape he didn't commit, would be compensated in a one-time payment in the governor's proposed budget.

 
Tillman was at the Capitol on Wednesday as Rell presented her two-year budget plan.

"While there is no way to recapture time lost to compensate for the tragedy of injustice, I firmly believe that the state owes Mr. Tillman some form of reparation," said Rell, who received a standing ovation.

She said she is proposing a tax-free lump sum payment to help Tillman re-establish his life.

"Mr. Tillman, I apologize on behalf of the state. I thank you for your grace and dignity in dealing with this injustice and I wish you well in the next chapter of your life," Rell said. "Ladies and gentlemen, you've never met a more nice, kind, gentle man than Mr. Tillman."

Tillman said he was pleased with Rell's apology and planned to discuss the amount of the proposed payment with his lawyers.

Read the full story. (NY Newsday, 02/07/07)
 
  • Read about Tillman's case.
  • 21 States have laws compensating the wrongly convicted; is yours one?
  • The amount proposed is about $27,000 for each year James Tillman served. The federal government has set the standard at $50,000 per year in exoneree compensation. Learn more about the issue in our Fix The System section.



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NC exoneree Darryl Hunt to reach settlement with city officials

Posted: February 8, 2007

Attorneys for Darryl Hunt, who was exonerated in 2004 after serving more than 18 years for a murder he didn’t commit in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, have announced that Hunt will not file a civil rights suit against the city.

Attorneys said more information will be released Feb. 19th, and that a great deal of information on the case is still sealed in a 9,000-page non-public report produced over the last year by a panel investigating the police department’s conduct in the case.

"There are some matters that need to be finalized regarding a settlement," said Hunt's attorney, Mark Rabil, and Larry Little, an attorney and a former city alderman who has been a longtime adviser to Hunt.
Read the full story. (Winston-Salem Journal, 02/08/07)
DNA testing on biological evidence collected from the crime scene proved Hunt's innocence as early as 1994, but it took 10 years of legal battles until Hunt was released and exonerated. In 2003, the DNA profile from the crime scene matched another man. In 2004, that man confessed and pled guilty to the murder for which Hunt had been convicted twice.






Tags: North Carolina, Darryl Hunt

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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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Convicted based on forensic fraud in 1986, still waiting for justice

Posted: February 12, 2007

A capital case tainted by forensic science fraud will be considered by an Oklahoma judge on Friday (02/16/07), as a team of attorneys including the Innocence Project’s Colin Starger argue that murder charges against Curtis McCarty should be dropped because of the destruction of biological evidence that could have proved his innocence. McCarty, who has proclaimed his innocence since his arrest more than 20 years ago, has already had his death sentence overturned twice. He is currently awaiting a third trial.

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. In both trials, the juries convicted him and he was sentenced to death. In Gilchrist’s original notes, hairs from the crime scene did not match McCarty. She then changed her notes to say the hairs did match him. When the defense requested retesting, the hairs were lost. A judge has said Gilchrist either destroyed or willfully lost the hairs. DNA testing in recent years has also shown that another person raped the victim.

“I did not do it and they know damn good and well I didn’t do it,” McCarty said in an interview with Oklahoma Gazette from prison last year. “I want to be exonerated. Others just walk away with their head between their legs just happy to be alive. That’s not enough. They stole 20 years of my life because they wanted to.”

Read the full story. (Oklahoma Gazette, 08/23/06)
Click below to read more about this case and others involving forensic fraud in Oklahoma:

• The motion and brief filed Friday 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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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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Willie "Pete" Williams Exonerated in Georgia

Posted: February 13, 2007

Since his release last month from a Georgia prison, Willie “Pete” Williams has been in legal limbo. He was awaiting a court date to find out whether he would be retried for the crime, or fully exonerated because DNA testing has shown that someone else contributed the biological evidence in the rape for which Williams was convicted more than 21 years ago.

That court date came today. At 10:30 this morning, Williams was officially exonerated when the judge granted Williams’ motion and prosecutors stated that they would drop the charges against him. He is the 195th person exonerated by DNA evidence in the United States.


Read the news story here. (Atlanta Journal Constitution, 02/13/07)

VIDEO: Watch a local news report on this case here. (Atlanta Channel 11, 02/13/07)

Read more about Willie “Pete” Williams, the 195th person exonerated through DNA testing.

With Williams today were three Georgia men who have been proven innocent by DNA testing: Calvin Johnson, who now serves on the Innocence Project’s Board of Directors, Robert Clark and Clarence Harrison.


(left to right - Johnson, Clark, Williams and Harrison)

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Exoneree Ken Wyniemko to speak Thursday at the University of South Dakota

Posted: February 14, 2007

Ken Wyniemko, who served nine years in Michigan for a rape he didn’t commit, will speak Thursday at 4 p.m. at University of South Dakota Law School. Wyniemko, who speaks at more than 130 public events each year, will discuss his wrongful conviction and life after exoneration.

"One morning I'm at home lying in bed," Wyniemko said. "The next, I'm talking to two detectives about a rape I didn't do."

Wyniemko found himself on trial after a jailhouse snitch said he confessed and the rape victim who had never seen the face of her attacker, identified him as her attacker.

He was found guilty of 15 counts of first degree Criminal Sexual Conduct and was sentenced to 40-60 years for each count.

Read the full story here. (The Volante Online, 02/14/07)

Get details on attending the event.

Read more about Wyniemko’s case here.

Other exonerees have spoken recently about their cases and the issue of wrongful convictions:

Jeff Deskovic was convicted of murder when he was 17 years old and served 16 years before DNA testing proved his innocence in 2006. He studied the causes of wrongful conviction during his time in prison and now speaks actively around the region on a variety of criminal justice topics.

He spoke at two community events in New York yesterday, telling one group: "It's not a question of if we execute an innocent person. It's a question of when -- and how many."


Read the full story here.


Maryland exoneree Kirk Bloodsworth was the first person who had served time on death row to be exonerated based on DNA evidence. He spoke last week in Bergen County, NJ.

Read the full story here.

Interested in inviting an exoneree to speak at an event? Email us for more information.



Tags: Michigan, Kenneth Wyniemko

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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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Washington lawmakers consider bill to compensate the wrongly convicted

Posted: February 15, 2007

21 States and the District of Columbia have laws on the books to compensate the wrongly convicted. Washington state is considering a law that would make it the 22nd state with such a law.

"When you're imprisoned you lose everything," said Rep. Joe McDermott, D-Seattle and sponsor of the bill. "We should have procedures in place to make someone who's been wrongfully convicted whole, in some small part."
McDermott's measure - which mirrors federal levels - would require the state to award a wrongly convicted person no less than $50,000 for each year of imprisonment, including time spent awaiting trial. An additional $50,000 would be awarded for each year on death row.

Read the full story here. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 02/12/07)

Read an editorial (Payment required for full article) supporting this bill from today's Yakima Herald-Republic.
The bill is scheduled for a public committee hearing in Washington's House of Representatives on Feb. 20. Click here to read the bill.

Even when states do have compensation laws, they often fall far short of the federal standard for monetary amounts and don’t include critical state services. Click here to find out how your state stacks up.

Learn more about need for exoneree compensation nationwide in our Fix The System section.

View a model compensation statute.

Kentucky exoneree William Gregory recently settled a civil suit with the City of Louisville (Payment required for full article), where he was convicted.

• Georgia does not have a compensation law, but the state legislature is considering a “private bill”  (Payment required for full article) compensating 2005 exoneree Robert Clark.

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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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Florida exonerees wait for compensation

Posted: February 26, 2007

Twenty-one states have laws compensating the wrongly convicted after their release. Few of these states, however, parallel the federal government’s standard of $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration. A new bill pending in Florida would meet this monetary standard and provide funds for state education.

Alan Crotzer hopes this will be the year the Florida Legislature passes a bill to compensate people like him: He was wrongfully imprisoned for 24 years for a brutal armed robbery and rape in Tampa. DNA testing eventually cleared him.

Crotzer walked empty-handed from prison on Jan. 23, 2006. He wasn't offered rent vouchers or job referrals, like the guilty inmates who complete their sentences.

Neither was he eligible for prerelease transition services -- training on how to reenter society, job counseling and psychological assistance that inmates are given in the months before their release.

Read the full story here. (Miami Herald, 02/26/07)
Of the six Florida men exonerated by DNA evidence since 2001, only Wilton Dedge has been compensated. He received a settlement after the state legislature passed a private bill to compensate him. Compensation bills have been introduced twice before in the Florida legislature but both died in committee.

• Does your state compensate the wrongly convicted? View a map here.

• Fix the System: Exoneree Compensation

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Connecticut Innocence Project seeks state funding to continue its work

Posted: February 21, 2007

Two years ago, the Connecticut Innocence Project took on the case of James Tillman, who was convicted of rape and kidnapping in 1988. Lawyers at the project, which is affiliated with the state Office of Chief Public Defender, obtained DNA testing on biological evidence from the crime and results came back last June, proving that another man committed the rape. Tillman was exonerated after serving 18 years for a crime he didn’t commit.

But the project needs more funding to continue its operations, according to news reports. State Senator Martin Looney has introduced a bill in Connecticut advocating for the funding of the project in 2008 and 2009.

Read the text of the bill.

Visit the Connecticut Innocence Project's website

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James Waller on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360

Posted: February 22, 2007

Watch Anderson Cooper 360 tonight on CNN for a report on James Waller, a Dallas man who has been proven innocent by DNA testing. Waller was convicted in 1983 and released on parole after serving 10 years. He continued the struggle to prove his innocence while on parole and registered as a sex offender.

The segment, which includes an interview with Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck, is expected to air between 10 p.m. and midnight tonight.

Read more on the James Waller case.

Visit the Anderson Cooper 360 website.

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Vermont criminal justice reforms move forward

Posted: February 22, 2007

After a preliminary vote of support from the Judiciary Committee, a bill that would implement critical criminal justice reforms in Vermont will likely move to the full Senate on Friday. The bill would provide a system for convicted people to seek DNA testing that can prove their innocence. It also provides for evidence preservation and the compensation of exonerated people.

"I think this is one of the most important bills which will come out of the Judiciary Committee, or any committee, in this building this year," said Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington. Having said that "I hope it is never used," Sears added.

One of the most compelling pieces of testimony the committee heard was from Dennis Maher, who spent 19 years in prison after being convicted of rape and other charges from an attack in Lowell, Mass. Maher continued proclaiming his innocence throughout his prison sentence, until his conviction was overturned in 2003.

Read the full story here. (Rutland Herald, 02/22/07)
Maher and Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom testified in favor of the bill at hearings earlier this month. If this measure becomes law in Vermont, it will become the 42nd state with a DNA access provision and the 22nd with a compensation law. Click here for a national view of criminal justice reforms.

Read more about Dennis Maher’s case.

Read the Innocence Project press release on the Vermont legislation
.

Model criminal justice reform legislation.

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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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Innocence organizations provide hands-on experience for law students nationwide

Posted: February 26, 2007

An article today in Law Crossing explores the role of law students at the Innocence Project and at three other members of the Innocence Network – the Arizona Justice Project, Georgia Innocence Project and California & Hawaii Innocence Project. All four organizations are clinics affiliated with law schools, where law students, supervised by attorneys, work on actual criminal appeals and filings.

The Innocence Project is affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. Teaching assistant and third-year law student Gregory Weiss told Law Crossing why he enjoys the working with the Innocence Project:

"It has been the greatest experience of law school, by far…I think many people are in my position where they go to law school because they really want to proactively make a difference, and they think this is a great opportunity to gain the knowledge and the skill to be able to better their community. Having these types of clinics really allows you to do that, as opposed to just have your head buried in textbooks 24 hours a day. So it's been an amazing experience and keeps the inspiration and motivation alive for why I went to law school in the first place."

Read the full story here. (Law Crossing, 02/26/07)
The Georgia State Legislature has recognized Cliff Williams, a third-year law student at Georgia State University, for his work in freeing Pete Williams, who was wrongly convicted and served more than 22 years. Read the resolution here.


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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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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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DNA testing proves Washington man's innocence

Posted: March 1, 2007

A man who had been charged with committing a February rape was cleared last week by DNA testing of biological material from the crime scene. Police dropped charges against the man and said they are continuing to investigate the crime.

This case is another example of pre-trial DNA testing helping police conduct fair investigations and avoid prosecuting innocent people. Still, in too many cases, a guilty plea is given or a trial is held without testing being conducted on key evidence. James Ochoa, of California, is an example. He pled guilty in 2005 to a carjacking he didn’t commit. After he had served one year in California prison, DNA testing on appeal cleared him of the crime.

In more than 25% of cases in a 1995 National Institute of Justice study of 10,060 cases, suspects were excluded once DNA testing was conducted during the criminal investigation.

An editorial today in Olympia, Washington, considers what might have happened without DNA testing in this case.

Thank goodness for DNA testing, otherwise an Olympia man may well have been convicted of a crime he didn’t commit…

There was a time not too long ago when police and prosecutors would have built their case against Lynch based on circumstantial evidence and analysis of physical evidence. Lynch’s fragile mental state might have helped the state get a conviction against him, and he would have lingered in jail for months before the trial. Read the full editorial here. (03/01/07, The Olympian)
Read previous news on this case. (The Olympian, 02/21/07)

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Hearing Monday in Roy Brown case

Posted: March 2, 2007

On Monday, March 5, at 2:30 p.m. there will be a significant hearing in Roy Brown’s case. Brown was convicted of murder in Cayuga County, New York, in 1992. He was proven innocent through DNA testing and released from prison in January, but he was not fully exonerated because the District Attorney said he needed to conduct further investigation to determine whether to retry Brown for the murder.

At Monday’s hearing, we expect to learn if Brown will face a retrial, or be fully exonerated. If he is exonerated, he will be the 196th person nationwide who has been exonerated through DNA evidence, and the 8th person in New York in just over a year to be proven innocent through DNA (an unusual pattern that is paralleled only in Texas).

The hearing is in front of Judge Mark Fandrich in Cayuga County Court in Auburn. A press conference will be likely be scheduled to follow the hearing. Check back here on Monday or email us for more information.

Read more background on Brown’s case.


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"The Exonerated" theater performances in Galveston, TX and New York

Posted: March 2, 2007

The winner of the 2003 Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards, "The Exonerated" brings the stories of six wrongly convicted people to the stage. In the play, actors tell the stories of Sunny Jacobs, Gary Gauger, Kerry Max Cook, Robert Earl Hayes, David Keaton and Delbert Tibbs, all of whom were exonerated from death row. (DNA evidence was not central to any of the six exonerations, so they are not included in the 195 DNA exonerations tracked by the Innocence Project.)

The play opens at The Strand Theater in Galveston, TX on March 9 and will run through April 1. A panel discussion will be held after the March 10 performance. Performances are Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $15-$22.

In Garden City, New York, the play will be performed next weekend (March 9 and 10) at the Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island. Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld will lead an audience discussion after the March 10 performance. Tickets are $20; $10 for students with IDs. More information is available here.

An acclaimed filmed version of the play starring Susan Sarandon, Delroy Lindo, Aidan Quinn, Danny Glover, Brian Dennehy and others aired on CourtTV in 2005 and is available for rental at Netflix and purchase at Amazon.com.

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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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Winston-Salem "looks forward" with report on Darryl Hunt case

Posted: March 7, 2007

A special committee created to review injustices in the Darryl Hunt case released its report last month, urging that the city take steps “to ensure that such a tragic series of events may never happen again.”

Hunt was convicted in 1984 and freed 19 years later. DNA testing had cleared him of the crime in 1994, but it took 10 years of legal battles before he was released. Read more about his case here.

The committee recommends that the city’s police department immediately begin videotaping custodial interrogations, a reform supported by the North Carolina Actual Innocence Commission and the Innocence Project.

The committee also issued a written apology to Hunt. Read the apology here.

And officials have said that the committee couldn’t answer all questions raised by the case. The report notes that it is a first step in a process of reform that will take time.

"We freely admit, we couldn't answer some of the questions," said Don Nielsen, the chairman of the Sykes Administrative Review Committee, which compiled the information in the report. He said he hopes that the report "is a building block so that people can look forward instead of backward."

Read the full story here. (Winston-Salem Journal, 03/04/07)
City officials also announced last month that a settlement had been reached for the city to pay Hunt $1.6 million in compensation for his wrongful conviction. Read more here.

Read more on the committee’s recommended reforms.

Read the full committee report.

"The Trials of Darryl Hunt," a moving documentary film following Hunt's case as it wends through the court system for two decades, will premiere on HBO on April 26. Click here for more information.

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Marty Tankleff Case Featured on NPR

Posted: March 8, 2007

Today on WNYC public radio, Innocence Project Staff Attorney Olga Akselrod discussed the case of Long Island man Marty Tankleff, who was convicted in 1990 of killing his parents and has always claimed his innocence. Other guests on the show included a private investigator working on the case and Tankleff’s aunt, the sister of his murdered mother. The Innocence Project has helped Tankleff’s attorneys to present new evidence that can prove his innocence of the crime.

Listen to the show online or download an mp3.

Background on the Tankleff case, including legal briefs and television specials.

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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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Dateline NBC to feature Clarence Elkins case on Sunday

Posted: March 9, 2007

In 2005, Melinda Elkins got the break in her husband’s case she had been looking for. Her husband, Clarence Elkins, had been convicted in 1999 of killing Melinda’s mother and attacking her niece. Melinda, working with a private investigator, learned that a possible alternate suspect had been in the area at the time of the crime. And this man was now in the same cell block as Clarence.

Clarence picked up a cigarette butt that the man had smoked and mailed it to Melinda. She sent the cigarette to lawyers at the Ohio Innocence Project and they tested it for DNA. The results matched the DNA from the crime scene. Elkins was released later that year after serving more than seven years for a crime he didn’t commit. Prosecutors have said they are planning to charge the alternate suspect with this crime.

This Sunday at 7 p.m. ET, Dateline NBC reports on how Melinda Elkins helped crack Clarence’s case.

UPDATE: Watch the full show online

Check your local listings to find out when to watch Dateline this weekend.

Read more about the Clarence Elkins case.

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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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Georgia House approves compensation for Clark

Posted: March 19, 2007

Robert Clark served 24 years in Georgia prisons for a rape he didn’t commit. Today, the Georgia House of Representatives approved a bill that would pay him $1.2 million in compensation for his wrongful incarceration. The funds proposed for Clark would still be subject to federal income taxes. The bill now goes before the State senate.

Read the full story. (Daily Report, 3/19/07, Payment required for full article)

Read the press release from the Georgia Innocence Project.

Georgia does not have a general state law for compensating the wrongly convicted and this bill only applies to Clark. Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue said on Monday that the state should create standards for compensation of all wrongly convicted people.

 




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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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New Virginia project starts working to free wrongly convicted

Posted: March 26, 2007

Joining more than 35 projects working nationwide on behalf of the wrongly convicted, the new Institute for Actual Innocence at the Richmond College of Law is a legal clinic where law students assist convicted individuals with appeals asserting innocence.

Professor Mary Kelly Tate said she was inspired to create the institute after hearing a speech by Peter Neufeld. He is a defense lawyer who helped found the Innocence Project, a program that focuses on using DNA testing to exonerate wrongfully convicted people.

Tate teaches a prerequisite course on the causes of wrongful conviction. Race, social and economic factors all contribute, as well as poor interrogation techniques by police, false confessions and mistaken eyewitness identifications.

Most of the time, she said, the criminal justice system works as it should and guilty people go to prison. But it's important to help students recognize the possibility for error in the system before they begin practicing law, she said.

"We make mistakes," she said. "There's something sort of primitive in society's unwillingness to face that."

Read the full story. (Daily Press, 3/26/07, Payment required for full article)

Visit the Richmond Institute for Actual Innocence website.


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Court orders new trial for New York man

Posted: March 28, 2007

In a decision that may have broad repercussions in eyewitness identification cases, New York’s top court ordered a new trial yesterday for a man serving a 25-year sentence for a murder he says he didn’t commit.

The Innocence Project filed an amicus brief in the case, which argued that the New York City man, Nico LeGrand, didn’t get a fair trial because the judge barred an expert who would have testified about the unreliability of eyewitness identification. LeGrand was convicted in 2001 of the 1991 murder of a cab driver, and four witnesses to the crime helped police make a composite sketch of the perpetrator. The Court of Appeals’ decision on Tuesday recognized the importance of admitting expert testimony in cases that turn on identification issues.

Misidentifications such as those in the LeGrand case are not unusual. Decades of solid scientific research have shown that eyewitness identifications are often inaccurate, and misidentifications have led to more than 150 of the 197 DNA exonerations to date.

Read the full story here. (New York Daily News, 3/28/07)

Read more about eyewitness misidentification as the leading cause of wrongful conviction.

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DNA clears New York man of rape

Posted: March 29, 2007

DNA evidence stored in a hospital drawer for more than 20 years has proven the innocence of Anthony Capozzi, 50, a Buffalo, New York, man who has served 20 years for a series of rapes he didn’t commit. DNA tests have proven that another man committed the crimes, officials say. That man was arrested in January in connection with other crimes.

The main evidence against Capozzi at trial were the identifications of the three victims, none of whom mentioned a prominent scar on Capozzi’s face. All three victims said their attacker was about 150 pounds; Capozzi was over 200 pounds. Capozzi’s lawyers and the Erie County District Attorney have said Capozzi may be released from prison within a week.

“Eyewitness testimony is devastating, but you’ve got to be very skeptical,” (Capozzi’s attorney Thomas) D’Agostino said. “In Anthony’s case, the problem was that you had three victims who came in and each one said it was him. You get to a point where jurors say, ‘Maybe the first one was wrong, but all three of them can’t be wrong — they’re all saying it was the same guy.’ ”

Read the full story. (New York Times, 03/29/07. Free registration required)
Eyewitness misidentification played a role in the wrongful convictions of more than 75 percent of those exonerated by DNA evidence to date. A man exonerated this morning in St. Louis, Antonio Beaver, was convicted almost solely on the testimony of a single victim, who chose him from a severely flawed lineup. Read more on Beaver’s case.

Read more about eyewitness misidentification.

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New Hampshire man requests 4th round of DNA testing

Posted: April 5, 2007

After three rounds of inconclusive DNA testing, a lawyer for Robert Breest argued yesterday in a New Hampshire courtroom that Breest deserves modern testing that could indicate his innocence. Breest was convicted of a 1971 murder in East Concord, New Hampshire, and has always maintained his innocence. His motions for new DNA testing have been denied since 2004; prosecutors continue to oppose testing using new technology.

Albert Scherr is representing Breest pro-bono in affiliation with the New England Innocence Project. A parallel lawsuit seeking access to DNA testing is also ongoing in federal court, in which the Innocence Project is working with attorney Ian Dumain (a former Innocence Project clinic student while at Cardozo Law School) of Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP.

Read the full story here. (Concord Monitor, 4/5/07)

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James Giles is expected to be cleared of 1982 rape on Monday

Posted: April 6, 2007

In a hearing Monday in Dallas, Innocence Project attorney Vanessa Potkin 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.

The crime was committed by three men who were acquaintances, and police were told that one was named James Giles. The victim identified James Curtis Giles in a lineup, even though he did not match her initial description of the perpetrator. DNA evidence now links two other men to the crime – and shows that they were both closely associated with another man, James Earl Giles, who lived near the crime scene and fits the victim’s initial description. New evidence shows that information linking the three true perpetrators to the crime – James Earl Giles and the two other men – was available to police and prosecutors before James Curtis Giles was convicted, but was illegally withheld from his defense attorneys.

Giles has fought for nearly two decades to prove his innocence. The Innocence Project began investigating his case in 2000, and the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office began reinvestigating it earlier this year after the Innocence Project filed initial legal papers to vacate the conviction. New evidence from both investigations will be presented in court Monday. He will still not be officially exonerated, however, until he is granted a writ of habeas corpus from Texas’ highest criminal court or a pardon from the governor.

On Tuesday, Giles will join Texas exonerees James Waller, Chris Ochoa and Brandon Moon, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and legislators in Austin for a press conference and legislative hearing on bills to improve the criminal justice system in Texas.

Read more on this case in today’s news:

Rape victim is for exoneration: She ID'd man, now backs DA's bid to clear him in '82 case (Dallas Morning News, 4/6/07)

Hearing set for man who claims innocence in 1982 rape (Houston Chronicle, 4/5/07)

For more information on attending the hearings and press conferences Monday and Tuesday, email us at info@innocenceproject.org



Tags: James Giles, Government Misconduct, Eyewitness Misidentification

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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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Innocence Project leaders and exonerees testify before Texas Senate committee

Posted: April 10, 2007

The Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee held a hearing today on three bills to reform the state's justice system. Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck testified, along with four Texas exonerees: James Giles, Brandon Moon, Chris Ochoa and James Waller. The bills discussed today were introduced by Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis (the chairman of the Innocence Project Board of Directors) and would create a Texas innocence commission, expand the state's compensation statute and require law enforcement agencies to record custodial interrogations.

Watch video of today's full press conference, featuring Scheck, Ellis, Giles, Moon, Ochoa and Waller. (Real player required, download it here.)

Watch video of today's Senate Committee on Criminal Justice hearing.

Read background on Senate bill 262 and 263 and 799.

News coverage of today's hearing and press conference:

Ex-inmates urge reforms to aid wrongly convicted. (Houston Chronicle, 04/10/07)



Tags: Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation, False Confessions

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Texas Senate committee approves reform bills

Posted: April 11, 2007

The Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice approved bills yesterday that would significantly improve the state’s justice system. The bills, introduced by Senator Rodney Ellis (the chairman of the Innocence Project Board of Directors), would create an innocence commission, improve eyewitness identification procedures and increase compensation for the wrongly convicted.

The committee heard testimony yesterday from four men (James Giles, Brandon Moon, Chris Ochoa and James Waller) who served decades in Texas prisons for crimes they didn’t commit. Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck also testified.

Watch video of yesterday's full press conference, featuring Scheck, Ellis, Giles, Moon, Ochoa and Waller. (Real player required, download it here.)

Watch video of yesterday's Senate Committee on Criminal Justice hearing.

The bills will now go before the full senate for approval. Read the full story on the committee’s vote. (El Paso Times, 4/11/07)



Tags: Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation, Eyewitness Identification

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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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Two exonerees reach $8 million settlement with city of Chicago

Posted: April 12, 2007

Chicago officials announced yesterday that the city had reached a settlement deal with two men who had served more than 13 years for a crime they didn’t commit. Larry Ollins and Omar Saunders were wrongly convicted of rape and murder in 1988 in Chicago and sentenced to life. DNA testing proved them innocent in 2001. Under the settlement deal, each man will receive $4 million.

The city has already settled with two other men who were wrongly convicted of the same  crime: Calvin Ollins (Larry’s cousin) and Marcellius Bradford.

(Chicago) Alderman Ed Smith called the case a tragedy and said the money can't make up for the time the men spent in prison.

"Nothing pays like having your life intact without a blemish," he said.

Read the full story here. (Chicago Tribune, 4/11/07)
Read more about the cases of Larry Ollins, Calvin Ollins, Omar Saunders and Marcellius Bradford.

Only 21 states and the District of Columbia have laws that compensate the wrongly convicted. Read more about this issue in our Fix The System section.

More compensation news: Florida lawmakers consider compensation for 2006 exoneree Alan Crotzer. (Palm Beach Post, 04/12/07, Payment required for full article)



Tags: Exoneree Compensation

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Darryl Hunt film premieres April 26th on HBO

Posted: April 17, 2007 7:00 am

The Trials of Darryl Hunt — an award-winning documentary film about Darryl Hunt’s 20-year quest for freedom will premiere on Thursday, April 26, at 8 pm on HBO. The film follows Hunt and his lawyers as Hunt is convicted twice in North Carolina for a crime he didn’t commit — and then as his appeals drag for a decade after DNA tests prove his innocence.

Watch the trailer at HBO.com.

Read more about Hunt’s case.


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DNA exonerations continue to cast doubt on eyewitness identifications

Posted: April 18, 2007

Eyewitness identifications are still among the most common form of evidence in American courtrooms. Meanwhile, DNA exonerations and solid scientific research have shown that witnesses make mistakes and that police will sometimes bolster witness’ confidence in a questionable identification.

An article in the Austin American-Statesman reviews a 1988 murder case in which a defendant was acquitted after a child victim made an unreliable identification.

A growing body of research has improved the scientific understanding of witness testimony, shattering long-held beliefs about the reliability of first-hand observation.

The results have gained credibility as DNA testing has exonerated 198 inmates nationally, 152 of whom were wrongly convicted based on witness testimony, according to the Innocence Project, which pursues DNA exonerations.

Today, it's known that fear plays a key role in impeding the ability to form and process memories, Wells said.

"The natural tendency for all humans is fight or flight from fear. All of one's mental resources get devoted to survival, and forming a detailed memory of things around you does not help you survive," Wells said.

Read the full story here. (Austin Amerian-Statesman, 4/15/07, Payment required for full article)
Read more about Eyewitness Misidentification in our Understand the Causes section.



Tags: Eyewitness Misidentification

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Duke case raises awareness about wrongful convictions

Posted: April 18, 2007

A closely followed sexual assault case came to a close last week in North Carolina when charges against three Duke lacrosse players were dropped. A column in today’s Sacramento Bee compares the injustice in the Duke case to the 198 DNA exonerees who were convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.

And yet more tragic stories with more severe consequences -- where innocent people aren't just wrongfully accused but tried, convicted and incarcerated -- are often greeted with a shrug. Oh, many of us may have been shocked the first time we read about how an innocent person -- usually, according to the statistics, an African-American man -- was released from prison after a decade or two, thanks to DNA evidence. But as these cases became more common, I dare say that many of us stopped being shocked and became immune.
One of the Duke players told the media that he was grateful to have the resources to fight these charges in a way many people could not have.
"Many people across this country, across this state, would not have the opportunity that we did, and this could simply have been brushed underneath the rug just as another case and some innocent person would end up in jail for their entire life," David Evans told a news conference after the charges were dropped. "It's just not right."

Read the full column here. (Sacramento Bee, 4/18/07)


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NYPD forensic labs under scrutiny after falsified test results

Posted: April 20, 2007

The former chief of the New York Police Department’s forensic unit has been transferred from the department by superiors after results of lab proficiency tests revealed that technicians had reported false test results. Deputy Chief Denis McCarthy, who was recently transferred to a patrol division, is a 27-year veteran of the department and was in charge in 2002 when routine tests caught lab technicians “dry-labbing” – or reporting results when no testing had been performed.

A spokesman for the Police Department, Paul J. Browne, said the falsified test results in 2002 had no bearing on actual court cases, since they were revealed in a routine procedure of “blind proficiency tests” designed as internal checks on the integrity and competence of civilian criminalists, 100 of whom are now employed by the crime laboratory.

But some critics are not convinced that it is an isolated incident. Peter Neufeld, a lawyer and co-founder of the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal group that uses DNA evidence to represent people it believes have been wrongly convicted, said it was unclear how many cases were affected in New York and elsewhere by such falsified lab work.Read the full story here. (New York Times, 4/20/07)
Crime lab misconduct and lax standards are a major cause of wrongful convictions. Read more in our Understand the Causes section.

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Jerry Miller exonerated in Chicago; becomes 200th DNA exoneree nationwide

Posted: April 23, 2007

This morning in Chicago, Jerry Miller was officially cleared of a 1981 rape he didn’t commit. He was 24 when he was convicted and he served 24 years in Illinois prisons before he was paroled 11 months ago.

With Miller’s exoneration, the Innocence Project launched a month-long campaign today to prevent this injustice from happening to more innocent people. Click here for more on the 200 Exonerated campaign.

Click the links below for coverage of Miller’s exoneration. More press coverage will be added throughout the day.

Chicago Tribune: Cleared by DNA after 26 years (Payment required for full article)

USA Today: DNA to clear 200th person
DNA should clear man who served 25 years

Huffington Post: On the 200th Exoneration in the U.S, by Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck

International Herald-Tribune: After 25 years in prison, man found innocent of rape

Seattle Post-Intelligencer - DNA clears 200th wrongfully convicted

Video clips

CBS 2 Chicago: Judge clears man wrongly convicted of rape

ABC 7 Chicago: DNA leads judge to clear convictions of man who served 25 years

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200 Exonerated, Too Many Wrongfully Convicted

Posted: April 24, 2007

Yesterday in Chicago, Jerry Miller was officially cleared of a 1981 rape he didn’t commit. He was 24 when he was convicted and he served 24 years in Illinois prisons before he was paroled 11 months ago.

With Miller’s exoneration, the Innocence Project launched a month-long campaign today to prevent this injustice from happening to more innocent people. Click here for more on the 200 Exonerated campaign.

Here are just a few articles on the 200th exoneration and the causes of wrongful conviction:

Chicago Tribune: Cleared by DNA after 26 years (Payment required for full article)

USA Today: DNA to clear 200th person -- DNA should clear man who served 25 years

Associated Press National: DNA clears 200th wrongfully convicted

National Public Radio: Exonerated by DNA, Jerry Miller Speaks Out

Arizona Republic: DNA Exonerations Underline Mistakes (Payment required for full article)

NJ Star-Ledger: Justice System Fails the Innocent

Washington Examiner: DNA Exonerations Reach 200, and Nearly 2 Decades of Questions

Cleveland Plain Dealer: DNA Changes Criminal Justice

Philadelphia Daily News: Another 'Guilty' Man is Cleared (Payment required for full article)

Huffington Post: On the 200th Exoneration in the U.S, by Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck

Video clips

CBS 2 Chicago: Judge clears man wrongly convicted of rape

ABC 7 Chicago: DNA leads judge to clear convictions of man who served 25 years

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New Hampshire judge denies inmate DNA testing

Posted: July 31, 2007 6:05 pm

Robert Breest was convicted of a 1971 murder in New Hampshire and has always maintained his innocence. Three rounds of DNA testing have been conducted in Breest’s case, and all have been inconclusive. One test showed that Breest – and one in 10 white males – would match material under the victim’s fingernails.

Breest’s appeals for further DNA testing using newly developed technology have been denied since 2004. A recent ruling was the latest roadblock for Breest. A Merrimack County (NH) judge ruled that: "Mr. Breest's previous access to the evidence distinguishes his case from others by highlighting the due process he has received…"

The judge said that the jury in 1973 convicted Breest based on strong evidence – including fibers from the victim’s fur coat allegedly found in Breest’s car, jailhouse snitch testimony, and an eyewitness who said the perpetrator and Breest has the same “build.”

Read the full story here. (Concord Monitor, 07/31/07)

Breest still has hope for DNA testing, however, in federal court. The Innocence Project is consulting on federal appeals, along with attorney Ian Dumain (a former Innocence Project clinic student while at Cardozo School of Law) of Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP. Earlier this year, a federal magistrate judge ruled that Breest should have access to DNA testing, and the state appealed the decision. A final ruling is pending.



Tags: Robert Breest

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NY Times: Exonerations bring broad change in legal system

Posted: October 1, 2007 11:50 am

The cases of 208 people exonerated by DNA evidence in the United States have inspired sweeping reforms to law enforcement and legal procedures in dozens of states. These reforms – from eyewitness identification procedures to recording of interrogations to  DNA testing access – have helped to prevent wrongful convictions and exonerate the innocent.

A New York Times article today reviews recently passed legislation in several states and previews pending reforms in others.

Advocates of efforts to use DNA to exonerate those wrongfully convicted say the changes in the state laws are welcome and long overdue.

“The legislative reform movement as a result of these DNA exonerations is probably the single greatest criminal justice reform effort in the last 40 years,” said Peter J. Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project.

Read the full story here. (New York Times, 10/01/07)
 

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Alabama column says state can't be sure everyone on death row is guilty

Posted: April 27, 2007

Huntsville Times columnist David Person writes today that in light of the 200 DNA exonerations nationwide, Alabama should consider its death penalty "fatally flawed." Alabama is the only state in the U.S. that doesn't guarantee attorneys to death row inmates for every stage of appeal.

Thanks to DNA testing, we also know this is true of a growing number of those convicted of non-capital offenses as well. The most recent is Jerry Miller, who became the 200th person exonerated by DNA evidence on Monday.
The crime he didn't commit? The 1981 rape of a woman in a Chicago parking garage: Miller spent 25 years in prison because he was misidentified by two parking garage attendants. But Miller was lucky. The real rapist left DNA evidence on the woman's clothes, which led the Innocence Project to push for a test.

"Only 10 percent of serious felony cases, it is estimated, have any biological evidence which you can do DNA testing on and determine who's guilty or innocent," said Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, on Wednesday. "You have to wonder, how many mistaken identifications, false confessions, bad lab work, there are in those cases."

...We also don't know how many innocent people have been executed in Alabama. But because seven Death Row inmates have had their capital convictions overturned or have been completely exonerated since 1975, it's natural to wonder if at least one of the 35 who have been executed may have been innocent.
Read the full column here. (The Huntsville Times, 4/27/07)


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Calls for reform continue to grow nationwide

Posted: April 30, 2007

Columns published in the last three days in Milwaukee, Baltimore, New York and across the country continued to raise the need for criminal justice reforms nationwide, highlighting the causes of Jerry Miller’s wrongful conviction 25 years ago. Miller was exonerated last week, becoming the 200th DNA exoneree nationwide.

  • In the Baltimore Sun, columnist Gregory Kane discusses cross-racial identification as a major cause of wrongful conviction. Read the full column (Payment required for full article).
  • In the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Columnist Gregory Stanford writes about his junior year at Marquette University, when he became a rape suspect simply because he is black. He compares his experience to Miller’s and wonders where the police questioning could have led him. Read the full column.
  • In New York Newsday, Columnist Les Payne discusses cross-racial identification and the Innocence Project benefit event last week. Read the full column.
  • In a national column, Marie Cocco of the Washington Post compares Jerry Miller's case and the Duke lacrosse case. Read the full column (Payment required for full article).

Read more media coverage of our month-long “200 Exonerated, Too Many Wrongfully Convicted” campaign.

Get Involved! Click here for 10 things you can do to prevent wrongful convictions.




Tags: Eyewitness Misidentification

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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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Federal jury awards compensation to wrongfully convicted man

Posted: May 1, 2007

Herman Atkins was convicted in 1988 of a southern California rape he didn’t commit. Yesterday, a federal jury ordered the Riverside County to pay him $2 million because a detective had falsified evidence that led to his conviction. Evidence presented at the civil trial showed that a statement allegedly made by a witness connecting Atkins to the area of the crime was fabricated.

"When I was in prison, one thing that motivated me was something my grandmother often said to me. She said, 'A lie will die, but the truth lives on.' Today, Detective Miller's lies were not only exposed but put to rest, and the truth lives on as my grandmother said," he said.

Atkins, now 41 and living in Fresno, said he hoped to start a graduate program in psychology or go to law school. He and his wife have started a small foundation to help others who have been exonerated adjust to life outside prison.

Read the full story. (Los Angeles Times, 5/1/07, Payment required for full article)

Atkins served over 11 years for the 1986 rape before DNA evidence led to his exoneration in 2000. Read more about his case here.



Tags: Exoneree Compensation, Government Misconduct

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Las Vegas Sun calls for funding to end DNA backlogs

Posted: May 1, 2007

DNA testing has now exonerated 200 wrongfully convicted individuals, but it is still not available for every piece of evidence in every case going to trial today. Labs in many states – and the federal government’s FBI lab – are severely backlogged and can’t test all of the evidence sent by police departments. A Florida official recently suggested that the state lab only test five pieces of evidence from any given case – limiting the amount of resources the police have for a thorough investigation. In addition to delaying and limiting results, backlogs create a hurried atmosphere in some labs that can lead to mistakes or misconduct.

In an editorial today, the Las Vegas Sun calls for federal funding to end these backlogs today so every defendant is afforded the right to proper forensic testing.

The larger lesson of the Innocence Project is that our system of justice is fallible, and that DNA testing should be readily available for all applicable cases.

Yet a sizable backlog still faces many of the nation's crime labs when it comes to cases of violent crime in which a suspect could be positively identified through DNA testing.

Based on what the Innocence Project has proven, we believe there should be more state and federal funding made available to reduce backlogs to almost zero.

Read the full editorial. (Las Vegas Sun, 05/01/07)
Read more on crime lab backlogs and lab oversight in our “Fix the System” section.

Editorials and columns on the causes of wrongful conviction are appearing all over the country this month, as the nation’s attention is focused on this injustice. Read a selection of national media in our special web section: “200 Exonerated”

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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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Real perpetrators sentenced in two New York wrongful convictions

Posted: May 3, 2007

A New York inmate serving time for killing his landlady was sentenced to an additional 15 years to life today for a 1996 murder that sent an innocent man to prison. Douglas Warney, 45, was convicted of the murder in Rochester, New York, after he falsely confessed. When DNA testing obtained by Warney’s Innocence Project attorneys exonerated him of the crime in 2006, it also implicated the actual killer – a man named Eldred Johnson, Jr., who was serving time in prison for killing his landlady in 1998. Johnson has pled guilty to the murder and was sentenced this morning.

“I’m aware that I will spend the rest of my life in prison,” Eldred Johnson Jr. said. “Before I go, I just want to apologize. ... Because of my action, I put this court in a position to create an injustice.”

Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 5/3/07)
In another false confession case, the actual perpetrator in the crime for which Jeffrey Deskovic was wrongfully convicted in Westchester County, New York, was sentenced yesterday to 20 years. Steven Cunningham was linked to the 1989 murder by the DNA tests that exonerated Deskovic in 2006. Cunningham was also already serving time for another murder.
In the corridor afterward, Deskovic and Vasquez shared a tearful reunion, the first time they had spoken since the days after the killing. Outside the Westchester County Courthouse in White Plains, Deskovic said he was thankful for the empathy she showed him.

"She told me she felt very badly for me. She remarked that I was very strong," Deskovic said. "It was a very emotional moment for both of us. (It was) just like I was a son to her."

Read the full story here. (White Plains Journal-News, 5/3/07)
Deskovic published a column today in the Journal-News calling for statewide criminal justice reforms. Read it here.



Tags: False Confessions

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Watch and listen: The Innocence Project in the news

Posted: May 8, 2007

Yesterday, Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld, Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins, exoneree Dennis Fritz and eyewitness identification expert Gary Wells joined host Warren Olney on National Public Radio’s “To The Point” to discuss the 200 DNA exonerations to date and criminal justice reforms underway nationwide. Click here to listen online or download a podcast.

Jerry Miller, who was exonerated April 23rd in Chicago after serving 24 years in prison and one year on parole for a crime he didn’t commit, was interviewed on this week’s episode of PBS’s Bill Moyers Journal. Click here to watch.

Miller is the 200th person exonerated by DNA testing nationwide. The Innocence Project launched a month-long awareness campaign to prevent these injustices from happening again. Read more breaking news and discover multimedia resources in our special section: 200 Exonerated, Too Many Wrongfully Convicted.



Tags: Dennis Fritz, Jerry Miller

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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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Raising the quality of justice in Ohio

Posted: May 10, 2007

The exonerations of 200 innocent people have raised alarming questions nationwide about our criminal justice system. Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann says the state may need to reconsider its death penalty. The Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote in an editorial that DNA exonerations have led to serious questions about whether executions should continue in Ohio and elsewhere.

A society that imposes capital punishment - a sentence this editorial board has long opposed - must always ask: What if this person is innocent? Could there be a greater miscarriage of justice than the state taking a life in error?

Those questions seem especially relevant now. Last month, an Illinois judge wiped out the conviction of Jerry Miller, an Army veteran who spent 25 years behind bars for a rape that new DNA evidence proved he did not commit. Miller's was the 200th conviction overturned using DNA since 1989, according to the Innocence Project. Those exonerations come from 31 states. Six were in Ohio. Fourteen of them rescued men from death rows. A quarter overturned cases in which the defendant had confessed. Sixty percent of the wrongly convicted defendants were black, like Miller, or Latino.

Read the full editorial here
. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5/6/07)




Tags: False Confessions

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The Innocence Project on YouTube

Posted: May 10, 2007

As part of our month-long campaign — “200 Exonerated, Too Many Wrongfully Convicted” — to raise awareness of wrongful convictions and their causes, we have launched two new videos on our site. One, “In Their Own Words,” features interviews with Alan Newton, Ken Wyniemko and Chris Ochoa – three men who were exonerated after serving a combined 40 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. The other features 17 exonerees introducing themselves onstage at the Innocence Project’s recent benefit event.

These two videos are available on our site and you will find others on our YouTube page. Be sure to send these videos to your friends and rate them on YouTube. We rely on a community of dedicated supporters to help us ensure that wrongful convictions do not continue to happen in our criminal justice system.

More videos are on the way; watch our website in the next few weeks as we add video interviews to several of the exoneree pages in the “Know the Cases” section.

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Oklahoma man exonerated from death row

Posted: May 11, 2007

Innocence Project client Curtis McCarty was freed this morning after more than 21 years of wrongful incarceration – including 16 on death row – when a judge dismissed the charges that would have led to his third trial for a 1982 murder. McCarty had been convicted twice but both convictions had been thrown out by appeals courts. DNA testing has now shown that semen and hairs recovered from the crime scene do not match McCarty.

McCarty was released this morning after judge Twyla Mason Gray dismissed his indictment, saying the misconduct committed in McCarty’s case was inexcusable. District Attorney Robert H. Macy and lab analyst Joyce Gilchrist both committed serious and repeated misconduct to secure McCarty’s conviction. Gilchrist was fired in 2001 due to fraud she committed in McCarty’s case and others; she was involved in at least two other convictions later overturned by DNA testing.

"I want to know, where is Joyce Gilchrist and why isn’t she in prison?" Gray said at this morning’s hearing, according to the Oklahoma Gazette.

Macy, who was the Oklahoma County District Attorney for 21 years, prosecuted McCarty in both of his trials. Macy sent 73 people to death row – more than any other prosecutor in the nation – and 20 of them have been executed. Macy has said publicly that he believes executing an innocent person is a sacrifice worth making in order to keep the death penalty in the United States.

"This is by far one of the worst cases of law enforcement misconduct in the history of the American criminal justice system," said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. "Bob Macy has said that executing an innocent person is a risk worth taking – and he came very close to doing just that with Curtis McCarty."

McCarty is the 201st person exonerated by DNA evidence in the United States and the ninth in Oklahoma. Fifteen of the 201 exonerees spent time on death row.

Read the full Innocence Project press release here.



Tags: Oklahoma, Curtis McCarty, Government Misconduct

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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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Byron Halsey released in New Jersey, news coverage

Posted: May 16, 2007

Yesterday, a tearful Byron Halsey was released from custody after serving 19 years in New Jersey prisons for the murder of two children that he didn’t commit. DNA testing has proven his innocence, and the Innocence Project joined with prosecutors in filing for his release.

Read the Innocence Project press release here, and continuing press on the Halsey’s release below:

New York Times: DNA in Murders Frees Inmate After 19 Years

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

Newark Star-Ledger: Freed After 22 Years

Newark Star-Ledger: Years later, the crime still shocks Plainfield

New York Post: 'Wrong Man' free after 19 yrs. - & real 'killer' was star witness

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



Tags: New Jersey, False Confessions

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New York exoneree Roy Brown gets liver transplant

Posted: May 16, 2007

Roy Brown was freed from a New York prison earlier this year after DNA testing proved that he did not commit the murder for which he was convicted in 1992. He had served 15 years in prison and he was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver when released. On Sunday night, he got a new liver.

Though relatively active since his release in January - he was camping at a favorite childhood spot when he got the call about the transplant - the condition is considered life-threatening. He recently had emergency room trips to the hospital, fluid accumulate in his body and he tires easily, (his attorney Katy Karlovitz) said. His liver could have shut down at any time, she said.

The transplant procedure that began Sunday night and concluded early Monday went smoothly.

Brown was sitting up and expected to be moved out of the intensive care unit by Monday evening, his daughter said. Brown will be in the hospital for another two to four weeks, Karlovitz said.

“I'm just glad it's done and over with,” (his daughter) April Brown said.
Read the full story here. (Auburn Citizen, 5/15/07)
Read more about Roy Brown’s case and his exoneration.

Many of the Innocence Project’s clients face serious financial hardships after they are exonerated. You can help by donating to the Innocence Project Exoneree Fund, which provides direct assistance to exonerees. Click here to donate now.



Tags: Roy Brown

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Families of exonerees to speak Friday in Oklahoma City

Posted: May 17, 2007

Family members of two men exonerated from Oklahoma's death row -- and relatives of the murder victim in another case - will speak at a press conference tomorrow in Oklahoma City about how a wrongful conviction affects the incarcerated person and many others around them.

In attendance will be Shirley and Joe McCarty, the parents of Curtis McCarty, who was released Friday after 21 years of wrongful incarceration - including 16 years on death row. The sister of Greg Wilhoit, who was freed from death row in 1993, will also speak, along with family members of Debra Sue Carter, who was murdered in Ada, Oklahoma in 1992. Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz were wrongfully convicted of Carter's murder. Williamson spent 11 years on death row before DNA proved his innocence, Fritz spent 11 years in prison on a life sentence.

The press conference is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Friday 5/18/2007 in the 4th floor press room of the State Captiol building in Oklahoma City. For more information on attending the press conference, email us at info@innocenceproject.org.

Read more about the cases of McCarty, Fritz and Williamson.

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Families of exonerees and crime victims to speak today in Oklahoma City

Posted: May 18, 2007

Family members of two men exonerated from Oklahoma's death row -- and relatives of the murder victim in another case - will speak at a press conference tomorrow in Oklahoma City about how a wrongful conviction affects the incarcerated person and many others around them.

In attendance will be Shirley and Joe McCarty, the parents of Curtis McCarty, who was released Friday after 21 years of wrongful incarceration - including 16 years on death row. The sister of Greg Wilhoit, who was freed from death row in 1993, will also speak, along with family members of Debra Sue Carter, who was murdered in Ada, Oklahoma in 1992. Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz were wrongfully convicted of Carter's murder. Williamson spent 11 years on death row before DNA proved his innocence, Fritz spent 11 years in prison on a life sentence.

The press conference is scheduled for 11 a.m. CDT today (5/18/2007) in the 4th floor press room of the State Captiol building in Oklahoma City. For more information on attending the press conference, email us at info@innocenceproject.org.

Read more about the cases of McCarty, Fritz and Williamson.

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NYTimes: The DNA 200

Posted: May 21, 2007

In Sunday’s Week In Review, the New York Times examined the first 200 DNA exonerations and the patterns that have caused many more injustices nationwide. A special graphic examined “the time they lost.”

In the 200 cases, often more than one factor led to the initial convictions, the analysis showed. Three-quarters were marked by inaccurate eyewitness identification, and in two-thirds, there were mistakes or other problems with the forensic science. Fifteen percent featured testimony by informants at odds with the later evidence. There were confessions or admissions in about 25 percent of the cases. In about 4 percent, the people had pleaded guilty.

As these cases have captured the public’s attention, various states and law enforcement agencies have made reforms, including improving the standards for eyewitness identifications, recording interrogations and upgrading their forensic labs and staffs. Several states have appointed commissions to re-examine cases in which inmates were exonerated by DNA. Some states are reconsidering their death penalty statutes.
Read the full article here. (New York Times, 5/20/07)

Innocence Project Web Feature: “200 Exonerated, Too Many Wrongfully Convicted



Tags: Innocence Commissions, False Confessions, Informants/Snitches, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Exoneree and victim families call for Oklahoma Innocence Commission

Posted: May 21, 2007

At the state capitol in Oklahoma City on Friday, family members of exonerees and crime victims called for the state to form an Innocence Commission. The panel, which would review the causes of wrongful conviction and potential criminal justice reforms, has been proposed during the last two years but failed to pass.

Legislation to establish an exoneration review commission has scarcely been addressed by lawmakers during the past two years, said Christy Sheppard (whose cousin was killed in a 1982 murder for which Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz were wrongfully convicted). "We didn't even get a hearing… It didn't even get out of committee.”

“This is not just about wrongful conviction. It’s about failure to convict the guilty,” Sheppard said. “I think it’s really important that we take a look at all aspects of these cases.”
Also speaking Friday were the families of death row exonerees Curtis McCarty and Greg Wilhoit.

Read media coverage of Friday’s event:

The Oklahoman: Families of wrongfully convicted ask for review

Associated Press: Oklahoman freed from prison after 16 years on death row

Associated Press Photo: Christy Sheppard and Joe McCarty speak on Friday

Read more about the cases of McCarty, Fritz and Williamson.



Tags: Innocence Commissions

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John Grisham discusses wrongful convictions tonight on Dateline NBC

Posted: May 22, 2007

Tonight at 8 p.m. EDT, author John Grisham discusses his best-selling new book, An Innocent Man, and the case of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, two men who were wrongfully convicted of a 1982 Oklahoma murder. They served 12 years in prison — Williamson was on death row — before DNA proved their innocence and identified the real killer.

Read more on MSNBC, and be sure to tune in tonight.

Find more captivating reads on the issue of wrongful convictions here.

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Column: Since to err is human, to execute is too risky

Posted: May 23, 2007

A column by Tom Moran in today’s Newark Star-Ledger considers the dangers of executing an innocent person. The article comes in the wake of the release last week of Innocence Project client Byron Halsey, who narrowly avoided the death penalty when he was wrongfully convicted in 1988 of murdering two children in Elizabeth, NJ.

Halsey’s attorney told Moran that "everyone in the legal community in Union County was pretty damn sure Byron Halsey was guilty as sin, and it is only by the grace of God that he wasn't sent to death row. There were a lot of people who were very wrong."Halsey is at home now, doing all the things he couldn't do in jail, like eating chocolate when the mood strikes. He couldn't sleep after his release because the absence of guards left him rattled. But he is alive.
Read the full column here. (Newark Star-Ledger, 5/23/07)
New Jersey has had a moratorium on capital punishment since 2005 and special panel (the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission) recommended earlier this year that the state abolish capital punishment, saying it is "inconsistent with evolving standards of decency."

Download the commision’s report or read a May 16th Star-Ledger editorial calling for legislators to end the state’s death penalty.

Read more about Byron Halsey’s case.

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London Times: 201 wrongful convictions are tip of the iceberg

Posted: May 23, 2007

An article in today’s London Times examines the causes of the first 201 DNA exonerations and questions how many more innocent people remain in prison today.

Only 10 per cent of crimes leave biological evidence that can be tested for DNA. Maddy deLone, the executive director, told The Times that the organization now has another 250 cases and is processing requests from thousands of others. “We can’t know exactly how many wrongful convictions there are,” she said.

Read the full story here, with comments from readers around the world. (London Times, 5/23/07)
Read more about the first 200 exonerees in our special web feature: 200 Exonerated, Too Many Wrongfully Convicted



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Watch online: last night's Dateline NBC on two Oklahoma wrongful convictions

Posted: May 23, 2007

Last night on Dateline NBC, author John Grisham discussed his best-selling book, The Innocent Man, and the case of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, two men who were wrongfully convicted of a 1982 Oklahoma murder. They served 12 years in prison — Williamson was on death row — before DNA proved their innocence and identified the real killer. Also on the program, Attorney General Bill Peterson responded to Grisham's book and public opinion.

Watch the full episode online right now.

Read excerpts from The Innocent Man and Dennis Fritz's book Journey Toward Justice.

Read more about the cases of Fritz and Williamson and about the case of Curtis McCarty, who was exonereated from death row earlier this month after serving 21 years.

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Georgia man to be compensated for 24 years of wrongful incarceration

Posted: May 25, 2007

Robert Clark was exonerated in 2005 after serving more than half of his life in prison for a 1981 rape he didn’t commit. Yesterday, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a bill into law that grants Clark $1.2 million in compensation for the injustice he suffered. The bill was approved by Georgia lawmakers on March 19.

"I think his reaction is going to be a gigantic smile," said Aimee Maxwell of the Georgia Innocence Project, which helped clear Clark. "And I think he will be relieved that the process has reached its successful conclusion."

Read the full story here. (Atlanta Journal Constitution, 5/24/07)
Associated Press: Perdue signs bills, compensates man freed through DNA

Georgia does not have a general state law for compensating the wrongly convicted and this bill only applies to Clark. Perdue has said that the state should create standards for compensation of all wrongly convicted people.

 The Innocence Project today added a video interview with Robert Clark to our YouTube page. View the video here, along with other interviews and footage from recent Innocence Project events.




Tags: Georgia, Robert Clark, Exoneree Compensation

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NY Times: Spitzer's DNA proposal needs revision

Posted: May 29, 2007

A package of legislation supported by New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer was approved by the state Senate last week and is currently pending in the Assembly, but another package of reforms in the Assembly goes further to prevent wrongful convictions and protect the rights of defendants.

On Friday night, Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol, both New York City Democrats, introduced their own bill that would expand the DNA database to all misdemeanors, as the governor proposed in his bill this month. Currently DNA samples are collected from people convicted of all felonies and a few misdemeanors.
But the assemblymen felt the governor did not go far enough in ensuring that DNA would be used to exonerate those wrongly imprisoned as well as to convict the guilty. DNA evidence has led to 23 exonerations in New York State, according to the Innocence Project, a legal clinic affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. The state has had a DNA database since 2000.

Read the full story here. (New York Times, 5/28/07)
 

And a New York Times editorial yesterday said proposed reforms need better safeguards to allow the wrongfully convicted to file appeals.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer is right to want to expand New York State’s use of DNA evidence to solve crimes and exonerate the innocent. But, disappointingly, his proposed plan includes an unrelated — and unworthy — new provision that would seriously undermine his declared goal of minimizing injustice.

Read the full editorial here. (New York Times, 5/28/07)
The Innocence Project is working with legislators to ensure that reforms reflect the lessons of DNA exonerations and meaningfully improve the criminal justice system, and we will post updates in this space throughout the week.



Tags: New York, Access to DNA Testing

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What do states owe the exonerated?

Posted: May 30, 2007

A patchwork of compensation laws across the country has meant widely varying reentry experiences for each of the 201 people exonerated after spending years in prison for crimes they didn't commit . An article in today's Christian Science Montior examines the disparity nationwide and the need for more consistency.

"We are exonerating people who did not commit crimes, spent two decades in prison or time on death row, and when they get out, there are fewer reentry services for these people than for individuals who actually committed crimes," says Barry Scheck, codirector of the Innocence Project at Yeshiva University's Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, which is dedicated to exonerating the wrongfully convicted. "It's a measure of decency."

Read the full article here. (Christian Science Monitor, 5/30/07)
Read more about compensation laws nationwide, view a map of compensation laws in each state.



Tags: Exoneree Compensation

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New York legislators near deal on reform legislation

Posted: June 1, 2007

Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld and four New Yorkers exonerated by DNA testing testified before a state Assembly committee yesterday that a package of reforms introduced in the Assembly would bring “serious, meaningful and badly needed” reforms to the state’s criminal justice system. Now it appears that legislators might be close to reaching a compromise between a bill that passed the Senate and the bill pending in the Assembly. The Innocence Project supports the package of reforms in the Assembly because it is addresses critical issues more substantially and more meaningfully than the Senate bill. Gov. Elliot Sptizer said yesterday that certain reforms from the Assembly bill were “reasonable…”

"I would be willing to support ... an innocence commission," Spitzer said. And as for the widening the window for appeal, he said: "That is a reasonable compromise."

Read the full story here. (Elmira Star-Gazette, 5/31/07)
Read the Innocence Project’s press release here.

More news coverage: Wrongfully convicted: DNA expansion must include protections (Journal-News, 6/1/07)

The four exonerees testiftying yesterday were Alan Newton, Doug Warney, Roy Brown and Jeff Deskovic; together they served 60 years in prison for crimes they didn't commit. They are among 23 people proven innocent by DNA testing in New York. Only Texas and Illinois have seen more convictions overturned by DNA testing.



Tags: New York, False Confessions, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing

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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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Vermont Gov. signs reform bill into law

Posted: June 5, 2007

Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas signed a bill last week granting access to DNA testing for people who claim innocence after being convicted of certain crimes in the state.

The bill also grants compensation to people exonerated after being convicted of a crime they didn’t commit, and it creates committees to study new state policies on evidence preservation, eyewitness identification reform and recording of custodial interrogation.

Click here to read the full text of the bill as passed by Vermont’s House and Senate.

View a map of post-conviction DNA access laws and exoneree compensation laws nationwide.



Tags: Vermont, Exoneree Compensation, False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing

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Louisiana exoneree starts reentry program

Posted: June 6, 2007

John Thompson spent 18 years in Louisiana prison – including 14 on death row – for a murder he didn’t commit. When a prosecutor made public that he had concealed evidence at Thompson’s 1984 trial that could have proven his innocence, he got a new trial and was acquitted of the charges in 2003.

Thompson was released with a small bag of possessions and given $10 for bus fare. He says he founded Resurrection After Exoneration to make sure that no future exonerees are dropped into freedom like he was. And he was recently awarded a two-year, $60,000 grant from Echoing Green to build RAE’s capacity.

Thompson said the wrongfully convicted have a hard time finding a place to live where they can be at peace. Most are forced to move in with family members, which can cause turmoil. Former inmates often have difficulties communicating because no one understands what they’ve been through and the effect it’s had on their psyche.

“You can’t communicate with your family. You don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing,” Thompson said. “You’re supposed to get a job but because of your record or attitude you can’t. It’s not what we wanted to come home to but we have no choice. And that’s the worst — being a grown man having to depend on someone else for help. And it all goes back to that one thing — what I experienced in that prison but no one wants to recognize it.”

Resurrection After Exoneration will offer the wrongfully convicted a place to live, jobs and courses in how to manage finances. Participants will be asked to set aside at least 25 percent of their paychecks in savings accounts. After a year, RAE will match the savings to help find independent housing.

Read the full story. (New Orleans City Business, 06/04/07)
NOTE: Because Thompson was not exonerated as a result of DNA testing, his case is not listed as one of the 202 DNA exonerations tracked by the Innocence Project.



Tags: Louisiana, Exoneree Compensation, Government Misconduct

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Time Magazine: A Milestone for the Innocence Project

Posted: June 6, 2007

A feature on Time Magazine’s website this week gives a brief history of the Innocence Project upon the milestone of the 200th DNA exoneration nationwide and includes a slideshow with the stories of 10 exonerees.

"We never realized we would be getting thousands of requests each year," (Innocence Project Co-Director Peter) Neufeld says. As the full-time staff grew — today the team has 38 people, including attorneys, an intake department and a policy department — so did the exoneration rate. Between 1992 and 2002, the project oversaw 100 exonerations; since 2002, it's taken half that time to exonerate 100 more. "Ultimately, the criteria are very simple," Neufeld says of the cases the project chooses to take. "Is it a case where identity is an issue? Is it a case where biological evidence was collected during the initial investigation?"
Read the full story. (Time Magazine, 6/5/07) View the slideshow.
Read and watch more media coverage of the 200th DNA exoneration in our special section: 200 Exonerated, Too Many Wrongfully Convicted.

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Texas murder conviction overturned

Posted: June 7, 2007 9:46 am

Michael Scott was convicted in 2002 of killing four teenage girls in a notorious Austin murder 11 years earlier. He allegedly confessed to his involvement in the crime along with another man, Robert Springsteen. Yesterday, Texas’s highest court overturned Scott’s conviction because Springsteen’s confession was improperly used against Scott at trial. Springsteen’s conviction has also been thrown out and he is expected to be tried again.

Scott and Springsteen have claimed that their confessions were coerced during long hours of interrogation by the Austin Police. Part of Scott’s interrogation was videotaped, and the tape shows a detective holding a loaded gun against Scott’s head.

Ariel Payan, the lawyer handling Scott’s appeal, says he always knew this day would come. He encourages detectives to look elsewhere for the yogurt shop murderer or murderers.

“There were fingerprints found inside the cash drawer where the money was stolen,” Payan said. “You have ask yourself, if there are fingerprints there that weren't traced to anybody, doesn't that mean that there is someone else?

Read the full story here. (CBS 42, 6/6/07)
Read the court’s opinion here.

Read background on the case here.



Tags: Texas, False Confessions, Government Misconduct

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Tomorrow on Discovery Times: Proof of Innocence

Posted: June 11, 2007 11:32 am

A television special on the case of Clark McMillan airs Tuesday night at 10 p.m. EDT on Discovery Times channel. In 1980, McMillan was convicted of a rape he didn’t commit in Memphis, Tennessee. He served 22 years in prison before DNA testing proved his innocence. The 60-minute feature is entitled "Proof of Innocence."

For local listings, click here.



Tags: Tennessee, Clark McMillan

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New poll shows decrease in public support of death penalty

Posted: June 12, 2007 3:59 pm

A report released this week by the Death Penalty Information Center shows an erosion of public support for the death penalty in the United States over the last decade and points to DNA exonerations as a major cause of this change.

A significant majority said it is time for a moratorium on the death penalty while policies are reviewed and nearly 70% said reforms would not eliminate all wrongful convictions and executions. The poll included 1,000 adults nationwide and had a margin of error of + 3.1 %

“Public confidence in the death penalty has clearly eroded over the past 10 years, mostly as a result of DNA exonerations. Whether it is concern about executing the innocent, beliefs that the death penalty is not a deterrent, moral objections to taking human life, or a general sense that the system is too broken to be fixed, the bottom line is the same: Americans are moving away from the death penalty,” said Richard Dieter, DPIC’s Executive Director.

Read the report here. (Death Penalty Information Center, 6/9/2007)
New York exoneree Jeff Deskovic told the New York Daily News recently that he would have been executed if he weren’t so young when convicted.
Deskovic said, "I had to give up 17 years of my life. I can't get the time back, but I did get my freedom.

"If I'd got the death sentence, nobody could have given me my life back."

Read the full story. (New York Daily News, 06/10/2007)
And the Tennessee House of Representatives passed a bill last week to create a panel studying the state’s death penalty system. Tennessee has more than 100 prisoners on death row and has executed one person in 2007.




Tags: Tennessee, New York, Jeff Deskovic

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New tests urged in audit of Houston lab

Posted: June 14, 2007 10:10 am

The final report in a comprehensive investigation of the Houston crime lab calls for officials to retest evidence in at least 413 cases in which defendants were convicted based on testing that may have been flawed. The report, issued yesterday, closes a two-year investigation headed by independent investigator Michael Bromwich, and it details dozens of testing errors and questionable practices uncovered at the Houston lab.

"We found that the serology work that the Crime Lab did actually perform during the 1980-1992 period was generally unreliable," Bromwich added.

Bromwich said the cost of the retest in problem serology cases should be covered by the city and the county.

The Bromwich probe, which began in March of 2005, has uncovered severe and pervasive problems at the Houston Police Department crime lab that never before had come to light in the years controversy has plagued the lab.

Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 6/13/07)
Download the full report and read the special investigator's press release here

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Larry Peterson: Beyond Exoneration

Posted: June 14, 2007 3:58 pm

Click here to listen online to the two-part National Public Radio series on Larry Peterson’s exoneration and his adjustment to life outside prison.

Also in the news, Peterson filed a civil rights lawsuit on Monday against the Burlington County, NJ prosecutor and the state crime lab.

"He was falsely convicted based on perjured testimony and junk science and sent to prison for 18 years," the lawsuit states. "Luckily, he was spared the death penalty . . . and eventually exonerated in 2006 by DNA evidence."

William Buckman, Peterson's lawyer, said the lawsuit defendants engaged in "a series of misleading tactics aimed at forcing and/or inducing persons . . . to provide false testimony and false statements against Larry Peterson."

Read the full story here. (Cherry Hill Courier-Post, 06/12/07)
Read more about Peterson’s case here.



Tags: Larry Peterson

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“The Trials of Darryl Hunt” Opens Tonight In Hartford

Posted: June 15, 2007 11:32 am

A moving documentary film about Darryl Hunt’s two-decade quest to prove his innocence after he was wrongfull convicted – twice – of a Winston-Salem, NC murder, “The Trials of Darryl Hunt” opens tonight at Real Art Ways in Hartford, CT. Click here for showtimes.

Read more about Hunt's case in our Know the Cases section.



Tags: Darryl Hunt

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Unheralded exonerations

Posted: June 18, 2007 5:31 pm

The case of three Duke lacrosse players who were wrongly accused of rape last year has been making headlines nationwide for months. But a column in New York Newsday today questions why the Duke case has sparked more outrage nationwide against overzealous prosecutors than the 203 wrongful convictions that have been overturned by DNA testing.

I don't want to minimize these young men's suffering over the last year, or to downplay the injustice that was done to them. But the public outcry over this case has a lot to do with the fact that these were three white guys from upper-middle-class families who got railroaded. And because they could afford first-rate, aggressive lawyers, in the end the criminal justice system worked for them.

Whatever humiliation and pain they suffered over being wrongly accused pales in comparison to what happens on a regular basis to countless other defendants, many of them black or Latino men, who are charged, convicted and spend long years in prison for crimes they didn't commit.

Read the full column here. (Newsday, 06/18/07)
Read more about prosecutorial misconduct in exoneration cases.



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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James Giles Exonerated

Posted: June 21, 2007 3:00 pm

Two months ago in Dallas, the Innocence Project joined with prosecutors in filing motions to clear James Giles of a 1982 rape for which he served 10 years in prison and 14 years as a registered sex offender on parole. The judge approved the motions, but there was one final step on Giles’ journey to exoneration. Texas rules require that the state’s highest criminal court review all exoneration before they become official. Yesterday, Giles was officially exonerated when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted his writ of habeas corpus. He became the 204th person exonerated by DNA testing in the United States and the 13th in Dallas County.

The Innocence Project began investigating Giles’ case in 2000, and DNA testing has since proven that he was not one of three men who raped a Dallas woman in her home in 1982. The crime was committed by three men, and police were told that one was named James Giles. The victim identified James Curtis Giles in a lineup, even though he did not match her initial description of the perpetrator. DNA evidence now links two other men to the crime – and shows that they were both closely associated with another man, James Earl Giles, who lived near the crime scene and fits the victim’s initial description. New evidence shows that information linking the three true perpetrators to the crime – James Earl Giles and the two other men – was available to police and prosecutors before James Curtis Giles was convicted, but was illegally withheld from his defense attorneys.

With 13, Dallas has had more convictions overturned by DNA testing than any other county nationwide. Read more about the other 12 cases here.

The Dallas District Attorney’s Office recently began working with the Innocence Project of Texas to review more than 350 cases in which defendants claim innocence and were denied DNA testing. Officials have said that this review could lead to more Dallas exonerations. Read more about the ongoing review here.



Tags: Texas, James Giles

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Giles finally exonerated

Posted: June 22, 2007 12:30 pm

Yesterday, James Giles of Texas became the nation’s 204th person cleared by DNA testing when the state’s highest criminal court made his exoneration official.

Read media coverage of the exoneration below, or click here for more information on Giles and the other 12 people exonerated in Dallas County in the last six years.

Houston Chronicle: Court clears man convicted in gang rape. (6/22/07)






Tags: Texas, James Giles

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Utah lawmakers endorse compensation bill

Posted: June 22, 2007 12:35 pm

A committee of Utah legislators unanimously endorsed a plan yesterday to compensate people exonerated after serving time in prison for a wrongful conviction. The proposal is likely to become a bill when the Utah legislature begins its next session in January, 2008.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Greg Bell, says Utah needs to offer compensation to exonerees to help them put their lives back together.

Read the full story here. (Desert News, 6/21/07)

By creating a compensation law, Utah would join 21 other states, along with the federal government and District of Columbia. View a map of these 21 states.

One person, Bruce Dallas Goodman, has been exonerated by DNA testing in Utah. Read more about his case here.

Read more about the need to compensate the wrongfully convicted here.



Tags: Utah, Bruce Dallas Goodman

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Another dubious confession reinforces need for recording interrogations

Posted: June 4, 2007 2:00 pm

An op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times calls for the New York State Senate to pass pending legislation that will require the videotaping of police interrogations from start to finish. Taping the entire custodial interrogation, rather than just the confession, would help prevent coercion and ensure the integrity of voluntary confessions. False confessions played a role in ten of the 23 DNA exonerations in New York State. In the infamous Central Park jogger case of 1989, five teenagers gave false confessions and were convicted of a rape they didn’t commit. All five were exonerated by DNA evidence in 2002.

The op-ed discusses the case of Khemwatie Bedessie, a day-care worker from Queens sentenced to 25 years in prison for raping and sexually abusing a 4-year-old boy. Bedessie claims her confession was coerced by police.

Who could imagine they [the Central Park teenagers] weren’t telling the truth? But, as experts point out, false confessions can appear very real. And the techniques used to produce them don’t have to take much time. “I’ve seen interrogations that led to false confessions which lasted less than one hour,” says a Northwestern University Law professor, Steve Drizin. In such a situation, he says, the defendant tends to be “highly vulnerable or suggestible.”… “I will do anything he want so he will send me home,” Ms. Bedessie testified, recalling the interrogation.

Read the full text of the article here.
Read profiles of the exonerees from the Central Park Jogger case here.
Read about false confessions.

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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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Another dubious confession reinforces need for recording interrogations

Posted: June 25, 2007 2:00 pm

An op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times calls for the New York State Senate to pass pending legislation that will require the videotaping of police interrogations from start to finish. Taping the entire custodial interrogation, rather than just the confession, would help prevent coercion and ensure the integrity of voluntary confessions. False confessions played a role in ten of the 23 DNA exonerations in New York State. In the infamous Central Park jogger case of 1989, five teenagers gave false confessions and were convicted of a rape they didn’t commit. All five were exonerated by DNA evidence in 2002.

The op-ed discusses the case of Khemwatie Bedessie, a day-care worker from Queens sentenced to 25 years in prison for raping and sexually abusing a 4-year-old boy. Bedessie claims her confession was coerced by police.

 Who could imagine they [the Central Park teenagers] weren’t telling the truth?  But, as experts point out, false confessions can appear very real. And the techniques used to produce them don’t have to take much time. “I’ve seen interrogations that led to false confessions which lasted less than one hour,” says a Northwestern University Law professor, Steve Drizin. In such a situation, he says, the defendant tends to be “highly vulnerable or suggestible.”… “I will do anything he want so he will send me home,” Ms. Bedessie testified, recalling the interrogation.
Read the full text of the article here.
Read profiles of the exonerees from the Central Park Jogger case here.
Read about false confessions.

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Duke case is unusual in terms of accountability for prosecutorial misconduct

Posted: June 25, 2007 5:00 pm

A column in Sunday’s New York Times highlights the reality of prosecutorial misconduct – noting that, unlike the prosecutor in the Duke lacross case, most prosecutors whose misconduct leads to wrongful convictions are never held accountable.  Although Michael B. Nifong, the prosecutor in the Duke case, was disbarred for his intentional misconduct, many prosecutors whose wrongdoing leads to miscarriages of justice are punished lightly, if at all.  The column turns to several leading experts on the subject for insight into this imbalance.

Mr. Gershman, a former prosecutor in Manhattan who teaches law at Pace University, said the Nifong case was handled differently because of the publicity. “The fact that it resulted in national exposure,” he said, “had to have put the disciplinary body and the entire system of justice under the spotlight.”
“You have rogue prosecutors all over the country who have engaged in far, far more egregious misconduct, and in a pattern of cases,” he added. “And nothing happens.”
The Chicago Tribune, for instance, analyzed 381 murder cases in which the defendant received a new trial because of prosecutorial misconduct. None of the prosecutors were convicted of a crime or disbarred.
Read the full story here.

Prosecutorial misconduct was a contributing factor in James Giles’ wrongful conviction, which was officially overturned last week.  Prosecutors in that case withheld evidence from Giles; defense attorney that would have pointed to the true perpetrator.

Learn more about prosecutorial misconduct in our Understand the Causes section.
Read about James Giles, the 204th exoneree.

 

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Supreme Court ruling halts execution of a mentally ill Texas prisoner

Posted: June 28, 2007 3:00 pm

The Supreme Court ruled today that a man with severe mental illness is not eligible for execution in Texas. Scott Panetti, 49, suffers from mental delusions that prevent him from being able to understand the reasons for his execution. In a 5-4 decision, the Court found that Panetti’s execution would be a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Panetti was convicted and sentenced to death in 1995 for murdering his wife’s parents. He represented himself at his capital murder trial. The Supreme Court decision reversed a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which found that Panetti’s execution could proceed. This is the fourth time this term that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned a ruling by a Texas state or federal court allowing an execution to proceed. 

Find out more about Scott Panetti’s case and watch a documentary on the case commissioned by Texas Defender Services here.

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Innocence Project staff attorney Nina Morrison and exoneree Alan Newton to speak at Culture Project in New York

Posted: June 29, 2007 2:30 pm

Innocence Project attorney Nina Morrison and Alan Newton, exonerated in July 2006, will speak at the Culture Project in New York on Sunday, July 1st, following a screening of After Innocence. The documentary follows seven wrongfully convicted men after their release and features Morrison in her struggle to win exoneration for her client, Wilton Dedge. After the screening, Morrison and Newton will answer questions from the audience.

Get tickets and find out more about the event:
http://cultureproject.org/wcs/film.html

To view a trailer of the movie:
http://www.newyorkerfilms.com/nyf/t_elements/innocence/innocence_tr.htm



Tags: New York, Wilton Dedge, Alan Newton

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District Attorney's report shows need for reform in New York

Posted: July 2, 2007 5:45 pm

A 35-page report issued today by Westchester County, New York DA Janet DiFiore identifies the factors contributing to Jeffrey Deskovic’s wrongful conviction and provides recommendations for reform. Deskovic was convicted of raping and murdering his high school classmate in 1990 based on a false confession that he later retracted. He spent over 15 years in prison before his exoneration in 2006.

The “Report on the Conviction of Jeffrey Deskovic” calls for access to forensic databases that can identify true perpetrators, creation of an Innocence Commission, recording of police interrogations, and proper storage and preservation of evidence. These measures could have prevented Deskovic’s wrongful conviction and enabled him to prove his innocence. In recent months, the State Legislature considered reforms that would address these same issues. The report underscores the need to pass this legislation and implement systemic reforms in New York State. When the legislature reconvenes on July 16, it will have another opportunity to pass the legislation.

Here is an excerpt of the report:

“One can imagine a situation in which police, prosecutors, defense counsel and the courts each discharged their functions in a perfectly appropriate way, yet the result achieved was calamitously wrong.  One can imagine such a case, but Jeffrey Deskovic’s case is not such a case…we attempt to analyze what went wrong for Jeffrey Deskovic in the hope that a broader understanding of his tragedy will help those in the criminal justice system take the steps necessary to protect others from his fate."
Read more about Jeff Deskovic's case.
Learn more about the reforms in New York.
Read a copy of the report here.

Read the Innocence Project press release here.



Tags: New York, False Confessions

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District Attorney’s report on New York wrongful conviction fuels statewide reform efforts

Posted: July 3, 2007 12:00 pm

Westchester County (NY) District Attorney Janet DiFiore released a report yesterday investigating Jeffrey Deskovic’s wrongful conviction and calling for reform in the state’s criminal justice system.  Deskovic was convicted in 1990 of the murder and rape of a high school classmate and exonerated last year by DNA evidence. 

The investigation, which was commissioned by the DA and conducted by a group of outside experts, outlined several factors that led to Deskovic’s conviction.  Each of the problems identified in the report would be addressed statewide in reforms that have not yet passed in the New York State Legislature but could be revisited when legislators reconvene on July 16.

Among its recommendations are several measures to prevent wrongful convictions, like videotaping police interrogations and giving defendants the right, before and after trial, to have DNA evidence run through databanks to try to confirm the identity of actual perpetrators.

The Legislature has considered similar measures but adjourned late last month without passing any of them.

“This report makes clear that the system has not been fixed to prevent other people from enduring the tragic injustice Jeffrey Deskovic suffered,” said Barry C. Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, which secured Mr. Deskovic’s exoneration.

Read the full article here. (New York Times, 07/03/2007)
Read media coverage of the report:

Playing Down DNA Evidence Contributed to Wrongful Conviction, Review Finds - New York Times

Report blames wrongful conviction on 'tunnel vision' of police, lawyers - The Journal News

Man Wrongfully Convicted Of Rape And Murder - WNBC | New York

Read the full report here.

Read the Innocence Project press release here.

Learn more about reforms pending in New York State here.



Tags: New York, Jeff Deskovic

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Prosecutors charge alleged actual perpetrator in Ohio murder case

Posted: July 5, 2007 11:19 am

Earl Mann, a 34-year-old inmate in Ohio state prison, was charged last week with committing the 1998 murder and rape for which Clarence Elkins was wrongfully imprisoned for over six years. The DNA evidence that proved Elkins’s innocence also linked Mann to the crime scene, prosecutors have said. Elkins was exonerated in 2005 and prosecutors have been re-investigating the crime since then. Mann, who is serving seven years for three unrelated rapes, has said he is innocent of the murder and rape for which Elkins was convicted. He was indicted by a Summit County, Ohio, grand jury on Friday and charged with aggravated murder, attempted murder, aggravated burglary and rape.

Elkins said he does not understand why it took prosecutors so long to seek an indictment against Mann when "it didn't take them maybe a couple of hours to come after me."

Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 06/30/07)
Read more about the Elkins case, and dozens of other cases in which DNA evidence has not only exonerated an innocent person but also helped authorities locate the actual perpetrator.



Tags: Clarence Elkins

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What is lost freedom worth?

Posted: July 6, 2007 11:09 am

A columnist in the Chico (California) News & Review this week considers the devastation caused by a wrongful conviction and society’s duty to compensate the victims of injustice.

The media never focus on what happens next in the fractured life of the person who wrongly paid his debt to society in prison. Does society in turn owe a debt to the innocent prisoner?

Read the full column here. (Chico News & Review, 07/05/07)
22 states have laws ensuring compensation of the wrongfully convicted. Click here for a map of state compensation policies.



Tags: Exoneree Compensation

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Pennsylvania appeals court hears arguments today in Innocence Project case

Posted: July 10, 2007 7:00 am

Philadelphia prosecutors filed papers in May arguing that Anthony Wright, who was convicted of murder in 1993, should not have access to DNA testing because he confessed to the crime. In these papers they cited the case of Byron Halsey, saying testing in Halsey's case was “properly denied where trial evidence, which included defendant’s confession, was overwhelming.”

The flaws in the state's argument in the Wright case became clear yesterday afternoon, when New Jersey prosecutors exonerated Halsey after DNA testing conducted in 2006 showed that another man committed the child murders for which Halsey had nearly been sentenced to death. Read more about the Halsey case here.

This morning, a Philadelphia appeals court will hear arguments in Wright's case. Prosecutors have argued for two years that Wright should be denied access to testing because he allegedly confessed to the crime. However, as Innocence Project Staff Attorney Nina Morrison will argue this morning, 25% of the 205 people exonerated by DNA testing in the United States — including Halsey — falsely confessed or admitted to the crimes of which they were wrongfully convicted.

The arguments are scheduled for 10:30 this morning at the Pennsylvania Superior Court. Read more about Wright 's case in yesterday's Innocence Project press release.

A column by Elmer Smith in today's Philadelphia Daily News calls for the District Attorney's office to support testing in the pursuit of true justice:

The D.A.'s office is vigorously opposing new DNA testing. I want to believe it is fighting to keep DNA evidence out in the interest of justice.

Except that, for the life of me, I can't see how justice is served by suppressing a test result that could point to another perpetrator.

If Louise Talley's murderer is still out there, I want my D.A.'s office to go after him with the same fervor that led to Anthony Wright's conviction.

Instead, the D.A.'s office seems more interested in holding onto Wright than it is in being absolutely sure the crime is solved. That worries me.

Read the full column here. (Philadelphia Daily News, 07/10/07)
 



Tags: False Confessions

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Wright case may lead to more DNA testing in Pennsylvania

Posted: July 11, 2007 1:25 pm

Innocence Project attorney Nina Morrison argued yesterday before a Pennsylvania appeals court panel that DNA testing should be granted in the case of Anthony Wright, who was convicted in Philadelphia in 1993 of raping and killing a 77-year-old woman. Wright signed a confession to the crime, but Morrison told the judges yesterday that more than 25% of the 205 people exonerated by DNA testing in the United States falsely confessed to crimes they didn’t commit.

"This may be one of those cases where it turns out he's guilty," his lawyer, Nina Morrison, of the New York-based Innocence Project, told a state Superior Court panel. But, she added, "the shame and, really, the horror would be if this was a case that he was not guilty."

Read the full story here. (Philadelphia Inquirer, 07/11/2007)
Read more about Wright’s case here.

Understand the Causes: False Confessions.

YouTube: Watch a video of exoneree Chris Ochoa describing the interrogation that led to his false confession.



Tags: False Confessions

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Inmate pleads not guilty in murder that sent wrong man to prison

Posted: July 12, 2007 2:28 pm

An Ohio inmate pled not guilty yesterday to committing the 1998 murder and rape for which Clarence Elkins was wrongfully convicted. Earl Mann, 34, is currently serving a seven-year sentence for an unrelated rape. Prosecutors say the DNA tests that cleared Elkins link Mann to the murder of Elkins’ mother-in-law and the rape of his niece. Elkins, who was in the courtroom yesterday for Mann’s hearing, served over 6 years in prison before he was exonerated by DNA evidence.

Outside the courtroom after this morning's proceedings, Elkins said he had an immediate impression at the first sight of Mann sitting in the chair in jail in the moments before his arraignment began.

"I was just happy to see justice being served this time. It's a little late," he added, "but it's better late than never."

Read the full story here. (Akron Beacon Journal, 07/11/2007)
Elkins and his family brought about his exoneration by investigating the case while he was incarcerated. When Elkins was incarcerated in the same prison with Mann, a neighbor at the time of the crime, he collected a cigarette butt from Mann and sent it to investigators, who confirmed that DNA from the cigarette matched DNA from the crime scene. Attorneys from the Ohio Innocence Project represented Elkins. Read more about Elkins’ case here.



Tags: Clarence Elkins

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Doing time for no crime

Posted: July 13, 2007 11:44 am

Arthur Carmona was 16 when he was convicted of two robberies in California. He would serve three years before evidence of his innocence began to mount. He was offered a plea agreement that ended his incarceration, but he would not be fully exonerated. He has now devoted himself to fighting the causes of wrongful conviction. He writes in today’s Los Angeles Times about why he supports three bills pending before the California legislature.

Senate Bill 756, sponsored by Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles), would require the state Department of Justice to develop new guidelines for eyewitness identification procedures. For example, guidelines in other states limit the use of in-field show-ups like the one that led to my wrongful conviction.

Senate Bill 511, sponsored by Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara), would require recording of the entire interrogation, including the Miranda warning, in cases of violent felonies. Electronic recording of interrogations would not only help end false confessions but also discourage police detectives from lying during interrogations — as they did in my case by claiming to have videotaped evidence of me.

Senate Bill 609, sponsored by Majority Leader Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), would prevent convictions based on uncorroborated testimony by jailhouse snitches.

The Legislature should pass all three bills, and the governor should sign them. These reforms are urgently needed to prevent wrongful and unjust incarcerations.

Prison is no place for an innocent man, let alone an innocent kid.

Read the full column here. (Los Angeles Times, 07/13/2007)
Read more about the reform bills pending in the California legislature and a recent hearing of the California Commission on Fair Administration of Justice.



Tags: False Confessions, Informants/Snitches, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Exoneree tells his story on radio show

Posted: July 16, 2007 12:25 pm

"I thought I was going to get a fair shake…but I didn’t," Oklahoma exoneree Curtis McCarty said on a national radio show last week about the 1986 trial at which he was sentenced to death for a murder he didn’t commit.

McCarty was exonerated in May after serving 21 years in prison – most of it on death row – for a crime he didn’t commit. He discussed his case on “Philosophy Talk,” a weekly philosophy radio show. The July 8 show focused on the death penalty and featured a report on McCarty.

Listen to the show here.

Read more about McCarty’s case.

Exonerations nationwide have raised questions about the death penalty; read more:

An editorial in today’s New Jersey Courier Post says Byron Halsey’s exoneration is another argument for abolishing the death penalty. Read the full editorial.

A letter to the editor in yesterday’s Columbia (Missouri) Tribune says:

Our legal system is far from foolproof. Those who are unjustly executed have their ultimate right, their lives, irrevocably stripped from them. Evidence suggests that with the limitations inherent in our current legal system, the state should no longer execute those convicted of capital crimes.

Read the full letter here.




Tags: Curtis McCarty

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Innocent Florida inmate wins new trial

Posted: July 17, 2007 7:00 am

Innocence Project client Chad Heins, who has spent more than a decade in Florida prison for a murder that DNA now shows he didn’t commit, will be have another day in court. Prosecutors announced yesterday that they dropped an appeal of a judge’s 2006 decision vacating the conviction against Heins and that they would retry him for the 1994 murder of his pregnant sister-in-law. DNA testing conducted in 2004 and 2005 shows that several pieces of biological evidence from the crime scene came from a single unknown male.

Meanwhile, Heins remains incarcerated in Florida. He will be arraigned on the first-degree murder charge next week and his attorneys will seek to have him released on bond.

"We believe Chad should have been out of prison years ago," said Nina Morrison, staff attorney for the New York-based legal group that uses DNA to free the wrongly convicted. "Three years after the new DNA evidence was discovered, this conviction is finally history. But unfortunately, Chad will have to continue to battle to prove his innocence."

Read the full story here. (Florida Times-Union, 7/16/2007)
Read more about Heins’s case.


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NJ Senators propose increased compensation for exonerees

Posted: July 18, 2007 1:20 pm

Two New Jersey state Senators proposed today that the state increase the compensation it pays to the wrongfully convicted upon exoneration. Saying they were inspired by the case of Byron Halsey, an Innocence Project client who was recently exonerated after serving 19 years in prison for two murders he didn’t commit, Senators Richard J. Codey and Ellen Karcher said the state should increase compensation to $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration. The state’s current standard is $20,000 per year or twice the person’s annual salary at the time of incarceration, whichever is greater. The federal government, along with several states, provides for up to $50,000 per year of wrongful imprisonment.

“There is no way to fully compensate someone for the loss of years from their life,” said Sen. Codey (D-Essex).  “In cases like Mr. Halsey’s, the world and the skills set needed have changed drastically in the last 20 years. The least we can do is provide a person with a greater cushion to acclimate to life outside of prison.  This is just one small way to right a gross wrong.”

Read the full press release. (PoliticsNJ.com, 7/18/07)
Halsey is the 205th person exonerated by DNA evidence nationwide and the fifth in New Jersey. Read about Halsey and the other New Jersey exonerees.

Read more about compensation reforms underway nationwide and view a map of the 22 states with compensation laws in place.



Tags: New Jersey, Byron Halsey, Exoneree Compensation

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Hearing today in Florida case

Posted: July 19, 2007 7:00 am

At a hearing today in Florida, a state judge will decide whether Chad Heins will be released on bond pending his new trial for 1994 the murder of his sister-in-law. Heins was convicted of the murder in 1996 but new DNA evidence proves that another man committed the crime.

In December 2006, a Florida judge vacated Heins’s conviction due to DNA test results, and prosecutors appealed this decision. This week, prosecutors dropped that appeal but said they intended to retry Heins on the first-degree murder charge. DNA testing in the case has shown that several pieces of biological evidence from the crime scene match a single unknown male.

Media coverage: Brother-in-law gains new trial
(Florida Times Union, 07/16/07)

Case Recap: Florida Times Union

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NJ op-ed: DNA cases are just the tip of the iceberg

Posted: July 19, 2007 5:17 pm

An op-ed in yesterday’s Newark Star-Ledger calls for sweeping reforms to the American criminal justice system based on the flaws uncovered by the 205 DNA exonerations to date. John Holdridge writes that these 205 cases show a pattern of error and misconduct that is not limited to cases involving biological evidence.

The high number of wrongly convicted prisoners exonerated by DNA testing is just the tip of the iceberg of innocent lives being spent behind bars and even sent to death chambers. These stories must serve as a stark reminder of additional measures we must take to increase the accuracy of our criminal justice system across the nation.

Read the full op-ed here. (Newark Star-Ledger, 7/18/07)
Read more media coverage of the chorus of calls for criminal justice reforms that followed the 200th DNA exoneration nationwide.

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Virginia governor proclaims exoneree's innocence

Posted: July 20, 2007 12:46 pm

It was more than two decades ago that Virginia came within nine days of executing an innocent man. Earl Washington, Jr., was convicted at age 22 of a 1982 rape he didn’t commit after he gave police a false confession riddled with facts that didn’t correspond to the crime. He served 17 years in prison – including 10 on death row – before he was released after DNA testing proved his innocence. Upon his release, he took the state to court – and was opposed – as he sought compensation for the injustice he suffered. Last year, the lawsuit was finally settled, and this month, the state of Virginia finally admitted that he is innocent.

In a new pardon issued July 6, which revised one issued in 2000 by a former governor, Gov. Timothy Kaine wrote: "I have decided it is just and appropriate to grant this revised absolute pardon that reflects Mr. Washington's innocence." The previous pardon only admitted that a rational jury would not convict Washington.

An editorial this week in the Virginia Daily Press calls for the state to treat exonerees with dignity and to enact reforms based on the lessons of Washington’s case.

The case has also taught us some lessons — that police and prosecutors can be pursuing something other than the truth, that confessions can be false, that just because someone is on death row doesn't mean he's guilty. We should remember them every time a defendant comes to trial, and every time a life hangs in the death penalty's balance.

Read the full editorial here. (Daily Press, 07/16/07)
Read more about the July 6 pardon.

Read more about Washington’s case and exoneree compensation nationwide.



Tags: Virginia, Earl Washington, Exoneree Compensation

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Denver DA reexamines 1987 murder; lawmaker calls for better evidence preservation

Posted: July 20, 2007 1:54 pm

Timothy Masters was convicted in 1999 for the murder of a 37-year-old woman in Fort Collins, Colorado, 12 years earlier. Masters, who was 15 at the time of the murder, became a suspect because he lived near the field where the victim’s body was found. He was not arrested, however, until an analysis of his teenage artwork was examined in 1998 and a psychologist connected the artwork to alleged violent tendencies. Masters was convicted by a jury and sentenced to life. But before the conviction of Masters, investigators had uncovered a possible alternate suspect. Evidence collected from the home of this suspect had been burned by police shortly after the suspect committed suicide. The evidence destruction had been ordered by the detective who had investigated Masters for 12 years.

The Denver Post published an article on Sunday about the Masters case, and the Adams County District Attorney’s Office said Tuesday it would investigate possible DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene. While evidence from the alternate suspect’s house was burned, evidence from the 1987 scene has been retained. Read more.

Also this week, a Colorado state representative called for the creation of statewide standards requiring police departments to preserve evidence. Cheri Jahn said that in the light of the Masters investigation, it was clear that inconsistent police practices can lead to "inconsistent justice."

Jahn said she will introduce legislation in January and call for a series of hearings to investigate the depth of the problem.

"The guidelines for keeping evidence are carved in candle- wax," Jahn said in a news release. "They can be molded to fit anyone's agenda or ambition."

Read the full story here. (Denver Post, 07/18/07)
Read more about evidence preservation here.



Tags: Colorado

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200 Exonerated, Too Many Wrongfully Convicted

Posted: May 23, 2007 2:26 pm

More than 200 people have now been exonerated by DNA testing in the United States. To mark the 200th exoneration, the Innocence Project conducted a national campaign to raise awareness of wrongful convictions and prevent future injustice. The campaign was a tremendous success, with thousands of people around the world raising their voices in support of criminal justice reform.

View a selection of media coverage of the “200 Exonerated” campaign, download our special report “200 Exonerated, Too Many Wrongfully Convicted,” or learn how you can get involved to help reform the criminal justice system.

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Editorial: Produce the proof or set Chad Heins free

Posted: July 23, 2007 10:50 am

Chad Heins was convicted in Florida in 1996 for allegedly killing his sister-in-law two years earlier. He has now served more than a decade in prison for a crime that DNA shows was committed by another man. Heins’s conviction has been overturned due to questions raised by new DNA testing but charges are pending and prosecutors have said they will retry him in December. Last week, his bail was set at $1 million.

An editorial in Saturday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal calls for prosecutors to seek justice in the Heins case.

Unless there's new, credible evidence the state has yet to produce -- evidence that explains the DNA and doesn't rely on suspicious jailhouse snitches -- it makes far more sense to pull the plug on this wasteful, vindictive and pointless persecution.

Read the full editorial here. (Daytona Beach News-Journal, 07/21/07)


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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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Will Alabama execute Darrell Grayson without a DNA test?

Posted: July 26, 2007 11:26 am

Activists rallied yesterday on the steps of the Alabama capitol building in Montgomery in support of DNA testing for death row inmate Darrell Grayson, who is scheduled to be executed today. Several organizations, including the Innocence Project, have called for Gov. Bob Riley to delay the execution until authorities are able to conduct DNA testing that could prove Grayson’s innocence or guilt. A statement from the governor’s office said he would make a decision today "before the execution is carried out."

Esther Brown, executive director of Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, said Grayson, who is black, was pressured into a confession by white police officers, tried by a court that provided only $500 to be spent on his defense, and convicted by an all-white jury.
"What he got was Alabama justice," Brown said, standing just below the spot on the Capitol steps where Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the Confederacy in 1861.

Read the full story here. (Birmingham News, 07/26/2007)




Tags: Alabama, Death Penalty, Darrell Grayson

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Connecticut exoneree visits the prison where he spent 16 years

Posted: July 27, 2007 2:02 pm

For countless hours over 16 years, James Tillman left his prison cell to study law at the Cheshire Correctional Institution library. His efforts paid off in 2006, when he was exonerated after DNA testing proved that he did not commit the rape for which he had been convicted in 1989.

Yesterday, he returned to the prison library to join a discussion with inmates of Harper Lee’s book "To Kill A Mockingbird."

After the group broke up, Tillman approached the prison librarian, Mark Sosnowski, and they hugged across the librarian's desk.

"Thank you for all of my copies and getting me to the Innocence Project," Tillman said.

The project, chaired in Connecticut by two of the state's public defenders, works toward the exoneration of wrongly convicted inmates through DNA testing and advocacy.

Tillman was the first inmate at Cheshire to work with the Innocence Project. "It was like `Oh my God it works,'" Sosnowski said.

Minutes later, Tillman exited the prison and drove away.

Read the full story here.
Read more about James Tillman here.



Tags: James Tillman

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Five years of freedom

Posted: July 30, 2007 7:00 am

Five years ago today, Innocence Project client Larry Johnson walked out of a Missouri prison a free man for the first time in 18 years. In the early 1980s, he had been misidentified and wrongfully convicted of rape. Johnson’s appeals failed for years, but finally, in 2001, Missouri passed a law allowing prisoners to seek DNA testing on the grounds of innocence. Testing in 2002 proved that Johnson could not have committed the crime and he was released. The Innocence Project congratulates Johnson on five years of freedom.

Other exoneree anniversaries this week:

Tuesday: Jerry Watkins, Indiana (Exonerated 7/31/2000)
Wednesday: Thomas Doswell, Pennsylvania (Exonerated 08/01/2005)
Friday: Luis Diaz, Florida (Exonerated 08/03/05)
Saturday: Eric Sarsfield, Massachusetts (Exonerated 08/03/2000)



Tags: Luis Diaz, Thomas Doswell, Larry Johnson, Eric Sarsfield, Jerry Watkins

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Update: Dallas DA investigates Chabot case

Posted: August 2, 2007 10:49 am

After Monday’s arrest of an alternate suspect in the murder for which Clay Chabot has already served 21 years in Texas prison, Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins said his office is considering how to proceed with the case. Thirteen people have been exonerated by DNA testing in Dallas County alone, and Watkins recently created a new Conviction Integrity Unit to examine cases like Chabot's.

"We want to make sure we've got the right characters in jail," Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said Wednesday. "This is not to say Mr. Chabot did not participate in this crime."

But the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization that seeks to exonerate wrongly convicted people through DNA evidence, says Mr. Chabot is innocent and was convicted based on lies that Mr. Pabst told a jury.

"The entire case the jury heard 21 years ago rested on Gerald Pabst's story," said Nina Morrison, an attorney with the Innocence Project, which is representing Mr. Chabot. "Clay has always maintained he had nothing to do with the crime."

Read the full story here. (Dallas Morning News, 08/02/07)
Watch video coverage of the case. (WFAA, 08/01/07)



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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National Journal: States too slow to learn lessons of exonerations

Posted: August 6, 2007 11:13 am

In a column today, conservative columnist Stuart Taylor considers the lessons learned – and those not yet learned – from the 205 DNA exonerations so far in the United States. Recent high-profile cases have brought the issue of wrongful convictions to national attention in recent months, Taylor writes, and lawmakers should begin to take note.

America has been too slow to appreciate that the DNA exonerations, and other evidence, suggest that many thousands of other wrongly convicted people are rotting in prisons and jails around the country. And our federal, state, and local governments and courts have done far too little to adopt proposed criminal justice reforms that could reduce the number of innocent people convicted while nailing more of the real criminals.

Read the full column here. (National Journal, 08/06/07)


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Deconstructing Dallas: The county with more DNA exonerations than any other

Posted: August 7, 2007 10:54 am

An in-depth investigation into the causes of the 13 Dallas County DNA exonerations so far turned up faulty eyewitnesses, overzealous prosecutors, and something positive – the possibility that these horrible injustices will lead to substantial reform. The article deconstructs the familiar factors that led to the 13 wrongful convictions and includes interviews with ex-prosecutors discussing the office’s push to convict in the 1980s and 1990s. Jeff Blackburn, the director of the Innocence Project of Texas, said the unique recipe of factors in Dallas make it the perfect place for reform.

"Dallas is ground zero for criminal justice change," says Blackburn "[Dallas County's] small enough to make it work but big enough to make a difference. The only thing that's rare about Dallas is we have this objective benchmark."

The benchmark is the result of two factors: The county's private lab, the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences, had to preserve the evidence to maintain its accreditation, Blackburn says. And in case an appeals court gave a convicted felon a new trial, the Dallas District Attorney's Office wanted to maintain evidence to try to convict the accused again.

Read the full story here. (Dallas Observer, 08/02/07)
Read about the 13 men exonerated by DNA testing in Dallas County, and read an update on the case of Clay Chabot, who has served 21 years for a Dallas County murder that another man is now charged with committing.



Tags: Clay Chabot

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Closing arguments expected this week in Montana clemency hearing

Posted: August 7, 2007 10:54 am

A three-member parole board in Montana heard last week from supporters of a man who says he didn’t commit the murder he was convicted of in 1984. Barry Beach says he was coerced to confess to the murder of a high school classmate. Beach’s attorneys, and investigators at Centurion Ministries who have worked on the case for seven years, say key parts of Beach’s confession don’t match crime scene evidence.

The parole board has the power to recommend that Beach be paroled or that the governor award executive clemency, clearing Beach’s name. The panel will hear closing arguments in the case this week.

Even Pam Nees, (the victim’s) older sister, appeared at the hearing to support Beach. However, the woman was not emotionally capable of testifying herself, according to her best friend, who read Nees' written statement to the three-member panel.

“I honestly believe that Barry did not kill my sister,” she said in the statement. “I feel Barry's pain and his family's pain, also. Finding the truth will set Barry free.”

Read the full story here. (The Missoulian, 08/02/07)
Read more about false confession cases.



Tags: False Confessions, Barry Beach

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DNA databases and privacy: A lively discussion on USAToday.com

Posted: August 9, 2007 12:08 pm

A recent USA Today article questions whether the sharing of DNA “partial matches” between states is an invasion of privacy. A Denver prosecutor is asking California officials to share information on a person whose profile partially matches evidence from an unsolved Denver rape, and California’s Attorney General has refused.

The standoff between the two agencies appears to be the first but likely not the last such clash over a new DNA technique called "familial searching," says Angelo Della Manna, chief DNA analyst for the state of Alabama and an adviser to the FBI on DNA policy.

"At some point you ask yourself as a scientist not only 'what can the science do?' but 'what are we comfortable with it doing?'" Della Manna said. "We're reaching that point now."
Since the article ran last week, 33 people have commented on the USA Today website. Read the full article and join the discussion now.

The Innocence Project supports the collection and databasing of DNA from convicted felons. We believe that any policy of collecting DNA from additional populations impedes law enforcement and violates personal privacy. Read more about the Innocence Project’s position.



Tags: DNA Databases

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DNA overturns conviction in Washington

Posted: August 15, 2007 1:44 pm

Ted Bradford was convicted in 1996 of breaking into a woman’s house in Yakima, Washington, and raping her. He has completed his nine-year sentence and has been released, but is still working with the Innocence Project Northwest at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle to prove his innocence.

In the 1995 crime, the perpetrator wore a nylon stocking over his head and also placed a mask on the victim’s face with sticky tape. DNA testing has now shown the profile of another man on the mask and the tape, and a Washington appeals court yesterday agreed with a lower court that Bradford deserves a new trial. Bradford also allegedly confessed to the crime after a lengthy police interrogation in 1995, and prosecutors have said they intend to retry him in order to ensure that he continues to register as a sex offender.

"We're just delighted that both the trial court and court of appeals found the weight of the scientific evidence would probably result in a different verdict," said Jackie McMurtrie, director of the Innocence Project Northwest, which represented Bradford. "Mr. Bradford is innocent."

Read the full story here. (Seattle Times, 08/15/07)
Read the full appeals court verdict here.





Tags: Washington

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Blogs: California needs eyewitness reform

Posted: August 16, 2007 11:19 am

On the Huffington Post yesterday, Justice Project President John Terzano writes about the case of Herman Atkins, an Innocence Project client who is featured in a new YouTube video. Atkins was misidentified and wrongfully convicted in California in 1998 and served 12 years before he was exonerated by DNA testing.

What happened to Mr. Atkins is not as uncommon as it should be. Eyewitness identification is notably unreliable. According to a detailed 2004 analysis of California wrongful convictions by San Francisco Magazine, faulty eyewitness identification was a factor in 60% of the 200 cases of people proven to have been wrongly convicted in the state since 1989.The good news is that Senate Bill 756, sponsored by Senator Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles, Culver City), addresses the development of new guidelines for statewide eyewitness identification procedures.

The bill has already passed the State Senate and Assembly Public Safety Committee, and it will soon be heading to the Assembly Floor for a final vote. An earlier version of an eyewitness reform bill was taken up in the legislature last year, but it was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger. If this new eyewitness reform bill passes the Assembly, the Governor will soon have an opportunity to sign into law this important reform.

Read the full post here. (Huffington Post, 08/15/07)
Read more about Herman Atkins’ case and eyewitness identification reforms nationwide.

Another call for reform in California published today: When the Innocent Go to Prison in California, the Guilty Go Free by Natasha Minsker.



Tags: California

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North Carolina case review raises questions about misconduct in identification procedure

Posted: August 16, 2007 11:26 am

The City of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, released a police department review of an assault case this week – which identified possible misconduct by police and prosecutors leading to a man’s conviction 10 years ago. When the victim in the case was shown a photo lineup, she failed to identify the man who was later convicted. That lineup was videotaped and a transcript of the video was prepared before his trial. The transcript, prepared by police, does not include the photo lineup – and the man’s defense attorney says the video he was shown also excluded the lineup. A prosecutor on the case claimed that she showed the entire videotape to defense attorneys, and the prosecutor also filed a notice with the trial court saying that the transcript summarized the entire video.

Attorneys for Kalvin Michael Smith, who is serving a 22-year sentence for an assault he says he did not commit, have alleged that defense attorneys at trial were not aware that the witness had actually identified another person in the photo lineup. The review, conducted by the Winston-Salem Police Department, found that Detective Don Williams videotaped the photo lineup but then prepared a transcript of the video and failed to include the lineup in his transcript. In the review, Assistant District Attorney Mary Jean Behan claims that, regardless of the transcript, she showed the entire video (including portions that show the victim identifying another man instead of Smith) to Smith’s defense attorney. Smith’s defense attorney, William Speaks, recently signed an affidavit saying that he never saw the photo lineup on video and was never told about the photo lineup. A year later, after Smith had already been charged with the assault, Detective Williams again interviewed the victim and conducted a photo lineup; she identified Smith, but that interview was not recorded.

Read today’s and yesterday’s articles in the Winston-Salem Journal. Visit the newspaper’s special web section on this case.

Read about Darryl Hunt, who served 18 years after he was wrongfully convicted of a Winston-Salem murder and rape.




Tags: North Carolina

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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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Maryland court says prosecutors must widen search for evidence

Posted: August 17, 2007 12:28 pm

In a unanimous ruling this month, Maryland’s Court of Appeals said prosecutors must conduct a thorough search for evidence before telling a defendant on appeal that they can’t find it.

The ruling came in the case of Douglas Scott Arey, who was convicted 33 years ago of killing his ex-boss. After Maryland passed a statute in 2001 allowing inmates to seek DNA testing on appeal, Arey filed a motion, only to be told his evidence could not be found in the Baltimore Police Department’s evidence storage unit. Arey’s attorneys appealed this decision, saying police and prosecutors hadn’t searched enough.The appeals court agreed with Arey.

"Because the State was the custodian of the evidence, the State needs to check any place the evidence could reasonably be found, unless there is a written record that the evidence had been destroyed in accordance with then existing protocol," Judge Irma S. Raker wrote on behalf of the court.
The state will now be required to regularly check police departments, prosecutor’s offices, hospitals and labs, the court said. Both defense attorneys and prosecutors said the ruling was reasonable. Maryland is one of 42 states with a statute allowing defendants to seek DNA testing on post-conviction appeal, but standards vary widely across the country in the requirements on prosecutors to search for evidence. Now, in Maryland, the standard is clear.
"Sometimes in an older case, evidence does get moved," said Gary Bair, a criminal defense attorney and former head of criminal appeals for the state attorney general. "Because the defendant really has no control over that, it seems like the court is acknowledging that. It puts the initial burden on the prosecution for at least five or six steps."The Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office will follow the court's ruling, said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the office. Sharon R. Holback, appointed in June to direct the forensic sciences investigations unit, will head the search.

"It's certainly reasonable and understandable, given the new technology," said Burns. "If there's a need for additional staff, we are confident we can meet those challenges due to this new ruling."

Read the full story here. (Baltimore Daily Record, 8/2/07)
More coverage – Baltimore Sun: Detailed evidence search is called for (8/2/07)

Complete text of the court’s opinion. Read about the case of Alan Newton in New York, who was told for ten years that his evidence could not be located until it was finally found – in the exact location it should have been all along.



Tags: Alan Newton, Evidence Preservation

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Illinois exonerees celebrate four years of freedom on Wednesday

Posted: August 20, 2007 12:01 am

Michael Evans and Paul Terry were both 17 years old when the body of a 9-year-old girl was found in a Chicago alley. Based almost exclusively on the testimony of eyewitnesses, the two men were convicted of killing the girl and sentenced to serve more than 200 years in prison. They were convicted just months before Illinois reinstated the death penalty in 1977. Had the crime occurred later, they may have been executed before DNA testing could prove their innocence.

Instead, the pair served 26 years in prison for a murder they didn’t commit. Finally, in 2002, DNA test results proved their innocence, and they were officially exonerated on August 22, 2003.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Wednesday: Charles Dabbs – 16 Years (Exonerated 8/22/1991)
Saturday: Lonnie Erby – 4 Years (Exonerated 8/25/2003)





Tags: Charles Dabbs, Lonnie Erby, Michael Evans, Paul Terry

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The Norfolk Four: False confessions in Virginia?

Posted: August 20, 2007 1:52 pm

A New York Times Magazine article today investigates the case of four men convicted of a 1997 Virginia murder based almost entirely on their questionable confessions. Read background on the case and find more resources.

Read the New York Times Magazine story.

Learn more about compelling evidence of evidence and watch an online video at Norfolk4.com.



Tags: False Confessions, Norfolk Four

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New books review wrongful convictions in Arizona and Australia

Posted: August 21, 2007 2:44 pm

Ray Krone served 10 years in prison, including four on death row, before he was exonerated by DNA testing. Now, his cousin Jim Rix has published a “startling” book on Krone’s story, titled Jingle Jangle: The Perfect Crime Turned Inside Out. Sisten Helen Prejean, the author of Dead Man Walking and The Death of Innocents, says of the book:

A must for readers of true crime and anyone wondering why so many innocent people are convicted in America. The book satisfies from start to finish, from the opening of Ray Krone’s horror story, through the compelling analysis of what went wrong and on to the startling conclusion...

Read a synopsis and more comments.
Buy the book online.
And in The Conviction of the Innocent, Australian attorney Chester Porter talks about the wrongful convictions he saw during his 52 years of practicing law in Australia, and undue attention often paid to unreliable courtroom experts and to the demeanor of nervous defendants.

Read a review of Porter’s book in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald.



Tags: Ray Krone

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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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Misplaced court file means more waiting for two Maryland men

Posted: August 22, 2007 11:37 am

A Maryland man convicted of murder in 1988 will wait two more weeks for proceedings to begin in his new trial because court officials have misplaced his file, they announced yesterday. James Owens has been granted a new murder trial after DNA testing secured by the Maryland Office of the Public Defender Innocence Project showed that evidence at the crime scene came from a man who was not Owens or his co-defendant. His co-defendant, James Thompson, is still waiting for a court to rule on his appeal for a new trial.

“He’s been frustrated for more than a year,” Owens’ attorney Stephen Mercer said. “He’s been frustrated for 20 years, because he was behind bars when he was innocent. I’m frustrated this matter has defied resolution in the face of the DNA evidence.”

Read the full story here. (Baltimore Examiner, 08/22/07)
The Maryland Office of the Public Defender’s Innocence Project, along with more than 30 other organizations, is a member of the Innocence Network.

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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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Hearing tomorrow in Colorado case; prosecutors may have known alternate suspect

Posted: August 22, 2007 12:54 pm

Two former Colorado prosecutors involved in the conviction of Timothy Masters had ties to the alternate suspect in the case, a defense lawyer said yesterday. The defense will present evidence of the relationship at a hearing on Thursday in the case, in which Masters is seeking to have his conviction overturned due to new analysis of questionable forensic evidence at his original trial.

Masters was convicted in 1999 of a murder 12 years earlier in his hometown. He was 15 at the time and the body of a classmate was found near the home he shared with his family. Masters’s "violent" drawings were a key piece of evidence against him at trial.

"I'm alarmed that there appears to be close relationships between the ex-prosecutors and the best suspect in this case," (Masters’s attorney) said Monday. "There are social, business and religious relationships I'm just now learning about, relationships that were never disclosed.

"If they had this conflict … they should have been disqualified from prosecuting Tim." Read the full story here. (Denver Post, 08/21/2007)




Tags: Timothy Masters

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Georgia exoneree celebrates three years of freedom

Posted: August 27, 2007 12:03 pm

Friday marks the third anniversary of Clarence Harrison’s release from Georgia prison after he served nearly 18 years for a rape he didn’t commit. Like many exonerees, it took many years of appeals for Harrison to finally obtain DNA testing. In his case, he was told for more than a decade that evidence in his case had been destroyed, until lawyers at the Georgia Innocence Project located the evidence and secured testing. The DNA results proved beyond any doubt that Harrison had not committed the 1986 crime for which he was convicted and he was released from prison.

Read more about Harrison’s case and other Georgia exonerations.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Sunday: Barry Laughman, Pennsylvania (3 years, exonerated 8/26/04)

Tuesday: Bruce Nelson, Pennsylvania (16 years, exonerated 8/28/91)



Tags: Clarence Harrison, Barry Laughman, Bruce Nelson

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First day of freedom for Dwayne Dail

Posted: August 30, 2007 11:02 am

In his first full day as a free man, Dwayne Allen Dail spent time with family and talked with reporters about the 18 years he spent behind bars for a 1987 North Carolina rape he didn’t commit. He became the 207th person exonerated by DNA testing on Tuesday after a judge dismissed the charges against him. Evidence from his case believed for years to be destroyed was located recently in a closet at the Goldsboro, N.C. police department. Testing on the evidence proved another man had committed the attack on a 12-year-old girl for which Dail was serving life in prison.

"I never thought I could be convicted, I thought if you didn’t do anything, then you have nothing to worry about," Dail told reporters yesterday.

Watch a video interview with Dail and his son here. (WRAL, 08/30/2007)
And the prosecutor in the case said yesterday "it was every prosecutor's nightmare that you somehow participated in putting an innocent man in jail." Read the full story here. (WRAL, 08/29/07)

More media coverage of the case:

Editorial: The wrong man…
(The News & Observer, 08/30/2007)



Tags: Dwayne Dail

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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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Nebraska Supreme Court to hear DNA testing arguments tomorrow

Posted: September 5, 2007 4:06 pm

Nebraska’s highest court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in the cases of Thomas Winslow and Joseph White, who were convicted of killing a 68-year-old woman in 1985. Winslow pled guilty and was sentenced to 10 to 50 years, while White went to trial and received a life sentence. The men say that DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene can prove their innocence, but the state is opposing their request for testing, partly because Winslow pled guilty.

The state’s highest court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in the case. Lower courts have denied the men access to testing. Innocence Project Staff Attorney Alba Morales said that 25% of the 207 people who have been exonerated through DNA testing admitted to crimes they did not commit (including 10 people who pled guilty to crimes only to later be exonerated by DNA evidence). These exonerations show that innocent people sometimes admit guilt and plead guilty, for a variety of reasons – and that DNA testing should not be denied based on a guilty plea.

Read the full Innocence Project press release here.

Media coverage: High court to decide if conviction means no right to DNA tests (Associated Press, 09/05/07)

Read more about false confessions.

Learn about people who admitted to crimes before DNA proved their innocence.



Tags: Nebraska

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Anthony Capozzi case on DatelineNBC tonight

Posted: September 5, 2007 5:22 pm

Anthony Capozzi spent 21 years in New York prison for two rapes he didn’t commit before DNA testing proved his innocence and pointed to the real perpetrator – a man named Altemio Sanchez who has since pled guilty to committing at least three area murders. Although DNA tests on evidence from several area rapes match Sanchez, including those of which Capozzi was wrongfully convicted, Sanchez could not be charged because the statute of limitations had run out. Sanchez was sentenced this month to 75 years to life for the three murders.

Tonight at 10 p.m. ET on NBC, Dateline profiles the investigation that led Sanchez’s arrest and Capozzi’s exoneration.

Read a preview of the show on Dateline’s website.

Read more about Anthony Capozzi’s case on our website, or in this Washington Post article.



Tags: Anthony Capozzi

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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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Legal help scarce in cases uncovered by Houston lab audit

Posted: September 10, 2007 2:30 pm

Nearly five years after the Houston Police Department suspended DNA testing due to the discovery of lab errors, dozens of defendants who may have been convicted based on faulty forensic evidence have received little legal assistance. An extensive independent audit of the crime lab, conducted from 2005 to 2007, found at least 61 cases in which forensic analysts had made errors in reporting their findings. And a Houston Chronicle investigation released yesterday shows that defendants in two-thirds of these cases have received little to no legal help in determining how their convictions could be affected by the faulty testing.

The Chronicle found 24 cases among the 61 in which attorneys appointed or hired to represent people in the crime lab controversy have taken little meaningful action with new test results. In 15 other cases, defendants received no representation at all.
Robert Hayden, convicted in a 1994 assault, discovered six months ago while searching the Internet that investigators had found major issues with the DNA testing in his case.

"No one contacted me or asked me if I wanted an attorney," said 48-year-old Hayden, who completed his sentence and now lives with family near Atlanta. "All I want is to have an independent attorney look at this on my behalf."

Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 09/10/2007)
 

At least two people – Josiah Sutton and George Rodriguez – were exonerated after DNA testing proved that Houston lab analysts testified incorrectly in their cases. Read more about the Houston crime lab scandal and audit.



Tags: George Rodriguez, Josiah Sutton

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False confessions conference in El Paso, Texas

Posted: September 12, 2007 4:00 pm

The University of Texas at El Paso will host a conference from September 27-29 bringing together experts on interrogations and false confessions. The conference’s keynote speaker will be Innocence Project client Jeff Deskovic, who was exonerated in 2006 after serving more than 15 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. He was convicted as a teenager when he falsely confessed to the crime after several hours of interrogation and three polygraph tests.

Learn more about the conference and register to attend.

Read more about false confessions and proposed reforms to interrogation procedures to prevent wrongful convictions.

Read about other wrongful convictions caused, at least in part, by a false confession.



Tags: Jeff Deskovic

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New North Carolina innocence inquiry panel gets to work

Posted: September 12, 2007 4:09 pm

The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission was created last year to review possible wrongful convictions and refer cases to a three-judge panel for potential appeal. The eight-member commission is the only group of its kind in the U.S., and it has recently begun its substantative work. The group will have three full-time staff members and is currently investigating three cases, two of which may involve post-conviction DNA testing. The commission has received requests from 200 inmates seeking to have their cases reviewed.

And other major reforms aimed at preventing wrongful convictions in North Carolina are also set to take effect. At the end of August, North Carolina Governor Mike Easley signed three significant criminal justice reform bills into law. The new laws will create statewide standards for police lineups, require recording of police interrogations and strengthen the requirement the law enforcement agencies preserve biological evidence from crime scenes.

Recording interrogations has enormous benefits for both defendants and the police, said Chris Mumma, the executive director of the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence, which coordinates efforts by the state’s law schools to help the wrongfully convicted. Defendants get added protection, and police get the ability to review the interrogation tapes to get more information.

Mumma said that over 500 law-enforcement departments across the country are recording interrogations in some or all of their criminal investigations.

"They have reported that they would never go back,” she said.

Read the full story here. (Winston-Salem Journal, 09/10/07)
Last month, Dwayne Allen Dail was released from prison in North Carolina after DNA testing proved that he did not commit the rape for which he was serving life in prison. Dail was represented by Chris Mumma at the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence. Read more about Dail’s case here.

Download the full text of the new criminal justice reform laws in North Carolina:

 
  • HB 1625 (Eyewitness Identification)
  • HB 1626 (Recording of Custodial Interrogation)
  • HB 1500 (Access to DNA Testing)




Tags: Dwayne Dail, Innocence Commissions, False Confessions, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing

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Michigan DA to reopen murder case

Posted: September 13, 2007 10:40 am

The Lansing, Michigan, district attorney said yesterday he would reopen the case of Claude McCollum, a man who says he was wrongfully convicted of killing a 60-year-old woman in 2005. Biological evidence from an unknown male – not McCollum – was collected from under the victim’s fingernails in the case for which McCollum was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. McCollum was convicted, in part, because he told police during an interrogation how he might have committed the crime while sleepwalking. In a number of DNA exoneration cases, defendants were convicted partly based on “dream statements” or hypothetical accounts of how they might have committed the crime.

Now, McCollum’s attorney is requesting that the DNA evidence from his case be compared with the sample of another man, who was arrested in late August and has been charged with committing a separate murder and a rape. Police have said this man is connected to at least six other murders from 2004 to 2007. The Lansing district attorney said investigators would reconsider evidence in McCollum’s case.

"Whether or not I end up believing this information or not, in order for (McCollum) to have a fair hearing, the matter needs to be investigated and brought to the attention of the Court of Appeals," (County Prosecutor Stuart Dunning said) “If somebody got wrongfully convicted, I want to be the first person to correct that."

Read the full story here. (Lansing State Journal, 09/12/07)


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States slow to create compensation programs

Posted: September 13, 2007 3:09 pm

Only 22 states have laws compensating the wrongfully convicted after their release, and many of those laws are inadequate, as they haven’t been updated for years. An Associated Press story yesterday examines the situation nationwide, and reviews the Innocence Project’s ongoing efforts to create programs nationwide that help exonerees get back on their feet after release.

When Antonio Beaver was freed from prison by DNA evidence, he was overwhelmed by supporters eager to help him return to normal life after spending nearly 11 years behind bars.

After his release in March, some promised jobs. Others set up a charitable fund in his name. Relatives offered assistance, too. But six months later, Beaver was quick to list the number of people he could still count on: One.

"You got to fend for yourself," said Beaver, who was wrongly imprisoned in 1997 for a violent carjacking. "Everybody's making promises: 'We're going to do this and do that.' Ain't nobody done nothing yet. I got to deal with it, man. It's just the way our society is."

Read the full article here. (Associated Press, 09/12/2007)
What’s the law in your state? View our map to find out.

Read more about the Innocence Project’s recommended compensation reforms.



Tags: Antonio Beaver, Exoneree Compensation

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DNA proves Dallas man didn’t commit 1982 crime

Posted: September 17, 2007 11:01 am

Innocence Project client Steven Phillips has been in prison for 25 years for a series of sex crimes in Dallas, Texas, that has always maintained he didn’t commit. Now DNA evidence proves he is innocent of the rape for which he was convicted by a jury. The rape case is the only one for which biological evidence exists that can be subjected to DNA testing.  He would later plead guilty to several other crimes believed to have been committed by the same man. The evidence supports this theory, and a judge could clear Phillips of all of the related crimes.

Phillips is the first person to be cleared of wrongdoing by DNA tests ordered by District Attorney Craig Watkins, who took office in January. If exonerated, Phillips would be the 14th person from Dallas County since 2001 to be exonerated based on DNA testing…

Ms. Morrison said although there is no DNA evidence in those other cases, he could be cleared in those, too.
"From the very beginning, the police said all of these crimes were committed by the same man," Ms. Morrison said. "DNA now proves Steven Phillips was not that man."

But Mr. Ware said the district attorney's office is not prepared to agree Mr. Phillips did not commit the other crimes. Prosecutors are still investigating the cases to which he pleaded guilty.

"If the police were correct, that it was one person ... then it could impact those cases," Mr. Ware said.
The issue may ultimately be decided by a judge, he said.

DNA evidence can exonerate someone for related crimes that were committed by the same person even if there is DNA for only one of them, the Innocence Project said.

Read the full story here. (Dallas Morning News, 09/17/07)
Read about the 13 people exonerated by DNA evidence to date in Dallas County.




Tags: Steven Phillips

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Georgia hearings on eyewitness identification start this week

Posted: September 18, 2007 10:09 am

A new committee of the Georgia legislature began hearing testimony yesterday on proposed state laws governing eyewitness identification procedures. Georgia Innocence Project Director Aimee Maxwell testified, as well as Innocence Project client Calvin Johnson, Jr., who was misidentified by an eyewitness and wrongfully convicted of a crime he didn’t commit.

More than 80 percent of Georgia police departments responding to a recent survey said they had no written standards for eyewitness identifications. One of the first steps to statewide identification reform is to adopt written policies following accepted procedures.

Read more: Most Georgia police have no eyewitness guidelines (Associated Press, 09/17/07)

Men freed from jail urge change in eyewitness IDs (Atlanta Journal Constitution, 09/18/07) 

For the hearing schedule and more background on the new committee, visit the Georgia Innocence Project’s website.

In addition to Calvin Johnson, other Georgia exonerees will be present at today’s hearing. Read more about their cases here.

Watch video of a speech by Calvin Johnson, Jr. and an interview with Georgia exoneree Robert Clark.



Tags: Georgia, Robert Clark, Calvin Johnson, Eyewitness Identification

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Exoneree compensation sought in Florida

Posted: September 18, 2007 1:55 pm

Alan Crotzer was freed from prison nearly two years ago after DNA testing proved he didn’t commit a 1981 rape for which he had served half his life in prison. As he continues to adjust to life outside of prison, he is seeking compensation from the state for the loss of more than two decades. Florida is one of 28 states in the U.S. that do not have laws providing compensation for the wrongfully convicted. That could change in 2008.

While a “private” bill has been proposed that would pay Crotzer $1.25 million (or about $50,000 for each year he served), this bill doesn’t create a state policy to handle the reentry of those exonerated in the future. A similar bill to compensate Crotzer failed in the legislature last year. A “global” compensation bill has also been submitted for the state’s 2008 legislative session. This bill would provide $50,000 in compensation for each year an inmate serves for a crime he or she didn’t commit. The Innocence Project recommends that states pass laws (or amend existing laws) to provide $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration. Read more about the Innocence Project’s proposed reforms here.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, says she will reintroduce what is being referred to as a "global" bill providing automatic compensation of $50,000 per lost year to anyone wrongly incarcerated. Should such legislation pass, victims would not have to go through the individual claims bill process.

"This is an egregious act," Joyner says. "Somebody took that much time of your life? My God, no amount of compensation could give me back the years I wasn't able to enjoy life. Just having the ability to make a phone call, or catch a bus somewhere."

Read the full story here. (Tampa Tribune, 09/18/07)
What is your state’s compensation law? View our map to find out.

Learn more about exoneration cases and ongoing reform efforts from the Innocence Project of Florida.



Tags: Alan Crotzer, Exoneree Compensation

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Alabama governor refuses to hear evidence in case scheduled for execution next week

Posted: September 19, 2007 6:12 pm

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley today refused to discuss DNA testing in the case of Thomas Arthur with Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld and Staff Attorney Olga Akselrod. Arthur is scheduled to be executed next week for a murder he has always said he didn't commit. The Innocence Project doesn't take a position on Mr. Arthur's guilt or innocence, but says the state should test key DNA evidence in the case before executing a man who says he is innocent.

Less than two months ago, Riley allowed Darrell Grayson to be executed over the calls of several groups, including the Innocence Project, to first test DNA evidence in his case that could prove innocence or guilt.

"Our concern is that biological evidence may exist that could be subjected to DNA testing and prove whether or not (Arthur) is guilty," Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld said today. "Governor Riley this afternoon refused to even meet with us to get a clearer understanding of what DNA testing could show in this case and why testing should be conducted.  Rather than looking at the science, he is burying his head in the sand."

Read the full Innocence Project press release here.
And a column in Sunday's Birmingham News calls for Riley to "do the right thing."
Defense lawyers are pleading with Gov. Bob Riley to do the right thing, to order tests using the DNA technology not available when Arthur was convicted of killing Troy Wicker in Muscle Shoals.

Riley should do it. Even the victim's sister, Peggy Wicker Jones, is supporting the effort. "I would like to have as much information as possible about what happened on the day my brother Troy was murdered," she said in a statement provided to the governor.
Read the full column here. (Birmingham Daily News, 09/16/07)




Tags: Tommy Arthur

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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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George Rodriguez celebrates two years of freedom

Posted: September 27, 2007 7:00 am

Saturday marks the second anniversary of George Rodriguez’s exoneration. Rodriguez, who was wrongfully convicted of rape and kidnapping, served 17 years of his 60-year sentence before DNA testing proved his innocence. His wrongful conviction was based largely on faulty analysis of hair and other biological evidence by the Houston Police Department crime lab.

The faulty forensic testing involved in Rodriguez’s case helped bring to light the unsound practices of the Houston crime lab. In 2002, all DNA testing at the lab was stopped after an audit raised questions about the integrity of the lab’s work. Following Rodriguez’s exoneration, a more thorough probe into the lab’s practices began. This examination revealed over 400 cases in which lab work was flawed.

Read more about the recent audit of the Houston crime lab.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Today: Frederick Daye, California (Served 10 years, Exonerated 9/27/1994)



Tags: Frederick Daye, George Rodriguez

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False confessions are more common than public thinks

Posted: October 2, 2007 3:01 pm

An article in yesterday’s Washington Post considers the public perception of confessions in the wake of the recent sex solicitation case involving Sen. Larry Craig. While the media and public often take Craig’s guilty pleas as a sure sign of guilt, dozens of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA prove that false confessions aren’t rare. A growing body of social science research has shown that interrogation methods often lead to a false confession.

"Innocence is a state of mind that puts innocent people at risk," said psychologist Saul Kassin at Williams College, who has studied the phenomenon. Innocent people, Kassin found, are more likely to waive their constitutional rights to remain silent and to have a lawyer present. Innocent people also assume that innocent people do not get convicted, or that objective evidence will exonerate them. Nearly a quarter of all convictions overturned in recent years based on DNA and other evidence have involved false confessions.

Find the full article and reader comments here. (Washington Post, 10/01/07)
Learn about the cases of innocent people wrongfully convicted after confessing to crimes they didn’t commit, and the Innocence Project’s proposals to record all interrogations – a reform shown to prevent false confessions.

Watch a video of exoneree Chris Ochoa explaining the pressure on him to plead guilty to an Austin, Texas, murder and rape he didn’t commit.




Tags: False Confessions, False Confessions

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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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Editorial: Public deserves to know if innocent man was executed

Posted: October 3, 2007 4:55 pm

An upcoming hearing in San Jacinto County, Texas, will determine whether DNA testing can proceed in the case of Claude Jones, who was executed in 2000 for allegedly killing a liquor store clerk during a robbery. Jones was convicted based on the similarity of a hair from the crime scene to his hair and the testimony of another man who admitted a role in the crime in exchange for a lighter sentence (that man has since signed a sworn affidavit saying his testimony against Jones was not true).  Jones always claimed he was innocent.

Last month, the Innocence Project joined with the Texas Observer and other innocence organizations in Texas in filing motions asking the state to preserve the hair evidence and to allow DNA testing to proceed in the case. Oral arguments will be heard on the motions at an upcoming hearing.

And an editorial in today’s Dallas Morning News calls on a state judge and prosecutors to allow testing that could determine whether a miscarriage of justice has occurred. The public has a right to know if a person was wrongfully executed in Texas, the paper says.

The case in San Jacinto County, north of Houston, would be the first time hair analysis had been exposed as faulty after a defendant's death. County officials must be prepared for the fallout if the initial test proves wrong. After all, we need to know everything we can about cases prosecutors depicted as airtight.
Prosecutors argue that they brought evidence against the accused in addition to the hair analysis, including crucial testimony from an accomplice who was out to cut a deal. The DNA tests could lead to a rough debate over whether such self-serving testimony should have been enough to send a man to his death. (The accomplice got 10 years.)
Read the full editorial here. (Dallas Morning News, 10/03/2007)
Read a recent Houston Chronicle article on the case.

Read the Innocence Project press release.




Tags: Death Penalty, Claude Jones

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Hearing today in Long Island case

Posted: October 4, 2007 12:55 pm

An appellate court is hearing arguments today in the case of Marty Tankleff, who has maintained his innocence since he was arrested in 1988 for allegedly killing his parents. He was convicted in 1990 based partly on an admission of guilt that he says was coerced.

The Innocence Project has consulted with Tankleff’s attorneys and filed a brief in the case asserting that it has some of the hallmarks of a false confession and a wrongful conviction.

Read more about the case on Tankleff’s website.

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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Media coverage: Houston man proven innocent 12 years later

Posted: October 4, 2007 1:05 pm

DNA testing has proven that Ronnie Taylor did not commit the Houston rape of which he was convicted in 1995. His Innocence Project attorneys are now working with prosecutors to secure his release from prison as soon as possible. Read the press release here.

Read and watch media coverage of the DNA results clearing Taylor.

Houston Chronicle: Mix-up on DNA deals HPD lab another blow

Associated Press: DA's office says DNA testing shows man innocent of rape

VIDEO: KHCW  — DNA evidence clears prisoner of sexual assault

VIDEO: ABC13 — DNA testing proves inmate innocent

VIDEO: KHOU — Innocent man serves 12 years for rape

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Kevin Byrd celebrates the tenth anniversary of his exoneration

Posted: October 8, 2007 7:00 am

Wednesday marks the tenth anniversary of Kevin Byrd’s exoneration. After serving 12 years for a Texas rape he did not commit, DNA testing proved his innocence.

Byrd’s wrongful conviction was based on eyewitness misidentification. Nearly four months after the crime, the victim was grocery shopping when she spotted Byrd and told her husband that he was the man who raped her. Based on her identification, Byrd was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing. Read more about how Byrd’s case and others are helping to spark reforms in eyewitness identification procedures.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:


Wednesday: William O' Dell Harris, West Virginia (Served 7 years, Exonerated 10/10/1995)
Calvin Washington, Texas (Served 13 years, Exonerated 10/10/2001)

Friday: Allen Coco, Louisiana (Served 9 years, Exonerated 10/12/2006)



Tags: Kevin Byrd, Allen Coco, William O’Dell Harris

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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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Media coverage: Ronnie Taylor released

Posted: October 10, 2007 12:48 pm

Innocence Project client Ronnie Taylor walked out of a Houston courtroom yesterday a free man for the first time in 14 years, after DNA tests proved that he did not commit the 1993 rape for which he was imprisoned. He was released on $10 bond and the conviction will not be fully cleared until he receives a pardon or the state’s highest criminal court grants him a writ of habeas corpus.

Taylor’s case has continued to raise questions about the Houston Police Department Crime Lab, where a recent audit pointed to several hundred cases in need of immediate retesting. Taylor left the courthouse and spoke yesterday before the Houston City Council, where emotional council members called for the Houston community to work together on retesting evidence in cases highlighted by the recent audit.

Read more about Taylor’s case and the Houston lab issues here.

Media coverage from yesterday and today on Taylor’s release:

VIDEO: ABC 13: Man wrongfully convicted of rape now a free man

VIDEO: KHOU – Now a free man, Taylor takes cause to City Council

Houston Chronicle:  Man cleared for rape granted $10 bond 

Associated Press: Wrongly Imprisoned Man Freed in Texas

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Lecture on wrongful convictions tonight in Westchester County, NY

Posted: October 11, 2007 10:11 am

Purchase College in New York is holding a lecture tonight entitled “Innocence: The Wrongfully Convicted in America.” Among the event’s featured speakers will be Jeff Deskovic, who was wrongfully incarcerated for 15 years before DNA analysis proved his innocence.
 
The lecture will take place at 6:30pm. For more information, visit Purchase College’s website.

Read more about Deskovic’s case here and visit his website to see his upcoming speaking events.



Tags: Jeff Deskovic

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Denver police destroyed biological evidence in hundreds of cases

Posted: October 12, 2007 2:34 pm

The Denver Police Department disclosed in a recent grant application that it disposed of 90 percent of evidence in sexual assault cases before 1995, according to a Denver Post report today. Department officials said they were running out of storage options in the 1990s and began to routinely destroy evidence.

Scientists who specialize in genetics have called the purging of evidence after the DNA revolution disturbing.
"By 1990 to 1993, at that point, DNA is well-known," said Alec Jeffries, the British geneticist who discovered the DNA "fingerprint" in 1984. "They would have known the real utility (of DNA)," he said, referring to most law-enforcement officials nationwide.

Even if statutes of limitations have expired on cases, the samples can still be used to aid criminal investigations into serial offenders. They also can help defense attorneys prove the innocence of their convicted clients when DNA analysis wasn't previously available.

Read the full story here. (Denver Post, 10/11/07)
After a major series in the Denver Post this summer uncovered problems with evidence preservation in Colorado and nationwide, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter created a task force to review state law enforcement practices. The commission first met in September and the next meeting is set for Oct. 17.

Read more about the new DNA task force
.

Read more about reforms to ensure evidence preservation.



Tags: Evidence Preservation

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The Ronnie Taylor case: A chain of errors and a path to reform

Posted: October 15, 2007 3:51 pm

In 1994, when Ronnie Taylor had been in a Houston jail for a year awaiting a rape trial, he wrote a note to the judge: "I've set here for over one year without bond on charges I didn't commit. As each day passes it gets harder and harder.”

He was wrongfully convicted in 1995 and it was over 5,000 difficult days later – last Tuesday – that he finally walked free after DNA testing proved his innocence. An article in the Houston Chronicle this weekend uncovers the errors that led to Taylor’s wrongful conviction, and an editorial calls for immediate reform in Taylor’s name.

Taylor was convicted based on shoddy police work, a questionable eyewitness identification and a major error by the scandal-plagued Houston crime lab. Hours after the crime, the police had the street name of the man who is now implicated in the crime by a DNA match. Instead, they pursued Taylor and charged him after the questionable identification.

As the case against Taylor unraveled, leading to his release from prison last week, weaknesses throughout the investigation have become clear, according to a review of police and court documents.

Read the investigative report here. (Houston Chronicle, 10/14/07)
After Taylor’s release last Tuesday, he went straight to a Houston City Council meeting to ask officials to take action to ensure that no more innocent victims of crime lab error remain behind bars in Texas. The Chronicle pointed out this weekend that it has been five years since errors were first uncovered at the Houston Police Department Crime Lab, and yet hundreds of cases have never received a second look. The editorial praised a group of Houston judges for taking action last week by forming a panel to study 180 convictions for possible lab error. But private groups in Houston must work together to ensure that this effort is well staffed and moves quickly.
Among these inmates might be more Houstonians like Ronald Taylor: innocent men and women for whom each day behind bars is another robbed from their lives.

This is why it's so urgent to re-examine these documented miscarriages of justice. It's also why the job requires expert, disinterested professionals. Some judges presiding over the case reviews were prosecutors on some of the very cases in question.

The new panel must be able to publicly account for its progress by January. Ronald Gene Taylor should not have to wait one day longer to see Houston pursuing justice

Read the full editorial here. (Houston Chronicle, 10/14/07)


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California governor vetoes justice reforms

Posted: October 16, 2007 3:15 pm

For the second year in a row, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday vetoed three bills passed by the state legislature to reduce the number of wrongful convictions in the state. The bills would have required law enforcement agencies to record interrogations in certain crimes, required jailhouse informant testimony to be corroborated and created a task force to develop guidelines on increasing the accuracy of eyewitness identifications.

The chairman of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice said in a statement yesterday that “Schwarzenegger has taken California out of the front lines of criminal justice reform.”

The vacuum of leadership in the Governor’s mansion will not make the causes of wrongful convictions disappear. We cannot insert our heads in the sand as the parade of innocents who have been wrongfully convicted continues to grow.

Read the full statement here. (PDF)
Schwarzenegger, in his veto messages, said new state policies would “would place unnecessary restrictions on police.”

Read the governor’s veto statements here
.

More coverage: Gov. vetoes bills on criminal procedures (Los Angeles Times, 10/16/07)

The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, one of six innocence commissions nationwide, will hold its next public meeting tomorrow, October 17, at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California. Click here for the meeting’s agenda.





Tags: California, Innocence Commissions, False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification, Informants/Snitches

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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 lawmakers to fix New York State's justice system

Posted: October 18, 2007 2:22 pm

At a press conference this morning, Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld and two New York exonerees announced the release of a major new Innocence Project report: “Lessons Not Learned.” The report details the 23 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing in New York State and lays out a clear path to reform.

Only two states – Texas and Illinois – have had more wrongful convictions overturned with DNA testing than New York. Some more facts from the report:

• In 10 of New York’s 23 DNA exonerations, the actual perpetrator was later identified.

• In nine of those 10 cases, the actual perpetrators of crimes for which innocent people were wrongfully convicted went on to commit additional crimes while an innocent person was in prison.

• In 10 of the 23 cases in New York, innocent people falsely confessed or admitted to crimes that DNA later proved they did not commit.
But while other states have passed reforms proven to address these issues and prevent future injustice, New York lawmakers have failed to act.
• Six states – but not New York – have formed Innocence Commissions to identify the causes of wrongful convictions and develop remedies to prevent them. All but one of those states (Illinois) have far fewer wrongful convictions overturned through DNA than New York does.

• 22 states – but not New York – have statutes mandating the preservation of crime scene evidence. The 22 states with such laws include California, Florida, Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma, Montana and Kentucky.

• Nine states – but not New York – require at least some interrogations to be recorded (either through state statute or ruling of the state high court). In addition, more than 500 local jurisdictions record at least some interrogations. Even though more people have been exonerated by DNA after falsely confessing to crimes in New York than in any other state, only two of these 500 local jurisdictions are in New York State.
Download the full report here.

Read the Innocence Project press release.

New York Times: New York State Not Doing Enough to Prevent Wrongful Convictions, Report Says 

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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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Wisconsin man celebrates the 11th anniversary of his exoneration

Posted: October 22, 2007 3:10 pm

Fredric Saecker spent six years behind bars in Wisconsin for a crime he did not commit before DNA testing proved his innocence. Saecker was wrongly convicted of rape in 1990 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Wednesday marks the 11th anniversary of his exoneration.

Saecker’s wrongful conviction centered on several incriminating statements he made while being questioned by police. False confessions have played a role in more than 25% of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing.

Read more about Saecker’s case.

Read about other false confessions cases.

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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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Crime victim calls for better identification practices in Georgia

Posted: October 23, 2007 4:45 pm

After Jennifer Thompson-Cannino was raped in 1984, she identified a man in a police lineup as her attacker. The officer conducting the lineup told her she had done a “good job,” confirming that she’d picked the suspect. Eleven years later, DNA evidence proved that suspect, Ronald Cotton, had been wrongfully convicted of the rape.

Before a rapt audience Monday at a legislative study committee hearing, Cannino recounted the horror of her sexual assault on June 29, 1984, and her horror when learning 11 years later she had misidentified her attacker and helped send the wrong man to prison. The real attacker, later identified by DNA evidence, had gone on to rape six more women after he attacked Cannino.

"It's a human system," Cannino said. "We are fallible. We make mistakes. There are practices that can be put into place."

Read the full story here. (Atlanta Journal Constitution, 10/23/07)
Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and Iowa State Psychology Professor Gary Wells also testified before the group Monday, describing lineup procedures proven to increase the accuracy of eyewitness identifications. Download the study committee’s full schedule here.

Read more about Ronald Cotton’s wrongful conviction and exoneration here.



Tags: Georgia, Ronald Cotton, Eyewitness Identification

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Michigan lawmakers consider compensation law

Posted: October 24, 2007 1:10 pm

Nationwide, 22 states have laws providing some form of compensation for wrongfully convicted people after their release. In considering a bill that would make Michigan the 23rd state with a compensation statute, lawmakers in Lansing heard testimony yesterday from representatives of the Innocence Project at Cooley Law School and two people who served time in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. The proposed bill would provide exonerees with $50,000 for each year they spent behind bars, plus lost wages, legal fees and medical care.

Although 22 states have laws, they vary greatly in the level of compensation. With this law, Michigan would join just three other states – Texas, Vermont and Alabama – in meeting or exceeding the federal standard of up to $50,000 per year of incarceration.

Rep. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, sponsor of the proposed compensation law, said the cost to taxpayers would be relatively small because there would be very few ex-inmates eligible. But the small cost needs to be balanced against the “immeasurably huge injustice” a wrongly convicted inmate has suffered, Bieda said.

Read the full story here. (Detroit Free Press, 10/23/07)
Does your state have a compensation law? View our interactive map to find out.

The Innocence Project at Cooley Law School is a member of the Innocence Network.

 



Tags: Michigan, Exoneree Compensation

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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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Virginia editorial: Crime lab review should be transparent

Posted: October 25, 2007 4:35 pm

After DNA testing on biological evidence discovered in the files of a long-retired Virginia forensic analyst led to the exoneration of five innocent people between 2002 and 2005, former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner ordered a systematic review of possible DNA cases in the state lab. Officials say that review is moving forward, but the procedures have not been made public.

An editorial in today’s Virginian-Pilot calls for more transparency from the lab and prosecutors regarding their methods of reviewing cases for possible exculpatory evidence.

Lab leaders have sought assistance from local prosecutors in gathering information about the original crimes in each case. But an obvious bias exists if prosecutors are helping to decide whether a criminal case should be re-opened….Those convicted of the crimes have a right to know if new questions are being raised about their guilt, or alternatively if their guilt has been confirmed by new evidence.

 Read the full editorial here. (Virginian-Pilot, 10/25/07)
Lab officials announced last week that the first batch of 66 cases had been analyzed, and that two convicted defendants would be notified that their DNA was not found in the evidence from their case.

Read the full story here
. (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 10/22/07)

While searching for evidence in the case of Marvin Anderson, Virginia lab officials discovered that retired analyst Mary Jane Burton had been saving samples of biological evidence in her files. Anderson was exonerated by tests on the evidence in 2002, and the other four men exonerated by these samples were Julius Earl Ruffin, Arthur Lee Whitfield, Phillip Leon Thurman and Willie Davidson.

 



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

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Exoneree Stephan Cowans found dead in his home

Posted: October 26, 2007 3:20 pm

Stephan Cowans, who served more than five years in prison for an armed assault he didn’t commit, was found dead this morning in his Randolph, Massachusetts, home. He was apparently shot by someone he let into his house, according to a media report.

The New England Innocence Project represented Cowans during the appeals that led to his exoneration, with the assistance of the Innocence Project. Cowans had been convicted in 1998 of the May 1997 shooting of a Boston police officer.  A Boston Police Department crime lab fingerprint analyst testified that Cowans’ fingerprint was found at the crime scene.  Once DNA testing proved Cowans did not commit the crime, the fingerprint was re-analyzed – and it was not Cowans’.  As a result of Cowans’ exoneration, the fingerprint unit of the crime lab was closed and analysts were investigated. Read more about his case here.

We are deeply saddened by the loss of Stephan Cowans, who had been free just three years and was rebuilding his life after clearing his name.  Our thoughts are with his friends and family. We will post information about memorial arrangements here when they are available.

News coverage:

Boston Globe: Man wrongly convicted in Boston police shooting found dead



Tags: Stephan Cowans

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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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Florida public defender proposes identification reform

Posted: October 29, 2007 12:15 pm

Almost 20 years ago, Larry Bostic was convicted in Florida of a rape he didn’t commit after the victim identified him in a photo lineup.  He was exonerated this year when DNA evidence proved his innocence, and a new investigation of the crime uncovered shocking news about the misidentification – the victim never saw the perpetrator. She told investigators this year that she had identified Bostic because she knew she had seen him around the neighborhood days before the attack.

In the wake of Bostic’s exoneration, Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein sent a letter last week to area law enforcement urging them to consider reforming their eyewitness identification policies. Eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing.

"These procedures will impact the human cost of misidentification," (Finkelstein) said. "This isn't about pointing the finger at law enforcement. This is about making sure the methodology and the systems we employ are designed so innocent people don't get ensnared in our system."

Read the full story here. (Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 10/29/2007)
Read more about proposed eyewitness identification reforms.

Read about Larry Bostic’s case.




Tags: Larry Bostic

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Jeffrey Deskovic celebrates his first year of freedom on Friday

Posted: October 30, 2007 11:55 am

On November 2, 2006, Jeffrey Deskovic was officially exonerated of an upstate New York rape and murder for which he had spent nearly half his life behind bars.

Deskovic’s injustice began in 1989, when police focused on him as a suspect after his high school classmate was raped and killed in Westchester County, New York. Despite being cleared as a suspect by DNA testing before the trial began, the prosecution continued with their case against Deskovic on the basis of an alleged confession he gave after three polygraph sessions and six hours of extensive questioning by detectives. He was convicted of murder based on this confession and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

In January 2006 the Innocence Project took Deskovic’s case, asking state officials to check the foreign DNA profile from the crime scene against the state database. In September 2006, the semen was matched to a convicted murderer and Deskovic was subsequently released from prison, his conviction overturned. Deskovic was released later that same month, and officially cleared on November 2.

In July 2007, the Westchester County District Attorney released a report on Deskovic’s wrongful conviction, “showing the urgent need for reform – and what’s at stake.” Read the full report here.

Today Deskovic is working toward his bachelor’s degree at Mercy College in New York and speaks frequently on the issues of wrongful convictions and false confessions. Visit his website for more information on his upcoming appearances.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Saturday: Rolando Cruz, Illinois (Served 10.5 years, Exonerated 11/3/1995)





Tags: Rolando Cruz, Jeff Deskovic

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Two years later, Louisiana exoneree searches for home

Posted: October 30, 2007 1:15 pm

An article on the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal profiles Michael Anthony Williams, who was exonerated in 2005 after serving 24 years in Louisiana prison for a rape he didn’t commit. Williams was convicted at age 17 and has had a difficult time adjusting to life outside of prison.

“When you are in prison for as long as I was, people either think you must be guilty or at least damaged,” says Mr. Williams.

Read a story preview here. (Wall Street Journal, 10/30/07. Full article only available to subscribers)
Read more about Michael Williams’ case.

Make a donation to the Innocence Project Exoneree Fund
, which helps the recently exonerated with vital necessities like food, housing and clothing immediately upon release.





Tags: Michael Anthony Williams

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Exoneration becomes campaign issue for prosecutors

Posted: November 1, 2007 12:45 pm

When the Innocence Project appealed Douglas Warney’s Rochester, New York, murder conviction in 2004, prosecutors opposed his right to DNA testing and a judge ruled against Warney. Meanwhile, the prosecution proceeded to conduct the testing in secret. DNA tests proved Warney’s innocence and matched the profile of a man in prison for other crimes. This man admitted that he had committed the murder for which Warney was wrongfully convicted, and Warney was freed in 2006.

Rochester District Attorney Michael Green told reporters recently that he is “extremely proud of the way that we handled that case.” But Carla Biggs, who is challenging Green in the county’s election for district attorney on Nov. 6, said she believed Green’s office had botched the case by opposing testing and then conducting the tests anyway.

"There's never a reason to hide from the truth," Briggs said.

Read the full story here. (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 11/01/07)
Read more about Warney’s case here.





Tags: Douglas Warney

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Another execution date in Alabama, still no DNA test

Posted: November 1, 2007 2:14 pm

Despite a halt in capital punishment in many states due to a Supreme Court challenge to lethal injection, Alabama officials announced yesterday they had scheduled two executions for December and January. Set for Dec. 6 is the execution of Thomas Arthur, who has always said he was wrongfully convicted and is still seeking DNA testing in his case. The Innocence Project has asked Alabama Gov. Bob Riley to delay Arthur’s execution until DNA testing can be performed. Riley has refused these repeated requests.

“As we have said before, we do not have a position on whether Thomas Arthur is guilty or innocent. Our concern is that biological evidence may exist that could be subjected to DNA testing and prove whether or not he is guilty. The victim’s wife in this case was convicted of murdering her husband and then changed her story; DNA testing could show that she changed her story only to get out of prison sooner, and that in fact someone other than Thomas Arthur committed this crime,” Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld said in September, after Riley granted a 45-day stay for Alabama to review lethal injection procedures.

Read the Innocence Project press release on this case.

Read the Birmingham News story on the scheduled executions of Arthur and James Harvey Callahan.

Read news coverage of the nationwide halt to executions.



Tags: Death Penalty

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Houston inmates ask to reopen their cases

Posted: November 2, 2007 3:20 pm

During the last two weeks, groups of inmates convicted of crimes in Harris County, Texas, gathered at various state prisons for a conference call with officials in Houston. The court representatives were asking the inmates if they would like to have their cases reexamined due to possible forensic errors at the troubled Houston Police Department crime lab. Most inmates said “yes.”

In July, an independent auditor completed a review of hundreds of cases handled by the crime lab. The audit’s report identified 180 cases with “major issues” in forensic analysis. Of that group, 160 inmates have been offered legal representation and a case review thus far. Ten additional inmates are out of prison and will be contacted. The remaining 10 were executed. This review stems from the problems first identified in Houston’s crime lab in 2002. The Innocence Project has recently called for community support to review hundreds of additional Houston cases (beyond the initial 180) where serology in the crime lab was incomplete. Last month, Innocence Project client Ronnie Taylor was released from prison after DNA testing showed that he did not a commit for which he was convicted. Taylor’s conviction was caused, in part, by incomplete serology work at the crime lab. Two people – George Rodriguez and Josiah Sutton – have been exonerated by DNA testing after they were wrongfully convicted based partly on faulty testing in the Houston lab.

The cases being reviewed, some which date back to the 1980s, include several death row inmates and others convicted of violent crimes such as robbery and rape.

While some of the inmates simply said "yes" before shuffling back to their cells, for others it was more emotional.

"Some of them wanted to start talking about their case right away," said Bob Wicoff, a Houston defense lawyer assigned to lead the review. "One of them told me, 'I've been waiting for this day. I love you.'

Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 11/02/07)
More news:

VIDEO: A Houston news report today raises questions about current, ongoing problems at the Houston Police Department crime lab, based on allegations by a former lab analyst that officials at the crime lab ignored proficiency standards. Watch now. (KHOU, 11/02/07)

Read more about Ronnie Taylor’s release last month and the ongoing review of Houston lab cases.



Tags: George Rodriguez, Josiah Sutton

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David Gray celebrates nine years of freedom

Posted: November 5, 2007 2:35 pm

Nine years ago tomorrow, on Nov. 6, 1998, David Gray walked out of an Illinois prison after serving 20 years for a crime he did not commit. He was wrongfully convicted of rape and sentenced to 60 years behind bars. He fought to clear his name for 20 years before he attained the testing to prove his innocence. In 1998, DNA testing on a quilt from the scene of the rape proved that Gray could not have committed the crime. His conviction was overturned one year later, making his exoneration official.

The first trial against Gray, which centered on the victim’s misidentification of him as her attacker, ended in a hung jury. At a second trial, however, the prosecution’s case was supplemented with testimony from a jailhouse snitch who claimed that Gray had confessed to him. Snitch testimony and eyewitness misidentification are two of the major causes of wrongful conviction. Learn more about these and other causes of wrongful conviction here.


Read more about David Gray's case here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Wednesday: Bernard Webster, Maryland (Served 20 years, Exonerated 11/7/2002)



Tags: David A. Gray, Bernard Webster

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Oklahoma District Attorney Bill Peterson to retire

Posted: November 6, 2007 10:41 am

Bill Peterson, the lead prosecutor in the trials that sent two innocent Oklahoma men to prison – one to death row – in 1988, announced yesterday that he plans to retire after January 1, 2008.

Peterson, who has been the district attorney for Pontotoc, Seminole and Hughes Counties in Oklahoma since 1980, will not finish his term, which had three years remaining. He was the lead prosecutor in the convictions of Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson, who were wrongfully convicted in 1988 of the 1982 murder of Debra Sue Carter in Ada, Oklahoma. Two other men convicted by Peterson’s office, Thomas Ward and Karl Fontenot, are serving life in prison for a murder they say they didn’t commit.

Read the news coverage of Peterson’s announcement. (Ada Evening News, 11/05/07)

The cases of Fritz and Williamson are the subject of John Grisham’s recent book, “The Innocent Man,” and Fritz’s own book, “Journey Toward Justice.”

Read more about the cases of Thomas Ward and Karl Fontenot.




Tags: Dennis Fritz, Ron Williamson

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Nebraska Supreme Court approves DNA testing for two inmates

Posted: November 6, 2007 2:00 pm

In an important case for the right of defendants in Nebraska to seek DNA testing when it has the potential to prove their innocence, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday that two men convicted of murder – Thomas Winslow and Joseph Edgar White – had the right to DNA testing in their case.

In a unanimous opinion written by Judge Lindsey Miller-Lerman in the Winslow case, the Supreme Court said for the first time that convicted criminals who pleaded guilty or no contest have not given up their right to seek DNA testing.

In the White opinion, also unanimous and written by Miller-Lerman, the high court noted that the credibility of the witnesses testifying against White would be called into question if DNA tests showed the semen belonged neither to White nor to Winslow, but to someone else.

Read the full story here. (Omaha World-Herald, 11/06/07)
The Innocence Project is not involved in the cases of Winslow and White, but has said for months that the men deserve DNA testing. Read a September press release on the case.




Tags: Nebraska

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Events tonight in Boston, Fort Worth and New York

Posted: November 7, 2007 1:52 pm

When Innocence Project client Calvin Johnson, Jr. was convicted of a rape and burglary in 1983 in Georgia, he stood in the courtroom and said, “With God as my witness, I have been falsely accused. I’m an innocent man.”

At a lecture tonight at the Boston Museum of Science, Johnson will describe the 16 years he spent in prison before DNA testing proved his innocence, and his readjustment to life after exoneration. The lecture, which is free and open to the public, begins at 7 p.m. For more information, click here. The lecture is part of the museum's "CSI: The Experience" exhibition, which introduces visitors to forensic science used by law enforcement officials. 


And a free production of the the hit play “The Exonerated” is scheduled for tonight in Fort Worth, Texas, at the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts. Read a column about the play in today’s Forth Worth Star-Telegram.

Another production of the play is continuing through this weekend in New York. Innocence Project Staff Attorney Alba Morales will speak on a panel following the Nov. 10 performance. Read more here.





Tags: Calvin Johnson

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Column: Exonerations reveal flaws in the system

Posted: November 7, 2007 5:11 pm

In a column on BlackAmericaWeb, Tonyaa Weathersbee writes that the case of Innocence Project client Michael Anthony Williams highlights the racial injustices of our criminal justice system. Williams was wrongfully convicted of a Louisiana rape when he was just 16 years old and served 24 years in prison before DNA testing freed him.

Black Entertainment Television recently featured two defendants from the “Jena Six” case on a televised awards show. Weathersbee writes that the Jena case (which involved disproportionate prosecution and sentencing) certainly reveals racism in the criminal justice system. Weathersbee urges the community not to forget the cases of innocent people who were wrongfully convicted – such as Williams, who is trying to rebuild his life after serving 24 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

To ease his readjustment Williams said he hopes to join a community of exonerees who, like him, were freed through the efforts of the Innocence Project – an organization whose efforts have led to the release of more than 200 prisoners who have been proven innocent by DNA testing. But the project needs more money to help the former inmates – many of whom are black – who are struggling with depression and other psychological trauma after years of being locked up and then spat out into a world that, to them, might as well be Mars.

BET should champion that cause – and highlight someone like Williams on one of its award shows. Sure exonerees like him may not be young anymore. They may not project the hip-hop generation aura that I’m sure (Jena defendants) Jones and Purvis projected – and that BET audiences eat up with a spoon.

But when it comes to the criminal injustice system, people like Williams illustrate something that transcends hairsplitting about whether black miscreants will receive equal justice compared to white miscreants. People like him illustrate the fact that in many cases, innocent black people don’t get any justice at all.

Read the full column here. (BlackAmericaWeb, 11/06/07)
Read more about Michael Williams' case here.




Tags: Michael Anthony Williams

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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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Dallas man's release expected next week

Posted: November 9, 2007 12:35 pm

At a hearing this morning in Dallas, a judge set bail for Clay Chabot, who was convicted of murder in 1986 based on the testimony of a man who is now implicated in the crime based on new DNA test results. The Innocence Project and the Dallas County District Attorney’s office agree that Chabot’s conviction should be thrown out, and the District Attorney’s office said today that it will not appeal the bail decision. The Innocence Project, which represents Chabot, said the $500,000 bail is being posted today and Chabot will be released from prison next week (once electronic monitoring, a condition of bail, is in place).

Last month, Judge Lana Myers agreed with the Innocence Project and the Dallas County District Attorney’s office that Chabot’s conviction should be vacated. The judge’s recommendation now goes to the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals, which has the ultimate authority to vacate convictions in such cases. In court papers, the District Attorney’s office has said that it is investigating whether to retry Chabot. Meanwhile, Jerry Pabst, who testified against Chabot at his trial more than 20 years ago, is now being held in custody in Dallas County after being indicted on capital murder charges based on DNA results showing that he lied in his testimony in order to hide his own guilt in the rape and murder. Without Pabst’s testimony (which is now proven to be false) there is no evidence that Chabot was involved in the crime in any way, the Innocence Project said.

Following is a statement from Innocence Project Staff Attorney Vanessa Potkin after this morning’s hearing:

“This is an important step forward in Clay Chabot’s two-decade-long fight to clear his name. We know that the District Attorney’s office is still investigating this case, and we believe that Clay Chabot will ultimately be vindicated and the true perpetrator will finally be brought to justice.”

Read more background on Chabot’s case.




Tags: Clay Chabot

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Texas exoneree reunites with fiance in Atlanta

Posted: November 13, 2007 1:37 pm

When Ronnie Taylor was released last month after DNA tests proved he didn’t commit the rape for which he served 12 years in prison, he had devoted parents and a fiancé waiting for him. This month, he moved from Texas to Atlanta, Georgia, to reunite with his fiancé Jeanette Brown, who stood by him for more than a decade while he was wrongfully incarcerated.

“When you’re in a place like that, it’s important that somebody’s in your corner, keep in touch with you, and keep you optimistic,” Brown said of her relationship with Taylor.

Taylor was convicted based on eyewitness misidentification and faulty testing by the troubled Houston Police Department Crime Lab, and he said he knows he wasn’t the only innocent person in Texas prison.

Watch a video clip of Taylor and Brown here. (WSBTV, Atlanta, 11/12/2007)

Read more about Taylor’s case and the Houston crime lab here.


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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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Dallas man released on bail after DNA tests show he was wrongfully convicted

Posted: November 14, 2007 4:06 pm

Innocence Project client Clay Chabot, who was convicted of murder in 1986 based on the testimony of a man who is now implicated in the crime based on new DNA test results, was released from jail on bail this afternoon.  While on bail, Chabot is living with his sister Carolyn, who moved to the Dallas area in recent days to be with him once he was released.

Last month, Judge Lana Myers agreed with the Innocence Project and the Dallas County District Attorney’s office that Chabot’s conviction should be vacated.  The judge’s recommendation is now awaiting approval by the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals, which has the ultimate authority to vacate convictions in such cases.  In court papers, the District Attorney’s office has said that it is still investigating whether to retry Chabot. Meanwhile, Jerry Pabst, who testified against Chabot at his trial more than 20 years ago, is now being held in custody in Dallas County after being indicted on capital murder charges based on DNA results showing that he lied in his testimony in order to hide his own guilt in the rape and murder.  Without Pabst’s testimony (which is now proven to be false) there is no evidence that Chabot was involved in the crime in any way, the Innocence Project said.

“It has been a very hard 21 years, but I’m grateful that the truth has finally come out,” Chabot said this afternoon.  “I am looking forward to spending time with my family and clearing my name once and for all.”

Read more background on Chabot’s case here

Media coverage: New trial in '86 murder raises questions of a plea deal (Dallas Morning News, 08/11/07) 



Tags: Clay Chabot

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Anthony Robinson celebrates seven years of freedom today

Posted: November 14, 2007 3:45 pm

After spending 13 years fighting to clear his name, Anthony Robinson was exonerated on November 14, 2000 in Houston after DNA testing proved his innocence. Robinson was convicted of sexual assault in 1987 and sentenced to 27 years. He would spend ten years behind bars and three on parole before he raised his own funds to pay for private DNA testing. Robinson’s 13-year struggle for freedom ended in 2000, when the state conducted its own DNA test, confirming his innocence and leading to his exoneration.

At Robinson’s trial, the prosecution’s case relied heavily on the victim’s identification of Robinson as her attacker. Though Robinson offered to provide police with a blood sample to prove his innocence, at the time of his trial DNA testing was not yet admitted as evidence in Harris County, Texas, where Robinson was tried. Robinson was thus convicted largely on the basis of eyewitness testimony. Eyewitness misidentification is one of the major causes of wrongful conviction.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Friday: Donald Reynolds, Illinois (Served 11 years, Exonerated November 16, 1997)
Billy Wardell, Illinois (Served 11 years, Exonerated November 16, 1997)



Tags: Anthony Robinson

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Task force planned to address cases affected by faulty FBI tests

Posted: November 19, 2007 12:05 pm

A joint investigation published yesterday by the Washington Post and CBS News’ “60 Minutes” has revealed that FBI lab analysts have been giving misleading forensic testimony in courtrooms for 40 years. The evidence in question is bullet lead analysis, a procedure first used after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and employed in thousands of criminal convictions since then. The investigation turned up hundreds of convictions in need of review for possible evidence of wrongful convictions, and the Innocence Network announced today that it had formed a joint task force with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to assist the FBI in reviewing closed cases and serve as a resource for defense counsel and for defendants who may have been wrongfully convicted based on erroneous or misleading FBI testimony.

“The FBI’s plan to deal with this serious and deeply troubling problem is good but long overdue,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “This should have happened in 2004, when the scientific community made it clear that bullet lead analysis is not reliable. A serious review of old cases is critical because innocent people … may well have been convicted based on discredited, unreliable FBI analysis.”

Read more here. (11/19/07, The Innocence Network)
The joint investigation by the Washington Post and “60 Minutes” was published yesterday and today and includes examples of specific convictions in which the FBI’s bullet lead analysis was the only physical evidence of guilt. Learn more in the interactive online features from both news organizations.

Special Report from The Washington Post: Silent Injustice

CBS News "60 Minutes": Evidence of Injustice

Washington Post Reporter John Solomon is taking questions from readers today from noon to 1 p.m. EST. Join the discussion here.



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Ten years of freedom for Ben Salazar

Posted: November 20, 2007 4:08 pm

Ben Salazar celebrates the tenth anniversary of his exoneration today. Salazar was wrongfully convicted of rape in 1992 and sentenced to 30 years. Three rounds of post-conviction DNA testing were performed before Salazar was finally exonerated on November 20, 1997. He had spent 5 years behind bars in Texas for a crime he didn’t commit.

Salazar’s wrongful conviction was caused, at least in part, by eyewitness misidentification, the most frequent cause of all wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing. Learn more about eyewitness misidentification and other causes of wrongful conviction.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Ronnie Bullock, Illinois (Served 10.5 years, Exonerated 11/23/1994)



Tags: Ronnie Bullock, Ben Salazar

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Washington Post: FBI must move quickly to right wrongs

Posted: November 20, 2007 4:18 pm

A joint investigation by the Washington Post and CBS News’ “60 Minutes” released this week showed that hundreds of people may have been wrongfully convicted based on faulty bullet lead analysis by the FBI. The FBI has known about the problem for years, but only this week said it would release details and records of cases in which the unreliable forensic process was used. Yesterday, the Innocence Network and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers announced the formation of a joint task force to assist and monitor the case review.

Today, an editorial in the Washington Post says the FBI has finally done the right thing to promise steps to rectify these errors. This episode should remind prosecutors and law enforcement officials, the paper says, that fair justice is always the goal in a criminal case.

It is troubling that some law enforcement officials seem to have forgotten their legal and moral obligation to disclose exculpatory evidence that could help a defendant. This obligation not only ensures that innocent people are spared incarceration but also helps government to focus on capturing real perpetrators. Justice -- not victory -- should be the sole purpose of prosecutions. This principle should be foremost in the minds of FBI agents and Justice Department lawyers as they review these cases.

Read the full editorial here.
Another Washington Post story yesterday detailed the case of former Balitmore police sergeant James A. Kulbicki , who was convicted of murder in 1995 based on bullet analysis. The expert who testified about the gun has since committed suicide amid questions about his credentials and testimony in other cases. Read the full story here.

View the Washington Post’s interactive feature on this investigation here.

Learn more about unreliable science as a cause of wrongful conviction here
.

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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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North Carolina police to review practices in wake of exoneration

Posted: November 21, 2007 3:15 pm

The city of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has decided to hire an independent security-consulting company to conduct an audit of its police department’s investigative practices. City officials have said that the decision is one of the effects of the exoneration of Darryl Hunt in 2004. Hunt was wrongfully convicted in 1985 of killing Deborah Sykes in Winston-Salem. He served nearly two decades in prison before DNA testing led to his release.

A review of police procedures by an outside agency was recommended by a recent report produced by a volunteer panel on the city’s handling of the Hunt case.

City Manager Lee Garrity said yesterday that the police department has changed since detectives investigated Sykes’ death, but that “there were still things that came out” during the Sykes review. One of them, he said, was that detectives were not filing incident reports consistently on time, a key step in the investigation of a crime.

Read the full story here. (Winston-Salem Journal, 11/20/07)
Read more about Darryl Hunt’s case here.





Tags: Darryl Hunt

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Buffalo woman seeks a new trial on DNA evidence

Posted: November 23, 2007 7:00 am

A New York judge will decide next week whether a Buffalo woman deserves a new trial in the 1993 murder of her 13-year-old daughter. Lynn DeJac has been in prison for 14 years for a murder she says she didn’t commit, and new DNA tests have revealed that skin cells on her daughter’s body and bloodat the crime scene match the profile of DeJac’s boyfriend at the time. DeJac’s attorneys argued in court on Tuesday that she would not have been convicted if the jury in her first trial had heard about the DNA evidence. Detectives have said the timeline of the crime points to DeJac’s innocence.

Read the full story here. (New York Newsday, 11/20/07)

A column in Wednesday’s Buffalo News says DNA tests in DeJac’s case should guarantee a retrial, and that Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark “refuses to acknowledge the obvious.”

Read the full column here. (Buffalo News, 11/21/07)

Last week, Buffalo Police Department detectives on the city’s Cold Case Squad told reporters that they believe DeJac was innocent and deserved a new trial.

“In our opinion, after investigating this case and looking at all the available evidence, Lynn DeJac could not have killed her daughter,” Detective Dennis Delano said.

“Any person on the street could read the facts available to us and tell that Lynn DeJac could not possibly have killed her daughter,” Delano added. “In my mind, she’s 100 percent innocent.”

Read the full story here. (Buffalo News, 11/17/07)
Delano and other Cold Case Squad detectives were involved in solving the city’s notorious “Bike Path Rapist” case earlier this year. During their investigation of those crimes, DNA tests proved that Anthony Capozzi had been in prison for two 1986 rapes he didn’t commit. Capozzi was exonerated and released in April.

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Rocky Mountain Innocence Center works for Utah compensation law

Posted: November 26, 2007 2:43 pm

Utah is one of the 28 states lacking a law to compensate the wrongfully convicted upon their release, but the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center is working to change that. A bill that would compensate exonerees with $40,000 for each year they were wrongfully imprisoned passed a Utah Senate interim committee this summer and is set for introduction during the 2008 session. The bill passed the House last year, but didn’t make it to a Senate vote.

Katie Monroe is the executive director of the RMIC, which is affiliated with University of Utah’s law school. She said the compensation bill’s success will rely on a unique partnership with prosecutors.

The center teamed with the Utah Attorney General's Office to promote the bill - a partnership Monroe called nearly unprecedented.

"We were able to bring two seemingly opposing sides to find the middle ground," she said. "I think that's incredible."

Read the full story here. (Salt Lake Tribune, 11/26/07)
Read more about compensation laws nationwide.

Visit a special New York Times interactive feature, published on Sunday, on the lives of exonerees after they are released.





Tags: Utah, Exoneree Compensation

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John Dixon celebrates six years of freedom

Posted: November 29, 2007 1:36 pm

Today marks the sixth anniversary of John Dixon’s exoneration. He was wrongfully convicted of rape, kidnapping and burglary in New Jersey in 1991 and sentenced to 45 years. He spent 10 years behind bars before DNA testing proved his innocence and led to his exoneration on November 29, 2001.

Dixon was misidentified by the rape victim in two photo arrays conducted in the weeks after the attack. Misidentification was a major factor in Dixon’s wrongful conviction and has played a part in 77 percent of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing to date. Since Dixon’s exoneration in 2001, New Jersey has adopted eyewitness identification reform policies aimed proven to prevent wrongful convictions. Learn about New Jersey’s reforms and those in other states in our interactive map.

Hear an audio interview with Dixon about his first six years of freedom on the New York Times website.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Friday: Dale and Ronnie Mahan, Alabama (Served 11.5 years, Exonerated 11/30/1998)





Tags: John Dixon, Ronnie Mahan, Dennis Maher

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The state's duty to help exonerees rebuild their lives

Posted: December 3, 2007 9:51 am

Only 22 states have laws compensating the wrongfully convicted upon their release, and many of those laws are outdated and woefully inadequate. A major study published last week by the New York Times surveyed more than 130 people exonerated by DNA evidence and found that dozens had met with severe struggles on their reentry to society. An article in the Times’ Week in Review asks where the state’s duty lies in helping exonerees get back on their feet.

“One of the biggest challenges is that once an innocent person comes out of prison, they are not equipped with the tools to reintegrate into society, and that’s something that money alone can’t solve,” said Representative Donald M. Payne, a New Jersey Democrat who introduced a bill to set aside $1.25 million a year for programs for exonerated prisoners.

Of the states with compensation laws, only three — Massachusetts, Louisiana and Vermont — provide for the costs of medical and psychological care.

… “Some people feel, ‘All right, it’s over now. You’re out, you’re free, so what are you complaining about? What’s the problem?’ ” said Darryl Hunt, exonerated in North Carolina after serving 18 years for murder.

“The problem is that we’re free physically,” he said. “But mentally, we’re still living the nightmare every day.”

Read the full story here. (New York Times Week in Review, 12/2/07)
The Innocence Project exoneree fund supports exonerated Innocence Project clients as they rebuild their lives. Donate to the fund now.





Tags: Anthony Hicks, Darryl Hunt, Exoneree Compensation

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Calvin Lee Scott celebrates four years of freedom

Posted: December 3, 2007 5:20 pm

Monday marks the fourth anniversary of Calvin Lee Scott’s exoneration in Oklahoma. Scott was wrongfully convicted of rape in 1993 and sentenced to 25 years. He spent 20 years behind bars before DNA testing proved his innocence. He was exonerated on December 3, 2003.

Faulty forensics contributed to Scott’s wrongful conviction. A criminologist testified at trial that a hair sample taken from Scott was microscopically consistent with those found at the crime scene. Scott was convicted largely based on this unreliable science. When DNA testing from the rape kit was conducted twenty years later, the criminologist’s findings were discredited, as Scott was excluded as a suspect. Learn more about faulty forensics and other causes of wrongful conviction here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:


Wednesday: Marcellius Bradford, Larry Ollins, Calvin Ollins & Omar Saunders, Illinois (Exonerated 12/5/01)



Tags: Marcellius Bradford, Larry Ollins, Calvin Lee Scott

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Report reveals a history of negligence and fraud in New York City crime lab

Posted: December 4, 2007 1:26 pm

New York City crime lab technicians were engaging in incompetent and fraudulent testing as recently as 2002, according to a report released yesterday by the state inspector general. The report reveals that sloppy drug testing by criminalists in the lab could have contributed to wrongful convictions or unnecessarily high sentences for defendants in hundreds of drug cases. The testing problems could have included “dry labbing,” – or reporting test results when a sample was never tested at all.

Since the lab took five years to initiate a review of the problems in 2002, evidence from hundreds of questionable cases has been destroyed, officials said.

“The integrity of evidence is a cornerstone of law enforcement,” (New York Inspector General Kristine) Hamann said yesterday. “These lapses were a threat not only to the prosecution of drug crimes, but to the public’s trust in our criminal justice system.”…

Peter Neufeld, a lawyer and co-founder of the Innocence Project, a legal group based in New York that uses DNA evidence to represent people it thinks have been wrongly convicted, said the inspector general’s findings “undermine God knows how many convictions” in drug cases. He said he expected many motions to dismiss or to amend the severity of sentences that are based on the amount or weight of the illegal substance tied to a defendant.

Read the full story here. (New York Times, 12/04/07)
Forensic science misconduct has contributed to dozens of the 209 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing to date, and the Innocence Project has called for better crime lab oversight nationwide, ensuring that standards of testing, accreditation and training are followed. Read more about crime lab oversight reforms here.

More background on yesterday’s report:

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Chad Heins, finally free, returns to Wisconsin

Posted: December 6, 2007 1:26 pm

Innocence Project client Chad Heins, exonerated and released on Tuesday in Jacksonville, Florida, rejoined his family in Wisconsin on Wednesday. The joyful reunion came more than a decade after Heins was wrongfully convicted of killing his sister-in-law in Florida. He was exonerated and released this week because DNA evidence has shown that an unidentified man killed the victim.

Read media coverage of Heins’ exoneration and his return to Wisconsin below:

Freed man returns home. (First Coast News, 12/06/07)

DNA exonerates Nekoosa man of 94 murder (Wausau, WI Daily Herald, 12/6/07)

13 years later, DNA frees man in family death (Associated Press, 12/05/07)
 



Tags: Wisconsin, Chad Heins

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John Jerome White Cleared by DNA in Atlanta

Posted: December 12, 2007 1:00 pm

John Jerome White became the seventh Georgia man to be cleared by DNA evidence yesterday. White was wrongfully convicted in 1980 for the rape and robbery of a 74-year-old woman. DNA from hairs found at the scene excluded White and matched a convicted rapist serving time in a Georgia state prison. That man was arrested Tuesday. In each of the Georgia cases, eyewitness misidentification was a factor contributing to the wrongful conviction. White’s case underscores the need to reform identification procedures, said Aimee Maxwell of the Georgia Innocence Project which represented White.

Maxwell said her organization is working with state lawmakers and authorities to require all law enforcement agencies to develop and follow clearly written procedures for doing an eyewitness identification with a victim, Maxwell said. The organization says 82 percent of the 355 Georgia law enforcement agencies surveyed do not have any type of written eyewitness standards.
Read the full story here. (AP, 12/12/07)
Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA evidence. The Innocence Project advocates reforms that are proven to reduce the incidence of misidentifications. For more information about how eyewitness misidentifications occur and how they can be prevented click here.



Tags: Georgia, Eyewitness Misidentification

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30th Texan Freed by DNA Evidence Rebuilds Life in Atlanta

Posted: December 10, 2007 4:45 pm

Innocence Project client Ronnie Taylor was released from prison in October after DNA testing proved he did not commit the 1993 rape for which he was convicted. He spent 14 years behind bars based on an eyewitness misidentification and crime lab errors before regaining his freedom. A Houston Chronicle article on Sunday follows Taylor as he moves from Houston to Atlanta, where he and fiancée Jeanette Brown are working to build their future together after many lost years.

"It's been a long time getting back here, but this is where I need to be,"[Taylor] says. "This is where I can make something happen. That is the way it always was in Atlanta. Me, with Jeannette, making something happen."

He speaks with buoyant optimism. Unspoken are the doubts of a life resumed, the things that just 10 days after his release from prison remain utterly unknown. His is the story of yet another wrongful conviction and DNA exoneration, the 30th in Texas, leaving a man to reinvent his life after a miscarriage of justice.

Read the full article here. (Houston Chronicle, 12/9/07)
Read more about Taylor’s case here.

Learn about the struggles people face after exoneration – and how you can help – here.
 


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White’s exoneration raises questions about racial inequity in the Georgia criminal justice system

Posted: December 13, 2007 5:15 pm

On Tuesday, John Jerome White became the seventh Georgia man, and the 210th nationwide, to be exonerated through DNA evidence. In all seven cases, an eyewitness misidentification contributed to the wrongful conviction, and all seven of the wrongfully convicted have been black men. Atlanta Journal-Constitution guest columnist, Rick Daguette, a former spokesman for the Georgia Supreme Court, writes about the racial disparity in the criminal justice system and wonders how many more innocent people will have to be exonerated in the state of Georgia before the system changes.

There are any number of reasons people can be convicted of crimes they did not commit. In many cases, however, unreliable eyewitness identification is one very common denominator. But race seems to be the deciding factor. If it isn't, then maybe someone can explain why all seven men thus far exonerated in Georgia have been black.

Read the full opinion editorial here. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12/12/07)
For more information about White’s case, see the Georgia Innocence Project press release.

Click here for more on reforms to prevent eyewitness misidentification.



Tags: Georgia

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Houston Chronicle editorial says Texas has made important progress in compensating the wrongfully convicted, but says services are critical

Posted: December 13, 2007 5:25 pm

An editorial in today’s Houston Chronicle questions the lack of state services for the 29 people who have been wrongfully convicted in Texas and proven innocent through DNA testing. Although Texas provides a more generous compensation statute than many other states—thanks to the recent passage of a bill sponsored by Senator Rodney Ellis, raising the standard to $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration—it still fails to provide for the career, educational, psychological and health care needs of exonerees after their release. Innocence Project client Ronald Taylor, the latest Texan to be proven innocent, is eligible for the state funds but not until he receives a full pardon from the governor, and even then he may wait years before the funds are dispensed. In the absence of state support, the Innocence Project seeks to meet the immediate needs of the wrongfully convicted.

The Innocence Project also has a special exoneree fund that provides counseling when other sources are absent. As Chronicle writer Roma Khanna's recent story showed, even exonerees like Taylor — who was buoyed during years in prison by his fiancée — face dizzying emotional challenges. How to rebuild a relationship interrupted by years of separation? How to overcome grief and rage for all the wasted time? How to stave off depression, anxiety and paranoia, all aggravated by a life in prison?

Simply having been in prison, even wrongly, creates a stigma that can make job-hunting daunting. Add to this the reality that many exonerees went into their sentences with limited education or skills, and the prospects for finding work unaided can be bleak.
 
Read the full editorial here. (Houston Chronicle, 12/12/07)
Twenty-eight states offer no compensation, and only six state compensation laws include provisions for additional services, including education, counseling and job training. To find out more about compensation laws click here.

Click here to donate to the Innocence Project’s exoneree fund.



Tags: Texas

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Applying for DNA testing in Ohio: an uphill battle

Posted: December 17, 2007 12:50 pm

A report published yesterday in the Lebanon (Ohio) Western Star examines the difficulties faced by convicted defendants in Ohio applying for DNA testing that could potentially prove their innocence. Of the 315 Ohio cases in which a defendant has requested DNA testing to prove innocence, courts have granted testing to only 19 people, with 66 cases awaiting rulings. Prosecutors have fought testing in most cases, based on legal grounds or due to lost or destroyed evidence (Ohio doesn’t have an evidence preservation law). Ohio is one of the 42 states with a post-conviction DNA testing law, but these numbers indicate that even among these states the path to testing isn’t always easy.

Ohio's DNA testing law, revised and made permanent last year, also closes the door to many potential applicants, including ex-convicts trying to clear their names and anyone who pleaded guilty. Another hurdle: Inmates must demonstrate that the testing would change the outcome of their trials.

Read the full story here. (Western Star, 12/17/07)
Does your state have a post-conviction DNA access law? What are the restrictions? Find out with our interactive map.






Tags: Ohio, Access to DNA Testing

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Stronger justice in Vermont around the corner?

Posted: December 19, 2007 2:25 pm

In the next few days, leading criminal justice experts will release their recommendations on improving Vermont’s criminal justice system to prevent and address wrongful convictions.

In an op-ed published today in the Rutland Herald, Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom writes that legislation passed this year in Vermont advanced the state’s justice system. The reform package provided DNA testing access to convicted people, created a system for compensating the exonerated. The legislation also created task forces to review procedures on evidence preservation, recording of interrogations and eyewitness identification procedures. Saloom, Massachusetts exoneree Dennis Maher and many criminal justice experts testified at the Vermont Legislature in support of the reforms this year. The panels are scheduled to release their findings in the coming days.

Since the task forces were formed, five more innocent people have been exonerated through DNA evidence. The state Legislature and the task forces are positioned to prevent such injustice in Vermont. The opportunity to enhance the state's criminal justice system is in their hands. In the next few days, we'll find out what they choose to do with it.

Read the full op-ed here. (Rutland Herald, 12/19/2007)
View Vermont’s legislation and find your state’s criminal justice reform stance on our interactive map.





Tags: Vermont, Dennis Maher, False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification, Evidence Preservation

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Men wrongfully convicted in the 'Central Park Jogger case' mark fifth exoneration anniversary

Posted: December 19, 2007 3:25 pm

Today is the fifth anniversary of the exonerations of Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise. They were wrongfully convicted of committing the brutal 1989 attack and rape of a central park jogger. Police investigations quickly focused on the five teenagers, who were in police custody for a series of other attacks perpetrated in the park that night. At the time, the defendants were between 14 and 16 years old. They were convicted in two separate trials in 1990 and sentenced as juveniles to 5 to 10 years; Wise, convicted as an adult, was sentenced to 5 to 15 years. The men were exonerated on December 19, 2002, after another man, Matias Reyes, confessed to the crime and subsequent DNA testing excluded all five as suspects. They had served between 5 and 11 years for a crime they did not commit.

Faulty forensics and false confessions contributed to the wrongful convictions of McCray, Richardson, Salaam, Santana and Wise. After prolonged periods of police interrogation, all five confessed to being involved in the attack. McCray, Richardson, Santana and Wise all gave videotaped confessions. These tapes were presented as evidence at trial (despite the glaring inconsistencies among the confessions); the prosecution also presented forensic evidence that was said to link the defendants to the crime. This forensic evidence was later dismissed when DNA testing of the rape kit in 2002 matched Reyes, corroborating his confession and excluding the five as suspects.

Learn more about faulty forensics here. The convictions of these five teenagers have also raised questions regarding police coercion and false confessions, as well as the vulnerability of juveniles during police interrogations. Learn more about false confession, which have contributed to 25 percent of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing.

Matias Reyes is currently serving a life sentence for a murder and four rapes that occurred after the Central Park attack.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:


Monday: Clyde Charles, Louisiana (Served 17 years, Exonerated 12/17/99)

Thursday: McKinley Cromedy, New Jersey (Served 5 years, Exonerated 12/20/99)
Billy Wayne Miller, Texas (Served 22 years, Exonerated 12/20/06)

Friday: John Kogut, New York (Served 17 years, Exonerated 12/21/05)
Larry Mayes, Indiana (Served 18.5 years, Exonerated 12/21/01)

Saturday: Willie Davidson, Virginia (Served 12 years, Exonerated 12/22/05)
Dwayne Scruggs, Indiana (Served 7.5 years, Exonerated 12/22/93)
Phillip Leon Thurman, Virginia (Served 19 years, Exonerated 12/22/05)

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NC man, held without trial for 14 years, is finally released

Posted: December 21, 2007 1:20 pm

Floyd Brown, a North Carolina man with mental disabilities, spent 14 years in North Carolina jails and mental facilities awaiting trial on a murder that he always said he didn’t commit. He was never tried because a judge had ruled he was not competent to stand trial. DNA testing couldn’t be conducted in Brown’s case because critical evidence was lost by the Anson County (NC) Sheriff’s Office. And a press investigation of the crime suggests Brown’s confession was false and also turned up evidence of a possible alternate suspect in the murder. The detectives involved in interrogating Brown were later convicted on federal charges of accepting bribes from people in exchange for not filing charges.

A North Carolina judge dismissed the charges against Brown in October and ordered him released from Dorothea Dix Mental Hospital, but he was finally released on Wednesday after his attorneys found placement for him in a group home.

Read the full story here. (Charlotte Observer, 12/20/2007)

Learn more in the Observer’s investigative archive on the case.



Tags: False Confessions

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New York man granted new trial in murder case

Posted: December 21, 2007 1:40 pm

A New York appeals court today threw out the conviction of a Long Island man who has spent 17 years in prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit. Marty Tankleff was convicted 17 years ago of killing his parents in the Belle Terre, NY, home he shared with them. Tankleff was 17 years old at the time of the crime and says he woke up one morning to find his parents murdered. After hours of questioning, Tankleff allegedly confessed to the murder, saying he may have “blacked out” or “been possessed.” He quickly recanted the alleged confession, but it was used against him at his trial. He was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.

"It is abhorrent to our sense of justice and fair play to countenance the possibility that someone innocent of a crime may be incarcerated or otherwise punished for a crime which he or she did not commit," read the decision from Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, in part.

The ruling, by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, was not only a vindication for Mr. Tankleff, but it also raised questions about police and prosecutorial methods in Suffolk County. It was not immediately clear when Mr. Tankleff, 17 at the time of the murders and now 36, would be released. It also was not clear whether a new trial would be held.

Read the full story here. (New York Times, 12/21/07)
More background on the case:

Visit Marty Tankleff’s website for a case summary, legal documents and more.

Download the Innocence Project’s Amicus Curiae brief before the New York Supreme Court.

Listen to Innocence Project Staff Attorney Olga Akselrod and advocates for Tankleff in an appearance on NPR earlier this year

 



Tags: False Confessions, Marty Tankleff

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Long Island man released on bond after conviction is thrown out

Posted: December 27, 2007 6:40 pm

Marty Tankleff was released from a Long Island jail today after posting $1 million bond while prosecutors consider a new trial against him. Tankleff has served 17 years in prison for the murder of his parents, a crime he has always said he didn't commit, and a panel of New York judges last week threw out his 1990 conviction due to new evidence pointing to Tankleff's innocence.

"I was as upset when Marty was convicted as I was the day I learned that there were murders," said his aunt, Mary Anne McClure. "Now we can mourn my sister properly, because we haven't been able to for 19 years."...
The case had raised questions about coercive interrogation tactics and drew the support of the Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people.

"It's a great day for justice in New York and in the country generally," said Barry Scheck, the project's executive director.

Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 12/27/2007)
Tankleff was convicted partly based an alleged confession that he immediately recanted, saying he had been pressured by detectives. Evidence of other perpetrators in the murders has surfaced since Tankleff's conviction, and the Innocence Project has filed an amicus brief in his case, pointing out that false confessions or admissions have been a factor in 25 percent of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing.

Read the Innocence Project's amicus brief in the case.

 



Tags: Marty Tankleff

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Editorial calls for special prosecutor in New York case

Posted: December 31, 2007 2:50 pm

For nearly two decades, Marty Tankleff has said he was wrongfully convicted of killing his parents. Last week, the conviction was finally thrown out, due to evidence pointing to Tankleff’s innocence and the involvement of alternate suspects. He was released from prison on bail while prosecutors consider a new trial in the case.

And an editorial in yesterday’s New York Times calls for Suffolk County officials to appoint a special outside prosecutor in the case to ensure that any retrial is handled fairly.

Now that Mr. Tankleff has won another day in court, his case deserves a dispassionate, thorough and honest re-examination. Mr. Tankleff’s defenders insist that this is not possible from the Suffolk County district attorney, Thomas Spota. They are demanding that he hand the case to a special prosecutor. While Mr. Spota had no direct involvement in the Tankleff prosecution, which was tried by his predecessor, he and his office do have multiple connections to some members of the large cast of characters in this convoluted case. A detective who lied to Mr. Tankleff while taking his confession, for example, had been previously defended by Mr. Spota, then a private lawyer, in a corruption investigation, and later when the detective was accused of assault.
The law can be swift and sure when making a case against a defendant and hustling him off to prison. When it is found to have made grave errors, it must be just as honest and forceful in correcting them. We are counting on Mr. Spota to pursue the fairest case the evidence now supports. Or to back away if — as so many on Mr. Tankleff’s side insist — the evidence just isn’t there.


Read the full editorial here. (New York Times, 12/30/07)
For more than a year, an official New York state inquiry has examined the investigation and prosecution of the case by Suffolk County officials, a source told the New York Times.
"The (State Investigation Committee) is viewing this as a serious and significant investigation,” said a person who works with the officials overseeing the investigation and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter was confidential. “The commission is looking at how Suffolk County handled this case.”

Read the full story here. (New York Times, 12/29/07)
Read more about Tankleff’s case here.




Tags: Marty Tankleff

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Testing granted in Florida death row case

Posted: January 2, 2008 5:15 pm

A Florida judge recently granted DNA testing in the case of Innocence Project client Samuel Jason Derrick, who has served nearly two decades on Florida’s death row for a murder he says he didn’t commit. Derrick says he falsely confessed to detectives investigating the crime because they threatened to put his infant son in foster care.

Derrick was convicted of stabbing a convenience store owner in an apparent robbery in 1987. In December, a judge approved advanced DNA testing on a bloody remnant of a white T-shirt, a partially eaten hot dog, blood found under a picnic table and scrapings from the victim's fingernails.

The fingernail scrapings were tested in 2002 but gleaned no DNA profiles, the defense motion said. But they could still yield something to a more sensitive DNA test called Y-STR now available, according to the defense motion, that "targets genetic markers found on the Y-chromosome, which only males possess."

"It's really vital that we use Y-STR or one of the really cutting- edge tests that have been developed," said Alba Morales, Derrick's Innocence Project attorney. "Because it really improves the chance of getting a result from what is by now a fairly degraded sample."

Read the full story here. (St. Petersburg Times, 12/28/2007)
The Innocence Project wants the testing on the evidence be conducted at a private lab specializing in Y-STR and mini-STR DNA technology. These two kinds of advanced DNA testing may be able to show whether Derrick is innocent – and private labs have expertise and experience in this area that the Florida state labs do not.



Tags: Florida, Death Penalty, Samuel Jason Derrick

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New York man will not be retried

Posted: January 2, 2008 5:20 pm

Marty Tankleff, who served 17 years in New York prison after being wrongfully convicted of killing his parents, will not be retried in the case, the Suffolk County District Attorney announced today. Tankleff, who has consistently maintained his innocence in the case, was released last week on bond after a panel of appellate judges tossed his conviction due to new evidence in the case.

"It is no longer possible to reasonably assert that the case ... would be successful," Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said.

He said his office will formally drop the indictment against Martin Tankleff in the 1988 deaths of Arlene and Seymour Tankleff at a scheduled Jan. 18 court conference in Riverhead.

Read the full story here. (New York Times, 01/02/08)
Since his release last week, Tankleff, 36, has spent time with relatives and yesterday visited the graves of his parents.

Read more here.




Tags: False Confessions, Marty Tankleff

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Charles Chatman released - 15th person to be cleared by DNA evidence in Dallas

Posted: January 3, 2008 1:13 pm

With his siblings cheering in the courtroom, Charles Chatman was released from state custody this afternoon after serving nearly 27 years in prison for a rape that DNA now proves he didn’t commit. He is the 15th person to be cleared by DNA evidence in Dallas – more than any other county in the nation.

Chatman was convicted of a 1981 rape after he was misidentified in a photo lineup. His attorney, Michelle Moore (who was co-counsel with the Innocence Project of Texas on the case), credited Texas judge John Creuzot with pushing for DNA testing in the case. Creuzot said he became convinced of Chatman’s innocence after presiding over two previous hearings in the case. After earlier tests proved inconclusive, Chatman recently agreed to Y-STR testing, an advanced form of DNA testing that can determine a profile from a small sample. The risk was that this final test could have consumed the last of the biological evidence in the case. It proved to be the right decision, however, as the profile proved that another man committed the rape for which Chatman was serving a 99-year sentence.

Chatman said he was denied parole three times during his 27 years in prison because he refused to admit guilt in a crime he didn't commit.

"Every time I'd go to parole, they'd want a description of the crime or my version of the crime," Chatman said. "I don't have a version of the crime. I never committed the crime. I never will admit to doing this crime that I know I didn't do."

...

One of the biggest reasons for the large number of exonerations is the crime lab used by Dallas County, which accounts for about half the state's DNA cases. Unlike many jurisdictions, the lab used by police and prosecutors retains biological evidence, meaning DNA testing is a viable option for decades-old crimes.

District Attorney Craig Watkins also attributes the exonerations to a past culture of overly aggressive prosecutors seeking convictions at any cost. Watkins has started a program in which law students, supervised by the Innocence Project of Texas, are reviewing about 450 cases in which convicts have requested DNA testing to prove their innocence. "It is time we stop kidding ourselves in believing that what happened in Dallas is somehow unique," said Jeff Blackburn, the founder of the Innocence Project of Texas. "What happened in Dallas is common. This is Texas."

Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 01/03/08)
Read more about the cases of the 29 people exonerated by DNA testing in Texas here.

 

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Forensic tests and investigation questioned in California

Posted: January 3, 2008 4:32 pm

The director of a California state legal agency sent a letter yesterday to Santa Clara County District Attorney Dolores Carr alleging that an internal investigation of faulty testing in the county’s crime lab overlooked significant errors that sent an innocent man to prison. Michael Kresser, the executive director of the Sixth District Appellate Program, requested that the DA’s investigation into faulty testing in the wrongful conviction of Jeffrey Rodriguez be reopened.

Rodriguez was convicted of a 2001 robbery, but a judge recently declared him factually innocent of the crime. A Santa Clara County forensic analyst gave faulty testimony that led to Rodriguez’s conviction, but an internal investigation of the error determined that it was a mistake of word choice on the stand. Kresser writes in yesterday’s letter that the error was more than an issue of language.

And Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom told the San Jose Mercury News that the DA’s internal investigation did not meet requirements of the federal Coverdell grants program, which calls for independent oversight of allegations of forensic misconduct.

Read the full story here. (San Jose Mercury News, 01/03/08)

Read more about the Coverdell program here.


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Special prosecutors in Colorado case point to missing evidence

Posted: January 3, 2008 4:35 pm

Tim Masters has been in Colorado prison for eight years for a 1987 murder he has always maintained he didn’t commit, but a court filing yesterday by special prosecutors in the case will boost his chances at a new trial, legal experts say. The special prosecutors were appointed seven months ago to review Masters’ claims of a wrongful conviction, and yesterday marked the first time they have detailed their findings of evidence that wasn’t presented at Masters’ trial.

Masters was convicted in 1999 of murdering Peggy Hettrick when he was just 15 years old. New evidence has pointed to the guilt of a surgeon who lived across the street from the crime scene.   

The new evidence includes:

• A plastic surgeon's comments to Fort Collins police Detective Marsha Reed about the surgical nature of Hettrick's wounds. "None of the information from that conversation appears to have been memorialized by Det. Reed," the pleading states.

• An FBI profiler's memos criticizing the psychological theory that Masters' violent art renderings revealed a fantasy motive to kill Hettrick.

• Details of an unsuccessful week-long surveillance of Masters a year after the 1987 murder.

• Almost 300 pages of research compiled by the prosecution's star witness, some referring to the surgical precision of wounds inflicted on her genitalia and breast.

Hearings in Masters’ case will resume Jan. 22.
Read the full story, and view archived stories, here. (Denver Post, 1/3/08)


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Marty Tankleff thanks supporters, calls for state reforms

Posted: January 3, 2008 5:39 pm

A New York man who served 17 years in prison after he was wrongfully convicted of killing his parents in 1987 spoke out today about his long struggle for freedom and the reforms needed in New York state to ensure that others don’t suffer his fate.

Marty Tankleff was 17 years old when he woke up to find his mother dead and his father unconscious in the house he shared with them. His father would later die in the hospital, and Tankleff was immediately interrogated by detectives as a suspect. He was charged with the murders after allegedly making statements that he may have “blacked out” and committed the crimes. The “confession” was immediately recanted by Tankleff and he never signed the written version.

Today, Tankleff joined his attorneys and Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck in calling for reforms in New York State – including an Innocence Commission and a law requiring the electronic recording of all interrogations – that would prevent future wrongful convictions.

"I knew I wasn't the only innocent man in jail," Tankleff, 36, said in the news conference at a Garden City law office. He thanked the lawyers and investigators who worked on his case, resulting in an appellate court's overturning his conviction, and the decision by the Suffolk County district attorney's office not to pursue another trial. "It's just been a long, long fight," Tankleff said. "I never gave up. They never gave up."

Read the full story here. (New York Newsday, 01/03/08)
Read more about Tankleff’s case in a story in today’s New York Times.

Visit Tankleff’s website for legal filings and more background on the case
.

Download an Innocence Project report on recommended reforms in New York.



Tags: Marty Tankleff

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Friday marks one year of freedom for Larry Fuller

Posted: January 7, 2008 4:30 pm

This Friday is the first anniversary of Larry Fuller’s exoneration in Texas. He was wrongfully convicted of rape in 1981 and sentenced to 50 years behind bars. He would spend 25 years, including five on parole, fighting to clear his name. Fuller was finally exonerated on January 11, 2007 after DNA testing proved his innocence. He had spent nearly 20 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.

Eyewitness misidentification and faulty forensics contributed to Fuller’s wrongful conviction. Read more about these factors and other common causes of wrongful convictions here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:
Sunday: Mark Diaz Bravo, California (Served 3 years, Exonerated 1/6/94)
Thursday: Gregory Wallis, Texas (Served 17 years, Exonerated 1/10/07)





Tags: Mark Diaz Bravo, Larry Fuller, Gregory Wallis

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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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A year of being "smart on crime" in Dallas

Posted: January 8, 2008 4:19 pm

Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins rode into office a year ago on the message that he would be “smart on crime,” and he has gained a reputation for his willingness to reexamine old convictions for the possibility of injustice. An op-ed by Watkins in yesterday’s Dallas Morning News calls his decision to review questionable convictions “a no-brainer” and goes on to review other successes of 2007 – including community service initiatives and a unit to prosecute financial abuse against the elderly.

A year ago, we partnered with the Innocence Project of Texas to review more than 400 old cases, many with requests for DNA testing that had been opposed under the prior administration. To me, this move was a no-brainer, considering Dallas County has the highest number of wrongfully convicted people in the nation – but it has been touted as bold and progressive, and it has garnered media attention internationally.

Also, to ensure that these kinds of unforgivable mistakes are never made again, at least on my watch, we established a conviction integrity unit. In its first five months, it has already identified eight more cases eligible for post-conviction DNA testing, as well as two more people wrongfully convicted of sexual assault.

Read the full op-ed article here. (Dallas Morning News, 01/07/08)
Last week, Charles Chatman became the 15th person to be cleared by post-conviction DNA testing in Dallas County. Read more about his case here.





Tags: Texas

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Illinois man released after 21 years behind bars

Posted: January 9, 2008 4:25 pm

Herbert Whitlock was released from an Illinois county jail yesterday after serving nearly 21 years in prison for two murders he has always maintained he didn’t commit. Whitlock’s co-defendant, Randy Steidl, who was convicted of the muders based on the same evidence, was released more than three years ago but prosecutors refused at the time to drop charges against Whitlock. Prosecutors did finally agree to drop the charges, leading to Whitlock’s release yesterday. They said, however, that the case is still open and they have not ruled out a retrial.

Steidl and Whitlock were convicted of killing Karen Rhoads in 1987. Steidl was also convicted of killing Rhoads’ new husband, Dyke. A retired Illinois State Police officer was assigned in 2000 to reinvestigate the case. He concluded that the pair were innocent, based on contradictory witness statements at the trial. The officer, Michale Callahan, later won a lawsuit against his superiors, in which he alleged that he was reassigned in retaliation for accusing prosecutors of not pursuing alternate suspects in the case.

The Downstate Illinois Innocence Project, a member of the Innocence Network, worked on the cases of both Whitlock and Steidl.

The men are not included in the Innocence Project’s database of DNA exonerations because DNA evidence was not involved in proving the men’s innocence. This case highlights the extreme difficulty faced by defendants claiming their innocence on post-conviction appeal in cases in which there is no possibility of DNA testing.

Bill Clutter, director of investigations for the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said Whitlock and Steidl should have been freed years ago. The (Downstate Illinois) Innocence Project helped free both men.

Clutter said much of the evidence that refuted trial testimony and evidence was uncovered in the spring of 1992.

“What this really says is there needs to be further reform in the post-conviction process, because it shouldn’t take this long to exonerate someone,” Clutter said. “The justice system did fail.”

Read the full story here. (Terre Haute Tribune-Star, 01/08/07)



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Prosecutors sought to downplay exculpatory evidence at trial of innocent Florida man

Posted: January 9, 2008 4:15 pm

An article in today’s Florida Times-Union reveals questionable prosecutorial tactics in the case of Chad Heins, who was exonerated last month after serving 11 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Before Heins was wrongfully convicted in 1996, a Jacksonville prosecutor wrote a letter to the state crime lab asking an expert to downplay evidence indicating that another person may have committed the crime. Hairs found on the bed of the victim, Heins’ sister-in-law, were shown to come from an unknown person. The prosecutor wanted to “minimize” the effect of this evidence at Heins’ trial.

"I need to structure your testimony carefully so as to convince the jury that the unknown hairs are insignificant," Assistant State Attorney Stephen Bledsoe wrote in a letter recently obtained by the Times-Union.
Bledsoe's letter was among thousands of pages of documents examined by Heins' lawyers after a judge allowed re-testing of DNA in the case. Although the attorneys don't believe it affected the outcome of the case, the letter shows a "cavalier disregard for the actual evidence," said Jennifer Greenberg, policy director of the Innocence Project of Florida, which worked for Heins' release.
"It actually made my stomach turn," Greenberg said Tuesday. "This is not a game. This is justice. These are people's lives and they matter and the truth matters."
The analyst who received the letter told the Times Union yesterday that analysts never change their findings based on conversations with attorneys. And Robert Link, one of Heins’ attorneys, said the letter had little impact on Heins’ conviction. His exoneration was based on DNA tests proving that the hairs, as well as semen and fingernail scrapings collected from the victim’s body, came from the same unknown man.

Read the full story here, and watch video of Heins’ release.

Read more about Heins' exoneration here.



Tags: Chad Heins

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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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New trial overruled in "Norfolk Four" case

Posted: January 11, 2008 5:35 pm

Four men who say they were wrongfully convicted of a 1997 Virginia murder were dealt a setback today when the Virginia Supreme Court reversed an earlier ruling granting one of the men, Derek Tice, a new trial. Tice, 37, had argued that he was wrongfully convicted based on a false confession that never should have been presented to the jury. Tice and three other men, Danial Williams, Joseph Dick and Eric Wilson (collectively know as the “Norfolk Four”) were convicted of the murder that another man, Omar Ballard, has admitted he committed alone. DNA evidence has since shown that Ballard is telling the truth, but Tice, Williams and Dick remain behind bars, serving life sentences.

Today’s state Supreme Court decision overrules a Norfolk judge’s ruling that Tice deserved a new trial because his confession should have been suppressed. At a news conference scheduled for this afternoon in Richmond, Virginia, four former Virginia attorneys general are expected to announce their support for the claims raised by the “Norfolk Four” defendants. The four men also have clemency petitions pending before Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine. In 2006, 11 jurors from Tice’s trial signed letters stating they now believe he is innocent.

Read the full story here. (Washington Post, 01/11/08)

Read more about the case, and about how false confessions can lead to wrongful convictions
.



Tags: Norfolk Four

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Mississippi man to get new hearing based on DNA results

Posted: January 11, 2008 5:40 pm

New DNA test results prove that Arthur Johnson has been in a Mississippi prison for 15 years for a rape he did not commit, according to court papers filed by the Innocence Project New Orleans. Johnson was convicted in 1993 of a rape in Sunflower County, Mississippi, and sentenced to 55 years. He has maintained throughout that he did not commit the rape, and test results completed late last year prove his innocence, says Innocence Project New Orleans Director Emily Maw.

The Mississippi Supreme Court last week ordered a local court to expedite a hearing on DNA evidence in Johnson’s case. The hearing hasn’t been scheduled yet. But if he is eventually freed, he would become the first person to exonerated by DNA evidence in Mississippi.

“This DNA testing proves that Arthur Johnson was telling the truth when he claimed, from the beginning, that he is innocent of this charge,” Maw said in a statement Friday.
Mississippi is one of eight states without a law providing access to DNA testing for inmates with claims of innocence. Maw and Mississippi Innocence Project Director Tucker Carrington said the state needs an access law to free other innocent people behind before it’s too late.
“This kind of evidence can only be helpful if its exists – and for that Mississippi needs legislation to ensure that there will be clearly established procedures to provide for preservation and testing of this evidence for those whose claims of innocence could be proven,” Carrington said.

Read the full story here. (Sun Herald (MS), 01/11/08)
Where does your state stand on access to DNA testing? Find out on our interactive map.




Tags: Mississippi

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Montana exoneree settles civil suit, calls for review of faulty forensics

Posted: January 14, 2008 11:10 am

Jimmy Ray Bromgard, who was exonerated in 2002 after spending more than 12 years in Montana prison for a rape he didn’t commit, settled a civil lawsuit with the state of Montana on Friday for $3.5 million, according to press reports. He sued the state and several officials in 2004, alleging that negligence by officers and officials led to his 1987 wrongful conviction.

Bromgard was convicted partly based on the false testimony of forensic analyst Arnold Melnikoff, who said hairs from the crime matched Bromgard and cited fabricated statistics on the stand. In a statement Friday, Bromgard said the state should review all cases in which hair evidence led to conviction, in case more innocent people remain behind bars.

"I urge the attorney general to appoint an independent examiner to conduct DNA testing on the hairs in every criminal case in which Melnikoff declared a match," Bromgard said in a statement released by his attorneys. "DNA and the truth set me free. The state of Montana should not be allowed to ignore its duty to seek the truth in all of these other criminal cases."

Read the full story here. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 01/12/08
Read more about Bromgard’s case here.





Tags: Jimmy Ray Bromgard, Exoneree Compensation

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Dispatch from Louisiana: As an innocent man is freed, why can't others get a test?

Posted: January 14, 2008 2:24 pm

By Vanessa Potkin, Innocence Project Staff Attorney

(Sabine Parish, Louisiana) — This morning I sat with Rickey Johnson as a Louisiana judge ended the 26-year nightmare that has been Rickey’s adult life. He was 26 years old when he was arrested for a rape he didn’t commit. Today, he is 52.

The victim identified Rickey in a terribly misleading photo lineup – the photo of Rickey was eight years old and there were only two other pictures to choose from. Several months later, a jury convicted him of the crime and sentenced him to life in prison. He spent the next 9,136 days at Louisiana’s massive state prison at Angola.

Rickey was engulfed by family as he walked into the free world this morning– several of his relatives had come to welcome him home, and others will be reunited with him in the next few days. Watching Rickey taste freedom for the first time in more than a quarter of a century is mind-boggling. The joy was palpable, but it was impossible to comprehend that he spent nearly his entire adult life at Angola for a crime he didn’t commit.

And while this is Rickey’s day to celebrate, my mind turned to two other Innocence Project clients who will go to sleep again tonight at Angola. Archie Williams has been fighting for 13 years to simply have DNA evidence tested in his case. The tests can prove his guilt or innocence beyond any doubt, but East Baton Rouge District Attorney Doug Moreau has fought Archie’s appeal at every turn. The same is true for Kenneth Reed, convicted in East Baton Rouge and unable – so far – to have DNA testing conducted in his case.

Tomorrow Rickey will join other Louisiana exonerees and relatives of Archie Williams in calling for statewide access to DNA testing when it can prove innocence. An innocent man’s quarter-century behind bars will be in vain if we are not able to learn from his nightmare and correct the problems in our criminal justice system that convict the innocent and keep them behind bars without fair, fast appeals. It’s only right that Rickey’s case should lead to testing for Archie Williams, Kenneth Reed and others seeking to prove the truth.

Read today’s Innocence Project press release on Rickey Johnson’s exoneration.





Tags: Rickey Johnson, Dispatches

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Exonerees demand statewide DNA testing at press conference today in Louisiana

Posted: January 15, 2008 12:27 pm

Today at 1 p.m. in Baton Rouge, Rickey Johnson – who was freed yesterday after serving 25 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit – will speak out for inmate access to DNA testing. Johnson would not be free today if he weren’t from Sabine Parish, where District Attorney Don Burkett worked with the Innocence Project to secure testing in the case and has now said he will help Johnson push for compensation for the injustice he suffered.

Defendants convicted in other parts of Louisiana have not met with such cooperation. Two Innocence Project clients – Archie Williams and Kenneth Reed – are seeking DNA testing that can prove their innocence. Both men were convicted in East Baton Rouge, and local district attorney Doug Moreau has fought to prevent them from receiving the tests. Williams, who spent time with Johnson at Louisiana’s state prison at Angola, has filed 10 motions over the last 13 years seeking DNA testing. Moreau has fought every one. In August, a state appeals court finally granted DNA testing in Williams’ case, but Moreau appealed that decision to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which has not decided whether to hear the appeal.

“Rickey left Archie Williams behind at Angola, where he continues waiting for the DNA tests that can prove his innocence or confirm his guilt,” Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck said yesterday. “Rickey Johnson wants to look Doug Moreau in the eye and share his profound personal experience with DNA testing. We will ask Mr. Moreau to immediately drop his state Supreme Court appeal and consent to DNA testing in Archie Williams’ case.”
Read the Innocence Project press release here for more details on today’s press conference and the cases of Archie Williams and Rickey Johnson.
Press coverage of Rickey Johnson’s exoneration:

Shreveport Times: Louisiana man is “free at last”

Johnson exonerated after serving 26 years of life sentence



Tags: Rickey Johnson, Archie Williams

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Virginia conducts review of DNA cases, but doesn't plan to share results with inmates

Posted: January 16, 2008 5:31 pm

After a report last week revealed that Virginia officials do not plan to tell convicted defendants if an audit has revealed untested biological evidence in their case file, editorials and experts have criticized the plan as unfair to people who may be wrongfully imprisoned.

The audit began after Marvin Anderson was exonerated in 2002 by DNA evidence in his case that was uncovered in the files of a retired lab analyst. Gov. Mark Warner then ordered that 10% of cases in the analyst’s files be tested for a possible wrongful conviction. Two more men – Phillip Leon Thurman and Willie Davidson – were exonerated by this review, and Warner ordered a complete audit of all sex assault and murder convictions between 1973 and 1988 involving biological evidence. That audit turned up 2,215 cases, and officials plan to share this list of cases with police, prosecutors and the governor, but not to notify defendants if biological evidence has been found in their case.

Leading voices across the state are outraged by the plan to notify only police and prosecutors.

From an editorial in the Bristol Herald Courier:

Now, the state’s prosecutors, court clerks and police are fine, honorable people. But we’re not so certain that they will be zealous advocates on behalf of individuals that their colleagues put away years ago. It’s human nature to prefer not to kick over a hornet’s nest.

…The Department should move forward with testing and notify those whose convictions might be affected by the results of that testing. It’s the only fair way to proceed.

Read the full editorial here.

From an editorial in the Roanoke Times:

Unless Virginia is taking its lead from the White House's treatment of detainees, it should let prisoners and their attorneys know what new evidence is available. Those prisoners could then decide whether to pursue DNA testing independently of the state.

Yet the state Forensic Science Board does not think that is appropriate. On a 6-5 vote, it chose to keep prisoners and the General Assembly in the dark.

…Those opposed to notification raised concerns about the cost of testing, difficulty tracking down each felon and sending a message that the state doesn't trust police and prosecutors. None of those inconveniences is particularly convincing when the alternative is to deny a wrongfully convicted prisoner an opportunity to prove his innocence.

Read the full editorial here.

Read more about this issue in the Richmond-Times Dispatch.





Tags: Marvin Anderson, Willie Davidson, Phillip Leon Thurman

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Hundreds of supporters call for DNA testing in Chicago case

Posted: January 17, 2008 4:01 pm

Johnnie Lee Savory was 14 years old when he went to prison for the murders of two teenagers – a crime he says he didn’t commit. Savory served 30 years – two-thirds of his life – in Illinois prisons before he was released on parole last year. Illinois courts have repeatedly denied Savory the right to DNA testing, and yesterday Savory was joined by hundreds of supporters in calling on Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to order testing in the case. Signing letters to Gov. Blagojevich were five former U.S. Attorneys, two former White House chiefs of staff, Noam Chomsky, John Grisham, business and religious leaders and 30 people exonerated by DNA testing.

Savory, who is African-American, was convicted twice by all-white juries, and the second conviction rested partly on the testimony of three informants who testified that Savory had told them about committing the crime. Two of those three informants have recanted their testimony. Physical evidence from the crime scene – including the alleged murder weapon, hairs from the crime scene and fingernail scrapings from the victims – could be tested now for DNA that might identify the real perpetrator in the murders. Savory is represented by lawyers at the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law and at the Chicago law firm Jenner & Block.

In their letter to Gov. Blagojevich, the group wrote:

Mr. Savory’s efforts to have the biological evidence in the case tested through the courts have failed. Hence, you, in all likelihood, are Mr. Savory’s only hope.

You have the power to order the testing, and there is precedent for you to do so; in fact, in the case of Gary Dotson — the first DNA exoneration in Illinois — Governor James R. Thompson ordered the testing which eventually cleared Mr. Dotson of rape. The testing will not cost the state any money. Mr. Savory will shoulder the entire expense of the DNA testing.
Read the full letter, and learn more about Savory’s case.



Tags: Informants/Snitches

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Colorado man released after DNA points to alternate suspect

Posted: January 22, 2008 2:10 pm

Tim Masters, who served nine years in a Colorado prison for a murder he has always maintained he didn't commit, was released from prison today after a judge approved a motion from prosecutors to vacate his conviction. Prosecutors have said that new DNA results from the crime scene point to an alternate suspect. The Denver Post reported that the DNA evidence points to an ex-boyfriend of the victim, and prosecutors have said they are investigating the alternate suspect.

Masters was 15 at the time of the crime but convicted 12 years later, based partly on a psychological evaluation of violent drawings he made in high school.

Cheers and applause erupted as Masters walked out of court with his attorneys, David Wymore and Maria Liu.

..."They did a fantastic job," Masters said of his lawyers at a hastily convened news conference.

"I want to go see my family," he stated.

Wymore said he would "urge the prosecutors to dismiss all charges as soon as possible." He added, "It's an opportunity to do the right thing."

Read the full story here and watch video footage of the court hearing. (CNN, 01/22/08)
The Innocence Project has been working for several months with Colorado law enforcement officials and legislators to ensure that biological evidence in the state is preserved for possible future testing. In Masters' case, his release today is thanks in part to the retention of evidence in his case. Read more about the Innocence Project's evidence preservation work in Colorado.

More media coverage of Masters' case:

Denver Post: Release likely today as missteps surface




Tags: Colorado, Timothy Masters

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Prosecutors likely to drop charges in Tim Masters case

Posted: January 25, 2008 4:31 pm

The Denver Post reported today that Colorado prosecutors are planning to drop murder charges against Tim Masters, who was released on Tuesday due to DNA evidence of his innocence. Masters was convicted in 1989 of a murder 12 years earlier near his teenage home. He was 15 at the time of the murder and was questioned vigorously by detectives but not charged at the time. He would be charged and convicted a dozen years later partly based on his violent high school drawings.

The news follows a week of "round-the-clock" meetings between the DA and law-enforcement officials, including Adams County special prosecutor Don Quick, in which Abrahamson and his advisers have determined that not enough viable evidence exists to prove Masters killed Peggy Hettrick in 1987.

The DA also is considering whether to ask state Attorney General John Suthers to take over directing the criminal investigation to find Hettrick's killer, a process that has delayed an announcement.

Read the full story here. (Denver Post, 01/25/08)
View the Post’s multimedia special feature on Masters’ case, including footage of his interrogation when he was 15 years old.

The Innocence Project has worked with Colorado officials during recent months on legislation aimed at improving evidence preservation in the state. If evidence from the crime scene in Masters’ case was not preserved, he would still be in prison today, and in dozens of other Colorado cases, potentially exculpatory evidence has already been destroyed. Several Colorado lawmakers have announced plans to introduce preservation legislation this year.
 



Tags: Colorado, Evidence Preservation, Timothy Masters

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Test of Convictions: An Ohio investigative report

Posted: January 28, 2008 5:41 pm

A five-part investigative series this week in the Columbus Dispatch uncovers major flaws in the way the criminal justice system in Ohio uncovers and overturns wrongful convictions.

The flaws have ruinous consequences for inmates, victims and society at large.

Presented with The Dispatch's findings, Gov. Ted Strickland immediately called for a compete overhaul that would speed up the review process, open up testing to more inmates and establish statewide standards for preserving evidence.

"It's not honoring the victim to take the chance that an innocent person is paying the price for victimizing them, because the flip side of the coin is that means the guilty party has escaped justice," Strickland said.

"It's just a matter of trying to do everything we can to be as careful and as accurate as we possibly can be.”
The Columbus Dispatch reviewed hundreds of requests for DNA testing and found that they are often denied without cause.  The series also found that Ohio’s law granting post-conviction DNA testing is inadequate.
Convicts lose their chance for a DNA test when they are released from prison, whether they leave on parole or in a hearse.

Ohio is among 15 states that require a person to be alive and in prison to qualify. Had that restriction been in place nationally, it would have prevented clearing the names of at least 22 men wrongly convicted of rape or murder.

If Ohio allowed for expanded DNA testing, the number of exonerations "would be higher, there's just no question," said Stephen Saloom, policy director of the Innocence Project of New York."You've got to ask: Who benefits from refusing to learn whether or not an innocent person was convicted of a serious crime? Nobody benefits -- except the real perpetrator. Everyone else loses."
Read the first two articles in the series and view special online features.




Tags: Ohio, Access to DNA Testing

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16th Dallas man is cleared by DNA testing

Posted: January 30, 2008 4:45 pm

Innocence Project client Steven Phillips, who was convicted in 1984 of a sexual assault he didn’t commit, served more than two decades in prison before he was released on parole in December. Throughout his incarceration, he wrote dozens of letters and appeals protesting his innocence. Now, DNA has proven that another man, who died in prison serving time for similar assaults, committed the attack for which Phillips was convicted. Phillips says he pled guilty to other related attacks because he feared he would be wrongfully convicted again by a jury. Innocence Project attorneys are working to clear these other charges now that DNA points to the alternate suspect in the crime spree for which Phillips was convicted. Prosecutors and police have always maintained that the same person committed all of the crimes, and the DNA testing in the 1984 conviction proves that Phillips is not that man.

Read the full story here.

Phillips is the 16th person to be cleared by DNA testing in Dallas after serving time for a wrongful conviction. View a slideshow of the others cleared by DNA in Dallas on the Dallas Morning News website.

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Real perpetrator identified in Dallas case

Posted: January 31, 2008 2:19 pm

Entre Nax Karage was exonerated through DNA testing in 2005 after serving more than six years in a Texas prison for a murder he didn’t commit. It was previously believed that the real perpetrator in the crime had died, but prosecutors said Wednesday that was a mistake. Another man has been charged in the crime after DNA from the crime scene matched his profile. Karage, now 38, was convicted in 1997 of killing his then-girlfriend in 1994 and sentenced to life in prison.

Keith Jordan, who is now charged in the case, is currently in a Texas prison after his convictions in 1997 for aggravated sexual assault of a child and aggravated kidnapping.

Read the full story here. (Dallas Morning News, 01/31/2008)

Karage is one of 16 men in Dallas County to be cleared of wrongful convictions by DNA evidence. Yesterday, prosecutors announced that the DNA testing that recently proved the innocence of Steven Phillips has identified the real perpetrator in the case, a man who died ten years ago. Phillips was released on parole in December after he was wrongfully convicted in 1984 of a series of rapes he didn’t commit. Read more about his case here.




Tags: Texas, Entre Nax Karage

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Florida editorial: Compensate the exonerated

Posted: January 30, 2008 4:55 pm

An editorial this week in the St. Petersburg Times examines the case of Alan Crotzer, who was exonerated through DNA testing in 2006 after serving 24 years in prison for a rape and kidnapping he didn’t commit. Crotzer has been out for two years, but has yet to receive any kind of compensation from the state of Florida, which is not among the 22 states with standing laws compensating the wrongfully convicted.

Crotzer and his advocates are working this year to pass a “private” bill that would provide him the compensation he deserves; such bills only apply to one individual, rather than to anyone who has been proven innocent. The editorial calls for a systemic solution. A bill proposed by State Sen. Arthenia Joyner would compensate the wrongfully convicted with up to $100,000 for each year of wrongful conviction. Passing this bill, the newspaper says, should be a priority for state lawmakers.

The Legislature has a responsibility to address an issue it has kicked down the road for years: compensation for the wrongfully convicted. Lawmakers need to put aside their differences and bring Florida into the ranks of those states that have an automatic system for providing recompense to people wrongly incarcerated - sometimes for decades. It is not just a duty but a moral imperative.

Read the full story here. (St. Petersburg Times, 01/29/08)
Does your state have a compensation law? View our interactive map to find out.





Tags: Florida, Alan Crotzer

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More than 2,000 Facebook members. Join us today!

Posted: January 31, 2008 1:35 pm

The Innocence Project has more than 2,000 active supporters on the social networking website Facebook, and we’re just waiting for you to join. Our Facebook page is a great site to meet others interested in the issues of wrongful convictions and criminal justice reforms, and to tell your friends that you support DNA testing for the wrongfully convicted.

Click here to join us today
.


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DNA leads to suspect in Connecticut exoneration case

Posted: February 1, 2008 10:22 am

Police announced yesterday that DNA has identified a suspect in the 1988 rape for which James Tillman spent more than 16 years in prison. Hartford Police and the State’s Attorney’s Cold Case Unit announced that a DNA profile from evidence at the crime scene has matched Duane Foster, who is currently serving time in a Virginia prison for unrelated crimes.

Foster previously lived in Hartford, where the 1988 crime happened, and Tillman’s attorney said the two served time in the same prison at one point. Officials have a warrant for Foster’s arrest on a first-degree kidnapping charge in the 1988 case, as the statute of limitations on sexual assault has expired. It was unclear Thursday if and when he would be extradited to Connecticut.

Read the full story here. (Hartford Courant, 02/01/08)

Tillman was released from prison on July 11, 2006 after serving more than 16 years for the 1988 rape. DNA testing proved that he did not commit the crime.  Read more about his case here.

In 81 of the 212 DNA exonerations nationwide, DNA didn’t just exonerate people who were wrongfully convicted – it helped identify the true perpetrators who evaded justice for years or decades.  The policy reforms the Innocence Project pursues nationwide are proven to protect the innocent and help apprehend the guilty.  Learn more about these reforms here.





Tags: Connecticut, James Tillman

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Texas man marks 7 years of freedom

Posted: February 1, 2008 4:40 pm

Today marks the seventh anniversary of David Shawn Pope’s exoneration in Texas. Pope served 15 years in prison after his 1986 conviction for a rape he didn’t commit. He was convicted based an eyewitness misidentification and “voice print” testimony. Evidence was presented at Pope’s trial that his “voice print” matched messages left on the victim’s answering machine. This unreliable forensic discipline is no longer used in courts.

Read more about Pope’s case here.

Today is also the fourth anniversary of the exoneration of Stephan Cowans, a Massachusetts man who was released in 2004 after serving more than 5 years in prison for an armed assault he didn’t commit. Sadly, Cowans was killed in his home in 2007. Read more about his case here.

Other exoneration anniversaries in the last two weeks:

Robert Miller, Oklahoma (Served 9 years, Exonerated 01/22/1998)
Alan Crotzer, Florida (Served 24.5 years, Exonerated 01/23/2006)
Dana Holland, Illinois (Served 8 years, Exonerated 01/30/03)
Dennis Brown, Louisiana (Served 19 Years, Exonerated 01/31/05)



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Darryl Hunt marks four years of freedom

Posted: February 6, 2008 4:14 pm

Four years ago today, Darryl Hunt was exonerated in North Carolina after serving more than 18 years in prison for a brutal Winston-Salem murder he didn’t commit. Hunt was first convicted of the murder in 1985, but a judge threw out the conviction because prosecutors used a girlfriend’s statements against Hunt at trial even after she had recanted them. While he was waiting for a second trial, he refused an offer to plead guilty that would have set him free.

After 11 months outside of prison awaiting trial, Hunt was again convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1989. Five years later, DNA evidence in the case was tested and showed that semen from the crime scene excluded Hunt. He wouldn’t be freed, however, until 2004, when the DNA profile from the crime scene was run in the state database at the request of Hunt’s attorneys. The profile matched a man serving time in prison for another murder. Finally, this evidence led to Hunt’s exoneration in 2004.

For more on Darryl Hunt’s long struggle for justice, rent or buy "The Trials of Daryl Hunt, "an award-winning documentary detailing his story, now available on DVD. View a trailer of the film and buy a copy here.

Read more about Daryl Hunt's case here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Today: Chris Ochoa and Richard Danziger, Texas (Served 11 Years, Exonerated 02/06/02)

Friday: Anthony Gray, Maryland (Served 7 Years, Exonerated 02/08/99)

Saturday: Donte L. Booker, Ohio (Served 15 Years, Exonerated 02/09/05)

Lesly Jean, North Carolina (Served 9 Years, Exonerated 02/09/01)




Tags: Donte Booker, Richard Danziger, Anthony Gray, Darryl Hunt, Lesly Jean, Christopher Ochoa

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Investigation of Boston exoneration raises questions of police misconduct

Posted: February 7, 2008 12:51 pm

Stephan Cowans’ short life was marred by terrible injustice. He spent seven of his 37 years behind bars for the shooting of a Boston police officer – a crime he didn’t commit. And less than four years after DNA testing proved his innocence and led to his release from prison, he was shot and killed in his home. Family members have said that they believe the killer was trying to rob him because of his well-known $3.2 million wrongful conviction settlement.

Cowans was convicted based partly on trial testimony from a fingerprint examiner who said that a print from the crime scene matched Cowans’ print. After DNA tests exonerated Cowans, experts reexamined the print and determined that the “match” was in error. And a major Boston Phoenix investigation published yesterday uncovers evidence that the police and forensic misconduct may go deeper than a fingerprint error. The Phoenix reports that forged documents in the case show an attempt to cover up gross negligence or misconduct by police officers, and a reluctance to pursue the actual perpetrator in the case.

Cowans never learned how, or why, he came to be blamed for the non-fatal shooting of Boston police officer Gregory Gallagher in 1997. Now, the Boston Phoenix has uncovered substantial new information about the Cowans case. These revelations are troubling, as they suggest that key members of the Boston Police Department (BPD) knew that Cowans was innocent, even as they forged the case to prosecute him.

The Phoenix has reviewed hundreds of pages of documents, including contents of the original investigative file, and interviewed many sources close to the case. For a variety of reasons, certain case materials, physical evidence, and potential witnesses were not available. Nonetheless, the picture that has emerged is one in which some BPD officers appear to have perjured themselves, and/or concealed evidence, hidden what they knew, and even falsified documents. Officers may have been aware of Cowans’s innocence — some of them may even have known who the real shooter was, and for whatever reason, worked to protect him.

Read the full story here, along with an editorial and more coverage in the Boston Phoenix. (02/06/08)
Read more about Cowans’ case here.




Tags: Stephan Cowans, Fingerprints

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Dallas man picks up the pieces of a lost life

Posted: February 8, 2008 9:31 am

Charles Chatman spent 27 years in Texas prison before DNA proved that he did not commit 1981 rape for which he was convicted and sentenced to 99 years in prison. He was released on January 3 and will be officially exonerated when Texas’ highest criminal court grants his writ of habeas corpus. An in-depth story in yesterday’s Dallas Observer touches base with Chatman as he works to rebuild a life stolen by wrongful conviction.

Walking out of prison in January, after decades of being told what to do and when to do it, Chatman, at 47, finds himself facing a new challenge. Imagine being frozen in time, while outside everything changed—cars, clothes, culture. But he stayed the same, trapped in a 1981 version of himself while anger and resentment ate away at him. He kept a form letter describing his plight, sending it to lawyers and judges, reporters and politicians and talk show hosts. But for the most part, no one believed him. Until one day, they did.

And suddenly, like an astronaut returning to earth, he re-enters this changed world, which seems to be spinning faster. There is so much to learn—cell phones, ATM machines and computers, new highways, new buildings and new family members. There is a local network of social service agencies—nonprofits and faith-based institutions—that can help ease Chatman's transition back into the community. And the state of Texas has a compensation system that can provide Chatman with $50,000 for each year he was imprisoned. But what amount of money can fairly compensate him for the years he has lost and the damage he has endured by living behind bars for 27 years as an innocent man?

Read the full story here. (Dallas Observer, 02/07/08)
Last year, Texas lawmakers doubled the amount of compensation people can receive after they are exonerated.  The state now meets the national standard of $50,000 per year served (and $100,000 per year on death row). Does your state have a compensation law? View our interactive reform map.




Tags: Texas

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DNA evidence clears two men in Mississippi and uncovers serious misconduct

Posted: February 8, 2008 4:25 pm

Innocence Project client Kennedy Brewer has waited more than 15 years – much of it on death row – for this day to come. DNA evidence proves that Brewer didn’t commit the heinous murder of a three-year-old girl for which he was sentenced to die in 1995, and he is expected to be exonerated at a hearing on Thursday (February 14).

The DNA evidence and other evidence uncovered by the Innocence Project and its partners also point to the identity of the real perpetrator of the murder, Justin Albert Johnson, who has confessed that he alone killed the little girl.

Johnson also confessed this week to killing another three-year-old girl in the same small Mississippi town eighteen months before the murder for which Brewer was convicted. The man convicted of this eerily similar crime, Levon Brooks, is also an Innocence Project client and is still in prison. The Innocence Project filed papers today seeking Brooks’ release. It’s possible that Brooks will also appear at Thursday’s hearing, where his conviction would be thrown out and he may be released.

These pending exonerations reveal startling misconduct in the Mississippi justice system, and the Innocence Project called for a review of the way evidence in the state is collected, analyzed and presented in court.

Read more in today’s Innocence Project press release
.

Press coverage of Brewer’s and Brooks’ cases:

New York Times: New suspect is arrested in two Mississippi killings (02/08/08)

Associated Press: New suspect charged in 1982 Miss. Murder (02/08/08)

Picayune Item: Future unclear for death row inmate after another charged with crime (02/08/08)




Tags: Mississippi, Kennedy Brewer, Government Misconduct, Death Penalty

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Editorials in U.S. and Canada call for crime lab funding and forensic oversight

Posted: February 11, 2008 11:15 am

Newspaper editorials across the U.S. and Canada in recent days have called for government support of reliable forensic science and safeguards against questionable science leading to wrongful convictions.

The Detroit Free Press: “The U.S. Justice Department should be distributing, not stalling, money set aside to help analyze DNA evidence in cases where the findings might show that people were wrongly convicted of crimes.” Read the full editorial.
The Houston Chronicle: “You would think the last person Texas Department of Public Safety officials would want at the helm of the DNA division of the agency's McAllen crime lab would be a reject from its scandal-scarred Houston Police Department counterpart…” Read the full editorial.
From the Ontario (Canada) Daily Observer: “Dr. Charles Smith is an expert witness (supposedly) in forensic pathology who lied, invented, forgot, pretended, withheld, dismissed, neglected, guessed - and, as a result, sent many people to jail for crimes that never happened. Not to jail for murders they did not do, or for manslaughter cases in which they had no hand, but for murders and manslaughters that never occurred.” Read the full editorial.
The Innocence Project has been at the center of activity in recent weeks aimed at improving the way forensic science is used in American courtrooms. Co-Director Peter Neufeld testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on the federal government’s failure to act on a law seeking to ensure crime lab oversight and fund DNA testing.

And this week Kennedy Brewer is expected to become the first person in Mississippi exonerated by DNA testing. He was sent to death row in 1995 based on seriously flawed forensic testimony. Read more.




Tags: Kennedy Brewer

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NY county plans to record police interrogations

Posted: February 11, 2008 11:06 am

Suffolk County, the western part of New York’s Long Island, will begin recording police interrogations in homicide investigations as soon as this spring, officials announced this week. District Attorney Thomas Spota said he was inspired to work toward this reform because jurors frequently ask to see videotapes of interrogations. Homicide investigations in the county have been under fire for at least two decades. In 1989, a study found that Suffolk detectives had a confession rate in murder investigations.

The news was welcomed by the Innocence Project and supporters of Marty Tankleff, the Suffolk County man who was wrongfully convicted of killing his parents in 1990 after falsely confessing to involvement in the crime.

Officials in Nassau County (eastern Long Island) are also considering a change to record interrogations, and more than 500 jurisdictions around the country have found that recording policies have improved investigations and juror confidence and have helped prevent wrongful convictions.

"I just think that this is the natural evolution of the interrogation process," said (Suffolk County DA Thomas) Spota, who expects to have the new process in place by the end of the year. "And quite frankly, I'm aware that it will increase the public's confidence ... in the integrity of the police's interrogations and their tactics."

Read the full story here. (Newsday, 2/7/08)
Tankleff’s case was recently featured on CBS’ 48 Hours Mystery. Watch the episode online here.

Nassau County men John Kogut, John Restivo and Dennis Halstead were exonerated in 2005 after they served more than 15 years in prison for a murder none of them committed. They were convicted after Kogut gave a false confession following an 18-hours interrogation.

Read more about reforms proposed by the Innocence Project to prevent false confessions nationwide.





Tags: False Confessions

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Hearing set for Friday in Mississippi cases

Posted: February 12, 2008 11:40 am

Innocence Project client Kennedy Brewer will appear in a Mississippi courtroom on Friday as a judge considers whether to dismiss charges against him based on evidence of his innocence. Brewer spent 15 years behind bars – much of it on death row -- for the 1992 rape and murder of his girlfriend’s three-year-old daughter. Now DNA evidence proves his innocence and points to the identity of the real perpetrator, Justin Albert Johnson, who confessed to the crime. If charges are dropped Friday, Brewer will become the first person exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing in Mississippi.

The Innocence Project also represents Levon Brooks, who was convicted of an identical child murder that occurred in the same town 18 months earlier. Johnson has confessed to this murder as well. He was an initial suspect in both cases and lived near the victims at the time of the crimes. The Innocence Project is also seeking this week to expedite proceedings to vacate Brooks’ conviction as well, based on the evidence that Johnson committed the crime alone. Brooks’ case may be scheduled for the same hearing Friday.

Prosecutors in Mississippi have relied for years on the work of two discredited “experts” to examine forensic evidence and conduct autopsies. The Innocence Project has called for a review of forensic practices statewide. Read more in Friday’s Innocence Project press release.

Associated Press: Hearing on motion to exonerate man in child murder set for Friday (02/11/08)



Tags: Kennedy Brewer

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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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Misidentification led to false charges in Pittsburgh case

Posted: February 15, 2008 4:32 pm

While Michael Disimo spent two months in jail for a bank robbery he didn’t commit, he lost his job and missed his son’s birthday. Disimo was arrested for the 2005 bank robbery when a police officer thought he looked like the description of the perpetrator. A bank teller was then brought to the location of the police stop to identify Disimo, in what is called a “show up” identification procedure. She said she was 100 percent sure it was him.

He was questioned by police and the FBI.

Disimo said, "They had given me the polygraph test and they said that I failed it and at that point, ya know, I was really like confused, shocked, scared, definitely scared because I had never been arrested before."

Disimo was taken to the Allegheny County Jail and held on $50,000 bond. Money he didn't have.

"I flipped out and basically had a breakdown. They had put me on a suicide watch." Disimo said. 
Disimo was freed after the eyewitness withdrew her identification and another man confessed to committing the robbery.

Read the full story here. (Pittsburgh.com, 02/15/08)

Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful conviction, contributing to 75 percent of the 213 cases overturned by DNA testing to date. Improving the identification procedures used by police around the country will prevent both wrongful convictions and wrongful arrests. A witness’ “100 percent” identification is strong evidence in a courtroom. Would Disimo have been convicted if the real perpetrator hadn’t come forward?

Read more about eyewitness identification reforms supported by the Innocence Project
.





Tags: Pennsylvania, 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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Report says prosecutors knew Michigan man was innocent before trial

Posted: February 15, 2008 4:20 pm

A Michigan State Police report released this week by attorneys representing Claude McCollum suggests that police and prosecutors proceeded with McCollum’s 2005 murder trial despite video evidence that he could not have been at the crime scene. McCollum was convicted of the murder despite this evidence and he served nearly two years in prison before his release last year.

The Lansing State Journal reported this week that the 2007 Michigan State Police report on the case shows that a detective knew about the video evidence and passed the information to prosecutors. Prosecutors have said they didn’t see the report until the trial was underway, and that they shared it with defense attorneys.

Read the full story here. (Lasing State Journal, 02/13/08)

View an interactive multimedia feature on McCollum’s case.





Tags: Michigan, Claude McCollum

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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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Mississippi lawmakers review evidence preservation in wake of Brewer and Brooks cases

Posted: February 19, 2008 4:21 pm

After Innocence Project clients Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks were cleared on Friday, Mississippi legislators began calling for reforms to the state’s criminal justice system. The Innocence Project has suggested that a law requiring that biological evidence be preserved could lead to more exonerations of innocent prisoners in Mississippi, and State Rep. Greg Snowden said the legislature should work toward an evidence preservation statute as soon as possible.

"There are people in prison who don't need to be there. Hopefully there are very few people like that. Particularly when the stakes are high, like if it is a death row sort of thing, obviously you want to do everything you can to make sure the right person is convicted," Snowden said.

Read the full story here. (ABC-11, Meridian, MS, 2/16/08)
The Innocence Project has also called for a review of crime lab oversight mechanisms in Mississippi. Read more about these proposed reforms and the cases of Brewer and Brooks here.



Tags: Kennedy Brewer

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Fallout continues after Mississippi exoneration

Posted: February 20, 2008 11:05 am

Days after Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks were cleared in Mississippi, new questions are being raised about the forensic analysts and prosecutor who secured their convictions. Both men were wrongfully convicted of killing three-year-old girls in the early 1990s served 15 years behind bars before they were cleared. Brewer served several years on death row.

A discredited forensic dentist, Michael West, testified at both trials that marks on the victim’s bodies proved that Brooks and Brewer bit the victims – using only their top two teeth. In new statements published today by ABC News, Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld says that West’s actions in these cases was “criminal.”

West "deliberately fabricated evidence and conclusions which were not supported by the evidence, the data or the rules of science but … because they were consistent with the prosecutor's theory,'' said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization that examines questionable convictions and has won the exoneration of more than 200 inmates.

"If you fabricate evidence in a capital murder case, where you know that if the person's convicted they are going to be executed — as far as I'm concerned that's the crime of attempted murder.''
"He's a criminal," Neufeld said of West.

The two cases were investigated by the same Noxubee County, Mississippi detective and prosecuted by the same attorney, and the same medical examiner and forensic dentist appeared in each case.
This is the first time that Neufeld or his colleagues at the Innocence Project have ever called for the criminal prosecution of a scientist, Neufeld said.

"These are not cases of sloppy forensic science,'' Neufeld said on Monday. "This is intentional misconduct. It's fabricated evidence to send people to death row.''
ABC News also spoke to Noxubee County Forrest Allgood, who brought West into the case as a witness. Allgood prosecuted both Brewer and Brooks in the 1990s, and he fought Brewer’s exoneration for the last seven years.
Allgood said that during the trials of Brewer and Brooks in the early 1990s, West's reputation was intact.
"At the time he was sitting on top of the world,'' Allgood said. "He was lecturing in China. He was lecturing in England."
"Nobody wants to put the wrong guy in jail,'' Allgood concluded, though adding that he still believes that Brewer "had a hand'' in Jackson's abduction.

Read the full story here. (ABC News, 02/20/08)
In fact, West had already been widely discrdited – and his membership in professional associations had been revoked – when Allgood called him to testify in Brewer’s trial. There is also no evidence that Brewer “had a hand” in the kidnapping, rape or murder of the three-year-old victim; instead, there is solid, irrefutable scientific evidence that he was not involved in the crime at all.

Read more about the Brewer and Brooks cases and reforms proposed by the Innocence Project to prevent future wrongful convictions in Mississippi.



Tags: Kennedy Brewer

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Herman Atkins marks eight years of freedom

Posted: February 21, 2008 12:20 pm

Monday marked the eighth anniversary of Herman Atkins’ exoneration in California.  Atkins served 12 years in prison after he was wrongfully convicted in 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.

Eyewitness misidentification is the most common cause of wrongful conviction, playing a role  in 75 percent of convictions overturned by DNA testing. Read more about eyewitness misidentification here.

Herman Atkins’ case was accepted by the Innocence Project in 1993.  The evidence for DNA testing was found in 1995, but the prosecution refused to allow access to the evidence.  In 1999, the Innocence Project filed a motion to compel the prosecution to allow DNA testing.  The motion was finally granted and all DNA test results conclusively excluded Atkins from the crime.  In February 2000, Herman Atkins was exonerated after spending 12 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

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.

Read more about Herman Atkins’ case here.

Watch a video interview with Atkins.

Other exoneration anniversary this week:

Monday: Peter Rose, California (Served 8 years, Exonerated 2/18/05)





Tags: Herman Atkins, Peter Rose

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Florida lawmakers will move forward with compensation for exoneree

Posted: February 21, 2008 4:45 pm

For three years, exoneree Alan Crotzer has been asking the Florida Legislature to compensate him for the 24 years he spent in Florida prisons for a crime he didn’t commit. Yesterday, he got some good news.

The Senate President said yesterday he would prioritize Crotzer’s claim to $1.25 million for 24 years of wrongful incarceration. That’s approximately $50,000 per year served, which is the amount that the federal government recommends and the Innocence Project advocates for compensation statutes across the country. Legislation to compensate Crotzer had stalled in the Senate last year on procedural grounds despite strong support from the House and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who called the bill a “no-brainer.”

While Crotzer deserves to be compensated immediately for the injustice he suffered, Florida needs a more inclusive solution to help the exonerated get back on their feet. Innocence Project of Florida Policy Director Jenny Greenberg said it’s time for the state to join 22 others and pass legislation that would compensate people who have been wrongfully convicted (rather than considering separate bills to compensate each individual).

Greenberg … said a ''universal claims bill'' for the wrongfully convicted will help, but hopes that lawmakers won't make the bill so restrictive that victims of the justice system won't be able to get money to get back on their feet.
''It's not just Alan Crotzer who's affected,'' she said.

Read the full story here. (Miami Herald, 02/21/08)
Our free monthly email newsletter, which was sent to subscribers yesterday, included an update on compensation reforms nationwide.

Didn’t get it in your inbox? Subscribe here.

Or read the newsletter on our website here.



Tags: Florida, Alan Crotzer

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Wyoming lawmakers approve DNA testing bill

Posted: February 22, 2008 4:52 pm

Wyoming is one of the eight states without a law explicitly granting defendants access to post-conviction DNA testing when it could prove innocence or guilt, but some state lawmakers hope that this won’t be the case for long. The Wyoming Senate yesterday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would provide DNA testing access. The state’s current law only allows inmates to prove their innocence through the standard appeals process, which normally expires two years after conviction. This means inmates convicted before DNA tests were first used in courtrooms in 1989 wouldn’t be able to apply for testing.

Read more:

Wyoming Tribune-Eagle: Senate Oks post-conviction DNA tests

Caspar Star-Tribune: Panel approves DNA bill

Is your state one of the eight without DNA testing access? View our map to find out.





Tags: Wyoming, Access to DNA Testing

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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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New Ohio coalition calls for criminal justice reform

Posted: February 25, 2008 3:42 pm

A report delivered to Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland last week by leaders from across the state’s criminal justice system calls for lawmakers to address wrongful convictions with a package of reforms proven to prevent injustice. The report, delivered by the state’s head public defender, a former attorney general and the director of the Ohio Innocence Project, suggests statewide standards for evidence preservation, eyewitness identification procedures, recording of interrogations and crime lab oversight.

"We need to establish additional safeguards to make sure this stuff doesn't happen here," said former Attorney General Jim Petro, a Republican who while in office pushed for DNA testing that freed a man wrongfully convicted of rape and murder.

Ohio Public Defender Tim Young agreed. "Make a list of the worst things that can happen in life, and being locked in prison for a crime you didn't do is near the top of that list. We have a fundamental responsibility, especially with DNA evidence, to make sure justice was done."

Read the full article, and view maps of other reforms passed around the country to address and prevent wrongful convictions. (Columbus Dispatch, 02/24/2008)




Tags: Ohio, Innocence Commissions, False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing

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Arvin McGee marks six years of freedom

Posted: February 26, 2008 2:10 pm

Today is the sixth anniversary of Arvin McGee’s exoneration in Oklahoma.  McGee served more than 12 years in prison for a brutal rape he didn’t commit. In 1989, two years after the crime, McGee was convicted and sentenced to more than 200 years in prison.

McGee’s conviction rested primarily on the victim’s eyewitness testimony.  The victim identified McGee from a photo array four months after the crime took place.  Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing.

Read more about eyewitness misidentification here
.

McGee’s case was eventually taken by the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System, which secured DNA testing of the evidence.  The results conclusively excluded McGee from the crime and he was exonerated and freed from prison in February 2002, after serving more than 12 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.  

During the same year of McGee’s exoneration, Oklahoma officials revealed that the DNA evidence gathered from the crime scene implicated another man, Edward Alberty, in the crime. Alberty was already serving time for another crime.

Read more about Arvin McGee’s case here
.




Tags: Arvin McGee

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New York Exoneree speaks tonight in Westchester County

Posted: February 27, 2008 1:58 pm

Jeffrey Deskovic, who was wrongfully convicted at age 17 of killing a high school classmate and served 15 years before DNA proved his innocence, will speak tonight at Mercy College, in Dobbs Ferry, New York. Deskovic recently completed his undergraduate degree at Mercy, and is applying to law schools. He will discuss his case and criminal justice reforms proven to prevent future wrongful convictions. The event is free and open to the public; more information is available here.

Deskovic speaks around the country in an effort to raise awareness of wrongful convictions.  To learn more about his case and scheduling speaking events in your area, visit his website.





Tags: Jeff Deskovic

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Discussion on indigent defense today in Tucson

Posted: February 27, 2008 2:10 pm

Bad lawyering has contributed to several of the wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing. Public defenders are often overburdened and underfunded, rendering them unable to provide the defense and investigation needed in a serious criminal trial. The Innocence Project has called for improvements in the nation’s indigent defense systems to prevent future wrongful convictions, but few states have taken action. Stephen Bright, the director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, will address the issue of indigent defense this afternoon at a speech in Tucson, Arizona.

"There is a failure in jurisdictions all over the country to provide adequate lawyers to people accused of crimes," said Stephen B. Bright, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights. "It's particularly troubling in death penalty cases with lawyers who don't have the competence, the expertise, the resources or the investigative assistance needed to try death penalty cases," Bright said.

Read the full story and get details on the event here.
Jimmy Ray Bromgard, who served more than 14 years in a Montana prison before DNA testing proved him innocent, is an example of a defendant who was wrongfully convicted partly because of inadequate defense representation. His attorney did no investigation, hired no expert to debunk the state's forensic expert, filed no motions to suppress the identification of a young girl who was, according to her testimony, at best only 65% certain, gave no opening statement, did not prepare a closing statement, and failed to file an appeal after Bromgard's conviction. Read more about his case here.




Tags: Arizona, Montana, Bad Lawyering

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Mississippi legislators pass DNA testing bill

Posted: February 28, 2008 4:10 pm

The Mississippi House of Representatives passed two bills this week providing DNA testing access to small groups of people convicted of – and charged with – murder. The bills would provide access to post-conviction DNA testing for people on death row, and would provide DNA testing access to people facing capital murder charges.

Mississippi is one of eight states in the U.S. with no state law allowing access to DNA testing. But the Innocence Project recommends that states allow testing in all cases in which DNA testing could change the conviction – not only death-penalty cases.

Earlier this month, the Mississippi Senate passed a bill addressing preservation of evidence in cases so that DNA testing can be done to determine guilt or innocence.  That bill now moves to the House for consideration.

Read more about the bills here. (The Commercial Dispatch, 02/28/08)

The bills, which will now go to the Mississippi Senate, come in the wake of the Feb. 15 exoneration of Kennedy Brewer and the release of Levon Brooks, both of whom spent 15 years behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit. Read more about their cases here.





Tags: Mississippi, Kennedy Brewer, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing

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1 in 100 Americans in prison; how many are innocent?

Posted: February 29, 2008 3:18 pm

A new report released yesterday shows that an all-time high of 1% of Americans are in prison or jail today. The United States incarcerates a far higher percentage of the population than any other country on Earth, with China a distant second. The incarceration of 2.3 million people costs the states and federal government $55 billion a year, and growth has not slowed, according to the new report by the Pew Center on the States.

The stories of the 213 people exonerated by DNA testing after serving decades in prison suggest that there are many more wrongfully convicted people behind bars. Since biological evidence is available in less than 10% of all criminal cases, the airtight proof of DNA evidence is not available to overturn faulty convictions for the vast majority of prisoners. The causes of wrongful conviction affect 100% of criminal cases – not only those involving DNA.

Samuel Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan, found in a 2004 study that 2.3% of death penalty convictions had been overturned because of evidence of innocence. He wrote in the Los Angeles Times last year that his research suggests that at least 1% of American prisoners may be wrongfully convicted.

The Innocence Project works to free these staggering numbers of wrongfully convicted people, but also to reform the system before it sends another innocent person to prison. Click here to get involved in our work today.

Read more:


Washington Post: New High In U.S. Prison Numbers

Pew Center on the States: Pew Report Finds More than One in 100 Adults Behind Bars

Samuel Gross: Weeding out the innocents



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New Hampshire man to get another round of DNA testing

Posted: February 29, 2008 3:05 pm

Robert Breest, who has served 35 years in a New Hampshire prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit, will get another round of DNA testing, after Breest’s attorneys reached a deal with prosecutors this month. Several rounds of DNA testing in the case have been inconclusive, but Breest’s attorneys are seeking to employ new, more sensitive, Y-STR testing on evidence from the victim’s fingernails.

Breest was convicted based on blood-type evidence showing that 10% of white men, including Breest, could have contributed physical evidence found at the scene. Also used against Breest at trial was a jailhouse informant and expert testimony that paint chips from the crime scene matched Breest’s car. Unreliable and limited science like blood-type testing and paint chip comparison – along with snitch testimony – have contributed to dozens of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing.

Read the full story here. (Concord Monitor, 02/29/08)

Attorney Albert Scherr is representing Breest pro-bono in his state claims in affiliation with the New England Innocence Project.The Innocence Project is working with attorney Ian Dumain (a former Innocence Project clinic student while at Cardozo Law School) of Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP on Breest’s claim to DNA testing in federal court. In January, a federal judge denied the state’s motion to dismiss Breest’s claim to DNA testing. Read the judge’s order here.





Tags: New Hampshire, Robert Breest

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New York detective suspended for speaking out on wrongful conviction cases

Posted: February 29, 2008 4:25 pm

A Buffalo, New York, cold case squad detective was suspended without pay this week for speaking publicly about two cold cases in which evidence showed that a man and woman were in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. Dennis Delano, a 28-year veteran of the Buffalo Police Department, has been suspended for allegedly compromising the nature of investigations with his public statements.

Delano’s work has been key to the release of two wrongfully convicted individuals in Buffalo in recent months – Anthony Capozzi and Lynn DeJac. Capozzi was exonerated by DNA evidence last year after serving two decades in prison for two rapes he didn’t commit. DeJac was officially cleared yesterday when prosecutors dropped all pending charges against her. She served 13 years for allegedly killing her 13-year-old daughter in 1933. Three medical examiners have now said the girl died of a cocaine overdose, not strangulation.

Nationwide, police officers and other law enforcement authorities can play an important role in uncovering wrongful convictions – often through investigations of other cold cases that reveal evidence of wrongful convictions.  Capozzi and DeJac have both publicly said that without Delano’s commitment to uncovering the truth in their cases, they would not have been exonerated.

The suspension of Detective Delano has caused a stir in Buffalo today, with his supporters saying he was being unfairly punished for continuing to pursue the DeJac case against direct orders from superiors.

"The charges against Mr. Delano are extremely serious in nature and his actions have compromised the integrity of the Buffalo Police Department," today’s statement (from Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson) said.

Police sources previously said Gipson had suspended Delano with pay this week for allegedly providing an investigative videotape from the Lynn DeJac case to a local television station.

Read the full story here. (Buffalo News, 02/29/08)
DeJac and her supporters do not believe her daughter died of a cocaine overdose.  They have suggested that the police and prosecutor changed the cause of death to avoid being held accountable for DeJac’s wrongful conviction.  The crime scene video that aired on local television news stations supported the theory that the girl died from violence (rather than a drug overdose).  There is no evidence that Delano provided the video to the local television station.

Read more about the Capozzi and DeJac cases.







Tags: New York, Anthony Capozzi

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Mississippi officials agree that state reforms are badly needed

Posted: March 3, 2008 3:11 pm

Innocence Project clients Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer were freed last month after DNA proved that they were convicted of murders they didn’t commit. Their cases have sparked a thorough review of forensic testing in Mississippi, and lawmakers this week are calling for significant changes to ensure that more innocent people are not convicted in the state.

State Attorney General Jim Hood said a key way to prevent wrongful convictions is to upgrade how Mississippi processes DNA evidence.
“Some of it may cost money, but it keeps innocent people from going to the penitentiary, and we will put a whole lot more people in the pen that have committed crimes if we had a DNA lab that tested every sample that we pulled,” Hood said.

“These cases are an urgent call for a thorough review of how crime-scene evidence gets analyzed and makes it into Mississippi courtrooms and how we can make sure only the most credible, objective, reliable science is used in criminal cases,” (Innocence Project Co-Director Peter) Neufeld said in a statement issued by the Innocence Project.Hood agreed such improvements are needed - with upgrading the state crime lab and state coroner's office being the most important steps to take.

“As far as a review of our criminal justice system, there's always room for error with humans. And there's always room for re-evaluations of how we do it. But there are nut-and-bolts things...like fully funding our crime lab and medical examiner's office,” he said.

Read the full article here. (Commercial Dispatch, 03/01/08)
Read more recent coverage of reforms in Mississippi.





Tags: Mississippi, Kennedy Brewer

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Exoneree and crime victim are named as Soros Justice Fellows

Posted: March 4, 2008 11:02 am

In July 1984, a man broke into Jennifer Thompson-Cannino’s North Carolina apartment and raped her. She identified Ronald Cotton in a lineup as the man who had attacked her, and he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. In 1994, DNA testing on evidence from that rape proved that Cotton had been misidentified and wrongfully convicted. He had served more than a decade in prison before he was exonerated.

Yesterday the Open Society Institute announced that Cotton, Thompson-Cannino and author Erin Torneo are recipients of a 2008 Soros Justice Fellowship, which will provide support for the group to continue their work to raise awareness about wrongful convictions and eyewitness identification reforms. For years, Cotton and Thompson-Cannino have traveled around the country speaking about the dangers of wrongful conviction and reforms needed to prevent the eyewitness misidentifications.

Read more about the Soros Justice Fellowships here.

Read more about Ronald Cotton’s case here
.

Jennifer Thompson-Cannino’s op-eds have been published in New York Times, the Durham-Herald Sun, and the Tallahassee Democrat. Read her New York Times op-ed, “I was certain, but I was wrong,” here.





Tags: North Carolina, Ronald Cotton, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Georgia lawmakers approve compensation for Willie "Pete" Williams

Posted: March 5, 2008 1:15 pm

A key committee of the Georgia House of Representatives approved $1.2 million in compensation Monday for a man who spent 21 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. Willie “Pete” Williams was exonerated last year after DNA tests proved that another man committed the 1985 rape of which Williams was convicted.

The House Appropriations Committee approved a resolution from Rep. Steve Tumlin (R-Marietta) that would give Williams a $100,000 lump sum payment and the balance of the $1.2 million in yearly payments over 20 years.

Tumlin said the payments were meant to compensate Williams for the wages and other potential benefits he lost while serving time in prison.

Williams was 23 when he was convicted on eyewitness testimony from the victim of a Sandy Springs rape. Another man is now being prosecuted for the crime. "Losing your 20s, 30s and early 40s," Tumlin said. "Think about that if it were you."

Read the full story here. (Atlanta Journal Constitution, 03/03/08)
The resolution must still be passed by the Georgia House and Senate. Georgia is one of 28 states that do not have a law compensating the exonerated for years they lost in prison for a crime they didn’t commit. The Innocence Project has proposed that these states pass uniform bills rather than requiring each exoneree to go before the legislature for a “private bill” like this one.

Williams was represented by the Georgia Innocence Project; read more about his case here.

Read more about the Innocence Project’s recommended policy reforms to compensate the wrongfully convicted here.

 



Tags: Georgia, Willie Williams, Exoneree Compensation

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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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The incalculable price of misidentification

Posted: March 5, 2008 2:05 pm

As Georgia lawmakers advance compensation for Willie “Pete” Williams, a column in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls for eyewitness identification reforms to prevent the injustice Williams suffered from happening to anyone else. The Innocence Project has worked with partners in Georgia (including the Georgia Innocence Project, which represented Williams) to support eyewitness identification reforms, but today’s column details the troubled road of this legislation and the compromises that appear necessary in order to get the bill passed.

You'd think that legislators would rush to find remedies that would at least lower the number of wrongful convictions.

You'd be wrong. So far, little has come from the efforts of Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield (D-Atlanta) to improve procedures for eyewitness identifications in criminal investigations. The bill is stuck, even though all seven of the exonerated were wrongly convicted largely on the basis of faulty eyewitness identifications.

Benfield first introduced a bill to standardize eyewitness IDs two years ago, but she met fierce resistance from police and prosecutors. When the legislation was assigned to a study committee, usually a sign that a bill has little support, Benfield faithfully shepherded it through, tacking and trimming to placate critics.

Now, the bill contains just two mandates: By 2009, Georgia law enforcement agencies must develop written procedures on how to administer eyewitness identifications; and by 2011, an officer trained in those best practices must supervise eyewitness ID procedures. But Benfield's bill is still stuck in the Rules Committee, where it awaits a date for a vote on the House floor.

Read the full column here. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 03/05/08)
All seven Georgia exonerees were convicted based partly on eyewitness misidentification, read more about their cases here.

Has your state enacted eyewitness reforms? Find out on our interactive map.




Tags: Georgia, Willie Williams, Exoneree Compensation

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Texas man marks one year of freedom

Posted: March 10, 2008 3:42 pm

One year ago yesterday, James Waller was officially exonerated in Texas. He served 10 years in prison – and another 13 years as a registered sex offender – before DNA proved his innocence of a rape. Waller was wrongfully convicted partly based on the child victim’s misidentification of him.

Waller is one of 14 men exonerated by DNA testing in Dallas County, more than any other county in the nation. Read more about the other Dallas exonerations here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Sunday: Cody Davis, Florida (Served 5 Months, Exonerated 03/09/07)

Tuesday: Michael Anthony Williams, Louisiana (Served 23.5 Years, Exonerated 03/11/05)

Saturday: Kenneth Waters, Massachusetts (Served 17.5 Years, Exonerated 03/15/2001)

John Willis, Illinois (Served 7 Years, Exonerated 03/02/99)



Tags: Texas, James Waller

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Connecticut Considers Criminal Justice Reform Legislation

Posted: March 10, 2008 4:44 pm

In an op-ed piece in today’s Hartford Courant, Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom argues that the Connecticut Legislature should pass a bill that would help prevent eyewitness misidentification. Connecticut’s governor recently proposed expanding the state’s DNA database, saying it would help protect the innocent and identify the guilty. The Innocence Project believes that reforms proven to prevent wrongful convictions should be a top priority. Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing – and was the cause of James Tillman’s wrongful conviction. Tillman served over 16 years in Connecticut prisons before his release in 2006.

If better eyewitness identification procedures had been in place two decades ago, James Tillman might not have been wrongfully convicted. At his trial in 1989, the primary evidence was the victim's identification of Tillman as her attacker. Even though the attack happened in a parking garage at night when the victim was impaired and under extreme duress, she identified him in a photo array.

Read the full op-ed here. (Hartford Courant, 03/10/08)
Read more about Tillman’s case here.

 



Tags: Connecticut, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Leading Mississippi Newspaper Supports Investigation of Steven Hayne

Posted: March 10, 2008 4:50 pm

The Hattiesburg American published an editorial Sunday in support of the Innocence Project’s efforts to investigate misconduct by Mississippi pathologist Steven Hayne. The Innocence Project has called upon Mississippi state authorities to comply with Public Records Act requests for information on Hayne, who contributed to the wrongful convictions of Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks.

Even if it means that all of the cases that Hayne and West worked on come under review, the investigation should advance. Even if it costs thousands of dollars and thousands of hours, it will be worth it if even one person wrongly convicted is freed or wins a new trial.

Read the full editorial here. (Hattiesburg American, 03/09/08)
The Innocence Project has sent letters to the state crime lab director and 22 district attorneys around the state in an effort to uncover information that might lead to additional evidence of wrongful convictions. Hayne conducts 80% of all criminal autopsies in the state and is not properly board-certified. The Innocence Project has also urged the Mississippi Department of Public Safety to fill the State Medical Examiner position that has been vacant for over a decade and provides critical oversight on the work of medical examiners in the state.

Read the Innocence Project press release here.

Read more about Brewer and Brooks cases here.

  



Tags: Mississippi, Kennedy Brewer

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Hearing Thursday in Mississippi for Levon Brooks

Posted: March 11, 2008 4:28 pm

District Attorney Forrest Allgood, of Noxubee County, Mississippi, has announced that he intends to drop the capital murder indictment against Innocence Project client Levon Brooks at a hearing Thursday morning in Macon, Mississippi.

Brooks spent 15 years in prison for the rape and murder of his girlfriend’s three-year-old daughter – a crime he did not commit. He was wrongfully convicted with the flawed forensic analysis of medical examiner Steven Hayne and bite mark analyst Michael West. Hayne and West also helped secure the wrongful conviction of Innocence Project client Kennedy Brewer, who was exonerated in February after 15 years behind bars. DNA evidence in the Brewer case led to the identification of the real perpetrator, Justin Albert Johnson, who confessed to both the Brewer and Brooks crimes.

Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld and Staff Attorney Vanessa Potkin will represent Brooks at Thursday’s hearing.

Read today’s Jackson Clarion Ledger article here.

Read more about Brooks and Brewer’s cases here.

Read about calls for reform to the Mississippi criminal justice system here.



Tags: Mississippi, Kennedy Brewer

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Texas judge calls for retrial for Clay Chabot due to prosecutorial misconduct

Posted: March 13, 2008 2:10 pm

A Dallas judge ruled yesterday that Innocence Project client Clay Chabot deserves a new trial in the 1986 murder for which he served 21 years in prison. Judge Mike Snipes wrote that prosecutor Janice Warder, who is currently running for Cooke County District Attorney, withheld key evidence of Chabot’s innocence from defense attorneys at the time of Chabot’s trial. The Dallas District Attorney and another judge have already said Chabot’s conviction should be tossed, but the Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas’s highest criminal court, asked for further hearings in Snipes’ court. Snipes’ ruling yesterday sends a recommendation to the Court of Criminal Appeals, which will make the final decision on a retrial.

Chabot was convicted of a murder in 1986, based on the testimony of his brother-in-law, Gerald Pabst. DNA testing has now shown that Pabst committed the crime and lied on the stand in his testimony against Chabot. Pabst is currently awaiting trial for the murder, and Chabot’s conviction was tossed out after the test results showed that the primary evidence against him – Pabst’s testimony – had been false. Chabot is on bond under house arrest while efforts to vacate his conviction continue.

Judge Snipes wrote "very strong findings that Mr. Chabot didn't get a fair trial the first time, and a very strong finding that he deserved to have his conviction overturned," said Jason Kreag, one of Mr. Chabot's attorneys.

Read the full story here. (Dallas Morning News, 03/13/08)
Dallas has seen more people exonerated by DNA testing than any other county in the nation. Read about the 14 Dallas exonerations here.




Tags: Clay Chabot

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Levon Brooks is exonerated in Mississippi

Posted: March 13, 2008 2:05 pm

At a hearing this morning in Macon, Mississippi, Innocence Project client Levon Brooks was fully cleared of charges relating to a 1990 murder for which he was wrongfully incarcerated for 15 years. Brooks was convicted of the murder based on the faulty forensic testimony of Dr. Steven Hayne and Michael West, and sentenced to life in prison. The same forensic experts also testified at the trial of Innocence Project client Kennedy Brewer, who was exonerated last month after serving 15 years (several of them on death row) for an eerily similar murder in the same town as the murder for which Brooks was convicted.

DNA testing and other evidence now shows that both murders were committed by the same man, Justin Albert Johnson, who has admitted that he killed both child victims alone. At a hearing last month, Brewer was fully exonerated and Brooks was released, but charges remained against Brooks until today.

Read more about Brooks’ case and the Innocence Project’s ongoing efforts to reform forensic science practices in Mississippi.





Tags: Kennedy Brewer

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DNA testing approved for seven Ohio inmates in wake of news investigation

Posted: March 17, 2008 4:01 pm

A five-part investigation published in January by the Columbus Post-Dispatch explored the cases of 30 Ohio inmates considered by the newspaper to be “prime candidates for DNA testing.” Now, seven of those inmates will receive DNA testing. All of them had either been denied testing in the past or granted testing that never took place. The inmates are represented by the Ohio Innocence Project and the Ohio Public Defenders Office, and a Cincinnati-area lab has offered to conduct testing pro-bono.

And the momentum brought about by these investigations has also sparked reforms in Ohio, including a proposed bill to expand access to DNA testing for people convicted of crimes.

A bipartisan effort to change state laws would expand DNA testing eligibility, require evidence to be preserved and set statewide standards for police lineups.

"I can think of no worse fate than to be an innocent person in one of our state prisons," said state Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican who has been working with former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro on crafting a bill.

Read the full story. (Columbus Dispatch, 03/16/08)
Read the Dispatch’s full five-part investigative report.



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Why Houston’s public defense system is “fundamentally unfair”

Posted: March 17, 2008 4:50 pm

An op-ed article in Sunday’s Houston Chronicle by Texas State Sen. Rodney Ellis (also the chairman of the Innocence Project Board of Directors) and Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck calls on Harris County, Texas, and other jurisdictions nationwide to ensure that people charged with crimes in our country receive adequate representation.

Insufficient defense representation has contributed to countless wrongful convictions nationwide, and often the cause is a system that ties the hands of appointed lawyers from the start of a case.

Harris County has a court-appointed system for indigent defense. Under this system, judges create a list of eligible independent attorneys. Once an attorney is assigned to the case, a judge decides whether to grant that attorney's requests for investigators, experts and compensation.

Too often, attorneys' hands are tied; if they are capable of adequately defending an indigent client, the system prevents them from doing the job…l

The result: a fundamentally unfair system that places innocent people at risk of being wrongfully convicted. Not surprisingly, inadequate defense counsel has contributed to a substantial number of wrongful convictions.… Evidence tells us that creating a public defender office is the best way to deliver quality legal services cost-effectively. But we also must invest the resources necessary to effectively defend the rights of our citizens.

Read the full article here. (Houston Chronicle, 03/16/08)
Read more about how bad lawyering can lead to wrongful conviction in our Understand the Causes section.





Tags: Bad Lawyering

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Antonio Beaver marks first anniversary of freedom

Posted: March 27, 2008 11:30 am

Saturday, March 29th, will mark the one year anniversary of Antonio Beaver’s exoneration in the state of Missouri.  Beaver spent more than 10 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. 

In the summer of 1996, a woman was attacked while parking her car on her way to work.  During the struggle, the victim noticed that the man was bleeding and that there was blood inside the car.  She managed to free herself and call the police.  The day after the attack, the victim helped police draw a composite sketch of her assailant, noting a defect in her attacker’s teeth.  Six days later, a detective arrested Antonio Beaver because he thought Beaver resembled the man in the composite sketch.  In the police line-up, Beaver was the only man who had a noticeable defect in his teeth. 

At trial, the victim identified Beaver and after the court deliberated for two days, Beaver was convicted of first-degree robbery and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions overturned with DNA testing. Read more about eyewitness misidentification here.

In 2001, Beaver filed a motion on his own behalf requesting DNA testing. The state opposed the motion, but the court granted a hearing on the issue in 2005. The Innocence Project accepted his case and filed a new motion for testing in 2006. The state agreed to grant testing and the DNA results proved Beaver’s innocence.

Beaver was officially exonerated on March 29th, 2007. Read more about his case here.



Tags: Antonio Beaver

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Arthur Mumphrey marks two years of freedom

Posted: March 17, 2008 4:36 pm

Today marks the second anniversary of Arthur Mumphrey’s exoneration in Texas.  Mumphrey was released on January 27, 2006, after serving nearly 18 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. He was pardoned on March 17, 2006.

In 1986, Mumphrey was wrongfully convicted of the brutal crime based on the false testimony of co-defendant Steven Thomas.  Thomas pleaded guilty during the 1986 trial and testified against Mumphrey in exchange for a 15-year sentence. DNA testing would later prove that Mumphrey’s younger brother, Charles, committed the crime with Thomas. Charles attempted to confess guilt to police at the time of the crime, but investigating officers apparently thought he was trying to take the blame for his brother because he was a juveline and would face a lighter sentence.

Read more about false testimony and informants here
.

In 2002, Mumphrey hired Houston defense attorney Eric Davis to represent him in appeals seeking DNA testing. Davis and Mumphrey were twice told that the biological evidence couldn’t be located, but they demanded a third search. The evidence was found, and DNA tests proved Mumphrey’s innocence. Read more about Arthur Mumphrey’s case here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Tuesday: Wiley Fountain, Texas
(Served 16 years, Exonerated 3/18/03)

Wednesday: Edward Green, District of Columbia (Served 1 year, Exonerated 3/19/90)

Julius Ruffin, Virginia (Served 20 years, Exonerated 3/19/03)

Friday: Andrew Gossett, Texas (Served 7 years, Exonerated 3/21/07)





Tags: Wiley Fountain, Andrew Gossett, Edward Green, Arthur Mumphrey, Julius Ruffin

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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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U.S. Supreme Court will hear case on crime lab evidence

Posted: March 18, 2008 12:00 pm

DNA exonerations and other cases have questioned the reliability of evidence from crime labs across the country in recent years, and now a case regarding lab evidence has reached the nation’s highest court. The U.S. Supreme Court said yesterday it would hear a case this fall regarding whether a crime lab report can be entered as trial evidence without the testimony of a lab expert.

State and federal courts have come to different conclusions about whether recent Supreme Court decisions affirming the constitutional right of a defendant to confront his accusers extend to lab reports that are used in many drug and other cases.

The case the justices accepted, and will consider in the fall, comes from Massachusetts. Luis Melendez-Diaz was convicted of trafficking in cocaine partly on the basis of a crime lab analysis that confirmed that cocaine was in plastic bags found in the car in which Melendez-Diaz was riding.

Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 03/18/08)
The Innocence Project has long advocated for improved reliability from state crime labs. Learn about Innocence Project proposals for reforms to ensure proper crime lab oversight here.



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New York police may improve evidence preservation

Posted: March 19, 2008 4:17 pm

Alan Newton spent 21 years in prison in New York after he was convicted in 1984 of a rape he didn’t commit. For 12 of those years, he was asking for DNA testing. He was initially denied access, but as early as 1997, New York Police Department officials told him they weren’t able to locate the evidence for testing. He was told repeatedly that the evidence had been lost or destroyed and was not available for DNA testing. In 2006, the Innocence Project asked for a final search, with the help of a Bronx district attorney, and it was located in the department’s evidence warehouse – in the bin where it should have been all along.

Now, the NYPD is seeking $25 million in funding to build a computerized system to track evidence. A similar effort was derailed in the late 1990s, but the Innocence Project and other advocates of criminal justice reform have insisted that the new system is badly needed to prevent wrongful convictions and facilitate post-conviction DNA testing when an innocent inmate challenges his or her conviction. It is critical that any new system track evidence retroactively, so that old evidence currently in the NYPD’s possession can be located.

Read the full article here. (New York Daily News, 03/19/08)

Read about the Innocence Project’s efforts to improve evidence preservation nationwide.



Tags: New York, Evidence Preservation

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Roundup: Lawmakers in South Carolina and Colorado consider DNA reforms

Posted: March 20, 2008 2:28 pm

Lawmakers in Colorado and South Carolina yesterday heard testimony from the Innocence Project on bills to address and prevent wrongful convictions. In Colorado, Innocence Project Policy Analyst Rebecca Brown told legislators that the state’s proposed evidence preservation bill doesn’t go far enough to protect the innocent.

And Tim Masters, who was recently freed after serving 10 years for murder when evidence of his innocence surfaced, said that these laws affect people like him who are still behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit.

"If this bill is to serve as a standard for evidence-preservation practices, it will devastate innocence claims," testified Rebecca Brown, policy analyst for the Innocence Project, which has helped free 214 wrongfully convicted prisoners. "We're incredibly concerned that there will be no protections for the innocent."
…Tim Masters, recently freed by DNA testing, described how Larimer County prosecutors in his case opposed preservation of the evidence early in his appeal proceedings.

"I'd still be locked up" if the evidence had been tossed, Masters said, holding a copy of the district attorney's court motion citing current state law providing no duty to preserve the DNA.

Read the full story here. (Denver Post, 03/20/08)
In South Carolina, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck told lawmakers yesterday that access to DNA testing is a vital right for prisoners. The bill, which would make South Carolina the 44th state to offer DNA access to prisoners, received preliminary approval and will head to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Read more here.

Today in Connecticut, Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom will testify on a bill to reform eyewitness identification procedures.






Tags: South Carolina, Colorado, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing

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Debate continues on Colorado evidence preservation bill

Posted: March 24, 2008 11:09 am

For several months, lawmakers in Colorado have been developing reforms to require the preservation of evidence in criminal cases. Saving evidence can resolve claims of innocence and help law enforcement solve “cold” cases. But at a hearing last week in the Colorado Legislature, advocates and policymakers discovered that language was inserted into proposed legislation that would only require evidence to preserved in future cases – not in any past cases, where the evidence could be used to confirm guilt or prove innocence. This would be the only evidence preservation law in the country to exclude the cases of current prisoners.

The wording, first inserted in a February draft of the legislation, went unnoticed by lawmakers until a House judiciary hearing last week.

Rebecca Brown, policy analyst with the New York-based Innocence Project, was first to express dismay that a bill she had been involved in drafting would no longer cover evidence in old cases — particularly those convicted before the advent of DNA analysis — and that it would fail to prevent authorities from destroying old evidence.
"No other state in the country that requires evidence to be preserved explicitly limits their coverage to future cases," Brown said Friday.

Most lawmakers backing the bill agree that it should be amended to remove the no-retroactivity clause, saying it clashes with the spirit of a governor's task force that recommended overhauling current state law providing no duty to preserve evidence.

"Everybody I've talked to absolutely does not want to preclude or wipe out any ability for current prisoners to have their evidence saved," said bill sponsor state. Rep. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge. She and other lawmakers acknowledged overlooking the passage on the eighth page of the proposal.

Read the full story here. (Denver Post, 03/22/08)
 



Tags: Colorado, Evidence Preservation

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Michigan group seeks inmate’s exoneration

Posted: March 24, 2008 11:07 am

Nathaniel Hatchett was 17 years old when he was arrested for a 1996 Detroit area rape that he maintains he didn’t commit. He was convicted two years later and has been in prison ever since. But lawyers at the Innocence Project at Cooley Law School in Michigan have filed motions showing that DNA proves Hatchett’s innocence and arguing that he should be granted a new trial. DNA testing has shown that biological evidence from the crime scene does not match Hatchett.

"We're hoping the Macomb County Prosecutor's Office will be reasonable and release Nathaniel right away because the tests show he never should have been convicted in the first place," said Donna McKneelen, an assistant professor at the law school.
Hatchett was arrested by police two days later while driving the victim's car in Detroit with four friends. The friends were eventually released.

McKneelen said there is a likely explanation for why Hatchett was in the car.

"We believe the attacker who raped the woman dumped the car at some point. Nathaniel and his friends encountered it, hot-wired the vehicle and went joy riding. That's when they were stopped by the police," she said.

Hatchett, who was driving the stolen car, later made a confession to Sterling Heights police, which was a main piece of evidence at the trial.

But the motion filed by Thomas M. Cooley Law School shows a psychological exam indicates Hatchett had a borderline mental disability. He was questioned for seven hours which added to the stress, the defense team claims.

Read the full story here. (Macomb Daily, 03/20/08)
 

The Innocence Project at Cooley Law School is a member of the Innocence Network.





Tags: Michigan

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Editorial: Alabama needs to join 43 states in granting access to DNA testing

Posted: March 25, 2008 2:51 pm

An editorial in yesterday’s Birmingham News calls on Alabama lawmakers to create a system allowing prisoners to apply for DNA testing that can definitively prove innocence or guilt. Earlier this month, Wyoming became the 43rd state to pass a DNA access law, and South Carolina lawmakers advanced similar legislation. The Birmingham editorial calls the bill “honorable” and says it would ensure that Alabama tax dollars are not going to keep an innocent person behind bars.

For several years running, state Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, has introduced a bill that would establish a legal procedure for inmates to get DNA tests. This year is no exception. But as in past years, the measure doesn't appear to be a big priority for our lawmakers. That's a shame.

Providing inmates a forum to prove their innocence isn't a way to coddle criminals. It's a way to ensure the right people are locked up for the right crimes. If one person is wrongly convicted of a crime, it stands to reason that another person has wrongly escaped punishment for it.

Read the full editorial here. (Birmingham News, 03/25/08)
The seven states without laws granting access to DNA testing are: South Carolina, Alaska, Alabama, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Oklahoma and South Dakota. But not all laws are equal – does your state go far enough to provide DNA testing access to prisoners? Check our interactive map to learn more.





Tags: Access to DNA Testing, Tommy Arthur

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How many innocent behind bars? Nobody knows.

Posted: March 25, 2008 4:25 pm

An article in today’s New York Times asks a question often heard by the Innocence Project: How many people convicted in the United States are innocent?

Observers from across the criminal justice system have weighed in.

Samuel Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan, has found the rate of wrongful conviction in death row cases to be somewhere between 2.3 and 5 percent.

A recent review of biological evidence in 31 randomly chosen Virginia cases led to DNA testing that could yield results in 22 cases, two of which resulted in  exonerations – a small sample size but an indicator that the rate could be as high as 9 percent.

A couple of years ago, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia cited questionable and discredited calculations from Oregon Prosecutor Joshua Marquis (who divided the number of DNA exonerations by the total number of felony convictions) to make his claim that the wrongful conviction rate is .027 percent.  As Gross points in a recent law review article: “By this logic, we could estimate the proportion of baseball players who’ve used steroids by dividing the number of major league players who’ve been caught by the total of all baseball players at all levels: major league, minor league, semipro, college and Little League — and maybe throwing in football and basketball players as well.”

Today’s Times article notes that while there is disagreement about which calculations might help suggest the magnitude of the problem, there is a consensus that nobody ruly knows how many innocent people are in prison – and we may never know.

The Innocence Project has always said that DNA exonerations are just the tip of the iceberg, since only 5-10% of all criminal cases involve biological evidence that can be subjected to DNA testing (and even in those cases, the evidence is often lost, destroyed or too degraded to yield results in DNA testing).  But the 215 wrongful convictions overturned to date by DNA testing illustrate the broader causes of wrongful conviction and show the need for reforms that can prevent injustice.  As today’s Times article says:

…a few general lessons can be drawn nonetheless. Black men are more likely to be falsely convicted of rape than are white men, particularly if the victim is white. Juveniles are more likely to confess falsely to murder. Exonerated defendants are less likely to have serious criminal records. People who maintain their innocence are more likely to be innocent. The longer it takes to solve a crime, the more likely the defendant is not guilty.

Read the full article here. (New York Times, 03/25/08)



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Innocence Network Conference Day Two

Posted: March 29, 2008 3:40 pm

At today's opening session, a panel of experts explored the relationship between the innocence movement and victims of crime. There is consensus between the groups working to end wrongful convictions and others that provide services to victims that justice is not served when we send people to prison for crimes they didn't commit. Overturning wrongful convictions is a common interest of both groups.

But much of today's session focused on communication between defense attorneys, district attorneys and victims and their families while an active case is played out on appeal. In these cases, we are faced with a question: how do groups working to exonerate the innocent ensure that the victims of crimes in wrongful conviction cases are not forced to relive the crimes they suffered when a person is exonerated and, potentially, another suspect is tried?

This morning's panel offered some answers. The panel was moderated by Wisconsin Innocence Project Co-Director John Pray, and also included Christy Sheppard, whose cousin was murdered in Oklahoma in the case in which Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz were wrongfully convicted. Also on the panel were Elizabeth Barnhill of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Mary Lou Leary of the National Center for Victims of Crime.

Christy Sheppard spoke about the shock her family suffered when they learned from news reports that the two men convicted of killing her cousin had been proven innocent by DNA testing and would be exonerated. Innocence Network organizations are working to ensure that this doesn't happen in future exonerations. Although an exoneration often causes trauma for the victim and the victim's family, panel members this morning agreed that it's vital for channels of communication to be open so the news doesn't come as a surprise.

The Innocence Project has worked with Sheppard, other victims and family members, and district attorney's officers, on bringing all parties to the table to overturn wrongful convictions and attempt to communicate with victims about appellate procedures. Read more about the Innocence Project's work with victims and victims' right groups here.

The Innocence Network conference continues through tomorrow. Learn more about the Innocence Network here.


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Wednesday marks first anniversary of Anthony Capozzi's exoneration

Posted: March 31, 2008 10:50 am

One year ago Wednesday, Anthony Capozzi was released from prison after spending 20 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. He was wrongfully convicted in 1985 of two brutal rapes that took place in Delaware Park in Buffalo, New York.

Capozzi became a suspect in a series of rapes committed in a Buffalo park after passersby noticed him acting strangely in the area. His noted behavior was in part due to his medically diagnosed schizophrenia. Although his physical appearance didn't match the victims' descriptions of the attacker, he was identified in court by all three victims and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Last year, biological evidence from the crimes - believed for years to be lost - was found in a hospital drawer at the Erie County Medical Center and was finally tested for DNA. The DNA results not only excluded Capozzi of the crime, but also pointed to the identity of the actual perpetrator, a man named Altemio Sanchez, who is currently incarcerated for similar crimes.

Watch a Dateline NBC episode on the case, "On the Trail of the Bike Path Rapist"

Read more about Capozzi's case here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Thursday: Eddie Lowery, Kansas (Served 9.5 years, Exonerated 4/3/03)

Dennis Maher, Massachusetts (Served 19 years, Exonerated 4/3/03)

Friday: Harold Buntin, Indiana (Served 13 years, Exonerated 4/4/05)

Saturday: Terry Chalmers, New York (Served 7.5 years, Exonerated 4/5/95)



Tags: Harold Buntin, Anthony Capozzi, Terry Chalmers, Eddie James Lowery, Dennis Maher

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Editorial: South Carolina needs a DNA access law

Posted: April 1, 2008 12:20 pm

The first sentence of an editorial in today’s issue of the Herald, a South Carolina newspaper, makes plain the critical need for a new policy:

If a DNA test can free an innocent person from prison, the state should provide a path for inmates to request a test. 
The editorial goes on to lay out the details of a bill in the state’s Senate that would provide access to DNA testing for inmates when the evidence could overturn a wrongful conviction. South Carolina is one of just seven states in the U.S. with no law providing access to testing, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck testified in South Carolina in support of the bill last month.
"Simply put, nobody wins when an innocent person is convicted," Scheck said. "Not the victims, the police, the prosecutors, the courts or the public."
Read the full editorial here. (The Rock Hill Herald, 04/01/08, Free Registration Required)

Read more coverage of the South Carolina bill here. (The State, 03/30/08)

Does your state allow prisoners access to the DNA testing that can prove their innocence? Find out here.



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947 years they can never get back

Posted: April 2, 2008 3:35 pm

Too many exonerees were wrongfully convicted when they were still kids. More than one-third of the 215 people exonerated by DNA evidence to date were between 14 and 22 years old when arrested. They served a combined 947 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.

The Innocence Project launched a national campaign today – “947 Years. In Their Prime. In Prison. Innocent.” – to educate and engage young people in the work of freeing the innocent and preventing wrongful convictions.

The campaign’s website includes a new two-minute video, a petition supporting universal access to post-conviction DNA testing access and multimedia accounts of the cases of 11 people who were convicted in their youth. Click here to sign the petition today, and click here to explore the new website.

We will rely on your support to keep the momentum going among our nation’s youth. We ask that you forward the site to young people, parents and teachers here, and you can help us spread the word on Facebook, MySpace and YouTube.



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Federal court: Alaska inmate has the right to DNA testing

Posted: April 2, 2008 4:01 pm

In a major decision that could strengthen the right of prisoners to seek post-conviction DNA testing through U.S. federal courts, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided today that William Osborne, an Innocence Project client in Alaska, has the right to DNA testing that could prove his innocence.

Osborne was convicted of a 1993 kidnapping and rape in Alaska and is seeking DNA testing that could prove his innocence in the crime. The federal circuit court today affirmed the decision of a lower federal court.

Read the full decision here
.

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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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Georgia lawmakers vote to compensate exoneree

Posted: April 3, 2008 4:50 pm

Willie “Pete” Williams was exonerated in 2007 after serving 22 years in Georgia prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Williams was a client of the Georgia Innocence Project. Exonerees nationwide receive little or no government assistance immediately upon their release, and Georgia is one of the 27 states with no state law providing some exonerees with compensation after an application and approval process.

But Georgia lawmakers have passed laws compensating three of the state’s seven exonerees individually, and the state Senate yesterday approved a bill that would pay Williams $1.2 million over 20 years. The bill will now move to the House.

Read more about Williams’ case here.

Seven Georgia convicts have been cleared by DNA evidence. In every case, the men were wrongly convicted based on eyewitness accounts.
Despite that, a House bill sponsored by state Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, D-Atlanta, which would have provided more training for police when dealing with witness ID procedures failed to move this legislative session.
Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 04/02/08
Is your state one of the 27 without a compensation law? Find out here.




Tags: Willie Williams

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Florida exoneree to be compensated after 24 years in prison

Posted: April 4, 2008 4:45 pm

The Florida State Senate approved a bill yesterday that would compensate exoneree Alan Crotzer $1.25 million for the 24 years he spent behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. The bill will move to the desk of Gov. Charlie Crist, who has said he will sign it. Crotzer will become only the second of nine Florida exonerees to receive state compensation after exoneration. The state is one of 27 that lack a law compensating the wrongfully convicted. In a column in yesterday’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Michael Mayo called for a better system to compensate Florida’s exonerated:

It's up to wronged individuals to lobby the Legislature for compensation, an inconsistent and maddening process. Last year, the Senate didn't take up Crotzer's claims bill. So far, only one of Florida's nine DNA-exonerated inmates, Wilton Dedge, has gotten a claims bill passed ($2 million in 2005).

A less capricious system could soon arrive, with the Legislature considering a broader bill (HB1025) that would set an automatic process for the wrongfully convicted. It would cap payment at $50,000 per year of imprisonment or $2 million.
And Mayo was in the audience when Crotzer spoke this week at Nova Southeastern University.
"I just want to let you know there are a lot of Alan Crotzers out there," (Crotzer) said.

Crotzer went away at 21. He got his life back at 45.
He now works a $9.50-an-hour job for a landscaping firm in Tallahassee. He got married last year, has two stepchildren, 14 and 12. He voted for the first time in January. He got his first passport two months ago.

"I just want to be an average person," he said.

Read the full column here. (South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 04/02/08)
Read more coverage of Crotzer’s compensation:

Associated Press: Crotzer compensation $1.25 million approved





Tags: Alan Crotzer

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Another misidentification revealed by DNA testing

Posted: April 9, 2008 3:40 pm

More than three-quarters of the 215 people exonerated by DNA testing were convicted based, at least in part, on eyewitness misidentification. There’s no way to know the number of people who are arrested each year – and spend months or years in jail awaiting trial – based on misidentification, before other evidence clears them.

In these cases, the system did find the truth before conviction, but not until a misidentification led to the arrest of an innocent person. While police focus on the wrong suspect, the real perpetrator remains at large, and becomes harder to find. And the innocent person can lose his or her job, family or house while sitting in a jail cell.

The countless people arrested each year for crimes they didn’t commit provide more reason for states to reform their eyewitness identification practices. The improved procedures proposed by the Innocence Project — and already in place in several states — reduce the number of misidentification, and therefore the number of false arrests.

The case of Cesar Augusto Alvarez in San Jose, California, is an example of this issue. Three days before Christmas last year, he was charged with rape and sent to jail – the victim had no doubt that he was the perpetrator. Now, three months later, DNA evidence has proven his innocence and all charges have been dismissed.

Read more about Alvarez’ case here.

Reforming eyewitness identification procedures helps everyone – it prevents wrongful convictions and arrests, it helps law enforcement focus on viable suspects and it helps victims get justice. Find out what you can do in your state to help make these reforms a reality.




Tags: Eyewitness Identification

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Alaska op-ed: Save biological evidence before it's too late

Posted: April 10, 2008 5:05 pm

None of the 215 people exonerated by DNA testing would have been cleared if their evidence had been tossed in a dumpster, and they are certainly not the only people ever convicted of crimes they didn’t commit. Alaska is one of 18 states that has not had a person exonerated by DNA evidence. Is that because Alaska only convicts the guilty? Or is it because defendants challenging their convictions learn that the evidence is gone and there’s no chance for testing?

Bill Oberly, the interim director of the Alaska Innocence Project, wrote in yesterday’s Anchorage Daily News that state lawmakers should ensure that biological evidence from crime scenes is saved:

The Alaska Innocence Project is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to exonerate wrongfully convicted individuals incarcerated by the State of Alaska and to work to prevent wrongful convictions in the future. As part of this work, the Alaska Innocence Project proposes legislation that mandates preservation of evidence collected during an investigation and used to convict a person.

In this emerging era of DNA evidence, the power and usefulness of such evidence increases daily. Not only can innocence claims like that of Charles Chatman be settled but cold cases with no suspects can be solved. To make any good of this work, however, the evidence must be preserved.

Innocent people should not be in jail for crimes they did not commit, and guilty people should not be able to go free at the expense of those wrongfully convicted. The Alaska Innocence Project is working to bring Alaska forward to where 27 other states and the federal government have moved. For the sake of even one Alaskan like (Texas exoneree) Charles Chatman, the Alaska Innocence Project urges the Legislature to pass an evidence preservation statute as soon as possible.
Read the full op-ed here. (Anchorage Daily News, 04/09/2008)
 



Tags: Alaska

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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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Michigan man exonerated by DNA testing

Posted: April 14, 2008 2:29 pm

Nathaniel Hatchett was released from prison today after serving 10 years in Michigan prison for a rape he didn’t commit, news organizations are reporting. Hatchett was convicted of a carjacking and rape in Sterling Heights, Michigan, in 1998. The Cooley Innocence Project in Lansing, Michigan, filed a motion for a new trial last month based on the DNA evidence of innocence, and today a Michigan judge granted a motion filed by prosecutors to drop all charges based on the new evidence.

The Innocence Project maintains a database of all people exonerated by DNA testing. We are currently researching the background of Hatchett’s case for inclusion in the database. He would become the 216th person exonerated by DNA evidence nationwide.

News Coverage of today’s exoneration:

Detroit News: Prisoner freed after DNA exoneration

Visit the Cooley Innocence Project website
.





Tags: Michigan

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Another bad photo lineup, another wrongful conviction

Posted: April 15, 2008 4:25 pm

Innocence Project client Thomas McGowan is expected to be released from prison tomorrow in Texas after serving almost 23 years for a rape he didn’t commit. McGowan was convicted in Dallas, where 14 people have already been exonerated by DNA evidence – more than any other county and all but three states. Twelve of those Dallas exonerations involved an eyewitness misidentification, often with an improper lineup procedure, as in McGowan’s case.

When McGowan was arrested in 1985, he was in his mid-twenties, a high school graduate. The victim in the case was shown a photo array with seven photos – but there were effectively only three photos in the array, since two of them were photocopies of photographs, one was a black-and-white photo (all the others were in color), and one was marked “Garland Police Department” (while the remaining three were marked “Richardson Police Department,” which is where the crime took place)..

McGowan’s photo was on record from a traffic violation. The victim told the officer conducting the lineup that she “thought” McGowan was the perpetrator. “You have to be sure, yes or no,” she was told. After hearing these instructions, she said McGowan was “definitely” the perpetrator. With this as the main evidence against him, he was convicted and sentenced to two life terms in prison.

Decades of social science research have led to significant improvements in the way lineups are conducted in many towns, cities and states. Tomorrow, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck plans to join Thomas McGowan outside the Dallas Courthouse in calling for better lineup procedures in Texas. Last year, an eyewitness reform bill was approved by the Texas Senate and the House Law Enforcement Committee but did not pass the full House before the session ended. It will be introduced again in the next session.

Read today’s press release on McGowan’s expected release and stay tuned tomorrow for more news. We will send an email to our breaking news subscribers as soon as McGowan is free. Subscribe today to make sure you get tomorrow’s email – www.innocenceproject.org/signup.



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New DNA tests in 1991 Austin case

Posted: April 16, 2008 1:50 pm

A Texas judge yesterday approved DNA testing in the cases of two men who say they were wrongfully convicted of killing four teenage girls in Austin, Texas, in 1991. Their lawyers sought DNA testing on items used to bind the victims, during the notorious crime remembered in Austin as the “yogurt shop” murders – in which four teenage girls were bound and gagged before they were killed in an I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt store. The store was then burned by the perpetrators.

The defendants, Michael Scott and Robert Springsteen, were convicted in the killings – Springsteen was sentenced to death in 2001 and Scott was sentenced to life in 2003 – but they are both currently awaiting new trials after their convictions were overturned on appeal in 2006.

Both men allegedly made admissions of guilt, but they have said that these admissions were coerced by investigating officers.

Read more here. (Houston Chronicle, 04/15/08)

Watch a three-minute video interview with Chris Ochoa, who spent more than 11 years in Texas prisons after he falsely confessed to an Austin murder he didn't commit.



Tags: Christopher Ochoa

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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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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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Mississippi man still seeking DNA testing

Posted: April 21, 2008 4:35 pm

Steve Fasano, a former Jackson, Mississippi, police officer, has served two years in federal prison for a 2005 bank robbery he says he didn’t commit. He’s seeking DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene that could prove the identity of the real perpetrator, but prosecutors have argued against allowing testing and a federal judge said he’s leaning against ordering the tests because he isn’t convinced that the DNA would prove innocence. The evidence Fasano is seeking to test includes a hat, shirt and sunglasses worn by the bank robber in the commission of the crime.

"We have done everything under the sun and still can't get it," Fasano said in a telephone interview from a federal prison medical center in Rochester, Minn. "What's the big secret? Why won't they give it to us?"
Fasano was convicted of a federal crime, and a federal law that passed in 2004 allows prisoners to seek post-conviction DNA testing in federal cases. Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld, who helped craft the 2004 federal law, says Fasano should get DNA testing.
[Neufeld] said "it's a mean-spirited position to deny DNA testing to inmates asserting a claim of innocence because it's unconscionable any law enforcement person would want to keep somebody innocent in prison. I'm not saying he (Fasano) is innocent, but he's certainly entitled to have a test to provide compelling evidence of innocence."
Read the full story here. (Clarion-Ledger, 04/21/08)



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Brandon Moon marks three years of freedom

Posted: April 21, 2008 4:29 pm

Today marks the third anniversary of Brandon Moon’s exoneration in Texas. He was wrongfully convicted of a brutal rape in 1988 and sentenced to 75 years in prison. He served more than 16 years in prison before DNA testing proved his innocence and led to his release.

Moon became the main suspect after the victim viewed a photographic array and indicated that although Moon looked like the perpetrator, she couldn’t be sure. Resting on this hesitant identification, police secured a warrant and arrested Moon.

Moon was the only person in both the photographic and live lineup procedures and the victim identified him as the perpetrator in the live lineup. Additionally, Moon was identified as the perpetrator by two other women also believed to have been attacked by the same man.

Read more about eyewitness misidentification here
.

At trial, a lab technician testified that Moon was a possible contributor of the evidence from the crime scene. Further testing during Moon’s appeals would prove that this testimony was seriously flawed, as the lab technician made inaccurate conclusions.

Read more about unreliable science here
.

From the moment of his conviction, Moon began filing motions and appeals for DNA testing. He won access to DNA testing in 1989, but the results were deemed inconclusive because comparisons against the victim’s husband were not performed. He petitioned the court to allow for further testing, but was denied due to the court’s misconception that the other samples were unusable.

Finally, in 2001, Moon won access to further DNA testing and the results again excluded him as the perpetrator. In December 2004, Brandon Moon was released from prison and he was officially exonerated on April 21, 2005.

Read more about Brandon Moon’s case here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Today: Anthony D. Woods, Missouri (Served 18 years, Exonerated 4/21/05)

Wednesday: Anthony Hicks, Wisconsin (Served 5 years, Exonerated 4/23/97)

Walter Snyder, Virginia (Served 6.5 years, Exonerated 4/23/93)

Thursday: Hector Gonzalez, New York (Served 5.5 years, Exonerated 4/24/02)

Ray Krone, Arizona (Served 10 years, Exonerated 4/24/02)

Friday: David Shephard, New Jersey (Served 9.5 years, Exonerated 4/25/95)

Saturday: Alejandro Dominguez, Illinois (Served 4 years, Exonerated 04/06/2002)



Tags: Hector Gonzalez, Anthony Hicks, Ray Krone, Brandon Moon, David Shephard, Walter Snyder, Anthony D. Woods

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DNA tests overturn more wrongful arrests

Posted: April 22, 2008 4:32 pm

In countless cases across the U.S. each year, DNA testing conducted before trial releases an innocent person from jail, and eliminates the risk of their wrongful conviction. But months or years spent in jail – or on bond – while awaiting trial can take a damaging toll on a person’s family, career and life. And these cases point to the certainty that innocent people are still being arrested and convicted.

In Kansas City last week, 19-year-old Deangilo Minor was released from jail after serving 10 months behind bars awaiting trial on an attempted rape and a rape. He was identified by the victim in one of the crimes, but DNA testing conducted before trial proved that another man had committed the crimes. Based on the DNA results, Minor was released and the charges were dropped. During the 10 months he spent in prison, Minor lost his apartment and parted ways with his girlfriend.

“This case casts into doubt the reliability of eyewitnesses,” said Dan Ross, Minor’s defense lawyer.

Ted Hunt, assistant county prosecutor, said the case showed the link between DNA and justice.
“It convicts and also exonerates,” Hunt said. “That’s a good thing for people to keep in mind.”

Read the full story here. (Kansas City Star, 04/17/08)
Wrongful convictions are still happening in the age of DNA testing. Testing is not conducted in all cases involving biological evidence. Innocent defendants take plea bargains before expensive tests are conducted in an attempt to avoid harsh sentences at trial. And then there are the vast majority of cases – more than 90% of all criminal cases – that don’t involve any biological evidence that can be tested. The risk of a wrongful conviction based on eyewitness misidentification or snitch testimony is just as strong – or stronger – in these cases today.

In a similar case, prosecutors in Virginia dropped charges last week against Anthony Worrell, a 20-year-old man who spent 17 months awaiting trial on charges he robbed a drug store. Charges were dropped after DNA testing on specks of blood believed to be from the perpetrator did not match Worrell. Prosecutors said they decided to drop charges “With our ID being a little shaky and without DNA…”

Read the full story here. (Southwest Virginia Today, 04/16/08)


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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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Canadian man is cleared, and the public calls for an official investigation

Posted: April 24, 2008 3:10 pm

Robert Baltovich spent nearly nine years in a Canadian prison for a Toronto-area murder he has always said he didn’t commit, and he was finally cleared Tuesday when prosecutors dropped charges against him. He was convicted in 1992 of killing his then-girlfriend and served nearly nine years before his conviction was overturned on appeal. He has been free since 2000 while a new trial was pending. Evidence of another perpetrator’s possible guilt contributed to prosecutors deciding to drop charges.

“It’s an 18-year nightmare for me. It’s a never-ending nightmare for the (victim’s family),” Baltovich said outside court. “I just hope that one day they can come to accept the fact that I didn’t kill their daughter.

Read the full story here. (Toronto Star, 04/22/08)
A column in Canada’s National Post today calls for a permanent office charged with reviewing possible wrongful convictions and exonerating the innocent. Read the full column here.

Attorneys at the Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted represented Baltovich during much of his 16 year struggle for justice. AIDWYC is a member of the Innocence Network.



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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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Editorial: Fair, straightforward compensation needed in Florida

Posted: April 29, 2008 2:10 pm

Florida is one of 27 states with no law compensating the wrongfully convicted upon their exoneration. Last month, lawmakers approved a bill compensated Alan Crotzer $1.25 million for the 24 years he spent in prison for a rape he didn’t commit, but the bill was for him only, making him the second Floridian to receive state compensation after exoneration. Another Florida exoneree, Wilton Dedge, received a similar state compensation package.

The state desperately needs a universal compensation law, and lawmakers are considering one right now. But there are serious problems with the Florida bill in its current state, and an editorial in today’s Daytona Beach News-Journal details some of these problems:

Both House and Senate versions deny compensation to anyone with another felony conviction -- even if the other conviction is relatively minor. This so-called "clean hands" provision is a cruel excuse to perpetrate injustice.
The fact that someone has a prior conviction does not make a wrongful conviction any less wrong. In fact, the existence of a prior conviction increases the possibility of injustice: Police sometimes focus an investigation on someone who's already been in trouble with the law, to the exclusion of other more likely suspects.

Crotzer's case provides a perfect example of how unfair this provision can be. Before he was wrongfully convicted of robbery and rape, he stole beer from a store. While in prison, he was convicted of a drug offense. Both crimes were relatively minor and would draw relatively short prison terms -- if any. Yet under this proposal, he would be barred from compensation for his 24 years behind bars.
Read the full editorial here. (Daytona Beach News-Journal, 04/29/08) 
 



Tags: Florida, Alan Crotzer, Wilton Dedge, Exoneree Compensation

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Wisconsin man still working to prove his innocence, 27 years later

Posted: April 30, 2008 4:50 pm

For 27 years, Ralph Armstrong has proclaimed his innocence, to no avail. But evidence disclosed this month pointing to the real perpetrator’s identity, combined with DNA test results from 2005, casts serious doubt on his conviction.

Armstrong was 28 years old when he was convicted of killing a 19-year-old college freshman in Madison, Wisconsin; today he is 55. In 2005, the Wisconsin Supreme Court threw out his conviction after DNA test results excluded him as the source of biological evidence from the crime scene. He is currently awaiting a new trial.

The Innocence Project has worked for years on Armstrong’s case with lawyers at the Wisconsin Innocence Project and other private attorneys. A new brief filed this month by the Innocence Project and Armstrong’s local counsel reveals two affidavits showing that Armstrong’s brother, Steve, has admitted that he committed the crime. The brief goes on to allege that the Dane County prosecutors knew of Steve Armstrong’s confession in 1995 but failed to share this information with Ralph Armstrong or his lawyers.

“[T]he state deliberately suppressed and withheld, for approximately the last thirteen years, information that a known third party confessed to the rape and murder of the victim in this case,” states the brief, filed on April 17 by Armstrong’s defense attorneys, Jerome Buting of Brookfield and Barry Scheck of New York. The brief to Wisconsin’s Dist. 4 Court of Appeals calls this confession “exculpatory evidence supporting the claim of Ralph Armstrong that he is innocent of this crime.”

Read more about Ralph Armstrong’s case here. (Madison Isthmus, 04/25/08)


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“Fatally flawed” compensation bill advances in Florida, California exoneree settles for $500K

Posted: May 1, 2008 4:22 pm

Florida lawmakers voted on Tuesday to advance a bill compensating the wrongfully convicted for each year they spent in prison before their exoneration, but restrictions on the bill exclude too many people. The bill would pay some exonerees $50,000 per year served, but it excludes anyone with a prior felony conviction. This would include Alan Crotzer, who spent almost 25 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. He was convicted of stealing beer from a convenience store before his wrongful conviction, and that would disqualify him. Crotzer will be paid $1.25 million by the state after lawmakers passed a bill specifically written for him. While the Innocence Project has commended Florida legislators for addressing this important issue, the provision about unrelated prior felony convictions falls far short of the state’s obligation to compensate the wrongfully convicted.

Eric Ferrero, spokesman for the national Innocence Project, said the clean hands provision is a ''fatal flaw.'' He said that of the 23 states that have compensation laws for the wrongfully incarcerated, none disqualify people based on unrelated prior felony convictions.

''Prior convictions have nothing to do with the fact that an innocent person was wrongfully convicted,'' Ferrero said. ``They have paid their debt to society for prior convictions but society has not paid its debt to them for a separate and unrelated wrongful conviction.''

Read the full story here. (Miami Herald, 04/29/08)
 

In other news, California exoneree James Ochoa has reached a tentative settlement in his lawsuit against Buena Park, California for his wrongful conviction. Ochoa spent 10 months in prison for a carjacking he didn’t commit before DNA cleared him. He also received approval recently to receive $30,000 in state compensation. Read more here.

Does your state have a compensation law? Find out here.




Tags: Florida, Alan Crotzer, Exoneree Compensation

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Center on Wrongful Convictions files brief in Japanese confession case

Posted: May 1, 2008 4:24 pm

The Supreme Court of Japan recently accepted its first-ever amicus (“friend of the court”) brief from an American legal organization, and the issue at hand was false confessions. The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University filed the brief in the case of Masaru Okunishi, who has been on Japan’s death row for nearly four decades. He was convicted of poisoning his wife and four other women but has proclaimed his innocence all along. Japanese law enforcement officials say Okunishi confessed after 49 hours of interrogation.

The legal director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, Steven Drizin, told the National Law Journal that we have learned a great deal about false confessions from the 216 DNA exonerations in the United States, and that many of these lessons apply to Japan.

In recent years, the Japanese criminal justice system has also been rocked with numerous false confessions, Drizin noted, explaining that these false confessions have been blamed on Japan's excessive reliance on confession evidence to gain convictions. Japanese law enforcement authorities, who have a 99 percent conviction rate, rely on exceedingly long interrogations and psychological coercion to obtain confessions, he added.

Read the full story here. (National Law Journal, 05/1/08)
More than 25 percent of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing involved a false confession or admission. Review some of these false confession cases here.
 
 

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New suspect in North Carolina rape

Posted: May 6, 2008 4:10 pm

A North Carolina man was indicted yesterday in the 1987 rape for which Dwayne Dail spent nearly two decades in prison. Dail was wrongfully convicted of raping a 12-year-old in Goldsboro, North Carolina, in 1989 and freed last year when DNA testing proved that semen recovered from the victim’s nightgown did not match Dail’s DNA profile. Dail had been told for years that the evidence was lost before his lawyers at the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence found the evidence in a police station closet.

Yesterday, prosecutors charged William Neal with committing the 1987 crime, saying the semen recovered from the victim’s nightgown matched Neal’s DNA profile. Neal is serving time in prison for another conviction.

Read the full story here. (News-Observer, 05/05/08)

Watch a new Innocence Project video interview with Dwayne Dail
.





Tags: Dwayne Dail

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Massachusetts man marks eight years of freedom

Posted: May 9, 2008 3:32 pm

Neil Miller spent almost the entire 1990s in Massachusetts prison for a rape he didn’t commit before DNA testing proved his innocence and led to his exoneration on May 10, 2000. Tomorrow, he marks the eighth anniversary of his release.

Miller is one of more than 160 exonerees whose wrongful convictions were caused, at least in part, by eyewitness misidentification. The victim in Miller’s case identified him in a book of mug shots, and again at trial. He claimed his innocence throughout the ordeal but was convicted and sentenced to 26-45 years.

Read more about Miller’s case here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:


Sunday: Glen Woodall, West Virginia (Served 4.5 years, Exonerated 05/04/92)

Wednesday: Jeffrey Pierce, Oklahoma (Served 14.5 years, Exonerated 05/07/01)





Tags: Neil Miller, Jeffrey Pierce, Glen Woodall

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Texas Summit on Wrongful Convictions starts an important conversation

Posted: May 9, 2008 3:47 pm

More than 100 key leaders from Texas’ criminal justice system came together yesterday in Austin to discuss the causes of wrongful convictions and changes necessary to free the innocent, improve forensic testing and prevent future injustice. Texas leads the nation in wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing – with 31 people exonerated from 10 counties across the state. The first Summit on Wrongful Convictions in the nation, yesterday’s meeting was called by Texas State Sen. Rodney Ellis to advance the state’s dialogue on wrongful convictions. Nine people freed by DNA testing in Texas attended the event, each standing up to tell their stories.

One by one, nine wrongly convicted men stood up on the floor of the Texas Senate on Thursday to explain how innocent men ended up in prison and how to prevent it from happening again.

"I'm here to tell you I lost everything. I am still hurting. I am still broken," said James Giles, who spent 10 years in prison for a rape he did not commit. "We can do better in the justice system. The system failed all of us."

…The applause was loudest when Giles tore up his sex offender registration card, something he had to carry for 15 years while he was on parole before getting exonerated. He ripped it up, he said, because he had a new card to carry: a voter registration card.

Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 05/08/08)
Watch a new Innocence Project video featuring interviews with three Texas exonerees: Brandon Moon, Chris Ochoa and Ronnie Taylor.





Tags: Texas, James Giles, Christopher Ochoa, James Waller, Innocence Commissions

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Dallas Morning News editorial calls on lawmakers to support innocence commission in Texas

Posted: November 30, -0001

The editorial board of the Dallas Morning News today called on lawmakers to support Houston Sen. Rodney Ellis’ proposal to form a state innocence commission in Texas. The influential paper’s editorial comes just four days after the historic Texas Summit on Wrongful Convictions, which brought together lawmakers and criminal justice leaders to examine why so many innocent people are ending up in Texas prisons.

Texas has had more DNA exonerations than any other state with 31 in ten counties. In Dallas alone the 18th person, James Lee Woodard, was freed two weeks ago after serving 27 years for a murder he did not commit.

“No county has borne more shame than Dallas County for the outrage of miscarriage of justice,” the Dallas Morning News wrote. “No county has a greater responsibility to change Texas law to prevent tragic mistakes in the future.”

An innocence commission would examine what went wrong in each of these cases and make recommendations on how the system could be fixed to prevent more wrongful convictions. Among the problems a commission could address in Texas are eyewitness misidentification, harsh interrogation tactics that result in false confessions, unethical prosecutorial practices, and proper DNA testing. The Morning News said such a commission was “needed badly in Texas.”

The concept is a sound one and has been adopted by at least five states.
News flashes about Dallas cases obscure the fact that local exonerations would not be achieved were it not for the sound practice of storing biological evidence in all criminal cases. No other Texas county has done that; one can only imagine how many wrongly convicted people from the 253 other Texas counties have no shot at DNA exoneration. A special commission could recommend best practices for evidence storage, among a long list of other law enforcement procedures.

The editorial called for “robust support” for Sen. Ellis’ bill and recommended that a Dallas Republican should sponsor it in the House where a similar bill last year was killed before making it to the floor.

Read the editorial. (The Dallas Morning News, 5/11/08)


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Dallas Morning News editorial calls on lawmakers to support innocence commission in Texas

Posted: May 12, 2008 2:00 pm

The editorial board of the Dallas Morning News yesterday called on lawmakers to support Houston Sen. Rodney Ellis’ proposal to form a state innocence commission in Texas. The influential paper’s editorial comes just four days after the historic Texas Summit on Wrongful Convictions, which brought together lawmakers and criminal justice leaders to examine why so many innocent people are ending up in Texas prisons.

Texas has had more DNA exonerations than any other state with 31 in ten counties. In Dallas alone the 18th person, James Lee Woodard, was freed two weeks ago after serving 27 years for a murder he did not commit.

“No county has borne more shame than Dallas County for the outrage of miscarriage of justice,” the Dallas Morning News wrote. “No county has a greater responsibility to change Texas law to prevent tragic mistakes in the future.”

An innocence commission would examine what went wrong in each of these cases and make recommendations on how the system could be fixed to prevent more wrongful convictions. Among the problems a commission could address in Texas are eyewitness misidentification, harsh interrogation tactics that result in false confessions, unethical prosecutorial practices, and proper DNA testing. The Morning News said such a commission was “needed badly in Texas.”

The concept is a sound one and has been adopted by at least five states.
News flashes about Dallas cases obscure the fact that local exonerations would not be achieved were it not for the sound practice of storing biological evidence in all criminal cases. No other Texas county has done that; one can only imagine how many wrongly convicted people from the 253 other Texas counties have no shot at DNA exoneration. A special commission could recommend best practices for evidence storage, among a long list of other law enforcement procedures.

The editorial called for “robust support” for Sen. Ellis’ bill and recommended that a Dallas Republican should sponsor it in the House where a similar bill last year was killed before making it to the floor.

Read the editorial. (The Dallas Morning News, 5/11/08)




Tags: Texas, Innocence Commissions

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Exonerated man and victim's family are reunited at the Innocence Project second annual benefit

Posted: May 12, 2008 4:20 pm

While jazz pianist Jonathan Batiste played “What a Wonderful World,” at the Innocence Project benefit, “A Celebration of Freedom and Justice,” on May 7 in New York City, exoneree Dennis Fritz asked 65-year-old Peggy Carter Sanders to take the stage with him and dance. Fritz was sentenced to life in prison and was wrongfully incarcerated for 11 years for the murder of Sanders’ daughter, Debra Sue Carter of Ada, Oklahoma. Fritz and his co-defendant Ron Williamson developed a relationship with Carter’s family after their exoneration in 1999. Both men were exonerated through DNA testing and with the help of the Innocence Project.

Williamson passed away in 2004, but his sisters Renee Simmons and Annette Hudson also attended the benefit. Williamson’s family, Carter’s family, and Fritz came to New York from all around the country to join the Innocence Project in honoring John Grisham for his best selling book, The Innocent Man, which tells the story of Williamson’s wrongful conviction. Fritz shared a table at the benefit with two of Carter’s relatives—her cousin, Christy Sheppard, and her mother Peggy Carter Sanders.

A recent New York Times column by Jim Dwyer looks at the poignant moment last week when Fritz and Sanders danced as 600 Innocence Project supporters looked on. The column discusses the friendship forged between the two wrongfully convicted men and the mother of the victim—despite some people’s unwillingness to accept that a mistake had been made in the case:

“Ms. Sanders saw it plain. All around her, though, people refused to rewrite the ending to her daughter’s murder, clinging to the belief that Mr. Fritz and Mr. Williamson somehow had been part of the killing, a spurning of reality so common that it has practically become an epidemic as DNA tests, year in and out, clear the wrongfully convicted.”
Read the full story here.
Fritz was one of a dozen exonerees who attended the benefit. Also honored was the law firm Mayer Brown, for its collaboration with the Innocence Project in reforming eyewitness identification procedures.

Learn more about Fritz and Williamson’s cases.

Learn more about how the Innocence Project is working with victims and their families, including Christy Sheppard and Peggy Carter Sanders, to improve the criminal justice system. (See page 10 of this PDF for “Common Interests.”)



Tags: Dennis Fritz, Ron Williamson

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Florida's Wrongful Incarceration Act restricts compensation for exonerees

Posted: May 13, 2008 5:00 pm

The Wrongful Incarceration Act which recently passed in the Florida Legislature and is pending signature from the Florida Governor, offers $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration to exonerees. Only three of the nine people exonerated through DNA testing in the state of Florida have received compensation for the time they served unjustly. Both Wilton Dedge and Alan Crotzer endured months of battling with the State Legislature before receiving compensation through private bills that applied only to them. A third Florida exoneree, Jerry Frank Townsend, just received a settlement last week after fighting for compensation since his release in 2001.

Several of those who have not yet been compensated would be restricted from receiving funds through the Wrongful Incarceration Act because of a “clean hands” provision which disallows compensation for anyone with an unrelated prior felony conviction. None of the other 23 states that provide compensation to the wrongfully convicted restrict funds in this way.

An article in the Tallahassee Democrat outlines the controversy around the bill:

Advocates for the wrongfully incarcerated say they will wait to see how the process works, but they have doubts whether all the proven innocent will be compensated.
"You're innocent when we release you but you're not innocent enough to be compensated?" said Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida. "These two ideas just don't jibe together."

Read the full story here.




Tags: Florida, Exoneree Compensation

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South Carolina's most influential paper supports post-conviction DNA testing bill

Posted: May 13, 2008 5:00 pm

In its lead editorial today, South Carolina’s largest and most influential paper, The State, urged the legislature to pass a bill that would provide access to post-conviction DNA testing for people convicted of violent crimes.

Under current law, there’s no mechanism for such testing; in most cases, judges can’t order DNA testing — or do anything about it if such testing is somehow done and demonstrates the convict’s innocence — unless the solicitor agrees to the request.
That wouldn’t be a problem in an ideal world, because the job of prosecutors is to do justice, and so they would be just as anxious as anyone to make sure the wrong person isn’t in prison. The reality is different. Prosecutors are human and dislike admitting their mistakes; and besides, they grow cynical from hearing the inevitable claims of innocence from criminals who really aren’t innocent, so with rare exceptions, they fight tooth and nail against those claims.
The Senate bill (S.429) passed last month and is headed to the House. It would make South Carolina the 44th state with a law on the books explicitly granting post-conviction DNA testing . In March, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck told lawmakers that access to DNA testing is a vital right for prisoners.

And The State agrees that denying that right can harm all of us.
When the wrong person is convicted of a crime, the only clear winner is the actual criminal — although police and prosecutors might appear to be winners, since they were able to score a conviction. The person wrongly convicted certainly doesn’t win, and in fact we do incomprehensibly grave harm to that person. Neither do the rest of us, who are less safe because the real criminal remains free to harm others.
Read the editorial. (The State, 5/13/08)




Tags: South Carolina, Access to DNA Testing

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Researchers work on bite mark database

Posted: May 14, 2008 12:00 pm

A forensic dentist who helped identify victims of the cannibalistic Milwaukee serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and whose work has been criticized by other forensic experts is helping researchers at Marquette University build a computer program to measure and catalog bite mark characteristics and their frequency. While bite marks are sometimes used in court, the discipline has been widely discredited and is not a validated science.

Dr. L. Thomas Johnson is collecting dental impressions from around the country to build a massive database. The software would then attempt to calculate how rarely a particular dental characteristic shows up in the population.

[Dr. Johnson] acknowledged that his software will probably never turn bite-mark analysis into a surefire identifier like DNA and that he would need tens of thousands of samples before his work would stand up in court.
Nevertheless, Dr. Johnson maintains the database will lend scientific credibility to bite-mark testimony in criminal trials based on the belief that every person’s tooth impression is unique. But human skin can change and distort bite impressions and other experts, including Dr. Mike Bowers, a deputy medical examiner in Ventura County, Calif., and a member of the American Board of Forensic Odontology, consider it sham science.
"… It's not science," said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, which works to free wrongfully convicted inmates.
Since 2000, at least seven people in five states who were convicted largely on bite-mark identification have been exonerated, according to the Innocence Project.
In Arizona, Ray Krone was found guilty in 1992 of killing a Phoenix bartender based largely on expert testimony that his teeth matched bites on the victim. He was sentenced to death, won a new trial on procedural grounds, was convicted again and got life. But DNA testing in 2002 proved he wasn't the killer. Krone was freed and won a spot on the ABC reality show "Extreme Makeover" to remake his teeth.
In Mississippi, forensic odontologist Dr. Michael West has come under fire after he testified in two child rape-murders in the 1990s that bite marks positively identified each killer. Kennedy Brewer was sentenced to death in one case, and Levon Brooks got life in prison in the other.
DNA tests later connected a third man to one of the rapes, and investigators say he confessed to both murders. In Brewer's case, a panel of experts concluded that the bites on the victim probably came from insects. Brewer and Brooks were exonerated earlier this year.
Read the full article. (Associated Press, 5/14/08)
While bite mark analysis may be the most notorious of the dubious techniques that are cloaked in science when introduced in court, there are several scientific disciplines that are not validated and have contributed to wrongful convictions. Read more about unreliable and limited scientific techniques.





Tags: Bitemark Evidence

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Colorado governor signs evidence preservation law

Posted: May 15, 2008 2:55 pm

Yesterday in Denver, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter signed a new law requiring law enforcement agencies in the state preserve evidence from crime scenes. The law calls for automatic preservation of evidence in serious crimes, and says agencies must retain the evidence for the lifetime of any person convicted of the crime.

"This law is a major step forward for justice in Colorado," said Rebecca Brown, a policy analyst with the Innocence Project, which lobbied for the bill. "This evidence can provide clear answers to lingering questions about innocence or guilt."
Read the full story here. (Fort Collins Colorado, 05/15/08)
Read more about evidence preservation issues nationwide, and find out where your state stands on the issue.





Tags: Evidence Preservation

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Helping those who come after me

Posted: May 15, 2008 3:45 pm

By Herman Atkins, California Exoneree
 
In 1986, I was arrested for a rape I didn’t commit when a victim more than 60 miles from my house misidentified me as the perpetrator. I was just 20 years old, and I went to trial, believing the truth would come out in a court of law. It didn’t; I was convicted and sentenced to 45 years in prison. I served more than 11 years in a California prison before DNA tests obtained by my lawyers at the Innocence Project finally cleared my name.

When I was released from prison in 2000, I was on my own. There wasn’t then – and there still isn’t today – any system to automatically provide services to people when they are exonerated after serving years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. The system institutionalizes people and then releases them into a society they may not even recognize anymore. It’s an uphill battle. I’m doing what I can to improve this situation for the recently exonerated.
 
In January, my wife, Machara, and I founded Life Intervention for Exonerees (LIFE). Through this new organization, we are reaching out to recently exonerated individuals across the country to offer them help to start a new life, through gift cards and donated services. Most importantly, we are offering them a helping hand and connecting them to the growing community of exonerees in the United States. Many exonerees have found this community to be the key to rebuilding their lives after decades stolen by a criminal justice system that immediately forgets you.
 
We also hope that by providing these goods and services we can highlight a critical social need. This should not be a task carried out by small non-profit organizations. The government that sent a person to prison for a crime they didn’t commit should be responsible for helping that person adjust to life once they have been exonerated. And while 23 states have some sort of law compensating the exonerated, many fall dreadfully short and none take effect on the day of exoneration.
 
Until the states learn to support those that they have wronged, LIFE will be here to help the exonerated begin to rebuild. If you would like to support our work or contact us to set up a partnership or local program, please write to us at the addresses below.
 
LIFE Inc.
PO Box 9623
Fresno, CA 93793
exonereelife [at] att.net (replace [at] with @ before sending)
 



Tags: Herman Atkins

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James Woodard adjusts to life on the outside

Posted: May 16, 2008 5:40 pm

Two weeks ago, James Woodard walked out of a Dallas County courtroom a free man for the first time in 27 years. He was arrested days after New Year’s Day in 1981, and was convicted of a rape he didn’t commit based on an eyewitness misidentification. Now Woodard, who was represented by his attorneys at the Innocence Project of Texas, is working to reclaim his life.

"It's sort of like waking up from a dream," Woodard said, walking through the corridors of Dallas City Hall, trying to track down his birth certificate. "When you first wake up you are first kind of groggy and then as time passes you get more coherent."

Watch video with Woodard and read some of his letters to former Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade in an online feature new today on CNN.
Woodard is the 18th person cleared by DNA evidence in Dallas County to date – more than any other county in the nation. Fourteen of them have been officially exonerated – read their stories here.





Tags: Texas

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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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Video: John Grisham discusses "The Innocent Man"

Posted: May 21, 2008 11:00 am

Earlier this month, hundreds of people witnessed a moving display of justice and compassion at the Innocence Project’s annual benefit in New York. While pianist Jonathan Batiste played “What a Wonderful World” at the close of the event, two attendees got up on stage to dance, but not just any two.

These two were Dennis Fritz, who spent a decade in Oklahoma prison for a murder he didn’t commit, and Peggy Carter Sanders, the mother of the young woman Dennis was wrongfully convicted of killing. These were two people with a long history, and now they’re joined in a singular mission to seek fair justice for all.

The video below opens with Dennis and Peggy's dance and includes excepts of John Grisham discussing his book "The Innocent Man" — about the wrongful convictions of Fritz and Ron Williamson.

Dennis and Peggy Dance, and John Grisham discusses The Innocent Man [video: 03:07]



Tags: Dennis Fritz, Ron Williamson

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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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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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Charles Grodin: Why I support the Innocence Project

Posted: May 28, 2008 10:05 am

Actor Charles Grodin writes today in the New York Daily News about reforms taking root around the United States to address and prevent wrongful convictions. He applauds Colorado for passing evidence preservation legislation last month and calls on all states and individual law enforcement agencies to improve eyewitness identification procedures.

I shudder to think how many people are sitting in our prisons who have been wrongly convicted.

I support The Innocence Project, and I think if you can, you should too.

Read Grodin’s full article here. (NY Daily News, 05/27/08)




Tags: Eyewitness Identification, Evidence Preservation, Eyewitness Misidentification

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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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Dispatch from Michigan: A Perfect Day

Posted: May 29, 2008 5:45 pm

By Ken Wyniemko, Michigan Exoneree  

May 21, 2008 was a perfect day. It was the day that Walter Swift walked out of prison a free man after 26 years of wrongful incarceration. I know the feeling, just through my own experience; I know how it feels to walk out of prison, in my case after almost ten years, and have absolutely nothing. Both Walter and Nathaniel Hatchett, who was released on April 14, are going through the same thing I did. It felt so good to be there to help Walter, just as it was to help Nathaniel Hatchett when he was released last month. I gave each of them a big hug and a check for $500 from the Kenneth Wyniemko Foundation, which I have established to help people who have been exonerated after serving time for a wrongful conviction.

In Michigan, currently, anyone who is wrongfully imprisoned and freed doesn’t have access to compensation. I’m trying to correct that problem. I’m going to Lansing next week to testify before the House Judiciary Committee again on behalf of a bill that would provide $50,000 per year of wrongful imprisonment. It would also provide all lost wages during the time that you were wrongfully imprisoned as well as reimbursement for any attorney fees, and it would provide ten years of healthcare covered by the state of Michigan.

I have also testified about a bill that would extend and expand the current DNA statute in Michigan. House Bill 5089 would remove any time limits, any expiration date, because the current statute it is set to expire in January 2009. Another good thing about this bill: it would remove the restriction that people who pled guilty are not eligible for post-conviction DNA testing. In 11 of the DNA exonerations around the country, an innocent person pled guilty. And 25% of the DNA exonerations involved false confessions or admissions, including the case of my friend Eddie Joe Lloyd who was exonerated in Michigan in 2002. So if you look at the numbers, you can see that post-conviction DNA testing should be provided wherever it could prove innocence. Also under the current law, if you were convicted of a crime after January 8, 2001, you are currently barred from applying for DNA testing, and we’re trying to get that roadblock removed also.

If Michigan’s DNA access statute wasn’t passed originally, in 2001, I would still be in prison. I read that statute for the first time as a law librarian at the correctional center, and I actually started crying because I was thinking to myself, “This is exactly what I need to prove my innocence.” It has been a main goal of mine to never let the law expire. I testified about it on three separate occasions, and it’s already passed in the House and hopefully it will pass in the Senate either this week or next.

I’m so happy and blessed to be able to help. It makes my life worthwhile. I don’t want anyone to have to struggle like I did.

Read more about the cases of Ken Wyniemko, Walter Swift and Nathaniel Hatchett.



Tags: Nathaniel Hatchett, Kenneth Wyniemko

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Eight years of freedom for Texas man

Posted: May 30, 2008 4:15 pm

A.B. Butler served 16 years in Texas prison before DNA proved his innocence and led to his release in 2000. Tomorrow marks the eighth anniversary of his exoneration.

After a woman in Smith County was abducted from a parking lot and raped by an African-American man, police asked her to review books of photos. She identified a photo of Butler as the perpetrator. Police then conducted a live lineup including Butler, and she identified him again. She identified him a third time at trial, and he was convicted and sentenced to 99 years in prison.

Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing. More than 75 percent of the 217 people exonerated by DNA testing were misidentified before their convictions.

Read more about A.B. Butler’s case here
.

Read about reforms proven to reduce the number of eyewitness misidentification and find out if your state has implemented any of these reforms.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Monday: Larry Peterson, New Jersey (Served 16.5 years, Exonerated 05/26/06)

Willie Jackson, Louisiana (Served years, 17 Exonerated 05/26/06)

Tuesday: Paul Kordonowy, Montana (Served 13 years, Exonerated 05/27/03)





Tags: A.B. Butler, Willie Jackson, Paul D. Kordonowy, Larry Peterson

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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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Interview with Dallas DA Craig Watkins

Posted: June 2, 2008 3:23 pm

In the June issue of Reason Magazine, Editor Radley Balko interviews Craig Watkins, the Dallas District Attorney who gained national attention in 2007 through his role in the release of several people wrongfully convicted by his predecessors. Watkins says the Dallas DA’s office operated too long on a “convict at all costs” philosophy, and he is working to change the office from one that is “tough on crime” to one that is “smart on crime.”

Among other projects, Watkins started a Conviction Integrity Unit in his office, which played a key role in the recent release of James Woodard after 27 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

Q: You’re critical of the mind-set of winning convictions at all costs. The legendary law-and-order Dallas prosecutor Henry Wade, who for 35 years held the job you now hold, embodied that philosophy. He’s alleged even to have boasted about convicting innocent people—that putting an innocent man in jail proved his prowess as a prosecutor.

A: It was a badge of honor at the time to knowingly convict someone that wasn’t guilty. It’s widely known among defense attorneys and prosecutors from that era. We had to clean out all the remnants of that older way of thinking.

Read the full article here. (Reason, June 2008)
Watch a recent “60 Minutes” segment on Craig Watkins’ role in James Woodard’s release.

Watch more video of Watkins on YouTube.



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Editorial: Florida compensation law falls short

Posted: June 2, 2008 4:38 pm

An editorial in yesterday’s Orlando Sentinel says that Florida lawmakers didn’t go far enough when crafting the state’s new law compensating the wrongfully convicted upon exoneration. The bill would pay some exonerees $50,000 per year served, but it excludes anyone with a prior felony conviction. The Innocence Project has called this provision a “fatal flaw,” and the Orlando Sentinel agrees, calling it unfair.

It's not as if giving automatic compensation to these people would cost the state a lot. Only nine Floridians have been freed by DNA evidence. But seven won't qualify for automatic compensation because of that provision.

There's a chance to make it right during the next session by eliminating that clause. Why? Because it's the right thing to do.

Read the full editorial here. (Orlando Sentinel, 05/31/08)
Does your state have a compensation law? View the map here.





Tags: Exoneree Compensation

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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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New panels study wrongful convictions in Texas and New York

Posted: June 4, 2008 3:20 pm

Texas’ highest criminal court today announced the creation of a new Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit to address concerns of injustice in the court system and work with inmates who say they’ve been wrongfully convicted. The group’s initial invited members include Court of Criminal Appeals judge Barbara Hervey, Texas State Sen. Rodney Ellis (also the Innocence Project Board Chairman), members of Gov. Rick Perry’s staff, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges.

"This is a call to action to address the growing concerns with our criminal justice system," Hervey said.David Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston and director of the Texas Innocence Network, said the integrity unit could have a huge impact. Unreliable eyewitness evidence is the top contributor to wrongful convictions, he said, Better preservation of evidence could help wrongfully convicted inmates use emerging technologies to win their case.

"I think this is fabulous," Dow said. "I think the court's recognition of the problem by itself is noteworthy."

Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 06/04/08)
A Summit on Wrongful Convictions in Austin last month added momentum to the push for a state innocence commission to study wrongful convictions. Read more about the summit here.

Meanwhile, the New York State Bar Association has also established a 22-member task force to study wrongful convictions. Members of this group will also come from across the legal spectrum – both inside and outside the state’s criminal justice system.

Read more here. (Newsday, 06/04/08)

Download the Innocence Project’s report on stalled reforms in New York.





Tags: Texas, New York, Innocence Commissions

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South Carolina lawmakers approve DNA testing access

Posted: June 5, 2008 3:42 pm

A bill clearing the way for wrongfully convicted prisoners to seek DNA testing in South Carolina gained key approval Wednesday from the South Carolina House. The bill, which has already passed the State Senate and needs another vote in the House, would make South Carolina the 44th state to provide this access to prisoners. Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck testified in March in South Carolina to support the bill.

Read an editorial supporting the bill here. (The State, Updated 06/25/08)

The six other states without DNA access laws are Alabama, Alaska, Massachusetts, Mississippi, South Dakota and Oklahoma.

Your voice will be crucial in our efforts to ensure DNA testing access for prisoners in these states. Sign our petition for DNA access today and help us call for this critical reform where it is needed most.




Tags: South Carolina, Access to DNA Testing

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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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Texas prosecutors reflect on their role in wrongful convictions

Posted: June 9, 2008 12:05 pm

A groundbreaking article in this week’s issue of Texas Lawyer tells of a dozen Dallas exonerations through the eyes of the trial prosecutors. Their reflections on these cases represent a range of perspectives, but common themes emerge. There is consensus that eyewitness identification is unreliable on its own and that cases resting on a single eyewitness are a recipe for wrongful conviction. Prosecutors agree that forensic science has improved the quality of justice in American courtrooms. Many prosecutors remembered every detail of these convictions years later, and worked for the defendant’s release soon after learning of new DNA evidence proving innocence.

Prosecutors call these wrongful convictions “tragic” and one says that hindsight is 20-20.

"I don't fault anyone for doing what they're doing," Prosecutor Douglas Fletcher says. "But you can look back on any profession. Doctors can look back at doctors 30 years ago and say . . . "Why were they treating cancer that way?'"
Another prosecutor, James Fry, says the unreliable nature of eyewitness identifications has been exposed by these exonerations.
… "In the criminal justice system, people are being convicted on one-witness cases. And what this says to me is we've got an inherent problem about how many of these cases we're getting wrong. And it's still going on today," says James Fry, a former Dallas prosecutor who helped send a man to prison for 27 years for a crime he didn't commit. "My question to everybody involved in this across the state and across the nation is what are we going to do about this? I don't know."
Read the full story here. (Texas Lawyer, 06/06/08)

 



Tags: Charles Chatman, Wiley Fountain, Larry Fuller, James Giles, Donald Wayne Good, Andrew Gossett, Billy Wayne Miller, David Shawn Pope, James Waller, Gregory Wallis, Eyewitness Identification, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Innocence Project Co-Director calls for reform in West Virginia

Posted: June 12, 2008 1:20 pm

Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck said in a speech last night that West Virginia – and dozens of other states – were ready for bipartisan criminal justice reforms to prevent future wrongful convictions. Scheck spoke at an Innocence Project fundraiser in Charleston last night and this afternoon at a West Virginia lawyers’ conference.

We are heading into (a judicial reform) era right now," Scheck said. "The Innocence Project is something Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives can both support.

"It's all about public safety and all about getting things right."

One of the events sponsors, attorney Troy Giatras, said he was proud to help the organization, which he called a worthy cause.

"It's a shame that there needs to be such an organization, but the Innocence Project does great work," Giatras said. "It helps address one of the worst nightmares a victim of the American legal system can face, being wrongfully convicted."

Read the full story here. (West Virginia Record, 06/12/08)
View our interactive map for a snapshot of West Virginia exonerations and criminal justice policies – or in your state.

Click here for advice on organizing an Innocence Project event or fundraiser in your area
.





Tags: West Virginia

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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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Week in review

Posted: June 13, 2008 1:30 pm

Criminal justice stories that made headlines this week:

A federal judge recommended a new trial for Albert Woodfox, a member of the “Angola Three” – three Louisiana prisoners who spent three decades each in solitary confinement after they were convicted of murder. Woodfox and his attorneys argue that his defense attorney made serious errors in his previous trial. (CNN, 06/11/08)

The U.S. Supreme court ruled that prisoners at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, can challenge their incarceration under federal habeas corpus protections. (New York Times, 06/13/08)

An ex-spokesman for the Texas prison system has begun testifying for the defense in capital cases, explaining security systems for prisoners sentenced to life. He has met with resistance from prosecutors and said that because the death penalty has come under such scrutiny, there’s a “with us or against us mentality.” (Chicago Tribune, 06/12/08)

New York State Police officials are reviewing the forensic work of a scientist who committed suicide last month after lab audits found inconsistencies in his work. District attorneys across the state are being notified that cases could be compromised by questions about the analysts work. (New York Times, 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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Real perpetrator identified in Texas exoneration

Posted: June 18, 2008 3:53 pm

Innocence Project client Thomas McGowan was freed in April, but today his case is fully closed. Dallas County prosecutors announced last night that the DNA profile that proved McGowan’s innocence also led to the identity of the real perpetrator, a man named Kenneth Wayne Woodson, who is already serving in Texas prison for another crime.

When told that his DNA profile matched evidence from the 1985 rape, Woodson confessed to committing the crime, prosecutors said. Like many wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing, McGowan’s conviction not only sent an innocent man to prison but also allowed the perpetrator of a violent crime to evade arrest. Woodson was convicted of a separate rape in 1986 and sentenced to 30 years in prison. If he – and not McGowan – had been apprehended after the 1985 attack, the 1986 rape could have been prevented.

Woodson was paroled after 20 years, but was convicted of robbing a bank 14 months after his release. He was sent back to serve the remaining 10 years of his sentence. He will not be prosecuted for the 1985 rape, officials said, because the statute of limitations has expired.

The real perpetrator has been identified in 83 of the 218 DNA exoneration cases to date.

McGowan, who was officially exonerated last week by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, said this news brings full closure to his case.

McGowan said that with all of the publicity surrounding the new information in the case, he sympathizes with the victim. "I'll be praying for her," he said.
Regarding Woodson, McGowan said: "I feel sorry for the dude. I can't understand what was running through his mind. I'm amazed the dude got caught. I'm just glad the truth is out now."

Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 06/17/08)
Read more about McGowan’s case here.
 



Tags: Thomas McGowan

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Events this week in Connecticut and Florida

Posted: June 19, 2008 4:30 pm

A new production of the award-winning play “The Exonerated” opens tonight in Middletown, Connecticut, and tonight’s show will end with a panel discussion featuring exoneree James Tillman and his attorneys. The play, which tells the stories of six wrongfully convicted people, runs through June 29. The June 26th performance will also feature a discussion with Tillman’s lawyers. More info is available here.

Tomorrow night, the Innocence Project of Florida will host a fundraiser concert and silent auction in Talahassee, Florida. More information is available here.

Have an event to share with us? Send it to info [at] innocenceproject.org. Want to host your own event? Start planning today with our events guide.





Tags: James Tillman

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Innocence Project client seeks exoneration in Dallas

Posted: June 20, 2008 3:15 pm

Steven Phillips served 25 years in prison for a series of sexual assaults he has always maintained that he didn’t commit. DNA testing conducted last year proved that another man, Sidney Allen Goodyear, committed one of the rapes for which Phillips was convicted, and evidence shows that he committed the entire series of crimes. Fearing a life sentence at the time, Phillips pled guilty to nine related crimes that don’t involve biological evidence. In a court filing today, the Innocence Project says those nine crimes were also committed by Goodyear.

Read today’s news report here. (Associated Press, 06/20/08)




Tags: Steven Phillips

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Texas exoneree says Governor's pardon is the key to a new life

Posted: June 20, 2008 3:12 am

Ronnie Taylor was released from Texas prison eight months ago after serving 12 years for a rape he didn’t commit. This week, he received a pardon from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and he said this step will finally let him get started with his life.

"It's been hard to get restarted," Taylor said in a telephone interview from Atlanta. "Little things, like filling out a job application or renting an apartment are hard when you have to say you are a convicted felon. Now, I am officially a free man. I am so relieved."

Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 06/20/08)
Taylor was convicted of a 1993 rape in Houston after an analyst from the Houston Police Department Crime Lab incorrectly told jurors that no semen was discovered on the victim’s bedsheet, despite a large damp spot identified by police immediately after the crime. After the Innocence Project accepted his case, lab analysis showed that there indeed was semen from the perpetrator at that spot. DNA testing not only cleared Taylor, but led to the identity of the real perpetrator, who was briefly a suspect at the time of Taylor’s arrest.

Watch Ronnie Taylor tell his story in his own words in an Innocence Project video on Texas exonerations.





Tags: Ronald Taylor

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SC editorial: Grant prisoners access to DNA testing

Posted: June 25, 2008 4:02 pm

At a hearing today in South Carolina, lawmakers are considering making their state the 45th in the country to allow prisoners access to DNA testing that can prove innocence. An editorial in The State today says it is time for legislators to take action on this important bill.

When an innocent person goes to prison, a guilty person roams our streets, free to victimize again.
That is the practical reason we need to do all we reasonably can to make sure that the innocent aren’t convicted and that, if they are, those convictions are reversed and an investigation re-opened. The moral reason, of course, is that it’s wrong to imprison the innocent.

We will never get those initial convictions correct 100 percent of the time, but there is a way we can improve our chance of identifying and correcting the errors. Our Legislature will have the opportunity to put it into place today.

A bill awaiting final approval by the House and Senate would add our state to the 44 others that allow people convicted of murder, rape and a handful of other violent crimes to have DNA testing done if they can convince a judge it would likely prove them innocent. That’s something that, in most cases, cannot happen today.

Read the full editorial here. (The State, 06/25/08)
 



Tags: South Carolina, Access to DNA Testing

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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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Texas death row conviction overturned

Posted: June 26, 2008 3:40 pm

Michael Blair spent 14 years on Texas’ death row for a murder he has always maintained he didn’t commit before the state’s highest criminal court overturned his conviction yesterday based on DNA evidence of his innocence. Prosecutors joined with Blair’s defense team – which includes the Innocence Project – in requesting that the conviction be tossed after DNA test results also indicated that another man, now deceased, committed the crime. Blair now faces the prospect of a retrial in the case, but he will be officially exonerated of this crime if charges against him are dropped. In the meantime, he will be transferred from death row, but will remain in prison on three other sex assault convictions, for which he was sentenced to life.

Less than a year after Blair was sentenced to death, then-Governor George W. Bush signed “Ashley’s Laws,” named after the victim in the case, expanding punishment and registration for sex offenders. Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck said Blair’s wrongful conviction – and community’s rush to expand punishment in the wake of his case – illustrates serious flaws in the criminal justice system.

“Troubling questions about our criminal justice system are raised any time DNA testing shows that someone on death row is innocent,” Scheck said. “But in this case, the community rushed to judgment because Michael Blair had a record as a sex offender — while the apparent real perpetrator, who had no record, evaded justice. More than just an irony, this should give everyone pause about legislating or reaching court decisions based on community fear and outrage.

“This case starkly shows that the system makes mistakes, and that those mistakes can have chilling consequences. Michael Blair was almost executed for a crime that DNA testing shows he did not commit. Even more troubling is the reality that the kind of evidence that led to Michael Blair’s wrongful conviction is used in countless cases nationwide every day. Eyewitness misidentification and unreliable forensic science convicted Michael Blair, but DNA has finally shown the truth.”

Read more:

Associated Press: Court overturned conviction in Ashley’s Killer case



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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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Charges dropped against New York man

Posted: June 30, 2008 4:32 pm

More than 17 years after Marty Tankleff was convicted of killing his parents, his ordeal is finally over. Prosecutors announced this afternoon that they would not retry Tankleff in the 1988 murder of his parents, which sent him to prison at age 17. Tankleff was released in December, but he had to wait in legal limbo as state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo was appointed as a special prosecutor and charged with producing a report on the case.

Tankleff, who woke up one morning in the Long Island home he shared with his parents to find his mother dead and his father unconscious, allegedly told police he may have “blacked out” and committed the crimes. He was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 50 years to life in prison. Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck said today that Tankleff should never have been tried in this case.

“This is a clear case of a false confession. If Marty Tankleff’s interrogation had been videotaped, there would be no ambiguity about his innocence,” Scheck said. “The evidence clearly shows that Marty Tankleff’s confession was coerced, and he should never have been prosecuted in the first place. Electronic recording of interrogations in New York State should become mandatory, as it is in several other states and hundreds of jurisdictions nationwide. In New York State, 17 people were wrongfully convicted based on false confessions and later exonerated (10 of them were exonerated through DNA testing).”

Read press coverage of today’s announcement here:

Associated Press: NY drops case vs LI man in murder of his parents

On Wednesday, Tankleff will join Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom and others at a public forum coordinated by the New York Senate Democratic Task Force on Criminal Justice Reform. The forum will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial & Educational Center at 3940 Broadway (at 165th St.) in New York City. 



Tags: Marty Tankleff

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New projects in Iowa and New York

Posted: July 1, 2008 3:34 pm

As momentum continues to grow in the innocence movement, new groups are forming around the world to investigate and appeal possible wrongful convictions. In the news this week are two new projects: the Innocence Project of Iowa and the Arson Screening Project at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Professors at John Jay announced today the formation of the Arson Screening Project, to investigate a growing backlog of questionable convictions based on unreliable arson science. The group was formed with a $250,000 grant from the JEHT Foundation, a major Innocence Project supporter. Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck said the new group is "an important effort to see below the tip of an iceberg, to a generation of cases based on bad science."

And the Innocence Project of Iowa is among the newest members of the Innocence Network. The new organization has begun work to investigative the cases of state prisoners claiming to have been wrongfully convicted. The group was formed last year by pro bono attorneys and professors at Drake University and the University of Iowa, and paralegal students at Lakes Community College have begun reviewing cases and recommending innocence claims for further investigation.

Brian Farrell, a Cedar Rapids attorney, said the group could not find a home or funding at Drake or The University of Iowa, but both schools supported the involvement of students in the program.

"The motivation goes back to our belief that one of the worst things that can happen in society is for an innocent person to be deprived of liberty," said Farrell, one of the group's board members. "Even if it happens once, that's too much."

Read the full story here. (Chicago Tribune, 06/30/08)
The Innocence Project is a founding member of the Innocence Network, an affiliation of more than 40 legal organizations devoted to overturning wrongful convictions around the world. Visit the Innocence Network website to learn more.



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DNA proves Texas man innocent nine years after he died in prison

Posted: June 30, 2008 6:01 pm

New DNA tests prove that Timothy Cole died in a Texas prison while serving time for a rape he didn’t commit, according to papers filed Friday by his attorneys at the Innocence Project of Texas. Cole was convicted of raping a Texas Tech student in 1986 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Nine years later, another inmate, Jerry Johnson, sent a letter to the Lubbock court claiming that he – and not Cole – had committed the rape. Johnson’s claims, however, fell on deaf ears, and Cole died of asthma in prison at age 38.

But Johnson’s family didn’t give up. In 2007, the Innocence Project of Texas took on the case and began investigating. Biological evidence from the crime was located in the Lubbock County archives. DNA test results received last months proved that Johnson was indeed the perpetrator of the crime.

And now Jeff Blackburn, the lead counsel at the Innocence Project of Texas, is seeking to have Cole’s record cleared.

"If we're going to live in a society where the court system operates in a fair way, then it's got to do it across the board," Blackburn said. "They have a right to have a court of record tell them that their son was innocent."

Read a three-part story and watch a video with Cole’s family on the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.
Texas has more DNA exonerations than any other state in the U.S., with 32 uncovered so far. Several, like Cole’s, are pending final court determination. When there’s more news in Cole’s case, we’ll post it here.

Sign up here to get updates on the Innocence Project's work.



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SC lawmakers consider veto override in DNA bill

Posted: July 2, 2008 3:23 pm

Last week, the South Carolina legislature passed a bill allowing prisoners to seek DNA testing when it could prove their innocence. The bill was coupled, however, with another that would collect DNA samples from people who are arrested for crimes but never convicted. Gov. Mark Sanford, citing civil liberties concerns about the database expansion, vetoed the bill today, as he vetoed a similar bill last year. The legislature may vote to override the veto. 

In an Associated Press article yesterday, Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom said the pairing of the bills was unfortunate. Access to DNA testing is a critical reform to overturn wrongful convictions, and it should not have been tied to the database bill.

Read the full article. (Associated Press, 07/01/2008)

Wyoming yesterday became the 43rd state with a DNA access law, when its new guidelines took effect. Learn about the law in your state and get involved today in changing the system.



Tags: Access to DNA Testing

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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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Questions of wrongful convictions raised in 1997 Alaska murder

Posted: July 9, 2008 4:35 pm

Hours after an Alaskan teenager was found dead by a Fairbanks roadside in 1997, two of his high-school classmates confessed to killing him. The supposed confession came as a result of intense police questioning. They implicated two other boys, and all four were convicted of the murder. Ten years later, however, their guilt remains a question. The two men who gave confessions have recanted, claiming their confessions were false. A four-part investigative series on the case by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and a journalism class concludes today with stories on false confessions nationwide overturned by DNA testing and the tactics used by police in interrogations.

Why credit claims of innocence from any inmate who has already confessed?
 Science not long ago delivered a three-letter answer: DNA.
Visit the interactive series website here. (Fairbanks Daily Miner)
Read more about false confessions and DNA exonerations here.





Tags: False Confessions

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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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Wisconsin case calls bite mark evidence into question again

Posted: July 10, 2008 2:20 pm

Faulty bite mark evidence has played a part in at least five wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing. Robert Stinson in Wisconsin could become the sixth. New DNA testing indicates that Stinson is in prison for a murder he didn’t commit and his case is again calling the field of forensic dentistry into question.

Dr. L Thomas Johnson, a Wisconsin bite mark analyst, testified at Stinson’s trial for a 1984 murder that bite marks on the victim’s body matched Stinson’s teeth. Now, DNA testing on saliva from the victim’s shirt have shown that another man left the bite marks. The Wisconsin Innocence Project, which represents Stinson, has filed for his release based on the new evidence.

While Johnson stands behind his work in the Stinson case, other forensic dentists have found not only that Johnson’s analysis was wrong, but also that he went too far in saying that there was “no doubt” the bite marks came from Stinson.

The case also was examined by forensic experts from Texas, California and Illinois. In their report, the experts said that while some modern methods were not available in 1984, "it should be emphasized that Drs. Johnson and Rawson should have excluded Robert Lee Stinson even based on methods and standards available at the time ... because there is little or no correlation of Robert Lee Stinson's dentition to the bite marks."

The report also criticized Johnson's testimony that there was no doubt Stinson's teeth left the marks. "That statement has no evidence-based, scientific, or statistical basis and drastically overstates the level of certainty attainable using bite mark analysis," the report said.
Johnson is also leading a project to build a computer database of bite marks, attempting to bring scientific rigor to a discipline that has been criticized for lacking it. He says his research shows that bite marks have six distinct identifying points that distinguish them. But other forensic dentists are skeptical of his work.
"This is the epitome of junk science cloaked as academic research," said Dr. Michael Bowers, a California odontologist and a frequent critic of bite-mark comparisons. "I don't think his claims are supported. The study just doesn't pass muster."

Read the full story here. (Chicago Tribune, 07/10/08)

The Innocence Project has called for scientific oversight in all forensic fields, and has criticized bite mark analysis for years because there are no national standards or acceptable certification procedures. Earlier this year, two Innocence Project clients originally convicted based on bite mark comparison – Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks – were exonerated when DNA testing led investigators to the real perpetrator of the murders for which the two men had been convicted.

Read more about wrongful convictions overturned by bite mark evidence here
.





Tags: Wisconsin, Bitemark Evidence

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Alabama column: Why no DNA testing for Tommy Arthur?

Posted: July 11, 2008 4:10 pm

"It seems a simple thing. Before the state of Alabama executes someone, it should leave no room for doubt about a person's guilt," columnist David Person writes in today’s Huntsville Times.

Tommy Arthur has been on Alabama’s death row for 25 years for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit. Gov. Bob Riley has the right to order a DNA test on his behalf. George W. Bush ordered testing for a prisoner when he was governor of Texas. But Riley has refused to grant access to testing, and Arthur is scheduled to be executed on July 31st.

Alabama is one of seven states that doesn't provide access to DNA testing for capital cases. What's shameful about this is that DNA testing not only can exonerated the wrongly convicted, it can help identify the true perpetrators.
How many people walk our streets with blood on their hands, rapists or murderers who should be locked up for life, only because we've refused to use DNA testing?

If I were governor, I wouldn't want to live with that. Neither, I'd like to think, would Riley.

Read the full column here. (Huntsville Times, 07/11/08) 
Your voice can help obtain DNA tests for Arthur before the state of Alabama carries out a sentence it can never reverse. Send Gov. Riley an email today.

 



Tags: Tommy Arthur

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Detroit exoneree gets a warm reception in Ireland

Posted: July 14, 2008 2:54 pm

Walter Swift, spent 26 years in Michigan prison for a rape he didn’t commit before he was exonerated and released in May. This week, he is walking Ireland’s red carpet, meeting with elected officials, legal leaders and appearing in newspapers and TV. He is the guest of Niamh Gunn, an attorney and businesswoman who was instrumental in securing Swift’s release. She worked on Swift’s case during a three-month internship at the Innocence Project in 2003, and never let up. Read more about Swift’s case – and Gunn’s role in his exoneration – here.

And Swift told an audience in Ireland on Friday that he doesn’t harbor any ill feelings after his 26-year struggle.

"My incarceration of 26 years was my personal adversity. To harbour any ill feelings toward anyone because of it would not only cheapen me as an individual, but it would put a remarkable blemish upon the excellent work and the struggle of these people who laboured so hard on my behalf."

Read the full story here. (The Irish Independent, 07/12/08)




Tags: Walter Swift

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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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Should lawyers break confidentiality to overturn wrongful convictions?

Posted: July 15, 2008 2:30 pm

In an article published yesterday on Northwestern University’s law review website, Colin Miller argues that lawyers should be permitted to break the attorney-client privilege in order to prevent a wrongful conviction. In most states, lawyers can only break their confidentiality to prevent “reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm.” Two recent cases illustrated this dilemma, which has bound attorneys to keep secrets that they know are preventing an innocent person from being freed. Alton Logan was released in Chicago in April after serving 26 years for a murder he didn’t commit. The actual killer  confessed to his attorneys before Logan was convicted, but the lawyers didn’t share this information until after their client died.

Miller, an assistant professor at John Marshall Law School in Chicago, argues that wrongful incarceration should be construed as bodily harm, allowing lawyers to speak up when they have evidence to overturn a wrongful conviction.

Read Miller’s full paper here.

Read more about Alton Logan and watch a story on his case from CBS News’ “60 Minutes.”



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Execution date set for Georgia man

Posted: September 4, 2008 3:58 pm

Troy Davis has been on Georgia’s death row for 17 years for a murder he has always maintained he didn’t commit. Last year, he came within 24 hours of execution before receiving a last-minute stay. In March of this year, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled 4-3 against granting him a new trial. Now, a new execution date has been set for September 23rd.

Davis was convicted almost entirely based on eyewitness testimony. Since his conviction, all but two of the 13 witnesses who testified against Davis at trial have recanted, many of them saying they were coerced to offer false eyewitness and snitch testimony by police officers.

Read more about Davis’ case and send a letter to the Georgia Board of Prison and Parole asking them to stop the execution so Davis can get another day in court.

Read about the role of eyewitness misidentification in more than 75 percent of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing.





Tags: Death Penalty

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Judge orders state to hand over DNA results in Texas case

Posted: July 17, 2008 11:05 am

An Austin judge told prosecutors on Tuesday that they had 72 hours to hand over DNA test results in the infamous 1991 “yogurt shop murders” case for which two men say they are wrongfully imprisoned.  The results could help identify the actual perpetrator(s) in the crimes.

Prosecutors said they were waiting for a full report before handing over the evidence, but defense attorneys are seeking access to the test results sooner, saying they deserve to know immediately whose DNA was found on new tests of evidence from the crime scene. Prosecutors have said that the two defendants – Michael Scott and Robert Springsteen – could not be the source of the DNA, and two other men formerly arrested and released have also been excluded.

Both men were convicted in 1999 after they allegedly confessed (they now say the confessions were coerced) – 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.

Springsteen’s attorney, Joe James Sawyer, blasted the state after the pretrial hearing for not letting the public know whose DNA was identified in the testing. “The silence is deafening,” Sawyer said.

Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 07/15/08)



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S.C. Governor vetoed DNA testing bill because of "bitter-pill amendment"

Posted: July 18, 2008 2:00 pm

The Columbia Free Times reports that South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford was forced to veto a bill supporting access to DNA testing when some legislators tacked on a provision that he had opposed in a separate bill. Gov. Sanford supported the bill’s original language which would have established laws for evidence preservation and would allow prisoners to seek DNA testing to prove their innocence, a path to exoneration that the state does not currently provide.

“We applaud the first part of the bill because it provides those who may have been wrongly accused a chance to clear their names and we fully support the notion of due process in all cases,” Sanford wrote in a July 2 veto letter to Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who presides over the state Senate. “If this were the only provision of [the bill], we would have signed this legislation into law.”

But a tacked-on provision would allow police to take DNA swabs from anyone arrested of a serious crime, even before they were convicted, which has raised concerns about civil liberties. Palmetto Innocence Project president Joe McCulloch told the Free Times that the amendment is what sank the legislation.

That legislation seemed to be on the fast track to passing but was torpedoed at the 11th hour by political maneuvering, McCulloch says.

At the end of the legislative session, lawmakers lifted language from a different and controversial DNA bill, which the governor had vetoed, and added it to the original legislation.

The tacked-on language, added on the last day of the legislative session, exploded any chance of the bill he supported passing, McCulloch says.

Read the Columbia Free Times article.

   



Tags: South Carolina, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing

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A false confession in Missouri?

Posted: July 21, 2008 12:25 am

A leading false confession expert testified Friday at a Missouri hearing that Chuck Erickson may have made false statements to police implicating his classmate Ryan Ferguson in a murder he didn’t commit.

Richard Leo, a professor at the University of San Francisco, said improper interrogation tactics used by Columbia, Missouri, police officers in their interview with Erickson could have led him to give a false admission and to implicate his innocent classmate, Ferguson. They interrogated him after he had read a newspaper article about the crime and allegedly had a dream about possibly killing the victim.

“The goal of the police should be to get the truth, not to get a confession,” Leo said. “It has the hallmarks of a persuaded false confession.”

Ferguson was convicted by a jury in 2005 of committing the 2001 murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison. Erickson testified against Ferguson and pled guilty to murder. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Watch a videotape of Erickson’s interrogation on YouTube.

Read more about this case in the Columbia Missourian
.

Learn more about this case on CBS News’ ’48 Hours’ website
.

Buy Richard Leo’s new book “Police Interrogation and American Justice” on Amazon.com
. (A portion of proceeds will benefit the Innocence Project if you use this link)



Tags: False Confessions, False Confessions

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Tankleff, finally free of charges, calls for reforms

Posted: July 25, 2008 12:17 pm

Marty Tankleff was released from a New York prison in December, but it took until this week for charges against him to be officially dropped. On his second day as an officially free man, he told to a group of attorneys on Long Island yesterday about the dangers of false confessions and critical reforms to prevent them.

"For 20 years, in my case, there have been two competing versions of what took place in the interrogation room," Tankleff told the audience, going on to speak about the importance of videotaping complete interrogations so juries can see the facts for themselves.

Tankleff, who woke up one morning in 1988 in the Long Island home he shared with his parents to find his mother dead and his father unconscious, allegedly told police he may have “blacked out” and committed the crimes. His father later died in the hospital, and Tankleff, 17,  was convicted of the murdersand sentenced to 50 years to life in prison. He served 17 years before his release in December.

Watch video from yesterday’s speech at Newsday.com.






Tags: False Confessions, False Confessions, Marty Tankleff

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Hearing tomorrow in NJ: Darrell Edwards should get a new trial

Posted: July 28, 2008 1:51 pm

After two mistrials and a third trial that ended with a hung jury, Darrell Edwards was convicted of a 1995 Newark murder in his fourth trial. The main evidence against him was eyewitness testimony. The prosecution argued that Edwards shot the victim in a sandwich shop and then fled down the street, tossing a hooded sweatshirt and gun.

New DNA testing has revealed a mixture of male profiles on the sweatshirt and gun, none of which match Edwards. And an eyewitness who testified at trial that she identified him from 271 feet away (at night) without wearing her glasses now says she was “just guessing.” There is significant evidence that the crime was actually part of a Newark-Atlanta drug-trafficking ring (completely unrelated to Edwards) but police ignored evidence that could have led to the real perpetrator years ago. Innocence Project attorneys will argue at a hearing tomorrow afternoon in Newark, New Jersey, that the new evidence is more than enough to overturn Edwards’ conviction and grant him a new trial.

"The person who committed this crime left their DNA on the sweatshirt and the DNA does not belong to Darrell Edwards," (Innocence Project Staff Attorney Vanessa) Potkin said. "From our perspective, the new DNA test results are powerful evidence showing what Darrell Edwards has been saying for nearly 13 years, that he is not responsible for this crime."

Read the full story here. (Newark Star-Ledger, 07/27/08)
At tomorrow’s hearing, the Innocence Project will also present new scientific findings on the unreliability of eyewitness identifications from long distances, showing that a person can not identify anyone’s face from 271 feet – even if the witness has perfect eyesight and they are identifying an acquaintance.

A video on WABC News Friday explored the new discoveries on identification research, and features an interview with Edwards from New Jersey State Prison. “I believe that my day is coming,” Edwards says. Watch the full video here.

Get details on attending the hearing here.
 

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10 year anniversary of South Carolina exoneration

Posted: July 28, 2008 1:35 pm

Ten years ago, on July 20, 1998 — after serving almost 15 years for a rape he didn’t commit — Perry Mitchell became the first South Carolinian to be exonerated by DNA. Sunday marked the tenth anniversary of his exoneration.

Although Mitchell was allowed access to the DNA tests that ultimately freed him, his request could have easily been denied. Even now, ten years after Mitchell’s exoneration, South Carolina is one of seven states with no law guaranteeing DNA access to inmates who believe they have been wrongfully convicted. Legislation that would have ensured access to DNA testing and evidence preservation recently passed South Carolina’s legislature, only to be vetoed by Governor Mark Sanford. The governor said he couldn’t support a last-minute amendment to the bill that would have allowed DNA samples to be taken from anyone arrested for a serious crime.

Click here to learn more about the situation in South Carolina or view our interactive map to find out about the other six states lacking DNA testing access.




Tags: Perry Mitchell

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A new day for Dallas justice

Posted: July 29, 2008 3:31 pm

The steady pace of DNA exonerations in Dallas recently has cast a dark shadow over the county’s justice system, and officials say they are digging out from the “win at all costs” mentality set during the 36-year tenure of former prosecutor Henry Wade. Now, seven years after Wade’s death, DNA is beginning to show that many of the defendants convicted by Wade were innocent. Nineteen people have been freed by DNA testing in Dallas since 2001, more than any other county – and all but three states, and 250 more cases are currently under review.

Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins, who in 2006 became the first elected African-American chief county prosecutor in Texas history, said the atmosphere needed to change in Dallas to ensure fair justice.

"There was a cowboy kind of mentality and the reality is that kind of approach is archaic, racist, elitist and arrogant," said Watkins, who is 40 and never worked for Wade or met him.
 ..."I think the number of examples of cases show it's troubling," said Nina Morrison, an attorney with the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal group affiliated with the Texas effort. "Whether it's worse than other jurisdictions, it's hard to say. It would be a mistake to conclude the problems in these cases are limited to Dallas or are unique to Dallas.
 Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 07/29/08)
Watch video of a speech by Watkins about his “smart on crime” approach.





Tags: Texas

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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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New developments in Alabama case; Governor should stay execution to conduct DNA testing

Posted: July 30, 2008 11:55 am

Tommy Arthur has been on Alabama’s death row for a quarter-century for a murder he says he didn’t commit. He is scheduled to be executed tomorrow night, and the Alabama Supreme Court rejected one of his final appeals yesterday by a 6-2 vote. But new evidence surfaced yesterday, and it makes an irrefutable case for conducting DNA testing in the case.

Another Alabama inmate has confessed to killing Troy Wicker in exchange for $2,000, according to court papers filed yesterday, and DNA testing could prove whether his claim is true. Bobby Ray Gilbert says he killed Wicker in exchange for $2,000 from Wicker’s wife, with whom he was having an affair at the time. He says he had sex with Wicker’s wife after the crime and that he also wore a wig that day. Police collected the wig, and a rape kit containing biological evidence was collected from Wicker’s wife at the hospital. Both items of evidence are still available for testing.

The State Attorney General discounted the new evidence and said the execution should go forward.

More than 3,000 people have sent emails to Alabama Gov. Bob Riley urging him to stay Arthur’s execution in order to conduct DNA testing. It takes just one minute and your voice can make the difference – send your letter today.

More news coverage of developments in Arthur’s case:
 
Birmingham News editorial: Thomas Arthur is to be executed Thursday for a murder another prisoner now claims he committed. Clearly, these claims must be investigated before the execution occurs. (07/30/08)

Birmingham News: Convicted murderer serving life says he, not Thomas Arthur, killed Troy Wicker Jr. in 1982 (07/30/08)

Letters to Birmingham News

Associated Press: AG, victim’s wife dismiss claims in Wicker death
 



Tags: Alabama, Tommy Arthur

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Federal judge: New York man has the right to DNA testing

Posted: July 31, 2008 10:03 am

In an opinion that could have wide implications, Judge John Gleeson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District issued an opinion last week finding that New York inmate Frank McKithen has the right to pursue DNA testing that could potentially prove his innocence. McKithen says he was wrongfully convicted of attacking his wife with a knife in 1992 and wants to test the knife for biological material. Read the full opinion here.

The judge wrote: "The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment grants a convicted offender access to physical evidence for the purpose of DNA testing if it can be performed with negligible cost to the state and exculpatory results would undermine confidence in the outcome of trial."

The Innocence has project has consulted with McKithen’s attorneys at Arent Fox LLP on the case.

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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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Steven Phillips expected to be cleared tomorrow in Dallas

Posted: August 4, 2008 2:50 pm

Twenty-five years after he was wrongfully convicted of a string of sexual assaults he didn’t commit, Innocence Project client Steven Phillips is finally set to be cleared. At a hearing tomorrow in Dallas, Innocence Project attorneys will show that DNA test results and other evidence prove that another man committed a string of sexual assaults for which Steven Phillips was convicted in the early 1980s.

DNA tests now prove that a man named Sidney Allen Goodyear committed a 1982 rape for which Phillips was sentenced to 30 years in prison. And other evidence shows that Goodyear committed a string of sexual assaults in 1982 to which Phillips pled guilty to avoid a possible life sentence. A Dallas judge is expected to recommend that the Court of Criminal Appeals fully exonerate Phillips in all of the cases.

“This is one of the worst cases of tunnel vision we’ve ever seen. Police seized on Steven Phillips as a suspect and refused to see mounting evidence that someone else actually committed these crimes,” said Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck. “Sidney Goodyear was a one-man crime spree who could have been stopped much sooner if police had followed the evidence instead of locking onto an innocent man.” After the Dallas crimes for which Phillips was wrongfully convicted, Goodyear committed at least 16 other sexual assaults and related offenses in multiple states.

Read today’s Innocence Project press release here.
News coverage of tomorrow’s hearing:

Dallas hearing set for man shown innocent by DNA (Associated Press, 07/31/08)





Tags: Texas, Steven Phillips

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Two Nebraska men seek exoneration after DNA results

Posted: August 4, 2008 2:45 pm

Two Nebraska inmates are seeking exoneration, or at least a new trial, after DNA test results showed the presence of an unknown male at the scene of a 1985 murder they are convicted of committing. Thomas Winslow and Joseph White were convicted or raping and killing a woman in rural Nebraska. New DNA tests on semen from the victim’s body show a male profile that matches neither of the men, according to their attorneys, who filed a motion Friday seeking to have the convictions overturned.

Read more here. (Omaha World-Herald, 08/01/08)

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Steven Phillips is officially exonerated in Dallas

Posted: October 1, 2008 5:25 pm

This summer, a Dallas court recommend that Steven Phillips’ name be cleared, more than 25 years after he was wrongfully convicted of a string of sex crimes he didn’t commit. Today, Texas’ highest criminal court officially exonerated him.

DNA testing and an extensive investigation by the Innocence Project proved that Phillips did not commit any of the ten sexual assaults he was convicted of in 1982 and 1983. But Phillips has been waiting in legal limbo for today’s decision by the Court of Criminal Appeals, which officially exonerated him by granting writs of habeas corpus in overturning wrongful convictions in several cases.

Phillips is the 221st person exonerated by DNA testing nationwide, and the 16th officially exonerated in Dallas. Five more men in Dallas have been proven innocent by DNA testing, but they are awaiting further legal action before their exonerations are official. With 21 people cleared by DNA, Dallas has seen more exonerations than any other county in the U.S. since 2001.

Read more about his case here.

Read about the other 15 Dallas exonerees here.





Tags: Steven Phillips

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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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Victim’s family joins inmate in filing for DNA testing

Posted: August 6, 2008 1:47 pm

In a filing yesterday in federal court, the Innocence Project advocates for DNA testing in the case of Michael Morton, who has served two decades in Texas prison for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit. And Morton is joined in the lawsuit by the family of a woman who was killed in a remarkably similar unsolved crime.  DNA testing and fingerprint analysis in both cases could exonerate Morton and solve McKinney’s murder, the Innocence Project says.

Morton was convicted of killing his wife in Williamson County, Texas in 1986, and sentenced to life in prison. Just a few years earlier, Mildred McKinney was killed in her home less than a mile from the Morton home in a strikingly similar crime. Now, McKinney’s daughter is joining Morton in pursuing DNA testing on evidence from both crime scenes.

“For more than three years, the local prosecutor has fought DNA and fingerprint testing that could prove Michael Morton’s innocence and finally solve both of these crimes,” said Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck. The Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law in New York, represents Morton with co-counsel John Raley of the Cooper & Scully law firm. “Patricia Stapleton and Michael Morton come from very different backgrounds, but they have a common goal to use science and every available law enforcement tool to finally reveal the truth in these cases and find justice for their loved ones.”

Read today’s Innocence Project press release here.





Tags: Michael Morton

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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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The surprising truth in Dallas

Posted: August 8, 2008 4:10 pm

In a column in today’s Dallas Morning News, Jacquielynn Floyd writes of the “visceral horror of undeserved punishment” suffered by Steven Phillips, who was cleared Wednesday 25 years after he was wrongfully convicted for a string of sex assaults he didn’t commit. With 19 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing, Dallas is a hotbed of exoneration. But one of the reasons for this may surprise you…

There are a lot of questions still to be answered about how and why these errors occur. But it's sometimes dismaying to see Dallas so prominently cited for its wrongful-conviction rate, to hear cynical references to "Texas justice" in general and "Dallas justice" in particular as shorthand for unfair and abusive criminal-justice tactics.

So there was a certain comfort this week in the words of Innocence Project attorney Barry Scheck, who is probably the most visible face of the nationwide movement to clear wrongfully convicted prisoners.

He said the high incidence of local exonerations is due, at least in part, to a local willingness to identify and recognize error.

"There would be far more exonerations in cities, in other places – I assure you in New York we'd probably have 200 to 300 exonerations – if just the evidence were preserved," Mr. Scheck said during a news conference after Mr. Phillips' hearing .Read the full story here. (Dallas Morning News, 08/08/08)
Listen to a radio interview with Phillips and Innocence Project Staff Attorney Jason Kreag. (KRLD, 08/07/08)

Read more about Steven Phillips’ case here.

 



Tags: Steven Phillips

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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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Philadelphia editorial: Give Darrell Edwards a new trial

Posted: August 11, 2008 4:00 pm

Innocence Project client Darrell Edwards has served nearly a decade in New Jersey prison for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit. DNA testing and other substantial new evidence shows that he’s telling the truth, but prosecutors have refused to grant him a new trial.

After two mistrials and a hung jury, Edwards was convicted of a Newark shooting murder at his fourth trial in 1999 and sentenced to life in prison. Eyewitnesses told police after the crime they saw Edwards flee the crime scene and dispose of a sweatshirt and gun. DNA testing on those items has revealed male profiles that do not match Edwards, and new statements from the key crime scene witness show that she was “just guessing” in her identification of Edwards. New scientific research confirms that one witness could not have possibly recognized Edwards from 271 feet, the distance from which she said she saw him. The Innocence Project sought a new trial for Edwards at a July 29 hearing, and the judge requested further filings before Edwards’ appeal could be considered.

An editorial in yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer calls for the judge to grant Edwards a new trial so the facts of his case can be heard.

It happens too often. Innocent people are convicted and spend years in prison because of faulty eyewitness identification, sloppy or improper police work, and the lack of DNA testing.
Take the case of Darrell Edwards. He was convicted of murder in a New Jersey state court in 1999 - after four trials and the acquittal of a co-defendant. Four bites at the apple is a good indication that prosecutors had a shaky case from the start. Now, new evidence has emerged that raises the possibility that Evans was wrongfully convicted - or worse, may have been railroaded. Edwards' attorneys at the Innocence Project are seeking a fifth trial. He deserves it.

Read the full article here. (Philadelphia Inquirer, 08/10/08)




Tags: Darrell Edwards

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Ohio man to be released tonight

Posted: August 11, 2008 5:10 pm

Robert McClendon will be released from prison this evening in Ohio after DNA tests proved he didn’t commit the rape he was convicted of in 1991 according to news reports. McClendon served 18 years in prison before a joint investigation by the Columbus Dispatch and the Ohio Innocence Project identified his case as a candidate for DNA testing. He first filed for testing in 2004, but never got a decision from the judge.

An Ohio lab agreed to conduct DNA testing pro bono in 30 cases identified by the Ohio Innocence Project and the Dispatch. McClendon’s is the first case to end with test results, and the results exonerated him. He is represented by the Ohio Innocence Project, a member of the Innocence Network.

He was granted a new trial today by a Franklin County judge, who agreed for him to be released on his own recognizance. Prosecutors will now decide whether to retry McClendon or dismiss charges against him, which would officially exonerate him.

Read the full story here.

Read the Dispatch’s five-part series “Test of Convictions” here
.



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Robert McClendon freed in Ohio

Posted: August 13, 2008 1:06 pm

After 18 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit, Robert McClendon was freed Monday night due to DNA evidence of his innocence. McClendon’s attorneys at the Ohio Innocence Project said they expected prosecutors to formally drop charges within two weeks. Testing in his case was obtained as part of a joint project between the Columbus Dispatch and the Ohio Innocence Project. An Ohio lab provided DNA testing pro bono.

News coverage of McClendon’s release:

NBC4 Columbus, Ohio – with photos and video: McClendon’s first taste of freedom

Columbus Dispatch: Hello freedom: Robert McClendon rejoins his family as a free man

Five-part Columbus Dispatch Investigation: Test of Convictions

Associated Press: Judge frees convicted Ohio rapist after DNA test



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Virginia DNA tests point to real perpetrator and could clear a wrongful conviction

Posted: August 13, 2008 1:10 pm

New DNA tests could posthumously exonerate Curtis Jasper Moore, who was convicted in 1978 of killing and raping an 88-year-old Virginia woman three years earlier. Moore, who suffered from schizophrenia, was committed to a state mental hospital for three years, until he was released when his conviction was overturned on appeal due to law enforcement officers’ failure to properly advise Moore of his rights before interrogating him. Prosecutors never retried him. Moore died of natural causes four years ago.

New DNA tests, conducted as part of a thorough review of hundreds of Virginia cases in which DNA testing could overturn wrongful convictions, have pointed to the involvement of another man, Thomas Pope, Jr., who has now been arrested and charged with rape and murder in connection with the case.

Moore was arrested shortly after the crime in 1975 after police received complaints about his “suspicious behavior.” Three police officers questioned Moore for some time, promising that he could go home if he told them what had happened at the murder scene. Police brought Moore to the victim’s home, and he allegedly made statements incriminating himself in the crime. A federal court reviewed the record and determined that Moore’s conviction, based on illegally-obtained admissions of guilt, must be vacated.

A Virginia spokesperson said the state is reinvestigating the crime to determine if Moore may have had a role.

Read more:

Richmond Times-Dispatch: New DNA test leads to arrest in ’75 rape, slaying (8/12/08)

Richmond Times-Dispatch: Man not cleared despite DNA test (8/13/08)

The ongoing review of hundreds of DNA cases in Virginia was ordered over two years ago by then-Gov. Mark Warner. 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. 

Last week, Virginia officials announced that they would notify defendants by certified mail if biological material was found in their file, rather than using pro bono attorneys to track down and contact the defendants.



Tags: Virginia, False Confessions

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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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Prosecutor says real perpetrator identified in 2003 exoneration case

Posted: August 20, 2008 5:15 pm

A Michigan prosecutor will hold a press conference tomorrow at 10 a.m. to announce that law enforcement officials believe they have identified the actual perpetrator of a rape for which Kenneth Wyniemko was wrongfully convicted in 1994. Wyniemko served nearly nine years for the crime until DNA testing exonerated him in 2003. My Fox News Detroit reported on the planned the press conference.

54-year-old Kenneth Wyniemko was wrongly convicted in 1994, before DNA tests exonerated him in the rape and robbery of a 28-year-old Clinton Township woman.

He served 9 years of a 40-to-60-year sentence, but he was freed in 2003 after testing was done at the urging of the Innocence Project at Thomas M. Cooley Law School.
Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith says the statute of limitations has expired for the 1994 rape case, but the man will be charged for other sex crimes.

The press conference will be held at the Clinton Township Police Department.

See My Fox News Detroit’s preview coverage





Tags: Michigan, Kenneth Wyniemko

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Winston-Salem Journal calls on other states to join North Carolina in preserving evidence

Posted: August 20, 2008 5:20 pm

A Winston-Salem Journal editorial calls on other states in the country to pass laws preserving DNA evidence as North Carolina has done. Currently only 25 states and the District of Columbia have such laws. The editorial points out that lost or destroyed DNA evidence in one state can hamper another state’s efforts to get innocent people out of prison and apprehend the real criminals.

For example, say detectives in North Carolina who've re-opened a murder case in which someone has been convicted are looking for a match for DNA evidence found at the crime scene. The real killer's been in prison for an unrelated crime, but it's in a state that's lax on preserving such evidence. So his DNA isn't in the system. The killer stays free, and an innocent person stays in prison.
That's probably already happened numerous times. And it will probably happen a lot more. For example, in New York, a law that would have provided for DNA preservation died in the State Assembly in June, according to USA Today. Some states have shown a "shocking" disinterest in keeping DNA, said Larry Pozner, the former head of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "Innocent inmates are going to die in prison," he said.
The editorial does see some reason for hope in at least two states. Colorado and Arizona are both working towards legislation to preserve biological evidence.

Read the Winston-Salem Journal editorial.





Tags: Arizona, North Carolina, Colorado, Evidence Preservation

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Sixth exoneration anniversary for Virginia man

Posted: August 22, 2008 3:15 pm

Marvin Anderson never stopped fighting to prove his innocence. Despite being released on parole in 1998—after serving 15 years in a Virginia prison for a rape he didn’t commit—he kept searching for the evidence that could officially exonerate him. In 2001, a portion of the rape kit from his case — said to have long been destroyed — turned up in the old lab books of Mary Jane Burton, a former forensic analyst. After testing proved Anderson didn’t commit the rape, he was officially exonerated on August 21, 2002. This week marks the sixth anniversary of his exoneration.

Anderson’s exoneration was just the beginning. With the discovery of the evidence from Anderson’s case, Virginia authorities discovered that Burton had systematically stored a portion of case evidence in her case files. Because it was stored in files, this evidence had not been destroyed along with lab samples after an inmate’s conviction. Soon, Virginia had exonerated four more men and then-Governor Mark Warner had ordered the state to search for DNA evidence in thousands of cases from the 1970s and 1980s.

These exonerations wouldn’t have been possible if Burton had simply discarded the evidence—as was the standard procedure at the time. Even today, only 26 states have laws regarding the preservation of evidence. What’s your state’s procedure? Click here to find out?

And watch a two-minute video about Anderson’s case here.

Just last week, DNA testing conducted as part of Virginia’s massive case review led to new charges in a 1978 murder and could posthumously clear a man who was wrongfully convicted of the crime. Read more here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Friday:

Charles Dabbs, New York (Exonerated 8/22/91, Served 7 Years)

Michael Evans and Paul Terry, Illinois (Exonerated 8/22/2003, Served 26 Years)

Saturday:


Charles Irvin Fain, Idaho (Exonerated 8/23/2001, Served 17.5 Years)

 

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Guilty plea ends decade-long saga for Ohio family

Posted: August 25, 2008 1:33 pm

Clarence Elkins served more than six years in Ohio prison for a murder and rape he didn’t commit before he was proven innocent and released – thanks to investigations conducted by his own family on the outside. Last week brought some closure to his case, as Earl Mann pled guilty to murdering Elkins’ 68-year-old mother-in-law and was sentenced to 55 years in state prison.

Every day Elkins spent in prison, his wife Melinda Elkins Dawson worked to solve the 1998 murder of her mother for which she believed Elkins had been wrongfully convicted. She identified Mann as a possible alternate suspect, and then learned that he and Elkins were incarcerated in the same cellblock. Elkins collected a cigarette butt from Mann, and DNA tests proved that he was the perpetrator in the murder of Dawson’s mother. Elkins’ lawyers at the Ohio Innocence Project worked with prosecutors to conduct further testing and Elkins was released on December 15, 2005. Dawson and Elkins have since separated, but they are expecting their first grandchild.

Now Dawson can look forward to the birth of her first grandchild in September. Her oldest son, Clarence Elkins Jr., and his wife, Angie, are expecting a baby girl. Younger son Brandon is making plans to marry his fiancée, Megan. "Now we can concentrate on everyday life, on being happy and having fun," she said.

Dawson also hopes her former husband can find peace and contentment now the true killer is behind bars: "He needed to get this behind him to get on with his life."
 Read the full story here. (Dayton Daily News, 08/24/08)
Read more about Elkins' case here.



Tags: Clarence Elkins

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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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Mississippi task force will study evidence preservation

Posted: September 3, 2008 3:00 pm

A group of officials from across Mississippi’s criminal justice system has begun work reviewing the state’s evidence preservation practices and may recommend a state law requiring law enforcement agencies or the state crime lab to store evidence.

Most evidence is currently kept by court clerks, and court basements are often crowded, messy and poorly secured. Mississippi Innocence Project Director Tucker Carrington is the chairman of the new task force, and he says the group may recommend a centralized storage facility at the state crime lab.

Mississippi was jarred into action by the release earlier this year of two Noxubee County men wrongly convicted in separate child murder cases. One of the men was on death row.

Mississippi's 82 counties handle DNA evidence in different ways. Some may not collect DNA in every investigation because it is too costly.

The task force will recommend statewide standards for identification, collection and preservation of DNA, as well as training for law enforcement officers and others.

Read the full story here. (Jackson Clarion-Ledger, 09/03/08)
Does your state preserve crime scene evidence? View our interactive map to find out.



Tags: Mississippi

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St. Louis man freed after 24 years behind bars

Posted: September 3, 2008 3:05 pm

Darryl Burton was convicted of committing a 1984 St. Louis shooting murder based on little more than the word of two unreliable witnesses. He was freed yesterday after an eight-year investigation by New Jersey-based Centurion Ministries uncovered strong evidence of his innocence.

"I've got 24 years behind the eight ball; it was hell on Earth," Burton said Tuesday at a news conference in Kansas City, where he plans to live with cousins. "Prison's a stressful place, especially when you're innocent and no one believes you."

Read the full story here. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 09/03/08)
One of the alleged eyewitnesses was a jailhouse snitch who testified in a 2007 that he lied at Burton’s trial in exchange for sentence reductions. The other witness, who is now deceased, was at least a block away and could not have seen the shooter. In addition, Centurion uncovered two actual eyewitnesses from the crime scene who told police that Burton was not the shooter. Police ignored their testimony during the investigation. Centurion’s investigation also pointed to another man, also deceased, who may have been the actual killer.

Learn more about Centurion Ministries on the group’s website
.


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Ninth anniversary of NY exoneration

Posted: September 4, 2008 3:50 pm

Monday marked the ninth anniversary of the day Habib Wahir Abdal walked out of a New York prison after serving 16 years for a crime he didn’t commit. Abdal was convicted in 1983 of a rape he didn’t commit, based partly on eyewitness misidentification.

In 1982, a woman was attacked in a nature preserve by an African-American man in a hooded sweatshirt. She was blindfolded by the attacker. Abdal was picked up by police four months later and police conducted a “show up,” where they brought the victim to Abdal and asked if he was the attacker. Police officers told the victim before the show up that Abdal was the suspect, but she did not identify him at first as the perpetrator. She then viewed a four-year-old photo of Abdal, returned to the show up, and identified him as the perpetrator.

Although forensic evidence pointed to his innocence and Abdal didn’t match the victim’s initial suspect of the attacker, he was convicted by a jury and sentenced to life in prison. He sought DNA testing to prove his innocence starting in 1993, but tests were inconclusive. It would be six more years before conclusive DNA testing proved Abdal’s  innocence and led to his exoneration.

Abdal’s case is an example of one where advancing DNA science led to exoneration after earlier tests were inconclusive. Other cases like this include the exonerations of David Gray and Rickey Johnson.





Tags: Habib Wahir Abdal, David A. Gray, Rickey Johnson

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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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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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Friday links: the week behind and the weekend ahead

Posted: September 12, 2008 10:45 am

Crime labs and forensic science continued to make news this week.

The Baltimore Sun ran a comprehensive story on the reliability of forensic science and the process of accreditation and oversight across the country.

The Innocence Project and the Mississippi Innocence Project are reviewing hundreds of cases for potential forensic fraud and wrongful conviction, and the Jackson Clarion-Ledger profiled two death row cases in Forrest County involving testimony by discredited medical examiner Steven Hayne and forensic dentist Michael West.


CBS News’ “60 Minutes” Sunday night will provide an update on an investigation it aired in late 2007 about nearly four decades of faulty ballistic testimony by FBI analysts. Watch the full “60 Minutes” segment here.

A letter to the editor from a candidate for Attorney General of Vermont responded to an editorial in the paper that criticized a bill in the state that would impose mandatory minimums on convicted sex offenders without improving crime lab funding and standards.

And Chicago officials are seeking to begin collecting DNA profiles from police officers to eliminate them when testing samples they may have touched, but the police union is opposing the measure.


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Two Men Mark One Year of Freedom

Posted: September 18, 2008 5:35 pm

In 1991, Marcus Lyons dressed in his old Navy uniform, carried a large wooden cross, and attempted to crucify himself on the courthouse steps. He had recently been paroled, and these were the same steps where he was tried and wrongfully convicted three years earlier. "I needed someone to listen," he said in a recent interview. However, it would take another 16 years before he was exonerated.

In November of 1987, Lyons was a recently engaged Navy Reserve Officer living in suburban Chicago when a white woman was raped in the neighboring apartment complex. While Lyons maintained he had been home that night, the victim and the neighbors matched Lyons to a police composite sketch.  Although Lyons weighed 160 pounds and the victim identified the perpetrator as weighing 200 pounds, he was brought in for questioning.

Lyons permitted police to search his apartment where they found brown polyester pants  similar to the victim's description of the perpetrator's clothing. The victim identified Lyons as the perpetrator in a photo lineup and testified at his trial, and the jury convicted him. Lyons hired a private lawyer to file an appeal on his behalf, but the attorney never filed it. He was released on parole three years after his convicted, but says he struggled with the stigma of a felony conviction for a crime he didn’t commit. He was exonerated one year ago today when DNA testing proved he wasn’t the man who raped the victim.

Sunday will also mark the one-year anniversary of Larry Bostic's exoneration. Accused of a rape he didn’t commit in 1988, Bostic pled guilty to avoid a possible harsh sentence at trial. He was sentenced to eight years in prison, and was released on parole after three years. He would later be convicted of an unrelated assault and sentenced to 17 years in prison as a repeat offender. When he was exonerated on September 21, 2007, after DNA testing proved he never committed the rape, he was just 13 days from the end of his sentence.

After his release, Bostic said: "If you got an attorney telling you to take a plea agreement, and you might not win if you go to trial, what seems better to you? A little bit of time or a whole bunch of time?"

Both Lyons and Bostic sought DNA testing in their cases for years before they were finally exonerated. None of the 220 people exonerated by DNA evidence would be free today if they didn’t have access to DNA tests to clear their names. Seven states have no statute under which a defendant can apply for DNA testing. Is yours one? View our interactive map to find out.

Thousands of Innocence Project supporters have signed our petition for DNA access. Add your name today

Other exoneration anniversary this week:

Gilbert Alejandro, Texas (Served 3.5 Years, Exonerated in 1994)





Tags: Gilbert Alejandro, Larry Bostic, Marcus Lyons

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Dallas man freed after DNA proved his innocence

Posted: September 19, 2008 2:10 pm

Johnnie Earl Lindsey walked out of a Dallas courtroom this morning a free man after serving nearly 26 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit.

He was 31 years old when he was convicted in 1982 of raping a woman in a Dallas park; he is 56 years old today. It wasn’t until a year after the assault that the victim identified him as the perpetrator, in a six-photo lineup that police had mailed to her. She had said the attacker was a shirtless African-American man, and Lindsey was one of the two shirtless men in the lineup.

Lindsey, who is represented by public defender Michelle Moore, is the 21st person cleared by DNA testing in Dallas County since 2001, more than any other county in the nation in that timeframe.

Read more about his release here.



Tags: Johnnie Earl Lindsey

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The week in review – several cases see some movement

Posted: September 19, 2008 5:10 pm

Countless prisoners around the country are seeking to overturn their wrongful convictions and regain their freedom. It’s impossible to know the exact number of innocent people behind bars in America, but the steady stream of cases in the media in which prisoners are seeking to overturn their wrongful convictions is certainly a sign that the system is broken. Here are stories on several cases that made news this week:

Two men were released from prison today based on evidence that they were convicted of crimes they didn’t commit. Johnnie Earl Lindsey was freed in Dallas after serving nearly 26 years for a rape he didn’t commit, and a North Carolina judge cited mounting evidence of innocence in freeing Erick Daniels, 22, from a North Carolina prison after he had served seven years.

Troy Davis is set to be executed on Tuesday in Georgia for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit. Christopher Hill of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project wrote about the case here yesterday, and hundreds of people marched to support Davis in Atlanta.

Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, known as the “West Memprhis Three,” continue to challenge their convictions for the 1993 murders of three eight-year-old boys in Arkansas. A judge last week rejected a claim by Damien Echols, who is on death row, that new DNA evidence proves his innocence.

Last week, CBS News’ “60 Minutes” reported that the FBI’s crime lab had been conducting faulty bullet analysis for more than 40 years. Ronnie Lee Bowling was sentenced to death in Kentucky partly based on faulty bullet lead testimony from the FBI. The Kentucky Supreme Court, however, ruled 4-3 yesterday against overturning Bowling’s conviction due to the new evidence.

A Scottish prisoner is seeking DNA testing to prove that he didn’t kill his ex-wife in 1988. John Robertson is serving life in prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit, and the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission is reexamining the case for evidence of Robertson's innocence.

And as wrongful convictions are overturned around the world, the Innocence Project and our partner organizations gain allies from across the criminal justice system. Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins this week announced that he will review nearly 40 Dallas death penalty convictions to ensure that an innocent person is not executed on his watch. An editorial in the Dallas Morning News today applauded Watkins’ efforts.

And a Massachusetts District Attorney received a public service award for his role in using forensic science to overturn wrongful convictions and track down perpetrators in cold cases.

“Execution’s Doorstep,” a new book by Leslie Lytle, tells the stories of five men who were released from death row based on evidence that they didn’t commit the crimes for which they had been convicted.

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Troy Davis set to be executed Tuesday despite evidence of innocence

Posted: September 22, 2008 3:32 pm

Nearly two decades ago, a Savannah, Georgia, police officer was killed in a fast food parking lot. Troy Davis was arrested for the crime, and nine non-police eyewitnesses testified that they saw him shoot the victim. Based almost exclusively on eyewitness testimony, Davis was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death.

His execution is set for 7 p.m. tomorrow, and despite mounting evidence of Davis’ innocence, and pleas from around the world supporting a new trial to determine the real facts in his case, the execution is still set to go forward.

Here’s what you can do to support a new trial for Davis:

Visit Amnesty International’s website to send a letter to the Georgia Board of Pardon and Parole.

Call the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole.

Read news and commentary on the case from Davis’ sister, the Huffington Post, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, National Public Radio, and hundreds of other news outlets.





Tags: Arizona, Eyewitness Misidentification, Death Penalty

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Rape victim seeks posthumous exoneration of the man she misidentified

Posted: September 22, 2008 3:25 pm

For 23 years, Michelle Mallin thought Timothy Cole had raped her in 1985. She had identified him in two lineups and he had been convicted of raping her and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He claimed his innocence, however, until the day he died in prison of asthma in 1999.

In 1995, another man, Jerry Wayne Johnson, starting admitting in letters that he committed the crime. His claims fell on deaf ears for the more than a decade. Last year, the Innocence Project of Texas began investigating the case, and new DNA testing indeed proves that Cole was innocent and that Johnson committed the rape. Cole’s family, along with the Innocence Project of Texas, is now pushing for his exoneration, and they have an ally in Mallin.

On Friday, Mallin visited Cole’s mother in Fort Worth, and asked her forgiveness.

"I have nothing to forgive you for. You were victimized, just like he was, my son suffered so much," said Cole's mother.

Read the full story here. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 09/19/08)

Read more coverage here. (WFAA, 09/20/08)



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Will Georgia execute Troy Davis today?

Posted: September 23, 2008 11:41 am

Troy Davis is set to be executed at 7 p.m. tonight, despite pleas for a new trial from around the world and mounting evidence pointing to his innocence. Davis was convicted in 1989 of shooting a police officer in a Savannah parking lot, a crime he has always said he didn’t commit. The central evidence against him at trial was the testimony of several eyewitnesses, most of whom have since recanted, saying the police coerced them into testifying against Davis. Attorneys for Davis have requested a new trial to hear these witness recantations, but Georgia’s courts have repeatedly denied Davis’ appeals. His last hope for a stay today rests with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Updates on the case:

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: State supreme court denies Davis’ stay

ABC News: Questions linger as man’s execution nears

Atlanta Progressive: Two activists arrested at Governor’s Office





Tags: Death Penalty

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Illinois lawmakers take exoneree compensation into their own hands

Posted: September 23, 2008 5:25 pm

Illinois legislators this week voted to override a veto by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, improving the compensation the state pays to the wrongfully convicted after their release. The state’s former law, originally passed in 1945, was deeply flawed, with tiny payments for the exonerated and a requirement to wait for a pardon from the governor in order to receive compensation. Blagojevich has been notoriously slow in processing pardon applications.

The new compensation law pays the exonerated up to $200,000, and provides critical job search and job placement services.

Rob Warden, the executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions in Chicago, wrote about the new law today on the Huffington Post.

In a reversal of political stereotypes, the Republican Ryan, who left office in 2003, was sensitive in the way his successor, the Democrat Blagojevich, hasn't been to the predicaments in which the exonerated typically find themselves upon leaving prison: impoverished and, still officially classified as ex-cons, veritably blacklisted from employment opportunity.
Read the full story here. (Huffington Post, 09/23/08)





Tags: Exoneree Compensation

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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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Preventing wrongful convictions through better news reporting

Posted: September 24, 2008 5:45 pm

What role does the media play in overseeing our criminal justice system? Could newsroom reforms prevent wrongful convictions and help police solve cold cases? Steve Weinberg, a journalism professor and author, thinks so.

In an article yesterday in Miller-McCune magazine, Weinberg presents a novel approach at reforming our criminal justice system. The news media, and the general public, have been skeptical of wrongful convictions for years, Weinberg writes, and the advent of DNA exonerations has changed this. As the media and the public realize that the system makes mistakes, pressure is applied to the system to make it more accountable. Weinberg writes that the reforms proposed by the Innocence Project, including recording of interrogations and improved identification procedures, are valid, but that a movement from within the media is necessary as well:

One solution for wrongful convictions, however, has not been explored in a sustained, meaningful manner. It is a solution that cannot be legislated or even come from the government. The solution requires writers and editors for newspapers, magazines, radio stations, television stations, Web sites and books to practice preventive journalism rather than after-the-conviction, too-late journalism.

Until and unless journalists improve their performance, far more innocent people will be imprisoned than the criminal justice system seems likely ever to acknowledge. The logical extension of the preceding statement seems obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: Unless journalists get better at covering the justice system, many criminals will continue to go unpunished, free to murder or rape or rob again. So investigating wrongful convictions is not — as perceived by too many police, prosecutors and judges — an assault by soft-on-crime bleeding hearts. Rather, it is an attempt to serve law and order, to improve the administration of justice and to foster faith in the criminal justice system.

Read the full story here. (Miller-McCune Magazine, 09/23/08)
And an article by Jon Whiten in Extra! Magazine in late 2007 pointed out that coverage of DNA exonerations very rarely includes a reflection on the media’s role in convicting the innocent.

What is striking about all of the coverage…of wrongful conviction in general, is the lack of self-examination. The press, in detailing the reasons that such awful miscarriages of justice happen, never points to its own role as enabler.
As the press has repeatedly reported in the past decade, the accused don't always get a fair trial, and many have been convicted and sent to prison for crimes they did not commit. Doesn't it then make sense for journalists to report on the cops and the courts with that awareness in mind?

It is a welcome sign that the press extends its conscience enough to report quite often on wrongful convictions, exonerations and the flaws with the criminal justice system. But the press needs to take responsibility and think about these lessons when doing daily beat reporting on crime and trials.Read the full story here. (Extra!, November/December 2007)
 


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DNA evidence leads to conviction of real perpetrator in Dallas case

Posted: September 25, 2008 2:20 pm

Jerry Pabst was convicted today of killing a Garland, Texas, woman at her home in 1986, based on DNA test results and other evidence uncovered during an Innocence Project investigation into the conviction of client Clay Chabot.

Chabot, an Innocence Project client, served 21 years in prison for the murder before he was released on bond last year based on the new DNA evidence pointing to Pabst. Charges are still pending against him in the case, and he is currently under house arrest. Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck issued a statement today on Pabst’s conviction:

“More than 22 years after her murder, this verdict finally brings justice for Galua Crosby and her family. We are glad that the DNA testing and investigation we did in Clay Chabot’s case helped identify and apprehend Jerry Pabst, and we commend the District Attorney’s office for finally bringing Pabst to justice. Clay Chabot fought for years for the DNA testing that led a judge to recommend overturning his conviction and resulted in Jerry Pabst’s arrest. With justice finally done, we hope Clay’s case can be resolved quickly.”

Read more about Chabot’s case here.




Tags: Clay Chabot

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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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Hillary Swank to play Betty Anne Waters

Posted: October 1, 2008 4:15 pm

News sources are reporting today that actress Hillary Swank will play the sister of exoneree Kenneth Waters in a major upcoming film. When Kenneth Waters was convicted in 1983 of a Massachusetts murder he didn’t commit, his sister, Betty Anne Waters, dedicated her life to proving her innocence. She put herself through law school and worked on his appeals. By the time she contacted the Innocence Project to cooperate on Waters’ case, she had already located biological evidence from Waters’ case and was working to have it subjected to DNA testing.

Waters was exonerated in 2001 after serving more than 17 years in prison. Sadly, he died six months after his release in a tragic accident.

Tony Goldwyn is expected to direct the film.

Read more:

Movieweb: Hillary Swank is Betty Anne Waters (10/1/08)

Read about Kenneth Waters’ case here.

Watch a video with Betty Anne Waters at the 2007 Innocence Project Celebration of Freedom & Justice
.





Tags: Kenneth Waters

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New innocence clinic launches at University of Virginia Law School

Posted: October 2, 2008 4:45 pm

Law students are receiving hands-on experience this year in a new innocence clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law. The Innocence Project and more than 40 other organizations worldwide form the Innocence Network, an affiliation of organizations dedicated to providing pro bono legal and investigative services to individuals seeking to overturn wrongful convictions. With the addition of the UVA Innocence Project in June, the network became one project stronger.

And the new project at UVA will accept cases in which defendants are seeking to prove their innocence by means other than DNA. Only 5 to 10 percent of criminal convictions do not involve biological evidence, and there are certainly innocent people in Virginia’s prisons whose cases cannot be resolved by DNA testing. Law students at UVA will investigate these cases to determine if there is evidence of innocence that can overturn a conviction on appeal.

Led by Deirdre Enright, a 1992 Law School graduate and experienced capital post-conviction lawyer, the clinic includes 12 students each year and will soon employ a full-time investigator to help collect evidence for appeals.

“This is sort of the dream class if you’re a law student because it involves great issues for research that are topical – DNA, new techniques in DNA, new testing, eyewitness ID, jailhouse informants, poor lawyering, poor prosecuting —it’s all these great cutting-edge issues,” Enright said.

 “The Innocence Project at UVA School of Law will bring critical expertise and resources to investigating wrongful conviction cases,” Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld said. “We know that innocent people are convicted and spend years or decades in prison in Virginia, and this clinic will help exonerate more of them.”

Read more here. (UVA press release, 09/30/08)




Tags: Virginia

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Michigan DNA law in jeopardy

Posted: October 2, 2008 4:45 pm

Michigan is one of 43 states with a law allowing inmates to seek post-conviction DNA testing if there is potential to prove their innocence, but that could change if state lawmakers don’t act in the next six weeks. The state’s DNA access law is set to expire on January 1, 2009, if lawmakers don’t act by the end of the legislative session. The measure, which also requires that evidence be preserved after prisoners are convicted, passed the House of Representatives, but it is stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Marla Mitchell-Cichon, the co-director of the Cooley Law School Innocence Project in Lansing, Michigan, wrote in today’s Detroit News that it is critical that lawmakers protect justice by passing this law.

Lawmakers have an obligation to Michiganians to extend a law that promotes justice and is cost-effective. The time to act is now -- before an innocent person loses his or her chance for freedom. Justice demands it.

Read the full story here. (Detroit News, 10/2/08)
Watch a video of exoneree Ken Wyniemko explaining why he believes all innocent men and women should be able to prove their innocence, as he did in 2003.

What you can do:

Innocence Project supporters in Michigan are sending emails today to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, urging them to move the legislation to the full Senate. Do you have friends in Michigan? Tell them about the campaign here.

If you live outside of Michigan, please sign our petition for DNA access today.





Tags: Michigan, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing

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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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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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DNA tests point to Ohio man’s innocence

Posted: October 6, 2008 4:19 pm

Robert Caulley has been in prison since 1997 for the murder of his parents – a crime he says he didn’t commit. He was the first to report the crime, calling police to tell them he found his parents bludgeoned to death in their Grove City, Ohio, home. But three years after the crime, police focused on Caulley as a suspect. Although he repeatedly asked for an attorney, he was interrogated for 12 hours, and allegedly made a statement admitting guilt. He says that statement was coerced and he is innocent.

Now new DNA test results in the case could prove that he’s right. DNA from an unknown person has been found on a gun found in the house, which also had blood from Caulley’s father on it. Caulley’s attorneys are seeking to run the new unknown profile in a federal database and also test it against two possible alternate suspects.
Caulley said watching another Columbus man freed in August (Robert McClendon) after DNA proved him innocent put his own "uphill battle" in perspective.

"It does give me hope, because you see things do change and get corrected," Caulley, 43, said in an interview yesterday at the North Central Correctional Institution.Read the full story here. (Columbus Dispatch, 10/04/08)

Also in Ohio, authorities are planning to run in the database a DNA profile from a 1990 rape case in which Brian Piszczek was wrongfully convicted. Piszczek spent three years in prison before DNA testing proved his innocence, but it wasn’t until recently that a Columbus Dispatch investigation again sparked interest in checking the database for the real perpetrator in the case. In nearly 40 percent of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA, the evidence also leads to the identity of the real perpetrator.

Today marks the 14th anniversary of Piszczek's exoneration. Read more about his case here. (Columbus Dispatch, 10/05/08)

Read about dozens of other possible wrongful convictions in the Dispatch’s five-part series “Test of Convictions”.





Tags: Ohio, Brian Piszczek

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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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New trial ordered in Nebraska case

Posted: October 16, 2008 4:16 pm

Joseph White walked out of a Nebraska courtroom yesterday a free man for the first time in nearly two decades, becoming the first defendant in Nebraska history freed due to DNA evidence.

White was serving a life sentence for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit, and new DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene suggests that he and two co-defendants were wrongfully convicted in 1989. A Nebraska judge tossed out his conviction and he was released on his own recognizance while charges are still pending. His co-defendant, Thomas Winslow, is expected to be resentenced Friday. Winslow’s  family members said they also hoped he would be freed.

“It’s been a long, hard road and I’m glad it’s over,” he said, shuffling down the courthouse steps with a sheriff’s deputy at his side.

“I’m going to go home and start trying to rebuild my life,” he  said, explaining that he has family in Cullman, Ala., and that he will voluntarily come back if ordered to do so.

Read the full story here. (Lincoln Journal-Star, 10/16/08)
White’s release showed the importance of an eight-year-old state law allowing prisoners to seek DNA testing to prove their innocence, said State Sen. Ernie Chambers, who sponsored the legislation.
“This was the purpose to be served by this legislation,” he said.

Read the full story here. (Lincoln Journal-Star, 10/16/08)





Tags: Access to DNA Testing

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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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Friday roundup

Posted: October 17, 2008 5:18 pm

News from the innocence movement this week:

Patrick Waller officially became the 223rd person exonerated by DNA testing in the United States when Texas’ highest criminal court granted his writ of habeas corpus. He served 15 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit before DNA testing proved his innocence and led to his release in July.

Several cases pointed this week to the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, which is often the only evidence used to convict a defendant – especially in those cases without biological evidence:

A Kentucky man was convicted in 2007 of a robbery he says he didn’t commit, and he is appealing based on evidence that the “show-up” procedure used to identify him was flawed.

Charges were dropped in a Hartford, Connecticut robbery case when police learned the defendant had been arrested based on a nickname mix-up and then misidentified by two  eyewitnesses.

A Pennsylvania judge denied the Innocence Project’s request for additional DNA testing in the case of Kevin Siehl, who has been in prison since 1992 for a murder he says he didn’t commit. Testing in ongoing on several items, but the judge denied further tests.

A Kentucky judge denied further DNA testing in the case of Brian Keith Moore, who is on death row for a crime he says he didn’t commit.

And a new execution date is set for October 27 for Troy Davis, who is on Georgia’s death row for a murder he says he didn’t commit. Davis was convicted based on the testimony of nine eyewitnesses. Seven of them have recanted in recent years, saying they were coerced by police. Read more about Davis’ case here.

But in a week with so much case-related news, there was plenty of reform momentum to as well.

Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis said he wants lawmakers to improve the way identification procedures are handled in the state, calling for a statewide ban on “show-up” identifications.

Baltimore courts are demanding that police and prosecutors conduct a complete search for biological evidence from a 1975 rape case.

Outgoing Chicago prosecutor Dick Durbin told the Chicago Bar Association that police and prosecutors must work hard to corroborate confessions and admissions to ensure that they aren’t false.

An editorial in Tennessee called for immediate reforms before executions could continue.

And a newly exonerated Mississippian registered to vote