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Willie "Pete" Williams released in Georgia

Posted: January 25, 2007

Last week, DNA testing proved the innocence of Willie "Pete" Williams, who had served nearly 22 years for a rape he didn't commit. Now, he is awaiting a court hearing officially exonerating him of the crime. 

Read more about the case at the Georgia Innocence Project's website.

UPDATE: Student involvement helped win Williams' freedom. (Atlanta Journal Constitution, 01/28/07, free subscription required) 

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UPDATE on Willie "Pete" Williams case

Posted: January 28, 2007

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

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


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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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Forgiving injustice

Posted: February 8, 2007

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

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

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

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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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Exoneree Alan Newton focuses on education

Posted: February 22, 2007

Innocence Project client Alan Newton was exonerated in 2006 after serving 21 years in 12 New York prisons for a rape he didn’t commit. He had studied in prison, collecting nearly enough credits for an undergraduate degree, and now he is finishing that degree at Medgar Evers College with the help of a scholarship from the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund. He is also working as a counselor with the Male Development and Empowerment Center, a CUNY group aimed at encouraging men to enroll in college and finish.

“I couldn’t expect anyone to carry my torch,” Newton says. “When you go to people for help, you have to show them what you are doing for yourself before they help you.”

Newton’s counseling experience thus far has led him to conclude that the biggest obstacle Black male students face in college is lack of resources and distractions. “In prison, there was nothing to do but study.” But it’s hard to imagine anything stopping him now.

“I use myself as an example of how you can overcome anything,” Newton says. “They may have a criminal conviction or low SAT scores, but I encourage them and tell them, ‘School will encourage your growth.’ I say, ‘Enjoy school, and do it while you’re young.’”

Read the full story here. (Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, 02/22/07)
Read more on Alan Newton’s case here.

Newton and other New York exonerees recently called for the creation of a New York Innocence Commission.

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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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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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Pennsylvania's innocence commission meets this month

Posted: March 1, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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"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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Massachusetts crime lab director resigns under pressure

Posted: March 12, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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Anthony Capozzi exonerated in New York

Posted: April 3, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Actual killer in Earl Washington case pleads guilty

Posted: April 12, 2007

A 62-year-old man pleaded guilty yesterday to a 1982 rape and murder in Virginia for which Earl Washington Jr. was wrongly imprisoned and nearly executed. Kenneth Tinsley, 62, was already imprisoned for two other rapes and was sentenced yesterday to two additional life sentences. "I'm sorry for everything I did," he told the judge yesterday.

Washington, who falsely confessed to the 1982 rape, was sentenced to death in 1984. He came within nine days of execution before questions about his guilt led the Virginia governor to commute his sentence to life in prison in 1994. He would spend another seven years in prison – for a total of 17 years served – before DNA conclusively proved his innocence and led to his exoneration.

Read the full story. (Daily Press, Newport News, VA - 04/12/07, Payment required for full article)

Read more about the case of Earl Washington, Jr

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New forensic lab set to open in Los Angeles

Posted: April 20, 2007

For years, an enormous DNA backlog has been building in Los Angeles’s outdated police and forensic labs. The Los Angeles Police Department currently has a backlog of 6,000 DNA samples. But help is on the way.

On May 11, a new $102-million facility – a joint venture between city and county law enforcement agencies and California State University, Los Angeles, will open for business. The space will be equipped to handle evidence from 140,000 cases that will be submitted annually.

Beset by outdated equipment, inadequate work space and a lack of personnel, thousands of DNA samples have piled up and many cold case files have laid unsolved for years at the existing Los Angeles Police Department and sheriff's labs.

But the new five-story, 209,080-square-foot facility combining the LAPD and sheriff's labs will feature the latest technology and far more space for more personnel.

"We'll be able to take more than just the worst sexual assaults, homicides and aggravated assaults," sheriff's Scientific Services Bureau Capt. Earl M. Shields said.

Read the full story here. (LA Daily News, 4/20/07, LexisNexis subscription required)


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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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Dallas District Attorney's office will add special DNA review team

Posted: April 24, 2007

New Dallas DA Craig Watkins won approval today from county commissioners for a special new group in his office that will be devoted to reviewing cases involving DNA evidence. One of the team's tasks will be to review nearly 400 convictions in which defendants claim innocence and have been denied DNA testing. The Innocence Project of Texas will be working with Watkins' office on this project. In several other jurisdictions nationwide in recent years, District Attorneys or state law enforcement leaders have created institutional structures to review a similar number of convictions to determine whether innocent people are in prison.

“What we’re doing in Dallas County is going to send a message to everybody,” Mr. Watkins said after the vote. “It’s a good day in Dallas County.”

Read the full story. (Dallas Morning News, 4/24/07)




Tags: Innocence Commissions, Access to DNA Testing

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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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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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Editorial: A suspect justice system

Posted: May 17, 2007

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

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

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

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

Halsey deserves to know now.

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



Tags: New Jersey

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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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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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Exoneree Doug Warney calls for end to New York death penalty

Posted: May 29, 2007

Doug Warney, who was exonerated in 2006 after serving nine years for a murder he didn’t commit, published a column in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle last week calling for state lawmakers to abolish the death penalty for good.

In early 1996, I became the first person charged capitally under New York's new death penalty statute. The district attorney at the time said I was a monster who deserved to die. Fortunately, the grand jury indicted me only for second-degree murder. Otherwise, I could have easily received the death penalty. I was sentenced to only 25 years to life for a murder I had nothing to do with. In some ways, I was lucky.

Read the full column here. (Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, 05/22/07)
Read more about Warney’s case.



Tags: Douglas Warney, Eyewitness Identification, Evidence Preservation, False Confessions

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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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Weeding out the innocents

Posted: June 11, 2007 11:32 am

In an Op-Ed article in today’s Los Angeles Times, Samuel Gross argues that a systematic review of wrongful convictions is necessary before we can begin to know how many innocent people are imprisoned in the United States.

If 1% of commercial airliners crashed on takeoff, we'd shut down every airline in the country. That would be nearly 300 crashes a day. If as few as 1% of criminal convictions are erroneous, right now there are more than 20,000 innocent defendants behind bars.

Read the full story. (Los Angeles Times, 06/11/2007)


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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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The legacy of the Duke case

Posted: June 19, 2007 1:55 pm

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

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

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

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



Tags: Government Misconduct

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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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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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Update: Byron Halsey exonerated in New Jersey

Posted: July 9, 2007 5:25 pm

At a hearing this afternoon in New Jersey, prosecutors dismissed all charges against Byron Halsey, finally clearing him of two 1985 murders for which he was wrongfully imprisoned for nearly two decades. Read more about the case in today's Innocence Project press release, or in the news coverage below:

New York Times: All Charges Dropped Against NJ Man



Tags: Byron Halsey

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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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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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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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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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Alabama execution scheduled for Thursday despite inmate's pleas for a DNA test

Posted: July 24, 2007 1:34 pm

Darrell Grayson was sentenced to death in Alabama in 1982 for the murder of an elderly woman two years earlier. He is scheduled to be executed on Thursday for this crime, without the benefit of DNA testing that could confirm or deny the state’s theory of Grayson’s guilt.

Grayson does not remember whether he was involved in the crime. He says he had been drinking heavily on the night of the crime and doesn’t know whether he did it. An alleged co-defendant, Victor Kennedy, was executed for the crime in 1999. There is biological evidence from the crime scene that could prove Grayson’s innocence or guilt, but prosecutors have fought testing, even with Grayson’s advocates paying for the tests.A column in the Birmingham News this week calls for Alabama Gov. Bob Riley to stay the execution and order testing.

I don't claim to know whether Darrell Grayson raped and killed Annie Orr almost three decades ago. Truth be told, Grayson himself doesn't claim to know…
But (DNA results are) one more piece of information that (are) readily available and that should be obtained before the state inflicts a punishment it can't undo. For Grayson, this is a big gamble. For state officials, who say they're convinced Grayson is guilty anyway, all that's on the line is a little time. Riley should order the test.

Read the full column. (Birmingham News, 07/22/2007)




Tags: Death Penalty, Darrell Grayson

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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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Massachusetts, Michigan and Louisiana take aim at crime lab problems

Posted: July 31, 2007 2:35 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: Crime Lab Backlogs

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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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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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Critics say Virginia DNA testing project is moving slowly

Posted: August 28, 2007 5:01 pm

Two years ago, Viriginia officials said they would begin to test crime scene evidence in hundreds of cases that may have been wrongful convictions, and now critics say the state’s crime lab is moving too slowly in completing the task.

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. Then-Governor Mark 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.

Based on these results, Warner ordered a systematic review of all Virginia convictions in which biological evidence led to convictions, and officials said the project would take two years. However, two years into the $1.4-million project, testing has not been completed on even the first 30 remaining cases. Critics have accused lab officials of dragging their feet:

Betty Layne DesPortes, an area defense lawyer and member of the board of directors of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, isn't satisfied. "They didn't complete four cases, so we really don't know the magnitude of the problem. . . . They left over 10 percent of these cases incomplete."

"Why haven't they done it already? They have no sense of urgency or commitment to this project," she said.
But crime lab director Peter Marone said the undertaking has grown since inception. His department has searched over 500,000 files for potential evidence so far, he claimed.
"I do not see how this is foot-dragging," Marone wrote in an e-mail. "This is not an easy process on 20-to-30-year-old cases."

Read the full story here. (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 08/28/2007)
Read more about the cases of Anderson, Ruffin, Whitfield, Thurman and Davidson.

Watch a video interview with Marvin Anderson.



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

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Report: Illinois crime lab misused funds

Posted: August 29, 2007 5:05 pm

A report by the Illinois inspector general’s office has found that money earmarked to reduce the state’s crime lab backlog was misused by lab officials, according to press reports. The report says that nearly $800,000 in state funds meant to train lab technicians instead went to two private forensic companies headed by the commander of the crime lab. Now a lawsuit brought by two former state forensic trainers also alleges that lab employees were directed to underestimate the size of the state’s backlog.

In a Feb. 6, 2005, press release, Gov. Rod Blagojevich said only 158 cases were awaiting DNA analysis, compared to 1,113 the year before.

The lawsuit cites a different inspector general's report that says the actual number of untested DNA samples should have been about 850 rather than 158, and that state police did not provide the governor with the correct information.
"The DNA backlog numbers articulated by the governor on February 6, 2005, were fabricated," (training coordinator Andrew) Wist stated in an affidavit.

Read the full story here. (Chicago Tribune, 08/28/07)
Funding and oversight for forensic testing and evidence storage has lagged behind the needs of law enforcement agencies nationwide. Read about the Innocence Project’s recommendations for crime lab oversight.

Read more recent news about crime lab backlogs and evidence storage shortages:

Video: Lakewood, Colorado seeks more space to store evidence (9 News Denver, 08/27/07)

Video: Idaho State Police Forensic Lab seeks additional funding (Channel 2 Boise, 8/28/07)

Louisiana legislature adds court costs to fund state crime labs (KATC, Arcadiana, Louisiana, 8/28/07)

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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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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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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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Hearing set for October in Long Island case

Posted: September 19, 2007 12:20 pm

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

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

Read the full press release here.

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



Tags: Marty Tankleff

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DNA leads to Florida man's release

Posted: September 21, 2007 3:50 pm

After more than 19 years in prison, Larry Bostic is a free man today. He says he was coerced into pleading guilty in 1989 to a rape he didn’t commit, and now DNA testing has proven his innocence. Although Bostic only had 13 days remaining in prison, he was released on house arrest Tuesday and his sentence was vacated this morning by a Broward County judge.

Bostic told reporters today that he’s lucky his family stuck with him through the ordeal. He said he is staying with his sister in Fort Lauderdale.

More than a year ago, Bostic filed a handwritten motion asking for DNA testing of the rape kit and the victim's underwear. Such testing was not available in 1988. Bostic's motion also said he had been "coerced" into pleading guilty by the prosecutor and his own court-appointed lawyer. The DNA results came back Aug. 30. The report said Bostic was excluded as a contributor to a semen sample from a vaginal swab.

But that alone would not clear Bostic, his attorney Sandler said earlier. It would be necessary to make sure the victim had not had sex with anyone else in the days prior to the rape, because if she had, it could taint the semen sample, Sandler said.

That assurance came this week when the rape victim told an investigator for the public defender's office there had been no sexual contact just before the rape, Sandler said.

She also told the investigator that she never saw her rapist, Sandler said earlier. She picked Bostic out of a photo line-up because she remembered seeing him, a stranger, in the vicinity of the rape a few days earlier, Sandler said.

Read the full story and watch video of Bostic here. (South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 09/21/07)
Read about other Florida cases in which DNA proved innocence here.



Tags: Larry Bostic

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DNA clears another suspect before trial

Posted: September 24, 2007 11:35 am

More than three quarters of 207 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence were caused, at least in part, by eyewitness misidentification. But countless innocent people have been cleared by DNA testing before trials against them could proceed. DNA testing and the growing awareness of the shortcomings of eyewitness identifications continue to prevent innocent people from going to trial for crimes they didn’t commit.

In Baltimore on Friday, authorities dropped charges against a man held in jail on rape charges for nearly a month before DNA tests came back showing that he was not the perpetrator. Chaz Ricks, 20, was arrested in August after a detective noticed a similarity between him and a composite sketch of the man who raped a 59-year-old woman in North Baltimore. Upon his release, he becomes another misidentified person who avoided prosecution thanks to DNA tests.

Police Department spokesman Sterling Clifford said, "We had somebody that appeared to be the most likely suspect. The evidence points in a different direction, so we'll go in a different direction."

Read the full story here. (Baltimore Sun, 09/22/07)

Read about reforms proven to prevent misidentifications and wrongful convictions.

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Jimmy Ray Bromgard celebrates five years of freedom

Posted: October 1, 2007 7:00 am

After serving nearly 15 years for a crime he did not commit, Jimmy Ray Bromgard was exonerated on October 1, 2002 after DNA testing proved his innocence. Bromgard was convicted of rape and sentenced to three 40-year terms. Today marks the fifth anniversary of his exoneration.

The causes of Bromgard’s wrongful conviction included fraudulent science and incompetent lawyering, factors common in wrongful conviction cases. Visit the Understand The Causes section of our website to learn more about causes of wrongful conviction.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Tomorrow: Earl Washington, Virginia (Served 17 years, Exonerated 10/2/2000)
Friday: Leonard Callace, New York (Served 5.5 years, Exonerated 10/5/1992)
Saturday: Scott Fappiano, New York (Served 21 years, Exonerated 10/6/2006)
Sunday: Douglas Echols, Georgia (Served 5 years, Exonerated 10/7/2002)
Samuel Scott, Georgia (Served 15 years, Exonerated 10/7/2002)





Tags: Jimmy Ray Bromgard, Leonard Callace, Douglas Echols, Scott Fappiano, Samuel Scott, Earl Washington

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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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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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Connecticut exoneree addresses Yale students

Posted: October 10, 2007 12:42 pm

James Tillman, who was exonerated by DNA testing in 2006 after serving nearly 17 years in Connecticut prison for a rape he didn’t commit, spoke at a Yale Law School panel discussion yesterday about his wrongful conviction and his life after exoneration.

From the very beginning of the trial, Tillman said he sensed the jury’s bias against him, accepting his accuser’s eyewitness testimony as fact. He said the jury included no blacks and did not represent a cross-section of society. When he later appealed his conviction on those grounds, he was denied.

Despite the unfairness of his trial, Tillman said he remained committed to establishing his innocence, ignoring recommendations for a plea bargain that would allow him to serve only five years.

“I could not see myself with a charge on me like that [for] something I didn’t do,” Tillman said.

Read the full story here. (Yale Daily News, 10/10/07)
Read more about James Tillman’s case here.



Tags: James Tillman

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States expand crime labs to meet rising demand and reduce backlogs

Posted: October 24, 2007 5:01 pm

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: Crime Lab Backlogs

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Charges dismissed in Michigan case

Posted: October 24, 2007 5:25 pm

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

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

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

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

 

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Events benefit projects in Mississippi and Chicago

Posted: October 25, 2007 12:15 pm

Exonerees Dennis Fritz and Cedric Willis and authors John Grisham and Scott Turow were among speakers at an event held this week in Jackson, Mississippi, to raise money for the Mississippi Innocence Project, founded this year at the University of Mississippi Law School. Grisham and Turow were then in Chicago on Wednesday night, at a fundraiser for the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law School.

Grisham, whose book, “The Innocent Man,” considers the wrongful convictions of Fritz and his co-defendant Ron Williamson, told the audience in Mississippi that if states continue to carry out the death penalty, an innocent person will be executed.

"It's inevitable," he said. "We're going to wake up one day and know from clear DNA evidence that we killed the wrong guy."

Read the full story here. (Clairon Ledger, 10/22/07)
Read about the Illinois event. (Daily Northwestern, 10/25/07)

Mississippi is among the eight states nationwide that lack laws allowing defendants access to post-conviction DNA testing. Illinois has had 27 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing – including five in which the defendant had been sentenced to death.

A column by Donna Ladd in yesterday’s Jackson Free Press called for Mississippi residents to support the new project:
Now we have our own Innocence Project in Mississippi—the state that may well need it the most, with our historic bloodlust and collective apathy over how the accused are treated. It’s headquartered at Ole Miss, and has virtually no overhead. Nearly every dime goes to helping the innocent, and saving society’s soul.

We need to send the message with our dollars that we care about justice—the real kind, not some kind of political salivating that disregards humanity and the need for members of society to take care of, and honor, one another.

Read the full column here.




Tags: Mississippi, Dennis Fritz, Ron Williamson

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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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Dispatch from Dallas: Eugene Henton is freed

Posted: October 26, 2007 3:40 pm

By Vanessa Potkin, Innocence Project Staff Attorney

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more:

Read about Clay Chabot’s case here.

Read about Eugene Ivory Henton’s case:

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

Eugene Ivory Henton’s Innocence Project case profile




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

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

Posted: October 29, 2007 2:45 pm

By Gabriel S. Oberfield, Innocence Project Research Analyst

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Tags: Dispatches

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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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Lawsuit and reports allege that New York fails to provide defense counsel to poor

Posted: November 9, 2007 12:15 pm

A class-action lawsuit filed yesterday in New York alleges that people charged with crimes in New York State receive substandard defense representation, which leads to higher bail in minor cases, more guilty pleas and potentially wrongful convictions. The lawsuit was filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the law firm of Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP, and comes after two major reports found major flaws in the state’s public defense system.

“Every day, in courtrooms throughout the state, New Yorkers are denied justice simply because they are poor. Justice should not depend on your ZIP code or the size of your wallet,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. “We filed this lawsuit today as a last resort, in response to the constitutional deficiencies identified by a commission appointed by (New York Court of Appeals) Chief Judge (Judith) Kaye to evaluate our public defense system, and the failure of lawmakers to compel the state to repair what is clearly a broken and unjust system.”

Read the NYCLU press release here.
Read national press coverage of this lawsuit: New York suit demands proper legal care for poor. (Reuters, 11/08/07)

More on indigent defense problems in New York State:

The Innocence Project released a report last month on the 23 DNA exonerations in New York State to date. Among the causes of these 23 wrongful convictions were errors by indigent defense attorneys.

The New York State Commission on the Future of Indigent Defense Services, appointed by Chief Judge Judith Kaye of the state’s top criminal court, released its final report in June 2006 finding funding and standards in the system “grossly inadequate” Download the report here.

The National Legal Aid & Defenders Association released a report last month on the New York State’s failure to provide adequate public defense in upstate Franklin County. Download the report here. (PDF)

Read about wrongful convictions nationwide which were caused, at least in part, by bad lawyering
.






Tags: Bad Lawyering

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Another misidentification conviction prevented

Posted: November 14, 2007 12:53 pm

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: Eyewitness Misidentification

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Openings and closings: Fair justice relies on effective crime labs

Posted: November 15, 2007 12:55 pm

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

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

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

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

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

Read previous blog posts on crime lab backlogs.




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

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Innocence Network files brief in Georgia death row case

Posted: November 16, 2007 2:40 pm

Troy Davis has been on Georgia’s death row for more than 15 years for a murder he has always maintained he didn’t commit. Since his conviction, all but three 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. The Georgia Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Davis’ bid for a new trial on Tuesday, and that same day the Innocence Network filed a brief asking the court to grant Davis a new trial.

The Innocence Network is an association of nearly 40 member organizations, including the Innocence Project, dedicated to providing pro bono legal and investigative services to indigent prisoners whose actual innocence may be established by post-conviction evidence. The Networkn doesn’t represent Davis but filed the brief as “a friend of the court.” www.innocencecetwork.org

The Network brief details the ways in which eyewitness misidentification and snitch testimony, both major factors in Davis’ conviction, have contributed to wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing. The Network is calling on the court to grant Davis a new trial because “the evidence used to convict Troy Davis was entirely unreliable and raises a real question of his actual innocence.”

Download the full brief here.

Read more about Troy Davis and watch messages sent to him by supporters on the “Free Troy Davis” YouTube page.





Tags: Informants/Snitches

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Column: NJ Exoneree has a right to oppose death penalty

Posted: November 19, 2007 6:25 pm

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

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

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

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

"They wanted me dead."

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




Tags: Byron Halsey, Death Penalty

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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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Michigan columnist: When will we learn about false confessions?

Posted: November 28, 2007 5:02 pm

A column in today’s Lansing State Journal calls for Michigan lawmakers to prevent future false confessions and wrongful convictions in the state by requiring that police videotape custodial interrogations. In the wake of the recent release of Claude McCollum in Lansing, community members are calling for critical reforms proven to prevent wrongful convictions.

McCollum told investigators that he could have possibly committed a murder while sleepwalking, and that evidence led to his conviction for murder. New evidence has now proven his innocence and he was released after serving nearly two years in prison.

The column also discusses the case of Eddie Joe Lloyd, an Innocence Project client who served 17 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Lloyd allegedly confessed to the crime, but was mentally unstable at the time.

When will we learn that innocent persons do "confess" to crimes they did not commit?

When will we take a serious look at the social science that explains why individuals do falsely confess or plead guilty to crime?

When will we learn that an incriminating statement does not equal factual guilt?

When will we learn that changes to police interrogation practices are needed?

False confessions lead to the prosecution of the wrong person. The real perpetrator may continue to commit crime. It is time to stand up for Eddie Joe Lloyd, Michelle Jackson, Ron Williamson, Dennis Fritz, Debbie Carter, Ken Wyniemko and others who have been harmed by unreliable, incriminating statements. It is time for Michigan to pass legislation requiring that police interrogations of criminal suspects be videotaped.Read the full column here. (Lansing State Journal, 11/ 28/07)
 



Tags: False Confessions, False Confessions

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Alabama editorial: Death row DNA refusal is mind-boggling

Posted: November 29, 2007 1:45 pm

An editorial in today’s Birmingham News again calls on Alabama Gov. Bob Riley to delay the execution of Thomas Arthur to allow for DNA tests in his case. The Innocence Project does not represent Arthur and doesn’t take a position on his guilt or innocence, but we have asked Riley to grant the testing. In September, Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld asked Riley to seek the full truth in Arthur’s case before putting him to death.

Earlier this month, the Innocence Project wrote to Riley’s policy director, who had requested guidance on how the governor’s office should approach requests for post-conviction DNA testing in capital cases.  After outlining general guidelines, the Innocence Project again requested testing in Arthur’s case.  “We believe that the Arthur case easily fits within the category of cases where DNA testing should be granted,” the letter said.  “Here, science is capable of determining the truth.  In fact, DNA testing has the potential to conclusively prove that Mr. Arthur was not the perpetrator of this crime and to identify the real killer.”   

Today’s editorial calls on Riley to act now:

Had the technology existed at the time of his trial, surely DNA tests would have been conducted on the evidence, which includes hair and semen. It's routinely used now on the front end of criminal cases to confirm guilt or to eliminate suspects.

It boggles the mind, then, that the state of Alabama won't order DNA tests before proceeding to execute Arthur on Dec. 6.

True, the U.S. Supreme Court this week denied Arthur's legal bid for DNA testing. But the courts are bound by legal timelines and rules. We may not always like those constraints, but at least we can see the reasoning behind the decision.

Gov. Bob Riley is under no such rules. He can order DNA testing in this case, and there's no good reason for him not to do it.

Read today’s full editorial. (Birmingham News, 11/29/07)




Tags: Death Penalty, Tommy Arthur

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

Posted: November 30, 2007 10:37 am

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

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

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

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




Tags: Bad Lawyering

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Editorial applauds work of Colorado evidence preservation panel

Posted: December 3, 2007 9:47 am

An editorial in Saturday’s Colorado Rocky Mountain News praises Colorado officials for taking steps toward a comprehensive policy on the preservation of evidence. The editorial comes on the heels of a preliminary report issued last week by the state’s new task force formed to consider preservation of evidence.

In September, the high-profile plight of one state prisoner - and other cases in which the mishandling of evidence has proven problematic - spurred Gov. Bill Ritter to set up a task force to examine how evidence is preserved in Colorado's criminal cases. Equally important was to establish standard procedures that cut across the various police and sheriff's departments that currently set their own rules about the handling of evidence.

Based on what we learned earlier this week, the task force appears to be on the right track.

Read the full editorial here. (Rocky Mountain News, 12/1/07)
 



Tags: Colorado, Evidence Preservation

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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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New Jersey bans death penalty

Posted: December 17, 2007 12:07 pm

New Jersey governor Jon Corzine today signed a bill into law that abolishes the state’s death penalty and commutes the sentences of eight men on death row to life without parole. The bill was passed last week by New Jersey’s Assembly and Senate, and came after a special commission reported early this year that the state risked executing an innocent person if the practice of capital punishment continued. The commission also found no evidence that the death penalty has a deterrent effect, and the commission concluded that the death penalty costs more to administer than life without parole.

The state's move is being hailed across the world as a historic victory against capital punishment. Rome plans to shine golden light on the Colosseum in support. Once the arena for deadly gladiator combat and executions, the Colosseum is now a symbol of the fight against the death penalty.

''The rest of America, and for that matter the entire world, is watching what we are doing here today,'' said Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo, a Democrat. ''New Jersey is setting a precedent that I'm confident other states will follow.''

Read the full story. (New York Times, 12/17/07)
Download the New Jersey commission’s full report here.





Tags: Death Penalty

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Death row exonerees call on Alabama governor to grant DNA test

Posted: December 20, 2007 6:06 pm

Six men who served decades on death row before DNA testing proved their innocence today called on Alabama Gov. Bob Riley to grant DNA testing to Tommy Arthur before allowing the state to execute a man who could be innocent. Arthur has claimed his innocence for nearly a quarter-century on death row, but the courts and Riley have repeatedly denied him access to the DNA tests that could show his innocence or guilt. 

The six death row exonerees wrote: “If we had never been granted DNA testing, we might not be alive today. Few people have been in Mr. Arthur’s position, but we have and that’s why we’re appealing to you to order DNA testing in this case. His execution has been delayed by the U.S. Supreme Court for other reasons, leaving plenty of time for DNA testing to be completed if you order it now.”

Read their full letter here.
And more than 1,200 people have sent emails to Gov. Bob Riley urging him to grant testing in Arthur’s case. Dozens of people are sending emails to Riley today – join them now and speak up for truth in justice.



Tags: Tommy Arthur

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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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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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After a long path, Houston man starts a new life with a wedding

Posted: January 2, 2008 3:25 pm

Nearly two decades after the couple first met, Ronnie Taylor and Jeanette Brown were married on Sunday night before a gathering of family and friends. Taylor, an Innocence Project client, endured 14 years of wrongful incarceration before DNA testing proved his innocence in October, and Brown stood by him through the long years.

Brown and Taylor met in Houston in 1980 and were engaged to be married before he was arrested in 1993, his wrongful conviction caused in part by an eyewitness misidentification and a faulty testing by the Houston Police crime lab. Brown moved to Atlanta while Taylor was in prison, but took bus trips back to Texas to visit him, and the couple stayed in touch through frequent letters. The couple was reunited shortly after Taylor’s release in October.

"This day has been a long, long time coming," Taylor said. "Jeannette, she has been loyal to me throughout all of this, and I want to make her happy. That is what I want to do with my freedom."

Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 12/31/07)
Read more about Ronnie Taylor’s case here.



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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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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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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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Alabama column: Is Gov. Riley powerless or gutless?

Posted: January 7, 2008 1:48 pm

A column in yesterday’s Birmingham News criticizes Alabama Gov. Bob Riley for his failure to grant DNA testing that could show the guilt or innocence of death row inmate Tommy Arthur. Riley recently said he didn’t have the authority to order the tests, but state Attorney General Troy King wrote in a brief last year (in another case) that "if the Governor wants DNA testing, the Governor gets DNA testing."

Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld called Riley’s claim to lack authority a “mean-spirited lie” and said that the governor was “elevating political expediency over matters of life and death.” In yesterday’s column, Robin DeMonia writes that “Riley could do it. Either he doesn't want to, or he doesn't have the guts.”

Read the full column here. (Birmingham News, 01/06/08)

Using our easy form, nearly 1,500 people have sent emails to Gov. Bob Riley calling on him to grant DNA testing in Arthur’s case. Send Gov. Riley an email today – it takes only 30 seconds.





Tags: Tommy Arthur

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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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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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NY Times calls for recording of interrogations

Posted: January 14, 2008 11:12 am

“What did Martin Tankleff look and sound like when he confessed in 1988 to bludgeoning and slashing his parents to death?” the New York Times asks in a Saturday editorial. “We’ll never know. There is no video or audio recording, just an incomplete narrative, handwritten by detectives, which Mr. Tankleff signed, quickly repudiated, and spent nearly two decades trying to undo.”

DNA exonerations have proven that false confessions happen. In more than 25% of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing, a defendant confessed to a crime they didn’t commit. And electronic recording of interrogations prevents false confessions. Recording also aids prosecutors and law enforcement investigations – preserving a true account of an interrogation, allowing officers to focus on questions and not note-taking, and providing a training tool for future interrogations.

Illinois, Alaska and Minnesota – along with more than 500 local jurisdictions – record interrogations in some or most investigations. A bill stalled in the New York legislature last year, and the Times calls for passage of recording legislation this year.

The Tankleff case and the recent high-profile exoneration of Jeffrey Deskovic, who spent 16 years in prison for a rape and murder he confessed to but did not commit, both argue strongly for fixing this glaring flaw in New York’s justice system.

Read the full editorial here. (New York Times, 01/13/08)
Download the Innocence Project’s 2007 report on critical reforms to the New York criminal justice system.

Read more about Marty Tankleff’s case.

Read more about Jeffrey Deskovic’s case
.

Does your state have a law requiring recording of interrogations? Find out in our interactive map.





Tags: Alaska, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Jeff Deskovic, False Confessions, Marty Tankleff

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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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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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Indiana man freed 23 years after wrongful conviction

Posted: January 28, 2008 5:35 pm

David L. Scott was freed from prison today after an Indianapolis judge threw out his 1985 conviction for murdering an 89-year-old woman. Scott served nearly 23 years of his 50-year sentence before DNA tests on evidence from the crime scene – conducted at the request of his half-sister – implicated another man in the crime. Police arrested this alternate suspect in Kentucky over the weekend after DNA tests matched his profile.

Read the full story here. (Indianapolis Star, 01/28/08)

Read more background on the case here. (Indianapolis Star, 01/26/08)



Tags: Indiana

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Ohio investigative series identifies 30 inmates in need of DNA tests

Posted: January 31, 2008 2:10 pm

The final stories in a five-day investigative report by the Columbus Dispatch ran today, and the results are being felt across the country. Today’s story focuses on 30 prisoners identified by the newspaper and the Ohio Innocence Project as candidates for DNA testing that could overturn their convictions if it proves innocence. Public defenders and attorneys at the Ohio Innocence Project began today to file appeals for testing in the cases of the 30 prisoners. And an Ohio lab, DNA Diagnostics Center, will perform any approved testing for free.

The Dispatch, as part of a yearlong investigation, gathered public records and built files on the 313 cases in which Ohio prisoners applied for a DNA test under an old law, which stymied nearly everyone. Advocates hope that modest changes to the law in 2006 have created new opportunities for them.Through consultation with the Ohio Innocence Project, a legal clinic based at the University of Cincinnati, The Dispatch identified prospects for testing.
This week’s series covered the cases of inmates unable to secure DNA testing, others whose evidence is lost, others who were released but remain labeled as sex offenders, and drew important feedback from the Ohio Governor and others. Read the stories, watch videos and learn more here.

 



Tags: Ohio, Access to DNA Testing

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DNA testing suspended as more problems emerge at Houston crime lab

Posted: February 1, 2008 5:05 pm

The Houston Police Department again closed its DNA testing section last week after the lab’s chief resigned due to problems with the accreditation of lab analysts. Vanessa G. Nelson, the former chief of the Houston Police DNA lab, submitted her resignation earlier this month after it was revealed that she had improperly coached analysts on open-book proficiency tests. This is the second time in recent memory the lab has closed due to scandal. The Houston Police Department was closed from 2002 to 2006 after major flaws in testing procedures were revealed. An independent audit completed last year found that hundreds of convictions had been based on testing that was incomplete or may have been flawed.

And a Houston Chronicle article this week revealed that Nelson, the departed lab chief, had been hired subsequently by the state to oversee DNA testing in a Texas Department of Public Safety lab. 

State Rep. Kevin Bailey, who sat on a committee that investigated problems in the DPS labs in 2003, said he was troubled that the agency would hire Nelson before the HPD cheating investigation was complete.

"It is shocking, to say the least, that they would hire someone who was giving out test answers," the Houston Democrat said. "The integrity of these DNA labs is so critical. Their work has life-and-death consequences."

Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 01/29/08) DNA testing has overturned three wrongful convictions caused, at least in part, by faulty testing at the Houston Police Department Crime Lab. Innocence Project client Ronnie Taylor was released late last year after DNA tests proved that he didn’t commit the rape for which he had served 12 years in prison. His conviction was based partly on faulty tests conducted at the Houston lab. Read more about last week’s lab closure here.

Download the full report of the external lab audit completed last year.



Tags: Texas, George Rodriguez, Josiah Sutton, Ronald Taylor

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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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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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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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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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Mississippi cases continue to draw national attention

Posted: February 29, 2008 4:10 pm

Questionable forensic practices in Mississippi have remained in the national news in the wake of the hearings earlier this month clearing two men after they served 15 years for separate murders they didn’t commit. The exoneration of Kennedy Brewer and release of Levon Brooks on Feb. 15 has led to serious questions about the work of medical examiner Steven Hayne and forensic dentist Michael West, and the Innocence Project has been joined by several other organizations in calling for forensic reform in Mississippi. Here are excerpts from an Associated Press article running around the country today:

The turn of events has shocked the community, especially the victims' families, and led to accusations that West deliberately falsified evidence.

"You have people who engaged in misconduct and manufactured evidence and we've proved it," said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, which has won the exoneration of more than 200 inmates nationwide and assembled the expert panel that examined the Brewer case. "These two cases are going to be an eye-opener for the people of Mississippi about some of the problems they have in criminal justice and how easy it will be to make it right."



Brewer, who was released on bail last year, a few years after DNA tests excluded him as the rapist, was finally exonerated by a judge on Feb. 15.

"I ain't worried about the past. I'm thinking about the future," Brewer said. But he offered some advice to prosecutors: "They need to get the truth before they lock up the wrong somebody. It doesn't feel good to be called a rapist and murderer."



The district attorney who prosecuted both defendants, Forrest Allgood, disputed any suggestion that his office knowingly sent the wrong men to prison.

"It torments the innocent individual, undermines the public confidence in the justice system, and the bad guy is still running loose," he said. "Why people would believe that's something we would want to do is beyond me."

Allgood said he has not used West as a forensic expert since the mid-1990s. He said West was once considered one of the world's foremost authorities in his field, lecturing in China and England.

"Subsequently the whole situation turned into a train wreck," the district attorney said.

Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 02/29/08)

Read more about calls for reform in the wake of the Brewer and Brooks cases here.




Tags: Mississippi, Kennedy Brewer

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Delays continue in Tennessee death row case

Posted: March 4, 2008 11:05 am

It has been nearly two years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Tennessee death row inmate Paul House deserved a new hearing in federal court for the 1984 murder he has always maintained he didn’t commit. A federal judge ruled in December that the state had 180 days to grant him a new trial or release him. Nothing has happened yet. A column in Sunday’s Tennessean calls for authorities to stop delaying a retrial:

State attorneys keep promising they're going to go back to trial. So why haven't they? Probably because they're afraid they'll lose. Much of their evidence has evaporated, witnesses' memories fade, and House's medical condition (though not relevant to the crime) would be obvious to a jury. Instead of retrying the case, the state appears to be using every possible tactic to delay. In hopes that House dies in prison?

The state needs to either try him immediately or let him go. Wasting time and breath on the absurd argument that House is a flight risk is an insult to the intelligence of the judge.

This evidence seems irrefutable: The only real risk House poses is to a few legal egos.

Read the full column here. (The Tennessean, 03/02/08)
Read more about the House case – and download briefs filed by the Innocence Project and other organizations in his support.





Tags: Tennessee, Death Penalty, Paul House

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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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Colorado lawmakers support new trials after evidence is lost

Posted: March 14, 2008 3:01 pm

A new bill in the Colorado state legislature would grant a new trial to inmates whose evidence is destroyed despite a court order to preserve it. Clarence Moses-El has been in prison for two decades for a 1987 Denver rape he says he didn’t commit. In 1995, a court ordered DNA testing in his case, but before any testing took place the Denver police destroyed the evidence – which consisted of clothing and swabbings from the victim.

The bill was introduced Wednesday and has been signed by 82 of 100 lawmakers, making it appear likely that it will be approved.

"You don't throw away people's lives accidentally," said Sen. John Morse, D-Fountain, a former police chief who signed on as a sponsor of the measure. "Clearly, some in the criminal-justice system will say he (Moses-EL) had his day in court, but we don't know whether we found the truth. I believe you must have truth to win justice."

Said State Rep. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge: "When there is a wrong, there needs to be a right."

Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon authored the bill after weeks of researching the case. No physical evidence tied Moses-EL to the crime, but the victim, who testified that she saw the rapist's face twice and heard his voice as he attacked her, awoke in the hospital and said she realized while dreaming that the rapist was her neighbor, Moses-EL. She later identified him in court.

… State Rep. Steve King, R-Delta, another primary sponsor and a veteran police investigator, said: "DNA is a new-age tool for justice. We need to move toward giving that law-enforcement tool respect."

Read the full story here. (Denver Post, 03/13/08)




Tags: Colorado, Evidence Preservation

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

Posted: March 18, 2008 11:25 am

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

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

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

It said no…

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

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

What would you do?

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

Read more about James Ochoa’s case.





Tags: California, James Ochoa

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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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Innocence Project officials testify on critical reforms today and tomorrow in South Carolina, Colorado and Connecticut

Posted: March 19, 2008 4:19 pm

It has been nearly 20 years since the first DNA exoneration, and seven states still have no law allowing prisoners to seek post-conviction DNA testing that can prove their innocence. But the tide is turning in at least two of those states. Last week, Wyoming’s governor signed a bill granting DNA testing access to some prisoners, and the law will go into effect this summer.

And today in the South Carolina legislature, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck testified in support of a bill that would allow prisoners to apply for DNA testing if it could potentially prove their innocence.

“This kind of legislation has demonstrated again and again that it doesn’t just protect the innocent, it helps law enforcement identify the person who really committed the crime — often somebody who is a serial rapist or a serial murderer,” said Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project, which is based in New York. “South Carolina knows this law is long overdue.”

Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 03/18/2008)
Innocence Project Policy Analyst Rebecca Brown will testify today in the Colorado legislature on a bill including preservation of biological evidence from crime scenes, and Policy Director Stephen Saloom will testify tomorrow on an eyewitness identification reform package before the Connecticut legislature.

Read more about status of criminal justice improvement in your state here.

 



Tags: South Carolina, Access to DNA Testing

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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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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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Dispatch from the Innocence Network conference

Posted: March 28, 2008 6:50 pm

By Matt Kelley, Innocence Project Communications Associate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Adequate defense counsel can prevent wrongful convictions

Posted: April 11, 2008 4:15 pm

Too many wrongful convictions are caused by the lack of experienced and available public defenders. For decades, the American criminal justice system has failed to consistently provide resources for the defense of people who can’t afford to hire a lawyer themselves. And the inequalities don’t stop with lawyers. Prosecutors have state resources to hire courtroom experts; they have police departments to act as investigators. Public defenders struggle with caseloads in the hundreds and nearly nonexistent funds for investigations and experts. To prevent wrongful convictions in our country, this has to change.

Headlines around the country this month show that budget shortfalls threaten even the low standards of public defense in many states. Lawmakers in Kentucky – where the average public defender has 436 clients in a year – recently slashed $2.5 million from the state’s public defense budget. Georgia’s public defense system is near the breaking point.


But there are signs of progress on the horizon:

This week, commissioners in Houston – the largest urban area in the country without a public defense office – voted to explore the creation of a department. Currently, elected judges appoint attorneys and set budgets for investigation and experts, creating a system with little quality control and no consistency. A public defense office would bring that consistency to the city.

Also this week, Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Pascal F. Calogero, Jr., praised state lawmakers for advances in public defense in recent years, and called for continued growth in the delivery of defense to the poor.

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





Tags: Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Bad Lawyering

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McGowan set free in Dallas, lineups under scutiny

Posted: April 16, 2008 5:42 pm

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

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

Media coverage of McGowan’s release:


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

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

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

 

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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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Dallas DA will push for conviction reviews across Texas

Posted: April 30, 2008 5:10 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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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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New pressure on Mississippi medical examiner

Posted: May 7, 2008 3:12 pm

For months, Mississippi medical examiner Steven Hayne has come under fire for years of false forensic testimony, unethical methods, nepotism and potential illegal activities. His flawed autopsies led two innocent men to spend a combined three decades in prison before they were exonerated earlier this year. He claims to work 110 hours a week and conduct 1,500 autopsies a year – earning him more than a million dollars annually.

The Innocence Project has formally asked for his medical license to be revoked, and this week the Hattiesburg American asked why Mississippi district attorneys are still supporting – and hiring—Hayne. Three DA’s told the newspaper that they had no problem with Hayne’s work. An editorial criticized these comments as ignorant:

This strikes as three ostriches putting their heads in the sand. How can these DA's be at all confident in Hayne's work given the information that has come out about the pathologist?
The DA's have been asked by the Innocence Project to turn over any documents pertaining to Hayne, including official reports on autopsies.

We hope they are complying. They must, if they believe in justice.

Meanwhile, the Legislature has funded $500,000 this year for a state medical examiner. The state has been without one since 1994 and if more of Hayne's work is found to be faulty, the state will have no one but itself to blame.

Read the full editorial here. (Hattiesburg American, 05/04/08)
Read more about Hayne’s activities and the exonerations of Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks.





Tags: Mississippi, Kennedy Brewer

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Virginia pauses massive DNA review to wait for federal funds

Posted: May 13, 2008 5:00 pm

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

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

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

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

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

Watch a video interview with Marvin Anderson.



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

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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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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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Update: Dean Cage released in Chicago

Posted: May 28, 2008 12:22 pm

Innocence Project client Dean Cage was released from an Illinois prison after 10 p.m. last night, after serving nearly 12 years for a rape DNA now proves he didn’t commit. Cage was picked up by his mother and other relatives, and the group returned to their Chicago home to welcome Cage with a party in his honor.

Cage – along with members of his family, his Innocence Project lawyers, and local attorneys – will speak at a press conference today at 1:30 p.m. CST. Get details on the press conference here.

We’ll post more after the press conference.



Tags: Dean Cage

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Dean Cage adjusts to a changed world

Posted: June 3, 2008 3:55 pm

Innocence Project client Dean Cage spent nearly 12 years in Illinois prison – and another two years in jail awaiting trial – before DNA testing proved his innocence and led to his exoneration last week. Now, he is faced with the challenge of adjusting to life on the outside without any immediate support from the government. Innocence Project Staff Attorney Alba Morales discussed Cage’s case with BlackAmericaWeb.com:

"It’s a complicated time. It’s incredibly exciting to see him free. But you never can forget the 14 years he has lost and never will regain," attorney Alba Morales told BlackAmericaWeb.com.

"Now that he has been freed, the focus is on getting him the things he needs, like clothes and a phone," she said.

"He was released from prison with basically nothing."

Read the full story here. (BlackAmericaWeb, 06/03/08)
The Innocence Project Exoneree Fund support clients with vital needs after their release. Learn more and make a donation directly to the Exoneree Fund today.
 



Tags: Dean Cage

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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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Why Mississippi needs a new medical examiner

Posted: June 16, 2008 5:05 pm

For 13 years, Mississippi hasn’t had a state medical examiner to oversee autopsies, and a discredited pathologist is still conducting more than 1,500 autopsies a year – more than 80 percent of those conducted in the entire state. Steven Hayne’s fraudulent testimony led to the wrongful convictions of Innocence Project clients Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks in the early 1980s, and he has testified in hundreds of cases since. Brewer and Brooks, both Innocence Project clients, were exonerated earlier this year after DNA testing proved that Hayne testified falsely in their trials. The Mississippi Innocence Project is conducting a review of at least 70 cases in which Hayne’s testimony could have caused a wrongful conviction.

A leading Mississippi doctor said recently that the state’s medical investigations are in a “state of rigor mortis” and called for the immediate hiring of a state M.E.

"It is unthinkable that Mississippi has regressed in the medico-legal investigation of death into a veritable state of rigor mortis during the past 13 years," (said Dr. Dwalia South, the immediate past president of the Mississippi State Medical Association "We live in a world that now expects CSI efficiency, and we are giving them the wild West and Gunsmoke. For most of the past 34 years, no one has bothered to ponder its flaws until things have been grossly and irreparably botched."

Read the full story here. (Jackson Clarion-Ledger, 06/16/08)
Earlier this year, Mississippi lawmakers allocated funds to the vacant medical examiner’s office, and a new Public Safety Commissioner said hiring a state M.E. was a high priority. No one has been appointed yet. The Innocence Project has led calls for a new state medical examiner, and we have also formally requested that Hayne be stripped of his medical license. Read more about our efforts in Mississippi here.





Tags: Kennedy Brewer

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New video: Louisiana exonerees reunite after 16 years

Posted: June 19, 2008 10:19 am

Rickey Johnson and Calvin Willis met in Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison in the 1980s and quickly became friends. Although they didn’t discuss their cases in prison, the two men were both fighting to overturn their wrongful convictions. Willis learned about the Innocence Project and contacted us seeking assistance. When he found out that Rickey was also seeking DNA testing, he shared the Innocence Project’s address with him.

In the early 1990s, they were moved to different sections of the 5,000-inmate prison and they lost touch. In 2003, Rickey heard that Calvin had been exonerated, but he wasn’t able to say goodbye. Rickey waited for his own exoneration until 2008, when DNA test results proved his innocence of the rape for which he was serving a life sentence. He had served 25 years before his release in January. Today he says he wouldn’t be free if it weren’t for Calvin.

The two friends were finally reunited at the Innocence Network Conference in March. Watch a new video of the men’s emotional reunion, and listen as Calvin describes the moment shackles were removed from his hands and feet.

“It felt like my hands just rose up,” Calvin says.

“I know the feeling,” Rickey responds. “I know the feeling.”


Louisiana exonerees meet for the first time in 16 years [video: 04:12]



Tags: Louisiana, Rickey Johnson, Calvin Willis

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DNA identifies apparent perpetrator in Michigan case

Posted: June 27, 2008 9:40 am

Ken Wyniemko was exonerated five years ago in Michigan after serving nearly nine years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. This week, prosecutors announced that the DNA profile that led to Wyniemko’s exoneration has identified a new suspect in the case, a man who is currently incarcerated for other crimes. They refused to release the identity of the individual while the investigation was ongoing.

Wyniemko, who testified Wednesday before the State House Judiciary Committee in support of a bill to compensate the wrongfully convicted upon their release, discussed the new developments in his case with reporters.

"I'm real curious to see if the guy committed any other crimes during the time I was in prison," Wyniemko says.

Read the full story here. (Detroit MetroTimes, 06/25/08)
Of the 218 DNA exonerations in the U.S. to date, real perpetrators have been identified in 83 cases. Those perpetrators were convicted of at least 74 additional violent crimes after the conviction of the innocent person – crimes that could have been prevented if the right person had been identified and apprehended earlier.

Read a recent blog post by Wyniemko on his work to prevent wrongful convictions and to help the recently exonerated build new lives after release.

 




Tags: Kenneth Wyniemko

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15 years of freedom for Kirk Bloodsworth

Posted: June 27, 2008 11:32 am

Tomorrow marks the fifteenth anniversary of Kirk Bloodsworth’s exoneration in Maryland. After serving nearly nine years in Maryland – much of it on death row – for a crime he did not commit, Bloodsworth became the first person exonerated by DNA testing in the U.S. who had spent time on death row.

Today, Bloodsworth works to ensure that others don’t suffer the same fate he did. In addition to being a public advocate, Bloodsworth is a Program Officer for The Justice Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to criminal justice reform. Through his work, Bloodsworth helped get the Innocence Protection Act – which includes the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Grant Program – passed in 2004.

Although the program was authorized to provide up to $25 million over five years to help the wrongfully convicted pay for post-conviction DNA testing, access to both the grant money and to DNA evidence has not yet reached those in need. As of January, when Bloodsworth wrote a blog for the Huffington Post, Congress had approved $14 million in funding for states to conduct post-conviction DNA testing under the Bloodsworth program. The Department of Justice, however, had never approved any state applications, and therefore had not sent a dollar of grant money in the over three-year life of the law.

But recent congressional attention to this program (from both the Senate and House Judiciary Committees) may pave the way for progress. The Innocence Project is working with all parties to help make sure these critical funds reach states that need and deserve them.

In addition, seven states – Alabama, Alaska, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and South Dakota – have no state laws guaranteeing DNA access, and many other states have access laws with problematic stipulations. In Arkansas, a person cannot apply for DNA testing if a direct appeal is available. In Idaho, a person must apply for testing within one year of being convicted. If that had been the case in Maryland, Kirk Bloodsworth would still be in prison.

Sign the Innocence Project’s petition for universal DNA access.

Read more about Kirk Bloodsworth’s case here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Monday: David A. Gray, Illinois (Served 20 years, Exonerated 6/23/99)

Tuesday: Verneal Jimerson, Illinois (Served 10.5 Years, Exonerated 6/24/96)




Tags: Kirk Bloodsworth, David A. Gray, Verneal Jimerson

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DNA clears another Dallas man

Posted: June 27, 2008 3:21 pm

New DNA testing shows that Patrick Waller was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to life for a 1992 Dallas rape, and he may be released as soon as next week, Dallas County prosecutors said yesterday. Waller was 22 when he was arrested in connection with the rape, and he has served nearly 16 years in prison to date.

Waller was one of the first Dallas prisoners to request DNA testing after the state passed a DNA access law in 2001, but the office of former District Attorney Bill Hill refused to agree to testing. He was again denied in 2005. The office of current District Attorney Craig Watkins has taken a different approach, investigating the cases of prisoners previously denied access to testing and conducting new tests when appropriate. It was the investigation of Watkins’ Conviction Integrity Unit that has cleared Waller in this case.

Waller was convicted and sentenced to life in prison as one of two men who raped a woman in an abandoned Dallas building in 1992. DNA testing approved by Watkins’ office led to the identity of one of the two perpetrators – Byron Bell, 38, who is serving time in prison for a burlary committed months after the rape for which Waller was wrongfully convicted. Prosecutors have said that Bell admitted to his involvement in the case and disclosed the identity of the other perpetrator, Leonardo Simmons, who has also admitted to his role in the crime.

Waller is the 19th person cleared by DNA testing in Dallas County to date. He is represented by Dallas defense attorney Gary Udashen. The Innocence Project of Texas and the Innocence Project have consulted on the case.

Read today’s news report on the case. We will post more on the Innocence Blog next week as the case develops.

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Friday news roundup

Posted: June 27, 2008 4:16 pm

Below are the stories on criminal justice reform, wrongful convictions and forensic science that we didn’t get to on the blog this week:

Crime lab reform, investigations and funding were in the news this week. The Houston Police Department Crime Lab resumed DNA testing after a six month suspension due to discovery of misconduct. A new Michigan State Police budget set aside $1 million for crime labs to ease backlogs across the state, outsourcing to private labs has helped Florida’s state lab cut its backlog in half since 2005, and a Wisconsin state lab has added two dozen analysts and tripled its space to decrease backlogs.

The U.S. Supreme Court had a busy week on criminal justice issues, issuing a decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana overturning state laws that allow the death penalty for child rape, and in Indiana V. Edwards, in which the justices decided 7-2 that mentally ill inmates can be denied the right to represent themselves at trial.

An Indiana judge denied DNA testing access to Roosevelt Glenn, who has been in prison for nearly two decades for a rape he says he didn’t commit. Glenn is represented by the attorneys at the Indiana University School of Law’s wrongful conviction clinic.

South Carolina legislators approved a bill to allow prisoners claiming innocence to seek DNA testing through the courts. The bill will now go to the governor – who could sign it into law or veto it. If the bill becomes a law, South Carolina will be the 44th state with a DNA access statute.




Tags: Crime Lab Backlogs

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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 task force will review forensic shortcomings in Mississippi

Posted: July 2, 2008 12:26 pm

A new panel created by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood will meet next month to review critical needs in the state’s death investigation system and its crime lab. The Innocence Project has led calls in recent months for the appointment of a state medical examiner, who would oversee criminal autopsies. Steven Hayne, the medical examiner who currently conducts 80 percent of the state’s autopsies (more than 1,500 a year) has been widely discredited and his testimony has led to at least two wrongful convictions later overturned through the work of the Innocence Project.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers allotted $500,000 for a state medical examiner’s office, but the position has yet to be filled. The former head of the Mississippi State Medical Association said “it’s high time” that the position be filled, and the director of the Mississippi Innocence Project said the task force should include diverse perspectives.

Tucker Carrington, director of the Mississippi Innocence Project, said the task force needs to include more voices. "We ought to include as many people as we can. Nobody can tell more stories about the lack of a medical examiner's office than victims and defense lawyers."

Hinds County Assistant Public Defender Matthew Eichelberger applauded Hood's task force, but said he wishes it included someone to represent public defenders.

"This is not a Democrat or Republican issue, not a state versus city issue, not a prosecutor versus defense lawyer issue - it's a public safety issue," he said. "It's a Mississippi issue."

Read the full story here. (Clarion–Ledger, 07/02/08)
Read more about the Innocence Project’s work in Mississippi.
 



Tags: Mississippi

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The weekly roundup

Posted: July 3, 2008 8:30 am

Here are some of the stories we were following this week, but just didn’t get around to blogging about.

The Innocence Project filed for DNA testing in the case of client Robert Conway, who has served nearly two decades in Pennsylvania prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit.

New evidence surfaced in Texas, suggesting that Lester Leroy Bower is on death row for a crime he didn’t commit, but he hasn’t been able to get DNA testing approved in the case. He is scheduled to be executed this summer, and the blog Grits for Breakfast asked how prosecutors “could even consider opposing DNA testing of old evidence before they put a defendant to death this summer who's claiming actual innocence.”

The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice issued a report calling the state’s administration of the death penalty "dysfunctional" and "close to collapse." Read media coverage here and download the full report here.

Funding was approved for a new state crime lab in Missouri, an upstate New York county planned a new $30 million crime lab, and Massachusetts children got a hands-on experience with forensics when a state lab investigator visited a local library.




Tags: Innocence Commissions, Death Penalty

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Louisiana exoneree to receive $150K in compensation

Posted: July 7, 2008 3:25 pm

Rickey Johnson, who was freed in January after serving 25 years in Louisiana’s Angola prison for a rape he didn’t commit, will receive $150,000 in compensation from the state for his wrongful incarceration. While Johnson says that no amount of money could ever replace the years he lost, he is looking forward to using the money to start a new business making leather goods such as belts and wallets.

“Rickey Johnson lost more than a quarter of a century, nearly his entire adult life, to a wrongful conviction. He had three young children when he was arrested, and a fourth was born shortly after he was incarcerated; all of those children are now adults,” said Vanessa Potkin, the Innocence Project staff attorney representing Johnson.

Read the full story here. (Leesville Daily Leader, 07/07/08)

Watch a new Innocence Project video of Johnson and fellow Louisiana exoneree Calvin Willis reuniting after Johnson’s release.

Johnson’s compensation comes under a state law that pays exonerees $15,000 for each year they served, to a maximum of $150,000. While Louisiana is one of 25 states with a compensation law, the amounts provided in the law are well behind the federal standard of $50,000 per year served, with no maximum. Several states, including Texas, Utah and Florida, have recently passed laws matching the federal amount, and the Innocence Project strongly supports efforts by lawmakers to bring state compensation laws in line with federal recommendations to include critical social services as well as financial payments.

What’s the law in your state? Find out on our interactive map.





Tags: Louisiana, Rickey Johnson, Exoneree Compensation

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NYC man marks second exoneration anniversary as a college grad

Posted: July 7, 2008 3:18 pm

Innocence Project client Alan Newton spent over a decade searching for the physical evidence from his case. When it was finally found— right where it was supposed to be all along — Newton had spent 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He was finally exonerated two years ago yesterday.

Thanks to the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund and the support of Moët Hennessy USA, Newton is able to celebrate the second anniversary of his exoneration as a college graduate. He graduated with honors from Medgar Evers College with a degree in Business this June. Now, he plans on going to law school to give back to his community.

Watch a four-minute interview with Newton on the Innocence Project’s YouTube page.

Newton’s case is among many where adequate preservation of evidence could have freed an innocent person much earlier – if at all. To date, 27 states across the country have no laws or statues requiring evidence preservation — including New York, Newton’s home state. Even states that have statutes are not without their problems. Some states require preservation only for certain crimes. Others do nothing to sanction those responsible for destroying or discarding evidence.

Learn more about evidence preservation here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Wednesday: Keith Brown, North Carolina (Served 4 years, Exonerated 7/09/99)

Byron Halsey, New Jersey (Served 19 years, Exonerated 7/09/07)

Friday: James C. Tillman, Connecticut (Served 16.5 years, Exonerated 7/11/06)

Saturday: Lafonso Rollins, Illinois (Served 10 years, Exonerated 7/12/04)



Tags: Keith Brown, Alan Newton, Lafonso Rollins, James Tillman

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Dispatch from Dallas: The growing impact of ultra-sensitive DNA testing

Posted: July 10, 2008 12:51 pm

By Cassie Johnson, Forensic Supervisor at Orchid Cellmark, DNA Laboratory


DNA testing is the most powerful type of identity testing available, and it is used for many different purposes: to establish paternity and lineage, or in criminal investigations. With DNA testing, we can uniquely identify every person in the world, unless that person has an identical twin.

Thanks to major improvements in DNA testing technology over the last few years, the tiniest shred of biological evidence can assist in almost any type of crime. Most of the criminal cases we’ve traditionally worked on have been homicides and sexual assaults, but DNA testing is now being used around the world in nonviolent crimes such as burglaries. We could test a pinpoint of biological evidence, whether it’s blood, semen, saliva, or skin cells, and develop a DNA profile. The potential sources of DNA are almost limitless. As DNA testing has progressed, it has become substantially more sensitive, and it works increasingly well on compromised or degraded samples. We’re now able to generate a DNA profile from a sample in which testing would previously never have been attempted.

The criminal justice system uses four main types of DNA testing: STR, Y-STR, mini-STR, and mitochondrial:

• STR testing has been around the longest and is the type of testing most commonly used by crime labs, defense attorneys and prosecutors.

• Mitochondrial DNA testing is often used to generate a DNA profile from hair, bones, or teeth, and is a specialized type of testing that has been used since the mid-1990s.

• The Y-STR test uses the same technologies and principles as STR testing. However, Y-STR testing only looks at areas that are on the Y chromosome, which makes it male-specific. In our experience, it is also more sensitive than STR testing, so we may be able to obtain a profile with less starting material.

• Mini-STR is the newest form of DNA testing and is especially useful on samples that are highly degraded. It is perhaps even more sensitive than STR or Y-STR testing. This year, Rickey Johnson became the first person to be proven innocent through mini-STR DNA testing.

In every case, our job is to develop profiles from evidence regardless of the eventual outcome. We have conducted testing in the cases of several Innocence Project clients, and these are cases that truly demonstrate the potential of DNA testing to change people’s lives. In James Waller’s case, a state lab attempted to conduct DNA testing several years earlier and couldn’t get a result—but the process of testing used up the evidence, which is not uncommon.

We didn’t have any of the original evidence like the rape kit or the bedsheet to go back and test. The only thing that was left over for testing was a liquid “extract,” meaning a leftover lab sample of the evidence. Fortunately, the state lab preserved the liquid extract and made it available to us for Y-STR testing. We were able to obtain a DNA profile from the extract; it did not match his profile and therefore showed that he could not have contributed the sample. Something similar happened in Scott Fappiano’s case. In that instance, it was Orchid Cellmark that had retained the extracts from the early 1990s. Those extracts ultimately led to Mr. Fappiano’s freedom.

Orchid Cellmark is very proud to be able to donate its expertise in DNA testing to the Innocence Project, which continuously fights for those who have been wrongfully convicted. Working on these post-conviction cases reminds us how powerful DNA testing can be, whether it be in solving a cold case or exonerating the wrongfully accused.

 

Orchid Cellmark, based in New Jersey with laboratories all over the country – including Johnson’s lab in Dallas, has conducted DNA testing in Innocence Project cases for years and provides some testing pro bono. Their laboratories have conducted testing that exonerated several Innocence Project clients in recent years. In many of these cases, Orchid Cellmark’s testing has also helped identify the true perpetrators of crimes for which innocent people were convicted.

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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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Friday roundup

Posted: July 11, 2008 4:18 pm

There’s so much news each week on wrongful convictions and forensic science that we can’t cover it all. Here’s a roundup of news you might have missed:

The ripples are still being felt from the Brewer and Brooks exonerations in Mississippi. An editorial in today’s Hattiesburg American says a new task force in Mississippi “has a lot on its plate” in a state without standards for evidence collection and testing. On Monday, an editorial in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger said “the inadequacy of Mississippi's ‘CSI’ would make a sad, and scary, episode if it were presented on television.”

Earlier this year, Innocence Project clients Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks were exonerated after serving 15 years in prison for nearly identical child murders they didn’t commit. Brewer was on death row for most of those 15 years and he could have been executed. But DNA testing in Brewer’s case proved his innocence and pointed to the real perpetrator, who confessed to committing the crime for which Brooks was serving as well.

Stories about crime labs were clogging the news this week, while evidence backlogs were clogging the labs. A report from the Urban Institute found that DNA has become more effective than fingerprints and witnesses in solving burglaries and other property crimes. The problem is that if this expanded use of DNA testing becomes the national norm, our crime labs will be overwhelmed. Arkansas has increased funding for its state lab to cut the backlog from 15,000 cases to 2,500 cases. And an Omaha crime lab is tightening security after alleged mishandling set off a scandal.

We keep hearing at the Innocence Project about students and teachers using the resources from our “947 Years” website to build lesson plans and class presentations about wrongful convictions and forensic science. But as DNA testing becomes more prevalent in criminal cases, who is teaching our nation’s judges about advances in forensic science? The answer: UNC professor James P. Evans. Find out what he’s telling judges across the country and why he says judges are afraid of science.



Tags: Kennedy Brewer, Crime Lab Backlogs

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Slate.com column: Ramsey case and new technology cast doubt on death penalty

Posted: July 11, 2008 4:16 pm

William Saletan writes on Slate.com today that although he “viscerally” supports the death penalty, DNA exonerations have begged the question: "How confident are (we) that none of the 1,100 people we've executed (since 1976) will end up being exonerated by a technology we didn't use or possess at the time?"

Touch DNA, the method of testing that led Colorado prosecutors to announce this week that JonBenet Ramsey’s parents had been cleared in her murder, was also instrumental in clearing Tim Masters in Colorado after he had served 10 years for a crime he didn’t commit. With new methods of forensic testing constantly evolving, there is no room for the finality of the death penalty, Saletan writes.

I was about to write that we haven't yet executed anyone exonerated by DNA. But that's the wrong way to write the sentence. Here's the right way: We haven't yet exonerated by DNA anyone we've executed. The discovery comes after the act. … There's always more to be learned from a technology you haven't yet tried. You still have to make the best judgment you can at the time. You can't expect that judgment never to be corrected. But you have to leave it open to correction.

Read the full column here. (Slate.com, 07/11/08)
Read more about Touch DNA in the Denver Post, and watch a video on Touch DNA in the Jon Benet case on CBSNews.com.







Tags: Timothy Masters

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Two years of freedom, after 23 years behind bars

Posted: July 16, 2008 5:10 pm

After serving 23 years in Missouri prison for a rape he didn’t commit, Johnny Briscoe was exonerated on July 19, 2006. Saturday marks the second anniversary of his exoneration.

Briscoe’s case highlights the unreliability of eyewitness identification. When a line-up was arranged for the victim back in the early 1980s, Briscoe was the only man (out of four) wearing an orange jumpsuit – “Halloween orange,” he would later tell The Denver Post.  Possibly influenced by the jumpsuit, the victim misidentified Briscoe as her assailant — despite having spent an hour with the perpetrator in a well-lit room.

Eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful conviction, and there are convictions everyday in the U.S. based only on identification. There are ways to reduce inaccuracy and prevent injustices from occurring today. Click here to learn about the Innocence Project’s recommended reforms.

Briscoe was represented by pro bono attorneys affiliated with Centurion Ministries, a non-profit legal organization based in New Jersey. Centurion and the Innocence Project are two of four organizations accepting wrongful conviction cases from across the country. View a list of innocence organizations here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Tuesday: Steven Linscott, Illinois (Served 3 years, Exonerated 7/16/92)

Today: Steven Toney, Missouri (Served 13 years, Exonerated 7/16/96)

Thursday: Joe Jones, Kansas (Served 6.5 years, Exonerated 7/17/92)



Tags: Johnny Briscoe, Joe Jones, Steven Linscott, Steven Toney

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NC lawmakers approve compensation increase

Posted: July 22, 2008 3:57 pm

The North Carolina legislature voted Friday to increase the compensation paid to the exonerated after their release to $50,000 per year served, from $20,000. The bill, which would increase the maximum payment to $750,000 and bring North Carolina in line with the federal standard for an annual compensation amount, now goes to Gov. Mike Easley for his signature. The bill also includes critical services for men and women released from prison after serving years for crimes they didn't commit. They could receive a year of job training and tuition at a state college or university.

"What I want to you to think about is if your child were accused of a crime and were sent to prison as Dwayne Dail and others have been," Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, a Carrboro Democrat, told her colleagues in the Senate.

Read the full story here. (News Observer, 07/19/08)
Pictured above: Dwayne Dail served 18 years in North Carolina prison for a crime he didn't commit before his exoneration last year. He received $370,000 in compensation earlier this year, but will now be eligible for an additional $380,000.

 



Tags: Exoneree Compensation

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Brainstorming to end injustice in Wisconsin

Posted: July 24, 2008 1:50 pm

Exonerees, attorneys and community activists will come together Saturday in Milwaukee to discuss the causes of wrongful conviction and proposed reforms in the state to prevent future injustice. Panelists will include Chris Ochoa, who served nearly 12 years in Texas prison before DNA tests proved his innocence. Ochoa, who was represented on appeal by the Wisconsin Innocence Project, now lives in Madison and works as an attorney.

Wisconsin Innocence Project Co-Director John Pray said Wisconsin has made progress on addressing the causes of wrongful convictions, but still has work to do.

“The same kinds of problems that go into wrongful convictions in other states certainly exist in Wisconsin,” he said. “We’re ahead of the boat on some things but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen and won’t happen.”
Saturday’s event is free and open to the public.

Read the full story here and get details on attending the event. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 07/24/08)

Watch a video interview with Chris Ochoa here.

The Milwaukee event on Saturday comes on the heels of successful community events addressing wrongful convictions around the country. In May, the Texas Senate held a major Summit on Wrongful Convictions and another panel addressed the problem in the Dallas area last week. Earlier this month, a New York State Senate task force addressed reforms to prevent wrongful convictions.

Organize an event in your area to raise awareness about wrongful convictions. Get started here.





Tags: Christopher Ochoa

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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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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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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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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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Video: After 25 years, true freedom for Steven Phillips

Posted: August 6, 2008 1:32 pm

Watch a Dallas Morning News video as Innocence Project Staff Attorney Jason Kreag cuts off Steven Phillips’ ankle monitor yesterday, after he was cleared of 11 sexual assaults he didn’t commit. Phillips was released from prison on parole late last year, and since then he has been forced to register as a sex offender and wear the ankle bracelet.

“I had something to hang onto in the early years,” Phillips said. “I’m innocent and I’m in prison. And sometimes that’s all there was to hang on to, the fact that I’m innocent. I knew it was going to come into play at some time….It’s unfortunate that it took 25 years to come into play.”

Watch the video here. (Dallas Morning News, 08/05/08)
Read more about the case in Monday’s press release.




Tags: Steven Phillips

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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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Friday roundup

Posted: August 8, 2008 5:20 pm

It’s time for this week’s roundup of news on wrongful convictions and forensic science we missed this week. It was a busy week for the Innocence Project – with Steven Phillips cleared in Dallas, rogue medical examiner Steven Hayne fired in Mississippi and a joint filing for DNA testing in Austin on behalf of a man in prison and the family of a murder victim – so there’s a lot to cover:

Evidence preservation was in the public eye and on the radio this week:

Innocence Project Policy Analyst Rebecca Brown told Oregon Public Radio that states in the Northwest U.S. are lacking in guidelines for law enforcement evidence preservation, which can help exonerate the innocent and solve cold cases. Listen here.

USA Today ran a front page story on the state of evidence preservation around the country, and a Las Vegas Sun editorial today called on Nevada lawmakers to pass an evidence preservation law. View our map to see what your state does with crime scene evidence.

Our colleagues around the country are busy as well. This week, the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, an Innocence Network member, announced that their client Aaron Michael Howard was released from prison after serving nearly 20 years for a murder he didn’t commit.

The group is also working with state officials to review thousands of cases in which DNA evidence could be tested on appeal. And a feature checked in with students at the University of British Columbia Law School Innocence Project.

The causes of wrongful conviction continue to be examined by experts, the press and the public. An In These Times article focused on the role of snitch testimony in wrongful death sentences and a new book asks if bad science is corrupting criminal justice.



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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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The role of race in misidentification

Posted: August 11, 2008 4:02 pm

Social science research has shown that eyewitness misidentifications are more likely to happen when the perpetrator and witness are of different racial backgrounds. And statistics on the 218 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing to date support the evidence. More than one-third of these wrongful convictions were caused by a cross-racial identification.



Jennifer Thompson-Cannino (above) knows first-hand how a misidentification can happen. When an African-American attacker broke into her home and raped her in 1984, she made a conscious effort to note the perpetrator’s features so she could identify him later. Thompson-Cannino, who is white, helped police draw up a composite sketch, and then she viewed photographs and identified Ronald Cotton as the rapist. She told the jury she was certain, and Cotton was sentenced to life. But she was wrong.

DNA testing exonerated Cotton after he had served more than a decade in prison. Eyewitness misidentification played a role in more than three-quarters of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing, and Thompson-Cannino and Cotton now travel the country telling audiences how it can happen. And she has written a book with Cotton, scheduled for release early next year, about wrongful convictions and their unusual partnership to address the causes of this injustice and reforms to prevent it from happening again.

Read an Associated Press Sunday feature story on cross-racial identifications here.

Read more about Thompson-Cannino and Cotton here
.



Tags: Ronald Cotton, Eyewitness Identification, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Fourth anniversary of Florida exoneration

Posted: August 12, 2008 4:05 pm

When Wilton Dedge was arrested for a December 1981 rape, he weighed 125 pounds and stood at 5’5” — not at all like the tall, muscular, 160-pound man the victim had originally described to the police. Despite the mismatched between her description and Dedge, she identified him as her attacker. Due to the misidentification and other unreliable evidence, Dedge would serve 22 years for a crime he didn’t commit. Finally exonerated on August 11, 2004, he marks the fourth anniversary of his exoneration today.

Dedge’s case underscores not only the fallibility of eyewitness identification, but also the importance of granting access to DNA testing when it can prove innocence and overturn a wrongful conviction. Once the tests are conducted, state laws must also ensure that the new evidence can be heard in court.

It took Dedge five years to obtain access to the DNA testing that proved his innocence, but then It took three more years for his release. Prosecutors argued that the test results were not permissible in court because they had been obtained before a new DNA access law was in place. According to the law, they argued, he had proven his innocence too early.

Seven states still don’t have a law guaranteeing inmate access to postconviction DNA testing—meaning more inmates could suffer the same injustices as Dedge. Click here to learn if your state allows access to testing.

Help us ensure DNA access for inmates across the country by signing our petition for DNA testing access today.

Dedge’s case is featured in the award-winning documentary “After Innocence.” Buy a copy of the film today from Amazon.com (a portion of proceeds benefits the Innocence Project) or rent it from Netflix.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Thursday: Gary Dotson, Illinois (Served 10  years, Exonerated 08/14/89 )
Roy Criner, Texas (Served 10 years, Exonerated 08/15/2000)

Friday: Eduardo Velasquez, Massachusetts (Served 12.5 years, Exonerated 08/15/01)
 

 



Tags: Roy Criner, Wilton Dedge, Gary Dotson, Eduardo Velasquez

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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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Ousted Mississippi medical examiner's alarming backlog deepens concerns about his work

Posted: August 21, 2008 2:45 pm

Steven Hayne, who was recently removed from Mississippi’s list of approved pathologists, has 90 days to turn in reports on his backlog of cases. Public Safety Commissioner Steve Simpson announced the decision to remove Hayne from the state’s list on August 5, amid increased public scrutiny of Hayne’s work in the aftermath of the exonerations of Innocence Project clients Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks earlier this year.

When the state announced that it is severing ties with Hayne, Simpson said Hayne had “400 to 500” autopsy reports to complete within 90 days of the announcement. From the Jackson Clarion-Ledger the day after the state announced Hayne’s contract was being terminated:

Asked why Hayne's name alone was removed from the list, Simpson replied, "Because they don't owe me 400 or 500 reports."

Simpson said he wants Hayne to wrap up the outstanding autopsies within 90 days, when Hayne's contract with the state expires.

Hayne's attorney, Dale Danks Jr. of Jackson, said the only reason up to 500 of Hayne's reports are pending is that Hayne is awaiting toxicology reports from the state Crime Lab in the cases.

Read the full article here.
But information in today’s Clarion Ledger suggests that claim was false -- and raises troubling new questions. Rather than 400-500 outstanding autopsy reports, Hayne’s lawyer now says there are 600. To put that number – which accounts for just the outstanding autopsy reports that Hayne has not completed – in context, mainstream professional associations say that a pathologist should not conduct more than 250 autopsies a year. Hayne has claimed to conduct 1,500 to 1,800 autopsies a year, a volume that could help explain why he apparently struggles to complete the critical autopsy reports in a timely fashion.

Today’s Clarion Ledger also makes it clear that the state crime lab is not the reason so many of Hayne’s autopsy reports are incomplete. In fact, fewer than 15% of Hayne’s outstanding autopsy reports are awaiting toxicology reports from the state crime lab. From today’s Clarion Ledger:
On Wednesday, Danks said Hayne planned to turn in the 600 reports by the end of next week, regardless of whether toxicology reports have been completed or not.

About 150 of them lack toxicology reports, Danks said. "He got one toxicology report in yesterday that was three years old. Apparently the Crime Lab sent it out of state."

Sam Howell, director of the state Crime Lab, said according to his records, there are only about 100 toxicology reports outstanding at this time.

"I don't know how many of those 100 cases are Dr. Hayne's," Howell said. "They could be coroner cases that have nothing to do with autopsies."

More than half that number are less than 30 days old, he said.

Read the full article here.
Danks does not explain why 500 or more cases (for which Hayne is not waiting for toxicology reports) are still pending – or for how long those autopsy reports have remained incomplete.

The Innocence Project investigated how Hayne’s shoddy work contributed to the wrongful convictions of Brewer and Brooks and is now calling for a comprehensive list of all cases Hayne has handled and records relating to those cases. The Innocence Project and the Mississippi Innocence Project have challenged Hayne’s work for months, calling on the state to fill the long-vacant State Medical Examiner position and also filing a formal allegation with the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure to revoke Hayne’s license to practice medicine. The Innocence Project is currently reviewing hundreds of cases in which Hayne testified.

Read Innocence Project press release on Hayne’s termination – and the need for the state to compel him to turn over a list of all cases he has worked on, along with autopsy reports for each of those cases -- here.

Read more on the Brooks and Brewer cases here.

Read the summary letter of the Innocence Project’s pending complaint with the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure here.

Read more about Hayne in Reason Magazine Senior Editor Radley Balko’s groundbreaking investigative report, “CSI: Mississippi,” here.

 

August 5 Mississippi medical examiner press conference [audio: 17:25]



Tags: Mississippi, Kennedy Brewer

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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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Compensation bill for California man is on governor's desk

Posted: August 29, 2008 2:38 pm

James Ochoa served 10 months in California prison, and 5 months in jail awaiting trial, for a carjacking DNA proves he didn’t commit. He was exonerated in 2006, but to date he hasn’t been compensated under California’s law – which pays exonerees $100 per day of wrongful imprisonment. As we’ve reported here before, Ochoa was initially denied access to compensation because he pled guilty – after a judge told him he could get 25 years to life in prison if he went to trial and lost. He was given a two-year sentence after pleading guilty.

The California compensation statute reads that, in order to receive compensation, the exoneree must not have “contribute(d) to the bringing about of his arrest or conviction for the crime with which he was charged." California officials first said the law excluded Ochoa because he pled guilty. But members of the state assembly took action to rectify this situation, and a bill to pay Ochoa $31,700 was passed earlier this month. The bill now awaits a signature by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

An improvement to California’s compensation law – which would eliminate the loophole that almost denied Ochoa’s compensation and increase the amount of compensation by a cost-of-living adjustment each year – is also awaiting the Governor’s signature. Republican Assemblyman Todd Spitzer discussed Ochoa's case in a recent speech in support of improvements to the general compensation law.

“As a society we have a responsibility to make that [injustice] right,” Republican Assemblyman Todd Spitzer said...“To be wrongfully charged, to sit in prison for 10 months and also Orange County Jail for an additional five months] for $31,700? That's unconscionable.”

Read the full blog post here. (OC Weekly)
Innocence Project supporters in California are sending letters to Gov. Schwarzenegger this week urging him to sign the bill into law. If you’re in California – send your own letter to the Governor today. Otherwise, please forward the action to your friends and family in California.





Tags: California, James Ochoa

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DNA clears Dallas man after 26 years in prison, could be released Friday

Posted: September 16, 2008 2:05 pm

Johnnie Earl Lindsey has been behind bars since 1981 for a rape he has always said he didn’t commit, but his attorneys say new DNA test results could lead to his release on Friday. Michelle Moore, a Dallas public defender affiliated with the Innocence Project of Texas, is representing Lindsey on appeal and has filed for his release based on DNA tests showing that another man sexually assaulted the victim in this case. Lindsey is the 21st person cleared by DNA testing in Dallas County.

Lindsey was convicted by a jury based mostly on the victim’s identification of him. She initially identified him as the perpetrator a year after the attack, when a six-photo lineup was mailed to her. She had identified the perpetrator as a shirtless African-American man, and Lindsey was one of the two shirtless men in the lineup.

"Juries back in the day believed that when a woman was raped, she must be able to identify her attacker," Ms. Moore said. "We know so much more now. There have been so many studies about how bad eyewitness accounts can be."

Read the full article here. (Dallas Morning News, 09/15/08)
Stay tuned to the Innocence Blog for an update on Lindsey’s case after his hearing on Friday.




Tags: Johnnie Earl Lindsey

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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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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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Scheck calls for reforms in Tennessee

Posted: September 10, 2008 4:40 pm

Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck testified yesterday before a panel of Tennessee lawmakers on critical reforms to prevent wrongful convictions in the state.

In calling for a moratorium on the death penalty, Scheck highlighted the case of Sedley Alley, who was executed in Tennessee in 2006 after requests for DNA testing on Alley’s behalf were repeatedly denied.

Calling the Alley case a criminal defense lawyer's "worst nightmare," Scheck said Alley's earlier defense attorneys never tried to use the evidence to prove his innocence because they were focusing on his claims of mental illness as a defense.

… Scheck also encouraged the committee to standardize police procedures such as taping confessions, taking eyewitness statements and preserving crime scene evidence. Some of the evidence in the case against Sedley Alley was destroyed years after his original trial.
Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 09/10/08)





Tags: Death Penalty

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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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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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Ex-prosecutors reprimanded in Colorado case

Posted: September 15, 2008 12:55 pm

The Colorado Supreme Court has censured two former prosecutors for their role in the wrongful conviction of Timothy Masters in Fort Collins in 1999. Terrance A. Gilmore and Jolene C. Blair, both now judges in Colorado, were reprimanded by the Supreme Court for failing to ensure that defense attorneys received evidence that could have pointed to Masters’ innocence. They have acknowledged that they didn’t disclose the information.

Masters served nearly a decade in prison for a 1987 murder before DNA tests and other evidence pointing to his innocence led to his release in January. His trial attorney, Erik Fischer, said the prosecutors could have prevented his wrongful conviction by handing over the complete evidence at trial.

"If we would have had the evidence that was withheld from us, there's no doubt in my mind that Tim Masters would have been exonerated at the trial," Fischer said.

… "I don't know what to say about that," Masters said of the decision when reached by phone by The Associated Press. "I spent 10 years in prison for something I didn't do. It's something, I guess."

Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 09/10/08)
Read more about Masters’ case on the Denver Post website.





Tags: Government Misconduct, Timothy Masters

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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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U.S. Supreme Court stays Georgia execution

Posted: September 23, 2008 5:45 pm

Just hours before Troy Davis was scheduled to be executed in Georgia for a crime he has always said he didn’t commit, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay this evening, delaying the execution so an appeal challenging Davis’ conviction can move forward. See today’s earlier blog for more on the case.

News of today’s Supreme Court stay:

Associated Press: US Supreme Court delays execution of Ga. man


 



Tags: Death Penalty

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A stay in Georgia, but for how long?

Posted: September 24, 2008 5:55 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday issued a stay of execution for Troy Davis less than two hours before he was scheduled to be executed in Georgia. Davis had already said what he thought would be final goodbyes to his family members, and he had recorded his final statement. Davis, 39, has been on Georgia’s death row for nearly two decades for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit.

The court announced that the stay would grant the justices time to consider whether to hear an appeal by Davis’ attorneys as to whether Davis deserves a new trial or a hearing based on new evidence of his innocence. Although seven of nine non-police eyewitnesses have recanted their testimony that Davis was the shooter, the Georgia Supreme Court has rejected Davis’ requests for a new hearing.

Read more coverage:

Atlanta Jounal Constitution: Supreme Court issues stay of execution for Davis (09/23/08)

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Dispatch from Austin: The Criminal Justice Integrity Unit meets

Posted: September 29, 2008 5:40 pm

The Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit held meetings in Austin on Thursday and heard from witnesses on a variety of topics, including snitch testimony and evidence collection and preservation. The Integrity Unit was created earlier this year by the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals to review criminal justice practices in the state and its members include a cross-section of the criminal justice community.

Scott Henson, who writes the blog Grits for Breakfast and works as a consultant with the Innocence Project of Texas, attended the meeting and wrote about his reactions on Grits. Here’s what he found:

Pat Johnson, who's the field supervisor for DPS' state-run crime labs and a member of the Integrity Unit panel, performed an informal survey of non-DPS crime labs in Texas operated by local jurisdictions. Respondents said that less than 10% of evidence collected at crime scenes was gathered by lab personnel, with most of it being collected by cops. Austin PD is the main exception, he said, with an entirely civilian Crime Scene Investigation unit.

A majority of labs, when asked how good a job they were doing, replied that some improvements were needed.

One lab said they did not believe they were receiving all available evidence that should be examined, while a majority said "we don't know."



John Vasquez from the Texas Association of Property and Evidence Inventory Technicians (TAPEIT) gave an interesting presentation about evidence preservation failures and the need for greater professionalism and implementation of best practices by police department property rooms. TAPEIT has about 600 active members who work in law enforcement agencies around the state, he said. (See their rather active message boards.)



One of the CCA "Integrity Unit" members, Texas House Corrections Chairman Jerry Madden, posed a question to Justice Project President John Terzano regarding snitches during his presentation yesterday that inspired me to (perhaps rudely?) interject from the audience a response to his concerns. (I was attending as part of my consulting gig with the Innocence Project of Texas.)

Terzano was arguing that informants whose testimony will be compensated by money, reduced charges or more lenient sentences for other crimes they've committed should be subjected to a pre-trial reliability hearing in which a judge, outside the purview of the jury, makes an independent determination whether the informant is a reliable source.

Read the three posts on the meeting. (Grits for Breakfast, 09/26/08)
 



Tags: Texas, Innocence Commissions, Evidence Preservation, Informants/Snitches

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Canadian report calls for national board to review possible wrongful convictions

Posted: September 30, 2008 2:15 pm

Last week, a group of Canadian law enforcement experts released a report on the wrongful conviction of David Milgaard, a Saskatchewan man who spent 23 years in prison for a crime DNA shows he didn’t commit. The report examined the specific errors in the Milgaard case, but it went much further. The Canadian federal government needs to create an oversight board to review possible wrongful conviction cases, the report said. Milgaard’s family members welcomed the proposal, saying such a board could have helped him win his release much sooner.

"I'm delighted that we are finally getting recommendations for an independent board," Milgaard's mother, Joyce Milgaard, told a news conference in Saskatoon shortly after the Saskatchewan government released the commission of inquiry report.

"It will be worthwhile," she said. "Everything our family has gone through, if we now, if we really follow through and get this independent board."

Read the full story here. (Canadian Broadcasting Corp., 09/26/08)
North Carolina recently created a similar oversight and review panel, and the group issued its first findings earlier this month.



Tags: Innocence Commissions

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Tonight on PBS, a conviction reopened after a century

Posted: October 1, 2008 4:55 pm

Nearly a century ago, an American doctor named Hawley Crippen was executed in England for allegedly killing his wife and burying her remains in his basement. He was arrested after attempting to travel to the United States with a female companion disguised as a boy. The case was sensational at the beginning of the 20th century, and it is making news again, because DNA testing on evidence used in Crippen’s original trial has shown that the remains found in his basement were not those of his wife.

“Secrets of the Dead,” a PBS special airing tonight in most cities, will examine the case and attempt to determine whether Crippen was executed for a murder he didn’t commit.

Find out when the show will air on your local PBS affiliate, or watch it in its entirety on the web
.

More: Erik Larsen’s 2007 book “Thunderstruck” tells the story of the Crippen case juxtaposed with the invention of the wireless telegraph. Buy the book here and a percentage of your purchase will support the Innocence Project.





Tags: Death Penalty

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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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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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Putting the pieces back together: Illinois exoneree talks about his first year of freedom

Posted: October 8, 2008 12:20 pm

Jerry Miller spent nearly 25 years in Illinois prison for a rape he didn’t commit, and one year on parole as a registered sex offender, before DNA testing obtained by attorneys at the Innocence Project proved his innocence. On April 23, 2007, he became the 200th person exonerated by DNA testing in U.S. history. Yesterday, he spoke to a meeting of criminal defense lawyers in Champaign, Illinois.

"If you just be realistic about life, what in life is perfect?" the 50-year-old man asked a room full of defense attorneys. "Struggle makes character."

"The system is not perfect, and I'm a prime example of that," Miller told the attorneys. "I never gave up. You lose hope but you can't never give up."

Read the full story here. (Urbana-Champaign News-Gazette, 10/08/08)
Miller says it has been difficult readjusting to society after his release, but he’s getting on track now. He recently started attending a truck driving school to train for work as a driver.

Read more about life after exoneration here.

Watch a three-minute video interview with Miller.





Tags: Jerry Miller

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Federal judge: Don’t deport exoneree

Posted: October 10, 2008 4:04 pm

Ulysses Rodriguez Charles served 17 years in Massachusetts prison for a rape and robbery he didn’t commit before he was exonerated in 2001. In June, he was arrested and jailed pending deportation to his native Trinidad, despite his pending civil rights lawsuit against the Boston Police Department. His mother, who lives in Boston, said authorities were timing the deportation proceedings to disrupt his lawsuit.

"The whole deportation thing is a cooked-up business to deny him his rights to get what's due to him," Manzoni, 78, of the South End, said later. She said Charles lost nearly two decades of his life "for a crime he never dreamed to do, and now when it's time to get his justice, they put him behind bars again."
A federal district judge demanded that immigration authorities at least delay the deportation until after the trial, but officials said the judge didn’t have jurisdiction. They also said there was no connection between the immigration issue and the civil suit.

Read the full story here. (Boston Globe, 10/09/08)





Tags: Ulysses Rodriguez Charles

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U.S. Supreme Court denies hearing for Troy Davis

Posted: October 14, 2008 6:20 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear an appeal in the case of Troy Davis, who has beenon Georgia's death row for nearly two decades for a murder he says he didn't commit.

A divided Georgia Supreme Court twice rejected his request for a new trial, and the pardons board turned down his bid for clemency last month after considering the case again.

Two hours before Davis' scheduled Sept. 23 execution, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the stay, sparking a celebration among Davis supporters.
But the Supreme Court stay was only valid until the justices decided whether to hear arguments in the case. Today's decision clears the way for Georgia officials to set a new execution date for Davis.

Read the full story here
 



Tags: Death Penalty

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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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A pattern of prosecutorial misconduct

Posted: October 22, 2008 4:35 pm

A column in the New York Times explores a pattern of misconduct from a New York City prosecutor’s office, and the pattern doesn’t end with conviction. Prosecutors in the borough of Queens, Jim Dwyer writes, are reluctant to admit their misconduct and they rarely punish their own. In 80 Queens cases overturned by appeals courts between 1989 and 2003 for prosecutorial misconduct, senior officials took no disciplinary action.

Last week New York City settled a wrongful conviction lawsuit filed by a defendant, Shih-Wei Su, for $3.5 million – one of the biggest payments the state has ever made to a wrongfully convicted person. Su served nearly 13 years in prison for an attempted murder he has always said he didn’t commit. He was freed after his lawyers proved that prosecutors lied about a deal they made with a witness who testified against him.A prosecutor admitted in an investigation that she had been “naïve, inexperienced and, possibly, stupid” in allowing a witness to lie on the stand. She received a written admonition.

Mr. Su was outraged. “Is 13 years worth of my life worth only an admonition?” he wrote to the committee. “Even jaywalking can get prison time. So can stealing a loaf of bread.

“With all due respect, the message that this committee is sending out is loud and clear: Don’t worry about using false evidence; you will only get an admonition if you are stupid enough to admit it.”

Read the full column here. (New York Times, 10/21/08)




Tags: New York

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A Needed Reform: Compensation in Wisconsin

Posted: October 24, 2008 5:25 pm

The Wisconsin Law Journal this week highlighted the work of the Wisconsin Innocence Project and several reforms being considered in the state.

The article featured Mike Piaskowski, who served nearly six years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He was cleared on appeal (by non-DNA evidence), but has yet to be compensated.

Seven years after his exoneration, Piaskowski recalls how his elation quickly evolved into frustration because of insufficient support from the state after his release.

“I lost everything I worked 46 years of my blue-collar life to achieve,” said Piaskowski, now 59. “And I have received nothing from the state. Zero.”
The current Wisconsin compensation law grants only $25,000 in total compensation to those who qualify as wrongfully convicted. It ranks last among the 25 states that offer compensation.  In addition, Wisconsin provides no educational, professional or emotional assistance to exonerees.

State Sen. Lena C. Taylor, who chairs the Wisconsin Senate Judiciary and Corrections Committee, said the time has come for lawmakers to improve exoneree compensation.
“A review of the compensation levels for persons wrongfully incarcerated is certainly past due. The Judiciary Committees in both houses will need to commit themselves to a serious review of those statutes, and be prepared to have a constructive dialog on the subject, including its implications for the state’s budget.”
Read the full story here. (Wisconsin Law Journal, 10/20/08)
The Wisconsin Innocence Project is a member of the Innocence Network.
 



Tags: Wisconsin, Fredric Saecker

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Exoneree: Crime Labs Should Be Independent

Posted: October 28, 2008 11:55 am

James Ochoa spent nearly two years in California prison for a carjacking he didn’t commit before DNA testing proved his innocence and led police to the real perpetrator. After Ochoa’s exoneration, news reports revealed that prosecutors attempted to exert pressure on a crime lab analyst to falsify the test results to say that he hadn’t been cleared.

Now the same prosecutor’s office is seeking partial control of the county crime lab, and Ochoa argues that his case should be enough reason to maintain independence at the lab. He sent a letter yesterday to the Orange County Board of Supervisors, which today is considering a proposal to create a three-member panel, including the district attorney, to control the county’s forensic lab. The letter reads, in part:

The fact that the prosecution proceeded with my case in order to protect their image when they knew they had insufficient evidence demonstrated to me that the District Attorney’s office is willing to go too far.  After what happened to me, it is pretty clear that the District Attorney doesn’t care about guilt or innocence; he cares about his career. 

Read Ochoa’s full letter here.
Read more about the lab dispute here.




Tags: California, James Ochoa

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California DA Wins Partial Control of Crime Lab

Posted: October 29, 2008 11:04 am

The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 yesterday to award oversight of the country’s forensic labs to a three-member panel comprised of the District Attorney, County Sheriff and County CEO. The Innocence Project has argued that if prosecutors oversee forensic testing, politics could take precedence over science. And a report in the OC Weekly made it clear that the prosecutor’s office inappropriately pressed an analyst to alter the forensic report – despite DNA testing that clearly exonerated Ochoa.

Veteran forensic specialist Danielle G. Wieland made the charge last month during a civil deposition related to the December 2005 wrongful conviction and imprisonment of James Ochoa, according to documents obtained by the Weekly.

In a civil deposition taken last month for Ochoa’s wrongful-prosecution lawsuit, Ochoa attorney Patricio A. Marquez of Morrison & Foerster asked Wieland, “Did anyone ever exert pressure on you to change your [DNA] conclusions?”
“Yes,” Wieland replied. “Camille Hill from the DA’s office … She called me and asked me to change the conclusion that Mr. Ochoa was eliminated from [DNA found on] the left cuff of the shirt.”
Before its vote yesterday, the board received a letter from Ochoa, who served nearly two years in California prison for a carjacking he didn’t commit. He wrote:
The fact that the prosecution proceeded with my case in order to protect their image when they knew they had insufficient evidence demonstrated to me that the District Attorney’s office is willing to go too far. After what happened to me, it is pretty clear that the District Attorney doesn’t care about guilt or innocence; he cares about his career.

Read Ochoa’s full letter here
.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas disputed the allegation of impropriety at Tuesday’s hearing:
Rackauckas explained to the board that his prosecutor merely questioned the analyst about her conclusion and did not try to influence her.

"(But) once an allegation is made, it can be pretty hard for the other party to disprove it," Rackauckas said.

Read the full article here. (OC Register, 10/28/08)
And an editorial in the OC Register before the board meeting said “Orange County's efforts to safeguard the public and protect the innocent have been caught up in an ugly turf war between the District Attorney's Office and the Sheriff's Department”
Officials at the Innocence Project, which uses DNA evidence to free the wrongly convicted, rightly told the newspaper that it's a conflict of interest for district attorneys to control DNA and other forms of evidence. "Just like we wouldn't want a defense attorney to call the shots in a lab, we wouldn't want a prosecutor," said one Innocence Project spokesman.

That's exactly right. Prosecutors are interested parties in legal proceedings. They are seeking convictions, so it would be unwise to let any D.A. control such important evidence. In fact, as the Register also reported, "A senior [Orange County]prosecutor is alleged to have pressured a sheriff's analyst to change her conclusion in a carjacking case that kept an innocent man imprisoned for 16 months." That's chilling.Read the full editorial here. (OC Register, 10/23/08)
 



Tags: California, James Ochoa

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DA: Review of 3,242 Colorado Cases Turns Up No Questionable Convictions

Posted: October 29, 2008 5:50 pm

After DNA testing and other evidence led to the release on Tim Masters in Colorado earlier this year, Larimer County District Attorney Larry Abrahamson said his office would review thousands of convictions to see if any current inmates were candidates for post-conviction DNA testing. Prosecutors started with a universe of 3,242 cases in which defendants are currently in prison and were convicted by a jury in the county. They narrowed that list to 36 cases where identity may have been a factor, and determined that none of the case warranted testing.

"After a lengthy evaluation, I am satisfied that there are no defendants convicted in the Eighth Judicial District serving time in the Colorado State Penitentiary who would benefit from current advances in DNA technology," Abrahamson wrote in a press release.

Read the full press release here.
In the press release, Abrahamson lists criteria for excluding cases. First of all, people who pled guilty were excluded, despite the fact that 11 defendants of the 223 cleared by DNA testing so far nationwide pled guilty. At least 12 cases were excluded because eyewitness testimony was used to convict the defendant. Two others were excluded because fibers and blood testing were used in the trial. DNA testing has shown that eyewitness identification is often unreliable, and that some forms of forensic science – such as fiber comparison – are limited in their ability to identify a defendant.

Abrahamson notes in his press release that the review does not preclude defendants from appealing for DNA testing in their cases.

Read more about the causes of wrongful conviction here.




Tags: Colorado, Access to DNA Testing

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U.S. Supreme Court Will Hear Case on Access to DNA Testing

Posted: November 3, 2008 5:00 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court said today that it will review an Alaska case on whether defendants have the right to DNA testing that can prove innocence.

The Innocence Project represents William Osborne, who was convicted of rape and related charges in 1994. The state has fought motions for DNA testing that could prove Osborne’s innocence. Earlier this year, a federal appeals court ruled that Osborne has a constitutional right to DNA testing, but the state appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.

If the new testing shows that Mr. Osborne was indeed guilty, prosecutors should be pleased, the Ninth Circuit said. And if the testing points to his innocence, prosecutors should still be pleased, because the state’s paramount interests are in “seeking justice, not obtaining convictions at all costs,” and the tests will yield better evidence to catch and convict “the real perpetrator.”

Read the New York Times report on the Supreme Court’s decision to review the case here.
Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck said today that the state has no justification to deny DNA testing when it can prove guilt or innocence. In a statement issued today, Scheck said:
“The State of Alaska concedes that DNA testing could prove William Osborne’s innocence, while fighting his right to testing. Why would anyone be afraid to learn the truth in this case? There is no rational reason to deny DNA testing that could prove innocence or confirm guilt.

“We believe that people clearly have a constitutional right to post-conviction DNA testing when it can prove innocence. Many courts have recognized this right, and we’re optimistic that the Supreme Court will affirm it if they reach that question in this case.”
Learn more about access to post-conviction DNA testing.

 



Tags: Alaska, Access to DNA Testing

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Friday Roundup

Posted: November 7, 2008 5:30 pm

It was a big week for the United States – we have a new President elect, a new landscape in Congress, and new state legislatures across the land. We blogged earlier this week about the opportunities for bipartisan criminal justice reform on the horizon.

Meanwhile, politics bumped news on wrongful convictions and forensics from the national radar for a few days. Here are some of the stories you might have missed:

A panel discussion last night at Southern Methodist University in Dallas brought together exonerees and officials from all corners of the criminal justice system. Innocence Project client James Waller told the audience why he kept his anger at bay while appealing his conviction. "If I were to stay angry," he recalled, "I wouldn't have been able to work on my case. Bein' angry wouldn't do me no good." Blogger Bethany Anderson covered the event here.

At several other events around the country this week, exonerees told their stories and discussed the reforms that can prevent wrongful convictions in the future.

Florida prosecutors said they have new “people of interest and new DNA tests” in the case of William Dillon, who has served 27 years for a murder he says he didn’t commit.

And a new innocence organization will open its doors in Glasgow on November 12.



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Twenty Years Later, Man Faces Charges in Rape Case

Posted: November 13, 2008 4:42 pm

Duane Foster is expected to be arrainged tomorrow in Connecticut for a kidnapping and rape he allegedly committed in 1988. It took 20 years for him to face these charges because another man – James Calvin Tillman – was in prison for the crime.

Tillman served over 16 years for the crime before DNA testing finally proved his innocence and led to his exoneration in 2006. Prosecutors say the same DNA profile that proved Tillman’s innocence points to Foster as the perpetrator.

Read the full story here. (Newsday, 11/13/08)

Read more about James Tillman’s wrongful conviction
.

In 88 of the DNA exoneration cases, DNA tests have led to the identity of the real perpetrator. These perpetrators committed at least 74 additional violent crimes after an innocent person was convicted of their earlier crime.

 



Tags: James Tillman

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Study Finds Few Texas Police Departments Have Written Eyewitness Procedures

Posted: November 19, 2008 3:45 pm

A new study released today by the Justice Project found that only 12% of Texas law enforcement agencies responding to a survey said they had written policies for lineup procedures. Nearly 75% of the 1,034 agencies in the state answered the survey.

From the report:

This overall lack of sound, scientifically-based policy indicates that the State of Texas must pass legislation that requires departments to adopt written policies that implement best practices for the conduct of eyewitness identification procedures.

Download the full report here
.
The Innocence Project recommends that law enforcement agencies develop written identification procedures based on practices shown in scientific study to reduce the number misidentifications. View our recommendations here.

Blogs covering the report today:

Grits for Breakfast

Dallas Morning News - Unfair Park





Tags: Eyewitness Identification

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225 Exonerated

Posted: November 20, 2008 4:05 pm

Joseph White was added today to the Innocence Project’s database of DNA exonerations in the U.S. He is the 225th person exonerated, and the first in Nebraska. There have been DNA exonerations in 33 states, and the exonerees have served a total of nearly 2,800 years.

White and five co-defendants were convicted of a 1985 murder in Beatrice, Nebraska, and all six were cleared recently by DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene, which points to a man who was a suspect at the time of the crime. Law enforcement officials say they have “no doubt” the actual perpetrator committed the crime alone. White has been fully exonerated and the other five defendants are seeking pardons to clear their records. They will be included as DNA exonerees when their records are cleared.

Involved in the wrongful conviction of these six defendants was the faulty forensic testimony of Joyce Gilchrist, an Oklahoma City Police Department lab analyst whose false statements have been involved in at least four other wrongful conviction cases. In this case, Gilchrist tested the blood of a likely suspect who had fled to Nebraska. She told Nebraska police that the suspect was excluded by the tests, but she was wrong. This suspect is the man now implicated by DNA tests.

Read more about this case below, and stay tuned for updates.

Beatrice Daily Sun: Taylor released from prison

Omaha World-Herald: An opportunity led to 19 years spent in prison

Associated Press: Exonerated inmates often don’t have state help





Tags: Nebraska, Joseph White

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New York Man Could Be Freed Tomorrow

Posted: November 24, 2008 1:44 pm

Innocence Project client Steven Barnes is expected to be released from prison tomorrow  after serving nearly two decades for a rape and murder that he has always maintained he didn’t commit. A hearing is expected to be held in Oneida County Court, and the Innocence Project released a joint statement with county prosecutors today.

Read the full statement and media coverage of the case here.

We’ll post more on the blog as the case develops today and tomorrow.





Tags: Steven Barnes

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Steven Barnes Freed in NY, Should Be 'A Wake-Up Call'

Posted: November 25, 2008 5:15 pm

Innocence Project client Steven Barnes was released this morning from a courthouse in upstate New York, after serving nearly 20 years in prison for a 1985 rape and murder he has always said he didn’t commit. New DNA tests on evidence from the crime scene strongly support Barnes’ claim of innocence, and led a state judge to vacate his conviction this morning. (Above photo, Barnes and his mother, Sylvia Bouchard, after he was released today. Photo courtesy Utica Observer-Dispatch)

Barnes’ 1989 conviction rested in part on unvalidated forensic testimony, including soil comparison and analysis of an imprint allegedly left on the outside of Barnes’ truck by the victim’s jeans.

“Unvalidated and exaggerated science convicted Steven Barnes and cost him nearly two decades, but real science finally secured his freedom,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “This is the latest in a long line of wrongful convictions based on improper or invalid forensic science that were ultimately overturned through DNA testing. Until there are clear national standards about what kind of forensic science can be allowed in court, more people like Steven Barnes will be wrongfully convicted while the actual perpetrators of violent crime remain at large.”

Read today’s Innocence Project press release here.

A former New York judge today said the Barnes case should be a wake-up call for the everyone involved in the criminal justice system.
It should constitute a change for the New York State legislature and governor who make criminal justice policies," Robert Julian said. "It should be a change for the incoming Chief Judge of the State of New York. It should be a change for each prosecutor in the state."
Read the full story here. (WKTV, 11/25/08)
More news coverage of Barnes’ release today:

News 10 Now: Video of Barnes’ release

Associated Press: Judge overturns NY man's murder, rape convictions

Utica Observer-Dispatch: Barnes: ‘I knew this day would come’

Syracuse Post-Dispatch: After 20 years in prison, Marcy man walks free





Tags: Steven Barnes

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'The Happiest Day of My Life'

Posted: November 25, 2008 2:45 pm

Innocence Project client Steven Barnes, freed yesterday in Utica, New York, after spending nearly twenty years in prison for a rape and murder he has always said he didn’t commit, said he was overjoyed to home with his family for the first Thanksgiving in two decades.

"I never gave up hope," said Barnes, his sandy brown hair flecked with gray at the temples. "I waited 20 years for this. It's the happiest day of my life."

Read the full story here. (Syracuse Post-Dispatch, 11/26/08)
More media coverage today:

Utica Observer-Dispatch: State may owe Barnes compensation

Utica Observer-Dispatch: New Search Under Way





Tags: Steven Barnes

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New York Case Sparks Calls for Reform

Posted: December 1, 2008 12:34 pm

Steven Barnes’ release last week after nearly two decades in prison has prompted renewed calls for reforms in New York to help overturn wrongful convictions and free the innocent. For the last two years, lawmakers have introduced bills including several critical reforms supported by the Innocence Project, and the bills have gained increasing support but have not become law. An editorial in yesterday’s Buffalo News says 2009 is the time to make these reforms reality.

From yesterday’s Buffalo News:

It is not specifically the fault of state legislators that, at least 24 times in recent years, state criminal courts have convicted innocent people, including Anthony Capozzi and Lynn DeJac, both of Buffalo. But it is emphatically their fault that the state’s criminal justice system continues to operate in largely the same way as when it produced these wrongful convictions.

It doesn’t have to be that way. New York can reform witness identification procedures. It can require the video recording of custodial interrogations, thereby reducing the peculiar but nonetheless real phenomenon of false confessions. Instead, it has done nothing.
And Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck told the Utica Observer-Dispatch that Barnes’ case highlights the need for forensic standards nationwide:
Scheck said that vacating Barnes’ conviction righted what was one in “a long line of wrongful convictions based on improper or invalid forensic science.”

“Until there are clear national standards about what kind of forensic science can be allowed in court, more people like Steven Barnes will be wrongfully convicted while the actual perpetrators of violent crimes remain at large,” he said.
 

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A DNA Test Approved, But Evidence is Lost

Posted: December 2, 2008 1:37 pm

Eugene Pitts has been in Arkansas prison for nearly three decades for a murder he says he didn’t commit, and a hair from the crime scene could potentially prove his guilt or innocence – if it can be found. An Arkansas judge granted Pitts the right to DNA testing under the state’s 2001 DNA access statute. But crime lab officials now say they are unable to find the hair.

Pitts became a suspect shortly after the 1979 murder of Bernard Jones, the brother of former U.S. Attorney General Joycelyn Elders, because he had allegedly made threats to Jones’ wife. Microscopic hair comparison and other unreliable forensic science was also used to convict him. A state hair examiner testified – improperly – at trial that "in my experience as a hair examiner, the only times hairs have matched as they do with defendant have been when they were from the individual." Hairs should never be said to “match” one another; they should only be said to be consistent. Soil comparison and handwriting analysis were also used to connect Pitts to the crime. Neither of these disciplines follows a set of reliable standards, so findings and testimony can vary in every trial.

Whether Pitts is innocent or guilty, this case raises the issues of evidence preservation and improper/unvalidated forensic science. The Innocence Project advocates for law enforcement agencies to retain biological evidence from crime scenes as long as the defendant is incarcerated or under state supervision. And, as raised last week in the case of Innocence Project client Steven Barnes (another soil comparison case), we also support the establishment of national standards for forensic science to minimize the risk of improper or unvalidated science leading to wrongful convictions.

Read more about the Pitts case here. (Associated Press, 12/1/08)



Tags: Arkansas, Forensic Oversight, Evidence Preservation

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Troy Davis Case Back in Court

Posted: December 9, 2008 2:13 pm

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments today in the case of Troy Davis, who has been on Georgia’s death row for nearly two decades for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit. Davis has come within hours of execution three times before receiving a stay.

The federal appeals court today will hear arguments on Davis’ request for a new trial based on evidence of his innocence developed since his conviction.

Now Davis’ lawyers insist a new trial is needed because seven of nine witnesses have either recanted or are now uncertain of their testimony about MacPhail’s August 1989 murder in a Savannah Burger King parking lot. The lawyers have produced affidavits from witnesses who say they are no longer sure of what they saw that morning or say their testimony was a lie.

Read today’s full story here. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12/09/08)
Eyewitness identification testimony was the key evidence against Davis at trial, and this type of evidence has been shown to contribute to wrongful convictions. In this case, the Innocence Project and Innocence Network together filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the 11th Circuit Court pointing to the unreliability of eyewitness testimony.



Tags: Georgia

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Three Years of Freedom for Georgia Man

Posted: December 10, 2008 5:17 pm

Robert Clark spent nearly a quarter of a century in Georgia prisons for a rape he did not commit. Three years ago this week, he was exonerated and released from prison based on DNA testing proving that another man was the perpetrator. (Left, Clark on the day of his exoneration, with Innocence Project Staff Attorney Vanessa Potkin)

Since the day of his arrest, Clark maintained his innocence. He was arrested one week after a woman was abducted and raped in Atlanta. Clark was arrested after he was spotted driving the victim's car. He was initially not a suspect because he didn’t match the description of the perpetrator. The victim had said the attacker was 5’7”; Clark is 6’2”. He was included in a photo lineup and a subsequent live lineup, however, and the victim chose him as the perpetrator. Clark was the only person included in both the photo and live lineups.

During the trial, the victim testified there was no doubt in her mind Clark was her attacker, saying, "I will never forget the face, the skin color, and his voice." Clark said he had borrowed the car from his friend Tony Arnold, but police never followed the lead. Clark was convicted and sentenced to two life terms plus 20 years.

Twenty-one years after Clark was convicted, the Innocence Project was able to secure court-ordered DNA testing on biological evidence collected from the victim’s body after the attack. The test results showed that Clark could not have been a source of the sperm cells found on the victim. Furthermore, prosecutors searched state and federal DNA databases of convicted felons. The DNA profile taken from the rape kit matched Tony Arnold, who was serving time for an unrelated conviction. Upon Clark's exoneration, Arnold was charged with the rape for which Clark had been wrongfully convicted.

In 2007, Clark received $1.2 million in state compensation, in individual legislation written specifically for him. Georgia is still one of 25 states without a law compensating the wrongfully convicted upon release.

Today, Clark has a steady job, owns an apartment and says that support from his community and the Innocence Project Exoneree Fund helped him get on his feet: "People have been very supportive. They've donated money, gifts, sent letters. I appreciated that a lot. I say thank you and God bless you and show my appreciation by trying to do what is right."

Learn more about the Innocence Project’s proposed reforms to eyewitness identification procedures to prevent wrongful convictions like Robert Clark’s.

Watch a video interview with Clark here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Timothy Durham, Oklahoma (Served 3.5 years, Exonerated 1997)

Alejandro Hernandez, Illinois (Served 10.5 years, Exonerated 1995)

Richard Alexander, Indiana (Served 5.5 Years, Exonerated 2001)

Kerry Kotler, New York (Served 10.5 years, Exonerated 1992)

James O'Donnell, New York, (Served 2 Years, Exonerated 2000)

Marlon Pendleton, IL (Served 10 years, Exonerated 2006)

Billy James Smith, Texas (Served 19 Years, Exonerated 2006)

John Jerome White, Georgia (Served 10-22.5 Years, Exonerated 2007)

Nicholas Yarris, Pennsylvania, (Served 21.5 Years, Exonerated 2003)



Tags: Robert Clark

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Learning the Lessons of the Barnes Case

Posted: December 15, 2008 5:10 pm

Innocence Project client Steven Barnes spent nearly two decades behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit before DNA testing proved his innocence. He was released two days before Thanksgiving and he spent the holiday with his family for the first time in two decades.

Now that he’s free, New York lawmakers are considering reforms to ensure that wrongful convictions like his will never happen again. In an op-ed in yesterday’s Utica Observer-Dispatch, Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom wrote that there’s hope for passing critical reforms to prevent injustice in the state:

A comprehensive package of common-sense remedies proven to decrease the potential for wrongful convictions was seriously considered in the last legislative session in Albany – but like so many other bills was waylaid by the gubernatorial change.

The New York State Bar Association recognized the unmet need, however, and has convened a Blue Ribbon Task Force on Wrongful Convictions, which is expected to issue its recommendations soon. The Oneida County Bar Association, too, has demonstrated a strong commitment to learning from wrongful convictions in order to prevent them.

This year, the Legislature must pass reforms to increase the accuracy of the criminal justice system. The only thing worse than the injustice the Barnes family – as well as the victim’s family and the community – has endured would be a failure to learn the lessons of this miscarriage of justice and prevent it from happening again.

Read the full story here. (Utica Observer-Dispatch, 12/13/08)




Tags: Steven Barnes

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Connecticut Hearing Set for January

Posted: December 15, 2008 5:12 pm

A hearing is scheduled for January 5 in the case of Miguel Roman, a Connecticut Innocence Project client who is seeking to overturn his murder conviction based on DNA evidence proving that another man committed the crime. Roman has been in prison for nearly two decades for the crime DNA proves he didn’t commit. Prosecutors last week charged another man, Pedro Miranda, with the murder and two other killings.

Read the update here. (WTIC, 12/12/08)

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The Ripple Effects of the Madoff Scandal - and What We Can do to Help

Posted: December 16, 2008 4:12 pm

By Maddy deLone, Innocence Project Executive Director
Cross-Posted from Huffington Post

While many people are shocked by the news of Bernard Madoff's apparent Ponzi scheme affecting as much as $50 billion from a range of investors, Steven Barnes is focused on rebuilding his life and navigating a changed world.

Two days before Thanksgiving, Barnes was released from prison in Upstate New York after serving nearly 20 years for a rape and murder he didn't commit. He was freed when DNA testing, secured by the Innocence Project, proved his innocence. Since then, he has spent time with friends and family - particularly his mother, Sylvia, who woke up every day for two decades focused on securing her son's freedom.

The Innocence Project spent nearly $20,000 for the DNA testing that led to Barnes' release. We represented him for several years, spending tens of thousands of dollars in attorney salaries and fees associated with his case. As in all of our work, we were able to fight for Steven Barnes with the support of dedicated individuals and foundations. This week, we learned that one of our important supporters, the venerable JEHT Foundation, is suspending grant-making and closing it doors. Madoff managed the finances of the family who funded JEHT, so the family no longer has money for the foundation to distribute.

The roster of organizations supported by the JEHT Foundation is long and impressive. The Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights and dozens of other vital organizations are losing a critical source of support.

In a time when many wonder what the public can do to help address the national economic uncertainty, the Madoff scandal brings at least part of the answer: Donate today to organizations that are losing critical support as a result of this scandal. You can click here to donate to the Innocence Project; all donations this month will be matched, dollar for dollar, by other supporters. Click here to find other nonprofit organizations impacted by Madoff, and go to one or more of those organizations' websites to donate today.

For our part, the Innocence Project will continue building on our successes. Obviously, the loss of a foundation that supported us so generously will hurt us, but it's not catastrophic. The JEHT Foundation's great legacy is that it helped the Innocence Project and other organizations become more self-sufficient; over the last four years, the foundation focused on helping us diversify our base of donors so that we draw support from more individuals and other foundations. Now, in the midst of the critical holiday fundraising season, we are optimistic that even more individual donors will step up and help us move forward.

That's what each of us can do -- not just to offset the losses of the Madoff scandal, but to make sure that other innocent people like Steven Barnes do not spend another holiday in prison for crimes they didn't commit.

You can comment on this post at HuffingtonPost.com.


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Connecticut Man Could Be Freed Friday

Posted: December 17, 2008 3:20 am

Miguel Roman has been in Connecticut prison for two decades for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit. DNA testing conducted in his case earlier this year pointed to his innocence, and implicated another man – Pedro Miranda – who has now been charged with this murder and two others.

Roman has a hearing scheduled for Friday in Hartford, where his lawyers from the Connecticut Innocence Project will argue that his conviction should be tossed out based on the DNA evidence. His family said they hoped he would be freed.

"He's been through a lot, the 20 years that he did," Rafael Otero, Roman's nephew, said outside Superior Court in Hartford Tuesday afternoon.

"We're anxious to see him."

Read the full story here. (Hartford Courant, 12/17/08)


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Six Years Later: The Central Park Jogger Case

Posted: December 22, 2008 2:05 pm

In 2002, a New York judge tossed out the convictions of five men who had been convicted as teenagers of an infamous sexual assault they didn’t commit. The ‘Central Park Jogger’ case was thrust back into headlines, this time because five young men had been cleared by DNA testing. Friday marked the sixth anniversary of their exonerations.

Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise were between the ages of 14 and 16 when they were arrested in connections with this crime. After hours of interrogation in which the teens were told that the others had implicated them, four of the defendants gave videotaped confessions.

Biological evidence played a role in the trial. A hair found on Richardson was said to "resemble" the victim's hair. Since the prosecution had little physical evidence, they relied on the taped confessions to attempt to establish the defendants’ guilt.  Despite glaring inconsistencies between the confessions, all five teens were convicted. Wise, the oldest at 16 years old, was the only one tried as an adult.

In 2002, Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and rapist, confessed to the crime and said he had acted alone. While the police had Reyes’ name on file during the investigation, they did not connect him to the Central Park Jogger case. Following Reyes's confession, DNA tests were performed on semen from the rape kit and hairs found on the victim. The test results showed that Reyes's DNA profile matched both the hair and semen. On December 19, 2002, McCray, Richardson, Salaam, Santana and Wise were exonerated. The four men convicted as juveniles had each served nearly six years in prison before their release on parole; Wise was freed after the DNA results came back. He had served nearly 12 years.

Wrongful convictions affect young people more than any other group.

More than one third of DNA exonerees were arrested before their 22nd birthday, and young people are particularly susceptible to giving false confessions. To explore photos and videos of young people convicted of crimes they didn’t commit, and to build a school paper or presentation, visit the Innocence Project’s '947 Years' website.

Other Exoneree Anniversaries Last Week:

Clyde Charles, Louisiana (Served 17 Years, Exonerated, 1999)

McKinely Cromedy, New Jersey (Served 5 Years, Exonerated 1999)

Clarence Elkins, Ohio (Served 6.5 Years, Exonerated 2005)

John Kogut, New York (Served 17 years, Exonerated 2005)

Larry Mayes, Indiana (Served 18.5 Years, Exonerated 2001)

Billy Wayne Miller, Texas (Served 22 Years, Exonerated 2006)

Frank Lee Smith, Florida (Served 14 Years, Exonerated 2000)

 



Tags: Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise

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Three Years Later, Virginia Case Review Goes On

Posted: December 24, 2008 12:02 pm

Three years ago this week, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner pardoned two former state prisoners, announcing that a random audit of 10 percent of cases in the files of a former analyst had led to DNA tests that proved the innocence of Phillip Thurman and Willie Davidson.

The sequence of events leading to the audit, and the exoneration of Thurman and Davidson, was sparked by an Innocence Project case in 2001. That year, attorneys at the Innocence Project obtained DNA testing in the case of Virginia inmate Marvin Anderson, who had been convicted of rape in 1982. Evidence from Anderson’s case, thought to have been lost, had been located in the notebook of Mary Jane Burton, who performed conventional serology testing in Anderson’s case. The DNA test proved that Anderson could not have committed the rape for which he was convicted. In 2003 and 2004, evidence saved by Burton was instrumental in proving the innocence of Virginia inmates Julius Earl Ruffin and Arthur Lee Whitfield.

Burton’s unusual practice of saving evidence in her notebooks has now contributed to five exonerations in all, and Warner ordered a full review of her case files after the exonerations of Thurman and Davidson in 2005. The review is ongoing, read an update on the progress from a post on the Innocence Blog in August.

Other Exoneration Anniversaries This Week:

Dwayne Scruggs, Indiana (Served 7.5 Years, Exonerated 12/22/1993)

Entre Nax Karage, Texas (Served 6.5 Years, Exonerated 12/22/2005)

Keith Turner, Texas (Served 4 Years, Exonerated 12/22/2005)

 

 



Tags: Marvin Anderson, Willie Davidson, Phillip Leon Thurman

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Two Connecticut Men Seek New Trial Based on DNA and Other Evidence

Posted: January 7, 2009

Ronald Taylor and George Gould are currently serving 80 years for the 1993 murder of a local shop owner. Both men have always maintained that they did not commit the crime, and new DNA evidence secured by an unlikely source may help them get a new trial.

Taylor and Gould were both found guilty of murdering Eugenio Vega DeLeon 15 years ago. They were convicted largely based on eyewitness testimony and other circumstantial evidence. The men are currently waiting for a judge to decide whether they should get a new trial.

A private investigator hired by the public defender's office says that DNA found on an electrical cord used to tie the victim's hands together matches neither Taylor nor Gould. Despite the fact that this testing was done in 2006, New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington's office has yet to run the DNA profile from the cord in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) databank – which could identify who actually committed the murder. In nearly 40% of DNA exoneration cases nationwide, the actual perpetrator was later identified, often through DNA database searches.

The man who helped secure the DNA testing on the cord, Gerald O'Donnell, is a former Cheshire police officer who previously did work for Dearington's office. Over the course of three years, O'Donnell has compiled a thorough report that supports Taylor's and Gould's case; among his findings:

  • fingerprints found on the door handle of a safe in the victim’s store (where he was killed) are not Gould’s or Taylor’s, and police are now either unable or unwilling to locate the fingerprints for new analysis,
  • the state's main witness now admits in a taped interview that she lied at trial because police were threatening to send her to jail, and
  • another witness recanted her testimony, now saying that she was pressured by police to say she saw two black men in the victim's store.
Gould and Taylor served time on the same cellblock as Miguel Roman, who was released from prison a couple of weeks ago when DNA testing supported his claim of innocence.

Read the full story here. (Hartford Courant, 1/4/09)

Read more about Miguel Roman’s case.

Read more about James Tillman, who was exonerated through DNA testing in Connecticut in 2006.



Tags: Connecticut, James Tillman, Eyewitness Misidentification, DNA Databases, Fingerprints

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Hearing Tomorrow Could Exonerate Steve Barnes of All Charges

Posted: January 8, 2009 2:30 pm

After serving nearly 20 years in prison for a rape and murder he didn't commit, Innocence Project client Steven Barnes may be fully exonerated tomorrow. Barnes and Innocence Project Staff Attorney Alba Morales will appear in Oneida County court tomorrow in Utica.

Barnes was released from prison in late November after DNA testing showed he is innocent. His conviction was vacated, but the indictment against him was not dismissed, meaning he could be retried for the crime at any time. The Oneida County District Attorney’s Office, with cooperation from the Innocence Project, has been reinvestigating the case since Barnes was released. 

If the indictment against Barnes is dismissed, he will become the 227th person exonerated by DNA evidence.

Barnes' conviction is just one example of how improper or invalid forensic science can lead to wrongful convictions. His conviction was largely based on unvalidated forensic science, including soil comparison and analysis of an imprint allegedly left on the outside of Barnes’ truck by the victim’s jeans. He was found guilty of second-degree murder, rape and sodomy of a teenage girl 1985. However, test results conducted last year on materials collected from the victim’s body and clothing did not match Barnes, which led to his release from prison in November and tomorrow’s hearing that may exonerate him officially.

We’ll post more on the blog tomorrow after the hearing.

Read more on the Barnes case on the Innocence Blog.

Today’s news coverage of Barnes’ case:

Utica Observer Dispatch: Barnes’ charges to be dismissed Friday in teen's '85 murder

WKTV: Friday hearing could exonerate Steven Barnes for 1985 rape and murder




Tags: New York, Forensic Oversight, Steven Barnes

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Louisiana Exoneree Will Be Missed

Posted: January 12, 2009 5:07 pm

Clyde Charles, a Louisiana man who served nearly two decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit before DNA testing proved him innocent in 1999, died last week at the age of 55. He left behind several brothers and sisters who fought for his freedom.

Charles, who is African-American, was 27 years old when he was arrested in Houma, Louisiana, for allegedly raping a white woman. He was tried a year later by an all-white jury. The prosecution presented the victim’s eyewitness identification of him as the attacker (which occurred while she was in the hospital and police brought Charles to her bedside in handcuffs), and the testimony of a lab analyst that two Caucasian hairs found on Charles’ clothing were “similar” to the victim’s hairs. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

The Innocence Project took on his case in 1999 and obtained post-conviction DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene. The results proved that Charles could not have committed the crime and he was freed. Sadly, he only enjoyed eight years of freedom before he passed away at his home last week.

His sister Lois Charles Hill, who worked for Charles’ freedom from the day of his arrest, said although he was released from Angola in 1999, it was last week that he became truly free.

“This week, it’s about my brother, and all I can say is that a man set free after serving 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, on January 7, became truly free indeed,” Hill said.

“I have no regrets. Two weeks ago while visiting my brother at his home, while talking, Clyde looked at me and said, ‘Lois, I know what you did for me. I know you stood beside me when many people had fell along the way, and that made me feel real good. You can’t buy that kind of love.’ I have my brother’s love, and that is the best gift I have ever received,” Hill said.
The family will hold a memorial service in Charles’ memory on Saturday. Read more here.

The Innocence Project mourns his loss.





Tags: Clyde Charles

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Friday Roundup: Reviewing Forensics

Posted: January 16, 2009 5:29 pm

Here are some stories of innocence and reform we couldn’t get to on the Innocence Blog this week:

The Baltimore Police Department has refused to release a report detailing problems with DNA testing at its troubled crime lab, according to the Baltimore Sun. Investigators discovered last year that lab employees had not entered their own DNA samples into a control database, meaning that test results from the lab could have been contaminated without detection. "To say this report would compromise an ongoing criminal investigation, that's ridiculous," said Michele Nethercott, director of the Innocence Project in Maryland, which works to exonerate wrongly convicted people. "Since the lab operates on public funds, the public should be entitled to some accountability about how it operates."

In December, the Innocence Project filed a formal allegation with the Maryland State Police requesting a thorough investigation of negligence at the Baltimore crime lab.

A task force will review nearly 1,000 convictions involving fingerprint analysis at the Los Angeles Police Department crime lab, after the lab falsely implicated at least two people due to faulty fingerprint comparison. Efforts to reform the lab are moving slowly, officials say, because the department needs $500,000 to review practices and protocols in the 80-person fingerprint unit.

The New Orleans Police Department opened a new evidence storage facility this week, responding to a report which raised serious problems with temporary trailers used as vaults since Hurricane Katrina destroyed the department’s facilities in 2005. The hurricane destroyed evidence from thousands of cases, including some biological samples that could have exonerated wrongfully convicted inmates. But the problem wasn’t solved after the storm, as the department moved salvaged evidence into cluttered, unsecured trailers.

An article in the Denver Post recaps the last year in the life of Tim Masters, who spent a decade in Colorado prison for a murder he always said he didn’t commit. He was freed in January 2008 after DNA tests indicated that he had nothing to do with the crime. On adjusting to life outside of prison, Masters says: "In prison, I battled to maintain my sanity by just not thinking of what had happened to me, where I was and what the future might hold. As a free man, I no longer want to go through life like that. This is both good and bad. The good part is I am aware of people and my surroundings. The bad part is I am also well aware of what I've lost."

A new television series called “Dallas DNA” will take viewers behind the scenes in the Dallas District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which works to review past cases in which new evidence could possibly overturn a wrongful conviction.

An article in Scientific American examines ways in which the mechanics of evolution are useful in our daily lives – and cites forensic DNA testing as an example.



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Friday Roundup: Identification, Videotapes and Crime Labs

Posted: January 23, 2009 5:10 pm

In a week that saw a new U.S. President take office, criminal justice reform was in the air, from Georgia to Texas and New York to Denver.

Last week that the Dallas Police Department announced that it will improve the way it conducts lineups, and an editorial in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times urged all police departments in Texas to follow Dallas’ lead and begin using double-blind sequential lineups, which are proven to reduce misidentifications.

As we reported on Wednesday, the organization that trains Georgia’s police officers will be expanding its identification trainings this year.

Officials in Suffolk and Nassau Counties in New York have announced that they will begin videotaping all custodial interrogations in homicide and serious robbery cases. They will join 15 other counties in the state and more than 500 jurisdictions nationwide that routinely tape interrogations.

In crime lab news, Illinois officials pledged to cooperate with each other on reducing the state’s backlog of 1,230 cases awaiting blood tests. And prosecutors in Colorado support a new bill aiming to limit the reach of a law passed last year requiring law enforcement agencies to preserve crime scene evidence.

We reported yesterday on appeals by the Innocence Project and Texas attorneys to delay Larry Swearingen’s execution in Texas until proper DNA testing can be conducted. Another death row inmate, Charles Raby, is seeking a new trial based on DNA evidence that he says proves his innocence.

Kirk Bloodsworth, who was exonerated in 1993 with the Innocence Project’s help, served eight years behind bars – much of it on death row – for a murder he didn’t commit. He told an audience at Utah State University this week about the struggle to survive in prison and his life after exoneration.

A Washington state man spoke out this week about spending 11 months in jail awaiting trial for a murder he didn’t commit. Glenn Proctor was misidentified by an eyewitness and arrested for a shooting last January; he waited nearly a year before he was cleared by forensic evidence. His case highlights how lives are disrupted and police investigations derailed by misidentifications, even in cases that never become a wrongful conviction.

The Innocence Project Northwest, based at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, announced this week that it had founded the new Integrity of Justice Project with a gift from the RiverStyx Foundation. “The IJP will work to foster a collaborative partnership among prosecutors, law enforcement, defense lawyers, the courts, and others to identify best practices and procedures that can improve the accuracy of determinations of guilt or innocence,” wrote clinical director Deborah Maranville.





Tags: Kirk Bloodsworth, False Confessions, Evidence Preservation

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The Shortcomings of Limited Science

Posted: January 26, 2009 2:03 pm

The Nebraska Pardons Board is hearing testimony today in the case of the “Beatrice Six” – three men and three women who were convicted of a murder committed by another man. Joseph White has already been completely exonerated by DNA testing, but his five co-defendants are seeking state pardons to clear their names. The Nebraska Attorney General is asking today for the state to grant their pardons and let them get on with their lives.

An article in today’s Omaha World-Herald details the case and explores how limited science and faulty analysis led authorities to ignore the real perpetrator and focus on six innocent people. Serological testing conducted in Nebraska before Joseph White’s trial was misinterpreted by analysts in the Nebraska State Patrol lab, and blood testing on a potential suspect in Oklahoma was botched or falsified by analyst Joyce Gilchrist (whose misconduct has contributed to at least four wrongful convictions).

The most common DNA profile would show up once in group of 250 billion people. Results often reach into numbers that are hard to fathom, like quadrillions or quintillions.

With serology, results are more common. If 10,000 people were in a stadium, it's possible that 10 to 100 could match one another under the older testing system.
Testing on mixed or degraded samples yielded even less definitive results.

For this reason, defendants in nearly half of all exoneration cases nationwide — like several of the six men and women convicted in the Beatrice woman's death — were included as suspects by forensic serology but later excluded when the same materials were tested for DNA.

"In a lot of the cases, the serology testimony was scientifically valid and was accurate," said Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, a New York-based group that helps win reversals of wrongful convictions. "The problem was that it wasn't sufficiently discriminating. In other words, you can't exclude most of the population."

Read the full story here. (Omaha World-Herald, 01/26/09)
Read more about the case – and today’s pardon requests – in this report from ABC News





Tags: Joseph White

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Five Pardoned in Nebraska

Posted: January 26, 2009 6:10 pm

Updating our post earlier today on the “Beatrice Six” case – the Nebraska Board of Pardons granted pardons this afternoon to Thomas Winslow, Ada Taylor, Debra Shelden, Kathy Gonzalez and James Dean. The sixth person wrongfully convicted of this murder was Joseph White, who was fully exonerated in late 2008.

White, Winslow, Taylor, Shelden, Gonzalez and Dean are the first six people to be exonerated by DNA testing in Nebraska history. There have now been 232 people exonerated by DNA testing nationwide in 33 states.
 
Read more: Five Pardoned After Wrongful Conviction in Neb. Crime (Associated Press, 01/26/2009)



Tags: James Dean, Kathy Gonzalez, Debra Shelden, Ada Taylor, Joseph White, Thomas Winslow

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Lab Backlogs Continue to Pile Up

Posted: January 29, 2009 3:38 pm

Many crime labs around the United States are suffering under substantial backlogs, and the budget crises in most states aren’t making things any better. While the federal stimulus package approved by the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday included $4 billion to support state and local law enforcement, it is unclear how much of that money will make its way to forensic labs.

Backlogs hinder law enforcement agencies in investigating crime and they can lead to testing errors and problems with evidence storage and preservation. Here are some of the issues facing labs today around the country:

Minneapolis officials, facing a budget shortfall, said recently they may cut crime lab funding.

A review of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Crime Lab has revealed that evidence in more than 800 unsolved rape and sexual assault cases has gone untested due to a massive backlog there. Testing evidence quickly is important because it can help investigators identify a suspect – and can help avoid wrongful accusation and conviction of the innocent.

Earlier this year, the Arizona State Crime Lab began charging local jurisdictions to conduct DNA testing in criminal investigations, and at least one city has begun to challenge the fees.

The Wisconsin Attorney General called the state’s backlog “monstrous” and said eliminating the lag would take existing analysts 20 months.





Tags: Forensic Oversight, Crime Lab Backlogs

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Do False Confessions Contribute to Misidentifications?

Posted: January 29, 2009 4:21 pm

A new study has found a link between false confessions and the confidence in incorrect identifications made by eyewitnesses. The study, conducted by psychologists at Iowa State University and John Jay College and published in the January issue of Psychological Science, found that the eyewitnesses became more confident in their identification when they learned that someone confessed to the crime.

The study was conducted by staging a fake crime in front of students in a university laboratory:

At some point, a person walked in, picked up a laptop from the desk, and walked out of the room. A few minutes later, the research assistant entered the room and announced, with obvious distress, that her laptop was missing. The group of students were the eyewitnesses and were asked to help solve the crime. The students were first asked to identify the thief from a line-up (however, unbeknownst to them, the actual thief was not in the lineup) and rate the confidence of their answers. The students returned two days later, to continue helping with the investigation. When they returned, they were told either that all of the suspects denied involvement or that a specific suspect confessed to the crime. The students were then to reconsider their original identification and rate how confident they were.

The vast majority of study volunteers identified an innocent man as the criminal, and many did so with confidence. That's disturbing in itself, but it gets worse. While few were persuaded by claims of innocence - that happens all the time - a disturbing number changed their mind when a suspect confessed. An astonishing 60 percent who had fingered one suspect flip-flopped when a different man confessed. Even those who had been very sure of their original identification experienced a steep drop in confidence. When asked to explain their change of heart, most said they had been mistaken earlier, that their memories had fooled them.

Read more here. (Science Daily, 01/29/2009)





Tags: False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification, False Confessions, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Suspect in Georgia Exoneration Case Will Not Be Tried

Posted: February 2, 2009 3:50 pm

Willie “Pete” Williams was cleared nearly two years ago in Georgia after serving more than 21 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. When Williams – a client of the Georgia Innocence Project – was freed, prosecutors said the DNA profile that proved Williams’ innocence also pointed to another man – Kenneth Wicker – as the perpetrator of the rape. Wicker pled guilty to similar attacks around the time of the rape for which Williams was convicted. But now he’s free and will not be tried for the crime, after prosecutors decided to drop charges against him.

The victim in the case refuses to testify again – and still believes Williams is guilty – and prosecutors say they are unable to move forward without her identification of Wicker.

Another prosecutor interviewed by the Atlanta Journal Constitution disagrees, saying jurors will understand that eyewitness misidentifications are common and that know how to weigh an unreliable identification against strong scientific evidence.

Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck said the prosecutor should act on such strong evidence.

“He thinks he’s letting a serial rapist go? That’s outrageous,” Scheck said. “Tell that to the next victim.”

Read the full story here. (Atlanta Journal Constitution, 02/01/09)
 



Tags: Willie Williams

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Five Years Free, Darryl Hunt Speaks Out for Justice

Posted: February 6, 2009 4:50 pm

Five years ago today, Darryl Hunt was freed from prison after serving nearly two decades in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. He was convicted twice of the crime, and it took ten years to gain his freedom after DNA testing proved his innocence. Hunt’s original trial attorney, Mark Rabil, worked on the case for 20 years, never giving up until he saw Hunt walk free.

A feature documentary about his case, “The Trials of Darryl Hunt,” follows his 20-year legal battle and explores the causes of the injustice he suffered. It’s a must-see for anyone interested in the issue of wrongful convictions.

Today, Hunt is the director of the Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice, which support exonerated individuals and works for criminal justice reform.

He speaks frequently about his case to audiences around the world. On Sunday, he’ll be speaking at the Congregational United Church of Christ in High Point, North Carolina.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:


Monday:
David Pope, Texas (Served 15 Years, Exonerated 2001)

Stephan Cowans, Massachusetts (Served 5.5 Years, Exonerated 2004)

Today:
Chris Ochoa and Richard Danziger, Texas (Served 11 Years, Exonerated 2002)





Tags: Darryl Hunt

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Seven Years Free and Speaking Out

Posted: February 10, 2009 4:09 pm



It was seven years ago Saturday when Bruce Godschalk walked out of a Pennsylvania prison, finally free after serving nearly 15 years for a rape that DNA proves he didn’t commit. After a composite sketch led police to identify Godschalk as a suspect in a 1986 rape, they interrogated him for hours on end. The interview ended with an audiotaped confessions from Godschalk, including facts about the crime not know to the public.

Later, Godschalk would say that the facts were fed to him during the interview, and that he simply repeated information from police in order to get the interrogation to end. Godschalk fought for several years for DNA testing that could prove his innocence. When he finally obtained testing with the help of the Innocence Project in 2001, police said they had already sent evidence to a lab without the consent of the Innocence Project, that the tests had consumed all of the available evidence, and that the results were inconclusive. This was not true, however, and biological evidence that had previously been declared lost was turned over by police to the crime lab. The results proved Godschalk’s innocence and he was freed.

Since his release, Godschalk has been active in working to promote criminal justice reforms around the country. Late last year, he joined Innocence Project Policy Analyst Rebecca Brown at the National Youth Leadership Forum conference.
Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Sunday: Anthony Gray, Maryland (Served 7 Years, Exonerated 1999)

Monday: Donte Booker, Ohio (Served 15 Years, Exonerated 2005)

Lesly Jean, North Carolina (Served 9 Years, Exonerated 2001)




Tags: Donte Booker, Bruce Godschalk, David A. Gray, Lesly Jean

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Friday Roundup: Spreading the Word

Posted: February 13, 2009 5:31 pm

Our friends around the web were helping us spread the word this week about wrongful convictions. Hundreds of new members joined the Innocence Project online community to get email newsletters, action alerts and breaking news updates and they are inviting hundreds more to join them. You can invite a friend here.

Meanwhile, the Overbrook Foundation, an Innocence Project supporter, was blogging about our upcoming case before the Supreme Court. And our community is growing on Facebook and Twitter. Come join us.

Now on to the news of the week:

The Mississippi State House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow death row prisoners the right to post-conviction DNA testing. The bill now moves on to the State Senate.

On our homepage today is the story of Betty Anne Waters, who put herself through college and law school to fight for her brother’s exoneration. A feature film starring Hillary Swank as Betty Anne is currently in production. Read more.

Rick Casey wrote in the Houston Chronicle that the forensic science report expected soon from the National Academy of Sciences could show that the rest of the country suffers from the crime lab problems Houston experienced over the last decade. “Crime labs too often produce not science but science fiction,” Casey wrote, adding that he hopes the report will spark reform on the ground in Texas.

This week was the 22nd anniversary of the murder of Peggy Hettrick in Colorado, a crime for which Tim Masters was wrongfully convicted and spent nearly a decade in prison. The Fort Collins Coloradan this week obtained the transcripts of interviews conducted with former prosecutors by regulators who would eventually discipline them. Former Prosecutor Terence Gilmore said he believes the murder will never be solved.

Boston Phoenix reporter David S. Bernstein was named the New England Press Association Journalist of the Year and won another award for his investigative work on the wrongful conviction of Stephan Cowans in Boston.

And North Carolina Exoneree Darryl Hunt spoke to students at Campbell University Law School.



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Nine Years Free

Posted: February 20, 2009 5:31 pm

Wednesday marked the ninth anniversary of Herman Atkins’ exoneration in California. After serving nearly 12 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit, Atkins was freed on February 18, 2000 based on DNA testing proving his innocence.

He was wrongfully convicted of 1988 of a robbery and rape. After the crime in the spring of 1986, the victim was taken to the police station and shown several photos in an identification procedure. She did not identify anyone, but saw a photo of Atkins elsewhere in the station. After identifying the other photo, the victim was shown a photo lineup including Atkins and identified him again.

Since his exoneration, Atkins has graduated from college and gotten married. He and his wife, Machara, have started the Life Interventions for Exonerees foundation to help exonerees get back on their feet after their release. This week, LIFE launched its new website, at www.exonereelife.org. Atkins wrote last year on the Innocence Blog about why he and Machara founded the Life Foundation.

Other Exoneration Anniversaries This Week:

Wednesday: Peter Rose, California (Served 8 years, Exonerated (2/18/05)





Tags: Herman Atkins

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Live Webcast Today: Exonerees and the Supreme Court

Posted: February 26, 2009 10:54 am

Today’s Innocence Project event in Washington, D.C., featuring exonerees, legal experts and others directly affected by wrongful conviction, will be broadcast live on the web at 12:30 p.m. EST here. Tune in, and follow our live tweets at www.twitter.com/innocenceblog

If you're in the D.C. area, head over to today's event - it's free and won't be one you soon forget.

Speakers at today's event include:

Marvin Anderson, who served 15 years in prison for crimes he didn’t commit. He was exonerated with DNA testing in 2002 – becoming the first person in Virginia exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing.

Rickie Johnson, who served 25 years at Louisiana’s notorious Angola Farm Penitentiary for a 1982 rape he didn’t commit. Johnson was exonerated in 2008 after the Sabine Parish District Attorney quickly agreed to DNA testing in his case.

Dennis Fritz, who was convicted of murder in Oklahoma and served 11 years in prison before DNA testing exonerated him in 1999. The wrongful convictions of Fritz and his co-defendant, Ron Williamson, are the subject of John Grisham’s best-selling nonfiction book, “The Innocent Man.”

Michele Mallin, who was brutally raped in 1985 when she was a 20-year-old sophomore at Texas Tech. She was the fifth victim of a serial rapist on campus, and she identified Timothy Cole as her assailant. Cole was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison. In 1999, Cole died in prison at the age of 39. Last year, Mallin learned about evidence of Cole’s innocence and joined his family in an effort to exonerate him posthumously. Mallin testified at an unprecedented hearing in Austin earlier this month, where a judge recommended throwing out Cole’s conviction.

Det. Jim Trainum, a 25-year veteran of the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police Department who oversees the department’s Violent Crime Case Review Project, reviewing “cold cases.” Trainum, who handles murder cases, obtained a false confession from an innocent suspect several years ago and now educates fellow police officers and others about wrongful convictions.

David Rudovsky, one of the nation’s leading authorities on post-conviction remedies under federal law. Rudovsky is a Senior Fellow at University of Pennsylvania Law School and has written scholarly articles and litigation-related books on criminal law, constitutional criminal procedure and evidence. He recently presented about the Osborne case to a National Institute of Justice conference.

They will be joined by several other people exonerated through DNA testing and other leading attorneys in the field. The event is sponsored by Georgetown’s Office of Public Interest and Community Service, the Innocence Project and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project.

Read more about the Osborne case.

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Nebraska Legislature Considers Exoneree Compensation

Posted: March 4, 2009 5:08 pm

Nebraska lawmakers today voted to grant preliminary approval to a bill that would compensate wrongfully convicted people upon their release and provide them with state services to help them rebuild their lives. The bill, introduced by State Sen. Kent Rogert, will provide at least $25,000 for each year a person spends in prison for a crime he or she didn’t commit.

The state’s unicameral legislature voted 37-6 to give first-round approval to the bill. It will come up for debate twice more before being sent to the governor for his signature.

In February, three recent Nebraska exonerees gave emotional testimony before lawmakers on the years they had lost for a crime they didn’t commit. Six people – known as the “Beatrice Six” – were cleared of murder last year of a 1985 murder in Beatice, Nebraska. They were the first DNA exonerees in Nebraska history.

Joseph White, who served nearly two decades before his exoneration last year, spoke about the one-year-old son he left behind when he was wrongfully imprisoned in 1989.

“I can’t get back the time with him,” (White) said, holding up a photo of his son as a baby and another of him today at 21. “I can’t go back and teach my boy to ride a bicycle or drive a car.”
Innocence Project Policy Analyst Rebecca Brown also spoke, describing for lawmakers how policies in other states around the country have helped exonerees create new lives after release.

Read more about today’s vote here
.

Does your state have an exoneree compensation law? Find out on our interactive map.





Tags: James Dean, Kathy Gonzalez, Debra Shelden, Ada Taylor, Joseph White, Thomas Winslow

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Friday Roundup: Fighting for Freedom

Posted: March 6, 2009 6:00 pm

News from around the country that we didn't get to on the Innocence Blog this week:

An Ohio man could be freed as early as Tuesday, nearly 25 years after being convicted of a rape DNA now proves he didn’t commit. A joint project between the Ohio Innocence Project and the Columbus Dispatch led to DNA testing in the case of Joseph R. Fears, Jr., who was convicted of an Ohio rape in 1984. A judge today called for a hearing in his case Tuesday. Stayed tuned to the Innocence Blog for developments.

Innocence Project Staff Attorney Craig Cooley argued this week in a Pennsylvania court for DNA testing in the case of client Robert Conway.
A federal judge in California said Bruce Lisker was wrongfully convicted of stabbing his mother in 1983 and should be set free or retried.

The Innocence Project of Florida is seeking a new trial on behalf of Billy Joe Holton after DNA results in the case excluded him as a possible contributor of evidence at the crime scene.

And a Detroit man who has spent 36 years in prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit is seeking a new trial with the help of Proving Innocence and the Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted.
The systemic failures that caused many of these wrongful convictions are still present today and continuing to cause injustice. Exonerees, organizations and lawmakers were working this week to fix the system:
An editorial in Colorado called on lawmakers to protect the advances they made last year on the preservation of DNA evidence.

The Pennsylvania Innocence Project has officially opened its doors at Temple University School of Law – filling a crucial need in planning to handle wrongful conviction cases in the state.
Just 16 days after he was released from prison, Joshua Kezer told an audience at the University of Missouri about his wrongful conviction and release. He was joined by exoneree Dennis Fritz.

Recent exoneree William Dillon will speak tomorrow in Florida.

New York DNA Exoneree Steven Barnes began this week working for Oneida County Workforce Development, helping released prisoners find work and housing. He told WKTV that “to come out into the community and try to get out on the right foot sometimes...you need assistance and help."
 



Tags: William Dillon, Dennis Fritz, Evidence Preservation

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Innocence Project Report Points to Failures in Forensic Oversight

Posted: March 11, 2009 4:52 pm

An 84-page report released today by the Innocence Project finds that the U.S. Department of Justice is failing to ensure that forensic negligence and misconduct are properly investigated. Nearly five years ago, Congress passed legislation to improve forensic oversight, but today’s report shows that the federal government’s poor management of the program has kept serious problems in crime labs across the country from being addressed.

Read the executive summary and download the full report here.

Over the last five years, all 50 states have received federal forensic funds and nearly $100 million has been dispersed in all, but the Department of Justice has not enforced the oversight requirement. Including in today’s report is an Innocence Project survey of more than 256 relationships between applicants for funding and their designated oversight entities, finding that only 13% of them meet the requirements of the federal law.

The report goes on to outline steps the Obama Administration can take to fix the problem, including:

• Provide better guidance to applicants about what qualifies as an “independent external government entity” and an “appropriate process” for conducting investigations under the Coverdell program’s forensic oversight requirements.

• Require applicants to specifically certify that the oversight entity knows it has been designated to receive allegations and handle investigations, articulating how the entity is independent and external, and spelling out the process the entity would use to conduct an investigation.

• Make it easier for forensic employees, criminal justice practitioners and members of the public to file allegations of forensic negligence or misconduct under the Coverdell program.

• Make sure labs are referring allegations to their investigative entities.

• Monitor thoroughness and independence of investigations.

• Withhold funding when the requirements aren’t met — but only after giving Coverdell grant recipients the guidance, information and time they need to comply with the requirements.
Click here for today’s press release and to download the executive summary or the full report.



Tags: Forensic Oversight

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Friday Roundup: Cases from Florida to Ontario

Posted: March 13, 2009 5:39 pm

We wrote this week about the exoneration of Joseph Fears, Jr., in Ohio. Fears, a client of the Ohio Innocence Project, was reunited with his family after a quarter-century and became the 234th person exonerated by DNA testing in the United States. Meanwhile, other wrongful convictions and arrests were being overturned from Florida to Ontario.

In Tampa, bank robbery charges were dropped against Kenneth Robinson after he spent four months in jail awaiting a trial for a crime spree that DNA now proves he wasn’t involved in. Defense attorneys said his case shows how easily the wrong person can be accused – and the danger of wrongful conviction, especially since experts say only 5-10% of criminal cases involve DNA evidence.

Tammy Marquardt was freed from a Canadian prison after serving 14 years for the murder of her child, a crime she has always said she didn’t commit. Marquardt was convicted based in part on the testimony of Dr. Charles Smith, a pediatric forensic pathologist whose testimony contributed to several convictions that were later overturned based on evidence of innocence.

A federal court threw out the Alabama murder conviction of Earl Jerome McGahee because of an “astonishing pattern” of discrimination that led to an all-white jury at the 1986 trial of McGahee, who is black. Of 66 possible jurors, 24 were black. All 24 were eliminated during jury selection.

Lawyers are seeking a new trial for Davontae Sanford, a developmentally disabled 16-year-old boy who lawyers say was coerced into confessing to four murders he didn’t commit. Another man has taken responsibility for the murders.

Harris County (Texas) District Attorney Pat Lykos released a report this week on the wrongful conviction and exoneration of Ricardo Rachell, which she said was caused by a “cascading, system-wide breakdown.”
Exonerated individuals continued speaking around the country this week in support of reforms to prevent the injustice they suffered from happening to anyone else.
New York exoneree Jeffrey Deskovic spoke to students at Fulton-Montgomery Community College about his case and his advocacy efforts. Deskovic will speak at a free public event in Brooklyn, New York, on March 23.

Two people exonerated from Illinois death row spoke at a rally yesterday gainst capital punishment inside the state capitol. The rally marked 10 years since the last time a person was executed in Illinois. Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions in Illinois in 2000.

Florida exoneree William Dillon, who served 26 years for a murder he didn’t commit, gave his first public speech since being released and exonerated in November.
 



Tags: Jeff Deskovic, William Dillon

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Eight Years Later, an Exoneration Case Approaches the Spotlight

Posted: March 16, 2009 10:06 am

Eight years ago today, Kenneth Waters walked out of a Massachusetts prison a free man after serving 18 years for a crime he didn’t commit. He was wrongfully convicted in 1983 based in part on false testimony from informants. Although fingerprints collected from the victim’s house did not match Waters, police did not share this information with prosecutors or defense attorneys. Waters was sentenced to life in prison and would serve nearly two decades before DNA proved his innocence. Sadly, he died in an accident just six months after his release.

It has been eight years since Waters was freed, but his case is about to get a new wave of attention. A film about his wrongful conviction and his sister Betty Anne Waters’ fight to free him is currently in production. Starring two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank as Betty Anne, the film will tell the incredible story of her struggle and dedication to free her wrongfully imprisoned brother.

After Kenneth lost all of his appeals, Betty Anne, a single mother of two, decided to take action. Convinced of her brother’s innocence and desperate to challenge the conviction, she began what would be a 12-year process of putting herself through college and law school. In 1998, she graduated from the Roger Williams University School of Law and began to work tirelessly on her brother’s case. By the time she contacted the Innocence Project, she had already located the biological evidence and was trying to have it subjected to DNA testing. Finally, the Innocence Project helped secure DNA testing that conclusively excluded Waters as the perpetrator and he was freed in 2001.

The movie, which has just begun shooting in Ann Arbor, Michigan, will be directed by Tony Goldwyn. Other cast members include Sam Rockwell, who will play Kenneth Waters, Minnie Driver, Juliette Lewis, Melissa Leo and Peter Gallagher.

Other anniversaries this week:

Tuesday: Arthur Mumphrey, Texas (Served 17 years, exonerated 3/17/06)

Wednesday: Wiley Fountain, Texas  (Served 16 years, Exonerated 3/18/03)

Thursday: Edward Green, District of Columbia (Served 1 year, Exonerated 3/19/90)

Julius Ruffin, Virginia (Served 20 years, Exonerated 3/19/03)





Tags: Kenneth Waters

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Guest Blog: Writing Cotton

Posted: March 19, 2009 5:18 pm

By Erin Torneo
Co-Author, "Picking Cotton: A Memoir of Injustice and Redemption"
 

Writing Picking Cotton has taken me from a hotel lobby in Greensboro to the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the abolition of the death penalty, from the lethal injection chamber in Raleigh’s Central Prison to the streets of Savannah, GA.  Once, while in San Francisco for the Soros Fellowship Conference, I even found myself at Alcatraz with Jennifer and Ron, sightseeing. When the tour invited us to step inside a solitary confinement cell, Ron hung back. “Not going in?” I asked, after Jennifer and I took our turns inside the dark cramped cell. “Hell no,” he replied, laughing. It was just one of many moments that reminded me that their seemingly ordinary, decades-old friendship is just as improbable as Ron, who spent nearly eleven years of his life wrongfully incarcerated, wanting to visit a prison on his day off. The journey, suffice to say, has been incredible, bringing me deep into some of the complex issues surrounding wrongful convictions and forever changing the way I will think about crime and punishment in the United States.

“I don’t know if I’ll be of any help at all,” Jennifer’s rape crisis counselor told me the spring afternoon I went to interview her at Elon College. What could she remember, after all this time? But it became very clear as we spoke that she had one particularly strong memory: the day she accompanied Jennifer to the physical lineup. “I remember it was one of the most take-your-breath away things, the fear,” she said. She vividly recalled the details of the physical lineup, mentioning the one-way window. I interrupted her to tell her in fact, there had been no glass, nor wall at all, as verified by the police report and the investigating officer. The seven suspects were standing merely feet away from both of them. She was astounded. “Isn’t that strange? In my mind, I had given us the distance of at least having a wall there. I had given us that safety.” She paused and then said, “How frightening. I think I prefer the safety of my memory.”

It was just a small example of the undercurrent that runs through the book— the fragility of memory itself. Their case has become a hallmark of the relationship between eyewitness misidentification and wrongful convictions because of how little we really understand about how memory works. I have seen Jennifer — and more recently Michele Mallin — vilified by people for their mistaken eyewitness testimony. It is further proof of the need to educate people about the many variables that can contribute to misidentification. By putting the reader in Jennifer’s shoes, I hope Picking Cotton helps to illuminate just how difficult making an eyewitness identification is—even when you are sure—and remind people everywhere that she was a victim of a brutal crime that derailed her life.  Jennifer pursued justice in the hopes that her assailant — whom she knew had gone off to rape a second woman an hour after she escaped—would never be able to hurt another woman. The failure was systemic—not personal—and her brave decision to forfeit her privacy (many victims never come forward in other wrongful conviction cases) is the reason many states have adopted reform measures.

Working on the book has also taught me that newly won freedom can be as bewildering as the first days of incarceration, which you can see once you shift to Ron’s point of view. Though many exonerees today make headlines for the millions of (well-deserved) dollars they receive after winning lawsuits, it is important to know that Ronald Cotton is not one of those exonerees. When he first got out, he tried to return to school to get his GED, but eventually quit so he could take a second job and earn more money. He wanted to move out of his sister’s home and into an independent life. Now he works five, sometimes six days a week at an insulation plant, where the heat and the fumes take their toll on his sinuses. Lately, the faltering economy has impacted the work available at the plant. Ron’s regular shifts are no longer guaranteed, and he struggles to make ends meet.

As the first post-conviction DNA exoneree in North Carolina, Ronald Cotton’s case paved the way for many of the progressive measures the state later adopted. Jennifer actually helped to lobby the state to create the compensation bill that entitled Ron to roughly $110,000. Since that time, North Carolina has updated its compensation law twice, but Ron was excluded from the improved benefits (which, in addition to significantly more money, also include job training and tuition). Perhaps North Carolina officials will reconsider the terms of the statute and offer the same benefits to all six of its exonerees.

The State v. Cotton case touches on many important issues in the innocence movement — the fact that the DNA was not destroyed though Ron had exhausted all of his appeals, the access he had to DNA testing, how simple changes to photo array and physical lineup procedures can reduce eyewitness identification errors, the importance of having state resources in place that can help the exonerated back on their feet, but most of all, it shows that the effects of wrongful convictions are devastating on both sides.

Ron waited 11 years for justice to prevail, but in the end, so did Jennifer.

Erin Torneo is the coauthor of "Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption," the true story of an unlikely friendship forged between Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton, the man Cannino incorrectly identified as her rapist and sent to prison for eleven years. 



Tags: Ronald Cotton

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Two Men Mark Six Years of Freedom

Posted: April 3, 2009 5:10 pm

Six years ago today, Dennis Maher was exonerated in Massachusetts and Eddie Lowery was cleared in Kansas. Both had spent about two decades behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit.

Dennis Maher’s nightmare began in November of 1983, when there were two consecutive assaults in Lowell, Massachusetts. Although no biological evidence linked him to the crime, Maher’s clothing matched the victim’s description, and items found in his vehicle seemed suspicious. In addition, though their descriptions varied, all three victims identified Maher in photographic lineups. Relying heavily on these misidentifications, Maher was charged with both attacks, as well as an unsolved rape that occurred the previous summer in Ayer, Massachusetts, where biological evidence was introduced but never tested. Though the Innocence Project began working with Maher in 1993, it was not until 2001, after years of being told that the biological evidence taken from the victims could not be located, that a law student discovered evidence from the first rape in the basement of the Middlesex County Courthouse. The evidence was tested and found to exclude Maher as a possible semen donor. Soon after, evidence from the Ayer case was tested and the same conclusion was reached. Finally, in 2003, Maher was exonerated.

Today, Maher works as a mechanic for Waste Management and is married with two children. His daughter is named Aliza, after his attorney, former Innocence Project staff attorney Aliza Kaplan.

In July 1981, Eddie James Lowery, then 22, was arrested for the attack and rape of an elderly resident of Ogden, Kansas. He was questioned all day without food and was told he did not need a lawyer after requesting one. Investigators supplied Lowery with details of the crime – the house, the entry, the weapon, and specifics about the rape. The details were incorporated into a confessions, which Lowery immediately said was coerced and false.

Although Lowery recanted the statements and his attorney filed to suppress them, the court ruled that the confession was made voluntarily and allowed it into the trial. It became the cornerstone of the prosecution's case and, coupled with inaccurate testimony linking Lowery to the crime through serology, led to his 1982 conviction and sentence of 11 years to life. He served nine years in prison and was released on parole in 1991. In 2002, Lowery procured DNA testing on the biological evidence. He had been forced to register as a sex offender every year since his parole and wanted to clear his name. The test results confirmed his innocence. After spending nearly a decade in prison – and another decade as a registered sex offender – for a crime he didn’t commit, Lowery was finally exonerated on April 3, 2003.

Today, Lowery works as a wedding photographer.

Other Anniversaries this week:


Sunday: Antonio Beaver, Missouri (Served 10 years, Exonerated 03/29/09)

Thursday: Anthony Capozzi, New York (Served 20 years, Exonerated 04/02/07)

Saturday: Harold Buntin, Indiana (Served 13 years, Exonerated 05/20/05)
 



Tags: Eddie James Lowery, Dennis Maher

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Race and Wrongful Conviction in Connecticut

Posted: April 9, 2009 2:45 pm

When Miguel Roman was arrested in 1988 for the murder of a 17-year-old Connecticut woman, he was interrogated mostly in English – a language he didn’t speak. His trial proceeded in English, and despite Roman’s continuous claims of innocence, he was convicted. He would serve two decades in prison before DNA proved his innocence and implicated another man in the crime.

A column by Helen Urbiñas in today’s Hartford Courant argues that a language and cultural barrier may have contributed to Roman’s wrongful conviction. She goes on to say that society’s lukewarm welcome for Roman’s exoneration may also be colored by his limited command of the language.

When I spoke some months ago to a juror who had served on Roman's case, he recalled Roman's demeanor, how disconnected he seemed from it all, how difficult it was to read him. I asked the juror then if he thought that Roman's inability to speak English well had anything to do with it. Maybe, he said.

It's a question that underscores the importance of what the Innocence Project is trying to do — using DNA, science, to offset some of the biases that creep into our courts. Of the 235 convicts exonerated through DNA testing in the U.S, nearly three-quarters were people of color.
This argument has been raised before – even in Roman’s case. In 1992, the Connecticut Supreme Court denied an appeal from Roman argued that his conviction had been unconstitutional. One justice – Robert Berdon – dissented. He wrote:
When the defendant’s primary language is Spanish, and the police officers insist on conducting the interrogations in English, the entire process smacks of unfairness that will results in the perception by the Hispanic community that the criminal justice system is titled against them….In order for the public to have confidence in our criminal justice system, it is important not only that we do justice but also that all racial and ethnic segments of our population perceive that justice is done.
In his dissent, Berdon went on to quote another of his recent dissents in 1992, in the case of James Calvin Tillman:
In our system of justice, not only must the accused be afforded a fair trial, but equally important there must be a perception of fairness by the community and the accused. Anything less not only undermines the credibility of this branch of government but also threatens the very fabric of our democracy.
As many readers of this blog know, Tillman was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2006. Although signs of unfairness were evident in the cases of both Tillman and Roman in 1992, it would be more than 14 years before either attained justice.





Tags: Connecticut, Miguel Roman, James Tillman

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"Witch Hunt" Premieres Sunday on MSNBC

Posted: April 10, 2009 12:00 pm

"Witch Hunt," a new documentary on wrongful sexual abuse convictions in California narrated by Oscar-winner Sean Penn is set to premiere Sunday at 10 p.m. EST on MSNBC.

The film explores the unraveling of justice in Bakersfield, California, in the early 1980s, as a newly elected District Attorney charged and convicted dozens of parents for allegedly abusing their own children. Years later, many of the convictions have been overturned and the wrongfully convicted parents have won their freedom, but their lives and those of their children have been changed forever. Meanwhile, the DA who brought the charges remains in office, enjoying the support of local law enforcement and unopposed in his campaigns for re-election.
 
Using archival footage and incorporating new interviews, the film is a graphic illustration of the perils of unchecked prosecutorial power and its human cost.
 
Read more about the film and watch a trailer here
.
 
Watch more footage and interact with the film’s subjects and filmmakers on MSNBC’s site.
 

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Friday Roundup: Crime Labs, Confessions and a Hollywood Encounter

Posted: April 10, 2009 5:50 pm

Crime labs were all over the news this week. We reported Monday on a USA Today editorial calling for crime labs to be independent from law enforcement agencies and earlier today on an Arizona case that makes it clear that proper evidence testing is a matter of life and death.

Here are some more stories and resources on forensics we didn’t get a chance to post this week:

A lab technician who worked in Colorado and California has allegedly admitted that he didn’t follow procedures when conducting toxicology tests in thousands of cases.

The National Academy of Sciences Committee on Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Science Community posted a wealth of forensic research and presentations on its website this week – including the complete submissions from dozens of presenters at its five public meetings.

The Innocence Project of Florida and the Innocence Network together filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Florida Supreme Court urging justices to allow a client to challenge his conviction because an FBI agent gave unreliable testimony based on the discredited practice of bullet lead analysis.

Detroit’s crime lab has been closed since September after an audit discovered a 10% error rate in ballistics testing. A Detroit Free Press columnist checked in on the lab’s status this week and called on the city to support the prosecutor’s office in its review of cases possibly affected by lab errors.

False confessions were in the news as well this week, with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prolonged police questioning "isolates and pressures the individual…and there is mounting empirical evidence that these pressures can induce a frighteningly high percentage of people to confess to crimes they never committed." In a 5-4 decision, the justices overturned the conviction of Johnnie Corley because he had been held for more than six hours before being questioned.

CBS News’ “48 Hours,” Saturday night will examine the case of American student Amanda Knox, who is charged with the murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher. Knox says she gave a coerced false confession after 14 hours of questioning and physical abuse.

Attorneys in Maryland are seeking to present new evidence in the case of Jesse Barnes, who was convicted in 1972 at age 17 of a murder he says he didn’t commit. He allegedly confessed after seven hours of interrogation but lawyers say the details of the confession don’t match the crime scene.

Dennis Dechaine, who has been in prison in Maine for two decades for a murder he says he didn’t commit, added to his defense team this week when attorney F. Lee Bailey agreed to consult with his lawyers. The Innocence Project also consults on Dechaine’s case.

Last but not least, an update on “Betty Anne Waters,” the upcoming film about the exoneration of Innocence Project client Kenneth Waters and the role of his sister, Betty Anne, in pursuing justice for her brother. The film, in which Hilary Swank stars as Betty Anne, finished shooting this week in Michigan and Ann Arbor News reporter Jo Mathis has an update from the set.



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Friday Roundup: Identification and Informants

Posted: April 17, 2009 6:45 pm

A Georgia death row inmate lost his federal appeal this week and a Chicago man goes to trial next week for the third time for a murder he says he didn't commit. Here are stories of injustice and reform from the week:  

A federal court rejected Troy Davis’ appeal this week and announced a 30-day stay of execution so he could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Davis has been on Georgia’s death row for two decades for a murder he says he didn’t commit and has come within hours of execution three times before receiving stays.

Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn wrote that Juan Rivera’s third trial for a murder he says he didn’t commit – set to begin on Monday – sounds eerily similar to the wrongful conviction and repeated trials and appeals of exoneree Rolando Cruz.

The Texas Senate passed bills this week requiring law enforcement agencies in the state to establish written identification procedures, and requiring corroboration for testimony from jailhouse informants. Meanwhile, the Globe and Mail reported that Ontario has nearly phased out the use of jailhouse informants.

The Constitution Project released a groundbreaking report on the state of indigent defense in America. The report, “Justice Denied,” says that public defense systems are struggling across the country, and that many are failing. Read more about the effects of bad and overburdened lawyers in wrongful conviction cases.






Tags: Informants/Snitches, Bad Lawyering, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Challenging Discredited Science in Texas

Posted: April 22, 2009 5:38 pm

A bill passed by the Texas Senate this week would provide an avenue for prisoners to challenge convictions based on discredited forensic science. 

In recent years, an increasing number of arson and gunshot convictions in Texas have triggered alarm as new technology proved earlier evidence wrong, and convictions were cast into doubt — including at least one case in which the prisoner was executed.
The measure by state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, would allow discredited scientific evidence that figured in a criminal conviction to be considered by an appeals court in order to establish the innocence of a defendant.

“This could help restore someone’s liberty in cases where discredited evidence was used to convict them,” Whitmire said.

Read the full story here. (Marshall News Messenger, 04/20/09)
Unvalidated and improper forensic science is a leading cause of wrongful conviction.  In February, the National Academy of Sciences released a report calling for significantly strengthened oversight, research and support in the forensic sciences. An Innocence Project review showed that unvalidated and improper forensic science contributed to more than half of the first 225 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing.


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Houston crime lab implicated in another possible wrongful conviction

Posted: April 28, 2009 5:00 pm

Twenty two years after being wrongfully convicted for a rape and robbery in Texas, a Houston man may be released on bail this week on the heels of new DNA tests proving his innocence.

Gary Alvin Richard was arrested for the January 1987 attack of a 22-year-old nursing student and was convicted based largely on evidence processed by the Houston Police Department crime lab, the same lab that came under fire in 2002 after local reports raised questions about the quality of DNA testing. According to the Houston Chronicle, there are a number of problems with Richard’s case:

The victim identified him some seven months after the attack. HPD crime lab analysts came to conflicting conclusions about the evidence, but reported only the results favorable to the case. Physical evidence collected in what is known as a “rape kit” has been destroyed, a victim of poor evidence preservation practices, leaving nothing for DNA testing now.

Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 4/24/09)
During his original trial, HPD crime lab supervisor James Bolding testified that Richard was a non-secretor, meaning that analysts would not be able to determine Richard’s blood type through his body fluids. However, while tests done last week confirmed that semen from the rape kit came from a non-secretor, it also showed that Richard is a secretor. Therefore, the semen found on the rape kit could not be his.

While Richard’s defense claims that the blood tests prove his innocence, prosecutors aren’t as sure. The Houston District Attorney’s office concedes that Richard should be released on bail, but has said that it is too early in the reexamination process to clear Richard of all charges. Three Harris County men have already been proven innocent through DNA testing after mistakes at the HPD crime lab led to their wrongful convictions: Josiah Sutton, George Rodriguez and Ronald Taylor.

Read more about the history of the Houston crime lab scandal in previous blog posts.

 



Tags: Texas, George Rodriguez, Josiah Sutton, Ronald Taylor, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing

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Friday Roundup: Reviewing Injustice

Posted: May 1, 2009 6:09 pm

New York’s chief judge announced today that the state’s Court of Appeals is creating a task force to review exoneration cases and recommend possible reforms to prevent injustice. Here’s more coverage since we posted earlier today.

Texas has a similar judicial task force, and representatives are seeking to create a more robust panel in the legislature named after exoneree Timothy Cole.

North Carolina has another kind of task force to investigate possible wrongful convictions. The state’s House of Representatives this week voted to expand the group’s reach – giving it power to force witnesses to testify.

A proposed law in Colorado to repeal the death penalty and use resources to instead investigate cold cases in the state made progress in the Senate today but still faced an uncertain future.
 
Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto will host a conference on forensic evidence in criminal proceedings and avoiding wrongful convictions next Saturday, May 9.

A conference today in Dallas brought together exonerees for a discussion of the challenges of life after exoneration.

Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and exoneree Jerry Miller spoke today at the GEL Conference in New York City. And exoneree William Dillion spoke about his case and the need for reforms yesterday in Wellington, Florida.

And an article in the Missourian checked in with Josh Kezer, who was freed two months ago when new evidence pointed to his innocence.
 



Tags: Jerry Miller, Innocence Commissions

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Eight Years Ago Today

Posted: May 7, 2009 3:54 pm

Today marks the eighth anniversary of the day Jeffrey Pierce walked out of an Oklahoma prison a free man for the first time in more than 14 years. He was convicted in 1986 of a rape he didn’t commit, based in part on the misleading testimony of notorious forensic analyst Joyce Gilchrist.

In 1985, a woman was raped in her Oklahoma City home, and Pierce became a suspect because he was working in the area with a landscaping crew. He didn’t match the victim’s initial description of the perpetrator, however, and she did not identify him when he was pointing out as a suspect. Months later, he was included in a photo lineup wearing clothes that matched her description of the perpetrator and she identified him as the attacker.

Gilchrist, whose testimony has been involved in at least four wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing, testified at Pierce’s trial that hairs collected from the victim’s apartment shared unique characteristics with Pierce’s hair. He was convicted and sentenced to 65 years in prison. He served nearly 15 years before he was freed by DNA testing that proved his innocence and implicated the real perpetrator.

Today, Pierce lives in Michigan with his family, including his adult twin sons who were infants at the time of his conviction.

Other Anniversary This Week:

Monday: Glen Woodall, West Virginia (Served 4.5 Years, Exonerated 1992)





Tags: Jeffrey Pierce

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Friday Roundup: Seeking DNA Testing

Posted: May 8, 2009 6:35 pm

A Texas man is seeking DNA testing in a three-decade-old case and there are renewed calls on prosecutors and crime labs across the country to conduct testing in tens of thousands of backlogged cases. Below are a few stories from around the U.S. this week on wrongful convictions, forensic science and life after exoneration:

A 61-year-old Houston man is continuing his fight for DNA testing that he says can prove him innocent of a rape he was convicted of in 1981. Donald Burke served 18 years in Texas prisons and was released more than 10 years ago.

Thirty-eight people have been exonerated in Texas to date by DNA testing, more than any other state. And a bill improving compensation for the wrongfully convicted after their release appeared close to passing the Texas legislature yesterday. A final vote is expected soon.

The ABA Journal called on prosecutors and state officials across the country to commit resources to clearing backlogs of untested evidence. Testing this evidence can help solve cold cases, apprehend repeat offenders and exonerate the wrongfully convicted.

An article in ProPublica questioned whether there is a connection between the growth of government DNA databases and the firms that produce testing equipment.

More news from Mississippi this week. A county is considering hiring Dr. Stephen Hayne, a medical examiner who has been widely discredited and whose faulty findings contributed to at least two wrongful convictions.

Mississippi hasn’t had a state medical examiner since the mid-1990’s and many counties in the state relied on Hayne for years to conduct autopsies. He was removed from the list of approved pathologists nearly a year ago after his role in wrongful convictions was uncovered. Despite concerted efforts from state officials to hire a new medical examiner, that process has stalled.

We report some of these stories on twitter throughout the week as they happen. If you’re on twitter, follow us @innocenceblog. We’ll follow you back.



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DailyKos Morning Feature: Freeing the Innocent

Posted: May 13, 2009 2:40 pm

The heavily-trafficked Morning Feature at DailyKos today focuses on the Innocence Project’s work – and encourages people to get involved.

DailyKos contributor plf515 shares the stories of several Innocence Project clients who have been exonerated with DNA testing and writes:

They're all innocent.
Actually, that's wrong.  Oh, they were all innocent.  None of them committed the crimes for which they were convicted. All have been exonerated, through the work of the the innocence project.  But ...
I am innocent.  I've not been accused of any crimes; I've never been arrested.  I've never been tried.  I've never been convicted.  I've never served time. I'm innocent, and I'm free, and that's as it should be.  In our criminal justice system, we don't find people 'innocent' - we find them "guilty" or "not guilty", and, while there is a very good reason for that - the burden of proof is on the prosecution - it plays a subtle psychological game. Once you've been on trial, you are no longer 'innocent', only 'not guilty'.  
But the people with whom the Innocence Project works are more than not guilty and more than innocent  - they are victims.  Victims of a system that is supposed to keep the innocent safe, not just from criminals, but from the law.  We are all threatened by criminals; but we are all also threatened by the law.  

Read the full post
.
In his post, plf515 asks people to donate to the Innocence Project, and he commits to match the first $500 in donations. Within hours, nearly 100 people commented on the post, several of whom donated to the Innocence Project via DailyKos – and one person stepped forward to double the matching amount offered by plf515. Visit DailyKos to donate or read comments from around the country.



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Texas Compensation Bill Heads to Governor's Desk

Posted: May 14, 2009 5:29 am

The Texas House passed an amended bill today to improve the state law compensating the wrongfully convicted after their release. The new bill, which would become law with a signature from Gov. Rick Perry, pays exonerees $80,000 per year they spent in prison for crimes they didn’t commit and includes credit for tuition at state colleges and universities. The bill would also pay $25,000 per year an exoneree spent outside of prison on parole for a crime they didn't commit - a first in the nation. An earlier version of the bill also included health care, but that was removed in a Senate amendment.

The bill would represent a significant increase in compensation paid to the exonerated, from the current law, which provides $50,000 per year. Texas is one of 27 states with exoneree compensation laws, is yours one?

The legislation is named for Timothy Cole, who was posthumously exonerated this year after DNA proved that he had been wrongfully convicted in 1986. He died of a heart attack in prison in 1999 and DNA testing finally proved his innocence in 2008.

"It is a landmark bill," (Innocence Project Co-Director Barry) Scheck said. "For a fixed damage award, it's the highest in the country."
Read more about today’s developments. (Associated Press 5/14/09)
CBS Evening News reported on Cole’s case and the Timothy Cole Compensation Act on Saturday:
In 1985, a serial rapist attacked five women near Texas Tech University. Among his victims was then 20-year old sophomore Michelle Mallin.

"It's constantly in my mind all the time," Mallin said recently.

Cole, a 25-year-old college student was convicted, largely because Mallin identified his picture in a photo lineup.

"I honestly thought it looked like him," she said.

Read the full story and watch the video here. (CBS Evening News, 5/9/09)





Tags: Timothy Cole, Exoneree Compensation

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Three Years of Freedom

Posted: May 15, 2009 4:01 pm

Three years ago tomorrow, Doug Warney was freed from a New York prison after serving nine years for a murder he didn’t commit. Warney, who has a history of mental health issues, was convicted based in part on a false confession he allegedly made after 12 hours of questioning. About 25% of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing nationwide have involved false confessions or admissions.

At the time of Warney’s exoneration in 2006, Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld said it should lead law enforcement agencies across the state to begin recording interrogations. Three years later, although many individual agencies in the state have begun to record interrogations, New York is still one of 36 states with no law requiring recordings.

“These DNA results don’t just show that Doug Warney is innocent – they reveal criminal conduct on the part of at least two Rochester police officers, and they demonstrate tunnel vision on the part of police and prosecutors who ignored compelling evidence that the confession was bogus,” said Peter Neufeld, Co-Director of the Innocence Project. “This case should be a clarion call for every law enforcement agency in the state to begin recording police interrogations for serious crimes.”
Earlier this month, the chief judge of New York’s highest court said he would create a new permanent task force to examine causes of wrongful convictions – like false confessions – and recommend reforms to prevent wrongful convictions like Warney’s.

Neufeld said this task force could be a driving force to finally bring about changes like recorded interrogations in New York, but that it is also critical that the state legislature take action.
“While this is a major step forward, it is one piece of the whole. There are major systemic weaknesses demanding immediate action, and we will continue working with the Governor, Attorney General and Legislature to advance critical reforms in this legislative session that can prevent wrongful convictions. The task force Judge Lippman is creating does not supplant other efforts – it complements them and makes them even more critical.”
Other Exoneration Anniversaries This Week:

Sunday: Neil Miller, Massachusetts (Served 9.5 Years, Exonerated 5/1/0/2000)

Monday: Curtis McCarty, Oklahoma (Served 21 Years, Exonerated 5/11/2007)

Thursday: Josiah Sutton, Texas (Served 4.5 Years, Exonerated 5/14/04)





Tags: Douglas Warney, False Confessions

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Troy Davis and the Right to Have New Evidence Fully Considered

Posted: May 19, 2009 3:45 pm

Rallies are taking place around the country today on behalf of Troy Davis, who has been on Georgia’s death row for 18 years for a murder he says he didn’t commit. He has come within hours of execution three times only to receive last-minute stays. There is no DNA evidence to test in Davis’ case, but a wealth of other evidence – including recantations by seven of nine original eyewitnesses – points to his innocence. No court has fully heard this new evidence from Davis, but a new execution date could be set any day.

A USA Today story on Monday contrasted the cases of Davis and Paul House, a former Tennessee death row inmate who was finally cleared last week, nearly three years after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a hearing in his case to consider new evidence. Although House was eventually cleared, it took a protracted legal battle to present the evidence of his innocence.

Perhaps even more difficult than obtaining access to DNA testing is getting access to a hearing with new non-DNA evidence, advocates say.

Laura Moye, a deputy director of Amnesty International USA, which supports Davis' appeal, says the "question of innocence doesn't seem to be as much of a priority for the courts as the craving for finality."

Read the full story here. (USA Today, 05/17/09)
 



Tags: Paul House

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UPDATE: Jerry Lee Evans Freed

Posted: May 27, 2009 5:20 pm

A Texas judge freed Jerry Lee Evans this afternoon, ending nearly 23 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. See our post earlier today for more on Evans’ case or click here for information on the other 18 Dallas DNA exonerees.




Tags: Jerry Lee Evans

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A Year After His Release, Dean Cage Is Still Fighting For Justice

Posted: May 29, 2009 1:50 pm




One year ago this week, Dean Cage was freed from an Illinois prison. He had served nearly 12 years of a 40-year sentence before DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project proved his innocence and led to his exoneration.

Above, from left to right, Innocence Project Staff Attorney Alba Morales, Dean Cage, Dean’s mother Jerley Cage and Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld.


Upon being cleared, Cage reunited with his family in Chicago. He told CBS News that “the support of [his] family, reading novels, playing basketball and faith” helped him to get through some of his toughest times in prison. Although he had missed watching his sons grow up, both of his grandparents’ funerals, and being by his mother’s side during her many surgeries, Cage felt blessed to finally be free. He said: "If you believe in something, fight for it.…The truth will come out in the end.” But Cage realized that he would face new challenges in the years to come. At the time of his release, he did not have any money or material possessions to his name.

Cage recently filed a lawsuit against the City of Chicago and others, alleging that he was framed in an effort to quickly end the investigation and reach a conviction. He told the Chicago Tribune this week that although the adjustment to life outside of prison has been difficult, he is beginning to feel more comfortable and recently started working at a restaurant on Chicago’s South Sude.

"It's been kinda rough," Cage said with his mother at his side. A scrapbook of exoneration cases he kept for years while in prison lay open before him. "If I didn't have the support of my family, I don't know what I would have done," he said.

Other Anniversaries This Week:

Tuesday: Larry Peterson, New Jersey (Served 16.5 Years, Exonerated 5/26/2006)
Willie Jackson, Louisiana (Served 17 Years, Exonerated 5/26/2006)

Wednesday: Paul Kordonowy, Montana (Served 13 Years, Exonerated 5/27/2003)
 



Tags: Dean Cage

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Friday Roundup: The First Day and The First Year

Posted: May 29, 2009 3:54 pm

Jerry Lee Evans was freed in Dallas this week after serving 22 years in prison for a crime DNA proves he didn’t commit. Patrick Waller and Steven Phillips, two of the 18 people exonerated by DNA in Dallas before Evans, joined him on Larry King Live Wednesday night. They wrote on King’s blog about their first day of freedom:

Waller: “My first day of freedom was a true breath of fresh air! I actually kissed the ground – after I kissed my mother of course.”

Phillips: “That day I was finally exonerated after 26 years of wrongfully serving time for crimes I didn’t commit – that was a day The Lord made!”

And earlier today we posted about Dean Cage’s first year of freedom. He told the Chicago Tribune this week: “"If I didn't have the support of my family, I don't know what I would have done.”

Meanwhile, Tim Kennedy could be freed in Colorado while awaiting on a new trial for a 1991 murder he has always said he didn’t commit. He was convicted based in part on the FBI’s use of comparative bullet lead analysis (CBLA), a discredited technique discontinued in 2005, which was used to trace a bullet from the crime scene to a box of bullets in his possession.

Kennedy’s case and others are posted on the Just Science Coalition’s news page – visit Just-Science.org for weekly updates on forensic news.

CBS affiliate KPHO in Phoenix profiled the Arizona Justice Project, a member of the Innocence Network. The project is working to reach out to prisoners whose cases could be wrongful convictions.

New York exoneree Jeffrey Deskovic will speak about his case in New York City on Monday. More information is available on Facebook.



Tags: Steven Phillips, Patrick Waller

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Reform Bills Fail to Pass in Texas

Posted: June 2, 2009 3:41 pm

Several bills intended to prevent wrongful convictions in Texas were left unpassed when the Texas legislature ended its session yesterday. Although Gov. Rick Perry recently signed an improvement to the state law compensating the exonerated, several bills addressing the causes of wrongful convictions didn’t make it that far.

Proposed laws included an expansion to DNA testing access and reforms requiring recorded interrogation and improved eyewitness identification procedures. These reforms have been proven around the country to prevent wrongful convictions and to help law enforcement agencies apprehend the real perpetrators of crimes.

Another reform that wasn’t passed yesterday would have made posthumous pardons possible in cases like that of Tim Cole, who died in prison in 1999 while serving for a crime he didn’t commit.

His conviction relied heavily on mistaken identification by the victim, who earlier this year came out supporting efforts to clear Cole's name.
His family described an emotional welcome from legislators in February. Cole's mother, Ruby Session and his youngest brother, Cory, spent months lobbying for the reforms - Cory logged 14,000 miles and three blown tires as he traveled from Fort Worth to Austin to testify and lobby.

"We had everything in place," Cory said. "We really did have it, and it would have been sweeping changes."

Read the full story here. (Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, 06/02/09)
And Innocence Project of Texas Policy Director Scott Henson wrote on his blog Grits for Breakfast about his disappointment that the state may have to wait two years for these critical reforms.
We didn't need more study by the Legislature on this issue, we needed action. Eyewitness ID errors make up 80% of DNA exoneration cases and the Court of Criminal Appeals' Criminal Justice Integrity Unit said it should be the Legislature's highest priority for preventing false convictions. But unless the issue is added to a call in a special session, at least two more years will pass before the Lege can begin to rectify the problem.

That's inexcusable. It's not okay for the Legislature to know that innocent people are being convicted under the statutes they've written and simply decline to prevent it.

Read Henson’s post here. (Grits for Breakfast, 06/01/09)
New York is in dire need of similar reforms, and we asked supporters in the state yesterday to reach out to lawmakers urging them to ensure that New York State passes these critical measures before the end of the session. If you’re in New York, send a copy here.

If you’re outside of New York, we ask you to reach out to your lawmakers to tell them reforms to prevent wrongful convictions are important to you. Find out about the laws in your state here and then find your representative’s contact information here.





Tags: Timothy Cole

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NY Exoneree: Now Is the Time for Criminal Justice Reform

Posted: June 3, 2009 3:25 am

New York exoneree Korey Wise writes in the Spanish-language daily newspaper El Diario today about the years he spent in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and his disappointment that New York still has not addressed the factors that contributed his wrongful conviction. He writes:

I was incarcerated for nearly 15 years before I was finally exonerated. When I share my story with people now, they almost always ask if I am angry. I would be lying if I said I’m not angry sometimes for the time I lost and can never get back. But more than anything, I am angry that more hasn’t been done to fix our criminal justice system so this doesn’t happen to other people.

My case and the 23 other DNA exonerations in New York reveal serious problems in the state’s criminal justice system – problems that profoundly impact individuals’ lives and entire communities, and demand serious solutions.  

Right now, Governor David Paterson and leaders in the State Legislature are considering reforms that can prevent wrongful convictions and help exonerate innocent people. Before the end of June, they will decide whether to act on reforms that can make our justice system more fair, accurate and reliable.

It is critical that our elected officials take action this year. They should pass a package of legislation that would make it easier for prisoners to prove their innocence, improve eyewitness identification procedures and require that interrogations be recorded.
Included in the package of legislation under consideration is a requirement that state law enforcement agencies videotape interrogations in felony cases. Wise was a teenager when he was convicted and he and his four co-defendants allegedly confessed to involvement in the crimes. Although their confessions were videotaped, the complete interrogations were not. Recording of interrogations is standard practice in more than 500 jurisdictions around the country and has been proven to assist law enforcement in investigation and prevent false confessions.

Read Wise’s editorial in Spanish or English.

If you live in New York State, you can take action today by voicing your support for this package of reforms. Send an email right now to Gov. David Patterson and leaders in the Senate and Assembly.





Tags: Korey Wise

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Thirteen Years Later, Exonerated in Wisconsin

Posted: June 8, 2009 4:24 pm

On Friday, prosecutors in Milwaukee announced that they were dropping all charges against Chaunte Ott, who was freed from prison in January after serving nearly 13 years for a murder DNA proves he didn’t commit. Friday’s move fully clears Ott, and he is officially the 239th person exonerated by DNA evidence in the United States.

In 1995, Ott was charged with sexually assaulting and murdering a 16-year-old girl in Milwaukee and leaving her body behind an abandoned house. Two men testified at his trial that they had participated in the crime with him, and a medical examiner testified that a knife found in Ott’s house could have caused the stab wounds on the victim’s body. Ott was convicted in 1996 and sentenced to life in prison.

Twelve years later, the Wisconsin Innocence Project obtained access to DNA testing on Ott’s behalf. Semen collected from the victim’s body at her autopsy was tested, and the results excluded Ott and his two alleged accomplices (both of whom had apparently recanted their testimony after Ott’s trial). The DNA results also matched male profiles obtained from the scenes of two similar Milwaukee murders. One of the victims in those cases was found just a few houses from where the victim in Ott’s case was found. Based on these test results, the Court of Appeals of Wisconsin ordered Ott’s conviction vacated in late 2008 and he was freed in January.

His attorneys at the Wisconsin Innocence Project said the 35-year-old Ott was relieved by the news that charges were being dropped and that they hope that this move by prosecutors will make it easier for Ott to find a job.

Read more about Ott’s case here. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 06/05/09)




Tags: Chaunte Ott

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Friday Roundup: The Fight for Freedom

Posted: June 12, 2009 5:51 pm

Several prisoners around the country are seeking new hearings to present evidence they say will prove their innocence, and reforms to address wrongful convictions continued to make progress and headlines this week.
A Chicago man is seeking a new trial in a 1981 murder conviction, saying he didn’t commit the crime and was coerced to confess by former Chicago Detective Jon Burge, who has been implicated in several wrongful convictions and is charged with lying under oath about his role in the torture of suspects during interrogations.

A New York man who has served eight years for a murder he says he didn’t commit is seeking a new hearing based on new DNA evidence and alibi witnesses who put him hundreds of miles from the crime scene.

And a Missouri man is seeking DNA testing that he says will prove his innocence of a 1993 murder.

The Tucson, Arizona, Police Department is participating in a national field study on the effectiveness of eyewitness identification reforms, and the early results are positive.

Defense lawyer Adam Tebrugge wrote in a Florida op-ed this week about his experience trying a case involving bullet lead analysis and the need for “common-sense steps” to standardize forensic science.

Meanwhile, in New York, lawmakers are still considering innocence reforms and diverse voices from across the state continue to call for strong action this session to prevent wrongful convictions.

An editorial today in the Buffalo News recounted the exoneration of Anthony Capozzi and reminded readers that sending the wrong person to prison isn’t just an injustice suffered by one person, it also compromises public safety.

It is encouraging that Paterson and legislators are talking about these issues. New Yorkers should let their representatives know they see this as a law enforcement issue. Ensuring that only the guilty are convicted is the right thing to do from all perspectives.
Take action today – send an email to leaders in Albany urging them to support these critical reforms this session.


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Calvin Johnson Marks a Decade of Freedom

Posted: June 15, 2009 3:07 pm

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the day Calvin Johnson was freed from a Georgia prison after serving nearly 16 years for a rape DNA proves he didn’t commit. A profile of his case – and his work in the innocence movement – ran this morning in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Read more here.

Other Exoneration Anniversaries This Week:

Monday: Jerry Frank Townsend, Florida (Served 21.5 Tears, Exonerated 6/15/01)

Wednesday: Kenneth Wyniemko, Wisconsin (Served 8.5 Years, Exonerated 6/17/03)

Saturday: Kevin Green, California (Served 15.5 Years, Exonerated 1996)



Tags: Calvin Johnson

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Growing Calls to Reopen Florida Cases

Posted: June 23, 2009 1:45 pm

Florida exonerees William Dillon and Wilton Dedge were both convicted based, in part, on the testimony of John Preston, a now-discredited dog handler. The Innocence Project of Florida is now working on another case involving Preston, and calls are increasing for officials to reexamine any possible wrongful convictions from the early 1980s – especially those involving Preston.

An editorial on Saturday in Florida Today listed some of the evidence of prosecutorial misconduct in Brevard County in the 1980s and called on Governor Charlie Crist to launch an official investigation into questionable convictions from the county.

-- Titusville attorney and former Brevard prosecutor Sam Bardwell, who encountered Preston in a 1981 rape case, says then-State Attorney Doug Cheshire … as well as the Brevard Sheriff’s Office and most law enforcement officers at the time knew Preston was a charlatan.

“I left the State Attorney’s Office because I could not abide by the fabrication of evidence,” Bardwell says.

-- Retired 18th Circuit and appellate Judge Gil Goshorn confirmed Cheshire relied heavily on Preston in a number of cases, along with questionable jailhouse snitches.
“Cheshire’s office often relied on such evidence of dubious reliability,” Goshorn said in a sworn affadavit in 2008.
Dedge, an Innocence Project client, was exonerated in 2004. Dillon, represented by the Innocence Project of Florida, was cleared last year. The Innocence Project of Florida is now working on the case of Gary Bennett, who was convicted of murder based in part on Preston’s testimony. Preston, who testified in 60 cases in Brevard County and many more elsewhere in the U.S., is now deceased.

Read more about Bennett’s case on the Innocence Project of Florida website. And set your DVR for a special report on Dillon’s case from CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 – scheduled to air tomorrow (Wednesday) night at 10 p.m. ET.

Read the Florida Today investigative article and editorial.



Tags: Florida, Wilton Dedge, William Dillon

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Thirteen Years and Counting

Posted: June 24, 2009 4:05 pm



Thirteen years ago today, Verneal Jimerson was exonerated of all charges surrounding his alleged involvement in what has become known as The Ford Heights Four Case. In 1985, Jimerson had been found guilty of committing a rape and double murder in Ford Heights, Illinois. He served nearly 11 years on death row before his release.

Five defendants spent a combined 75 years in prison for the murders before DNA testing proved their innocence. Several of the most prominent causes of wrongful conviction were involved: including false confessions, unvalidated forensic science, bad lawyering and more. The group was finally freed in 1996. Read a summary of the cases here.

One of Jimerson’s first stops as a free man was to visit the graves of his parents, both of whom had died while he was in prison. Moreover, because he had been in jail so long, Jimerson hardly knew his three grown daughters and had never met his five grandchildren. When asked how he felt about the time he had lost with members of family, Jimerson told the Chicago Tribune “Sure it hurts. It hurts a lot. But I've got to move on. Because by the grace of God I'm not going to let anger just eat me out." Upon his release, Jimerson was happy to be able to reconnect with some of his relatives and told the Chicago Sun-Times that he was determined to find a job and get a driver’s license.

In 1999, Jimerson received about $9 million as part of a wrongful prosecution settlement between Cook County and the Ford Heights Four. At the time, it was the largest civil rights settlement in U.S. history.

Other Exoneration Anniversaries This Week:

Monday: David Gray, Illinois (Served 20Years, Exonerated 6/22/99)




Tags: Verneal Jimerson

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U.S. Supreme Court: Forensic Science Has �Serious Deficiencies�

Posted: June 25, 2009 1:55 pm

In a 5-4 decision today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that defendants have the right to cross-examine forensic analysts who handle scientific evidence in criminal cases. In finding that defendants have the right to question analysts, the majority wrote that forensic findings are open to interpretation and could be manipulated. The court also cited a recent report on forensics from the National Academy of Sciences and Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion said: “serious deficiencies have been found in the forensic evidence used at criminal trials.”

The Innocence Project, as part of the Innocence Network, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, urging the court to recognize that forensic evidence can’t be trusted as neutral fact. The majority cited the Innocence Network brief in its opinion.

Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld said today that although today’s decision is an important step forward, the court’s opinion underlines the need for national forensic standards ensuring that science in criminal trials is reliable and fair.

“This is an important decision that will help defendants expose faulty evidence at trial, but it doesn’t resolve serious underlying problems with forensic science. Too often, our criminal justice system relies on evidence that is not rooted in solid science, which is why Congress needs to create a National Institute of Forensic Science.

“Earlier this year, the National Academy of Sciences called on Congress to create an independent, science-based agency to stimulate research and set and enforce standards long before forensic evidence reaches court. Today’s ruling underscores the need for Congress to take action.

Read Neufeld’s complete statement.
Read the court’s full opinion here. (PDF)

Visit the Just Science Coalition website to sign the petition for Congress to create a federal Office of Forensic Science Improvement and Support.




Tags: Forensic Oversight

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Supreme Court Delays Decision in Georgia Death Row Case

Posted: June 29, 2009 3:46 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court closed its term today without a deciding on a pending appeal from Troy Davis, who has spent nearly two decades on Georgia’s death row for a crime he says he didn’t commit.

Davis was convicted in 1989 of shooting a police officer in a Savannah parking lot. 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. Some of the new evidence pointing to Davis’ innocence has never been heard by a court, and Davis’ lawyers were asking the U.S. Supreme Court to order a new evidentiary hearing. The court will not make a decision in Davis’ case until September, but Davis’ advocates are asking local officials to step in this summer.

Davis’ advocates today delivered a petition to the Chatham County District Attorney’s office with 60,000 signatures calling for an evidentiary hearing.

“We have sufficient evidence, we believe, to show that Troy Anthony Davis is innocent," said Prince Jackson, president of the NAACP's Savannah branch. "We are asking that he be given a chance. After all, his life is at stake."
Read the full story here. (Macon Journal, 06/29/09)





Tags: Death Penalty

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DNA Testing for Australian Prisoner

Posted: July 2, 2009 2:38 am

Shane Sebastian Davis has been in prison in Australia for nearly two decades for a murder he says he didn’t commit. The Griffith University Innocence Project, a member of the Innocence Network, has sought DNA testing in Davis’ case for seven years, and the state has now agreed to conduct the tests – which could prove Davis’ innocence or guilt. Davis’ attorneys say the post-conviction testing is a historic victory.

Project co-founder, high-profile Gold Coast criminal lawyer Chris Nyst, said Queensland was the first state to allow access to DNA evidence to be re-tested and described the move as a "landmark" development.

"This is the first time DNA innocence testing - outside of a pardon application - will take place in Queensland," Mr Nyst said. "In fact, it's the first time anywhere in Australia an attorney-general has personally intervened to allow such a process."

Read the full story here. (Courier Mail, 7/3/09)


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Five Years After Exoneration, Lafonso Rollins is Giving Back

Posted: July 20, 2009 2:26 pm

Last week, Lafonso Rollins marked the anniversary of the day he walked out of an Illinois prison after serving 11 years for a rape he did not commit. Rollins was a 17-year-old special education student in the ninth grade when he was arrested, and he was convicted based largely on a false confession he had signed, but did not write. In 2004, DNA testing was finally obtained and conclusively proved Rollins’s innocence and he was released.

Rollins spoke to ABC7 Chicago about how his false confession was coerced by police. He said: “They came on hitting on me. They kept told me they were going to wring me out to dry if I didn't tell the truth… I was scared to death.”  In addition to this alleged improper treatment by police, Rollins’ case was also plagued by improper forensic analysis and reporting.

In early 2006, Rollins filed a lawsuit against the City of Chicago for violating his civil rights. He eventually settled for $9 million, and the city pledged to investigate whether the police officers and crime lab who handled his case had engaged in wrongdoing. Rollins said his mission now is to use his freedom to help others.

“This is not my lottery ticket or anything,” he said. “Keep in mind, the most important thing right now is for everybody to focus on that, OK, I made it, I'm free, you know what I'm saying? It's over with. Make sure the next guy doesn't go through this heat."

Since then, Rollins has used portions of his settlement money to help free the innocent and prevent wrongful convictions.  He started a foundation called Right the Wrong Complications. In one of his first donations, Rollins gave $10,000 to benefit Northern Illinois University Law School’s Innocence Project, which had provided him pro bono legal services during his incarceration.

More recently, Rollins donated another $10,000 to the rebuilding fund of a Chicago church after he saw it burn down on television. He cited his late father, a pastor who had died during his incarnation. "My father passed, and here is a church that I can help out and here this one is," said Rollins.  "I thought this would be my chance to help out.”

Other Exoneration Anniversaries:

Steven Linscott, Illinois (Served 3 Years, Exonerated 7/16/92)
Steven Toney, Missouri (Served 13 Years, Exonerated 7/16/96
Joe Jones, Kansas (Served 6.5 Years, Exonerated 7/17/92)
Perry Mitchell, South Carolina (Served 14.5 Years, Exonerated 7/20/98)

 



Tags: Lafonso Rollins, Exoneree Compensation, Life After Exoneration

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Australian Prisoner Could Become First to Get DNA Tests

Posted: July 23, 2009 4:42 pm

Shane Sebastian Davis has spent nearly two decades in Australian prisons for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit. Blood evidence collected in the case was long believed lost or destroyed – but that changed in March, when prosecutors informed Griffith University Innocence Project Director Lynne Weathered that 12 vials of blood had been located.

Davis and his attorneys are now seeking access to the evidence to conduct DNA testing that could prove Davis’ innocence.

Attorney Chris Nyst, who is working with Weathered on the case, said the government’s action in locating the evidence should be applauded and hopes for a decision soon on whether DNA testing can proceed. Nyst told the Courier Mail:

"We don't know whether Davis is innocent or not. He says he is. What we do know is that we now have the technology to ascertain that. It should happen and we want it to happen quickly."

Read the full story here. (Courier Mail, 07/23/09)
Learn more about the Griffith University Innocence Project, a member of the Innocence Network.

  [Update, 7/24/09 – This post has been corrected. Davis would not be the first Australian prisoner granted access to DNA testing, as was reported in the Courier Mail. Frank Alan Button was exonerated through DNA testing in Queensland in 2001 after serving 10 months in prison for a rape he didn’t commit.]



Tags: Access to DNA Testing

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Four Years Out: Tommy Doswell Moves Forward

Posted: July 30, 2009 5:30 pm

Four years ago this week, Thomas Doswell walked out of Allegheny County jail a free man for the first time in more than 18 years. In 1986, he was convicted of rape after the victim misidentified him in a suggestive lineup. During his time in prison, Doswell was denied parole four times because he refused to admit to a crime he didn’t commit. In 2005, DNA testing conclusively proved that he could not have been the perpetrator.

After being released, Doswell was welcomed by his family, including his 80-year-old mother Olivia and two sons, who were only three and five years old when he initially went to jail. Doswell said that he was glad to be able to go home and thankful that justice had been served. Despite what he had to endure, Doswell said that was neither angry nor bitter about his wrongful incarceration. He told ABC 4 Pittsburgh, "I wanted to be, and I think I had a right to be, but I couldn't walk around like that for 20 years. It would have done me more harm than good.”

Later that year, the City of Pittsburgh named a day in Doswell’s honor. The day also promoted reforms to prevent wrongful convictions and provide compensation for the exonerated. At the ceremony, Doswell said that he believes he was wrongly imprisoned so that he could prevent others from going through what he did. He told ABC 4, "I questioned God many days, 'Why would you let this happen?' That it may never happen again.” Doswell also received a scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh and planned to continue his education. During his time in prison, he had already finished his Associate's degree, learned to speak Spanish and mastered seven musical instruments.

Doswell showcased his musical talent when he opened for famed guitarist and singer-songwriter B.B. King at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh. He sang “I Need You Now,” a song about the power of God to usher a person through any tragedy, which he felt most greatly helped him to overcome his long incarceration. At end of his performance, Doswell received a standing ovation. Along with other exonerees, Doswell also performed with the rock band Pearl Jam as a guest musician during a May 2006 concert in Camden, New Jersey.

More recently, Doswell has sued the City of Pittsburgh and Detective Herman Wolf, who allegedly targeted him as a suspect because he had been acquitted in a prior rape case.  Among other injustices, Doswell contends the lineup put together by Detective Wolf was tainted because his mug shot was the only one marked with an “R,” which was how rape suspects’ photos were identified by Pittsburgh police at the time. Although U.S. District Judge Donetta Ambrose dismissed part of Doswell’s lawsuit last month, she refused to dismiss claims of violations of Doswell's rights to due process and against cruel and unusual punishment. Those claims are still pending.

Other Exoneration Anniversaries This Week:

Thursday: Larry Johnson, Missouri (Served 18 Years, Exonerated 7/30/2002)
Friday: Jerry Watkins, Indiana (Served 13.5 Years, Exonerated 7/31/2000)





Tags: Pennsylvania, Thomas Doswell, Larry Johnson, Jerry Watkins

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Friday Roundup: Cases and Reforms Move Forward

Posted: July 31, 2009 5:30 pm

Around the country this week, individual cases moved forward – as did efforts to reform the criminal justice system to prevent wrongful convictions and assist the exonerated.

A judge in Wisconsin this morning dismissed rape and murder charges against Ralph Armstrong, who has been in prison for 28 years. Evidence shows that a prosecutor concealed substantial evidence that Armstrong was innocent. Armstrong will remain in custody while the state decides whether to appeal the ruling. The Innocence Project has worked on Armstrong’s case since 1993, and Co-Director Barry Scheck today called Armstrong’s case a “particularly chilling” example of prosecutorial misconduct.

Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County may be the home of pilot programs for identification reforms, according to District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr., who chairs the county’s investigations section of the state Committee on Wrongful Convictions. The news comes on the heels of the Innocence Project’s new report on eyewitness identification reforms, released earlier this month. Read more in the press release here.

Republican and Democratic leaders are asking Virginia’s General Assembly to provide compensation for exoneree Arthur Whitfield, who spent more than 22 years in prison and was released when DNA tests proved his innocence. Bob McDonnell and Creigh Deeds, the respective Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates, are calling for action during the assembly’s special session in August.

DNA may play a key role in the case of a Florida man convicted of murder 25 years ago. David Johnston was scheduled for execution in May, but the Florida Supreme Court delayed his execution when defense attorneys requested DNA testing on blood samples and nail clippings kept as evidence.



Tags: Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin, Arthur Lee Whitfield, Exoneree Compensation, Eyewitness Identification

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Media Coverage: Wisconsin Charges Dismissed

Posted: August 3, 2009 3:29 pm

Murder charges were dropped Friday in Wisconsin against Ralph Armstrong, who has been in prison for nearly three decades for a murder he has always said he didn't commit. The Innocence Project has worked on Armstrong's case since 1993, one year after the organization was founded. Armstrong's conviction was thrown out in 2005 by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, but he had remained in custody for four years awaiting retrial. The state has 20 days to decide whether to appeal Friday's ruling, and Armstrong will remain in custody in the meantime.

Armstrong's lead attorney, Jerome Buting, told WKOWTV that Armstrong is "really pleased" with the decision. Buting expressed dismay, however, at how long it has taken for courts to recognize Armstrong's claims of innocence. In dismissing the indictment on Friday, Judge Robert Kinney said prosecutors should have told defense attorneys that Armstrong's brother had allegedly confessed to committing the crime.

"A confession to murder by a person we know was present with the victim the night she died, to suppress that kind of evidence is really outrageous and shocking," Buting said.
Here's is a sample of some media coverage of the case over the weekend:

WKOWTV: 1980 Rape and Murder Case Against Ralph Armstrong Dismissed

Wisconsin State Journal: Nearly 30 Years Later, Murder Cases Dismissed

Chicago Tribune: 29-year-old Murder Charges Dropped

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Texas Man Expected to Walk Free Tomorrow

Posted: August 6, 2009 5:50 pm

Innocence Project client Ernest Sonnier has been in Texas prisons for 23 years for a rape DNA now shows he didn’t commit. He is expected to be freed tomorrow following a hearing at the Harris County Court.

“We fully expect Ernest Sonnier to be home with his family on Friday night for the first time in more than 23 years,” said Alba Morales, the Innocence Project Staff Attorney handling the case. “This is a complicated case, but the bottom line is simple: Ernest Sonnier is innocent, and his long nightmare is coming to an end. We have conducted nine rounds of DNA testing on multiple pieces of evidence for the last 18 months. Not a shred of evidence ties Ernest to this crime, but DNA testing has identified the two apparent perpetrators.”

Read today’s press release in the case here.

Sonnier was convicted in 1986 based in part on a questionable eyewitness identification and forensic evidence that was improperly tested and presented. His is the latest in a string of cases where faulty forensics in the Houston Police Department Crime Lab contributed to the wrongful conviction. A comprehensive audit of cases in the lab found in 2007 that serology testing there from 1980 to 1992 was “generally unreliable.” Read more and download the full audit report here.

But the problem isn’t isolated in Houston. Among the nation’s 241 DNA exonerations to date, approximately 50% involved unvalidated or improper forensic science. Earlier this year, an unprecedented report from the National Academy of Sciences found serious deficiencies in forensic science and called for the creation of a National Institute of Forensic Sciences. Learn more and join the call for federal oversight and support of forensics at the Just Science Coalition website.





Tags: Ernest Sonnier

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Houston Man Free After 23 Years

Posted: August 7, 2009 2:46 pm

Innocence Project client Ernest Sonnier is free today after more than two decades in Texas prisons for a rape he didn’t commit. DNA testing has proven Sonnier’s innocence of the 1985 attack and implicated two other men. Sonnier was freed on bond today by a Texas judge while he continues seeking to fully clear his name in the weeks ahead.

His mother, Altha Davis, told reporters that she always knew he was innocent because he was with her when the crime was allegedly committed – on Christmas Eve 1985. “It’s been long for me, so long,” she said. “I’m happy and so sad at the same time.” Watch a video interview with Sonnier’s mother here.

Sonnier will stay with Davis while he adjusts to his newfound freedom. He was joined in court today by family members, Innocence Project Staff Attorney Alba Morales, Social Worker Angela Amel and several people previously exonerated by DNA testing in Texas. Click here to send him a personal message welcoming him home after 23 long years of wrongful incarceration.

Sonnier’s case is the latest in a string of wrongful convictions caused in part by faulty forensic testing at the Houston Police Department Crime Lab. Although blood-type testing on important crime scene evidence conducted before trial didn’t match Sonnier’s type  –  and even suggested that he may be innocent – an analysts testified at his trial that he could still be the perpetrator, based on a conclusion not supported by the analyst’s own report.

Houston has been an epicenter of forensic problems – but faulty forensic testing is a national problem and must be addressed in order to prevent more wrongful convictions. Earlier this year, the National Academies of Sciences called for the creation of a National Institute of Forensic Science to provide research, support and oversight in forensic disciplines to prevent wrongful convictions and help law enforcement identify the perpetrators of crime.
Read more about troubles in the Houston crime lab, and sign a petition supporting the creation of an independent, science-based federal forensic entity.

News coverage of today’s hearing:

Houston Chronicle: Houston Judge Orders Release of Man Convicted of Rape

KHOU: Ernest Sonnier's Mom Said She Always Knew He Was Innocent

Innocence Project Press Release





Tags: Ernest Sonnier

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California Man Could Be Freed After 24 Years

Posted: August 11, 2009 6:20 pm

Bruce Lisker could be freed as early as this evening after 24 years in California prisons for a murder he says he didn’t commit. A judge granted him bail today after overturning his conviction on Friday based on the finding that he was convicted of killing his mother based on “false evidence.”

He could become the sixth person freed based on evidence of innocence in the last six days. Last Wednesday, Kenneth Ireland was freed in Connecticut based on DNA evidence of his innocence. On Thursday, three men in the Norfolk Four case in Virginia were pardoned. On Friday, Innocence Project client Ernest Sonnier was freed in Texas.

A Los Angeles Times editorial today called Lisker’s case “deeply disturbing” and said frequent exonerations prove that criminal justice reform is needed in California.

The truth is that this is an ongoing problem in California. And thanks to knee-jerk obstruction by district attorneys and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the state has made little progress in fixing it.

Last year, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice issued a 196-page report outlining procedural and structural flaws in the state's criminal justice system, along with recommendations to ameliorate them. The Legislature responded by passing bills in 2006 and 2007 regarding eyewitness identification and the video recording of police interrogations, but Schwarzenegger vetoed both. Legislation regulating the use of jailhouse informants passed as well, but met the same fate as did a bill increasing compensation for wrongfully convicted people.
Visit our What Can I Do? page to take action today on exoneree compensation and other issues.



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U.S. Supreme Court Orders Hearing for Troy Davis

Posted: August 17, 2009 1:33 pm

In a highly unusual step, the U.S. Supreme Court today ordered a new hearing in the case of Troy Davis, who has been on Georgia’s death row for nearly two decades for a murder he says he didn’t commit. Ruling on a habeas corpus petition from Davis, the court ordered a federal judge to “receive testimony and findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes [Davis’] innocence.”

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.

But Justice John Paul Stevens cited prior court precedent that said it would be “an atrocious violation of our Constitution and the principles upon which it is based” to execute an innocent man.

“Imagine a petitioner in Davis’s situation who possesses new evidence conclusively and definitively proving, beyond any scintilla of doubt, that he is an innocent man,” Stevens wrote. “The dissent’s reasoning would allow such a petitioner to be put to death nonetheless.”

Read the full story here. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 08/17/09)
Last year, the Innocence Project joined with the Innocence Network in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in federal court on Davis’ behalf, arguing that eyewitness identification – a major contributor to Davis’ conviction – is often unreliable and that the case should be subject to review on appeal. Download the Network brief here. (PDF)

UPDATE: Innocence Project Staff Attorney Ezekiel Edwards discussed the case on DemocracyNow! on August 19 with Davis' sister Martina Correia and others. Watch his appearance here.



Tags: Troy Davis

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An Indiana Man’s Fight for Freedom

Posted: August 17, 2009 6:18 pm

Willie T. Donald has been behind bars in Indiana for 17 years for a murder and robbery he says he didn’t commit.  Mounting evidence of his innocence, including a recantation from a central eyewitness, will be argued before an Indiana judge in October. The Medill Innocence Project at Northwestern University has investigated Donald’s case for two years and the work of journalism students has turned up significant evidence that another man committed the crimes for which Donald was convicted in 1992.

A new multimedia series from the Times of Northwest Indiana explores the case in depth, including a video interview with Donald in prison and another with a victim who now says she was “pressured and intimidated” by investigators to identify Donald as the man who robbed her.

Donald told the Times that he is hopeful he will be cleared:

"During the early stages of my incarceration, I wanted to give up, but something kept encouraging me to fight," Donald, 41, wrote in a letter last week to The Times. "I guess it was my family, my conscience or the fact that I knew I was totally innocent of the crimes in which I was convicted of. Maybe that was the motivating factor. Luckily, I continue to believe that one day I would be vindicated."
 

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Wisconsin Man Is Cleared

Posted: August 19, 2009 3:41 pm

Prosecutors in Wisconsin announced today that they won’t appeal a state judge’s decision to drop charges against Ralph Armstrong, who has been in prison for nearly 30 years for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit.

The Innocence Project has worked with Armstrong’s attorneys since 1993, and Staff Attorney Ezekiel Edwards said today that this is “one of the worst cases of prosecutorial misconduct we’ve ever seen.”

For years, prosecutors hid evidence of Armstrong’s innocence and tried to sabotage his efforts to overturn his wrongful conviction. His conviction was overturned in 2005 after DNA testing on hair and semen excluded Armstrong as the perpetrator. Prosecutors sought to retry Armstrong, and he has been in custody awaiting retrial for four years.

Armstrong will be sent to New Mexico to face pending parole violations on an unrelated conviction.

Today’s statement from the Innocence Project – and more background on the case.

News coverage:

Murder Charge Against Armstrong Dropped (Associated Press, 08/19/09)

UPDATE 8/20/09:

Wisconsin Public Radio: Three Decades Later, Case Is Dropped Against Rape and Homicide Suspect

Wisconsin State Journal: Armstrong Won't Be Prosecuted Again

Associated Press: Wisconsin Won't Appeal Case Against Cleared Inmate

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FBI Agents: Norfolk Four Are Innocent

Posted: August 26, 2009 6:04 pm

Earlier this month, three members of the “Norfolk Four” were freed from a Virginia prison after Gov. Tim Kaine granted them a conditional pardon based on “serious doubts” about their guilt. The fourth man was freed in 2005 and not pardoned. All four were convicted of a 1997 murder in Norfolk they say they didn’t commit. DNA testing has tied a fifth man, Omar Ballard, to the crime and he has confessed to killing the victim alone.

The pardons don’t declare the men innocent, however, and a group of FBI agents wrote in the New York Times yesterday that justice won’t be done until the men are granted full pardons.

Our comprehensive review of the Norfolk Four matter left us with no doubt that the so-called confessions given by the Norfolk Four were coerced, false confessions and as such were completely unreliable.
The governor should grant the Norfolk Four absolute pardons. It is the least that can now be done for these four men who served their nation honorably as members of the United States Navy.
The New York Times wrote in an editorial on August 17, writing that “the men should not give up” because “the miscarriage of justice in this case has been diminished, but not wiped away.”

Read the FBI Agents’ letter.

Read the NY Times editorial.

Learn more about the Norfolk Four case at the defendants’ official website.





Tags: Norfolk Four

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Friday Roundup: Arson, ID and Exoneration

Posted: August 28, 2009 2:30 pm

An independent investigator delivered a report this week to the Texas Forensic Science Commission finding serious flaws in the evidence used to convict Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 in Texas for an arson murder he always said he didn’t commit. The investigator’s report is consistent with the findings of a panel of arson experts commissioned by the Innocence Project to review the case in 2006. We’ll have much more on Willingham’s case next week.

Richard Sturgeon was freed in Houston after nearly 11 years in prison for a crime he has always said he didn’t commit. He was convicted based in part on an eyewitness identification resulting from an improper lineup including three suspects. The two other men implicated in the crime have said Sturgeon was innocent.

A North Carolina man serving life in prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit will have a hearing next week before the state’s innocence commission. An investigator has said DNA from the crime scene doesn’t match the prisoner’s profile.

Matthew Gerrie, a researcher at New Zealand’s Victoria University and a manger at the Innocence Project of New Zealand, was named a “Young Scientist of the Year” for his work examining eyewitness identification practice and the decision-making processes of witnesses.

Tennessee exoneree Clark McMillan said this week that he is struggling to make ends meet under the annuity he receives as part of his compensation from the state.

Connecticut lawyer Karen Lee Torre wrote a column praising the work of the Connecticut Innocence Project, which represented Kenneth Ireland, who was cleared by DNA and freed this month after two decades in prison.

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News and Opinion on a Wrongful Execution in Texas

Posted: September 1, 2009 6:30 pm

We posted yesterday on the New Yorker’s exhaustive investigation showing that Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas for a crime he didn’t commit. Below are links to some coverage of the story, along with reaction and opinion from across the web:

Bob Herbert wrote today in the New York Times that “it was inevitable that some case in which a clearly innocent person had been put to death would come to light.”

Jonah Lehrer writes at The Daily Dish blog that the Willingham case brought to mind the Just World Hypothesis, which suggests that we “rationalize injustices away, so that we can maintain our naive belief in a just world.”

Allan Turner wrote in the Houston Chronicle that the Willingham case may bolster federal forensic reforms.

Desiree Evans asked at Facing South: “How many more Willinghams exist on Texas’ death row?”

Tomorrow (Wednesday, September 2) at 3 p.m. EST, New Yorker reporter David Grann will take readers’ questions in a live chat. Join in here.



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Join New Yorker's David Grann in a Live Online Chat

Posted: September 2, 2009 1:40 pm

David Grann’s thorough investigation of the Cameron Todd Willingham case in this week’s New Yorker is the strongest case on record that an innocent person has been executed since capital punishment was reinstated. The story has also heightened attention and dialogue about the death penalty and the reliability of forensic science.

Grann investigated the story for nearly a year, and he will take questions from readers today about the process, the case and what it means in the context of the criminal justice system today.

UPDATE: Read the transcript of the live chat here.



Tags: Cameron Todd Willingham

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Suspect Arrested in Milwaukee Killings

Posted: September 8, 2009 5:54 pm

Milwaukee police have arrested a 49-year-old man in connection with nine murders – including the 1995 killing for which Chaunte Ott was wrongfully convicted. Walter Ellis has been charged with two murders so far, but police said his DNA has been found at the crime scenes of at least nine killings.

Ott served nearly 13 years in prison before DNA testing obtained by the Wisconsin Innocence Project proved him innocent this year. He was freed in June.

Read more about Ellis’ arrest and view graphics and history of the “North Side Strangler” case. (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 09/08/09)

Read background on Ott’s wrongful conviction and exoneration
.




Tags: Chaunte Ott

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You Can Free the Innocent

Posted: September 11, 2009 4:10 pm

This week at the Innocence Project, we kicked off a campaign to raise $25,000 in the next two weeks for DNA testing in our clients’ cases. We currently have more than 250 active cases, and we’re committed to paying for DNA testing whenever it has the potential to prove innocence in a client’s case. We can’t do it without your help, however. Please donate today – 100% of gifts between now and September 23 will go toward DNA testing for our clients.

We spend about $8,500 on DNA testing in an average case, but some cases can cost much more than that. Multiple pieces of crime scene evidence often need to be tested, and sometimes retested using cutting-edge technologies.

Steven Barnes was exonerated earlier this year after spending nearly two decades behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit. Complicated DNA testing in his case finally proved his innocence, but it cost over $20,000 to complete. We couldn’t have freed Steven without the support of generous Innocence Project donors, and we truly appreciate the help we receive from around the world.

Please donate today to help overturn wrongful convictions through DNA testing.

Help us spread the word:


Share the campaign link on Facebook.

Post the campaign link to Twitter.





Tags: Steven Barnes

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Indiana Court Orders Recording of Interrogations

Posted: September 16, 2009 4:26 pm

The Indiana Supreme Court yesterday issued a new rule requiring law enforcement agencies to record suspect interrogations starting in 2011. The court ruled 3-2 in favor of the change, which will only allow evidence gathered in interrogations to be entered in a courtroom if the interrogation was recorded.

The move makes Indiana the 17th state to require the recording of interrogations in at least some crimes. The court explained the reasoning for the new rule in a statement:

"The rule change is aimed at helping police, prosecutors, courts and juries in their search for truth, justice, and due process of law. A complete audio-video recording, which captures the voice, facial expressions and body language of the suspect and interrogator, can be a valuable tool for law enforcement, courts, and citizens.

"The electronic recording can provide strong evidence of guilt, confirm police gave suspects all required warnings, and ultimately lead to more guilty pleas," the statement said. "The recordings are also likely to lessen factual disputes in court and reduce the number of motions to suppress evidence."
Several cities and counties in Indiana already record interrogations, but others will have nearly two years to equip their facilities to begin recording. Indiana State Rep. Matt Pierce said the rule change is a positive step for the state’s criminal justice system.
"It gives a clear, objective record of how the interrogation went," he said. "If the police officer was out of line, you are going to see that. And you will also see when the officer did nothing wrong."

Read the full story here. (Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, 9/16/09)
The Innocence Project strongly recommends that states require electronic recording of interrogations; as the practice aids law enforcement by creating a clear record of proceedings and can prevent false confessions and admissions that lead to wrongful convictions.

Read more about the Innocence Project’s stance on recording of interrogations here
.





Tags: Indiana, False Confessions, False Confessions

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LA Times: We Can Do Better with Forensics

Posted: September 21, 2009 3:29 pm

An editorial in today’s Los Angeles Times makes a strong case for federal forensic reform, pointing out that Cameron Todd Willingham, an innocent man executed in Texas in 2004, is among countless people sent to prison in the U.S. based on faulty forensic evidence. 

Willingham’s case is heartbreaking: He lost his children to fire and his wife to divorce, spent 12 years in prison and died still protesting his innocence. But his is not an isolated case. There are thousands of Willinghams in prisons across the country. If not on death row, they are nonetheless serving decades-long or even life sentences after having been convicted on the basis of erroneous scientific conclusions made by poorly trained “experts.”
The editorial refers to the Senate Judiciary hearings earlier this month on forensic science, where Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld called for an expanded federal role in forensic reforms. The LA Times editorial calls for the creation of a federal  entity  to stimulate forensic research, set standards and enforce those standards.

Read the full editorial here.Get background on the Willingham case here.
Visit the Just Science Coalition website to sign a petition for federal forensic reform.

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Six Years Free, Living a New Life

Posted: September 24, 2009 5:25 pm

This week marks the sixth year anniversary of the day Calvin Willis was freed from a Louisiana prison. He served nearly 22 years for a rape he did not commit before DNA testing secured by the Innocence Project led to his 2003 release.  

Eyewitness misidentification
was a principle factor in Willis' wrongful conviction. The witnesses were young girls, aged 9 and 7; the victim was 10.  Much of the case against Willis was built not only on the girls' conflicting statements as to what happened, but on a pair of underwear found at the house (some ten sizes bigger than the size Willis wore), semen, and scrapings found under the victim's fingernails that matched Willis' blood type.  DNA tests showed that the semen on the shorts and the fingernail scrapings did not belong to Willis.
 
It was not a family member or a friend, as in many cases, who first advocated Willis' innocence, but a paralegal formerly unacquainted with Willis. Janet Gregory spent years advocating on Willis' behalf and was instrumental in his exoneration. An upcoming Lifetime original movie called The Wronged Man, tells the story of Willis' case and his unusual friendship with Gregory.We'll have more about the film on the Innocence Blog before it premieres.

Since his exoneration, Willis got married and now lives in California. Last year, Willis was reunited with a longtime friend from prison and fellow DNA exoneree - Rickie JohnsonWatch footage of their reunion here.      

Other Exoneration Anniversaries This Week:

Gilbert Alejandro, Texas (Served 3.5 Years, Exonerated 9/21/94)
Larry Bostic, Florida (Served 18 Years, Exonerated 9/21/07)
Chester Bauer, Montana (Served 8 Years, Exonerated 9/22/97)
Patrick Waller, Texas (Served 15 Years, Exonerated 9/24/08)



Tags: Calvin Willis

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Montana Man Marks Seven Years Free

Posted: October 2, 2009 12:48 pm

This week marks the seventh  anniversary of Jimmy Ray Bromgard’s exoneration in Montana, after serving more than 14 years for a crime he did not commit. Bromgard was convicted at 18 and released at 32, losing the prime years of his life behind bars. Participating in a prison program for sex offenders could have led to his early release, but he refused to take the classes.  “I would have had to admit my guilt,” he said after his release. “I'd rather sit there in prison for all my life than admit my guilt."

Bromgard was convicted based in part on forensic science misconduct. The prosecution tied Bromgard to the crime by using the testimony of a state forensic hair examiner, Arnold Melnikoff, who claimed hairs found on the victim's bed were similar to Bromgard's, and further argued there was less than a one-in-10,000 chance that the hairs did not come from Bromgard. Melnikoff’s testimony was fraudulent; there has never been a standard by which to statistically match hairs through microscopic inspection.

Unvalidated or improper forensic science has played a role in more than 50% of the 244 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing to date. Forensic problems include the kind of fraudulent testimony that led to Bromgard’s conviction, but they also include testimony in fields -- such as bite mark comparisons or firearm analysis -- that simply have not been subjected to rigorous scientific research.

To learn more about recommended federal forensic reforms and to sign a petition supporting improved support and oversight for forensics, visit the Just Science Coalition website.

Read more about Bromgard’s case here.

Other Exoneration Anniversaries This Week:


George Rodriguez, Texas (Served 17 years, Exonerated 9/29/05)

Steven Phillips, Texas (Served 24 Years, Exonerated 10/1/08)

Arthur Johnson, Mississippi (Served 15.5 Years , Exonerated 10/1/08)

Earl Washington, Virginia (Served 17 years, Exonerated 10/2/00)

Albert Johnson, California (Served 10 years, Exonerated 10/3/02)





Tags: Jimmy Ray Bromgard

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Wrongful Convictions and Police Chiefs, Part II

Posted: October 7, 2009 6:20 pm

Innocence Project client Thomas McGowan spoke yesterday on a panel at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference in Denver. He was joined by the victim of the crime for which he was wrongfully convicted and the original investigating officer, Mike Corley, who is now the Assistant Chief of the Richardson, Texas, Police Department.

The Dallas Morning News Crime Blog covered the panel here
.
 
Read about McGowan’s recent meeting with Corley and the crime victim here
.
 
Also speaking at the event was Darryl Hunt, who spent nearly 19 years in North Carolina prisons for a murder he didn’t commit before he was exonerated through DNA testing. Joining Hunt were his attorney, Mark Rabil, Winston-Salem Police Sgt. Chuck Byrom and North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence Director Christine Mumma. Read more about Hunt's case here.
 



Tags: Darryl Hunt, Thomas McGowan

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U.S. Government to Fund Wrongful Conviction Representation and Training Efforts

Posted: October 9, 2009 4:50 pm

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance, an office within the Department of Justice, announced recently that it will provide nearly $2.5 million in funding this year for 11 organizations working to represent defendants seeking to overturn wrongful convictions. The funding is dedicated to organizations that handle cases where DNA testing cannot help prove innocence. The BJA also announced that it will provide about $100,000 to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to facilitate training to help attorneys and organizations to improve the capacity to represent defendants seeking to prove their innocence in post-conviction appeals.

The organizations awarded grants are: the Idaho Innocence Project, the Innocence Project of Minnesota, the Kentucky Innocence Project, the Midwestern Innocence Project, the Northern California Innocence Project, the Alaska Innocence Project, the Cooley Innocence Project (at Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan), the Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services, the Innocence Project of Florida, the Michigan State Appellate Defender’s Office and the Arizona Justice Project.

The Innocence Project is a separate non-profit organization from the organizations above, many of which are fellow members of the Innocence Network – an affiliation of organizations dedicated to overturning wrongful convictions. The Innocence Project only handles cases where DNA testing could prove innocence.

Read more in the BJA statement on the grants.

The Department of Justice also announced recently that it would fund DNA testing in cases of possible wrongful conviction in nine states under the Postconviction DNA Testing Assistance Program. The nine states receiving funds this year are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Mexico and Wisconsin.



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Friday Roundup: Overturning Injustices from 1995 and 1915

Posted: October 9, 2009 6:15 pm

Richard Miles could be freed in Dallas on Monday after an investigation by Centurion Ministries turned up evidence that he didn’t commit a rape for which he was convicted in 1995.

Syndicated radio host Tom Joyner is seeking posthumous pardons for two of his great-uncles, who may have been executed for a crime they didn’t commit in South Carolina in 1915.

Coverage continued across the country this week of the 2004 wrongful execution of Cameron Todd Willingham. The Buffalo News said the case makes a clear argument for forensic reforms. We reported on other developments in the case earlier in the week here.

The blog Grits for Breakfast wondered how the state can best review other claims of wrongful conviction based on faulty arson science. The Texas Observer reviewed several of those cases.

A story in Washington Lawyer examined the landmark 1963 Gideon v. Wainwright Supreme Court decision that guaranteed the right to an attorney, and found an “unfulfilled promise.” “Thousands of people across the country go to jail every year without ever being competently defended or even talking to a lawyer,” Bob Kemper writes. Read more.

The Herald de Paris reported on the case of Hiroshi Yanagihara, who confessed to an attempted rape he didn’t commit in Japan and spent two years in prison before he was cleared.

An upcoming three-part series from the BBC will examine problems with eyewitness misidentification.

The Voice of America reported on calls for forensic reform.

A new study from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia casts further doubt on the reliability of the “Mr. Big” investigation technique used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.




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James Ochoa: Three Years Free, a New Start in Texas

Posted: October 23, 2009 2:01 pm

Three years ago this week, James Ochoa was exonerated after serving 10 months in prison for a crime he didn't commit.  He was freed when the profile of another man in a DNA database matched evidence from the crime for which Ochoa was convicted.

Ochoa now lives in Texas with his wife and children and works in sales for a clothing company.

Ochoa became a suspect in a 2005 Buena Park, California, carjacking after a highly questionable eyewitness identification procedure and involvement of a police scent-tracking dog.

After two young men were carjacked, they described the perpetrator to a police officer, who immediately thought of Ochoa, whom he had seen earlier that night nearby. The officer showed the victims a picture of Ochoa from his laptop computer. One victim saw only a picture of Ochoa; the other saw photographs of Ochoa's two friends (who did not resemble the description just taken) first and then Ochoa. Both victims said Ochoa "looked like" the perpetrator.

The car was found in the neighborhood later that night -- a B.B. gun used in the crime and a hat worn by the perpetrator were inside. A bloodhound dog named "Trace" was brought to the scene. Trace allegedly followed the scent from a swab from the perpetrator's baseball cap to Ochoa's front door. The use of dog sniffing evidence has come under fire in several states in recent months.

Ochoa was charged with the crime, despite DNA test results that showed one profile on the hat and gun, excluding Ochoa. Against the advice of his attorney, Ochoa accepted a guilty plea in exchange for a two-year sentence, after a judge threatened him with a 25-year sentence if convicted by a jury.

Ten months later, another man was arrested in Los Angeles on unrelated carjacking charges. His DNA profile matched the profile from the hat and gun in Ochoa's case and he confessed to committing the crime. Ochoa was freed after ten months in prison.

Read more about his case - as well as with background on eyewitness misidentification and unvalidated science.

Other exoneree anniversaries this week:


Edward Honaker, Virginia (Served 9.5 years/Exonerated 10/21/94)

Fredric Saecker, Wisconsin (Served 6 years/Exonerated 10/24/96)

Victor Ortiz, New York  (Served 11.5 years - exonerated 10/24/96)




Tags: James Ochoa

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Two Men Freed in Dallas, Another Seeks Justice in New York

Posted: October 23, 2009 6:10 pm

The innocent continue to walk out of prisons across the country, and Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins thinks today's exoneration of two men might be the "biggest yet" for his office.

Claude Simmons Jr. and Christopher Scott were freed today in Dallas after spending 12 years in prison for a murder that evidence now shows they didn't commit.

Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins, whose county has seen more DNA exonerations than any other in the country, said today's non-DNA exonerations may inspire other prosecutors' offices and police departments around the country to reopen questionable old convictions for investigation. "I expect this case will get a lot of attention, and I expect you'll see other police departments get involved in cases like this. We're going to lead the way in how to dispense justice," he told the Dallas Observer.

Meanwhile, a New York man has been granted a new trial in a 1977 murder that evidence shows he didn't commit. Dewey Bozella has been in prison for more than 25 years, and said he was overjoyed at the news of his new trial. "It was like a miracle had happened," he said. Bozella is represented by pro-bono attorneys at the firm WilmerHale. The Innocence Project represented Bozella until it was clear that evidence did not exist for DNA testing, at which point the organization reached out to WilmerHale to take on the case. Over the last two years, WilmerHale attorneys have uncovered substantial evidence that Bozella is innocent and that another man actually committed the crime.

Kenneth Ireland has been free for two months, since DNA testing proved him innocent of a 1986 Connecticut murder he didn't commit. Ireland, who was 18 when he was arrested and 39 when he was freed, spoke with Fox this week about adjusting to life outside of prison.

A man was exonerated and compensated after spending 27 years in a Chinese prison for a rape he says he didn't commit. He was retried and acquitted this year in Henan Province, and a court has now awarded him 1.02 million yuan (about $146,000) in compensation.

The Cameron Todd Willingham case continued to draw coverage and discussion this week. We posted yesterday on the letter from 400+ Texans to forensic commission chairman John Bradley. JR posted today at Daily Kos on the letter and other developments in the case. Randi Kaye covered the story this week for CNN's Anderson Cooper 360. Her latest report from Texas is set for tonight at 10 p.m. ET.

An L.A. Times editorial today said Gov. Rick Perry's decision to reconfigure the Forensic Science Commission "looks highly suspicious." Innocence Project Online Communications Manager Matt Kelley wrote about the case -- and the outlook for the Forensic Science Commission -- today on the American Constitution Society blog.

We reported earlier this week on the case of prosecutors subpoenaing student information from the Medill Innocence Project. The case continues to make news, with a report yesterday in Time magazine.And, finally, the most offbeat DNA story the week: An Australian man was charged with a robbery after blood recovered from a leech found at the crime scene matched his profile.


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Police Dogs and Unvalidated Forensics

Posted: November 4, 2009 1:57 pm

Two lawsuits being filed today in federal court allege that a Texas dog handler used unreliable methods to “justify police agencies’ suspicions” and falsely accuse two men of crimes they didn’t commit.

The cases come as dog scent evidence – and “scent lineups” in particular (where dogs examine a group of scents including a suspect’s) – are under fire in several states across the country. Testimony from dog handlers has played a role in at least three wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing to date. It is one of the forensic disciplines used in American courtrooms despite a lack of scientific validation to determine whether it is accurate.

The New York Times reports today on scent lineups and police dog evidence, pointing to a recent study on the issue by the Innocence Project of Texas, which estimates that 10 to 15 people are in prison solely on the testimony of one sheriff’s deputy – Keith Pikett – who is named in the federal lawsuits filed today.

Critics (of scent lineups) say that the possibilities of cross-contamination of scent are great, and that the procedures are rarely well controlled. Nonetheless, although some courts have rejected evidence from them, the technique has been used in many states, including Alaska, Florida, New York and Texas, said Lawrence J. Myers, an associate professor of animal behavior at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Read the full story here. (New York Times, 11/4/09)
Earlier this year, the National Academy of Sciences released a groundbreaking report showing that many forensic disciplines – such as bite marks, fiber analysis and toolmarks – lack scientific rigor. The report calls on Congress to create a federal entity to stimulate research, set standards and enforce those standards.  

Visit the Just Science Coalition website
for more on the NAS report and progress implementing its critical reccomendtations.




Tags: Unvalidated/Improper Forensics, Dog Scent

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Veterans and Wrongful Conviction

Posted: November 11, 2009 1:54 pm

On this Veterans' Day, our thoughts are with the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have served the United States over the years in the military and those serving right now.

We’re also thinking about the many exonerees who served the country in the Armed Forces before suffering the unimaginable injustice of a wrongful conviction. Among the exonerees who served in the military is Larry Fuller, a decorated Vietnam veteran who served nearly two decades in prison in Texas for a sexual assault he didn’t commit.

Other DNA exonerees who served in the military include Brandon Moon, Jerry Miller, Kevin Green, Tim Cole, Eddie Lowery and several others.

Wrongful convictions can happen to anyone, unless we act to address the underlying causes. Read more about the reform measures supported by the Innocence Project to prevent wrongful convictions from happening.


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Missing Evidence Presents a Problem in Kentucky

Posted: November 30, 2009 3:40 pm

In 2004, Kentucky improved its evidence preservation law, requiring that law enforcement agencies save evidence from most major crimes.  But an Associated Press report this weekend shows that evidence is missing in several key cases across the state and casts doubt on preservation policies in practice.

Defense attorneys say evidence has gone missing in Kentucky, resulting in problems for six capital cases and possibly hundreds of other prosecutions, including rapes and robberies.

All the cases predate DNA testing, which can now be used to determine guilt.

"It's really becoming an issue," said Kentucky Innocence Project chief Ted Shouse, whose office is reviewing more than 4,000 old cases. "This is going to be a huge problem."

… "Clearly, the number of exonerations from DNA in this country should be a wake up call to preserve evidence," Shouse said.

The catch is making sure the law is followed by all parties - clerks, court reporters, law enforcement, said Rebecca Brown, a policy advocate for The Innocence Project, a New York-based national organization that seeks to free those wrongly convicted.

"There's sometimes a disconnect between what's on the books and actual practice," Brown said. "A mandate doesn't necessarily make it down to all the people charged with retaining that evidence."

Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 11/26/09)
Procedures mandating proper collection, cataloguing and storage of crime scene evidence are crucial to a fair justice system -- preserving evidence doesn’t only help free the innocent, it also helps law enforcement agencies solve cold cases.

View a map of evidence preservation policies nationwide.

Learn more about the Innocence Project’s recommended policies for evidence preservation.




Tags: Kentucky, Evidence Preservation

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Public Defense and Wrongful Conviction

Posted: December 1, 2009 5:50 pm

Many of the 245 people exonerated through DNA testing were represented at their original trial by public defenders or appointed attorneys who were underfunded, overburdened, in over their heads, or all of the above.

And the threat of wrongful convictions caused by bad lawyering isn’t an issue of the past. A new report from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics finds public defense offices around the country stuggling to stay above water – even before the recession took hold in 2008. Today, states and counties are facing budget cuts that could compromise the quality of representation and contribute to more wrongful convictions.

An editorial in the Detroit Free Press today calls of the Michigan Legislature to address the state’s inadequate indigent defense system, which is 44th in the country in spending, through a package of bills introduced last month. The paper writes:

An effective public defense system will save money by reducing wrongful-conviction lawsuits, keeping innocent people out of prison and making sure defendants who can't afford counsel don't get unjustifiably long sentences.

…In calling attention to Michigan's abysmal public defense system, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently cited the wrongful conviction of Eddie Joe Lloyd, who served 17 years in prison for a murder and rape he didn't commit. Lloyd's appointed attorneys failed to investigate, or even cross-examine police about, Lloyd's false confession. As Holder pointed out, Lloyd's imprisonment and appeals cost Michigan nearly $1 million, not including the $4-million civil judgment Lloyd later won for his wrongful conviction.

Legislators ought to remember cases like Lloyd's as they consider overdue bills to fix Michigan's morally indefensible and economically shortsighted system for public defense.

Other states are facing similar burdens. Over the weekend, a Kentucky county learned that it must cut 30 percent of its budget for next year and an Indiana county announced that it was cutting several attorney and support staff positions.

Read more about bad lawyering and wrongful convictions here.



Tags: Bad Lawyering

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A Canadian Mother Is Cleared in Her Son’s Death

Posted: December 8, 2009 2:20 pm

In 1999, facing devastating testimony from a man considered at the time to be one of the world’s leading pediatric pathologists and a possible life sentence, Sherry Sherret-Robinson pled guilty to suffocating her four-month-old son, something she had always said she didn’t do.

Yesterday, she was cleared. A panel of three Ontario judges set aside her conviction, saying she had been wrongfully convicted. The work of Dr. Charles Smith, the pathologist who testified that Sherret-Robinson’s son had been asphyxiated, has been discredited in recent years. Sherret-Robinson is the second person cleared of a conviction based on faulty testimony from Smith, and nearly 30 additional cases are under review.

The wrongful conviction has taken a toll on her life, reports the Toronto Star. She served a year in prison before being released, and also lost custody of her eldest son. She has struggled to find work due to her criminal record and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Read the full story – and more on the other pending Smith cases
. (Toronto Star, 12/08/09)

Unvalidated or improper forensics, including faulty testimony from medical examiners, has been a factor in at least half of the wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing to date. Learn more about forensics as a cause of wrongful conviction here.





Tags: Unvalidated/Improper Forensics

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One Year Free, New Questions Raised

Posted: December 10, 2009 6:13 pm

One year ago today, William Dillon was exonerated from a Florida prison after serving 27 years for a murder DNA proves he didn’t commit. Dillon was convicted in 1981 based in part on a dog-scent lineup conducted by a now-discredited dog handler.

On August 17, 1981, James Dvorak was found beaten to death in a wooded area near Canova Beach, FL.  That same morning a driver picked up a hitchhiker near the beach wearing a bloody yellow T-shirt.  Police recovered the T-shirt from a trash can and collected other evidence from the driver's truck.

John Preston, a purported expert in handling scent-tracking dogs, was hired for the investigation. Preston said his dog, “Harrass II,”  linked a T-shirt allegedly worn by the perpetrator to the crime scene and to Dillon. Dillon was arrested and charged with the murder.  At Dillon’s trial, a former girlfriend claimed to have seen him wearing the blood-stained shirt as he stood over the body and a jailhouse snitch testified that Dillon had confessed to the crime. With this evidence added to the testimony of the dog handler, Dillon was convicted and sentenced to life.

In 2007, after years of attempts at an appeal, Dillon was helped by public defenders and attorneys at the Innocence Project of Florida. Dillon’s advocates obtained access to DNA testing on the bloody shirt, which had been preserved. The results proved Dillon’s innocence and he was freed on November 18, 2008. His exoneration became official when charges were dropped three weeks later, on December 10.

Since Dillon's exoneration the use of dog-scent lineups and  scent-tracking dogs to make identifications has come under intense questioning across the country. Two men are suing a Texas deputy because his dogs played a role in their wrongful arrests. Other states are reexamining the practice.

Preston  also played a role in the case of Innocence Project client Wilton Dedge, who was exonerated in 2004 after 22 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Preston’s work was challenged as early as the 1980s when his dog failed an accuracy test conducted by a Brevard County judge. The Arizona Supreme Court later called him a “charlatan.” In 2008, a Brevard County judge said Preston was used by prosecutors “to confirm the state’s preconceived notions.”

Other Anniversaries This Week:

Dewey Davis, West Virginia (Served 7 years, Exonerated 12/7/1995)

Alejandro Hernandez, Illinois (Served 10.5 years, Exonerated 12/8/1995)

Marlon Pendleton, Illinois (Served 10 years, Exonerated 12/8/2006)

Robert Clark, Georgia (Served 23.5 years, Exonerated 12/8/2005)

Nicholas Yarris, Pennsylvania (Served 21.5 years, Exonerated 12/9/2003)

Timothy Durham, Oklahoma (Served 3.5 years, Exonerated 12/9/1997)

John Jerome White, Georgia (Served 22.5 years, Exonerated 12/10/2007)




Tags: Wilton Dedge, William Dillon

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Set Free After 28 Years

Posted: December 15, 2009 3:34 pm

Donald Eugene Gates was freed today in Arizona, after spending nearly three decades in federal prisons for a murder and rape DNA now shows he didn’t commit.

He will travel to his home state of Ohio for the week, but a hearing next week in Washington, D.C. could fully clear him.  

Gates was convicted of the 1981 rape and murder of a 21-year-old college student based in part on unreliable forensic testimony from an FBI analyst who was later discredited, and the testimony of a paid government informant. He is represented on appeal by attorneys at the Public Defender Service of the District of Columbia. The Innocence Project consulted on DNA testing in the case.

Prosecutors requested further tests before agreeing to clear Gates, and a D.C. judge gave them eight days to complete the tests. The judge ordered Gates freed immediately, however, and ruled that he shouldn’t be forced to register as a sex offender, allowing him to travel home to Ohio.

D.C. Judge Fred Ugast, who presided over Gates' trial in the 1980s, says he's grateful technology made it possible to "right a wrong."

Read the full story. (Associated Press, 12/15/09)
Read more on the case here:

Blog of Legal Times (12/14/09)



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Forensics and the Gates Case

Posted: December 16, 2009 5:11 pm

As we reported yesterday, Donald Eugene Gates was freed in Arizona after serving nearly three decades behind bars for a Washington, D.C., crime he didn’t commit. An examination of the forensics behind his wrongful conviction makes a strong case for federal forensic reform to prevent injustices like this in the future.

FBI forensic analyst Michael Malone testified at Gates’ trial in 1982 that hairs found at the scene of the 1981 rape and murder were “microscopically indistinguishable” from Gates’ hairs.  His statements vastly overstated the possible conclusions that could be drawn from a hair comparison. Unlike some other forensic disciplines (DNA testing, blood type testing), hair comparison analysis can only reveal potential similarities between specimens, not the statistical likelihood that two specimens might share common characteristics.

Although Malone’s forensic conclusions have been challenged in other cases, and a 1997 Justice Department review discredited his work, no formal review of his convictions has ever been conducted. The Judge who presided over the Gates case recently ordered the U.S. Attorney’s Office to conduct such a review.

Gates joins a growing group of exonerees whose wrongful convictions were caused, at least in part, by unvalidated or improper forensic science. More than 100 people have been exonerated through DNA testing after unvalidated or improper forensic science contributed to their wrongful conviction (flawed analysis of hair was a factor in many of those cases).The National Academy of Sciences has reported a systemic lack of forensic standards and oversight and has proposed the creation of an independent federal agency to oversee the forensic sciences. According to a report released by the National Academy of Sciences earlier this year, microscopic hair analysis is not a valid science.

In response to the groundbreaking NAS report finding serious problems with forensic science nationwide, the Innocence Project recently drafted a proposal for federal legislation to create the a federal Office of Forensic Science Improvement and Support (OFSIS). The office would be established within the Department of Commerce, which would help define the office’s agenda for research. OFSIS would also engage existing government entities to regulate the mandatory accreditation of crime labs and certification of forensic practitioners; support science-based education and training throughout the criminal justice system; provide periodic needs assessments of the forensic system; and oversee compliance. To learn more and sign a petition in support of the agency visit the Just Science Coalition website.





Tags: Forensic Oversight, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics

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Boston Bar Association: Provide Access to DNA Tests

Posted: December 16, 2009 6:10 pm

A report released today by the Boston Bar Association lays out a sweeping strategy for improving the accuracy of the state’s criminal justice system and calls for the enactment of a law providing access to DNA testing in cases where it can prove innocence.

Massachusetts is one of just three states without a DNA access law, and the Innocence Project today called on state lawmakers to work to pass such a measure in the months ahead.

“Over the last several years, nearly every state in the nation has passed a law granting prisoners access to DNA testing that can prove innocence or confirm guilt. In just the last two years alone, Mississippi and South Carolina passed laws granting access to post-conviction DNA testing, but Massachusetts still hasn’t,” Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom said today. “This report makes a serious, well-reasoned, broadly supported case for finally passing legislation in Massachusetts to grant DNA testing to prisoners, and we hope the State Legislature and the Governor act on it.”

The Bar Association report was created by a task force chaired by two former prosecutors and including representatives of the law enforcement, defense and forensic communities.

Task force co-chairman David E. Meier told the Boston Globe that a broad group of experts was necessary to create the report because fixing the criminal justice system is in everyone’s interest.

“The wrongful conviction of an innocent defendant strikes at the foundation of the criminal justice system,’’ (Meier) said in an interview. “It impacts everyone: the defendant, the victim and the victim’s family, the integrity of the system, and, perhaps most importantly, the public’s confidence in our system of justice.’’
Boston Bar Association press release.

Download the full report. (PDF)

The two other states that lack post-conviction DNA access are Alaska and Oklahoma, but some states offer extremely limited access to testing and need improvements. Visit our interactive map to learn about the details in your state.



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Report: NY Lab Hid Pattern of Misconduct

Posted: December 18, 2009 2:02 pm

A new report released yesterday by the New York Inspector General finds that a major State Police crime lab failed to detect  and act upon systematic problems in the handling of evidence and the falsification of test results in hundreds of cases over 15 years. And as signs of misconduct began to appear, the report finds, lab officials hid evidence that the problem was widespread and pinned it on an analyst who had committed suicide in 2008.

“Cutting corners in a crime lab is serious and intolerable,” the state’s inspector general, Joseph Fisch told the New York Times. “Forensic laboratories must adhere to the highest standards of competence, independence and integrity. Anything less undermines public confidence in our criminal justice system.”
The state police superintendent said the agency planned to hire an outside consultant to review forensic tests conducted in the lab. Several analysts whose conduct is questioned in Thursdays report remain in their jobs pending an internal review.  

Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck said the New York scandal is another clear sign that forensic reform is needed.
“It is a wake-up call to the forensic community,” said Scheck, director of the Innocence Project and a member of the New York State Commission on Forensic Science, which monitors all the state’s crime labs. “What’s alarming about this report and others that we’ve seen like it is it’s not so much the bad actors, it’s the fact that the system didn’t detect them earlier.”

Read the full story here. (New York Times, 12/18/09)
Download the full report here. (PDF)




Tags: Forensic Oversight

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Compensating the Exonerated in New Jersey

Posted: December 21, 2009 2:17 pm

Just weeks after a new Innocence Project report revealed devastating gaps in the support states provide to people exonerated after serving years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, New Jersey’s Star Ledger ran an editorial this weekend about the serious need for the state to improve compensation laws immediately.

The Star Ledger writes:

Under New Jersey's current unjust conviction law, a prisoner who is exonerated can receive up to $20,000 for each year spent in prison, or twice what the person earned in the year before imprisonment, whichever is greater.
A bill proposed by Senate President Richard Codey would raise the limit to $50,000, which is the federal standard. After five years the amount would be adjusted for inflation. The bill also would allow a court to order other services, such as vocational training, counseling and assistance with tuition, housing or health insurance “as appropriate.”…

Clearly, the current law is inadequate. Offering fair compensation to an innocent person who was wrongly imprisoned is simply the right thing to do.
To date, in New Jersey, there have been five people wrongfully convicted, incarcerated and eventually released since 1995.  All five men were released based on DNA evidence and all five men filed civil suits to recover additional damages.  The proposed statute would apply to the pending cases.

Even though New Jersey is one of the 27 states to compensate the wrongfully convicted, it still falls short.  There is still a lot of room for improvement with financial support and social services which is why it’s necessary for New Jersey to pass the proposed bill.

Read the full editorial here.

Read more about the need for compensation and existing shortcomings in legislation here.

 

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Ten Great Moments of the Decade

Posted: December 30, 2009 11:00 am



It goes without saying that DNA testing and the issues surrounding wrongful convictions have left their mark on the criminal justice system in the last ten years. When the decade began, DNA testing had been used in American courtrooms for more than 11 years, but exonerations were still fairly rare.

In the last ten years, 182 people have been exonerated through DNA testing and states have passed dozens of laws addressing the causes of wrongful convictions. Yet there is plenty of work to do — countless innocent people remain behind bars as we pass into 2010 and the threat of wrongful convictions in today’s courtrooms is still very real.

As we look forward to freeing more innocent people than ever in the decade ahead and enacting major reforms to prevent wrongful convictions, here is a list (in chronological order) of 10 seminal moments from the 2000s.

"Actual Innocence” is published (2000)— Written by Innocence Project Co-Directors Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, with Jim Dwyer,  this groundbreaking book examines the emergence of DNA testing and the causes of wrongful conviction it unveiled. During the decade, it became a blueprint for overturning wrongful convictions and reforming the criminal justice system.

Larry Mayes becomes the 100th Exoneree (2001) — Mayes spent 21 years in Indiana prisons before DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project and the Innocence Project at the Indiana University School of Law proved his innocence and led to his release.

Illinois clears death row (2003) — Pointing clearly to the frightening rate of exonerations in his state (since 1977, 13 death row prisoners had been cleared while 12 had been executed), Gov. George Ryan granted blanket clemency to all 167 people on death row on January 10, 2003.

Congress passes the Justice for All Act (2004) — The JFAA is the most significant legislation to ever address wrongful convictions in the United States. It provides an avenue for federal prisoners to seek DNA testing and funds incentives for states to offer similar testing and to improve DNA testing capacity. It also provides compensation for federal exonerees.

 “After Innocence” premieres (2005) — An award-winning documentary chronicling the lives of seven men released from prison after serving years for crimes they didn’t commit, After Innocence brought  the issue of wrongful convictions to America’s movie theaters and living rooms. Watch a trailer here.

“The Innocent Man” published (2006) — John Grisham’s first non-fiction book tells the heartbreaking story of a murder in Oklahoma and an unimaginable injustice suffered by two innocent men. The book reached best-seller status around the world and a film version is in development. Following the book’s publication, John Grisham joined the Innocence Project’s board of directors. Several other excellent books also chronicled wrongful conviction cases during the decade, check back tomorrow for the decade's must read list.

Jerry Miller becomes the 200th Exoneree (2007) — It took 12 years to exonerate the first 100 people through DNA testing. It was just seven years later that Innocence Project client Jerry Miller became the 200th person exonerated through DNA. He served 25 years in Illinois prisons before he was cleared.

Dennis Fritz and Peggy Carter Sanders Dance on Stage (2008) — the history of criminal justice in the United States is filled with poignant moments of injustice overturned, from tear-filled homecomings to stirring speeches and courtroom victories. One of the most memorable is the moment Dennis Fritz, who was exonerated after 11 years in prison for an Oklahoma murder he didn’t commit, unexpectedly danced onstage with the mother of the murder victim at a New York event. Watch this touching moment on video here.

50th Member Joins the Innocence Network (2008) — the Innocence Network is an international affiliation of groups working to overturn wrongful convictions. As the field has broadened over the last 10 years, more organizations have been created to meet the growing need for pro bono legal services and advocacy. In 2008, the Innocence Network reached a membership of 50 organizations, today there are 54.

National Academy of Sciences releases forensic report (2009) — Faulty forensic evidence played a role in more than half of the wrongful convictions later overturned through DNA testing. Many forensic techniques used in courtrooms today have never been subjected to rigorous scientific evaluation. In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences released a landmark report calling for the U.S. federal government to create a federal entity to oversee and support the forensic disciplines. Learn more here.

Photo: Innocence Project client Luis Diaz was exonerated in Florida in 2005 after 25 years in prison for a series of crimes he didn't commit. Courtesy South Florida Sun Sentinel.



Tags: Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation, False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification, Forensic Oversight, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing, False Confessions, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics, Informants/Snitches, Bad Lawyering, Government Misconduct, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Friday Roundup: New Year Edition

Posted: January 1, 2010 10:15 am

Happy New Year from all of us at the Innocence Project!

Here’s a holiday edition of the Friday roundup:

An editorial on Sunday in the Washington Post pointed to the recent exonerations of James Bain and Donald Gates, and said" "As appalling as the two cases are, what's even scarier is the thought that imperfections in the criminal justice system will go uncorrected and more people could be wrongly jailed."

A man named Kevin Benefield was arrested in New York on Wednesday and charges with committing the murder for which another man, Kenneth Ireland, served nearly 20 years in prison before he was exonerated this year.

Also in Connecticut, a team of attorneys and forensics experts are beginning a review of hundreds of cases to determine if DNA testing could overturn wrongful convictions.

Maryland's highest criminal court ordered prosecutors to continue searching for biological evidence in the case of a former corrections officer who has served 26 years for a crime he says he didn't commit.

The New York State Bar called on state lawmakers to take decisive action in 2010 to prevent wrongful convictions.

Last week, an Iowa judge ordered a new trial for David Flores, who has served 13 years in prison for a gang-related murder he says he didn't commit.

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Improper Forensics and Two Decades in Prison

Posted: January 8, 2010 10:40 am



In 1989, Steven Barnes was convicted of the rape and murder of 16-year-old Kimberly Simon in Utica, New York. The prosecution's case against Barnes was based in part on unvalidated and improper forensic science.  After serving almost two decades in prison, Barnes was officially exonerated one year ago this week  

Today, Barnes works helps oversee a youth program for his county's workforce development office and recently moved into his own apartment. He frequently speaks to community groups and policymakers about the importance of addressing the causes of wrongful conviction to prevent injustice.

Faulty forensics were a central cause of Barnes' wrongful conviction. Three types of forensic evidence were used against Barnes:  fabric print analysis, soil comparison, and microscopic hair analysis.  None of these three techniques has been proven in empirical studies to be reliable and aspects of this evidence clearly misled the jury in Barnes' case.

The fabric print analysis allegedly linked the victim's unusual jeans to a dust print on the outside of Barnes' truck, but the methods used to determine a link were unproven and unreliable. Soil from Barnes truck was chemically compared to soil at the crime scene, but technicians didn't offer an analysis of whether the soil in either sample was particularly unique.

Testimony regarding microscopic hair comparisons in particular can mislead juries to believe that a similarly is actually a "match." According to a report released in 2009 by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), "No scientifically accepted statistics exist about the frequency with which particular characteristics of hair are distributed in the population.  There appears to be no uniform standards on the number of features on which hairs must agree before an examiner may declare a 'match.'"  Nearly one in five wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing involved faulty hair analysis.  

Despite the groundbreaking recent NAS report on forensic science, there remains a grievous lack of oversight of crime labs across the country.  Moreover, methodologies and standards vary by examiner. Countless innocent people have been sent to prison in the U.S. based on faulty forensics while the real perpetrators of crimes remain free.  In response, the Innocence Project, spearheading the Just Science Coalition, has developed a plan for reform that includes the creation of a national Office of Forensic Science Improvement and Support (OFSIS).  OFSIS, with input from law enforcement, prosecutors, crime laboratories, the judiciary and the defense bar, will support research in forensics practices, set mandatory accreditation and certification standards and ensure compliance with those standards.

These reforms are critical to prevent future injustices like the one endured by Steven Barnes. Learn more about federal forensic reforms and take action here.

Other Exoneree Anniversaries This Week:

Mark Diaz Bravo, California (Served 3 Years, Exonerated 1/6/94)

David Vasquez, Virginia (Served 4 Years, Exonerated 1/4/89)

Larry Holdren, West Virginia (Served 15 Years, Exonerated 1/4/00)



Tags: Steven Barnes, Forensic Oversight

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The Cost of Faulty Forensics

Posted: January 13, 2010 6:40 pm

Two years ago this week, Ronald Gene Taylor (left) was officially exonerated of a Texas rape after serving 12 years in prison.

DNA testing could have been conducted before his trial, but an analyst from the Houston Police Department Crime Lab testified incorrectly that there was no biological evidence to test. It would be more than a decade before this error was corrected.

Early in the morning of May 28, 1993, a woman awoke in her Houston apartment to find a man holding a knife to her neck. She was unable to break free, and the man raped her on her bed before fleeing the apartment. During the investigation, Houston police officers collected the sheet from the victim’s bed, specifically noting a wet spot. Although the woman initially said she could not identify the perpetrator, she was allowed to watch a videotaped lineup at her home nearly six weeks after the crime, where she picked Taylor, after suddenly remembering that the perpetrator had a missing tooth.  In 1995, Taylor was convicted by a jury of sexual assault and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

The Innocence Project took on his case in 2006 and sought DNA testing on the same sheet that reportedly contained no evidence to test. Semen was identified on the sheet and, and the results didn’t only exonerate Taylor, they also pointed to the identity of the real perpetrator.

Taylor’s case underlined ongoing forensic problems in Houston. In 2002, the HPD Crime Lab came under scrutiny for faulty forensic practices and the DNA lab was shut down while an independent review was conducted. The review revealed startling deficiencies in the DNA unit, ranging from poor documentation to serious analytical and interpretive errors that resulted in highly questionable results through the use of inaccurate and misleading statistics.

According to the review, standard operating procedures “consisted of procedures and reference materials cobbled together over time without periodic re-evaluation and reorganization. There were few technical reviews of analysts’ work, including review of their test results, interpretation of data, and reporting.” The lack of oversight likely resulted in serious misconduct, including at least  four cases of fabrication of scientific results, called “drylabbing,” which the report called the “the most egregious form of scientific misconduct that can occur in a forensic science laboratory,” and a “hanging offense” in the scientific community. Read the full independent report here.

Although the Houston lab has made strides since 2002, such as receiving national accreditation in 2006, it still has a long way to go. The lab closed again in 2008 after its chief resigned over staff training problems. Recently, new questions have been raised about the lab’s fingerprinting procedures. Taylor is one of three people exonerated through DNA testing after being wrongfully convicted based on faulty tests from the lab, and another pending case could lead to an exoneration.

Meanwhile, in the two years since his release, Taylor has begun to build a new life. Shortly after being freed, he married his long-time fiancée, Jeanette Brown. The couple lives in Atlanta.

Other Exoneration Anniversaries This Week:

Larry Fuller, Texas (Served 19.5 years, Exonerated 1/11/07)

Gregory Wallis
, Texas (Served 17 years, Exonerated 1/10/07)

Ricardo Rachell, Texas (Served 5.5 years, Exonerated 1/14/09)

Rickie Johnson, Louisiana (Served 25 years, Exonerated 1/14/08)

Dale Brison, Pennsylvania (Served 3.5 years, Exonerated 1/14/94)





Tags: Ronald Taylor

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Friday Roundup: Forensics Under Review in Texas

Posted: January 29, 2010 6:40 pm

The first meeting of the Texas Forensic Science Commission in more than six months focused on procedural issues and Cameron Todd Willingham’s case wasn’t discussed directly. The Innocence Project streamed the meeting live online today, and blogger Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast blogged it live here.

The web stream was made possible by our pro bono partners at Unicorn Media and the producers at Rio Bravo Films.

In other Texas news, Hank Skinner is set to be executed in Texas Feburary 24 despite his pending requests for DNA tests that could prove his innocence. Students at the Medill Innocence Project have been investigating the case and the Texas Tribune ran a two-part story this week.

Still more news from Texas: new evidence suggests that prosecutors coached a witness to identify an innocent man in 1995. Richard Miles was freed last year after 14 years in prison based on new evidence of his innocence. The main witness against him at trial now says he was coached by prosecutors. The prosecutors denied the allegations.

A Michigan man who has been in prison for 25 years for a murder he says he didn’t commit could get a parole hearing soon, state officials said.

Evidence was sent to be testing in the case of Indiana prisoner Willie T. Donald, who has served nearly two decades for a crime he has always said he didn’t commit.

The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to its decision last year in Melendez-Diaz that defendants have the right to cross-examine forensic analysts who conducted tests in their case. A new rule in New York allows police to conduct investigations based on partial DNA matches. The rule was enacted despite arguments from the New York Civil Liberties Union that it should have gone before the legislature.

Reversing an earlier decision, a Los Angeles hiring committee this week approved 27 new forensic analyst positions in an effort to reduce the city’s backlog of untested rape kits.


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Nebraskans Mark a Year of Freedom

Posted: February 2, 2010 3:20 pm

One year ago, five Nebraskans were exonerated after serving years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. A sixth co-defendant had been cleared months earlier, and the group were the first people exonerated through DNA evidence in Nebraska history.

Dubbed the “Beatrice Six,” Joseph White, Thomas Winslow, Ada JoAnn Taylor, Debra Shelden, James Dean and Kathy Gonzalez were convicted of the 1985 murder of a Beatrice, Nebraska, woman, based on faulty forensics and false confessions.

Police uncovered biological evidence at the crime scene and sent it to an Oklahoma state crime lab, where it was tested by forensic analyst Joyce Gilchrist, who has since been discredited and whose misconduct played a role in at least three wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing.

The serology results led police away from a suspect named Bruce Allen Smith, who DNA testing would later implicate as the real perpetrator of the crime. Smith died in 1992.

The investigation stalled until 1989, when Nebraska authorities approached Winslow, who agreed to cooperate but was unaware that other members of the Beatrice Six had falsely implicated him. While there were serious inconsistencies between the suspects’ stories and the details of the crime, no further investigation appeared necessary, especially once Dean, Shelden and Gonzalez falsely confessed after intense police interrogation. Dean and Shelden’s confessions relied heavily on details they allegedly recalled from their dreams about the crime.

Gonzalez, Dean and Shelden agreed to plead guilty and testify against White in exchange shorter sentences. They each served more than four  years in prison before being released in 1994. Winslow and Taylor also pled guilty but did not testify and would each serve 18 years before their exonerations. White was convicted at trial and sentenced to life without parole -- he would also serve 18 years before his exoneration.

In late 2007, Winslow finally obtained access to DNA testing on semen from the crime scene. The results implicated Smith as the perpetrator, a man who had no connection to any of the Beatrice Six. More than two decades after their wrongful convictions, the group was cleared one year ago. Five of the six defendants are currently seeking damages against county officials and others in a civil lawsuit set for trial in 2011.

This case highlights how the fear of the death penalty or life imprisonment can induce people to confess to crimes they did not commit in exchange for a lesser sentence, especially where the person is under duress. Significantly, false confessions or admissions have played a role in almost 25% of DNA exoneration cases. Learn more about false confessions and admissions as a cause of wrongful conviction here.

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Texas Forensics Panel to Discuss Willingham Case at Next Meeting

Posted: February 1, 2010 3:32 pm

The Texas Forensic Science Commission met Friday for the first time in six months, but the meeting focused on committee procedure and the controversial case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004, was not discussed.

Commission Chairman John Bradley committed, however, to discussing the case at the committee’s next meeting, set for April 23 in El Paso.

"Yes, they will be on the agenda. Yes, they will be discussed," Bradley said, referring to open cases under review.
Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom, who attended the meeting, noted that Bradley attempted to develop new procedures that would have given him more power, but members of the commission insisted that the new rules clearly call for consent and approval from the group:
"The rules Mr. Bradley proposed create needless bureaucracy, steer the commission away from the Legislature's intent, limit the commissioners' authority and vest more power in him as the chair," Saloom told the Associated Press.
And Houston Chronicle columnist Rick Casey wrote today about Bradley’s decision to bar a documentary film crew from the meeting room, which was reversed 90 minutes after the meeting began:
Bradley evicted an Austin-based documentary crew before the meeting started. One of its members called the attorney general's office in Austin, which sent a message to Barbara Dean, the assistant district attorney who has attended all of the commission's meetings, providing legal guidance since its inception.

An hour and a half into the meeting, Dean, seated behind Bradley, tapped him on the shoulder and quietly spoke into his ear. He announced a 10-minute break, and when the meeting resumed the film crew was in the room.
Read more about Friday’s meeting:


Associated Press: Texas Panel Meets, Skips Talk of Willingham Case

The Monitor:  Forensics Panel Dodges Discussion of Controversial ExecutionRick Casey in the Houston Chronicle: The Revolt of the Scientists  Grits for Breakfast: Live Blog of the Meeting
 



Tags: Forensic Oversight

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Friday Roundup : Redemption, After a Decade of Injustice

Posted: February 12, 2010 6:20 pm

Ted Bradford was acquitted by a Washington state jury yesterday, finally clearing him of a 1995 rape evidence shows he didn’t commit. Bradford spent nearly a decade in prison for the rape before he was released on parole. Once free, he continued fighting to prove his innocence, with the help of the Innocence Project Northwest. DNA evidence from the crime scene was tested in 2007 -- revealing an unknown male’s profile on a key item.

Former federal judge H. Lee Sarokin wrote at the Huffington Post that Texas prosecutors are making a mistake by seeking to go forward with Hank Skinner’s scheduled execution February 24 despite untested DNA evidence in the case.

We wrote last week about Innocence Project client Dean Cage’s appearance on the Dr. Phil show. This week, CNN profiled Cage and the victim in the case -- who are now working together to raise awareness about the issues of wrongful conviction and eyewitness misidentification.

A Florida man spent over a month in jail awaiting trial in an attempted murder, but was freed after his lawyer proved that he had been hundreds of miles away at the time of the crime. The wrongful arrest was caused in part by an eyewitness misidentification.

Lawmakers in Virginia are seeking to reform the state’s eyewitness identification procedures to reduce the possibility of misidentification -- and wrongful conviction.

A Florida lawmaker is pushing for the creation of a state innocence commission to evaluate the causes of wrongful conviction and recommend reforms to prevent future injustice.

A Florida dance company will perform a piece Saturday inspired by the wrongful conviction and exoneration of James Bain.

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Advocates Seek Innocence Commission and Compensation Reform in Florida

Posted: February 22, 2010 6:10 pm

Efforts to pass significant wrongful conviction reforms are gaining steam in steam in Florida.

We reported earlier this month that State Sen. Mike Haridopolos had asked the Florida Supreme Court to form an innocence commission, which would review exonerations in the state and recommend measures to prevent future injustice.

Another effort is underway to repeal a so-called “clean hands” provision, which restricts exoneree compensation only to people who had a felony conviction before or during their wrongful incarceration.

The Miami Herald last week called on the state legislature to remove the clean hands provision from the law, saying that a minor felony shouldn’t lead an exoneree from missing their due compensation. The Herald also made a strong call for the creation of an innocence commission.

Another editorial last week, in Florida Today, also called on the state Supreme Court to create an innocence panel, saying “one wrongful conviction is too many, but the growing number in Brevard (County) and across Florida is a plague that can't be ignored.”

The Innocence Project of Florida, a member of the Innocence Network, is advocating on behalf of both of these reforms. Visit the IPF blog here.




Tags: Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation

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Forensic Oversight Badly Needed, Experts Say

Posted: February 23, 2010 5:05 pm

From Maine to California, crime lab backlogs and budget shortfalls are threatening to derail court systems and jeopardize fair justice.

MSNBC reports today on the state of the nation’s crime labs and the impact of the National Academy of Science’s 2009 report calling for federal forensic oversight.

There are serious questions about the credibility of nearly every kind of crime lab analysis, the conclusions of which often rest on unproven science filtered through the subjective judgment of technicians whose training and certification vary wildly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

And with crime labs struggling under backlogs that already reach back years in many cities and states, budget cuts driven by the recession are threatening to make credible crime scene analysis a lost art, law enforcement officials and forensic specialists say.

Read the full story here. (MSNBC, 02/23/10)

News of injustice caused by unvalidated or improper forensics has almost become a weekly event. Last week, Gregory Taylor was freed in North Carolina after serving 17 years in prison for a murder evidence shows he didn’t commit. He was convicted in 1993 based in part on misleading forensic analysis of a substance found in his truck.

To call on Congress to take action on forensic reforms, and to read weekly forensic news updates, visit the Just Science Coalition website.



Tags: Forensic Oversight

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Tune In: Exonerees on Dr. Phil and America’s Most Wanted

Posted: March 10, 2010 4:00 pm

Illinois exoneree Dean Cage will appear on “Dr. Phil” tomorrow, March 11, in a third installment about wrongful convictions.  The host will be checking in with Cage and the victim who misidentified him over a decade ago.  She first identified Cage as her attacker after the police department created a sketch of the perpetrator and then brought Cage to a grocery store so the victim could identify him.  Officers then conducted another lineup at the police station, where the victim identified Cage by the sound of his voice. The show united them on-air last month for the first time since he was wrongfully convicted of a rape he didn’t commit in 1986.  Cage, an Innocence Project client, spent nearly 12 years in prison and was exonerated on May 27, 2008. “Dr. Phil” is a syndicated program; please check your local listings for the station and time.

Read more about Dean Cage’s here.

For more information on the “Dr. Phil” program, click here.

New York exoneree Steven Barnes will be featured on “America’s Most Wanted” this Saturday, March 13.  The program focuses on searching for the real perpetrator in the rape and murder of Kimberly Simon, for which Barnes was wrongfully convicted in 1989. His conviction was the result of eyewitness misidentification and unvalidated forensic science.  The supervising criminalist testified that she conducted a photographic overlay of Simon’s jeans and an imprint on Barnes’ truck and determined the patterns were similar. She also testified that two hairs collected from the truck were similar to the victim’s hairs.  The lab compared soil samples taken from his vehicle with dirt samples from the crime scene a year after the murder and stated that they had similar characteristics.  Fabric print analysis, microscopic hair analysis and soil comparison and have not been scientifically validated. Represented by the Innocence Project, Barnes was exonerated 20 years later on January 9, 2009.  The segment will include interviews with Barnes and his mother, details about his exoneration and information about the unsolved crime.  “Americas Most Wanted” airs Saturday night at 9 p.m. on FOX.

Read more about Steven Barnes case here.

For more information on the program, click here.

Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing. Learn about eyewitness identification reform here.

Unvalidated or improper forensic science is a leading cause of wrongful convictions. In approximately 50% of the DNA exonerations nationwide, unvalidated or improper forensic science contributed to the underlying wrongful conviction. Learn about unvalidated or improper forensic science here.





Tags: Steven Barnes, Dean Cage

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Scientists Urge National Standards for Forensics

Posted: March 11, 2010 4:30 pm

In a column in Amstatnews, the Membership Magazine of the American Statistical Association, Distinguished Professor Cliff Spiegelman makes the case for national forensic science reform and appeals to scientists to join Just Science—a growing coalition formed to build consensus among the diverse range of voices supporting forensic reform in the United States.  Spiegelman is a professor of statistics at Texas A&M and a senior research scientist at the Texas Transportation Institute.

In the real world, forensic science is used to determine occurrences and reconstruct crimes. It is used to identify suspects and possible crime scenes and to eliminate others. It also is used in criminal trials and appeals. Key to forensic science’s use in the real world is the confidence that law enforcement, the judicial system, and society at large place in it.

As currently constructed, however, the practice of forensic science should largely get a no-confidence vote, with the possible exception of DNA evidence.



The painful truth is that nearly all forensic procedures have been developed without much involvement from the statistical community or enough involvement from the independent, university-based scientific community or federal research labs.

Read the full column here.

For example, Speigelman cites two recent reports (“Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward” and “Ballistic Imaging”) showing that there is no statistical basis for matching bullets recovered at crime scenes to specific guns. The article also discusses the lack of scientific validation for fingerprint and hair analysis.

The column embraces the recommendation outlined in the National Academy of Sciences’ “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward”—and supported by the Innocence Project—to create a federal entity to stimulate research, set standards and ensure the enforcement of those standards.  

Speigelman writes that this federal entity should meet several key criteria:


  • It must be an independent federal agency established to address the needs of the forensic science community

  • It must have a culture that is strongly rooted in science, with strong ties to the national research and teaching communities, including federal laboratories

  • It must have strong ties to state and local forensic entities, as well as to the professional organizations within the forensic science community

  • It must not be in any way committed to the existing system, but should be informed by its experiences

  • It must not be part of a law-enforcement agency

  • It must have the funding, independence, and sufficient prominence to raise the profile of the forensic science disciplines and push effectively for improvements

  • It must be led by persons who are skilled and experienced in developing and executing national strategies and plans for standards setting; managing accreditation and testing processes; and developing and implementing rulemaking, oversight, and sanctioning processes


Learn more about the Just Science Coalition and sign the petition urging Congress to establish a federal entity to improve research and standards here.



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Ohio Legislators Pass Major Reform Package

Posted: March 16, 2010 5:45 pm

By a vote of 85-7, the Ohio House of Representatives approved a bill that, if signed into law by Governor Ted Strickland, would offer unprecedented protections against wrongful convictions and improve prisoners’ ability to prove their innocence through DNA testing. 

Governor Strickland has said he will sign the bill into law once it is reconciled with an earlier, Senate-approved version.

Bill sponsor Rep. Tyrone Yates, D-Cincinnati, said, “This is one of the most important pieces of criminal justice legislation in this state in a century.” Among the key reforms in the bill are:




  • requiring the preservation of DNA evidence in serious crimes (such as homicide and sexual assault),

  • police incentives for recording interrogations from beginning to end in serious crimes, and

  • requiring police to practice double-blind lineups and eyewitness photo identification procedures.






The Ohio Innocence Project developed the legislation and has worked to pass it for the last two years with substantial assistance from the Innocence Project.

Read today’s press release here.



Tags: Ohio

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An Extraordinary Exoneration, Seven Years Later

Posted: March 19, 2010 12:30 pm

Initially, the woman was shown more than 500 mug shots by the police, but could not identify the perpetrator. In the weeks after the attack, the victim recounted that she would scan the faces of black males on the street in search of the perpetrator. One afternoon, while riding the elevator at work, the woman saw Ruffin, a maintenance man at Eastern Virginia Medical School, who she believed was her attacker. She informed the police and confirmed her earlier identification of Ruffin at a lineup.

Unlike the woman’s description, Ruffin was 6’1 and light-skinned. He also had two gold teeth and facial hair. Ruffin was indicted, yet it took three separate trials before he was ultimately convicted. In the first two trials, the juries contained a mix of black and white jurors. Yet both panels were unable to reach a verdict, and mistrials were declared. The jury in Ruffin’s third trial was all white. The victim also described the rapist as taller than she had initially reported. The jury deliberated for seven minutes before convicting Ruffin of rape, sodomy and robbery. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Ruffin first learned of DNA testing in 1994, but was told that all evidence from his case had been destroyed. In an incredible stroke of luck, however, authorities soon learned that evidence had been saved by the unorthodox practices of a former lab technician. Mary Jane Burton, a state forensic scientist who died in 1999, habitually saved samples of biological evidence before they were sent to Virginia authorities for destruction.

In 2002, Ruffin wrote to John R. Doyle III, the Norfolk commonwealth’s attorney, who subsequently discovered that Burton had saved the relevant biological evidence from his case in her lab notebooks. DNA testing excluded Ruffin and implicated another man in Virginia’s DNA database who was already serving three life sentences for other sexual assaults. Testing also revealed that the man had committed the crimes attributed to another exoneree, Arthur Lee Whitfield.

Doyle, in cooperation with the Virginia Parole Board, paroled Ruffin the day after the results were disclosed, reuniting him with his family and son, who was only nine years old at the time of his conviction. A month later, he was officially pardoned by then Governor Mark Warner. Ruffin, who was 49 when he was released, now resides in Virginia with his family and girlfriend. He received $1.5 million in compensation for serving over 20 years in prison.

DNA testing of evidence from Burton’s casefiles has led to  four other exoneration to date, including Marvin Anderson, Willie Davidson, Phillip Thurman, and Victor Burnette. A review of the remainder of Burton’s notebooks is ongoing.

Other Exoneree Anniversaries This Week:

John Willis, Illinois (Served 7 years, Exonerated 3/15/1999).

Arthur Mumphrey, Texas (Served 17.5 years, Exonerated 3/17/06)

Wiley Fountain, Texas (Served 16 years, Exonerated 3/18/03)

Edward Green, Washington D.C. (Served 1 year, Exonerated 3/19/2009)


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Maryland Governor's Office Slows Possible Exoneration

Posted: April 13, 2010 4:30 pm

Given the Maryland governor's reluctance to commute a sentence or grant clemency to anyone — as well as his embrace of the no-parole-for-lifers and "life means life" philosophy — it's hard to imagine Martin O'Malley ever acting on Mr. Grant's case, never mind in an election year.

But, of course, had there been some DNA, this all might have been over by now, and Mark Grant would be out on the street looking for a job.

Now that we are in the age of DNA testing, claims of wrongful convictions without it appear to be at a striking disadvantage, especially if calculating, what's-in-it-for-me politicians are asked to make a judgment call. The availability of DNA testing and resulting exonerations have "made it harder for prisoners seeking to prove their innocence in the much larger number of cases that do not involve DNA evidence," The New York Times reported last year. "Many lawyers have grown more reluctant to take on these kinds of cases because they are much harder and more expensive to pursue."

Maryland received a Bloodsworth Award—named for Kirk Bloodsworth, the first person exonerated by DNA testing in the U.S. who had spent time on death row—from the National Institute of Justice last year to be used for post-conviction DNA testing.   But Grant’s case does not include DNA evidence.  The clinic at the University of Maryland School of Law says that it proved his innocence by reviewing affidavits of witnesses who said they lied at trial and the discovery of a failed lie detector test by the key prosecution witness. 

However, earlier this year, Governor Martin O’Malley’s chief legal counsel mentioned the Bloodsworth award in a letter to Grant’s aunt saying that the request for clemency will be reviewed seriously.  It’s already been two years.

Read the full article here.



Tags: Maryland

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A Kansas Family Fights to Prove Father's Innocence

Posted: November 30, -0001

According to the Lawrence Journal-World, Lannie Ornburn, the Johnson County assistant district attorney who has been handling the appeals for the past four years, said the crime scene was arranged to look like the wood pile fell on top of Barbara and was the cause of her death. 

Other evidence used at trial included bloodstains on Ken’s pants and shoes, plus two hairs found in Barbara’s hand. Early DNA testing was unable to positively identify the blood, but analysts were able to narrow possibilities on the hairs. Jurors, who convicted Ken of first-degree murder, were told that Ken was among only 7 percent of the Caucasian population from whom the hair could have come.

Ken’s defense team, however, argued that Ken had an alibi. Barbara was wearing a watch that was broken, presumably during the crime. The watch was stopped at 3:16 p.m., but a receipt from a Wendy’s restaurant showed Ken had made a purchase there at 3:18 p.m. Given the distance between the home and the restaurant, Ken could not have been at the murder scene at the time the watch stopped. Watch experts testified for both sides at trial, and while the watch could have been altered, both experts testified there was no evidence it had been.

Ken’s case was the first in Kansas to allow for post-conviction DNA testing in a murder case.  He had the original evidence retested along with a pair of glasses found at the crime scene.  DNA from a female—not Steve’s sister or their mother—was found on the glasses.

And the hairs, which at the time implicated Ken, proved also to be from an unidentified female — a fact that changes everything and should result in a new trial, says Beth Cateforis, one of Ken’s lawyers at the Project for Innocence.

“The results they presented at trial were that they were Ken’s hairs. That was a huge part of the state’s case,” Cateforis said. “This has the possibility of changing the outcome of the case.”
But Ornburn disagrees, saying the hairs could have been picked up from the garage, and don’t belong to the killer.

In addition, Ornburn said that some of the additional DNA testing proved blood on both Ken’s shoes and pants belonged to Barbara.

“The DNA evidence we have now is better than what we had at the first trial,” Ornburn said, adding that if Ken’s conviction is overturned, they’ll retry the case.

Whether or not the new DNA evidence is strong enough for a new trial has yet to be determined.  The Kansas Supreme Court heard Haddock’s argument last year and sent it back to the County where it ruled against a new trial.  Haddock appealed that decision to the higher court and hopes it will be heard in the fall. 

Kansas University School of Law students have been successful in the past year and a half helping 10 defendants get new trials through the Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Remedies.

Read the full article here.

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A Kansas Family Fights to Prove Father's Innocence

Posted: April 19, 2010 1:50 pm

According to the Lawrence Journal-World, Lannie Ornburn, the Johnson County assistant district attorney who has been handling the appeals for the past four years, said the crime scene was arranged to look like the wood pile fell on top of Barbara and was the cause of her death. 

Other evidence used at trial included bloodstains on Ken’s pants and shoes, plus two hairs found in Barbara’s hand. Early DNA testing was unable to positively identify the blood, but analysts were able to narrow possibilities on the hairs. Jurors, who convicted Ken of first-degree murder, were told that Ken was among only 7 percent of the Caucasian population from whom the hair could have come.

Ken’s defense team, however, argued that Ken had an alibi. Barbara was wearing a watch that was broken, presumably during the crime. The watch was stopped at 3:16 p.m., but a receipt from a Wendy’s restaurant showed Ken had made a purchase there at 3:18 p.m. Given the distance between the home and the restaurant, Ken could not have been at the murder scene at the time the watch stopped. Watch experts testified for both sides at trial, and while the watch could have been altered, both experts testified there was no evidence it had been.

Ken’s case was the first in Kansas to allow for post-conviction DNA testing in a murder case.  He had the original evidence retested along with a pair of glasses found at the crime scene.  DNA from a female—not Steve’s sister or their mother—was found on the glasses.

And the hairs, which at the time implicated Ken, proved also to be from an unidentified female — a fact that changes everything and should result in a new trial, says Beth Cateforis, one of Ken’s lawyers at the Project for Innocence.

“The results they presented at trial were that they were Ken’s hairs. That was a huge part of the state’s case,” Cateforis said. “This has the possibility of changing the outcome of the case.”
But Ornburn disagrees, saying the hairs could have been picked up from the garage, and don’t belong to the killer.

In addition, Ornburn said that some of the additional DNA testing proved blood on both Ken’s shoes and pants belonged to Barbara.

“The DNA evidence we have now is better than what we had at the first trial,” Ornburn said, adding that if Ken’s conviction is overturned, they’ll retry the case.

Whether or not the new DNA evidence is strong enough for a new trial has yet to be determined.  The Kansas Supreme Court heard Haddock’s argument last year and sent it back to the County where it ruled against a new trial.  Haddock appealed that decision to the higher court and hopes it will be heard in the fall. 

Kansas University School of Law students have been successful in the past year and a half helping 10 defendants get new trials through the Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Remedies.

Read the full article here.



Tags: Kansas

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Anniversaries Mark the 100th and 200th DNA Exonerations

Posted: April 23, 2010 4:50 pm

His first conviction was overturned, but another jury found Krone guilty. The judge refused to sentence him to death, saying  "the court is left with a residual or lingering doubt about the clear identity of the killer." Finally, in 2002, Krone’s appellate attorney obtained access to biological evidence that prosecutors had claimed to have lost. The results excluded Krone and implicated another man as the real perpetrator. Read more about Krone’s case here, and learn about other wrongful convictions based on faulty bite mark analysis.

Jerry Miller, who was exonerated three years ago today after serving nearly a quarter-century in Illinois prisons, was wrongfully convicted based almost exclusively on eyewitness misidentification, the leading cause of wrongful convictions overturned through DNA. Read more about his case here.

Other Exoneree Anniversaries This Week:

Walter Snyder, Virginia (Served 6.5 Years, Exonerated 4/23/93)

Anthony D. Woods, Missouri (Served 18 years, Exonerated, 4/21/05)

Anthony Hicks, Wisconsin (Served 5 Years, Exonerated 4/23/97)

Hector Gonzalez, New York (Served 5.5 Years, Exonerated 4/24/02)




Tags: Jerry Miller

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North Carolina Exoneree Wants Real Perpetrator To Be Found

Posted: April 26, 2010 5:45 pm

That evidence was sent in October 2009, and Mumma said she is still waiting for results. She said she was told early on that there might be a suspect. She said she didn't think it would take this long to get results.

"Had we known that we were looking at the end of April with uncertainty about what progress was being made in the case, we would have likely gone ahead and filed for the pardon in September," she said.



Mumma said it is important to find who the rapist was so that Abbitt and the two victims can find some closure.

Captain David Clayton, who manages investigations for the Winston-Salem Police Department, said Abbitt’s is an important case to resolve but that the lab work isn’t back yet.  Sometimes it takes several months to get results, he said.

The police have also interviewed the victims, who are now adults, several times.  And, investigators have looked at reports of rapes from the same time frame in search of any similarities.

Abbitt now works for the Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice as an innocence coordinator. There, he works with families of inmates and assists with reviewing letters from inmates who say they were also wrongfully convicted.  

Read the full article here.

Read Abbitt’s case profile here.



Tags: Joseph Abbitt

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DNA Proves Ohio Man's Innocence 29 Years into a Life Sentence

Posted: May 5, 2010 7:05 pm

The state lab found semen on the victim's underwear and sent it to a Cincinnati lab for a powerful type of testing unavailable at the state lab. When the lab tested semen found on the victim’s underwear, two partial profiles males were detected; neither was consistent with Towler's DNA.

Additional testing was requested in November 2008.  It took 18 months for a lab in Texas to present the results which proved it was not Towler’s semen.

The Columbus Dispatch reports that according to the motion, if the DNA test results were available nearly 30 years ago, Towler never would have been found guilty of rape. 

"This is the greatest day of my life, and it's pure joy; I have no hate for anyone," said the 52-year-old Cleveland native in a phone interview yesterday. "I suppose hoping to see LeBron playin person is too much to ask, but at least I can watch the games from outside the barbed wire. I get to start a new life, and the Cavs are going to win the championship. It doesn't get much better than that."

"We believed in Ray's case from the beginning, and this is the latest reminder of how important DNA testing can be in the search for justice," said Mark Godsey, director of the [Ohio] Innocence Project who represented Towler. "He is innocent, and the prosecutors agree."

After painting thousands of pictures behind bars, Towler will continue pursuing art now that he has been released. 

Both of his parents passed away when he was in prison, but he told the Columbus Dispatch he planned to reunite with his sister and stepbrother later today.

"There are a lot of things I was missing, but I have to use my faith in God to stay positive for the future," Towler said. "I do wish my parents could have seen this day and see that I have been telling the truth for all these years."

Read the full story here

Visit the Ohio Innocence Project website.


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Friday Roundup: A Victory in New York and Progress on Other Cases

Posted: May 7, 2010 4:00 pm

Tonight’s episode of ABC’s “20/20” will be an hour-long special report on controversial fire investigations.  The program will examine several arson cases, including Cameron Todd Willingham’s case. Willingham was convicted and sentenced to death for allegedly killing his three children in an arson fire in Corsicana, Texas, in 1992.  Leading up to his execution in 2004, nearly all of the evidence against him was reviewed and found to be inadequate by fire expert Gerald Hurst.  John Lentini, who assembled a peer review panel to review the evidence in Willingham’s case, will be interviewed on the program.  Watch the full story tonight on "20/20" at 10 p.m. ET.

In Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Christopher M. McCowen, who was convicted of murder in 2006, has requested a new trial because DNA evidence linking him to murder victim Christa Worthington was not properly presented to the jury.  Pursuant to a United States Supreme Court ruling, Melendez-Diaz, the DNA technician who performed DNA tests should have testified, but the technician's colleague testified instead.  McCowen also claims racial bias among the jury contributed to his conviction.  McCowen is black and Worthington was white.  His request is under review.

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Research Focuses on False Confessions

Posted: May 10, 2010 5:12 pm

It may be that police lost track of what happened during a complicated interrogation. At trial, police might say that this person was not told these details about the crime.

What’s crucial is how the narrative unfolds during the conversation [between police and a suspect]. We’ve had cases where in jurisdictions that do videotape them, police realize that they contaminated the confession only after they saw videotape. Those cases did not turn into false confessions because of the safeguard of the videotape.

I was surprised to the degree to which eyewitnesses not only said they were certain at trial, but how many of them admitted that although they were certain at trial, they had earlier been uncertain or that police had used suggestive photo arrays. I didn’t expect them to talk about the ways their identifications were unreliable.

Garrett concluded that confessions often trump other evidence at trial.  He also noted the momentum for reform to help prevent false confessions, primarily through the mandatory recording of interrogations.
There should be more meaningful reliability review. That review can happen if there is a record of the interrogation. Courts should more carefully scrutinize the reliability of forensic testimony. They should more [rigorously scrutinize] the reliability of eyewitness identification procedures.

We have incorrect outcomes, which raise accuracy concerns. In many respects, the reform out of these wrongful convictions will be much more useful at preventing false negatives.

Read the full story here.

Garrett is currently finishing his book, “Misjudging Innocence,” which will examine the first 250 DNA exoneration cases.

Read here to understand the causes of false confessions and admissions.

Learn about recording of interrogations here.


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A 35-Year Fight for Freedom Continues in Nebraska

Posted: May 12, 2010 3:55 pm

Most biological evidence from the case has been lost, and the only DNA results obtained earlier showed that skin cells on the clothing of one victim did not match Pratt.

Pratt’s attorney, Tracy Hightower-Henne, said she thinks the denial of parole is “100 percent based” on her client’s unwillingness to admit guilt. She said it is unreasonable of the board to order more rehabilitation that Pratt cannot successfully pass and, after passing several rehab courses, does not need.

“They’re continuing to make his life miserable because he claims his innocence,” Hightower-Henne said.

A ruling is not expected for at least a month.

Read the full story here

Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful conviction overturned through DNA testing. Learn more here.


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Prosecutors Say DNA Points to Real Perpetrator in Wisconsin Case

Posted: May 12, 2010 4:51 pm

Real perpetrators have been identified in at least 111 of the 254 DNA exoneration cases. An Innocence Project review of the first 208 exonerations found that these real perpetrators were convicted of committing at least 19 murders and 47 rapes after the earlier crime for which someone else was wrongfully convicted.



Tags: Robert Lee Stinson

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Four Years Later, False Confessions Still a Problem in New York

Posted: May 21, 2010 3:15 pm

And just last month DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project reversed another wrongful conviction based on a false confession in Rochester. Frank Sterling served nearly 18 years for a murder he didn’t commit before he was freed April 28.

Sterling falsely confessed to a 1988 murder in Rochester after returning from a 36-hour trucking shift and being subjected to a lengthy police interrogation in which he was hypnotized. Sterling’s confession, which he immediately recanted, was vague and inconsistent with key details of the crime. His false confession, which was the only evidence against him at trial, led police away from the obvious suspect, a young man who had boasted of the crime to his friends and ultimately pled guilty to the 1994 murder of his four-year-old neighbor. Sterling spent 18 years in prison before his exoneration last month and was prosecuted by the same Monroe County District Attorney as Warney. Watch video of Sterling’s false confession here.

Stronger police procedures, such as recording all interrogations, disallowing hypnosis and a better awareness of factors contributing to false confessions could have prevented the wrongful convictions of Warney and Sterling and stopped the real perpetrators from committing more murders while two innocent men spent a combined 27 years in prison. Read more about reforms to address false confessions and admissions.

Other Exoneree Anniversaries This Week:

Ronald Jones, Illinois (Served 10 Years, Exonerated 5/18/99)

Ulysses Rodriguez Charles, Massachusetts (Served 17 Years, Exonerated 5/17/01)

Michael Mercer, New York (Served 10.5 Years, Exonerated 5/19/03)





Tags: Douglas Warney

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Improper Hair Analysis Results in Nearly 17 Years in Prison

Posted: May 28, 2010 11:46 am

The Innocence Project took Peterson’s case in 2005 and obtained STR and mitochondrial DNA testing on the pubic hairs. The results matched the victim and excluded Peterson as a possible contributor. Two different male profiles were also found: one from a consensual partner earlier in the night; the other from an unknown male—likely the murderer. More testing also revealed the same unknown male profile on semen found in the victim’s mouth, vagina and anus.

In light of this evidence, Peterson’s conviction was vacated in July 2005, and he was freed on bail a month later. However, despite the evidence pointing to Peterson’s innocence, prosecutors intended to retry him. It was not until four years ago this week that the prosecution decided to drop all charges after Elder recanted his testimony.

Peterson now lives in Pennsylvania and recently started his own lawn care business. Like all exonerees, he essentially had to start a new life when he was freed after so many years behind bars. Learn more about the Innocence Project’s post-exoneration work here.

Other Exoneree Anniversaries This Week:

Marvin Mitchell, Massachusetts (Served 7 Years, Exonerated 5/23/97)

Orlando Boquete, Florida (Served: 12 Years, Exonerated: 5/23/06)

Thomas Webb, Oklahoma (Served 13 Years, Exonerated 5/24/96)

Willie Jackson, Louisiana (Served: 17 Years, Exonerated 5/26/06)

Dean Cage, Illinois (Served: 11.5 Years, Exonerated: 5/27/08)

Paul Kordonowy, Montana (Served: 13 Years, Exonerated: 5/27/03)



Tags: Larry Peterson

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The Duke Lacrosse Case and a Career Goal

Posted: June 1, 2010 5:01 pm

He spent part of his senior year at Brown organizing a symposium on witness identification in Rhode Island.
The forum brought together officials from the state police, the attorney general’s office and the Innocence Project, and as a result of his efforts, all three groups are discussing changes that will standardize how witness identifications are handled in the state.

He also has helped raise nearly $50,000 for the cause, receiving a major humanitarian award from the Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association in the process.

“I’d like to say I’m a noble guy and I would have done all that stuff,” Seligmann said, “but I probably wouldn’t have gotten involved in that if my life hadn’t been so impacted by a similar cause.”

Seligmann finished his undergraduate degree with honors both on and off the field, All Ivy League for lacrosse and Academic All-American for his scholastic achievement.

Read the full story here.




Tags: Eyewitness Misidentification

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A Single Misidentification Sends a Texas Man to Jail for 16 Years

Posted: June 3, 2010 1:37 pm

Faulty eyewitness identification is the single most common factor in wrongful convictions, playing a role in 75% of the 254 injustices overturned through DNA testing. For over a century, lawyers and scientists have recognized the inherent weakness in eyewitness identification, but still today people are convicted in American courtrooms based on a single identification – often made in a lineup procedure that suggests, intentionally or not, that the witness choose the suspect.

Moreover, the chances of misidentification increase when the attacker is a different race than the victim, since cross racial identifications are generally less accurate. Butler is African-American and the victim in the case was white. The effects of stress and trauma can also affect a witness’s perception of an event. Yet, these problems are far more difficult to explain to a jury than common variables affecting identifications, such as the time of day and the distance from which the witness saw the perpetrator. Unfortunately for Butler, it was a dangerous combination of these factors that nearly sent him to prison for the rest of his life.

Butler first sought DNA testing in 1987, but he was denied. Luckily for him, the denial meant that his first chance at DNA testing would be conducted at a lab in New York City that had begun using Y-STR testing, which isolates male DNA by testing the Y chromosome.  Had his initial request been granted, the results, using older methods, may have been inconclusive – and may have consumed the biological evidence available. Testing on the rape kit was finally performed in 1999 by Medical Examiner’s Office in New York. The results, which were reviewed and confirmed, excluded Butler as the source of semen in the kit.

With compelling evidence of his innocence in hand, prosecutors joined with Butler and his attorney in filing for clemency. He was released in January 2000, after serving over 16 years in prison, and officially pardoned 10 years ago this week.






Tags: A.B. Butler

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Friday Roundup: Learning the Lessons of Exonerations

Posted: June 4, 2010 2:16 pm

Earlier this month, exoneree Ronald Cotton and crime victim Jennifer Thompson appeared at the Maryland Celebration of Reading where they met former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara.  Cotton, who was wrongfully convicted in 1985 of raping Thompson, spent over ten years in prison before DNA evidence exonerated him in 1995.  In the years following Cotton’s exoneration, the two wrote a book, entitled “Picking Cotton” about their experiences. They spoke about the book and the case at the Maryland event.

Former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro and his wife Nancy have just released a new book about wrongful convictions and the injustice of imprisoning the innocent.  The book, titled, “False Justice,” explains how wrongful convictions can be prevented and challenges myths of the criminal justice system.

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After 30 Years, Kentucky Man is Cleared

Posted: June 8, 2010 5:40 pm

VonAllmen was convicted of rape, sodomy and robbery nearly 30 years ago despite several alibis and the victim’s description of the attacker having blue eyes while VonAllmen are brown.  He was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

The Kentucky Innocence Project’s DNA unit, working under the Bloodsworth Actual Innocence Grant Program (which authorizes $5 million per year for five years for post-conviction DNA testing) tested several hairs that were collected in 1981 following the rape.  Unfortunately, the test results came back inconclusive.  But during the  reinvestigation, the Kentucky Innocence Project developed new evidence supporting VonAllmen’s innocence claim and identified an alternative suspect who was charged with a similar crime in 1978, but died in died in 1983 while fleeing from police.

The Judge dismissed VanAllemn’s conviction stating the evidence suggests he did not commit the crimes. 
The prosecutor has until the end of the month to decide whether or not to prosecute VanAllmen again. 

Read more here.




Tags: Kentucky

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Law Students Help Reduce Virginia’s DNA Backlog

Posted: June 14, 2010 5:45 pm

This sweeping review of old evidence in Virginia grew from the state’s history of evidence and exonerations. For years, Innocence Project client Marvin Anderson was told that evidence from his case had been destroyed. Upon a search requested by the Innocence Project in 2001, however, lab officials discovered evidence from the case in the lab notebook of a former analyst named Mary Jane Burton. Tests on this evidence would exonerate Anderson in 2002.

In the years since, Virginia officials have undertaken a comprehensive review of the samples discovered in Burton’s notebooks. Testing on this evidence has led to at least five other exonerations, including Arthur Lee Whitfield, Julius Earl Ruffin , Willie Davidson, Phillip Thurman, and Victor Burnette.

Read more about Burton and the Virginia DNA review project.

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


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Florida Finally Creates Long-Awaited Innocence Commission

Posted: July 7, 2010 5:08 pm

Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos appropriated $200,000 to cover the commission’s expenses earlier this year and the Florida Bar Foundation approved a $114,862 grant for the commission’s work.

There have been 12 DNA exonerations from across the state to date.

Read the full story here.




Tags: Innocence Commissions

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Friday Roundup: DNA Evidence Under Review

Posted: July 23, 2010 3:03 pm

A Vancouver man who says he was wrongfully convicted of a double homicide in 1977 claims two prosecutors hid key evidence in his case.

A judge ordered DNA testing in the case of an Ohio man serving 30 years to life in prison for aggravated murder and robbery that occurred nearly two decades ago.

DNA tests could be used to investigate alleged ballot fraud in Troy, New York

The Australian Government is seeking to establish national forensic standards. See the Just Science website for more on efforts to establish national forensic standards in the U.S.


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Execution Date Nears for Ohio Man, Despite Evidence of Innocence

Posted: August 10, 2010 2:58 pm

In another recent letter to Gov. Strickland, former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro wrote: "I am gravely concerned that the State of Ohio may be on the verge of executing an innocent person."

Nearly 10,000 people have signed a petition urging Strickland and the Parole Board to grant clemency in Keith’s case. Join them here.

Read more:
New York Times: Unusual Alliance Protests Execution

Columbus Dispatch: Timeout From Death?




Tags: Eyewitness Misidentification, Death Penalty

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Louisiana Man Proves His Innocence But Remains Behind Bars

Posted: August 23, 2010 4:30 pm

More than two decades after the conviction, Diggins managed to purchase a copy of his case file for $209, where he discovered that the biological evidence had been withheld. DNA testing can’t be conducted because the evidence has been missing since Hurricane Katrina, but the Innocence Project filed an appeal earlier this month seeking a hearing on the blood-type evidence.

"This is bulletproof scientific evidence that he is not the guy," said attorney Barry Scheck. "He wasn't the rapist and they could have known that in 1988."

Read more in today’s Times-Picayune article.

Download the Innocence Project’s motion on Diggins’ behalf
.



Tags: Booker Diggins

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Governor Is Last Hope for Ohio Death Row Prisoner

Posted: August 20, 2010 1:24 pm

In a letter to Strickland and the parole board earlier this month, Innocence Network President Keith Findley wrote: “We believe the newly discovered evidence, which was withheld by the state at the time of (Keith’s) trial, provides compelling evidence of his innocence.”

Join Keith’s supporters in urging Strickland to grant clemency based on the substantial doubts about his guilt.

For a roundup of press coverage of the parole board decision, visit Stand Down Texas.

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New Report: Prosecutorial Misconduct and Wrongful Convictions

Posted: August 25, 2010 2:16 pm

Among the findings in the new Innocence Project report are:

• Sixty-five of the first 255 DNA exoneration cases involved appeals and/or civil lawsuits alleging prosecutorial misconduct.

• In nearly half of those 65 cases, courts found prosecutorial misconduct or error.

• In 18% of the prosecutorial misconduct claims in wrongful conviction cases, courts overturned convictions or found harmful error – a rate nearly identical to harmful error findings in a larger study of misconduct allegations, including thousands of cases where defendants did not claim innocence.

• Improper argument at trial and withheld evidence of innocence were the forms of misconduct alleged most commonly by wrongfully convicted defendants.

Read the full report here. (PDF)




Tags: Government Misconduct

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Friday Roundup: DNA Evidence, Arson and Identification

Posted: September 17, 2010 6:05 pm

A review of cases handled by the Maryland Office of the Public Defender Innocence Project over the last decade determined that the majority of post-conviction investigations were stalled by missing or destroyed evidence.

John Grisham, who sits on the Innocence Project Board of Directors, spoke to a full house at Wake Forest University about wrongful convictions and the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission on Tuesday.

A new book about modern racial profiling written by award-winning investigative reporter Joseph Collum comes out today.

Dennis Maher, who served nearly twenty years in prison for a crime he did not commit before DNA evidence proved his innocence, was the featured speaker at today's reception following this year's interfaith Red Mass in Portland, Maine.




Tags: Dennis Maher

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Arson, Innocence and More on Missed Deadlines

Posted: September 21, 2010 6:31 am

Arson cases like Souliotes’, in which questionable science played a role in the conviction, have been in the national spotlight as the Texas Forensic Science Commission investigates the science used to convict Cameron Todd Willingham in Texas. Read more about Souliotes, Willingham and other questionable arson convictions here.

Souliotes is a client of Santa Clara University's Northern California Innocence Project, a member of the Innocence Network.

And we blogged yesterday on a similar legal deadline issue in the case of Bruce Lisker, who served nearly 25 years in prison for murder before he was cleared last year. Lisker could face reinstated charges based on a separate 9th Circuit decision finding that there is no “actual innocence exception” to filing deadlines.


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Kansas Supreme Court To Consider New Jury Instructions For Hearing Eyewitness Testimony

Posted: September 22, 2010 3:58 pm

“A victim or a witness takes the stand, and he or she are very sincere and often times very explicit and very confident, and all those are qualities people assume go with accuracy. But they don’t,” Wrightsman said.

“You can find confident people who are not accurate. And you can find people who are hesitant, who are just careful people, and they are very accurate.”


The consideration of new guidelines comes in the wake of a Wichita man’s conviction based on the eyewitness testimony of the victim.

Michael T. Mitchell was convicted in 2007 of aggravated robbery and sentenced to nearly seven years in prison.  Mitchell’s conviction was based largely on a confident witness who identified him in a photo lineup. According to the Associated Press, iIn Mitchell’s case, the jury was given the standard instruction on eyewitness testimony over defense objections.  He has since asked for a new trial.


“If that factor had been rejected as a poor indicator of reliability, it should be removed from the instructions guiding juries,” appellate public defender Ryan Eddinger argued in filings to the Supreme Court.

...

 “Without experts, all you have is the jury instructions to guide them,” said Michael Kaye, law professor at Washburn University.

“The public needs to know that eyewitnesses are not always right,” he said. “That the court is willing to consider science and other factors shows progressive thinking.”


Kansas isn’t the first state to consider new jury guidelines.  In New York State, the Supreme Court ruled that judges must allow experts to testify on eyewitness reliability when cases rely mostly on eyewitness testimony.

Read the full story here.




Tags: Kansas

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USA TODAY Investigation Reveals Serious Misconduct by Justice Department Prosecutors

Posted: September 23, 2010 5:20 pm

In case after case during that time, judges blasted prosecutors for "flagrant" or "outrageous" misconduct. They caught some prosecutors hiding evidence, found others lying to judges and juries, and said others had broken plea bargains.

Such abuses, intentional or not, doubtless infect no more than a small fraction of the tens of thousands of criminal cases filed in the nation's federal courts each year. But the transgressions USA TODAY identified were so serious that, in each case, judges threw out charges, overturned convictions or rebuked prosecutors for misconduct. And each has the potential to tarnish the reputation of the prosecutors who do their jobs honorably.

Read the full article here.


There has been a major increase in the number of complaints judges have made about prosecutorial misconduct since 2001.  Back then, there were 42 complaints.  Last year, there were 61. Over the past 12 years, USA TODAY was only able to identify one federal prosecutor who was barred, even temporarily, from practicing law for such misconduct.

The investigation found 47 cases in which defendants were either exonerated or set free after the violations surfaced.

That is exactly what happened to Nino Lyons of Orlando, Florida.  The jurors who found Lyons guilty of drug trafficking after hearing testimony from multiple witnesses were never informed about vital evidence that could have pointed toward his innocence. 

According to USA TODAY, the federal prosecutors never informed the jury that a convict who claimed he purchased hundreds of pounds of cocaine from Lyons barely identified his photograph. Prosecutors also promised early release to other prisoners in exchange for their cooperation. Lyons spent nearly three years in prison before his case was thrown out because of prosecutorial misconduct.

As a result of prosecutorial misconduct, guilty people remain at large or face a lesser consequence and taxpayers ultimately finance the unethical behavior of the Justice Department.

Learn about government and prosecutorial misconduct here
.

Read the Innocence Project’s report on prosecutorial misconduct and wrongful convictions here.



Tags: Government Misconduct

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Twenty-one Years in Prison, Seven Free

Posted: September 24, 2010 3:08 pm

Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions in this country, contributing to 75% of convictions later overturned by DNA testing. The eyewitnesses to the rape, who identified Calvin Willis as the perpetrator, provided inconsistent testimonies throughout the investigation and trial.  The victim herself testified that she had seen Calvin Willis standing over her just before the rape occurred, yet she was unable to identify him in court.  There had been two other girls, sisters who were 7 and 9-years-old, staying in the house at the time of the rape.  One of them testified that she had not seen the perpetrator’s face, but noticed that he was wearing cowboy boots.  During the trial, the girl identified Willis by his boots, although he had been wearing beige shoes at the time of his arrest.  The victim’s mother wavered in her testimony as well, and so did the police investigator.

These testimonies, despite their jarring tenuousness, consolidated Willis’ conviction.  His case speaks to our justice system’s acute and chronic shortcomings, and to the urgent need for reform.  The Innocence Project recommends several procedures that have been proven to reduce the number of misidentifications nationwideInaccurate identifications shatter innocent lives and strip men like Calvin Willis of the most basic human and civil rights.  They also derail criminal investigations and allow the true perpetrators to run free. In the state of Louisiana, where Willis was wrongfully convicted, there have been ten exonerations in total.  Witness misidentification has been a factor in every one of these cases. 

Calvin Willis’ case has heightened national public awareness of the injustice of wrongful conviction.  In late 2007, GQ Magazine published a dramatic 16-page articleentitled “The Wronged Man”, about Willis, the stages of his arrest, imprisonment and fight for freedom, and the different characters that helped and hindered him along the way.  On January 17, 2010, Lifetime channel premiered an original movie with the same title.  The media coverage of Willis’ case reflects expanding and ongoing efforts to rectify wrongful convictions and implement systemic changes that will prevent future ones.  Read about these reforms and study the many cases that have not been so widely publicized.

In March 2008, Willis reunited with an old friend and fellow exoneree, Rickie Johnson. The two men met in the early ‘90s at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, where they were both serving life sentences for crimes they did not commit.  They were both victims of witness misidentification, and both enlisted the help of the Innocence Project in their struggles to regain their freedom.  A video recording of their reunion reveals an unusual bond, one forged by common suffering, tremendous resilience, on a shared willingness to live and to appreciate what the future may still hold. 

At one point, Willis recalls his release to Johnson: “They took the shackles off my feet, and then they took the shackles off my hands, and they just rose up.  And I was saying to myself, ‘Boy, this feels good.’”

Read more on Willis’ case.

And watch the video of his reunion with friend and fellow exoneree Rickie Johnson.


Other exoneree anniversaries this week:

Gilbert Alejandro, Texas (Served 3.5 years, Exonerated 9/21/94)

Larry Bostic, Florida (Served 18 years, Exonerated 9/21/07)

Chester Bauer, Montana (Served 8 years, Exonerated 9/22/97)

Frederick Daye, California (served 10 years, Exonerated 1994)



Tags: Calvin Willis

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Family Members of the Wrongfully Convicted in Texas Seek Answers

Posted: October 8, 2010 12:40 pm

...
The family and lawyers who examined the case have blamed flawed eyewitness procedures and tunnel vision in the investigation by Lubbock police that narrowed in on Cole as a suspect, despite having the actual rapist in custody. The letter sent to city officials Wednesday said police framed Cole.

Holton, the police chief, supported the pursuit of a pardon for Cole earlier this year. But officials have said the procedures and practices that sent Cole to prison have long since changed, and rehashing the circumstances served no purpose but to build the foundation for a lawsuit.


The family has called for the Police Department to discuss and disclose how police settled on Cole as the family members push for investigative reforms to prevent the mistakes that sent him to jail. Members have lobbied the Legislature with the Innocence Project of Texas to change eyewitness procedures and other police actions common to wrongful convictions.

Read the full op-ed.

Read the Innocence Project of Texas' letter to the Mayor.

Read another op-ed about unvalidated forensics in Texas from yesterday's San Antonio Express-News
.





Tags: Timothy Cole

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Texas Man Freed After Years on Death Row

Posted: October 28, 2010 4:24 pm

Graves became a suspect in 1992 when another man, Robert Earl Carter, told police that they committed the crime together. The family was stabbed, shot and bludgeoned with a hammer and their house doused with gasoline and set on fire.

Carter was also sentenced to death row and was executed in 2000. Three years earlier, Carter stated publicly and to state officials that Graves, in fact, did not have a role in the murders. He even maintained the sentiment minutes before his execution: "Anthony Graves had nothing to do with it. ... I lied on him in court."

The evidence against Graves hinged primarily on Carter's previous accusation and jailhouse statements claimed to be overheard by law enforcement officers. But Carter's statements about Graves' innocence didn't matter to the district attorney Charles Sebesta, who even after he left the position, did not believe the claim.

Graves' conviction was doubted over the years, prompting students from a University of St. Thomas journalism class (including Chester Soria, who now works at the Innocence Project) to work with the Texas Innocence Network at the University of Houston Law School to review all of the details of the case. Finally, in 2006, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Graves' conviction and said he deserved a new trial based on prosecutorial misconduct.

On Wednesday, the reigning district attorney filed a motion to dismiss the charges that sent Graves to death row.

Read the full article.

Read more on Graves' case
.

Read about government misconduct and wrongful convictions
.


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Friday Roundup: Fighting for Freedom in Arizona, Fixing Forensics in Texas

Posted: October 29, 2010 5:51 pm

A government study found that opening a temporary DNA lab for Houston and Harris County cases would cost nearly $5 million.

An ongoing saga of misconduct by a former Canadian medical examiner continued as two women were cleared years after they were wrongfully convicted of killing their own babies.

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Illinois Man Cleared in His Child's Murder, Real Perpetrator Pleads Guilty

Posted: November 15, 2010 6:01 pm

DNA evidence collected from the crime scene, including a pair of Eby's shoes with his name written inside, led authorities to Eby and cleared Fox. 

Eby's plea came nearly five months after he was charged with first-degree murder and predatory criminal sexual assault of a child.

Read the full article
.


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Massachusetts Man Granted New Trial in Arson Conviction

Posted: November 17, 2010 5:55 pm

Gertner said an investigator from the State Fire Marshal’s office testified that he excluded the basement as the origin of the fire after examining the room despite  his report lacking photos of the room and any mention that he stepped foot in that area.

Leading arson expert John Lentini, who assembled a peer review panel to review evidence in Cameron Todd Willingham’s case, reviewed Hebshie’s case earlier this year and concluded that investigators misinterpreted evidence that showed the fire likely started in the basement.

Read the full article
.

Read more about the Cameron Todd Willingham case in Texas and questions about arson evidence nationwide.

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Anthony Graves and the Long Struggle to Freedom

Posted: November 19, 2010 3:20 pm

Our brief conversation not only sealed my friendship with the man I had gotten to know second hand through transcripts, reports and interviews, but it confirmed for me what everyone who worked on the case already suspected: he was innocent. Meeting him reminded me that Anthony never compromised his integrity; he never admitted guilt for the sake of a lesser sentence. His family, especially his ever-faithful mother Doris, never doubted him and was steadfast in their belief that he wasn't capable of the crimes for which he was convicted. The facts conveyed a similar conclusion.

Plenty of journalists and broadcasters have reported on Anthony's case, but to make a very long and complicated story somewhat short: Anthony was charged as a result of testimony by one Robert Earl Carter, father to one of the murdered children and the state's main suspect. Carter was pressured by investigating officers to name other suspects, since the officers' theory was that no one person could kill two adults and four children on his or her own. Carter gave officers two unverifiable names and the names of two people that prosecutors would pursue: Carter's wife and her cousin, Anthony. Prosecutors, namely District Attorney Charles Sebesta, agreed to drop the indictment against Carter's wife if Carter would testify against Anthony. Carter did.

Sebesta, however, introduced Carter's testimony at trial without ever disclosing to Anthony's attorneys that Carter recanted his original claim about Anthony's involvement. If Carter was consistent in anything in his last years before his execution in 2000, it was his retraction that Anthony was not involved in the murders. So consistent, in fact, that in his dying declaration before his execution he confessed one last time: "It was me and me alone. Anthony Graves had nothing to do with it. I lied on him in court."

It wasn't until 2006 (six years after Carter's execution and fourteen since Carter first admitted he lied) that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Anthony's original conviction and demanded he be taken off death row. The state, however, decided to retry Anthony and shunted him to a Burleson County jail. Judge Reva Towslee-Corbett, daughter of the same Judge H.R. Towslee who presided over Anthony's original trial, set bail at $1,000,000. The state brought in a number of special prosecutors to retry Anthony, including Patrick Batchelor-the former Navarro County District Attorney who secured Cameron Todd Willingham's death sentence and, in the course of his work on Anthony's case, attempted to convince Anthony and his attorneys to take a plea in return for a life sentence.

(Note: There's a slew of jaw-dropping facts outlining the miscarriage of justice that was Anthony's case, all of which are better explored in other write-ups: from Sebesta intimidating Anthony's then-girlfriend by announcing minutes before she took the stand that she would be investigated as a co-defendant if she testified as an alibi witness; to a now-retired medical examiner who testified that he "scientifically" matched a knife that Anthony owned to the one used at the crime by placing a duplicate of the knife in one of the victim's skull caps while on the stand, damaging the evidence; to an alibi witness who refused to testify on Anthony's behalf since it would mean having to admit that she as a Caucasian was dating his brother, a much younger black man. Read Pamela Colloff's profile on Anthony's case from October's Texas Monthly for what I believe has been the most comprehensive account of the case.)

As Anthony's attorneys continue to point out to this day, there was no new evidence connecting Anthony to the murders. The many prosecutors who looked at Anthony's case were dealing with the same information that both convicted him and, ironically, convinced District Attorney Bill Parham and special prosecutor Kelly Siegler that Anthony is "an innocent man." Such an uncompromising statement of Anthony's innocence is a pronouncement by prosecutors that rarely (if ever) happens in non-DNA cases.

While the facts of the case convinced Parham and Siegler of Anthony's innocence, it didn't stop earlier special prosecutors from attempting to pursue a case based on bad science. The Austin Chronicle reported in 2009 that "prosecutors…brought in Fort Bend County Deputy Keith Pikett to conduct a 'scent lineup'" and allegedly testify to Graves' guilt based on his basset hound's ability to pick up smells more than a decade after the crime was committed. Thankfully, the state decided to drop that angle. (The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals actually concluded in late 2010 that dog-scent lineups are insufficient evidence to secure a conviction in the state on the heels of a report by the Innocence Project of Texas debunking the unvalidated procedure.)

Despite his release, Anthony still has a lot to contend with. Men and women who are able to prove their innocence are forced to suddenly readjust to a society that all but forgot them, and they have to make up for years of lost personal and professional experiences. In Anthony's case, however, he has an enormous support system with an overwhelming number of family and friends standing behind him.

I spoke with him briefly the day of his press conference in Houston, following his release on October 27. It was four years since I first heard his voice. We spoke by phone, not terribly unlike the first time except the obvious major difference being we weren't in a rusty, paint-chipped booth anymore. He was free, and I did what everybody tends to ask men and women who survive what Anthony survived: I asked him how he felt.

"I don't know," he responded, the most honest answer I could have expected.

Anthony's attorneys are working with Siegler and Parham as of mid November in pursuit of compensation for him under the Tim Cole Act. While Texas is home to the largest number of exonerations in the country, it also leads in its exoneree compensation policy. If approved, Anthony is eligible for $80,000 for each year he was wrongfully incarcerated and college tuition. He plans to use the latter to take communication classes in order to help other wrongfully convicted men and women, classes not unlike the one that introduced a group of wide-eyed journalism students to his case.

Friends and colleagues still ask how I feel about having worked on the case, and I keep responding the same way: It's utterly surreal for me to not worry about Anthony after doing nothing but for seven years. I don't have to worry about new junk science being used to convict him, and I don't have to worry about the state using nothing more than circumstantial evidence as a means to execute him.

Relieved as I may be, the lessons we learned were nonetheless stark and jarring. The students I worked with-my friends-we can laugh about it now, but two of us received threats of litigation, others were chased and threatened with a gun and most of us experienced firsthand the grim racial reality that exists in small towns like the ones we visited in the course of our work.

We were laypeople, for all intents and purposes-young journalism students digging extensively into a case that the state of Texas didn't deem worthy of revisiting at the time. Those locals and witnesses who agreed to talk with us usually understood that we were working to prove what so many of them already believed: that Anthony was innocent and that the state made a harrowing mistake. It's nothing short of humbling to realize that some of the work we did helped prevent it from becoming a deadly mistake.



Above, Nicole Casarez and Anthony Graves moments before his release. (Photo courtesy of Nicole Casarez.) Below, watch raw footage of Anthony's release from prison.










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Virginia Hopeful for Eyewitness Identification Reform

Posted: November 30, 2010 5:50 pm

House Bill 207 would require that lineup participants are presented sequentially (rather than all at once), a reform shown to decrease the rate at which innocent people are identified. Research has demonstrated that when viewing several subjects at once, witnesses tend to choose the person who looks the most like – but may not actually be – the perpetrator. The proposed law would also require lineups to be “double-blind” in which neither the administrator nor the eyewitness knows who the suspect is. This prevents the administrator of the lineup from providing inadvertent or intentional verbal or nonverbal cues to influence the eyewitness to pick the suspect.

Earlier this year, the Virginia Crime Commission surveyed law-enforcement agencies across the state and got responses from 127. According to their results, only 75 percent said they had written policies. And while most of the agencies reported using sequential presentation of lineups, only 25 percent said they used an independent administrator in lineups.


Garrett said he was concerned that so many departments still had no written policy. But, he said, "what I found even more troubling, was . . . the vast majority of those polices do not require double-blind administration and that's the single crucial reform."

"The double-blind aspect is really important. Even an administrator acting with the best of intentions, or even one that is blind, cannot avoid the problem that the eyewitness will naturally look to the police administrator for guidance and reassurance," he said. "An eyewitness may perceive cues and reinforcement even where it is not intended, so it is crucial that the eyewitness be told that the administrator has no idea which person is the suspect."

Departments that adopt only sequential lineups and not double-blind administration "may have actually made their lineup procedures less accurate and less reliable," he said.

The Virginia Crime Commission will vote on the bill December 8.

Read the full article.

Read about eyewitness misidentification and learn how to reform eyewitness identification procedures.

Image: Lineup in the John Jerome White case in Georgia.





Tags: Eyewitness Identification, Eyewitness Misidentification

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The Death Penalty on Trial

Posted: December 1, 2010 5:42 pm

This hearing will come on the heels of a big week in death penalty news. A bill to abolish executions in Illinois passed a key committee yesterday but stalled today before reaching a vote in the full House. Supporters said they were just a few votes short and will push for a vote during a final lame duck session in early January.
 
Earlier this week, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens penned an essay in the New York Review of Books explaining  that the real possibility of wrongful convictions and executions played a key role in his shift from supporting the death penalty when he first joined the court to his belief today that our capital punishment system is unconstitutional. New York Times columnist Bob Herbert expanded on Stevens’ views in a column yesterday titled “Broken Beyond Repair.”
 
The work of the Innocence Project in recent months has shed light on two men who were executed in Texas based on faulty evidence – Cameron Todd Willingham and Claude Jones. The upcoming hearing in John Green’s case could provide a forum to examine whether a system fraught with such risk and error should be responsible for life and death.

The Innocence Project supports a moratorium on capital punishment while the causes of wrongful convictions are fully identified and remedied.




Tags: Death Penalty, Claude Jones, Cameron Todd Willingham

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Another Arson Conviction Under Review

Posted: December 28, 2010 5:33 pm

Arson convictions have drawn controversy in recent years after evidence surfaced that Cameron Todd Willingham had been executed for arson murder in Texas in 2004 despite strong evidence of his innocence. A forthcoming documentary looks into the Willingham case – watch a preview of the film here.


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Virginia Man Seeks Freedom After 27 Years

Posted: February 3, 2011 5:58 am

Haynesworth was 18 and had no criminal record when he was charged with committing five rapes or attempted rapes in the Richmond area in 1984. Prosecutors dismissed one of the cases, but he was ultimately convicted of three of the crimes and acquitted of one.  After his arrest, similar attacks continued to happen in the area by a man who began to refer to himself as the “Black Ninja” to his victims. Eventually, Leon Davis was arrested for 12 crimes that bore striking resemblance to the crimes for which Haynesworth was convicted. Davis was later convicted of at least three of these crimes and is serving multiple life terms.  Despite maintaining his innocence from behind bars and requests to have his case reopened, Haynesworth’s  pleas were ignored for more than two decades.

In 2005, after DNA testing on old evidence exonerated five Virginia men, then-Gov. Mark Warner ordered a review of all cases between 1973 and 1988 where there was evidence suitable for DNA testing. DNA tests were conducted in one of Haynesworth’s cases, and the results cleared him and pointed to Davis. The Innocence Project and Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project sought further testing, and DNA tests also cleared Haynesworth in the crime for which he was acquitted. Although there is no biological evidence available in Haynesworth’s other two convictions, two local prosecutors conducted a careful review of the evidence and now agree that Haynesworth is innocent of these as well.

Despite the fact that both prosecutors and the Attorney General agree that Haynesworth is innocent, he can only be freed by the Virginia Court of Appeals. He will likely remain incarcerated while the court considers his case.

Read the press release.

Timeline of Events in the Case of Thomas Haynesworth.

Media coverage:

Washington Post: Man imprisoned for 27 years hopes that some evidence is enough for freedom (2/2/11)

Times-Dispatch: Prosecutors back exoneration for man convicted in rapes (2/2/11)

Mid Atlantic Innocence Project



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New Report on Federal Criminal Justice Reform

Posted: February 10, 2011 4:18 pm

Earlier this week, Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) reintroduced legislation to create a National Criminal Justice Commission, which is one of the report’s most vital recommendations. The Commission would be tasked with performing a comprehensive review of federal, state, local, and tribal criminal justice systems and making reform recommendations to Congress and the Administration.

The report was developed and published by the Smart on Crime Coalition, a group of more than 40 organizations and individuals, which assessed problems and developed nearly 100 detailed policy recommendations across 16 criminal justice areas. 

Read more about Smart on Crime.

Read about the Webb bill to create a National Criminal Justice Task Force.


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Send Thomas Haynesworth a Message of Support

Posted: February 16, 2011 3:53 pm

Haynesworth was 18 and had no criminal record when he was charged with committing five rapes or attempted rapes in the Richmond area in 1984. Prosecutors dismissed one of the cases, but he was ultimately convicted of three of the crimes and acquitted of one. After his conviction, however, similar attacks continued in the area. Eventually, another man, who described himself to his attackers as the "Black Ninja," was convicted of committing several crimes bearing striking resemblance to the crimes for which Haynesworth was convicted. Haynesworth proclaimed his innocence from prison and asked for his case to be reopened, but his pleas went unheeded for more than two decades.

In 2005, a statewide evidence review led to DNA testing in one of Haynesworth’s cases. The results pointed to the "Black Ninja," clearing Haynesworth. The Innocence Project and Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project sought further testing, and DNA tests also cleared Haynesworth in the crime for which he was acquitted. Although there is no biological evidence available in Haynesworth’s other two convictions, two local prosecutors conducted a careful review of the evidence and now agree that Haynesworth is innocent of these as well.

Read more about Haynesworth's case





Tags: Pending Cases

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Compensating the Wrongly Convicted in Hawaii

Posted: February 24, 2011 3:22 pm

Hawaii law makes no promises to victims like Alvin Jardine: no financial compensation, no services, no assistance of any kind. The most he can currently hope for is an apology from the officials who made the mistake that stole 7,000 days of his life. But "Oops, sorry!" is not enough, and suing is unlikely to gain him anything because the U.S. Supreme Court has made it all but impossible to recover damages from the people responsible for miscarriages of justice.

Hawaii's law needs to be changed. So does the tendency of criminal justice officials to deny the reality of ruinous mistakes about guilt and innocence -- sometimes in the absence of malice, and sometimes in its presence.

Jardine, who was granted a new trial after his conviction was overturned in January, maintained his innocence throughout his trials, claiming that he was at home at the time of the attack. He gave up the possibility of parole a decade earlier by refusing to enter sex-abuse treatment that would have required him to admit guilt, according to the Star Advertiser.

Read the full editorial.

27 States Have Compensation Statutes: Is Yours One?



Tags: Hawaii

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TFSC Chairman Could be Replaced

Posted: February 28, 2011 4:46 pm


We believe John Bradley has shown himself unwilling to engage in true scientific inquiry.

Bradley was appointed chairman of the commission by Gov. Rick Perry right before the commission was to hear testimony from the independent arson expert commissioned by the committee to investigate the evidence in the arson murder trial of Cameron Todd Willingham.  It was Perry who denied a stay of execution for Cameron Todd Willingham, despite the fact that a leading arson expert notified the governor that the evidence used to convict Willingham was based on bad arson science.  It has been nearly five years since the commission decided to investigate the Willingham case, and it still has not issued findings in the case. 

The TFSC will next meet on April 15.

Read the full editorial.

Learn more about the arson investigation into Cameron Todd Willingham’s case.

Read about the Texas Forensic Science Commission.


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Texas Senators Delay Confirmation of FSC Chairman

Posted: March 2, 2011 4:36 pm

Willingham was executed in Texas in 2004 for allegedly setting a fire that killed his three young daughters 13 years earlier. He went to his death proclaiming his innocence.

Ever since October 2009, when Gov. Rick Perry replaced Commission Chairman Sam Bassett with John Bradley, the Willingham investigation has stalled.


"He's turned it into a bureaucracy," said Stephen Saloom, policy director for the Innocence Project, who said he has been to every meeting of the commission since Bradley took over. "Since he became chairman, John Bradley has done everything in his power to prevent or delay the commission from completing one single investigation."

Read the full story.

Learn more about the arson investigation into Cameron Todd Willingham’s case.

Read about the Texas Forensic Science Commission.




Tags: Cameron Todd Willingham

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U.S. Supreme Court: Inmate Can Seek DNA Testing

Posted: March 8, 2011 5:50 pm

The decision won’t immediately get Skinner the DNA testing he’s been seeking for nearly ten years, which he claims will prove he is innocent of the three murders for which he was convicted by a Texas jury in 1995.  The case now gets sent back down for still more litigation—unless the Gray County prosecutor, Lynn Switzer, agrees to allow the testing to proceed.

But the Supreme Court’s ruling reaffirmed the important principle that the federal courthouse doors remain open in cases like these, where they may be a prisoner’s one and only remaining hope of obtaining DNA testing that proves innocence.

And fortunately, as the Supreme Court itself noted today, these kinds of drawn-out federal civil rights battles over DNA testing are quite rare in 2011.  Most DNA testing cases are settled in state court—or in no court at all, with prosecutors increasingly sharing the view that everyone wins, and no one loses, by allowing a prisoner to obtain a DNA test that could clear him or her and potentially identify who actually committed the crime in the process.

But for Hank Skinner, his long battle to get a DNA test continues—even though that testing could have been over and done in less time than it took the Supreme Court to dispose of prosecutors’ most recent procedural objections.  And in Texas, where the courts could now set another execution date at any time, his lawyers may need to continue their recent streak of victories just to keep Skinner alive long enough to see that day.  That is, unless prosecutor Switzer finally agrees—court order or no court order—to just do the right thing and allow a DNA test in this case at long last.



Tags: Hank Skinner

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Wrongfully Convicted Virginia Man Released After 27 Years

Posted: March 21, 2011 5:56 pm


While DNA and other evidence proves that Haynesworth is innocent, his conviction can only be overturned by either the Virginia Court of Appeals or by a pardon. Earlier this year, the Innocence Project, the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and Hogan Lovells US LLP filed paperwork to the Court of Appeals requesting that Haynesworth be exonerated.  The court will hear oral arguments in the case on March 30th. 

In his statement lauding Haynesworth’s parole, McDonnell emphasized the uniqueness of the case and wrote that he is still considering granting a pardon.


"The Parole Board thoroughly reviewed this case according to their standard procedures and policies.  Mr. Haynesworth is being conditionally released according to terms set by the Parole Board and will remain under the supervision of the Department of Corrections. I will follow the Writ of Actual Innocence process as it moves forward and will consider a petition for pardon, should one be filed."

Post-conviction DNA has already exonerated 12 men in Virginia; find out how many men and women have been exonerated in your state here.

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U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Compensation for Former Death Row Inmate

Posted: March 29, 2011 5:03 pm

Of the 16 federal judges, eight held that the jury had already spoken after hearing the facts, while the dissenters said it is an outrageous burden to hold a district attorney's office accountable for employees' misdeeds.

The ruling, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, means that Thompson will not collect the money. 

In response to the ruling, the Innocence Network released a letter signed by 19 innocent people who were wrongfully convicted in part because of the bad acts of prosecutors demanding greater accountability for prosecutorial misconduct.  In the letter, the exonerees explain: 


In many of our wrongful conviction cases prosecutorial misconduct was found but later declared “harmless” by the courts. Nothing could be further from the truth. In our cases, each act had profoundly harmful effects on our lives. Together we represent hundreds of years in prison, separated from our wives, husbands, children, parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents and other loved ones, who suffered their own shame and wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers and spent countless sleepless nights worrying about our well being. The misconduct contributed to nearly unbearable depression and unhappiness, loss of jobs and career opportunities, the derailing of educations and forever destroyed hopes and dreams. Each of us has worked long and hard to repair what has happened to us, but we will never regain the lives we had before we were wrongfully convicted at the hands of careless or deceitful prosecutors.

Read the full article.


Read the decision.

Read the Innocence Network press release on the decision.

Read the letter urging action to stem prosecutorial misconduct
.




Tags: Louisiana

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Exoneree Pushes for Prosecutorial Accountability

Posted: April 12, 2011 5:18 pm

As the Innocence Blog previous reported, the Supreme Court overturned Thompson’s 2005 compensation victory that awarded him $14 million in damages, the majority ruling that the prosecutors were not liable for the failure to turn over the evidence that proved his innocence. Thompson responds:


"I don’t care about the money. I just want to know why the prosecutors who hid evidence, sent me to prison for something I didn’t do and nearly had me killed are not in jail themselves. There were no ethics charges against them, no criminal charges, no one was fired and now, according to the Supreme Court, no one can be sued."


Former Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick, Sr., called for a grand jury investigation when the hidden evidence first came to light, but cancelled the plans once it became clear how may lawyers from his office had been involved. As Thompson points out, overlooking such serious misconduct and abuse of authority sends the wrong message to those responsible and further jeopardizes inmates wishing to prove their innocence.



"There are more than 4,000 people serving life without parole in Louisiana, almost none of whom have lawyers after their convictions are final. Someone needs to look at those cases to see how many others might be innocent."


In 2007, Thompson founded a nonprofit called Resurrection After Exoneration to make sure that no future exonerees are left to rebuild their lives without proper support.

Most recently, Thompson co-signed a letter with 18 other exonerees, who were also the victims of prosecutorial misconduct, addressed to United States Attorney General Eric Holder demanding greater accountability for prosecutorial misconduct in response to the Supreme Court’s decision.


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Evidence in Detroit Rape Case Points to Man's Innocence

Posted: May 4, 2011 2:18 pm

“The reaction by authorities is to preserve a conviction at all costs,” said clinic co-director David Moran. “Besides the injustice to Vinson, there's a rapist who might still be out there, and no one seems to give a damn.”

The prosecutor said that “science does not trump the testimony of individuals,” which ignores the fact that eyewitness misidentification contributed to nearly 80% of wrongful convictions nationwide.


An appellate court order mandating that a new jury hears all the evidence offers the best chance of assuring justice and restoring faith in the criminal justice system's capacity to correct its mistakes.


Read the full article.

Read about forensic oversight.

National Academy of Sciences Report Calls for Overhaul of Forensics in U.S.


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DNA Evidence Could Exonerate Nine Men in Chicago

Posted: May 25, 2011

Following the 1994 rape and murder, Douglas pled guilty to a similar murder of a female in 1997..  After he was released from prison, he was shot to death by a man who was acquitted based on his claim of self defense. 
Terrill Swift and Michael Saunders are among the four men who were wrongfully convicted in 1994.. 


Joshua Tepfer, a lawyer at Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth who is representing Swift, said the DNA link to Douglas is crucial. Police and prosecutors would have investigated Douglas if they had known of the link early on, he said.



"We believe this is entirely exonerating and this man who has been tied to so many other cases is the one who alone committed this crime," Tepfer said. "The DNA doesn't lie in this case. … He's a man who was preying on women."


Tepfer added that the only thing tying Swift and Saunders to the crime were their confessions, which were marked by inconsistencies. There was no physical evidence linking them to the murder.

In the other case, all five defendants were also excluded by DNA testing from the beginning, and new tests reveal a connection to another rapists who is currently in prison on unrelated charges.

In both cases, the Innocence Project is working with the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth (at Northwestern Law School), the Exoneration Project (at the University of Chicago Law School) and private attorneys.

Read the full article.

Read more on the two cases at the Innocence Blog.

Learn how false confessions happen and what we can do to prevent them.


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Standing with Thomas Haynesworth

Posted: July 27, 2011 6:06 pm

And although Haynesworth is still not fully cleared, he is backed by key supporters. The Innocence Project, along with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and Hogan Lovells US LLP helped secure his parole release and continue fighting for his full exoneration. The Commonwealth’s Attorneys in the two counties where his convictions occurred have called for his exoneration. Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli says he “will do everything in his power” to ensure Haynesworth is cleared.

Hundreds of Innocence Project supporters have also sent messages to Haynesworth to show their support. Join them by sending your message here.

Read more about Haynesworth’s case.


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Friday Roundup: DNA Access and Police Misconduct

Posted: August 5, 2011 1:13 pm

The Houston Police Department is in a dispute with City Hall over how to spend federal grant money awarded to address a backlog of untested rape kits.

Nearly two decades after two New York City police officers raided a family’s apartment based solely on the word of an informant who faced drug charges, a lawsuit against the city and policemen may go to trial.


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Michael Morton Roundup: His First Day of Freedom

Posted: October 5, 2011 5:02 pm

Selected media coverage of Michael Morton's exoneration:

Los Angeles Times: TX Man Convicted of Wife’s Murder Freed after 25 Years (10/4/11)

ABC News: Michael Morton Goes Free After Nearly 25 Years in Prison, Exonerated for Wife's Murder (10/4/11)

Washington Post (via AP): DNA Evidence Frees TX Man Wrongfully Imprisoned for Nearly 25 Years for Wife’s ’86 Slaying (10/4/11)

The Texas Tribune: DNA Evidence Leads to Morton’s Release after 25 Years (10/4/11)

Austin American Statesman: Morton Walks Out of Court a Free Man (10/4/11)



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New York Exoneree to Make Boxing Debut

Posted: October 11, 2011 5:41 pm

Bozella was initially arrested for the 1977 burglary and murder of a 92-year-old woman, but the charges were dropped because there was no evidence linking him to the crime. He was rearrested for the crime six years later after two inmates, who were released from prison for their cooperation, told prosecutors that Bozella committed the murder. Even though a fingerprint was found at the crime scene that matched another individual who committed a nearly identical crime around the same time, the state went forward with the prosecution. Based solely on the strength of the informants’ testimony, Bozella was convicted. 

In prison, Bozella earned a bachelor’s degree from Mercy College and a master’s from the New York Theological Seminary. He also took up boxing, becoming Sing Sing’s light-heavyweight champion.

He was a model prisoner but was denied parole several times because he wouldn’t admit that he was guilty of the murder. When he was finally exonerated, Bozella began teaching boxing skills and discipline to young people.
Then came the ESPY Awards this year, where he was honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.  The exposure led to an offer to box professionally. And the rest is history.

Bozella hopes to open his own boxing gym in the future.

Read the full article.

Read more about Bozella’s case.




Tags: Dewey Bozella

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The Lineup Filler

Posted: October 17, 2011 4:08 pm

As the article shows, Weston’s approach to finding fillers is hardly an exact science.

“Every time I call him and I tell him I need light-skin Hispanic of that description, he always brings dark-skin,” a Bronx homicide detective, Luke Waters, testified earlier this year, according to a court transcript. “He wants to make money as quick as he can, and when he brings them in I don’t like them.”

Eyewitness misidentification has played a role in 75% of wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing to date, and among the procedural reforms supported by the Innocence Project are safeguards to ensure that fillers resemble the witness’ description of the perpetrator.

Read the full article.

Read more about identification reforms supported by the Innocence Project.




Tags: Eyewitness Identification, Eyewitness Misidentification

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New National Database Reveals Nearly 900 Exonerations

Posted: May 21, 2012 2:00 pm

Launched today, the National Registry of Exonerations profiles 891 people who were wrongfully convicted and then later exonerated through new evidence of innocence—both DNA and non-DNA. The registry, a joint project of the University of Michigan Law School and the Northwestern University School of Law, is the most comprehensive accounting of exonerations ever compiled. 
 
The 891 cases, at last count, include exonerations since 1989, the year of the first DNA exoneration. The 291 DNA exoneration cases tracked by the Innocence Project are represented within this count. The Innocence Project does not track exonerations achieved by means other than DNA, which might include witness recantations, a true perpetrators’ confession and more.  MSNBC reports:

We can figure that as sort of the modern period in exonerations because DNA was a big game-changer," said University of Michigan Law Professor Samuel Gross, one of the registry's creators. "It provided a scientific instrument for reviewing cases and providing a different type of evidence about those cases because the technology didn't exist."
 
But DNA doesn't actually account for the majority of the exonerations in the database, after an initial wave in the early 1990s, he said.
 
"DNA is a fairly narrow-gauged tool. It only fits particular type of crimes," Gross said, noting that only 37 percent of the people in the database were cleared with the help of DNA evidence. "In the public mind, exoneration became identified with DNA... Most of these cases -- DNA and non-DNA -- everybody agrees there was a mistake; frequently because the criminal was caught, often because we agree there was no crime at all."

Professor Gross believes that many other cases of wrongful conviction may never be discovered, or may yet to be discovered. Among the cases not listed by the registry are over 1,100 mass exonerations, representing cases of police misconduct scandals. These cases were intentionally omitted so as not to skew the final statistics. For example, research produced through the registry shows that 51% of the wrongful convictions involved perjury of false accusation, that 43% involved eyewitness misidentification, and that 42% involved official misconduct.
 
The National Registry of Exonerations team encourages anyone who has been exonerated or knows of an exoneration not listed on the registry to contact them here
 
View the registry.
 
Read the article.
 
Browse the Innocence Project database of DNA exoneration cases.

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From the Wrongful Convictions Blog: International Innocence Round-up

Posted: May 24, 2012 11:00 am

Family members of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, a former Nigerian intelligence officer convicted of the bombing of Pan Am 103,  are claiming that he was wrongfully convicted. Al-Megrahi maintained his innocence until his death on May 20, 2012, and details of the case remain unclear.

According to a New Zealand detective, an innocent man has spent nearly 20 years behind bars, convicted of a brutal rape and murder he did not commit.

Sam Hallam, a British man who spent seven years in jail for a 2004 gang killing that he did not commit, was released on May 17.

Since 2004, 163 cases have been reopened by the Norwegian Criminal Cases Review Commission (NCCRC) after new evidence cast doubt upon the convictions.

Efforts continue to exonerate Sadamichi Hirasawa, a Japanese artist who was sentenced to death in 1950 for the murder of a bank employee. Hirasawa died in 1987, still on death row, at the age of 95.

After spending more than 40 years on death row, 86 year-old Masaru Okunishi may yet receive a new trial. The Nagoya high court will rule on May 25 whether Okunishi, convicted of poisoning dozens, will be retried.


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Innocence Project and New York State Bar Association Push for Reform in New York

Posted: May 30, 2012 5:20 pm

At a press conference in Albany today, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and Bar Association President Vincent E. Doyle III were joined by five exonerees who collectively spent more than 90 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, a Texas rape victim who mistakenly identified the wrong suspect, one of the three Duke University lacrosse players falsely accused of rape in 2006, and a North Carolina police captain whose department has successfully adopted interrogation and eyewitness reforms.

Despite the fact that New York has the third highest number of wrongful convictions nationwide, the state Legislature has failed to take action to prevent future injustice.  Simple reforms that would improve eyewitness identifications and help prevent false confessions — two of the leading causes of wrongful convictions — have been embraced by other states including New Jersey, Connecticut, Texas and North Carolina.

Underscoring the need for improved identification procedures, the Innocence Project released the results of a survey on whether police agencies around the state had formal identification procedure policies. Requests for information from 500 police agencies resulted in 349 responses. Of those, 112 provided formal written policies. None had written policies requiring double-blind police lineups, which have been proven to reduce the rate of misidentification.  Two departments, however, do require that lineups be conducted double-blind whenever possible.

A recent editorial in the Buffalo News emphasized the need for New York to pass this legislation.


New York’s resistance to reform goes largely unexplained, though some critics believe it is because many voters would perceive such measures as being unfriendly to police and of benefit to criminals. But the opposite is true.

Convicting the right person not only avoids putting innocent people in prison, but ensures that the real criminal isn’t out creating more victims.



New York had a chance to act on this problem earlier this year when it expanded the state’s DNA database. It didn’t, to its shame. The Assembly has supported reforms but the Senate and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo remain strangely silent.

It is time for them to speak up. As Samuel Gross, editor of the newly opened National Registry of Exonerations, said: “We know there are many more that we haven’t found."


Read more in today’s press release.
Read the full editorial.




Tags: New York

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Innocence Project Submits New Evidence of Innocence in West Virginia Case

Posted: June 5, 2012 5:45 pm

The Innocence Project recently filed a petition presenting new DNA evidence that clears Joseph Buffey, of Clarksburg, West Virginia. Buffey pled guilty of the rape and robbery of an elderly woman in 2001 after having falsely confessed to the crime. Recent DNA tests on crime scene evidence definitively exclude Buffey, yet local officials have denied requests to enter the DNA profile into a national database to see if it matches any known criminals.
 
One week after the rape and robbery, Buffey and two other men were arrested in connection to a string of robberies. After being questioned for nearly eight hours, Buffey confessed to the rape, then recanted minutes later. The Gazette-Mail reports:


Minutes after giving his confession, Buffey recanted it, the petition states. The officers went back into the interrogation room, and Matheny told Buffey that he was going to give him an opportunity "to sing."
 
"You really want to know the truth?" Buffey asked, according to the petition.
 
"Yeah, we want the truth," was the reply.
 
"I didn't do it."

The petition also states that at trial, the lead detective presented at least four pieces of blatant false information as facts to the grand jury. The Innocence Project has requested a hearing to consider the petition and seeks to vacate Buffey’s conviction.
 
Read the full article.
 
Understand The Causes: How False Confessions Happen
 
Read more about False Confessions & Mandatory Recording of Interrogations



Tags: West Virginia

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Australian Coroner Makes a Ruling in 32-Year-Old Case

Posted: June 12, 2012 1:30 pm

In 1980, an Australian woman who was camping with her family reported to police that a wild dog snatched her infant baby from the tent never to be seen again. On Tuesday, after 32 years and multiple legal proceedings, a coroner ruled that a dingo, a wild dog native to Australia, had indeed caused the death of Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton’s daughter, Azaria.
 
At the time of the disappearance, there were no other accounts of babies being taken or harmed by dingos, and detectives quickly turned their attention to Azaria’s parents.
 
CNN reported that Azaria's body was never found, but her blood-stained clothing and baby blanket were discovered near the campsite one week after her disappearance. Her mother long maintained that a dingo took her baby—a line made famous in the 1988 Meryl Streep film "A Cry in the Dark."
 
Although Azaria’s death was initially attributed to a dingo in 1981, the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory refuted the findings and requested a new trial. It was then that the prosecution claimed Chamberlain-Creighton slit Azaria’s throat before she and her husband buried the body near the campsite. Chamberlain-Creighton was convicted of her daughter’s murder and sentenced to life in prison. Her then-husband Michael was given a suspended sentence for being an accessory after the fact.
 
Four years later, a jacket believed to belong to Azaria was discovered near a dingo lair near the scene of the disappearance. A Royal Commission reviewed the evidence and vacated the Chamberlains’ convictions. In 1995, a third trial into Azaria’s death ended with an open verdict.
 
The now-divorced couple set out on a fourth inquest earlier this year. Evidence included reports of attacks by dingoes that resulted in the deaths of three children in Australia.

 
“The cause of her death was as the result of being attacked and taken by a dingo,” Elizabeth Morris, coroner for Northern Territory, announced to Darwin Magistrates court early Tuesday. “Dingos can and do cause harm to humans.”

Read the full article.

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Florida Innocence Commission Hopeful for Reform

Posted: June 14, 2012 1:00 pm

The commission that Florida’s Supreme Court created in 2010 to study the causes of wrongful convictions and recommend reforms held its final meeting earlier this week. The commission will submit its recommendations in a final report to the Supreme Court next week.

The Florida Innocence Commission, comprised of prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement and other professionals in the criminal justice community, have expressed concerns about funding for criminal justice reform. The Orlando Sentinel reports:


"If we are serious about reducing wrongful convictions, underfunding is the single, greatest threat," said Alex Acosta, panel member and dean of Florida International University's College of Law.
 

 
"We often talk about the cost of justice," Perry said. "We ought to think about the cost of injustice."

The panel has already introduced eyewitness identification reforms to improve live and photo lineups, and has voted to ask the Florida Legislature for increased funding for public defenders. To date, there have been 13 DNA exonerations in Florida.

Read the full article.

Learn about criminal justice reform commissions by clicking here or here.

National View: A Map of States with Innocence Commissions in the U.S.


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Documentary to Tell Texas Exoneree's Story

Posted: June 26, 2012 12:00 pm

Al Reinert, a two-time Academy Award nominee, recently began filming a documentary focusing on the trials and travails of Michael Morton, who was exonerated after 25 years of wrongful imprisonment for allegedly murdering his wife.  DNA evidence implicated the real perpetrator.

Reinert began filming the documentary in the same Georgetown courtroom where Morton was convicted in 1987. Morton’s trial lawyer, William Allison; John Raley, one of the leading lawyers for his exoneration, and two jurors from Morton’s 1987 trial have been interviewed. Reinert hopes to use the documentary to capture Morton’s emotional ordeal during his 25 years in prison and his exoneration.

“At the heart of this story is the 25 years he lost through no fault of his own and you’ve got to feel those 25 years.  There’s no easy way to do it,” Reinert said.  "It's a great story in real life, and if we don't screw it up, it's going to be a great movie."

The documentary could potentially be included the Sundance Film Festival in January.

Read the full article.
Read more about Morton’s case.

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Exoneree Anniversary: Kirk Bloodsworth

Posted: June 28, 2012 1:40 pm

Today marks the 19th anniversary of Kirk Bloodsworth’s exoneration. Bloodsworth was the first person to be exonerated through DNA testing who had received a death sentence. He spent eight years in prison, much of it on death row. According to news reports, Bloodsworth exited the Maryland House of Correction, thrust his fist in the air and shouted “Fantastic!”

“I remember the day.” Bloodsworth says. “I imagine any exonerated person would remember the day they got out, as well as the day they went in. I remember that day so vividly. I had a jailhouse tan, meaning I was white as a fish and smelly at that time, but I was so happy. Out the door I went to a bank of cameras. Back in those days you know, this was a rarity, especially for a guy that had been on death row. I got picked up in a limousine by a local rock station here in Baltimore. I'll never forget it. It's been some heck of a ride.”

Bloodsworth’s case sounded a clarion call for criminal justice reform just as DNA testing’s potential to exonerate the innocent came to national attention. In 2003, with the help of Bloodsworth’s advocacy, Congress passed the Innocence Protection Act, including the “Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program.” Bloodsworth grant funds have led to the exonerations of five people, most recently Thomas Haynesworth of Virginia. 

Today, Bloodsworth is an activist for criminal justice reform and a public speaker. Tuesday, July 2, he will speak on a panel, “Moving Away from the Death Penalty—Lessons from National Experiences” with Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck before the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights. He’s also actively involved in the movement to abolish Maryland’s death penalty. 

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Sunday: Verneal Jimerson, Illinois (served 10.5 years, exonerated 6/24/96) 

Saturday: Ronald Cotton, North Carolina (served 10.5 years, exonerated 6/30/95)




Tags: Kirk Bloodsworth

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New Evidence Could Free North Carolina Man

Posted: June 29, 2012 4:15 pm

A North Carolina man who has spent nearly 17 years in prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit could be freed Friday afternoon if a judge releases him and orders a new trial.

LaMonte Armstrong was convicted of the 1988 murder of one of his former professors at North Carolina A&T State University and sentenced to life in prison in 1995. At a hearing at the Guilford County Courthouse today, Armstrong’s attorneys and an assistant district attorney will recommend his release based on evidence that implicates a convicted murderer. Investigators identified a palm print belonging to another suspect, Christopher Caviness, at the victim’s home near where the body was discovered. Caviness, who was convicted of murdering his father in 1989, died in a traffic accident in 2010 after being released from prison. The Associated Press reports:


The print doesn't prove Caviness' guilt, but if jurors had known about the match, they probably wouldn't have convicted Armstrong, Guilford County Assistant District Attorney Howard Neumann said.

Neumann said he expects the judge to vacate Armstrong's conviction and release him from prison shortly after Friday's hearing. Prosecutors don't plan to seek bond guaranteeing Armstrong will appear for future court hearings, Neumann said.

No physical evidence linked Armstrong to the crime scene, just the testimonies of four convicted felons—one of whom claimed to be a witness to the murder and received a sentence of five years as an accessory to the murder. He has since recanted citing pressure from police. The other three informants claimed that Armstrong confessed to them.  Armstrong’s attorneys at the Duke Law Wrongful Convictions Clinic and the Duke Law Innocence Project said that prosecutors withheld information favorable to the defense.

Read the full article.




Tags: North Carolina

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Two Mississippi Women Freed After Review of Bite Mark Evidence

Posted: July 2, 2012 4:45 pm

After spending nearly 11 years behind bars, two Mississippi women were released from prison last week when a judged vacated their aggravated assault convictions.
 
Leigh Stubbs and Tammy Vance were convicted of a 2001 aggravated assault, based largely on bite mark analysis, after a third female travel companion was found injured and unconscious in a hotel room. Earlier this year, attorneys from the Mississippi Innocence Project, who represent both women, argued that the original prosecutors failed to turn over favorable evidence for the defense.
 
Prosecutors at the original trial relied heavily on the testimony of local dentist, Dr. Michael West, who claimed he could match bite marks on the victim's body to Stubbs and Vance, reported the Daily Leader. West has testified for the prosecution in cases in nine states, and his testimony has contributed to the wrongful convictions of DNA exonerees Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks. Despite being the first member ever suspended by the American Board of Forensic Odontology, Prosecutors continued to use West as an expert and courts continued to allow his testimony. According to the Daily Leader, West has said he now doubts the validity of bite mark analysis.
 
Family members of the women, including Stubb’s brother-in-law Steve Wade, expressed their disappointment in the attorney general for defending cases in which testimony by West was used. The Daily Leader reports:


"The Mississippi attorney general and Lincoln County district attorney should commit to pursue charges against Dr. Michael West for fraudulent testimony and perjury," Wade said.

A hearing scheduled for August 6 will determine if prosecutors will seek a retrial or drop the charges.
 
Read the full article.



Tags: Mississippi

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Atlanta Wrongfully Incarcerates Woman Who Shares the Same Name as the Suspect

Posted: July 5, 2012 5:45 pm

Teresa Culpepper was arrested and spent nearly two months in jail for a crime allegedly committed by a woman with the same name. Although she didn’t fit the description besides her name, Culpepper would not be released until the victim came forward to testify that she was not the assailant. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:

Aimee Maxwell, executive director of the Georgia Innocence Project, said arrests based on mistaken identities are common. “I think it’s a rare occurrence when people find out about it,” she said.

As in Culpepper’s case, mistaken arrests usually can be traced to similar names.

Innocence Project client James Curtis Giles was wrongfully imprisoned in Texas for 10 years and spent 14 years as a registered sex offender on parole because he shared the same name as the real perpetrator—James Earl Giles. Giles the assailant was considerably younger and lived on the other side of town. James Curtis Giles was exonerated by DNA testing in 2007.
 
Read the full article about the case.



Tags: Georgia

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Science News

Posted: July 5, 2012 5:50 pm

The sniff of an unreliable drug dog counts as probable cause, Cook County’s medical examiner resigns, DNA evidence and the Oakland PD Crime Lab struggles with a growing backlog. Here is the roundup of this week’s forensic news:
 
A Minnesota judge ruled that a drug dog’s “alert” amounted to probable cause to search a man’s vehicle even though the dog got it wrong roughly three out of four times. The judge’s ruling conceded that the dog in question “may not be a model of canine accuracy.”
 
Cook County’s medical examiner announced that she will resign next month, following an investigation that revealed nearly two dozen safety violations at the county morgue. These violations ranged from “falling bodies to exposure to hepatitis B.”
 
Evidence in hundreds of unsolved homicides and sexual assaults remain untested as the Oakland Police Department Crime Lab struggles with understaffing and underfunding.

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Prosecutorial Error Common in TX Wrongful Conviction Cases

Posted: July 6, 2012 3:00 pm

A Texas Tribune investigation analyzed 86 cases of wrongful conviction in Texas and found that 21—or 25%--involved prosecutorial error.
 
The article features the tragic case of Debbie Loveless and John Miller who were wrongfully convicted of murdering their four-year-old daughter who died from a dog attack. Prosecutors allegedly suppressed autopsy photos that clearly showed a paw print mark and dog hairs on the child’s body. Prosecutors argued that the couple had used a curling iron and a hunting knife to make it look like a dog attack.  Loveless and Miller spent four years in prison before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the convictions. The Texas Tribune reports:


Despite the decades that innocent men and women have lost behind bars, none of the prosecutors involved were publicly disciplined.

“We have a good set of disciplinary rules on paper,” said Robert Schuwerk, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center who served on the committee that wrote the Texas Disciplinary Rule of Professional Conduct. “The question is, is anybody going to enforce them?”

The Innocence Project and partners have launched a nationwide tour to explore policy reforms to prevent misconduct. In March, the tour stopped at the University of Texas Law School in Austin and featured Texas exoneree Michael Morton who was wrongfully convicted for the murder of his wife and whose prosecutor now faces a Court of Inquiry to determine whether he contributed to the injustice by concealing evidence from the defense.  
 
Read the full article.
 
Read more about the Prosecutorial Oversight Tour.
 
Read more about prosecutorial misconduct in Texas.



Tags: Texas

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Exoneree's Son Talks About Prosecutorial Error

Posted: July 11, 2012 5:10 pm

Eric Olson, son of the recently exonerated Michael Morton, spoke to the Texas Tribune about prosecutorial misconduct in his father’s case. The article is part of a series, “Errors in Judgment,” on prosecutorial error in Texas wrongful convictions cases. Olson, who was three years old when his father was arrested for murdering his mother, lost both parents in the same year. The article used Olson’s experience as a way to examine the collateral consequences of prosecutor’s misdeeds.

The series analyzed 86 wrongful convictions and discovered that nearly 25% involved prosecutorial error. In Morton’s case, a Court of Inquiry will convene to explore allegations of prosecutorial misconduct against Ken Anderson, the prosecutor who tried Morton in 1987. However, prosecutors are very rarely disciplined, as the Texas Tribune reported, even when their actions contributed to a wrongful conviction.

When Morton was exonerated through DNA testing and freed in October 2011, Olson had not seen his father for 14 years. Father and son would soon meet together with Olson’s pregnant wife. Morton has since become a grandfather for the first time at age 57. 

Olson says that he plans to attend the Court of Inquiry. Exculpatory evidence, including his own statement to his grandmother that his father was not present at the crime and that a “monster” had killed his mother, was never turned over to the defense. As an adult, however, Olson had no memory of the crime. Olson told the Texas Tribune that the prosecutor had convinced his mother’s family that his father committed the crime: 

 

“He convinced everybody that’s what the truth was, and that’s what they thought forever. They didn’t have any other source of truth.


 Part of my life was taken away, first of all, because my mother was killed. Then I don’t understand why somebody would want to continue that chain of events by taking away someone’s father.”

Read the full article.

Read more about the Morton case

Read the other installments in the series.

Read about the Court of Inquiry.




Tags: Michael Morton

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Indiana Police Cut Down DNA Backlog

Posted: July 17, 2012 2:45 pm

In the nearly two decades that DNA testing in criminal cases has become commonplace, Indiana State Police crime labs suffered a backlog high of nearly one thousand cases that needed DNA testing. As of December, that number is down to 389, according to the police department’s annual report.
 
The combination of a bigger lab in Indianapolis, new technology and the hiring of more biologists has contributed to a decrease in the forensic backlog in all cases, reported The Journal Gazette.


“Every crime lab has a backlog. The issue really is what’s your turnaround time,” said Eric Lawrence, director of forensic analysis who has been with the state police for 28 years.
 
...
 
“Our goal is to complete 75 percent of our cases in 45 days,” Lawrence said. “At the same time, if a police agency has some sort of rush, some high-profile case, or something that can be an immediate threat to public safety, we want to meet those needs too.”

Before Indiana’s crime labs caught up on DNA testing, they were among a handful of crime labs across the country that asked the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directories for an extension to meet new standards to remain accredited.
 
With most of the lab’s shortcomings being administrative, the department has already corrected itself and expects to be fully reaccredited next month, according to Lawrence.
 
Read the full article.



Tags: Indiana

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Louisiana Exonerees File Civil Suit in Prosecutorial Misconduct Case

Posted: July 18, 2012 12:15 pm

Two former Louisiana inmates who served 27 years for a 1975 murder before their convictions were overturned have filed a civil rights lawsuit seeking $1 million for each year spent behind bars. Gregory Bright and Earl Truvia, who also want punitive damages, accuse prosecutors under former Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick of withholding key evidence from the defense.
 
Among the missing evidence was a report showing that police questioned two suspects before Bright and Truvia and that the only witness was a paranoid schizophrenic who testified under a false name to hide her background, reported The Times-Picayune.
 
Attorneys for the city and the District Attorney’s office asked the judge to dismiss the suit saying that they were not required to turn over the evidence.
 
Last year, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in Connick v. Thompson finding that the prosecutor’s office could not be held liable for failing to train prosecutors to turn over evidence based on the evidence presented in that case. John Thompson was exonerated after serving 18 years—14 in isolation on death row—for a murder he did not commit. He sued the District Attorney’s Office but the state appealed to the high court.


“Wrongful convictions are caused by lawyers and we simply don't hold them to account," said Emily Maw, director of Innocence Project New Orleans. "It's absolutely both sides. Crappy defense lawyers are just as responsible.”

After a four-year fight for compensation, Bright, 56, and Truvia, 53, were recently awarded $190,000 each by the state under a Louisiana law that grants compensation to those wrongfully convicted.
 
The judge has declined to rule immediately on the motion to dismiss the case.
 
Read the full article.



Tags: Louisiana

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New Jury Instructions Will Prevent Wrongful Convictions

Posted: July 20, 2012 12:30 pm

Yesterday, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued new jury instructions regarding eyewitness identifications. Judges must now inform jurors that many factors can undercut the ability of an eyewitness to make an accurate identification, such as lighting, distance, stress levels, and time elapsed between the crime and the identification. Furthermore, the judge must caution the jury that eyewitnesses have particular trouble identifying someone of a different race.

The new instructions came in the wake of a landmark ruling by the court almost a year ago in Henderson v. New Jersey. In that case, the court unanimously ruled that the test for the reliability of eyewitness testimony that had been on the books since 1977 was outdated. The new instructions will take effect on September 4.

Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, contributing to nearly 75 percent of the wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence. Based on this, the Innocence Project submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in the original case. The New Jersey changes are “critically important,” Innocence Project co-director Barry Scheck told the New York Times. He continued:


It changes the way evidence is presented by prosecutors and the way lawyers defend. The whole system will improve.

Read the full article.





Tags: Eyewitness Misidentification

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Clearing up the Disparity in Texas Exonerations from County to County

Posted: July 24, 2012 3:55 pm

This week, Texas news outlets have presented differing perspectives on why Dallas County has exonerated so many more people through DNA testing than neighboring Tarrant County. Texas leads the nation in DNA exonerations, and many of the innocent prisoners that have been vindicated were wrongfully convicted in Dallas County. The Dallas Observer reports:


A Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial published this weekend concludes that Tarrant County has not exonerated nearly as many innocent prisoners as Dallas County simply because it did not wrongfully incarcerate them in the first place. This black-and-white view is too simple for what's become a thorny issue across the state.

The Dallas Observer blog post explains that the reason for the discrepancy of DNA exonerations between Dallas County and the rest of the state is that Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins has been committed to freeing the innocent. Mike Ware, a Fort Worth criminal defense attorney who led the Conviction Integrity Unit in the Dallas County District Attorney's office until last year, attributes Dallas County’s exonerations to its aggressive stance on ordering DNA testing in cases deemed inconclusive. Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas agrees. According to the Dallas Observer:

It's "simply not the culture" elsewhere, he says. And because of that, lawyers are more prone to take on innocence cases in Dallas. Such cases take a tremendous amount of time and money, and that currency goes a lot farther here, where hurdles to testing are far less challenging than elsewhere in Texas.
 
Blackburn doesn't see Tarrant County as being any better or worse in terms of wrongful convictions than most other District Attorney's offices around the state. Dallas is simply an outlier in that the evidence was preserved and Watkins has made it a major priority to free the innocent.

Read the full blog.
 
Read the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s editorial.
 
Search the profiles of Texas DNA exonerees.
 



Tags: Texas

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A Short History of Police Lineup Reform

Posted: July 25, 2012 10:30 am

By Gary Wells, Professor of Psychology, Iowa State University 
 
More than ever, legislators and law enforcement are realizing the importance of adopting lineup procedures that are based on solid scientific research. A groundswell of reform to eyewitness identification procedures swept the country last year—from New Jersey to Texas and police departments nationwide. Still, the change has been gradual. My own career is a testament of that.
 
I have been conducting experiments on eyewitness identification since 1975, while I was still a graduate student in psychology at Ohio State University. Along with a fellow student, we designed this simple experiment where we staged a theft repeatedly and had people try and pick the thief out from a lineup. Not only did they make a lot of mistakes, but sometimes they were quite certain that they were right when in fact they were wrong. 
 
After the first DNA exonerations in the early 1990s, I began to see how relevant those cases were to my research. For the first time ever, we had a litmus test that would help establish that eyewitness misidentification is not just a hypothetical problem. Before that, the work that I and other scientists were doing was largely ignored by the justice system. Many people in the legal community took the position that—“No one is actually serving time in this country for a crime they did not commit. It just doesn’t happen.” So, the DNA exonerations had the impact of getting the legal system to start paying attention to the science that we were doing. 
 
In this area of eyewitness science we had explored a number of important factors that contribute to mistaken identifications, such as the problem of cross-racial identifications and the ways in which a culprit’s use of a weapon reduces memory for the culprit’s face. But among the most useful discoveries were finding that ways in which lineups are conducted affects the reliability of identifications that are made. This includes the instructions that witnesses are given before viewing a lineup, the quality of the fillers (non-suspect lineup members) used in the lineup, and the potential influence of a lineup administrator who can inadvertently influence the witness’s identification decision. 
 
A number of jurisdictions began to take note of these findings and make reforms to how they conducted lineups. Other jurisdictions, however, showed some reluctance to make changes based on laboratory experiments that used simulated crimes. Accordingly, we launched an experiment with police departments in San Diego, Tucson, Austin and Charlotte using laptop computers to administer lineups in actual cases to test one of our main ideas, namely that sequential lineups (witnesses view each lineup member one at a time) would produce fewer mistaken identifications than would the traditional simultaneous lineup (lineup members viewed as a group). Unlike our lab studies, we could not be sure whether the suspected person in the lineup was in fact the culprit. But, each lineup included only one suspected person and the remaining members were known-innocent fillers. Hence, whenever a witness identified a filler, we could score that as a mistake. The Innocence Project was an important partner in this research.
 
The results of the study, released last year, corresponded well to what we had learned from the controlled laboratory research—that the rate of misidentification drops when witnesses view a sequential lineup. A key component was that the officer administering the lineup did not know which lineup member is being investigated by police.
 
The Innocence Project has been critical to bridging the gap between practices and procedures that are used by law enforcement and the social science recommendations. That’s a gap that social scientists alone cannot fully bridge, and the Innocence Project has been an incredible broker in that process.
 
Once law enforcement investigators are exposed to the research, they are quite receptive to it. The more lineups they’ve done in their career, the more they can appreciate the idea that there are limitations to eyewitness evidence, which they’ve observed in their own professional experience. Once they know there’s a problem, they’re eager to find a solution.
 
Read more about the field study
 
Read more about the recent widespread reforms to eyewitness identification procedures.
 
Read more about Gary Wells’ research.



Tags: Eyewitness Identification

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Exonerees to Speak after Performance of "The Exonerated"

Posted: July 25, 2012 1:15 pm

Playing for two nights at Pennsylvania’s Allentown Public Theatre this weekend is a production of “The Exonerated,” the hit play by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen in which the true stories of six people sentenced to death for crimes they didn’t commit are told in their own words. 

The play will run on July 27 and July 28 at 8pm as part of Allentown Public Theatre’s Actors in Action Festival at America on Wheels Museum.

Vincent Moto, who served nearly nine years in a Pennsylvania prison for a crime DNA proved he didn’t commit, will answer questions after the performance on Friday, and Kirk Bloodsworth, who served eight years before becoming the first person to be exonerated from death row through post-conviction DNA testing, will answer questions after the performance on Saturday. 

Pennsylvania Innocence Project Legal Director, Marissa Boyers Bluestine will be available for questions after both performances.  

Visit the Allentown Public Theatre website for more details. 

For more about the Exoneree Speakers’ Bureau.

Read more about Vincent Moto’s case

Read more about Kirk Bloodsworth’s case.


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Editorial Urges States to Follow NJ in Eyewitness Identification Reform

Posted: July 30, 2012 1:50 pm

South Carolina exoneree Perry Mitchell spent nearly 15 years behind bars for a rape he didn’t commit, largely due to an eyewitness misidentification, before DNA testing proved his innocence and set him free in 1998. Now, an editorial in the Sun News questions if things would have gone differently if the trial court had been required to give jury instructions about eyewitness identification testimony like those recently issued by the New Jersey Supreme Court.
 
Beginning in September, jurors in any New Jersey case that includes eyewitness testimony will be informed about the many factors that can undercut the ability of an eyewitness to make an accurate identification.


Warning jurors to take some extra time with the evidence rather than trusting it implicitly is a worthy goal. Currently, while S.C. judges can and do offer some instructions to juries on state laws that affect cases, jurors will hear no similar instruction in Palmetto courtrooms. Jurors are on their own and whatever information they already happen to have about the reliability of evidence.
 

 
New Jersey has shown us the way. We may no longer be able to be first in this reform, but we sure shouldn’t be last. Let’s get ahead of the curve and help build momentum for the change across the nation. Justice demands it.

Read the full editorial.
 
Read more about Mitchell’s case.



Tags: South Carolina, Eyewitness Identification

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Blog: The Innocent and the Death Penalty

Posted: August 1, 2012 4:20 pm

In “The Truth about the Death Penalty,” an op-ed that appeared in Sunday’s edition of California’s Daily Democrat, Yolo County Public Defender Tracie Olson urges California to abolish the death penalty, citing wrongful convictions among other reasons.
 
Olson’s piece was a response to an earlier op-ed by District Attorney Jeff Reisig, who supports preserving the death penalty and shortening the appeals process, which he calls “frivolous.” Of the 297 DNA exonerations, 17 served time on death row and an additional 15 were charged with capital crimes but not sentenced to death. 
 
Olson writes:


I doubt anyone could defend the notion that the long legal processes that freed these innocent people were frivolous. 

Read the full op-ed.
 
Read more about the wrongfully convicted who served time on death row.
 
Read about the Innocence Project’s position on the death penalty.



Tags: Death Penalty

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NY Law Expanding DNA Database Takes Effect

Posted: August 2, 2012 5:30 pm

Beginning Wednesday, almost anyone convicted of any crime in New York—felony or misdemeanor—will be required to submit a DNA sample to the state's criminal database.
 
Previously, only those convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanors were required to submit genetic samples. But earlier this year, Governor Andrew Cuomo reached a deal with state lawmakers to expand the DNA database.
 
Though touted as a wrongful conviction reform, an earlier version of the bill was criticized  for not providing defendants with access to the database. The version that was passed includes a provision that allows defendants access in some cases, including murder and rape, which may help some wrongly convicted people prove their innocence if crime scene evidence matches to someone in the database.
 
Nevertheless, New York State has not shown initiative in adopting reforms to prevent wrongful convictions in the first place. Though New York has one of the highest wrongful conviction rates, it has not implemented many of the criminal justice reforms that other states have, such as recording interrogations and improving police lineup procedures. Addressing these concerns, Gov. Cuomo has promised to pursue additional measures.
 
Read Wednesday’s Reuters article about the DNA database expansion.
 
Read about the criminal justice reforms the Innocence Project advocates for New York State here and here.

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Former Bite Mark Expert Dismisses the Discipline

Posted: August 6, 2012 5:55 pm

After nearly three decades of conducting bite mark analysis in nine states, Mississippi forensic dentist Michael West now rejects the science he once embraced, according to the Clarion-Ledger.


"I no longer believe in bite-mark analysis," he said in a 2011 deposition obtained by The Clarion-Ledger. "I don't think it should be used in court. I think you should use DNA. Throw bite marks out."
 
...
 
"The science is not as exact as I had hoped."
 
At one point, the science of identifying bite marks was cutting edge, he said. "DNA has made it fairly obsolete."

West contributed testimony in the cases of Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, both of whom were later exonerated through DNA testing. And earlier this year, two Mississippi women who were convicted of aggravated assault based, in part, on West’s bite mark analysis were released from prison when a judge vacated their aggravated assault convictions and ordered a new trial. Leigh Stubbs and Tammy Vance, who are represented by the Mississippi Innocence Project, will be arraigned today in Brookhaven.
 
Brewer and Brooks were wrongfully convicted of separate child murders in 1992 and 1995 respectively. After steadfastly maintaining their innocence for years, they were exonerated in 2008 when DNA evidence led authorities to the real perpetrator in both cases. Even after Brooks and Brewer were cleared, West maintained that the men bit the victims.

He reiterated that claim in the deposition. "I never accused them of killing or raping anybody - just biting them while they were alive," West said. "If I have a bite mark on one part of the body and semen on another part of the body, to me it's evidence that there are two people involved."

West estimates that he's worked on 16,000 cases, and has testified as a bite mark expert 81 times. Of the 38 Mississippi criminal trials in which The Clarion-Ledger could find a record of West's testimony, 31 ended in convictions.
 
Given West's recent dismissal of bite mark analysis, Stubbs and Vance are hopeful the Attorney General will drop the charges against them. Read the full article.



Tags: Mississippi

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Florida Death Row Prisoner Fights to Overturn Conviction

Posted: August 8, 2012 1:30 pm

A Florida prisoner who has spent half of his life on death row for a murder that he maintains he did not commit, is fighting for a new trial based on DNA evidence pointing to another man. 

Attorneys for Paul Hildwin, who was convicted of the 1985 rape and murder of Vronzettie Cox, argued to overturn his conviction at an evidentiary hearing Monday after bodily fluids recovered from the crime scene excluded Hildwin and matched the victim’s boyfriend, William Haverty. Cox’s nude body was found in the trunk of her car in Hernando County, and her death was ruled a strangulation. Investigators also suspected that she had been sexually assaulted. 

Martin McClain, who has defended Hildwin for the past two decades, said that evidence was withheld from jurors and the scientific evidence presented was flawed, reported the Hernando Today news. McClain was joined in court by Innocence Project Senior Staff Attorney Nina Morrison who is co-counsel on the case. 

Hildwin became a suspect in the murder after stolen property from the vehicle was found in his possession. When questioned, he told investigators that he had hitched a ride with the victim and her boyfriend several days earlier, and admitted stealing property from the vehicle, including the victim’s checkbook.  But he denied assaulting or murdering her, and insisted that he left the victim with her boyfriend by the roadside after the two got into an argument and pulled over the car.   

At trial, the prosecution presented inaccurate evidence that the bodily fluids found at the crime scene matched Hildwin and not Haverty.  That evidence came from a FBI forensics expert who claimed that only 11% of the world's white male population could have left the fluids behind. The Hernando Today reports:


"Now we know as a result of the (recent) upload that information was false," said McClain during Monday's hearing. "That's the problem in this case."
In the eyes of jurors, the old forensic evidence excluded Haverty as a legitimate suspect in Cox's slaying. The new findings — along with more information that has since surfaced — would likely result in a different outcome if the trial were held today, said McClain.

Earlier suspicions about Haverty were overlooked, and witnesses who told investigators they saw Cox with Haverty after she was thought to have died were never called to testify. McClain has contended for years that the state withheld evidence and presented incorrect data presented to jurors, which ultimately led to Hildwin’s conviction. A ruling in the case is expected within the next 60 days.

Read the full article.

Learn more about Hildwin’s case and download the Innocence Project’s 2010 petition on his behalf.





Tags: Paul Hildwin

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How Misidentifications Lead to Wrongful Convictions

Posted: August 16, 2012 3:20 pm

Innocence Project Eyewitness Identification Litigation Fellow Karen Newirth sat down with Lawyers.com at the American Bar Association annual meeting in Chicago to discuss the unreliability of eyewitness misidentification and how it can lead to wrongful convictions.
 
In case after case, DNA has proven what scientists already know — that eyewitness identification is frequently inaccurate. Newirth describes how the human mind is not like a tape recorder and that memory can be influenced and altered. After a crime, a victim’s memory is evidence and must be handled as carefully as the crime scene itself to avoid forever altering it.
 
Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in nearly 75% of the 297 convictions overturned through DNA testing.
 
Watch the video.
 
Understand The Causes: Eyewitness Misidentification.



Tags: Eyewitness Misidentification

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State Attorney Ignores Science, Impedes Starks' Full Exoneration

Posted: August 17, 2012 2:30 pm

Four months after former Illinois inmate Bennie Starks was exonerated of a rape conviction that DNA evidence proves he did not commit, the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office continues to fight efforts to exonerate him of a battery conviction from the same crime. A column by Eric Zorn in today’s Chicago Tribune says 22-year veteran State's Attorney Michael Waller has a penchant for ignoring scientific evidence and is inclined to develop peculiar theories.
 
The victim, now deceased, testified that she was attacked and raped by the same man. Earlier this summer, an appeals court ruled that the DNA evidence undermines Starks’ battery conviction and sent it back to the trial court. Waller didn’t see it that way and petitioned the court for a rehearing.


Prosecutors argued in court that the traces of semen must have come from an earlier sexual partner of the victim and been present due to her "bad hygiene."
 
The problem with this new theory was that the sample was fresh — no more than 30 hours old according to expert trial testimony — and the victim was on record that she hadn't had sex with anyone for at least three days prior to the attack.

Zorn cites other cases in which Waller’s office has exhibited a preference for outlandish theories over solid scientific evidence.

Juan Rivera convicted in the 1992 rape and murder of 11-year-old Holly Stoker in Waukegan. When testing excluded Rivera as the source of DNA found in the victim, prosecutors under Waller argued that the little girl had consensual sex with a never-identified boyfriend prior to the attack.
 
...
 
Jerry Hobbs arrested and held without bond in the 2005 slaying of his daughter Laura, 8, and her friend Krystal Tobias, 9, in a Zion park. In 2007, when DNA testing of semen found in his daughter excluded Hobbs, the Walleristas insisted that Laura must have been playing near where a couple had had sex, gotten semen on her fingers and wiped it on herself.

Read the full column.
 
Write the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office and ask them to vacate the battery charge against Bennie Starks.
 



Tags: Illinois

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Massachusetts Exoneree's Record Expunged, Nine Years Later

Posted: August 20, 2012 4:00 pm

Dennis Maher speaks at the 2010 Innocence Network Conference in Atlanta. (Photo: Curtis McCarty)
 
Nearly a decade after DNA evidence exonerated Dennis Maher of two 1983 rapes he did not commit, the courts have finally expunged his criminal record. Though Maher had been compensated and his honorable military record restored, his name had not been fully cleared.
 
Maher, an Army sergeant, spent 19 years in prison for the crimes. He was spotted near the crime scene shortly after one of the incidents wearing a red hooded sweatshirt similar to the one worn by the perpetrator. No other evidence linked Maher to the sexual assaults, but he was convicted in two separate trials and sentenced to life in prison. His initial requests for DNA testing were ignored, and police claimed that all biological evidence from his case had been destroyed. With the help of the Innocence Project, he was exonerated in April 2003.
 
According to the Lowell Sun, Maher and his family used the occasion to celebrate.


Surrounded by his family at a two-story home in North Tewksbury with a big backyard, Maher said he is relieved to have this last cloud lifted finally from his record.
 
"But I don't dwell on the past," he said.
 
Though records in such cases are usually expunged, they weren't in Maher's case. And since the arrests and charges still used to come up on his record, getting a passport and traveling out of the country was very difficult. "Too many hoops to jump through," he said.
 
For that reason, he and his family have never traveled outside of the country, although they want to go places like Niagara Falls or Toronto to visit friends. But they now plan to do so, later this year.
 
"It started in 1983," Maher said. "And now, it's nearly 30 years later -- and it's closure."

For most exonerees, having their criminal record expunged is a separate legal procedure and doesn’t occur automatically upon exoneration. Though the Innocence Project doesn’t keep statistics on the subject, a number of our former clients are still fighting to be fully cleared and have their records expunged.
 
Read the full article.
 
Read more about Maher’s case.



Tags: Massachusetts, Dennis Maher

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Volunteer Attorney Aids Virginia's Post-Conviction Testing Project

Posted: August 20, 2012 5:40 pm

The Virginia Department of Forensic Science post-conviction DNA testing project has taken the next step in its massive review of state forensic cases from before DNA testing was available—notifying people who have been convicted of crimes for comparison DNA samples. In 63 cases, the DNA evidence from the crime scene exists for testing, but without the comparison sample, there is no way of knowing if the individual was wrongfully convicted.
 
Assisting with the effort is volunteer attorney Jon Sheldon who has had some success finding people when the state couldn’t. Sheldon previously helped the project by tracking down more than 20 people whose DNA results were excluded in post-conviction testing. Among the people authorities were unable to locate was Bennett Barbour, convicted of a rape in 1978 and exonerated earlier this year.
 
Sheldon says it’s a hard decision for people to make without a lawyer and that they need to understand their DNA sample can only help them if they are innocent of the crime for which they are convicted. On the other hand, if they’re not innocent, or if they have committed other unsolved crimes, it could be detrimental.


Sheldon says that under circumstances where the door is potentially open for using the DNA sample in other cases, he would not advise any of the 63 to give a DNA sample unless they clearly understood the implications and risk.
 
"This was one of my concerns," Sheldon said. "It's going to be a little bit sticky."
 
To advise someone to give a sample, he said, "I would need a client behaving like Bennett Barbour — jumping up and down saying, 'This is the call I've waited for all my life. I am innocent and … I've never been involved in any other criminal activity, ever.' "
 
Kristen J. Howard, executive director of the Virginia State Crime Commission, is coordinating the offender notification work in the project and said it has yet to be worked out what Sheldon and any other volunteer lawyers will say to the 63 people.
 
That will be worked out with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, Howard said. "We may have to exactly define what legal advice will be provided because this is very different from what we previously did," she said.

Read the full article.
 
Read more about Barbour’s case.



Tags: Virginia

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DNA Clears Texas Man of Rape

Posted: August 21, 2012 12:00 pm

A Fort Worth man who was sentenced to life in prison for a rape that DNA evidence now proves he did not commit is expected to be released on Friday. David Lee Wiggins has spent more than two decades in prison for the 1988 rape of a 14-year-old girl and was convicted by a Tarrant County jury largely based on the victim’s identification.
 
Innocence Project Senior Staff Attorney Nina Morrison filed a motion for post-conviction DNA testing in 2007 but earlier attempts at testing were inconclusive. At the urging of the Innocence Project, more sophisticated testing was done on the victim’s clothing earlier this month, and the lab that conducted the testing excluded Wiggins as a donor. A press release from the district attorney’s office has requested Wiggins be immediately returned to Tarrant County and released on bond.


"If current state-of-the art DNA testing had been available in 1989, there is no doubt Mr. Wiggins would have been acquitted," District Attorney Joe Shannon said in the news release. "We will continue to cooperate with legitimate requests for post-conviction testing. The job of this office is not just to convict, but to see that justice is done."

The hearing is scheduled for Friday at 11:00 am in the 213th District Court.
 
Read the full article.
 
Read more about the case.



Tags: Texas, David Wiggins

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Texas Man Released From Prison After 24 Years

Posted: August 24, 2012 3:00 pm

David Wiggins was released from prison today after a Tarrant County judge vacated his 1989 rape conviction based on DNA evidence that proves his innocence. Wiggins was convicted largely based on the victim’s identification and served 24 years behind bars.
 
The Tarrant County District Attorney’s office fully cooperated with the Innocence Project, consented to testing and opened their files to reinvestigate the crime. Wiggins always maintained his innocence and even filed an unsuccessful pro se motion seeking DNA testing before his trial, though DNA technology had just been introduced in criminal cases at that time. Although earlier rounds of testing were inconclusive, the Innocence Project was able to secure testing earlier this month that definitively excludes Wiggins as the source of sperm found on clothing the defendant was wearing at the time of the attack.
 
He was joined in court this morning by his family, friends and other local exonerees.
 
Coverage about the case here and here.



Tags: Texas, David Wiggins

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Illinois Appellate Court Ruling Favors Starks

Posted: August 29, 2012 3:50 pm

An Illinois appeals court has brought Bennie Starks one step closer to being fully exonerated for a 1986 battery charge by rejecting the Lake County prosecutor’s request for rehearing in his appeal. Earlier this summer, the court remanded Stark’s case back to the trial court to determine whether to grant a new trial on a remaining battery charge after the prosecution dismissed a rape charge stemming from the same incident because of DNA evidence proving his innocence. The prosecution could continue to delay justice for Starks by appealing the decision to the state’s high court.


One of Starks' lawyers, Ronald Safer, said he could not imagine the Supreme Court taking up the matter and allowing prosecutors to try to preserve a conviction for a crime tied to a case that already had collapsed under the weight of DNA evidence.
 

 
Prosecutors "have persisted in avoiding the unavoidable, which is acknowledging that Bennie is innocent of any crime, as the DNA proves," Safer said. "But they are going to be dragged kicking and screaming to the finish line."

According to the Tribune, Starks' is one of four cases in which Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Waller insisted on a man's guilt even after DNA pointed to innocence. Bennie Starks is also represented by the Innocence Project, local attorneys Jed Stone, John Curnyn and Lauren Kaeseberg, a former Cardozo clinic student, and by Associate Brooke Schaefer at Schiff Harden LLP.
 
Read the full article.
 
Join us in calling on Michael Waller for Bennie Starks’ full exoneration.



Tags: Illinois, Bennie Starks

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Chicago Man Freed Today

Posted: August 31, 2012 5:00 pm

Alprentiss Nash, who filed his own pro se motions requesting DNA testing in his 1997 murder conviction will be freed today after testing results excluded him and pointed to another man. The Cook County Conviction Integrity Unit, established by DA Anita Alvarez earlier year, also reviewed the evidence and concluded that they could no longer stand by the conviction. Nash is the first to be cleared and freed through the Unit, though it has over a hundred other cases to consider.
 
  The Chicago Tribune covered the case, focusing on Nash’s diligence in advocating for himself without a lawyer:  


The legal brief Alprentiss Nash wrote in his prison cell was filled with misspellings, grammatical errors, even an ethnic slur.
 
But the convicted murderer still made a cogent point in the court filing: that he deserved DNA testing on a black ski mask worn by the killer and left behind at the murder scene. A Cook County judge rejected the request, but the Illinois Appellate Court, in a unanimous opinion, ordered the testing, marking a rare victory for an inmate essentially acting as his own lawyer. Now that rough-hewn petition, plus the timely assistance of a veteran attorney, will set Nash free.

   
Read the full article.   For more coverage.   For more about the Cook County Conviction Integrity Unit.



Tags: Illinois

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Wrongfully Convicted Nebraska Man Is Compensated after 57 Years

Posted: September 5, 2012 3:20 pm

Eighty-year-old Darrel Parker, who was wrongfully convicted of the 1955 murder of his wife and sentenced to life in prison, was formally declared innocent on Friday and will finally be compensated. Parker was paroled in 1970— after his confession was deemed coerced — and pardoned in 1991, reported the Freemont Tribune.


“You never give up hope, you never give up hope,” an emotional, 80-year-old Parker said at a news conference, flanked by his lawyers and the attorney general. “I tell people, ‘Now, I can die in peace.’”
 
The state had just agreed to stop fighting Parker’s wrongful conviction lawsuit. Instead, Attorney General Jon Bruning apologized, admitted Parker was wrongly convicted and announced the state would pay him $500,000 — the maximum allowed by law.
 
“It became crystal clear that Mr. Parker is innocent,” Bruning said. “This was the most important thing I could do as attorney general, to right this wrong.”

Parker continued to seek a full exoneration upon his release and hoped DNA testing would prove his innocence, but he eventually learned that most of the evidence in his case had disappeared. He remarried, worked for the Illinois Parks Department, and later took a job at a law firm. Although he managed to rebuild his life, Parker waited decades to receive an apology for the injustice. It is only now that the state has admitted Parker’s innocence that he can receive compensation.
 
About one-third of the nearly 300 people exonerated by DNA testing have not been compensated. Without immediate assistance in many states, even exonerees who receive compensation wait an average of three years before funds are awarded.
 
Read the full article.
 
Read about compensation for the wrongfully convicted.
 
National View: 27 States Have Compensation Statutes: Is Yours One?



Tags: Illinois, Exoneree Compensation

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Victim's Mother Relives Crime Through Wrongful Conviction

Posted: September 10, 2012 5:20 pm

Nearly three decades after her daughter was raped and murdered in Detroit, Carlotta Jackson struggles to come to grips with the false confession that sent the wrong man to prison for her daughter’s murder, reported the Detroit Free Press.


For years, Carlotta Jackson thought she'd been in the embrace of saviors -- William Rice and the other Detroit homicide officers who caught her daughter's killer with a confession, got him sent to prison and gave her some small measure of justice's comfort.
 
"I never questioned any of the evidence," she said. "My faith was in them. I just knew they had the right person.
 
"I was just so naïve," Jackson said through wracking sobs last week. "I was just so trusting. Unbelievable."

Eddie Joe Lloyd was convicted of the 1984 crime and spent 17 years behind bars before DNA evidence proved his innocence and led to his release in 2002. Lloyd, who was receiving treatment for mental illness at the time the crimes were reported in the news, wrote to police with suggestions on how to solve various murders, including the murder of Michelle Jackson.
 
Police officers visited and interrogated him several times in the hospital. During the course of these interrogations, police officers allowed Lloyd to believe that, by confessing and getting arrested, he would help them "smoke out" the real perpetrator. They fed him details that he could not have known, including the location of the body, the type of jeans the victim was wearing, a description of earrings the victim wore, and other details from the crime scene. Lloyd signed a written confession and gave a tape recorded statement as well.
 
The relief Jackson and her family felt when Lloyd was convicted was quashed when DNA evidence cleared him of the crimes almost two decades later. Her daughter’s murder is still considered an open case. Carlotta Jackson is plagued by the uncertainties that surround her death and wonders if she will ever know the truth.
 
Lloyd filed a suit against the city and Wayne County in federal court, naming homicide detective William Rice and others who coerced his false confession. Lloyd died while the case was pending, and his estate was awarded $3.25-million in a settlement that dismissed the claims against the officers. Rice currently faces criminal enterprise, fraud, conspiracy and drug charges.
 
Read the full article.
 
Read more about Eddie Joe Lloyd’s case.
 
Understand The Causes: How False Confessions Happen



Tags: Michigan, Eddie Joe Lloyd

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An Exoneree Speaks at a Synagogue before the Jewish Holidays

Posted: September 14, 2012 4:10 pm

By Audrey Levitin
Director of Development and External Affairs
 
(Photo: Director of State Policy Reform Rebecca Brown and exoneree Alan Newton)
 
Last week, New York exoneree Alan Newton and the Innocence Project's Director of State-Based Advocacy, Rebecca Brown, spoke at Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Montclair, New Jersey, on the occasion of the Jewish holiday Selichot. The Selichot service ushers in the high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. As a Shomrei member and staff member at the Innocence Project, it was my privilege to share the IP's work with my community at a time when we reflect on issues of new beginnings, forgiveness, and justice. I thought it was particularly appropriate during this very introspective period to be reminded of the extraordinary capacity of people to fully embrace life despite suffering enormous injustice.
 
Alan spent 22 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, after being wrongfully convicted due to eyewitness misidentification. During his time in prison, he drew upon his enormous reservoirs of courage and dignity, and the strong support of his family. Alan refused to admit to a crime he did not commit, even though he would have been paroled from prison years earlier than his 2006 release. Instead he continued to press for access to DNA testing that he knew would prove his innocence. Even though he was told by the police that biological evidence from the crime had been lost, he persisted in his efforts to have it located. Alan eventually reached out to the Innocence Project, and his evidence was found right where police records indicated it should have been all along. Had it been located earlier, Alan could have been released 12 years earlier.
 
Like so many people, the members of my community were astonished at Alan’s ability to make the best use of his time in prison and then move on with his life. While imprisoned, Alan earned an Associate’s Degree, and after his release, he enrolled at CUNY where he earned his Bachelor’s in Business Administration. He is now working at CUNY to help young people access and complete higher education. He has also recently become a father. His son Eli is now 10 months old.
 
Any of us would understand if Alan were bitter about his wrongful conviction and imprisonment. But when Shomrei’s Rabbi David Greenstein asked Alan to address the emotional and spiritual component of his experience, Alan responded that he had very strong family support. In fact, he said that his family felt as though they were serving the time with him. He also drew strength from knowing the truth of his innocence. Explaining his positive attitude, he said, "One has to be able to love, because without love, there is no growth."
 
Alan and others who have been exonerated, inspire us to be better people, to be more courageous and more forgiving. Their strength and resilience in the face of tremendous hardship continually remind us why we must all fight for a system of justice that is worthy of the name.
 
Read News Coverage of the event here.



Tags: New York, Alan Newton

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Illinois Men Receive Certificates of Innocence

Posted: September 14, 2012 6:00 pm

This afternoon a Cook County Judge issued Harold Richardson, Michael Saunders and Terrill Swift Certificates of Innocence. Judge Paul Biebel overturned their convictions back in January after DNA evidence recovered from the defendant matched to another man with a history of committing murder and sexual assault. State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez earlier conceded that her office would not be able to retry the Englewood Four but objected to the court issuing certificates of Innocence even though there was overwhelming proof of their innocence.



Tags: Illinois, Harold Richardson, Michael Saunders, Terrill Swift

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The Case for 'Blind' Lineups

Posted: September 17, 2012 3:50 pm

By Barry C. Scheck and Karen A. Newirth
(Originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.)
 
Photo: Herman Atkins, of California, was wrongfully convicted based, in part, on eyewitness misidentification and later exonerated through DNA testing.
 
Nearly 300 American men and women wrongly convicted of crimes have been exonerated by DNA testing. And in the bulk of those cases — almost 75% — the convictions were based in part on faulty eyewitness identifications.
 
Witnesses are often asked to identify suspects from photo lineups, which are typically conducted by the officers investigating a crime. But numerous scientific studies on memory and identification have demonstrated that witnesses can be influenced, intentionally or not, by the person conducting a lineup. An officer who believes one of the people in a photo lineup is the likely perpetrator can influence — sometimes without even meaning to — the proceeding.
 
This has led scientists to recommend "blind" lineups, meaning that the officer who conducts the lineup shouldn't be aware of the identity of the suspect, so that he or she can't contaminate the identification procedure.
 
Many cities, as well as many states, have embraced this approach. Los Angeles is not one of them. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck refuses to embrace blind photo lineups. He told reporters that his reluctance was based on the belief that an officer close to the case would be more likely to have rapport with witnesses, and that this could produce better outcomes.
 
Beck's reluctance should be allayed not just by scientific studies or the adoption of blind administration as a best practice by groups like the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police, but by more than a decade of success in the field, including statewide programs in New Jersey, North Carolina and Texas.
 
This newspaper recently reported on cases in which detectives seemed to consciously guide eyewitnesses to a police suspect during a photo lineup. One of the officers was later disciplined by the department for his actions. A requirement that the procedure be "blind" would prevent not just deliberate misconduct but also the more common problem of administrators inadvertently providing cues — sometimes nonverbal — that can influence witness choices.
 
In 2006, a California commission recommended that police in the state institute blind lineups, and initially the LAPD was on board. But then the L.A. County district attorney's office said it opposed even doing a pilot program to field test the effectiveness of the new approach. "We prosecute thousands of cases," a D.A. spokesman told The Times. "How many can you point to where it was shown that the police consciously or unconsciously influenced an eyewitness identification?"
 
The answer to this question is that we will never know, particularly when the influence can be subtle. What we do know with certainty is that California has seen nine people convicted of crimes later exonerated by DNA testing, and eight of those cases were attributable — at least in part — to eyewitness misidentification. The Northern California Innocence Project and the California Innocence Project report an additional 10 non-DNA exonerations that were attributable to misidentification.
 
DNA testing is rarely useful in overturning wrongful convictions because biological material that is instructive on guilt or innocence is available in less than 10% of criminal cases. While we cannot begin to guess the scope of the entire problem in California, we do have proof that 18 people spent years behind bars for crimes they didn't commit after being misidentified. We also know that while they sat behind bars, the real perpetrators remained free to commit more crimes. The Innocence Project has identified the real perpetrator in more than 100 of its nearly 300 DNA exonerations nationwide. Those individuals went on to commit more than 70 rapes, 32 murders and countless other violent crimes while other men served their time.
 
The eyewitness identification reforms, which were recommended by the broadly constituted California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, are cost-neutral. If an agency doesn't have the manpower to get a second officer to administer the lineup, the officer can use a "folder shuffle system" in which photos are placed in individual folders and then shuffled by the chief investigator.
 
Some law enforcement leaders in California have already voluntarily implemented these modifications to identification procedures in their own agencies. Let's hope Los Angeles follows soon. Making sure that innocent people don't get put behind bars isn't simply a matter of fairness and justice; it's a matter of public safety.
 
Barry C. Scheck is the co-director and Karen A. Newirth is the eyewitness identification litigation fellow at the Innocence Project.
 
Read Los Angeles Times coverage of LAPD lineup procedures.



Tags: California

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Damien Echols and Johnny Depp to Read at New York City Bookstore

Posted: September 19, 2012 5:25 pm

Damien Echols will read from his new memoir, Life After Death, at the Union Square Barnes and Noble on Sept. 21 and sign books afterwards. Echols is known as one of the “West Memphis Three” — three young men wrongfully convicted of the murder of three boys in Arkansas. The men were all released through an Alford Plea in August 2011. Echols had spent nearly 18 years on death row and his two co-defendants, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. had been serving life sentences.
 
Here’s an excerpt from the book:


“If I start to believe that the things I wrote cannot stand on their own merit, then I will lay down my pen. I’m often plagued by thoughts that people will only think of me as either someone on death row or someone who used to be on death row. I grow dissatisfied when I think of people reading my words out of a morbid sense of curiosity. I want people to read what I write because it means something to them – either it makes them laugh, or remember things they’ve forgotten and that once meant something to them, or that it simply touches them in some way. I don’t want to be an oddity, a freak, or a curiosity. I don’t want to be the car wreck that people slow down to gawk at. . . . I want to create something of lasting beauty, not a freak show exhibit.”

There have been several compelling documentaries about their case including the HBO trilogy Paradise Lost and Amy Berg’s West of Memphis. Johnny Depp, a longtime champion of the West Memphis Three, will also speak at the reading.
 
More info.



Tags: Arkansas, New York, West Memphis Three

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Judge Grants Compensation to Two of "Beatrice Six" in Nebraska Case

Posted: September 21, 2012 5:00 pm

Nearly four years after DNA testing exonerated the Beatrice Six, two of its members were awarded compensation Thursday by a district court judge. Named for the Nebraska town where they were wrongfully convicted, the Beatrice Six were convicted of a 1985 murder after five of the accused entered pleas, reported the Lincoln Journal Star.
 
Ada JoAnn Taylor spent nearly 20 years in prison and James Dean spent five years after pleading guilty. Taylor was awarded $500,000, the maximum allowed by the state, and Dean was awarded $300,000 under the Nebraska Claims for Wrongful Conviction and Imprisonment Act of 2009, which was passed shortly after their exoneration.
 
In his opinion, Judge Daniel E. Bryan Jr. cited testimony from false confession expert Richard A. Leo who told the court Taylor and Dean were persuaded to incriminate themselves.


“(Both Taylor and Dean) did not commit or suborn perjury, fabricate evidence, or otherwise make a false statement to cause or bring about her conviction or the conviction of another,” Bryan wrote in his opinion. “(Taylor and Dean’s) statements … were not a result of physical force by law enforcement, but were caused by law enforcement’s improper investigative practices and procedures.”

Judge Bryan also wrote about his disappointment in the state’s compensation cap.

“To try to attempt to place any value on one’s liberty to be free is a Herculean task,” he said.

During the hearing earlier this week, Attorney General Jon Bruning, who declared the Beatrice Six innocent in 2008, defended the state in an attempt to deny compensation. Bruning has since announced that his office would appeal the decision.
 
Read the full article.
 
Read case profiles of James Dean and Ada JoAnn Taylor.
 
Read more about compensation for the wrongly convicted.



Tags: Nebraska, James Dean, Ada Taylor

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New York Times Says Recording Interrogations Is Not Enough

Posted: September 25, 2012 5:50 pm

An editorial in Tuesday’s New York Times called New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly’s announcement to begin video recording criminal interrogations a smart step for justice but urged state lawmakers to go further to prevent wrongful convictions. The Innocence Project and the New York State Justice Task Force, created by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippmann, have urged the state to adopt comprehensive criminal justice reforms, including a statewide policy mandating recording interrogations and also improvements to police lineup procedures to reduce the rate of eyewitness misidentification. The New York Times writes:


Earlier this year, the New York State Legislature unwisely rejected legislation backed by Mr. Lippman to require videotaping of interrogations in serious cases across the state. Mr. Kelly’s move, laudable though it is, is no substitute for enacting uniform and enforceable statewide standards mandating videotaped interrogations and also fixing skewed lineup procedures, another major cause of wrongful convictions.

As an expansion of the NYPD’s 2010 pilot program, every precinct in the city will now record entire interrogations in murder, assault and sexual assault cases. Across the state, more than two-thirds of police departments require officers to tape interrogations, according to the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services.
 
New York State, Texas and Illinois lead the nation in wrongful convict