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Morton's Attorneys Comment on Anderson's Resignation

Posted: September 25, 2013 5:15 pm





Tags: Texas, Government Misconduct, Michael Morton

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Final approval in CA compensation suit

Posted: January 12, 2007

A California judge OK'ed a $1 million settlement in a lawsuit DNA exoneree Peter Rose had brought against the city of Lodi, as well as the county and the state. Click here to read the full story. (Lodi News-Sentinel, 01/12/07, Payment required for full article)

Rose was exonerated in 2005, after serving 10 years for a rape he didn't commit. To read more about his case, click here.



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More than 5,000 rape kits unexamined in LAPD lab

Posted: January 12, 2007

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

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


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Charges dropped in KY confession case after DNA proves innocence

Posted: January 11, 2007

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

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

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

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Neufeld testifies before CA commission

Posted: January 11, 2007

Innocence Project co-founder Peter Neufeld told the California Commission for the Fair Administration of Justice on Wednesday that the state needs better regulation of its crime labs. And the Innocence Project's work was a focus of discussions at the meeting.

From the LA Times:

Barry Fisher, director of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department crime lab, praised Neufeld and his colleagues at the Innocence Project for using forensics to unearth cases of "actual innocence." He said those exonerations have raised "a nagging question: Do these cases represent only a small number of the hundreds of thousands of cases prosecuted each year, or do they represent only the tip of the iceberg?"
Click here to read the full article. (Los Angeles Times, 01/11/07, LexisNexis subscription required)

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Waller to become 12th Dallas exoneree since 2001

Posted: January 17, 2007

In a hearing today at 11:30 a.m., James Waller will become the 12th Dallas County man proven innocent by DNA testing since 2001. The Innocence Project and Dallas County District Attorneys Office will agree on findings that show Waller’s actual innocence.

Waller will need a governor’s pardon or a writ from the Court of Criminal Appeals before the exoneration is considered official.

Read the Dallas Morning News Story
on Waller’s case.
View the Innocence Project press release on Waller’s case.
Other men proven innocent by DNA testing in Dallas county


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Innocence bills introduced in Texas Senate

Posted: February 4, 2007

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

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



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U.S. to vastly expand DNA database

Posted: February 5, 2007

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

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

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


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Jeff Deskovic: Exonerated at 32, still feeling 17

Posted: February 4, 2007

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

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

More information on Jeff Deskovic:

 



Tags: New York, Jeff Deskovic

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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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CSI isn't like real world crime labs

Posted: February 2, 2007

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

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

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

 



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New Wisconsin AG demands reduction of lab backlog

Posted: January 9, 2007

“The ever-growing backlogs at the crime labs must be reduced once and for all,” Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen declared last week during his inaugural speech at the state Capitol.

Read an editorial on the backlog in the Wisconsin State Journal. (01/09/07)

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New York Times editorial: The True State of CSI Justice

Posted: January 29, 2007

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

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

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

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Op-Ed: New York needs to preserve evidence

Posted: June 15, 2007 11:25 am

In today’s Buffalo News, 2006 exoneree Alan Newton writes that a wrongful conviction condemned him to a cage for the prime years of his life, and that his incarceration lasted longer than it should have due to mistakes in cataloguing of evidence by the New York City Police Department.

The DNA evidence that eventually proved my innocence was initially reported as lost or damaged. For years before my exoneration last July, I asked the State of New York and the New York Police Department to produce the evidence they had collected. I requested a search for the evidence three times; each time I was told that it could not be found.

In 2004, the Innocence Project accepted my case and requested one final search for the evidence. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the rape kit was found in the exact spot where it was supposed to be all along. There are hundreds of others like (Anthony) Capozzi and me — people with credible claims of innocence that could be proven by DNA, but in many cases, the biological evidence will never be found. In a sense, we are the lucky ones.

Read the full article here. (Buffalo News, 06/15/07, Payment required for full article)
Newton also writes about Buffalo exoneree Anthony Capozzi, whose evidence was found this year in a hospital drawer, leading to DNA testing that proved his innocence after he had served 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

Issue in focus: Evidence Preservation Reforms Nationwide



Tags: New York, Anthony Capozzi, Alan Newton, Evidence Preservation

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New Mexico Senate passes eyewitness identification reform bill

Posted: February 6, 2007

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

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

 




Tags: New Mexico, Eyewitness Identification

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Exonerees to speak at panel discussion on the death penalty tonight in NYC

Posted: February 6, 2007

Alan Newton, Jeffrey Deskovic and Yusef Salaam will participate in a panel discussion tonight in Harlem organized by Campaign to End the Death Penalty and New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty. Click here for more information on tonight’s event.

The event begins at 7 p.m. at the National Black Theater in Harlem (2031-2033 Fifth Ave between 126th and 127th).


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Welcome the Innocence Project's new website!

Posted: February 7, 2007

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

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

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

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TN death row inmate demands release or a new trial

Posted: February 7, 2007

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

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

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

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

 



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Proposed Connecticut budget includes $500,000 compensation for exoneree

Posted: February 7, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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NC exoneree Darryl Hunt to reach settlement with city officials

Posted: February 8, 2007

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

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

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






Tags: North Carolina, Darryl Hunt

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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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Legal groups challenge flawed eyewitness identification study in court

Posted: February 9, 2007

Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful conviction. Of the 194 DNA exonerations to date, more than 75% have involved a false identification by a witness or victim. One recent field study of procedures that have always been proven to make identifications more accurate has caused controversy, and a civil lawsuit filed in Illinois yesterday aims to set the record straight on recent research in the field.

The MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law filed the lawsuit, which would force the Illinois police departments that conducted a controversial 2006 identification study to reveal their underlying data. The Illinois study claimed that eyewitnesses make more false identifications in “blind sequential” procedures (where witnesses view lineup members – or their photos — one at a time and the administrator doesn’t know which person is the suspect) than in traditional “simultaneous” lineups (where lineup members are all in one room or all on page of photos). The study, which has been widely discredited because its methodology was so flawed that the results are unreliable, contradicts significant scientific findings on the issues in recent years. The authors of the report and the police departments involve have refused to make the data behind the study public, raising even more serious doubts about the methodology and the objectivity of the study.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers joined in the lawsuit. The groups filing the suit allege that the data collection methods used in the Illinois study were severely flawed and that the data should be shared with the public.

“It does not serve the public interest to conceal data that was gathered at the taxpayers’ expense,” NACDL President Martin S. Pinales said, recognizing the gravity of the litigation. “It only creates doubt and suspicion. If the data support the report’s conclusions, then the police and authors of the report should have nothing to hide. But considering that this report contradicts all of the previous social science research on eyewitness identification, we have reason to believe that the information we are seeking will show that the research was deeply flawed and may have resulted in mistaken identifications.”
Read the full press release here.
A previous peer-reviewed scientific field study in Hennepin County, Minnesota, proved that eyewitnesses made fewer mistakes in “sequential blind” lineups than traditional “simultaneous” lineups. A quarter-century of strong social science research has also found that the eyewitness identification reforms are effective. Read the Innocence Project’s press release on the Hennepin County study.

Read More:

MacArthur Justice Center press release on Thursday’s lawsuit (PDF)

Read the lawsuit filed Thursday (PDF)

Hennepin County, Minnesota field study (publish in Cardozo Law Review, April 2006) (PDF)

Understand The Causes: Eyewitness Misidentification

Fact Sheet on Eyewitness Misidentification


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

Posted: February 9, 2007

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

…expanding the DNA database is problematic for several reasons.

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

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

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

More informations on DNA database expansion and crime lab backlogs:



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

Posted: February 12, 2007

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

In McCarty’s first two trials, notorious lab analyst Joyce Gilchrist falsely testified that hairs and other biological evidence proved that McCarty could have been the killer. In both trials, the juries convicted him and he was sentenced to death. In Gilchrist’s original notes, hairs from the crime scene did not match McCarty. She then changed her notes to say the hairs did match him. When the defense requested retesting, the hairs were lost. A judge has said Gilchrist either destroyed or willfully lost the hairs. DNA testing in recent years has also shown that another person raped the victim.

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

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

• The motion and brief filed Friday on McCarty's behalf. (PDF)
• Joyce Gilchrist’s false forensic testimony has led to at least two other wrongful convictions; read more about the cases of Jeffrey Pierce and Robert Miller.

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Orlando Boquete: A free man

Posted: February 9, 2007

In Sunday's New York Times Magazine, reporter Jim Dwyer profiles exoneree Orlando Boquete's years as a fugitive and his new life as a free man.

 

 



Tags: Florida, Orlando Boquete

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DNA testing leads to actual perpetrator in Georgia case

Posted: February 12, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on this case: 

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



Tags: Georgia, Willie Williams

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Relying on the notepad in the electronic age

Posted: February 12, 2007

The New York Times today asks:

Why is the Federal Bureau of Investigation still using Sherlock Holmes methods in the YouTube era?...

More than 500 police departments in all 50 states now make electronic recordings of at least some interrogations, often videotaping them. At the F.B.I., by contrast, an agent cannot turn on a tape recorder without first getting a supervisor’s permission.

Thomas P. Sullivan, a former United States attorney in Chicago and a bit of a crusader on this point, says local law enforcement agencies that have adopted electronic recording cannot imagine life without it.

“I can say without exaggeration — it’s unanimous — that they all love it,” Mr. Sullivan said. “They hate it until they do it, and then they love it.”

Read the full story. (NY Times, 02/12/07)



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Willie "Pete" Williams Exonerated in Georgia

Posted: February 13, 2007

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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Our new e-mail newsletter is out!

Posted: February 13, 2007

Today we sent the first issue of our new e-newsletter, The Innocence Project Online.

View today's issue here, or click to sign up for future issues and breaking news updates.

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Innocence Project receives human rights award

Posted: February 13, 2007

The Innocence Project will be honored this year with the Bill Graham Award from the Rex Foundation, which was created by members of the Grateful Dead. The award recognizes groups making a difference in fields involving human rights. The award includes a $10,000 grant to the Innocence Project, which will be donated to our special Exoneree Fund, which helps our clients with basic needs like clothing, food and housing after they’ve been released.




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

Posted: February 14, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

Get details on attending the event.

Read more about Wyniemko’s case here.

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

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

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


Read the full story here.


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

Read the full story here.

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



Tags: Michigan, Kenneth Wyniemko

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Editorial urges New York to form state innocence commission

Posted: February 15, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Washington lawmakers consider bill to compensate the wrongly convicted

Posted: February 15, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

View a model compensation statute.

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

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

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

Posted: February 16, 2007

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

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

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

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

"There just always are," he said.

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



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Florida exonerees wait for compensation

Posted: February 26, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Fix the System: Exoneree Compensation

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Wisconsin panel urges outsourcing of DNA testing to ease backlog

Posted: February 16, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: February 20, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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After Innocence documentary available on DVD

Posted: February 21, 2007

The story of seven men who spent 123 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, After Innocence is an unforgettable film that focuses on the difficulties exonerees face as they readjust to a changed world. Click here to view a trailer.

Village Voice review by Jennifer Gonnerman:

These men were forgotten while they were locked up, and they are forgotten again on the outside. Most receive no money and no help. They struggle to rebuild their lives and to undo the soul-destroying effects of prison. One pounds on a punching bag to release his rage; another pursues a degree in psychology. After Innocence is both riveting and disturbing. Each man's story reminds us how fallible our legal system is—and each raises the question: How many other innocent people are still locked up?

Read the full review. (Village Voice, 10/18/05)
 
View a trailer of the film.
Read more reviews of the film.
This moving film is now available for rental or purchase. Rent it from Netflix or Blockbuster; purchase from Amazon.com.
Read more about the men featured in After Innocence: Dennis Maher, Calvin Willis, Wilton Dedge, Vincent Moto, Nick Yarris, Herman Atkins and Scott Hornoff.



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WV Senate Considers Bill to Reform Eyewitness Identifications

Posted: February 21, 2007

A West Virginia Senate committee will conduct a hearing today at 3 p.m. on a bill to reform the way eyewitness identification procedures are conducting in the state. The bill would implement blind, sequential administration of lineups (LINKS) as well as other important reforms.

The Innocence Project, along with major criminal justice groups – including the National Institute of Justice and the American Bar Association – support the proposed reforms. Innocence Project Staff Attorney and Mayer Brown Fellow Zeke Edwards will testify today on the bill.

“Science and real-world experience make two things clear: Eyewitness misidentification is a serious problem, and the reforms being considered in West Virginia are proven to increase the accuracy of identifications,” Edwards said Tuesday. “Eyewitness misidentification is by far the leading cause of wrongful convictions. Scientific research conclusively shows that these reforms are effective; this research is borne out by practical experience in jurisdictions that have already implemented these reforms.”

Read more about the bill in the Innocence Project press release.

Read the full text of the bill.

More on eyewitness identification reforms in our Fix The System section.

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Connecticut Innocence Project seeks state funding to continue its work

Posted: February 21, 2007

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

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

Read the text of the bill.

Visit the Connecticut Innocence Project's website

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James Waller on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360

Posted: February 22, 2007

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

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

Read more on the James Waller case.

Visit the Anderson Cooper 360 website.

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Vermont criminal justice reforms move forward

Posted: February 22, 2007

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

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

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

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

Read more about Dennis Maher’s case.

Read the Innocence Project press release on the Vermont legislation
.

Model criminal justice reform legislation.

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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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CNN viewers respond to James Waller story

Posted: February 23, 2007

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



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UPDATE: West Virginia lawmakers consider eyewitness identification reforms

Posted: February 23, 2007

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

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

Read the full text of the bill.

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Innocence organizations provide hands-on experience for law students nationwide

Posted: February 26, 2007

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

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

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

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


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

Posted: February 26, 2007

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

Read our previous blog entries on this issue.

 

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Georgia Exoneree Pete Williams adjusts to his new life

Posted: February 27, 2007

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

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

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

Read more about Pete Williams and Calvin Johnson.

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

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

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Backlogs continue to plague crime labs nationwide

Posted: February 27, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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Third trial delayed again for Oklahoma man

Posted: February 28, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read our previous blog post on this case.

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

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

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San Antonio Express News supports state innocence commission

Posted: February 28, 2007

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

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

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

 

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Eyewitness identification experts blogging from landmark conference

Posted: March 1, 2007

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

Read more on the conference.

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Pennsylvania's innocence commission meets this month

Posted: March 1, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DNA testing proves Washington man's innocence

Posted: March 1, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hearing Monday in Roy Brown case

Posted: March 2, 2007

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

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

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

Read more background on Brown’s case.


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

Posted: March 2, 2007

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

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

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

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

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Roy Brown Exonerated

Posted: March 5, 2007

Roy Brown spent 15 years in New York prisons for a murder he didn't commit. In 2003, he requested police documents from his prison cell and learned that an alternate suspect had been overlooked. Brown wrote that man a letter and the man committed suicide days after receiving the letter. Now, DNA testing has proven that the alternate suspect actually committed the crime, and Brown was officially exonerated today in a Cayuga County, New York courtroom.

Click here for more on Brown's case


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New Dallas DA wants to be "smart on crime"

Posted: March 5, 2007

From today’s Washington Post:

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

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

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

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

 

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Press coverage of Roy Brown exoneration

Posted: March 6, 2007

Yesterday, Roy Brown became the 196th person exonerated by DNA evidence, and the eighth in New York State in just over a year. He wore a black T-shirt to court that read “Not Guilty” and he was accompanied by Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld and Staff Attorney Nina Morrison.

Brown had served 15 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, and it was his legal groundwork that pinpointed the man who actually committed the crime.

The prosecutor referred to three tragedies in the case: Sabina Kulakowski's murder, that her likely killer will never be prosecuted, and the "incarceration of Roy Brown for murder when newly discovered DNA evidence shows that his steadfast claims of innocence have merit, and I can honestly say I regret that, Mr. Brown." ...

(Brown) claimed prosecutors withheld from defense lawyers a contrary opinion on the bite-mark evidence that helped convict him and witness affidavits that implicated Bench and failed to investigate the jailhouse informant to who claimed Brown confessed his guilt.

"You can't frame anybody more than that," Brown said. Read the full story here (Syracuse Post-Standard, 03/06/07, LexisNexis subscription required)
 

More Coverage:

Video: News10Now, WSYR Channel 9

NY Newsday: Man officially cleared of murder charges (AP)

Auburn Citizen: Roy Brown Cleared

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West Virginia House Holds Hearing on Improving Eyewitness Identification

Posted: March 6, 2007

The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on SB 82, the bill that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last month and would improve eyewitness identification procedures in West Virginia.  Eyewitness misidentification has led to scores of wrongful convictions nationwide, including several in West Virginia. 

The reforms in SB 82 have been proven to reduce the possibility for errors that lead to wrongful convictions.  The hearing is being held at 5:30 p.m. in room 410M.  Rebecca Brown, Policy Analyst at the Innocence Project, will testify. 

Read our press release on SB 82 and the full text of the bill.


Click for more information on important eyewitness identification reforms nationwide.

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

Posted: March 7, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more on the committee’s recommended reforms.

Read the full committee report.

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

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Man pleads guilty to murder for which Doug Warney was wrongly convicted

Posted: March 7, 2007

A New York inmate pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a 1996 murder in Rochester, NY, to which Doug Warney falsely confessed. Eldred Johnson, Jr. told a judge in state court that he had stabbed William Beason, 63, and heard days later that Doug Warney had been charged.

"I thought that would get me off the hook -- if that guy wanted the murder, he could have it," Johnson told the judge. "I do not know Douglas Warney," he added, "and he was not with me when I killed William Beason."

Read the full story here. (New York Newsday, 03/06/07)
Warney, who has a history of mental problems and an eighth-grade education, falsely confessed to the crime after 12 hours of interrogation. He served 10 years in prison before DNA testing proved his innocence – and Johnson’s guilt – last year. Represented by the Innocence Project, Warney initially requested testing in 2004.

Read more about Warney’s case here.

Read more about False Confessions as a cause of wrongful conviction.

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Marty Tankleff Case Featured on NPR

Posted: March 8, 2007

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

Listen to the show online or download an mp3.

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

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Maryland expert fabricated credentials, testimony is questioned

Posted: March 9, 2007

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

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

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

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


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Dateline NBC to feature Clarence Elkins case on Sunday

Posted: March 9, 2007

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

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

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

UPDATE: Watch the full show online

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

Read more about the Clarence Elkins case.

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James Waller pardoned in Texas

Posted: March 12, 2007

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

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

Read more about the case.

View the pardon papers.

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

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

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Massachusetts crime lab director resigns under pressure

Posted: March 12, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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Connecticut legislators consider forensic nurse program

Posted: March 13, 2007

A bill before the Connecticut General Assembly would require the state’s 31 acute-care hospitals to make forensic nurses available to patients. These specially trained nurses handle cases of sexual assault, child abuse, domestic violence and other emergency trauma patients. These nurses are also specially trained in collecting evidence, such as fingernails, hairs and body swabs, which is crucial in the age of DNA testing.

Read the full story here. (Stamford Advocate, 03/12/07)

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Editorial: criminal defense and crime labs need funding in Louisiana

Posted: March 13, 2007

Louisiana is the only state in the nation that relies on traffic tickets to pay for public defense and forensic testing. An editorial over the weekend in Shreveport demanded reform.

Louisiana has long had a history of putting its money into building more prison cells to keep pace with mandatory sentences and other societal factors that make us the nation's per capita incarceration leader.

Meanwhile, we sometimes skimp by on the cost of making sure justice is done.

Money spent on defense of the poor is but a fraction of the dollars at the disposal of parish prosecutors. Overwhelmed public defenders have been duly noted in reports and lawsuits. Yet indigent defense continues to bubble along beneath most law-abiding citizens' radar. The momentum for reform that was building prior to hurricanes Katrina and Rita was another worthy cause slowed by the focus on storm recovery.
Read the full editorial here. (Shreveport Times, 03/10/07)
Read more about bad lawyering as a leading cause of wrongful conviction.

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Exoneree Ray Krone to speak in Sauk Rapids, MN

Posted: March 13, 2007

Ray Krone was sentenced to death in Arizona in 1992 for a murder he didn’t commit. In 2002, DNA testing proved that another man had committed the crime. Krone will be speaking at a Sacred Heart Church in Sauk Rapids, MN, Wednesday, March 14, at 7 p.m.

For information on the speech, call (320) 251-2872, Ext. 6.

Read more about Ray Krone’s case.


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

Posted: March 13, 2007

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

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

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

More on crime lab backlogs in Florida and elsewhere:

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

Montana labs continue to suffer from serious backlogs.

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


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Federal court issues major DNA opinion

Posted: March 14, 2007

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

The circuit court’s decision begins:

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

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

Read the full opinion.


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Georgia House approves compensation for Clark

Posted: March 19, 2007

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

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

Read the press release from the Georgia Innocence Project.

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

 




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Dallas hires new prosecutor to oversee DNA cases

Posted: May 25, 2007

Michael Ware, the director of the Innocence Project of Texas, will become the new Dallas County special assistant prosecutor for overseeing DNA evidence and ensuring that previous county convictions are reviewed for the possibility of DNA testing. Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins announced Ware’s appointment today.

Ware, a professor at Texas Wesleyan University Law School, will lead a new department created last month to ensure the intergrity of past convictions and ensure that the county’s DNA cases are properly handled in the future. Watkins requested funds to create the new department after several recent DNA exonerations in Dallas County. Thirteen people have been proven innocent in Dallas due to DNA evidence, more than any other county in America.

Mr. Ware's "expertise and professional experience are certain to be an asset to our justice system as we focus resources toward making sure we convict people who are indeed guilty of crimes," Mr. Watkins said in a prepared statement. "Equally important is the assurance that innocent people are not wrongfully imprisoned, and having Mr. Ware on board will help us in these critical areas."

Read the full story here. (Dallas Morning News, 5/25/07)
Read about the 13 people whose convictions were overturned by DNA testing in Dallas County.

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USA Today Column: Other counties should follow Dallas

Posted: March 19, 2007

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

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

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



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U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in Fry case

Posted: March 20, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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Critics question bloodhound evidence

Posted: March 20, 2007

Police across the country frequently rely on scent-sniffing dogs and a device called a scent transfer unit to track alleged perpetrators. In a recent DNA exoneration in California, a bloodhound led police to the home of James Ochoa, relying on a scent from a baseball cap in a car. Ochoa eventually pled guilty to a carjacking he did not commit. He served 10 months in prison before DNA test results on the hat matched another man, who confessed to committing the carjacking.

Now, another California man is awaiting his second trial on arson charges. In his first trial, which resulted in a hung jury, prosecutors relied on evidence of a bloodhound that placed him at the scene of 21 fires. The dog handler said her dog could identify scents after eight years and even find a scent on a bottle that had been thrown into a fire and turned into molten glass. Critics were less convinced:

"If you got nothing else but a dog, you've got a bad case," said (Gary) Gibson, … an attorney with the San Diego County public defender's office. "I'm terrified for the American justice system when three people voted guilty when the only evidence came from a dog."
Read the full story here. (LA Times, 3/9/2007, Payment required for full article)
Read more about James Ochoa’s case.

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Florida exoneree files civil rights suit

Posted: March 21, 2007

Luis Diaz, who served 26 years in Florida prisons for a series of rapes he didn’t commit, has filed a lawsuit alleging that Miami-Dade County and police officials falsified documents and committed other illegal acts to wrongly convict him. Diaz was exonerated in 2005 after DNA tests proved his innocence.

"They took away from him any chance of having a family, any chance for a career, and any chance he had at happiness," said his attorney Marvin Kurzban. "We are here to right that wrong."
Read the full story. (International Herald Tribune, 03/21/07)
Read more about Diaz’s case.

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

Posted: March 22, 2007

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

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

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

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

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Innocence Network conference draws hundreds

Posted: March 26, 2007

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

 

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


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States are slow to fix crime lab problems

Posted: March 26, 2007

Oversight of forensic crime labs has developed slowly around the United States, despite a 2004 federal law that requires states to conduct inquiries into allegations of fraud, mistakes or misconduct.

Tackling critical problems in the nation's justice system, Minnesota, Texas and Virginia have each founded powerful oversight boards in the last two years that can investigate misconduct in crime labs.

But not one of the new boards has yet reopened a case — either because they have refused to do so or because they haven't been funded.

"The country has to have trust that we're convicting the guilty and not the innocent," said Texas state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, a Democrat whose bill to create the Texas Forensic Science Commission became law in 2005.
The flaws in his state and elsewhere are "the tip of the iceberg," Hinojosa said. "Prosecutors are supposed to do justice. Instead, they just want notches on their belt. It permeates the whole criminal justice system."Read the full story. (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/24/07)
Read more on crime lab oversight in our Fix The System section.

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New Virginia project starts working to free wrongly convicted

Posted: March 26, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit the Richmond Institute for Actual Innocence website.


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March 26-30 is Innocence Week in Washington, D.C.

Posted: March 26, 2007

The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and Washington College of Law are sponsoring Innocence Week, which starts today.

The weeklong symposium examining wrongful convictions in America will feature four free luncheon lectures and a production of the award-winning play “The Exonerated” on Thursday and Friday nights. Click here for more information.  

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Rogue DNA databases operate outside of the law

Posted: March 27, 2007

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

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

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

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


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Does Texas need eyewitness ID reform?

Posted: March 27, 2007

More than 75 percent of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence involved eyewitness misidentification. An article in the Forth Worth Star-Telegram examines the need for proven reforms, like sequential lineups.

"A sequential lineup forces the witness to compare each face with their memory," said Gary Wells, a psychology professor at Iowa State University who introduced the concept. "In the simultaneous version, they tend to compare one person to another and pick whoever looks most like the guy. Then that person tends to become their memory."

Read the full story. (Star-Telegram, 3/25/07)
How easy is it to make a misidentification? Test yourself with this interactive online lineup. (Star-Telegram)

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Hear exoneree James Waller discuss his case online

Posted: March 28, 2007

Yesterday, Texas exoneree James Waller discussed his case and life after exoneration with North Carolina Public Radio.

Click here to listen, or visit American Public Media's “The Story” site for more.

Read more about James Waller's case.

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Court orders new trial for New York man

Posted: March 28, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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Antonio Beaver Exonerated

Posted: March 29, 2007

This morning, Innocence Project client Antonio Beaver walked out of a St. Louis jail a free man after DNA testing proved he could not have committed the carjacking for which he served more than a decade in prison. Beaver is the seventh Missouri resident to be cleared by DNA testing.

Read the press release here.

Watch a video news report, with comments from Antonio Beaver. (KSDK, 03/29/07)

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DNA clears New York man of rape

Posted: March 29, 2007

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

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

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

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

Read more about eyewitness misidentification.

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Antonio Beaver Exonerated: More Coverage

Posted: March 30, 2007

A smiling Antonio Beaver walked out of a St. Louis jail yesterday after serving a decade in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

"I'm happy to be in the company of good people. I'm thankful for a good meal," Beaver told reporters. "But most importantly, I'm glad I'm not back in that madhouse anymore."

Read press accounts of Beaver’s release:

Man Cleared on DNA evidence is freed. (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 3/30/07, LexisNexis subscription required)Video: St. Louis man innocent after a decade in prison.

Learn more about Beaver’s case.

Eyewitness misidentification has been a factor in 75 percent of DNA exonerations to date. Learn more about reforms that can prevent these injustices in the future.



Tags: Missouri, Antonio Beaver

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Tennessee Man Still on Death Row

Posted: June 22, 2007 12:25 pm

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

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

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





Tags: Tennessee

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Federal appeals court finds that prosecutors are accountable for snitches

Posted: March 30, 2007

In an important 3-0 decision, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled on Wednesday that prosecutors can be sued for failing to maintain and uphold policies regarding jailhouse informants.

The ruling came in a civil damages case filed by Thomas L. Goldstein, who spent 24 years in prison for a wrongful murder conviction based largely on the testimony of jailhouse informant Edward F. Fink.

The decision marked the first time that the 9th Circuit has considered this issue, and the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on the precise question. Because of the potential ramifications for prosecutors, Loyola Law School professor Laurie L. Levenson said she thought the case might go to the Supreme Court.

"I'm really happy with the decision," Goldstein said by telephone. "Jailhouse informants have been used by prosecutors to put a lot of innocent people in prison…. The ruling by this court is the first step toward making district attorneys accountable for their actions."

Read the full story. (LA Times, 03/29/07, Payment required for full article)
Jailhouse informants are one of the most common causes of wrongful convictions, read more about this issue here.

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Listen online tonight to exoneree Ken Wyniemko

Posted: March 30, 2007

Tune in to Detroit’s WPON AM 1460 tonight to hear exoenree Ken Wyniemko discuss his case. Listeners from around the country can hear the show here at 7 PM ET.

Read more about Wyniemko’s case.

 

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Capozzi case brings renewed calls for a New York innocence commission

Posted: April 2, 2007

At a hearing today in Buffalo, New York, a judge vacated the sentence of Anthony Capozzi, who has served 20 years in prison for two rapes he didn’t commit. DNA test results received by attorneys in recent weeks have proven that another man – who is currently incarcerated – committed the rapes.

Read the full story. (NY Newsday, 04/02/07)

Capozzi, who is expected to be released later this week, will become the 23rd New Yorker to be exonerated by DNA evidence. His exoneration has renewed calls statewide for an innocence commission. A bill to create such a commission is currently pending before the legislature.

Read today’s Buffalo News editorial supporting the creation of an innocence commission. (Buffalo News, 04/02/07, LexisNexis subscription required)

Read the Innocence Project press release in support of a New York innocence commission.

Six states have created innocence commissions and several others are considering this vital reform. Learn more here.

 



Tags: Innocence Commissions

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Anthony Capozzi exonerated in New York

Posted: April 3, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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After Innocence screening and panel in Kansas Thursday

Posted: April 3, 2007

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

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

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

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Debate continues over FBI policy forbidding taped interrogations

Posted: April 3, 2007

While several states and hundreds of law enforcement agencies have adopted policies on recording of custodial interrogations, the Federal Bureau of Investigation still forbis the practice, according to reports. This controversy has been at the center of the recent dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys.

One of the fired attorneys, Paul Charlton of Arizona, has said that the policy against recording is hindering law enforcement and justice.

Mr. Charlton said the problem was particularly acute in Arizona, a state with 21 Indian reservations, where federal law enforcement officials handle major felony cases. In essence, he said, differing investigative practices have resulted in two distinct criminal justice systems. If a crime occurred off the reservation, the confession would be taped, but if it happened on tribal land, it would not.

“That disparity in justice is unacceptable,” Mr. Charlton said in an interview.

The F.B.I., in documents defending its policy, argued that taping was not always possible, particularly when agents were on the road, and that it was not always appropriate. Psychological tricks like misleading or lying to a suspect in questioning or pretending to show the suspect sympathy might also offend a jury, the agency said.

“Perfectly lawful and acceptable interviewing techniques do not always come across in recorded fashion to lay persons as proper means of obtaining information from defendants,” said one of the once-secret internal Justice Department communications made public as part of the investigation into the dismissals of the United States attorneys.

Read the full story. (New York Times, 4/2/07, free registration required)
Recording of interrogations has been proven to prevent false confessions from happening. Read more here.



Tags: False Confessions

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Death sentences decrease in Ohio

Posted: April 4, 2007

Reflecting a national trend, capital punishment appears to losing support in Ohio, according to a report released Monday by state officials.

A lawsuit challenging the lethal injection as cruel and inhumane punishment has been filed by 10 death row inmates in Ohio, where 24 people have been executed in the last eight years and four were sentenced to die last year. Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck told the Columbus Dispatch that DNA exonerations have led to questions nationwide about the death penalty.Scheck … said the number of death verdicts nationwide dropped dramatically in recent years. His 20-year-old group is poised to record its 200th exoneration through DNA testing. Six have been in Ohio.
"That's in no small measure because the general public, through these DNA exonerations, is questioning the death penalty," Scheck said.

Officials in New York, New Jersey, Maryland and other states are debating capital punishment, as much from a public-policy standard as a moral issue, Scheck said.

Read the full story. (Columbus Dispatch, 4/3/07)



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Georgia Innocence Project receives award

Posted: April 4, 2007

Aimee Maxwell, the director of the Georgia Innocence Project, and Cliff Williams, a law student who worked on the case of recently exonerated inmate Pete Williams, will receive an award tonight from SCLC/Women Inc., an Atlanta civil rights and justice organization. The “Drum Major for Justice” awards banquet – where the Georgia Innocence Project will be honored – is held every year in Atlanta on April 4th, to commemorate the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. King was killed in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968.

Read the full story here. (Atlanta Journal Constitution, 4/3/07, Payment required for full article)

Read more about Pete Williams’ case.

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Dallas exoneree joins DA Watkins for panel discussion

Posted: April 5, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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New Hampshire man requests 4th round of DNA testing

Posted: April 5, 2007

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

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

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

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

Posted: April 6, 2007

In a hearing Monday in Dallas, Innocence Project attorney Vanessa Potkin and attorneys from the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office will present evidence that proves James Curtis Giles didn’t participate in the 1982 gang rape for which he served 10 years in prison. Giles, 53, has been on parole as a registered as a sex offender for 14 years.

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

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

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

Read more on this case in today’s news:

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

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

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



Tags: James Giles, Government Misconduct, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Dallas man cleared after 24-year quest for justice

Posted: April 9, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for more details on Giles’ case

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Editorial: Antonio Beaver exoneration should spark reforms in Missouri

Posted: April 6, 2007

Last week, Antonio Beaver was freed from prison in Missouri after serving a decade behind bars for a carjacking he didn’t commit. An editorial in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch argues that steps to long-lasting criminal justice reform should be started immediately before more injustices can occur.

Eyewitness error is the leading cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, according to the Innocence Project, a national litigation and public policy organization based in New York….

The Missouri Bar Association or St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce could begin to repair this broken cog in the criminal justice system by appointing a commission made up of police, prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys and other experts to study reforms implemented elsewhere and formulate guidelines for more accurate identification procedures.

Read the full editorial here. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 4/6/07)
Read more about Antonio Beaver’s case



Tags: Missouri, Antonio Beaver, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Michigan exoneree offers reward for identity of real perpetrator

Posted: April 9, 2007

Ken Wyniemko served more than eight years in Michigan prisons for a rape he didn’t commit, and the actual perpetrator of the crime has never been brought to justice. In an effort to rekindle interest in the case, Wyniemko is offering a $5,000 reward to anyone who provides information leading to the conviction of the rapist. The DNA results that proved Wyniemko’s innocence could potentially locate the actual perpetrator, Wyniemko told The Macomb (Michigan) Daily.

From The Macomb Daily, 4/5/07:

    “I want to shake the bushes. I want to know the truth,” Wyniemko said Wednesday from his Rochester Hills home. “I need to know the truth for my own peace of mind and to close a chapter, and for the public because he (culprit) is still out there walking the streets.”

  He criticized Clinton Township police for failing to actively pursue the case. “The police have the DNA profile but they’re not doing anything about it,” he said.
Read more about Wyniemko’s case.

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Law student played key role in Giles case

Posted: April 9, 2007

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

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

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

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



Tags: James Giles

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Innocence Project leaders and exonerees testify before Texas Senate committee

Posted: April 10, 2007

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

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

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

Read background on Senate bill 262 and 263 and 799.

News coverage of today's hearing and press conference:

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



Tags: Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation, False Confessions

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News coverage of Monday’s hearing clearing James Giles

Posted: April 10, 2007

Yesterday, James Giles appeared with his Innocence Project attorneys in a Dallas courtroom, where evidence was presented proving that another man with the same name committed the rape for which Giles served 10 years in prison and 14 years on parole. Below, read and watch media coverage of yesterday’s event.

Dallas Morning News: Judge backs man's exoneration in '82 rape case

Video interview with comments from Giles, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and Dallas DA Craig Watkins

Video: CBS11 – Dallas-Fort Worth: Judge Says Dallas Man Should Be Exonerated Of Rape

Fort-Worth Star-Telegram: Nearing exoneration, but paying heavy price

Today, Giles is with Innocence Project attorneys and three other exonerees in Austin to testify before a Texas Senate committee about the need for criminal justice reforms statewide. For more on Giles’s case, read the Innocence Project press release.



Tags: James Giles

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Texas Senate committee approves reform bills

Posted: April 11, 2007

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation, Eyewitness Identification

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

Posted: April 11, 2007

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

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

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

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




Tags: Innocence Commissions

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Massachusetts exoneree awarded for his commitment to criminal justice reform

Posted: April 11, 2007

Dennis Maher served 19 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. Since his exoneration in 2003, he has devoted himself to traveling the country to speak out in support of criminal justice reforms that will prevent future injustice.

He now works as a mechanic for Waste Management, a national company which recently awarded him its Erich Jenkins Life Changer Award for the work he has done.

Erich Jenkins was a former NFL player and vice president of a national fitness company who was killed when his vehicle was struck by a Waste Management truck in 2002. Jenkins believed in the power of one person to change a life and his mantra was adopted by Waste Management.

Working with the Innocence Project "makes me feel good, because I have an impact on other exonerateds' lives," Maher said. He added that the award was not something he was seeking, but that it feels good to be recognized.

Read the full story. (Gloucester Times (MA), 04/07/07)
Read more about Maher’s case.

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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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Two exonerees reach $8 million settlement with city of Chicago

Posted: April 12, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: Exoneree Compensation

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Focus on reforms as 200th exoneration nears

Posted: April 13, 2007

198 people have been exonerated through DNA evidence nationwide since 1989. The 200th DNA exoneration is expected to occur later this month – an important milestone in the criminal justice system. As we approach this moment, critical reforms are taking hold around the country.

An article in yesterday’s Cleveland Plain Dealer points to the need for reform and discusses an ongoing Cleveland case, in which DNA testing has proved that a forensic expert gave false testimony that led to the conviction of Innocence Project client Thomas Siller of a 1997 Cleveland murder.

Read the full story here. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 4/12/07)

A column in today's Plain Dealer calls for an Ohio innocence commission. Read the full column here.



Tags: Innocence Commissions, False Confessions, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Rally today at 2 p.m. in Philadelphia will call for death penalty moratorium

Posted: April 13, 2007

Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and DNA Exoneree Ray Krone, who spent 10 years on death row (four of them on death row) for a murder he didn’t commit, will be among speakers at a rally in downtown Philadelphia today calling for a moratorium. Twenty men who were exonerated from death row will sign a Declaration of Innocence at the rally, which is organized by Witness To Innocence, an advocacy organization.

"I try to give people food for thought, that this is something that can take someone's life and liberty," said Ray Krone, 50, of Dover Township."I learned about it the hard way, during many years of contemplation in my jail cell."
Read the full story here. (Centre Daily Times, 4/13/07)
Pennsylvania has the nation’s fourth largest death row population – with 220 prisoners. The state has executed seven people since 1982.

The rally will begin at 2 p.m. on the lawn by the Liberty Bell visitors center in Philadelphia (north of Market St. between 5th and 6th streets)

Click here for a press release on the rally.

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Dallas newspaper cites DNA exonerations in opposing capital punishment

Posted: April 16, 2007

Citing DNA exonerations and the risk of executing an innocent person, the Dallas Morning News published an editorial yesterday announcing that the paper’s editorial board now opposes the death penalty, after supporting it for a century. The newspaper’s editors said tighter restrictions on the administration of the death penalty would not be enough.

From our vantage point in Dallas County, the possibility of tragic, fatal error in the death chamber appears undeniable. We have seen a parade of 13 men walk out of the prison system after years – even decades – of imprisonment for crimes they didn't commit. Though not death penalty cases, these examples – including an exoneration just last week – reveal how shaky investigative techniques and reliance on eyewitnesses can derail the lives of the innocent.

Read the full editorial here. (Dallas Morning News, 4/16/07)
Texas has accounted for 37 percent of the nation’s executions since 1977 and 40 percent in the last decade. While several other states have halted executions this year amid concerns about the suffering caused by lethal injections, Texas is going in the “wrong direction” according to the Dallas Morning News. The state has executed 12 people so far in 2007, while one person has been executed in the rest of the country.

More coverage from the Dallas Morning News: A chat with editorial page editors at 2 pm CDT, death penalty charts and today’s editorials on life without parole.

Read more about the 13 men proven innocent by DNA testing in Dallas county.

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Massachusetts DNA database chief is fired

Posted: April 16, 2007

Robert Pino, the DNA database administrator for the Massachusetts State Police crime lab, has been fired, three months after he was suspended for allegedly mishandling DNA evidence. Officials have said that Pino allowed the collection of samples not permitted by law, reported incomplete results to police and reported database matches to prosecutors after the statute of limitations had run out. Pino has worked at the lab for 23 years, and his union is disputing his firing.

Pino’s firing is among continuing problems at the Massachusetts lab. Last month, the lab’s director resigned under pressure after his job performance received an unfavorable review. A top-to-bottom audit of the lab is currently underway.

Read the full story here
. (Boston Globe, 4/16/07)

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Column: Evidence preservation lacking in Houston

Posted: April 17, 2007

DNA testing has uncovered 13 wrongful convictions in Dallas and four in Houston. In today’s Houston Chronicle, columnist Lisa Falkenberg asks why this discrepancy exists, considering that Houston has “its fair share of bad lawyers, overzealous cops and mistaken eyewitnesses.”

The main answer is simple: Dallas is a pack rat, keeping evidence dating back to the 1980s in catalogued freezers of a county-run lab; Harris County is not.

As we saw in the (Houston Police Department) crime lab debacle, precious evidence like bloody clothing and rape kits got rained on, used up in one test or misplaced. Even the evidence sent to other labs was routinely stored in crowded, dusty warehouses, where exhibits were periodically tossed to make room for more.
In 1997, the rape kit that exonerated Kevin Byrd narrowly escaped the trash bin. But a week after his pardon, court officials ordered 50 more rape kits destroyed.
Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 4/17/07)
Evidence preservation helps police, prosecution and defendants obtain the truth in criminal cases at trial and on appeal. Read more about critical evidence preservation reforms nationwide.




Tags: Evidence Preservation

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Darryl Hunt film premieres April 26th on HBO

Posted: April 17, 2007 7:00 am

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

Watch the trailer at HBO.com.

Read more about Hunt’s case.


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DNA exonerations continue to cast doubt on eyewitness identifications

Posted: April 18, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: Eyewitness Misidentification

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Duke case raises awareness about wrongful convictions

Posted: April 18, 2007

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

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

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


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California Senate committee passes three reform bills

Posted: April 19, 2007

The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, one of six “innocence commissions” around the country, is supporting three critical reform bills in the California legislature this year. Lawmakers heard testimony from three exonerees on Tuesday, and the Senate Public Safety Committee passed the three bills, which would improve eyewitness identification procedures, require recording of certain custodial interrogations and place requirements on prosecutors to verify information before a jailhouse informant testifies.

Two similar bills were vetoed last year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"This isn't a foolproof guarantee that we won't have wrongful convictions," said Gerald F. Uelman, a noted defense attorney and professor at Santa Clara University School of Law. "But it would substantially reduce the risk." Uelman and former two-term Attorney General John Van de Kamp lead the panel, formally known as the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice.

Read the full story here. (San Jose Mercury News, 4/18/07, free registration required)
Read more about these reforms and others in our Fix The System section.

The San Jose Mercury News published a special series on wrongful convictions last year, entitled “Tainted Trials, Stolen Justice,” click here to read the articles.

Read the bills now pending before the California Senate:

SB756 (eyewitness identification reforms)

SB511 (recording of interrogations)

SB609 (snitch testimony reforms)



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

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Death row inmate's hopes are on Texas's highest court

Posted: April 19, 2007

Michael Blair, an inmate on Texas’ death row, will wait for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to decide whether he deserves a new trial for a 1993 murder. DNA testing in the case has shown that biological evidence used against Blair at trial doesn’t actually belong to him. The Innocence Project is consulting with Blair's attorneys on the case.


A district court judge ruled yesterday that Blair doesn’t deserve a new trial based on the DNA evidence – which includes materials recovered from the body of the seven-year-old victim that don’t match either Blair or the victim. The ruling acknowledged that there are serious questions of fact and law in the case but said the law requires the Court of Criminal Appeals to address those questions. Blair is serving three life sentences for other crimes and would not be released if he is vindicated in this murder – but he would no longer be on death row.

"Every piece of biological evidence that was used to link Michael Blair to this crime at trial has been discredited by DNA, which also shows that someone else committed this crime," said Philip Wischkaemper, an attorney for Mr. Blair.
Read the full story here. (Dallas Morning News, 4/19/07)



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NYPD forensic labs under scrutiny after falsified test results

Posted: April 20, 2007

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

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

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

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Eyewitness reforms gain momentum nationwide

Posted: April 20, 2007

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: Eyewitness Identification

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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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Andrew Gossett exonerated in Dallas, 200th exoneration set for Monday in Illinois

Posted: April 20, 2007

Andrew Gossett was released from Texas prison in January 2007, after DNA testing proved that he was innocent of a sexual assault for which he had served seven years. He has now been officially exonerated by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest court. He is one of 13 men to be proven innocent by DNA testing in Dallas since 2001. No county in America has more DNA exonerations than Dallas.

On Monday, Texas State Senators will discuss Gossett's case and those of 27 other Texas exonerees as they consider a bill creating a Texas innocence commission. This proposed panel would review the causes of wrongful conviction and consider reforms to ensure that these injustices never happen again. Click here for more on the Texas Innocence Commission bill.

Also on Monday, the 200th DNA exoneration is expected to take place in Chicago. A hearing and press conference are scheduled for Monday morning, email us for more information on attending the exoneration. More information on the case will be posted here Monday.

Read the Innocence Project press release announcing Gossett’s exoneration.



Tags: Innocence Commissions

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

Posted: April 23, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seattle Post-Intelligencer - DNA clears 200th wrongfully convicted

Video clips

CBS 2 Chicago: Judge clears man wrongly convicted of rape

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

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200 Exonerated, Too Many Wrongfully Convicted

Posted: April 24, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

Associated Press National: DNA clears 200th wrongfully convicted

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

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

NJ Star-Ledger: Justice System Fails the Innocent

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

Cleveland Plain Dealer: DNA Changes Criminal Justice

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

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

Video clips

CBS 2 Chicago: Judge clears man wrongly convicted of rape

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

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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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Innocence Project marks 200th exoneration nationwide at first annual celebration

Posted: April 25, 2007

At the Innocence Project’s first annual Celebration of Freedom & Justice last night in New York, 18 people who have been exonerated were honored and awards were given to several people and organizations vital to the work of freeing the innocent and reforming the criminal justice system. Jerry Miller, who was exonerated on Monday in Chicago and became the 200th person to be cleared by DNA evidence nationwide, joined us for the event.

Before a packed house of more than 600 people, a special award was given to Calvin Johnson, who was exonerated after serving more than 15 years in Georgia prisons and now serves on the Innocence Project Board of Directors. Also honored Janet Reno (a founding member of the Innocence Project Board of Directors), Cravath, Swaine & Moore (the Innocence Project’s corporate counsel) and Matt Blank (the CEO and Chairman of Showtime, which produced the film After Innocence).

Watch video from the event. (NY1: Innocence Project Marks Milestone.)

Visit our special section on the 200th Exoneration
for multimedia features, criminal justice resources, and more.

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Clarence Page: The 200th reason to test DNA

Posted: April 25, 2007

In a column in today’s Chicago Tribune, Clarence Page calls Jerry Miller’s exoneration "both gratifying and horrifying."

...An Army veteran from Chicago is the 200th person to be exonerated by DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project, a non-profit New York-based legal clinic.

That's gratifying because justice -- long denied to innocents like Jerry Miller, 48, and the 199 others who were exonerated before him -- finally has been served. But Miller's good news is also horrifying in the questions it raises about flaws in our nation's criminal justice system.

Read the full column. (Chicago Tribune, 4/25/07, Payment required for full article)


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Philadelphia Inquirer: Criminal Justice Failures

Posted: April 25, 2007

An editorial in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer calls for criminal justice reforms to address the causes of wrongful conviction.

Since the first person was exonerated by DNA evidence in 1989, such reversals are becoming more frequent. The 200 people cleared by DNA in the United States spent a combined 2,475 years in prison for crimes they didn't commit.

What if one of them were your brother, or son, or father?

There can be no doubt that there are other innocent people behind bars, including some on death row.Read the full editorial here. (Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/25/07)
 



Tags: Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation, Eyewitness Identification

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National Public Radio: DNA Evidence Frees 200th Prisoner

Posted: April 5, 2007 7:00 am

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



Tags: Jerry Miller

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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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National Public Radio: DNA evidence frees 200th prisoner

Posted: April 26, 2007

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

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

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Darryl Hunt documentary airs tonight on HBO

Posted: April 6, 2007

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

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NY Times: Exonerations bring broad change in legal system

Posted: October 1, 2007 11:50 am

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

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

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

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

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

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Reversal of misfortune

Posted: June 11, 2007 1:01 pm

Willie Jackson served 17 years in Louisiana prisons for a rape that his brother confessed to days after Willie’s arrest. That’s how long it took for Louisiana officials to consider the confession of Milton Jackson and to order DNA testing in Willie’s case to prove the identity of the perpetrator. In 2006, test results came back proving that Milton committed the rape. Willie was released from prison that year.

“My brother’s involvement in the situation...” Jackson said before falling silent, still struggling with the betrayal. “Milton sat back and kept quiet until the jury found me guilty. He came forward two days later and told the district attorney’s office that he was the guy, but they thought he was making it up and didn’t do nothin’ about it.”Read the full story here. (New Orleans City Business, 06/11/2007)
Read more about Willie Jackson's case in our Know the Cases section.



Tags: Louisiana, Willie Jackson

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

Posted: April 27, 2007

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

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

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

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


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North Carolina House committee approves eyewitness ID reform bill

Posted: April 27, 2007

Eyewitness misidentification has been involved in more than 75 percent of the 200 convictions later overturned by DNA evidence, and a bill pending in North Carolina's House of Representatives would lead to reforms statewide that would help prevent misidentifications from happening. The bill was approved Tuesday by a House committee and will now go to the full House. Among reforms included in the bill are blind administration - where the lineup administrator does not know which participant is the suspect - and sequential photo lineups - where photos are shown one at a time rather than all at once. Studies have shown that viewing photos all at once leads witnesses to choose the person who looks the most like the perpetrator but may not be the perpetrator.

"Some people's memories are different than others," said Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, one of the primary sponsors of the bill... "When people remember what other people look like, they don't remember it the same."

Read the full story here.
Eyewitness identification reforms were recommended in 2003 by North Carolina's innocence commission, a body formed to study the causes of wrongful convictions and implement policies proven to fix the system's flaws. North Carolina is one of six states with such commissions, though others are pending nationwide. The Innocence Project is advocating for the formation of these commissions nationwide as part of our month-long "200 Exonerated" campaign - launched this week to mark the milestone of the 200th DNA exoneration in the U.S. 



Tags: Innocence Commissions, Eyewitness Identification

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Calls for reform continue to grow nationwide

Posted: April 30, 2007

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

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

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

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




Tags: Eyewitness Misidentification

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

Posted: April 30, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

Watch video of the exonerees in attendance at the event

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Federal jury awards compensation to wrongfully convicted man

Posted: May 1, 2007

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: Exoneree Compensation, Government Misconduct

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Las Vegas Sun calls for funding to end DNA backlogs

Posted: May 1, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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National Public Radio talks with Dallas District Attorney

Posted: May 2, 2007

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

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

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



Tags: Access to DNA Testing

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Harrisburg newspaper: Exonerations should spark death penalty moratorium

Posted: May 2, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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Anderson Cooper 360 investigates the

Posted: May 2, 2007

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

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

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

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NY legislators call for reforms at press conference today

Posted: May 3, 2007

At 2 p.m. today in New York City, leaders in the State Legislature will join New Yorkers who have been exonerated through DNA testing and Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck to announce a package of sweeping reforms to address wrongful convictions statewide. The measures proposed today include access to post-conviction DNA testing, preservation of evidence that can prove innocence, mechanisms for people to prove their innocence by using forensic databases that can identify true perpetrators of crimes, the formation of a state Innocence Commission and others.

Speakers at the conference including Alan Newton, who first requested DNA testing in 1994 and was told his evidence was lost or destroyed for 12 years before it was finally found. He was exonerated by testing on the evidence 10 months ago. Exoneree Douglas Warney will also be at the event.

For more logisitics on attending today’s press conference, email Matt Kelley at mkelley@innocenceproject.org.



Tags: Innocence Commissions, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing

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Exonerations have changed justice system

Posted: May 3, 2007

An article in today’s Washington Post reports on reforms happening nationwide as a result of DNA exonerations. The 200 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence in the last 18 years have made clear that certain patterns have led to injustice over and over again. The causes of wrongful convictions are well-defined and they can be fixed with proven reforms.

The overturning of convictions based on DNA evidence is prompting changes in criminal procedures that reach beyond race. States and cities are starting to enact or consider laws to change decades-old police methods such as eyewitness identifications and police interrogations that lead to confessions.

"The exonerations have been an extremely important force in getting the legal system to recognize there's a problem," said Gary L. Wells, an Iowa State University psychology professor whose research led to new practices in eyewitness identification. "I've been working at this for 30 years, and before DNA they pretty much ignored the studies."

Read the full story here. (Washington Post, 5/3/07)




Tags: False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification

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Real perpetrators sentenced in two New York wrongful convictions

Posted: May 3, 2007

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: False Confessions

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Bill Moyers interviews exoneree Jerry Miller tonight on PBS

Posted: May 4, 2007

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

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

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

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NY legislators join Innocence Project in supporting sweeping reforms

Posted: May 4, 2007

Leaders in the New York legislature joined Innocence Project officials and New Yorkers who were exonerated by DNA evidence yesterday in announcing broad-based reforms to fix the state’s criminal justice system and help prevent wrongful convictions from happening.

The reforms proposed in several bills before the legislature include the creation of an innocence commission, improving requirements on evidence preservation, post-conviction DNA testing, use of forensic databases to prove innocence and compensation for people exonerated after serving time in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.

Also in attendance yesterday were Alan Newton, who served 22 years in New York prisons for a rape he didn’t commit, and Douglas Warney, who served nine years after falsely confessing to a murder.

Read the Innocence Project’s press release on the reform package.

Read coverage of yesterday’s announcements in the New York Times and Newsday.

Learn more about reforms underway nationwide in our “Fix the System” section.



Tags: Innocence Commissions, Exoneree Compensation, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing, False Confessions

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Today on National Public Radio: DNA and wrongful convictions

Posted: May 7, 2007

Listen to NPR’s “To The Point” with Warren Olney today at 3:30 p.m. ET and at 7:30 p.m. ET as he discusses the causes of wrongful convictions and critical reforms to the criminal justice system. Joining Olney for the show are Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld, Oklahoma exoneree Dennis Fritz and eyewitness identification expert Gary Wells.

Click here to listen at 3:30 p.m. ET or 7:30 p.m. ET

Read more about Dennis Fritz’s case.


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Watch Bill Moyers interview 200th Exoneree Jerry Miller

Posted: May 7, 2007

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

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

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Tonight on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360:

Posted: May 7, 2007

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

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

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

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Watch and listen: The Innocence Project in the news

Posted: May 8, 2007

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

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

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



Tags: Dennis Fritz, Jerry Miller

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Compensation bill for Florida exoneree fails for second time

Posted: May 8, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more about compensation laws.



Tags: Florida, Alan Crotzer, Exoneree Compensation

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California panel recommends lab improvements

Posted: May 9, 2007

California’s innocence commission issued its fifth report yesterday, warning legislators and criminal justice officials that the state’s forensic science standards need improvement. The panel, officially called the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, recommended that the state create a forensic science oversight commission.

"This is long overdue," said Gerald F. Uelmen, head of the administration of justice commission and professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law. "We're in a world where forensic science is playing a greater role in all criminal cases. It puts a lot of pressure on the system — not defense lawyers, but prosecutors and the criminalists themselves," he said.

The commission recommended that local prosecutors look into allegations of irregularities in expert testimony and that a council set state standards for forensic experts.
Read the full story here. (Los Angeles Times, 5/9/07)

The Innocence Project advocates for the creation of forensic science oversight commissions in each state. Read more here.

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Fingerprint errors found in Florida crime lab

Posted: May 9, 2007

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

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

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



Tags: Florida

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Raising the quality of justice in Ohio

Posted: May 10, 2007

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

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

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

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




Tags: False Confessions

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The Innocence Project on YouTube

Posted: May 10, 2007

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

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

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

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Oklahoma man exonerated from death row

Posted: May 11, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full Innocence Project press release here.



Tags: Oklahoma, Curtis McCarty, Government Misconduct

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News coverage of today’s exoneration

Posted: May 11, 2007

 

Inmate Freed After 22-Year-Old Murder Charge Dropped – KOCO, Channel 5

Inmate to be freed after murder charge dropped, News 9, Oklahoma City

Associated Press National: Former Okla. death row inmate to go free



Tags: Oklahoma, Curtis McCarty

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Oklahoma man exonerated – more media coverage

Posted: May 14, 2007

After 21 years behind bars – including 16 on death row – Curtis McCarty was freed on Friday when an Oklahoma City judge dismissed charges that would have led to his third trial for a 1982 murder he didn’t commit. DNA testing in recent years has proven that someone else committed the crime.

Read more about McCarty’s case in the Innocence Project press release, and view media coverage of the exoneration below.

Los Angeles Times: Judge frees oklahoma man facing execution

Oklahoma Gazette: Judge releases McCarty; rips former chemist

The Oklahoman / News 9: Ex-death row inmate freed (with video)



Tags: Oklahoma, Curtis McCarty, Government Misconduct

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NY Post: NYPD has serious evidence problems

Posted: May 14, 2007

An article in Sunday's New York Post chronicled serious missteps by the New York Police Department in evidence collection and storage that have caused countless cases to remain unsolved and have also led to wrongful convictions. This issue was highlighted by the exoneration last year of New Yorker Alan Newton, who was told evidence in his case was lost for a decade before police found it. Most evidence collected by New York police is currently stored in 55-gallon barrels at a Queens warehouse and signed in and out by hand in log books.

The NYPD says it is working to address the problem by January 2008. The department is currently accepting proposals for a computerized system to track evidence.

"Hundreds of cases are in serious jeopardy because evidence has been misplaced, mishandled," one detective said. "Right now, off the top of my head, I can think of 12 rape cases where evidence cannot be found to send to independent labs."


"Anything that brings this system into this century is welcome," (another detective) said.

Read the full story here. (New York Post, 5/13/07)
Last week, the Innocence Project and leading New York legislators announced proposals for sweeping changes to the way evidence is preserved in New York state, among other important reforms. Read more here.

Read more about evidence preservation reforms nationwide.



Tags: New York, Alan Newton, Evidence Preservation

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Column: Louisiana should invest in justice reform

Posted: May 14, 2007

A column in Saturday’s Shreveport Times calls for serious reforms to Louisiana’s criminal justice system in the wake of the 200th DNA exoneration nationwide. Emily Maw, the director of Innocence Project New Orleans, writes with Heather Hall that the state needs to direct its focus to indigent defense and to providing access to DNA testing for inmates claiming innocence. Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate per capita in the United States, and nine people have been exonerated in that state by DNA evidence.

Perhaps it is not surprising — Louisiana puts more people in prison per capita than any other state in the United States, has neglected the broken public defender system for decades and has demonstrated a complete lack of initiative to address the root causes of wrongful conviction.

Read the full column here
. (Shreveport Times, 5/12/07)
Read more about the nine people exonerated by DNA testing in Louisiana.

How many exonerations have there been in your state? View a map here.




Tags: Access to DNA Testing, Bad Lawyering

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

Posted: May 15, 2007

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

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


News coverage of the hearing:

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

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

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



Tags: New Jersey

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Byron Halsey released in New Jersey, news coverage

Posted: May 16, 2007

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

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

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

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

Newark Star-Ledger: Freed After 22 Years

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

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

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



Tags: New Jersey, False Confessions

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New York exoneree Roy Brown gets liver transplant

Posted: May 16, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: Roy Brown

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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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Families of exonerees to speak Friday in Oklahoma City

Posted: May 17, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: May 18, 2007

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

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

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

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

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NYTimes: The DNA 200

Posted: May 21, 2007

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

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

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

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



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

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Connecticut legislature awards $5 million to exoneree

Posted: May 21, 2007

James Tillman served 18 years in Connecticut prisons before DNA testing proved his innocence. Last week, the state legislature approved a bill awarding him $5 million in compensation for the injustice he suffered. The bill now goes to Governor Jodi Rell, who has said she will sign it.

An editorial in today’s Hartford Courant calls on lawmakers to create a formula to compensate future exonerees in a similar way.

They should set a policy for fair compensation based on the Tillman precedent. His award was calculated roughly on what other states have done in similar situations. He was compensated for loss of liberty and enjoyment of life, loss of income, loss of future earnings because he will be starting from scratch, for physical and psychological injury and loss of familial relationships. In exchange, he agreed not to press claims against the state.

Let's put that formula in writing. There's only one James Calvin Tillman. But all who are wronged in this egregious manner deserve fair and equal treatment.

Read the full editorial. (Hartford Courant, 5/21/07)
And Slate.com examined compensation policies nationwide on Friday.

Read more about Tillman’s case and about compensation policies nationwide.



Tags: Connecticut, James Tillman, Exoneree Compensation

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Doug Warney marks one year of freedom

Posted: May 21, 2007

One year ago, Doug Warney was freed from a New York prison after serving nine years for a murder he didn’t commit. In an article published last week in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle and an accompanying video, Warney discusses the struggles of adjusting to life after exoneration and dealing with the effects of this grave injustice.

Even as he savors freedom, Warney cannot stop thinking about time wasted in prison during a life that might be cut short by the AIDS virus, which continues to chip away at his health.
"It still dwells in my mind, what they did to me.

"What the system did to me was totally wrong, and that's something I have to live with for the rest of my life now," Warney said.
Read the full article here. (Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, 5/15/07)
Watch a video of Warney and relatives celebrating his first year of freedom.

Read more about Warney’s case.



Tags: New York, Douglas Warney

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Exoneree and victim families call for Oklahoma Innocence Commission

Posted: May 21, 2007

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

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

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

Read media coverage of Friday’s event:

The Oklahoman: Families of wrongfully convicted ask for review

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

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

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



Tags: Innocence Commissions

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John Grisham discusses wrongful convictions tonight on Dateline NBC

Posted: May 22, 2007

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

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

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

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

Posted: May 22, 2007

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

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

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

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



Tags: New Jersey, Eyewitness Identification

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Texas Innocence Commission bill hits roadblock

Posted: May 22, 2007

A proposal that would create Texas’ first panel charged with reviewing the causes of wrongful convictions and preventing future injustice has hit a roadblock in the state House. The bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Rodney Ellis (who also chairs the Innocence Project Board of Directors), failed to pass out of a House committee last week after passing the full Senate in April.

The bill could still be resurrected by adding the language to another House bill, but the legislative session ends next week.

An editorial in today’s Dallas Morning News calls on lawmakers to address problems in the criminal justice system Texas has had more convictions overturned by DNA evidence, 28, than any other state in the U.S.

We hope Mr. Ellis finds a way to resuscitate the legislation by tacking it onto another bill. With Texas by far the most active death penalty state, our quality of justice must adhere to the most rigorous standards to be found nationwide. It's a sad chapter when lawmakers send the message that they're willing to settle for something less.

Read the full editorial here. (Dallas Morning News, 5/22/07)
Read this bill’s history on the Texas Legislature website.

 



Tags: Texas, Innocence Commissions

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

Posted: May 23, 2007

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

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

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

Read more about Byron Halsey’s case.

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London Times: 201 wrongful convictions are tip of the iceberg

Posted: May 23, 2007

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

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

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



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

Posted: May 23, 2007

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

Watch the full episode online right now.

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

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

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Byron Halsey adjusts to life outside of prison

Posted: May 24, 2007

It has been nine days since a New Jersey judge overturned Byron Halsey’s 1988 murder conviction on the grounds that DNA evidence from the scene points to another person. Today, he is adjusting to life on the outside, living in Newark, NJ. His ordeal isn’t over, however, because prosecutors in Union County, NJ, are still considering whether to retry him. In the meantime, he is wearing an electronic monitoring device on his ankle.

A story in today’s Amsterdam News catches up with Byron.

“I wasn’t going to let nobody take my life from me,” he said. “My grandmother told me that if you’re innocent, fight them, and the truth will come out.” It finally has.

Read the full story here. (Amsterdam News, 5/24/07)
Read more about Byron Halsey’s case.

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Backlogs continue to plague Florida labs

Posted: May 24, 2007

Crime labs in Florida are facing severe backlogs, as evidence often sits untested for months and police departments are asked to restrict the number of items they send for testing. A request for additional funding to reduce the backlog through increased staffing and training is pending in this year’s state budget.

According to department records, FDLE in 2002 received 75,034 requests for tests and completed 73,539. By 2006, the backlog had increased to 93,138 requests with 80,457 completed.

To speed the process, the agency has hired new personnel, made training available to larger police departments, and asked departments that use the services to limit requests.

"We don't refuse to take anything from anyone," said Barry Funck, director of forensic science for FDLE. "Give us your best five items [agencies are told] rather than backing the truck up and unloading everything here."

Read the full story here. (Florida Times-Union, 5/22/2007)
Read more about crime lab oversight in our fix the system section.



Tags: Florida

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Georgia man to be compensated for 24 years of wrongful incarceration

Posted: May 25, 2007

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

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

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

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

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




Tags: Georgia, Robert Clark, Exoneree Compensation

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NY Times: Spitzer's DNA proposal needs revision

Posted: May 29, 2007

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: New York, Access to DNA Testing

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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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What do states owe the exonerated?

Posted: May 30, 2007

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

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

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



Tags: Exoneree Compensation

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Hearing today on DNA reforms in New York Assembly

Posted: May 31, 2007

Today in Albany, a New York Assembly committee heard testimony from Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld and three New York men exonerated after serving a total of 45 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.

Members of the Assembly are considering a new package of reforms that would help prevent wrongful convictions and use DNA to enhance the state’s criminal justice system. The Assembly reforms address these critical issues far more substantially and meaningfully than proposals that passed in the state Senate last week, according to the Innocence Project.

Joining Neufeld in testifying were New York exonerees Alan Newton, Roy Brown and Douglas Warney.

Read the Innocence Project press release on today's testimony here.



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

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Arizona defense attorneys question crime lab’s integrity

Posted: May 31, 2007

Defense attorneys in Arizona have raised concerns about the quality of evidence testing in the Southern Regional Crime Lab in Tucson due to a video produced by the Arizona Department of Public Safety to lobby for funding for a new lab, which has been approved. The current lab is housed in a converted aircraft parts warehouse and the video says "the facility's inadequacies became a substantial issue that could jeopardize laboratory accreditation in the future."

The video cites "evidence-integrity issues" resulting from extreme overcrowding, substandard ventilation and air conditioning systems, safety deficiencies and inefficient operational features.
For instance, it notes the air conditioning and ventilation system shortcomings result in "the buildup of toxic and noxious fumes throughout the laboratory and the evidence warehouse."
Attorneys Michael Bloom and Joe St. Louis have distributed DVDs of the video to Pima County defense attorneys and have said they intend to use the video as evidence in cases where the integrity of testing is in question. Ed Heller, the lab's regional manager, told the Arizona Daily Star that the allegations made by defense attorneys are untrue.
The complaints are a "slap in the face," Heller said.
"We don't care if the evidence points to guilty or it's exculpatory. We just document the results," he said. "Their allegations are just nonsense, and they're very upsetting to me. We just present the evidence, we don't skew it."

Read the full story here. (Arizona Daily Star, 5/30/07) Watch a portion of the Arizona DPS video.
 

Read more about crime lab oversight issues around the country and the Innocence Project’s recommendations to ensure that quality forensic testing is available in all trial and appellate cases.

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New York legislators near deal on reform legislation

Posted: June 1, 2007

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

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

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

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

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



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

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Community welcomes Halsey home

Posted: June 4, 2007

At a special reception at Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, NJ yesterday, Byron Halsey was greeted by a supportive community, welcoming him back after 19 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

Halsey ... thanked those who worked to release him and are helping him integrate back into the community.

"It's overwhelming love," Halsey said in his first public appearance since being freed from prison. "I'm not used to it. That's a new type of thing."

Read the full story here. (Newark Star-Ledger, 6/3/07)
And in an interview with the New York Post, Halsey said he is taking life one day at a time and enjoying the small pleasures of freedom.
Of his rediscovered pleasures he listed tops amongst them, "baths, freedom to move around, family, wooden floors, grass, dogs barking."

Read the full story. (New York Post, 6/3/07)
Read more about Halsey’s case.

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NY Times: New Dallas DA means end to old ways

Posted: June 4, 2007

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

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




Tags: Access to DNA Testing

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Vermont Gov. signs reform bill into law

Posted: June 5, 2007

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

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

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

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



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

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Wisconsin Law Review covers the innocence movement

Posted: June 5, 2007

From eyewitness identification to false confessions, a recent issue of the Wisconsin Law Review examines the issues of wrongful convictions – and reforms to prevent them – from all angles. Contributors include leaders of innocence organizations across the country.

Read the issue online here.

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Louisiana exoneree starts reentry program

Posted: June 6, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: Louisiana, Exoneree Compensation, Government Misconduct

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Time Magazine: A Milestone for the Innocence Project

Posted: June 6, 2007

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

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

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Texas murder conviction overturned

Posted: June 7, 2007 9:46 am

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

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

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

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

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

Read background on the case here.



Tags: Texas, False Confessions, Government Misconduct

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Innocence Project television special premieres at event tonight in Connecticut

Posted: June 7, 2007 11:51 am

Join Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and two men exonerated by DNA testing at a special free event tonight in Greenwich, Connecticut. The program features the world premiere of a new television special, "Proof of Innocence." The special covers the case of Clark McMillan, who served 22 years in Tennessee prisons for a rape he didn't commit. The special is scheduled to air on the Discovery Channel June 12th.

Mr. McMillan will join Mr. Scheck at the event tonight, along with Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, New Jersey exoneree David Shephard, and Innocence Project Staff Attorney Vanessa Potkin, the attorney on Mr. McMillian’s case.

Tonight's event begins at 6:45 p.m. and is free and open to the public. To RSVP, call 212-364-5976



Tags: Connecticut, Clark McMillan, David Shephard

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Harold Buntin exonerated in Indianapolis

Posted: June 8, 2007 11:02 am

DNA testing has proven that Harold Buntin served 13 years in Indiana prisons for a rape he didn’t commit. His last two years in prison came after he was officially exonerated, because paperwork ordering his release was lost in court files. Buntin finally walked out of prison in April of this year after the error was rectified. He told press that “somebody has to answer” for the injustice he suffered.

"I'm going to move on and take care of my business," he told The Indianapolis Star for a story Tuesday. "But I feel like somebody has to answer for that. I never should have been in jail -- and I spent two more years there after they knew I was innocent."

Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 4/24/2007)
Buntin was represented by a private attorney. The Innocence Project tracks all DNA exonerations nationwide and recently completed an examination of the case. Harold Buntin is the 203rd person exonerated by DNA testing nationwide and the fifth in Indiana. Read more about his case in our Know the Cases section.



Tags: Indiana, Harold Buntin, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Tomorrow on Discovery Times: Proof of Innocence

Posted: June 11, 2007 11:32 am

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

For local listings, click here.



Tags: Tennessee, Clark McMillan

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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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National Public Radio covers Larry Peterson's case

Posted: June 11, 2007 4:10 pm

When NPR’s Robert Siegel started reporting on Larry Peterson’s case in April 2005, Peterson was 54 years old and awaiting his release from Trenton State Prison. Tomorrow, NPR’s All Things Considered will air the first part of a two-day special on Mr. Peterson’s exoneration and return to society. Two years in the making, “The Exoneration of Larry Peterson” is a must-listen. Check here for a link to listen live online Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m. EDT.

As Siegel reports, freedom for Peterson does not come easy. A Burlington County prosecutor commits to retrying Peterson for the same crimes, although his case quickly falls apart when a key witness, Robert Elder, recants his testimony that Peterson bragged about the crime. Elder tells Siegel, “I feel real bad about telling a white lie.” Elder says that he made up the story about Peterson to satisfy the detectives. “I was scared,” he says. “I was like – let me give these guys what they want. I’ll make up a story or something.”

Read NPR’s press release on tomorrow’s show
Read more about Larry Peterson in our Know the Cases section. 



Tags: Larry Peterson

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Tonight on PBS: Charlie Rose interviews Barry Scheck and Byron Halsey

Posted: June 11, 2007 4:13 pm

Watch tonight on your local PBS affiliate as Charlie Rose interviews Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and Byron Halsey, who was released from New Jersey prison in May after DNA testing proved his innocence.

When does the show air in your area? Click here to find out
.

Scheck and Innocence Project Co-Director appeared on Rose’s show in 2000. Click here to watch that video online.
 

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The Innocence Project on TV and radio today

Posted: June 12, 2007 10:16 am

Listen online today at 4 pm EDT for the part one of National Public Radio’s two-part profile of Larry Peterson, who was exonerated in 2006 after serving more than 16 years for a murder he didn’t commit.

Watch Discovery Times channel tonight for the premiere of “Proof of Innocence” featuring the case of Clark McMillan, who served 22 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. The show airs at 10 pm EDT, 9 pm Central. Click here to find Discovery Times Channel on your cable (enter your zip code, choose your cable provider and look for "DTIMES").

Last night, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and Byron Halsey, who was recently released from New Jersey prison, joined Charlie Rose for a roundtable conversation. Click here to watch online now.



Tags: Clark McMillan, Larry Peterson

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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 Exoneration of Larry Peterson: Part Two Today on NPR

Posted: June 13, 2007 10:17 am

National Public Radio’s All Things Considered aired part one of its special report on Larry Peterson’s case yesterday, listen to it here.

And tune in today at 4 p.m. EDT on your local station – or listen online here – to hear part two. Click here for more on Peterson’s case.

Join the discussion: Readers are discussing Peterson's case and the issue of exoneree compensation now on BET.com.


Larry Peterson is one of four people exonerated after serving time in New Jersey prisons for crimes they didn’t commit, click here for more on the other New Jersey exonerees.

Byron Halsey was released from New Jersey prison in May after serving 19 years for a crime he didn't commit. He hasn't been officially exonerated as charges against him are still pending, read more about his case here.



Tags: New Jersey, Larry Peterson

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The "right" answer: anatomy of a confession

Posted: June 13, 2007 1:21 pm

A New York City judge dropped murder charges last week against Ozem Goldwire, a Brooklyn man with developmental disabilities who found his sister dead in 2006 and called 911 to report the crime. After 17 hours of interrogation, Goldwire confessed to the crime, and now defense attorneys, a state psychologist and the judge agree that the situation in this case was ripe for a false confession. The prosecutor agreed to drop the charges after the psychologist issued her report. Goldwire had been in jail for a year waiting for trial.

When Mr. Goldwire was in Rikers Island, his lawyer, Gary Farrell, told prosecutors that the confession was unreliable, given his background. Kenneth Taub and Robert Lamb of the Brooklyn district attorney’s office hired a psychologist, Kathy F. Yates, who found that he was highly suggestible, eager to please. “It is likely that he wanted to meet the needs of the detectives as a well as to bring the interview to an end,” she wrote.

No audio or video record exists of Mr. Goldwire’s interactions with detectives during the 17 hours leading up to his confession.

“Here we had the ingredients of the perfect storm for false confession,” Judge Gustin L. Reichbach said in court last week, dismissing the charges at the request of the prosecution and the defense. “You’re actually innocent of this crime.”

Read the story here and listen to Goldwire’s 911 call. (New York Times, 6/13/07, Membership Required)
More than one-quarter of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing involved a false confession. In countless other confession cases, like Goldwire’s, charges are thrown out before trial because the interrogation methods were questionable.

The Innocence Project supports criminal justice reforms mandating the electronic recording of all custodial interrogations nationwide. View a map of state laws requiring recorded interrogations.



Tags: New York, False Confessions

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New tests urged in audit of Houston lab

Posted: June 14, 2007 10:10 am

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

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

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

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

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

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Larry Peterson: Beyond Exoneration

Posted: June 14, 2007 3:58 pm

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: Larry Peterson

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“The Trials of Darryl Hunt” Opens Tonight In Hartford

Posted: June 15, 2007 11:32 am

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

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



Tags: Darryl Hunt

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Is your local police department conducting fair lineups?

Posted: June 15, 2007 5:15 pm

Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful conviction, and Iowa State Professor Gary Wells has studied the issue for three decades. In an article published this week on the website of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, Wells writes guidelines for local reporters and activists to question whether their local law enforcement agency has enacted important identification reforms based on solid scientific research.

Click here to read the article. (Nieman Watchdog, Harvard University, 6/12/07)

Get Involved: Learn about your local law enforcement procedures and help improve them to prevent wrongful convictions.



Tags: Eyewitness Misidentification

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Op-Ed: Scheck and Neufeld call for NY to enact real reforms

Posted: June 18, 2007 11:02 am

In today’s New York Daily News, Innocence Project Co-Directors Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld write that recent DNA exonerations have demonstrated the urgent need for criminal justice reforms in New York state, including improved access to DNA testing and improved procedures for the preservation of evidence.

Nobody benefits from a wrongful conviction. Not the victim, police, prosecutor, judge, jury, nor the public at large. Well, maybe one person benefits: the real perpetrator, who can relax knowing an innocent person took the rap.

There have been nine DNA exonerations in New York State since 2006, putting our total at 23. And given that it's harder to find preserved evidence in New York than in most states, and that DNA can prove innocence in so few crimes, the situation is likely far worse than those numbers indicate.

Read the full article. (New York Daily News, 06/18/07)

 




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

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Houston lab probe leads to more questions

Posted: June 18, 2007 11:22 am

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

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

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

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



Tags: Texas

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Unheralded exonerations

Posted: June 18, 2007 5:31 pm

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

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

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

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



Tags: Government Misconduct

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Independent labs mean fair testing

Posted: June 19, 2007 11:01 am

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

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

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



Tags: Texas

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New Video: Marvin Anderson

Posted: June 19, 2007 12:40 pm

In a new interview posted today on our site, Virginia exoneree Marvin Anderson talks about the misleading lineups used in his case (his was the only color photo among several black and white photos) and the day he learned he would be exonerated. Click here to watch the three-minute video, or visit our page on YouTube to watch interviews with exonerees Robert Clark, Chris Ochoa, Ken Wyniemko and Alan Newton.

Evidence in Anderson's case was preserved because a Virginia lab analyst took it upon herself to keep an extra set of evidence in her file. If it weren't for her, he may never have been proven innocent by DNA. Read more in "Issue in Focus: Evidence Preservation."



Tags: Marvin Anderson

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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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Study: Juries often get it wrong

Posted: June 20, 2007 3:24 pm

A new Northwestern University study shows that juries in criminal cases are reaching incorrect verdicts. The study, which looked at 271 cases in four areas of Illinois, found that as many as one in eight juries is making the wrong decision – by convicting an innocent person or acquitting a guilty one.

In each case, while the jury deliberated, the judge filled out a questionnaire detailing what his or her verdict would have been had it been a bench trial. The verdicts only matched in 77 percent of cases. The study assumed that judges are at least as likely as a jury to make a correct verdict, leading to the conclusion that juries are only correct 87 percent of the time or less.

The study was conducted by Bruce Spencer, a Northwestern statistics professor, and will be published in the July issue of the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies. Spencer said in a statement that it would take a much larger study to truly predict the accuracy of jury verdicts nationwide in all cases.

Read the full report here.



Tags: Illinois

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Dallas DA is a new kind of civil rights activist

Posted: June 20, 2007 4:40 pm

Craig Watkins, the first African-American district attorney in Dallas County, has devoted the first months of his term to improving the county’s criminal justice system. A column in yesterday’s Star-Telegram compares Watkins with Martin Luther King, Jr.

"African-American males between 18 and 25 are more likely to be in prison, probation or parole than in college," he [Watkins] said. "That doesn't say that African-American men are bad people. I believe that there is something wrong with the system."…Looking back at the heretical ideas of Martin Luther King Jr., people now realize that he was truly a healer. Some may consider Watkins a heretic today, but he hopes that history will prove him to be a healer of an ailing criminal justice system.

Dallas County's election of a "radical" may be just the right tonic for criminal justice reform.
Read the full story. (Fort-Worth Star-Telegram, 6/20/07)
Dallas County has the most exonerations of any county in the country, with 13 known wrongful convictions in less than six years. Read more about these 13 cases here.



Tags: Texas

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Help Calvin Johnson celebrate eight years of freedom

Posted: June 20, 2007 5:01 pm

Eight years ago this week, Innocence Project client Calvin Johnson walked out of a prison in Georgia. He had served 16 years for a crime he didn’t commit before DNA testing finally proved his innocence.

Today, he is married and has a young daughter. He works as a supervisor for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, and he serves on the Innocence Project Board of Directors. He is the author of a book about his life: Exit to Freedom.

This spring, he received a Freedom & Justice Award at the Innocence Project's first annual benefit event in New York City. Click here to send Calvin an email today congratulating him on eight years of freedom.



Tags: Calvin Johnson

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The Innocence Project Online: June newsletter

Posted: June 20, 2007 5:13 pm

The Innocence Project’s monthly email newsletter was sent to subscribers today, with articles covering the recent Houston lab scandal and pending reforms in New York state. Click here to read the newsletter online.

Next month, get the newsletter in your inbox. Click here to subscribe.

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Trashing the truth: Denver Post examines evidence preservation

Posted: July 23, 2007 1:49 pm

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

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

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

Evidence from cold cases goes misplaced across Colorado.

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

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

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

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




Tags: Evidence Preservation

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James Giles Exonerated

Posted: June 21, 2007 3:00 pm

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

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

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

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



Tags: Texas, James Giles

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Giles finally exonerated

Posted: June 22, 2007 12:30 pm

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

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

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






Tags: Texas, James Giles

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Utah lawmakers endorse compensation bill

Posted: June 22, 2007 12:35 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: Utah, Bruce Dallas Goodman

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Harper’s Index: Wrongful conviction by the numbers

Posted: June 22, 2007 4:10 pm

The July issue of Harper’s magazine includes several important statistics on wrongful conviction, eyewitness misidentification and false confessions:

 

  • Number of wrongful convictions since 1989 (as of press date): 201
  • Percentage who had been mistakenly identified by eyewitnesses: 77
  • Chances that a judge in a 2003 study deemed a taped confession to be voluntary if only the suspect appeared on camera: 4 in 5
  • Chances if both the suspect and the interrogator were filmed: 2 in 3




Tags: False Confessions, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Another dubious confession reinforces need for recording interrogations

Posted: June 4, 2007 2:00 pm

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

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

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

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

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Michigan case highlights causes of wrongful convictions

Posted: August 1, 2007 2:43 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: Frederick Freeman

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Alternate suspect arrested in 1986 case

Posted: August 1, 2007 12:44 pm

Clay Chabot has been in prison for 21 years for a rape and murder he has always maintained he did not commit, and new DNA evidence implicates a man who testified against him at trial. On Tuesday, police returned the alternate suspect, Jerry Pabst, to Texas after arresting him Monday in Ohio. He will face murder charges. Prosecutors, however, say they are still investigating the case to determine whether the new evidence exonerates Chabot. Pabst said at trial that he had been in the house on the night of the murder but that Chabot alone had committed the crime. Chabot has always maintained that he was not there that night, and Pabst’s testimony – now proven false by DNA  – was the primary evidence against him. There is no credible evidence even suggesting that Chabot was involved in the crime and the Innocence Project says his conviction should be vacated.

Innocence Project Staff Attorney Nina Morrison told the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram that this evidence should overturn Chabot’s conviction:

"For 21 years, Clay Chabot has maintained he is innocent and that Jerry Pabst committed this horrible crime. That is exactly what the new DNA evidence shows," Morrison said.

Read the full story here. (Star-Telegram, 08/01/07)




Tags: Clay Chabot

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Another dubious confession reinforces need for recording interrogations

Posted: June 25, 2007 2:00 pm

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

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

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

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Duke case is unusual in terms of accountability for prosecutorial misconduct

Posted: June 25, 2007 5:00 pm

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

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

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

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

 

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Supreme Court to review justice in Louisiana

Posted: June 26, 2007 3:00 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday accepted one of three Louisiana cases, declining to hear the other two.  In Snyder v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether race played a role in the jury selection of a death row case. The all-white jury sentenced Allen Snyder, a black man, to death row in 1996. Previously, in a case from Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a black man’s death sentence because prosecutors had kept black people off the jury.

Without comment, the Supreme Court declined to hear two other Louisiana cases – both involving foreign attorneys practicing law in the United States.

At issue is a Louisiana Supreme Court decision in 2002 that said only foreigners on a path to become citizens may practice law in the state. The lawyers affected by the ruling said they went to Louisiana to help address a severe shortage of lawyers for poor defendants. One British lawyer, Emily Maw, received her law degree from Tulane University in 2003 and is director of Innocence Project New Orleans, which represents indigent clients. She also is a practicing lawyer in Mississippi.
Read the full text of the article here.
Find out about other Innocence Projects.



Tags: Louisiana

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

Posted: June 26, 2007 3:30 pm

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

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



Tags: Missouri

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California considers legislation to prevent wrongful convictions

Posted: June 27, 2007 4:00 pm

Three new bills that would help prevent wrongful convictions passed in California’s Assembly Public Safety Committee yesterday. The bills, based on the recommendations of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, call for the recording of all interrogations of suspects in violent felonies, the corroboration of any jailhouse informant testimony and new guidelines for line-up procedures. Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas, sponsor of the bill on lineup procedures, underscored the importance of reforms that address the leading causes of wrongful convictions.

"When opponents" of the bill say wrongful convictions are infrequent, "I say tell that to the guy who spent 17 years in prison for something he didn't do," Ridley-Thomas said. "If we're not vigilant it will happen more frequently."
Last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed similar bills after they had passed in both houses. This year’s bills address the governor’s concerns.

Read the full story here. (Los Angeles Times 6/27/07)

Read the full text of SB 756, which includes eyewitness identification reforms. (PDF)

Get an update on the status of SB 756



Tags: Eyewitness Identification, Eyewitness Misidentification

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New report calls for moratorium on federal death penalty

Posted: June 27, 2007 4:00 pm

The ACLU Capital Punishment Project and Racial Justice Project released a joint report this week titled, “The Persistent Problem of Racial Disparities in the Federal Death Penalty.” The report finds widespread racial disparity in the administration of the federal death penalty.  The report presents overwhelming evidence that people of color are more likely to receive the death penalty, that the penalty is more likely to be administered if the victims are white and that white defendants are more likely to receive reduced sentences by plea bargaining. The report advocates that Congress take the following four actions:
 

[1] implement an immediate moratorium on federal executions and prosecutions; [2] fund a thorough study of the federal death penalty and its racial disparities; [3] enact a federal Racial Justice Act permitting capital defendants to use statistical evidence as proof of racial bias; and [4] enact legislation requiring the Department of Justice to provide regularly information about implementation of the federal death penalty, including statistical data about the race of victims and defendants in cases submitted and recommend for capital punishments.
Read the full report here.

15 of the 204 DNA exonerations involved a person on death row.  Of these people, 9 were of color.

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Innocence Project of Texas hosts Mexican lawyers

Posted: June 28, 2007 2:45 pm

Two Mexican Lawyers, Diana Cristal González and Ariadna Camacho, are working to reform the Mexican criminal justice system through their studies with the U.S. Agency for International Development Program at the Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. The program includes a stay at Texas Tech School of Law where the two have been invited to participate in the work of the Innocence Project of Texas. The school plans to host Mexican lawyers over the next three summers as part of the U.S. AID project.

Many lawyers say the Mexican justice system is highly corrupt. Defendants who cannot afford an attorney must represent themselves, and freedom can often be purchased from a judge, lawyers say.

Both [González and Camacho] have pledged to change the country's judicial system, along with thousands of others who are demanding reform and succeeding. Seventeen of 32 Mexican states have committed, in some way, to judicial reform, González said.
Read the full article here. (Lubbock Online 6/28/07)

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Supreme Court ruling halts execution of a mentally ill Texas prisoner

Posted: June 28, 2007 3:00 pm

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

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

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

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

Posted: June 29, 2007 2:30 pm

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

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

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



Tags: New York, Wilton Dedge, Alan Newton

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

Posted: July 2, 2007 5:45 pm

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

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

Here is an excerpt of the report:

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

Read the Innocence Project press release here.



Tags: New York, False Confessions

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

Posted: July 3, 2007 12:00 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full report here.

Read the Innocence Project press release here.

Learn more about reforms pending in New York State here.



Tags: New York, Jeff Deskovic

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Prosecutors charge alleged actual perpetrator in Ohio murder case

Posted: July 5, 2007 11:19 am

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

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

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



Tags: Clarence Elkins

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What is lost freedom worth?

Posted: July 6, 2007 11:09 am

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

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

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



Tags: Exoneree Compensation

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Byron Halsey hearing today in NJ

Posted: July 9, 2007 11:36 am

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

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

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

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

Read more about Halsey’s case here.

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Alan Newton’s first year of freedom

Posted: July 9, 2007 1:52 pm

When Alan Newton was exonerated a year ago after serving 22 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit, he “hit the ground running.” An article in yesterday’s New York Post visits Newton on the one year anniversary of his freedom, and he is smiling.

The determined Newton is intent on overcoming the indignity he's had to live with for 22 years. He's enrolled in school and will graduate with a B.S. in business administration from Medgar Evers College next June. Law school, he says, is next.

He works as a youth mentor, goes on dates, surfs the Internet, and has just returned from a vacation in St. Croix, in the Caribbean, where he water-skied.

"Every day is like a celebration," Newton said. "I walk around with a smile on my face."

Read the full story here. (NY Post, 07/08/07)
More coverage: Freed after 20 years, he's rebuilding his life. (New York Daily News, 07/08/07)

Other exonerees celebrating anniversaries of their exonerations this week:

James Tillman, Connecticut. (1 Year; Exonerated 7/11/06)

Lafonso Rollins, Illinois (3 Years, Exonerated 7/12/04)



Tags: Alan Newton, Lafonso Rollins, James Tillman

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NPR: Jerry Miller comes a long way home

Posted: July 9, 2007 1:52 pm

In April, Jerry Miller became the 200th person nationwide to be exonerated by DNA evidence when a Chicago judge overturned the rape conviction for which Miller had served 24 years. On Chicago Public Radio today, Miller discusses his case and his life after exoneration.

Click here to listen online or download an MP3 of the story. (Chicago Public Radio, 07/09/07)



Tags: Jerry Miller

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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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News coverage: Byron Halsey exonerated

Posted: July 10, 2007 5:16 pm

Byron Halsey was 24 years old when he was arrested for two grisly New Jersey child murders he didn’t. Yesterday, he finally got justice. Read news coverage of the exoneration from across the region and the country below:

New York Times: New Jersey Drops Charges for Man Imprisoned 19 Years

Newark Star-Ledger: After 21 years, DNA tests make him a free man

Fox News: DNA Evidence Clears Former Inmate of Rape and Murder Charges After 22-Year Sentence

Read more about Byron's case here.



Tags: Byron Halsey

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Wright case may lead to more DNA testing in Pennsylvania

Posted: July 11, 2007 1:25 pm

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

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

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

Understand the Causes: False Confessions.

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



Tags: False Confessions

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Crime lab’s pro-bono work led to Halsey's freedom

Posted: July 11, 2007 1:33 pm

Some of the DNA testing that led to Byron Halsey’s exoneration on Monday was done pro-bono by Orchid Cellmark, a private forensic laboratory that often works with the Innocence Project. An article in today’s Trenton (NJ) Times explores the lab’s commitment to justice and the importance of DNA testing in today’s justice system.

"It has been characterized ... as the most significant invention, or discovery, since fingerprints," said Mark Stolorow, executive director of forensic science for Orchid Cellmark. "It is very gratifying for anyone who does a job that not only benefits the liberty of an individual, but also benefits the public by improving the public welfare and by convicting the true perpetrator of the crime."

Read the full story here. (Trenton Times, 07/11/07)
Press Release: Orchid Cellmark’s DNA services aid exoneration




Tags: Byron Halsey

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California commission considers prosecutorial misconduct

Posted: July 12, 2007 11:18 am

The director of the Northern California Innocence Project < http://www.ncip.scu.edu/> told a panel studying the state’s criminal justice system yesterday that prosecutorial misconduct needs to be addressed.  She said studies had shown that misconduct was widespread.

"Prosecutorial misconduct occurs with some frequency in this state and prosecutors are rarely disciplined for their misconduct," Santa Clara University law professor Cookie Ridolfi said at a hearing at Loyola Law School.
Prosecutors at the meeting disagreed, saying that current rules of conduct were sufficient.
Michael Schwartz, a deputy district attorney in Ventura County, countered that a close look at the available data shows that prosecutorial misconduct occurs in less than 1% of all cases. "I am not sensing that we have a crisis of prosecutorial misconduct … it doesn't seem like we need new rules."
Read the full story here. (Los Angeles Times, 07/12/07)
The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice held the hearing yesterday as part of its ongoing review of possible flaws in the criminal justice system. The commission, one of six “innocence commissions” nationwide, was created in 2004. Currently, three bills pending before the state legislature address other issues addressed by the panel: false confessions, jailhouse informants and eyewitness identification procedure.

Read more about the reform bills pending in the California legislature.

Read more about the six Innocence Commissions nationwide.





Tags: Government Misconduct

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Social scientists say Illinois identification report is unreliable

Posted: July 12, 2007 1:49 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: Eyewitness Identification, Eyewitness Misidentification

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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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Texas column: Don't always believe your eyes

Posted: July 13, 2007 11:31 am

A column in today’s Daily Texan points to the prevalence of eyewitness misidentification among wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA and calls for reforms nationwide to both lineup procedures and the way judges instruct juries on eyewitness testimony.

The problems with eyewitness testimony are known, and guidelines to ensure unbiased eyewitness testimony are available. Incorrect eyewitness identification has condemned innocent people to life in prison and even the death penalty. Judges should make sure that juries understand the nature of eyewitness testimony, with all its caveats and pitfalls.

Read the full story here. (Daily Texas, 07/12/2007)
Read more about a “blue ribbon” panel report on identification studies released this week, and learn about reforms supported by the Innocence Project.



Tags: Eyewitness Identification, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Doing time for no crime

Posted: July 13, 2007 11:44 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: False Confessions, Informants/Snitches, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Exoneree tells his story on radio show

Posted: July 16, 2007 12:25 pm

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

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

Listen to the show here.

Read more about McCarty’s case.

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

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

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

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

Read the full letter here.




Tags: Curtis McCarty

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This week in history: exoneree anniversaries

Posted: July 16, 2007 1:41 pm

Eleven years ago today, Steven Toney walked out of a Missouri prison after serving 13 years for a rape he didn’t commit. A major factor in Toney’s wrongful conviction – and in 75 percent of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing – was eyewitness misidentification. In Toney’s case, both the victim and an eyewitness identified him in lineup procedures.

Fifteen years ago today, Steven Linscott of Illinois was exonerated after serving three years in prison – and seven on bond while facing pending charges – for a crime he didn’t commit. 

Others celebrating the anniversary of their exoneration this week:

Joe Jones, Kansas (Exonerated 07/17/1992)

Johnny Briscoe, Missouri (Exonerated 7/19/2006)

Perry Mitchell, South Carolina (Exonerated 7/20/98)




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

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Innocent Florida inmate wins new trial

Posted: July 17, 2007 7:00 am

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

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

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

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


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NJ Senators propose increased compensation for exonerees

Posted: July 18, 2007 1:20 pm

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

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

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

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



Tags: New Jersey, Byron Halsey, Exoneree Compensation

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Massachusetts crime lab crisis is echoed across the U.S.

Posted: July 18, 2007 1:17 pm

A report released this week said Massachusetts has one of the worst crime lab crises in the country, with evidence in more than 16,000 cases remaining untested and lab scandals leading to resignations and firings in recent months. But the state is not alone in facing major hurdles in forensic testing — backlogs and misconduct nationwide have slowed criminal justice investigations and contributed to wrongful convictions.

The Massachusetts report points to untested evidence in cases as far back as the 1980s, in which the statute of limitations for prosecuting crimes may have expired. Officials vowed that change was on the way, as analysts will focus first on evidence in unsolved cases and money will potentially be budgeted to outsource some testing.

A Boston Herald editorial yesterday calls the lab situation “an absolute travesty.”

The report skewers the lab’s handling of this potentially damning (or exculpatory) material. And while the state plans to process the evidence in cases that might still be prosecuted, you can’t unwind the clock. Expiring statutes of limitations mean justice, in many cases, will never be served.

Read the full editorial here. (Boston Herald, 7/17/07)
More coverage in Massachusetts:

State officials will review old crimes (Boston Globe, 7/17/07)

Lab backlogs and misconduct continue to plague dozens of states:


Reports this week detailed cases in Maryland and Florida in which crucial evidence in rape trials has gone missing. When labs are overworked and underfunded, human error such as the inadvertent destruction of evidence can become more prevalent.

A Washington Post article on Sunday considered how the popularity of shows like "CSI" have led to increased jury demands for scientific evidence and may have contributed to lab backlogs nationwide.

Lab backlogs in Alabama have impeded justice in cases at trial and officials say they are making a “concerted effort” to remedy the problems.

Labs in Tennessee, Kentucky, Arizona and Wisconsin are all backlogged, according to recent news reports.



Tags: Alabama, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Wisconsin

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Hearing today in Florida case

Posted: July 19, 2007 7:00 am

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

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

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

Case Recap: Florida Times Union

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NYC opens new crime lab; police aim to rely more on DNA

Posted: July 19, 2007 12:52 pm

A new $290 million crime lab that opened yesterday in New York City will expand the city’s ability to test biological evidence collected at crime scenes and in missing persons cases, officials said. And the new lab will dovetail with a departmental policy to collect more biological evidence in crimes like burglaries in an attempt to identify perpetrators and rule out the innocent more effectively.

The New York Medical Examiner’s lab currently tests about 3,000 samples for DNA evidence each year; that number could rise to more than 20,000 in the new lab, officials said. The new lab will continue to be managed by the city medical examiner’s office.

Read the full story here. (NY Newsday, 07/19/07)

A nationwide increase in the demand for forensic DNA testing has caused backlogs at dozens of crime labs. Read more here.

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Congressional panel hears testimony on criminal informants

Posted: July 19, 2007 4:19 pm

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

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

Read testimony of other witnesses at today’s hearing.

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

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



Tags: Informants/Snitches

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

Posted: July 19, 2007 5:17 pm

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

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

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

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Update: Chad Heins held on $1 million bond

Posted: July 19, 2007 5:42 pm

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

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

Read more about the case in previous blog posts.

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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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New DNA evidence in West Memphis 3 case

Posted: July 20, 2007 3:50 pm

New DNA test results were released this week in the high-profile case of three men imprisoned – one on death row – for the 1993 murders of three 8-year-old boys in Arkansas. Known as the “West Memphis 3,” the defendants – Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin – have claimed innocence since their arrest shortly after the murders and are seeking a new trial on appeal.

DNA testing conducted on appeal has now revealed a male profile at the crime scene that does not match any of the three defendants nor the victims. Attorneys for the defendants say they are seeking a new hearing in the case this summer.

Learn more:

Read media reports and watch video on the new developments: WMC-TV, Memphis, 07/20/07

Visit a website created in support of the West Memphis 3’s appeals.

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200 Exonerated, Too Many Wrongfully Convicted

Posted: May 23, 2007 2:26 pm

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

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

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New York Times: Study suggests thousands more may be wrongfully imprisoned

Posted: July 23, 2007 10:47 am

A new study by a University of Virginia law professor finds that several factors, like eyewitness misidentification and limited and unreliable forensic testing, contributed to many of the first 200 wrongful convictions to be overturned by DNA testing. The study, conducted by Prof. Brandon Garrett and to be published in the Columbia Law Review in January 2008, suggests that thousands of innocent people may be behind bars in the United States.

"DNA testing is available in fewer than 10 percent of violent crimes," said Peter Neufeld, a founder of the Innocence Project at Cardozo Law School, which was instrumental in securing many exonerations. "But the same causes of wrongful convictions exist in cases with DNA evidence as in those cases that don’t."

Professor Garrett’s study strongly suggests, then, that there are thousands of people serving long sentences for crimes they did not commit but who have no hope that DNA can clear them.  

Read the full story. (New York Times, 07/23/07, paid subscription required)
DNA exonerations highlight flaws in U.S. justice system
(International Herald Tribune, 07/22/07, no subscription required)
Read the law review article abstract and download the full article.

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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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It’s not too late for DNA testing in Alabama

Posted: July 25, 2007 11:16 am

Darrell Grayson is scheduled to executed by the state of Alabama tomorrow, despite his requests since 2002 to test DNA evidence that could prove his innocence (or guilt) of a murder that happened 27 years ago. Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld sent a letter this week to Alabama Gov. Bob Riley asking him to seek the full truth in the Grayson case before executing him. And an editorial in today’s Birmingham News calls for Riley to act before it’s too late.

In our view, it's the right thing to do in this case. It's never too late to check all the evidence as long as a condemned inmate remains alive. For Grayson, it's not too late yet; Riley should act before it is.

Read the full editorial here. (Birmingham News, 07/25/2007)
Read more about the case, and the Innocence Project’s role, in today’s Birmingham News.

In a statement released yesterday, the Alabama state Attorney General said the state should not “delay justice” by granting a stay. Read more.



Tags: Death Penalty, Darrell Grayson

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Innocence Project online video

Posted: July 2, 2007 8:25 am

Watch video interviews with exonerees and other Innocence Project videos in our new Audio & Video Archive.

And for even more videos, visit our YouTube page.

Click on the links below to watch videos. We are always adding more videos, so check back often.

An interview with Virginia exoneree Marvin Anderson [video: 03:41]

An interview with Georgia exoneree Robert Clark [video: 03:29]

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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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Online Video: Chris Ochoa spanish interview

Posted: July 2, 2007 9:01 am

Watch an interview in Spanish with Texas exoneree Chris Ochoa.

Read more about Ochoa's case here.

Innocence Project en Espanol - Entrevista con Chris Ochoa [video: 03:22]



Tags: Christopher Ochoa

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North Carolina lawmakers approve sweeping reforms

Posted: July 24, 2007 5:14 pm

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

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

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

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

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

Read more on the Eyewitness Identification Reform Blog.



Tags: North Carolina, Eyewitness Misidentification

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

Posted: July 25, 2007 4:57 pm

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

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

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

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

All in the name of justice, of course.

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

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

Read more about Ochoa’s case.



Tags: James Ochoa, Exoneree Compensation

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Court TV Best Defense blog profiles Louisiana exoneree

Posted: July 26, 2007 7:00 am

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

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



Tags: Travis Hayes

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Will Alabama execute Darrell Grayson without a DNA test?

Posted: July 26, 2007 11:26 am

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

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

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




Tags: Alabama, Death Penalty, Darrell Grayson

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Denver lawmakers push to preserve evidence

Posted: July 26, 2007 5:13 pm

At the close of a major news series on evidence preservation in the Denver Post, Colorado legislators called today for law enforcement agencies to halt the destruction of crime scene materials collected in felony cases while new laws are being considered.

"We've got to make sure we've got the right people in prison and that victims can get justice," said state Rep. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, who is crafting a bill to preserve DNA and other forensic samples in murders and rapes for decades and provide penalties for trashing it.
Added state Sen. Ken Gordon, D-Denver: "We just can't tolerate negligence in this area."

Read today’s story here. (Denver Post, 07/26/2007)
This week’s investigative series covered cold cases, closed cases and exonerations nationwide in considering how evidence preservation laws differ state by state and examining reform policies that can ensure fair justice for all Americans. Read the stories, watch videos and read feedback here.

Read more about evidence preservation in our Fix the System section.



Tags: Colorado, Evidence Preservation

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Darrell Grayson executed in Alabama without a DNA test

Posted: July 27, 2007 11:01 am

The state of Alabama executed Darrell Grayson by lethal injection shortly after 6 p.m. Thursday night, despite pleas from several fronts for DNA testing in the case that could have shown Grayson’s innocence or confirmed his guilt. Alabama Gov. Bob Riley decided not to delay the execution because "no new evidence has come to light that would warrant a reprieve or a commutation," he said in a prepared statement.

In recent years Grayson claimed he had no memory of the crime, and unsuccessfully appealed to the court to order DNA testing that wasn't available in 1981. The Innocence Project and other activists said a DNA test could prove conclusively whether Grayson raped Orr. If a test found DNA belonging to a third party, but not to Grayson or Kennedy, the case against Grayson would be undermined, they said.

In the days before the execution the Innocence Project, the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and other groups called on Riley to issue a stay so the tests could be conducted.

Read the full story here. (Birmingham News, 07/27/07)




Tags: Death Penalty, Darrell Grayson

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Connecticut exoneree visits the prison where he spent 16 years

Posted: July 27, 2007 2:02 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minutes later, Tillman exited the prison and drove away.

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



Tags: James Tillman

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A blog marathon to support the Innocence Project

Posted: July 27, 2007 2:11 pm

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

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

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

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Posted: July 27, 2007 3:18 pm

Why is it important to address and prevent wrongful convictions? Is your state in dire need of criminal justice reforms? What will it take to improve the criminal justice system? Why does it matter to you?

Send us a video clip telling us why these issues matter to you, and help spread the word about wrongful convictions.

We are collecting video clips through August 10. The clips will be part of a compilation that can educate and engage more people in preventing wrongful convictions and exonerating the innocent. On August 10, we will post the compilation on our site and our YouTube page.

Simply record a short video – using a webcam, camcorder or even a cell phone – and send it to us at info@innocenceproject.org or upload it to YouTube and send us the link. (Please don't send ZIP files or any files larger than 10 MB)

We want to know what you think. Speak up to help us prevent injustice.

Watch Marvin Anderson's video interview here.

To watch exonerees tell their stories, check out our video archive or our YouTube page.

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Exoneree Dennis Fritz signs books in Pennsylvania tomorrow

Posted: July 27, 2007 5:49 pm

Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson served 11 years in Oklahoma prisons for a murder they didn’t commit. They were exonerated by DNA testing in 1999, and Fritz’s book, “Journey Toward Justice,” chronicles the injustice he suffered and his exoneration. Another recent book, John Grisham’s “The Innocent Man,” also covers the case of Fritz and Williamson.

Fritz will be signing copies of “Journey Toward Justice” on Saturday at White’s Harley Davidson in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, as more than 1,000 bikers in the Vietnam Vets Motorcycle Club gather at the dealership for a rally.

Fritz will also be signing free books for veterans of the Iraq war at a special gathering in Pennsylvania this weekend, and he will be at Border’s in Reading, Pennsylvania, on Monday (7/30) at noon.

Read more about Fritz’s case here.

Buy "Journey Toward Justice," at Amazon.com.



Tags: Dennis Fritz

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Dennis Fritz speaks today in Pennsylvania

Posted: July 30, 2007 7:00 am

Oklahoma exoneree Dennis Fritz will sign copies of his book, “Journey Toward Justice,” today at noon in Reading, Pennsylvania. He signed books at a motorcycle rally on Saturday and also donated 50 free signed books to veterans of the Iraq war over the weekend.

Read more about his case here.

Buy "Journey Toward Justice" here.



Tags: Dennis Fritz

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Chicago Tribune: Unscientific report on eyewitness reforms in Illinois was so flawed it is unreliable

Posted: July 30, 2007 1:13 pm

Social scientists were surprised last year when a non-scientific report from several Illinois police departments challenged the effectiveness of major eyewitness identification reforms taking root nationwide. The Illinois report was used to defeat reform legislation in several states – but a new analysis by some of the nation’s leading social scientists says the Illinois report’s methodology was so flawed that it is unreliable. The Chicago Tribune reports today that a new peer-reviewed psychology article “panned” the Illinois report and called for more research in this field to produce data that is scientifically valid and reliable.

While the debate raged on, a panel of social scientists and experts, including Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University, who had no previous stake in the issue, started a peer review of the study. They analyzed the Illinois pilot program's report, as well as critiques and support of the report, before writing the review, which is being published in the APA's Law and Human Behavior journal.

If the Illinois pilot program had been designed correctly, it would have compared "sequential" lineups, in which a witness is shown a person or photo one at a time, to "simultaneous" lineups, in which potential suspects are shown in a group, but it would have used an administrator who doesn't know who the suspect is in both. That method is called the "double-blind" method.

Comparing group and individual lineups, while at the same time using some administrators who knew suspects and some who didn't, was like comparing "apples to dolphins," said James Doyle, director of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice's Center for Modern Forensic Practice, which coordinated the panel review.

"Just putting the two of them together doesn't make it a scientific review," Doyle said. "You've changed two variables at once. You can't do that."

Read the full article here. (Chicago Tribune, 07/30/07)
Read more about eyewitness identification reforms in our Fix the System section.

Get involved: Watch a video of exoneree Marvin Anderson describing the questionable lineup procedure in his case, and send us your own video clip explaining why eyewitness identification reform matters to you.




Tags: Illinois, Eyewitness Identification, Eyewitness Misidentification

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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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Editorial: Alabama's DNA laws fall short

Posted: July 30, 2007 1:09 pm

Alabama is one of eight states in the country that lacks a state law allowing inmates to seek post-conviction DNA testing to prove innocence. Last week, the state executed Darrell Grayson despite his repeated attempts to seek DNA testing that could have proved his innocence or confirmed his guilt.

An editorial in yesterday’s Birmingham News called for Alabama to join the 42 states that offer post-conviction DNA testing.

Gov. Bob Riley could have, and should have, delayed Grayson's execution long enough to allow for a test. He did not.

If there's good to come from this, it's that the case is a reminder of how Alabama's law has not kept up with the times when it comes to scientific advances in criminal investigations.

Read the full editorial here. (Birmingham News, 07/29/2007)
And an editorial in yesterday’s Baltimore Sun said that the nation’s 205 DNA exonerations have revealed serious fissures across the American criminal justice system. The editorial calls for reforms nationwide – on eyewitness identifications, snitch testimony, videotaping interrogations, indigent defense and more. Read the full editorial here.

See reforms state by state on our National View maps and read more in our Fix the System section.



Tags: Alabama, Maryland

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California public defenders get DNA training

Posted: July 30, 2007 1:11 pm

While DNA evidence is only a factor in 5-10% of all criminal cases, it is vital that both defense attorneys and prosecutors understand the science in order to help juries find the truth. Post-conviction DNA testing has shown, in dozens of cases involving unreliable or limited forensics, that juries can sometimes misunderstand scientific evidence.

A one-of-a-kind program in Sacramento, California, was created to educate public defenders on DNA evidence and the science of testing. On Friday, the program graduated its second class. Only if both attorneys in a trial are prepared to question an expert witness can the jury fully understand the implications of forensic evidence.

Speaking at Friday's graduation ceremony, county Supervisor Roger Dickinson said that anyone who has watched "CSI" or read the newspapers knows that DNA is authoritative and decisive in criminal cases. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be challenged "so justice will be the outcome," he said.
"It's very important to question what everyone else seems to accept," he said. "We have to make sure people receive the benefit of the doubt."
Read the full article here. (Sacramento Bee, 07/28/2007)


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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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Update: Dallas DA investigates Chabot case

Posted: August 2, 2007 10:49 am

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: Clay Chabot

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Mississippi man sent to death row by faulty forensics to get another day in court

Posted: August 2, 2007 12:38 pm

Kennedy Brewer was sentenced to death in Mississippi of the 1991 murder of a 3-year-old girl. His conviction was based largely on the testimony of Dr. Michael West,  forensic dentist who claimed that multiple abrasions on the child's partially decomposed body matched the upper bite of Brewer. The incorrect matching of bitemarks has been a cause of at least four wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA evidence, and West’s unorthodox methods have been debunked by many experts and he has been expelled from several professional associations.

DNA testing in 2002 excluded Kennedy Brewer as the source of the semen recovered from the child. Even though the court threw out the conviction and death sentence based on the new DNA evidence, the local prosecutor announced he would re-try Mr. Brewer and use Michael West again as a bite mark expert. The  Innocence Project is co-counsel, along with Brewer's local counsel for the retrial.

In a Fox News article yesterday, Radley Balko writes about West’s questionable past and the unreliable nature of bitemark evidence.

Even in an already imprecise field, Dr. West has taken forensic odontology to bizarre, megalomaniacal depths. West claims to have invented a system he modestly calls "The West Phenomenon," in which he dons a pair of yellow goggles and, with the aid of a blue laser, says he can identify bite marks, scratches, and other marks on a corpse that no one else can see — not even other forensics experts.

Conveniently, he claims his unique method can't be photographed or reproduced, which he says makes his opinions unimpeachable by other experts.

Read the full article here. (FoxNews.com, 08/01/07)
Read more about bite mark convictions later overturned by DNA evidence, and other unreliable forensic science that has contributed to wrongful convictions.



Tags: Kennedy Brewer, Bitemark Evidence

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Video interview: Developments in Dallas

Posted: August 3, 2007 2:31 pm

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

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

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



Tags: Clay Chabot

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

Posted: August 3, 2007 2:35 pm

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

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

Think it can't happen? Think again.

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

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How common is prosecutorial misconduct?

Posted: August 3, 2007 5:35 pm

In an op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times, Professor Richard Moran considers malicious prosecutions and government misconduct that leads to wrongful convictions. In the case of four men awarded more than $100 million last week by a federal judge for the wrongful conviction they suffered in 1965, Moran says the withholding of evidence by FBI agents was malicious and should be punished. And this type of misconduct may not be as rare as we think, Moran says.

Mistakes are good-faith errors — like taking the wrong exit off the highway, or dialing the wrong telephone number. There is no malice behind them. However, when officers of the court conspire to convict a defendant of first-degree murder and send him to death row, they are doing much more than making an innocent mistake or error. They are breaking the law.

Perhaps this explains why, even when a manifestly innocent man is about to be executed, a prosecutor can be dead set against reopening an old case. Since so many wrongful convictions result from official malicious behavior, prosecutors, policemen, witnesses or even jurors and judges could themselves face jail time for breaking the law in obtaining an unlawful conviction.

Read the full op-ed article here. (New York Times, 08/02/07, paid subscription required)
Read more about how government misconduct has led to wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing.



Tags: Government Misconduct

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Released without an apology

Posted: August 6, 2007 11:08 am

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

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

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

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

Read more about proposed exoneree compensation reforms.



Tags: Herman Atkins, David Shawn Pope, Exoneree Compensation

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National Journal: States too slow to learn lessons of exonerations

Posted: August 6, 2007 11:13 am

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

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

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


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Road to exoneration starts with the first letter

Posted: August 6, 2007 11:19 am

Huy Dao’s job as the Innocence Project’s case director is to ensure that the thousands of cases submitted each year are evaluated fairly and that every inmate and family member is treated with compassion. He’s been doing it for 10 years and a profile in today’s Christian Science Monitor outlines the evaluation process behind the Innocence Project’s exonerations.

Passionately disturbed by what he sees as unfairness in the justice system – such as racism and coerced confessions – Dao is committed to making one thing in these prisoners' lives fair: the evaluation of their applications. He will not let the pressure of thousands of cases push him to be indifferent, nor will he be driven by emotion to dwell on a case that doesn't meet the Innocence Project's narrow mandate.

Read the full story here. (Christian Science Monitor, 08/06/07)


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

Posted: August 7, 2007 10:54 am

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

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

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

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



Tags: Clay Chabot

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Closing arguments expected this week in Montana clemency hearing

Posted: August 7, 2007 10:54 am

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: False Confessions, Barry Beach

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Exoneree: Don't execute an innocent man

Posted: August 7, 2007 10:54 am

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

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

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



Tags: Kirk Bloodsworth

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Celebrating freedom: Three exonerees mark anniversaries

Posted: August 8, 2007 7:00 am

Seven years ago today, Larry Youngblood walked out of an Arizona prison after serving nine years for a crime he didn’t commit. Eyewitness misidentification contributed to Youngblood’s conviction and it has been involved in more than 75 percent of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing.

Read more about Youngblood’s case and proposed reforms to identification procedures nationwide.

Also celebrating exoneration anniversaries this week:

Thursday: Ryan Matthews, Louisiana (Exonerated 8/9/2004)
Saturday: Wilton Dedge, Florida (Exonerated 8/11/2004)



Tags: Wilton Dedge, Ryan Matthews, Larry Youngblood, Eyewitness Identification

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Study seeks to bring science to bite mark evidence

Posted: August 8, 2007 11:08 am

For years, bite mark evidence has been seen as an unreliable science. It has led to at least four wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing and processes of accreditation and peer review have been wildly inconsistent. One "expert" in the field, Dr. Michael West, claims that his method of examining bite marks — called the "West phenomenon" — can not be recreated by anyone else. Read more about West's involvement in a Mississippi death row case.

Now, a study at Marquette University in Milwaukee is aiming to reinforce bite mark evidence with scientific data and computer analysis.

Bite-mark patterns can vary wildly in clarity, and like a bruise, they can change over time. The quality of a bite mark also depends on the substance a person has bitten, as bite marks on gum or Styrofoam cups can be more defined than bite marks on skin. The force of the bite, the angle of the bite and the area bitten can all affect the appearance of a bite mark.
Forensic dentists apply their expertise to formulate an opinion on whether the accused could have made the particular bite mark patterns.

But the subjective nature of bite-mark analysis and interpretation has been the focus of harsh criticism, and forensic dentistry has been called a "junk science."

"False convictions leave bite marks with a black eye," said Donald Simley, a certified forensic dentist based in Madison. The study "should help the whole science of bite-mark evidence."

Read the full story. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 08/05/07)
Read more about how bite mark evidence has contributed to wrongful convictions.



Tags: Bitemark Evidence

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Snitch testimony and a possible wrongful conviction in Michigan

Posted: August 8, 2007 1:13 pm

Jailhouse informants have contributed to dozens of the 205 wrongful convictions to be overturned by DNA testing. In the ongoing appeals of Frederick Freeman, who is serving life in Michigan for a murder he says he didn’t commit, defense attorneys have shown that a witness against Freeman lied on the stand in exchange for a better sentence. He told the jury, however, that he would get no special treatment in exchange for his testimony.

One of the few would-be strengths of the prosecution's case was a jailhouse snitch who had shared a holding cell with Freeman for a few hours during the week before Freeman's trial. The snitch, Philip Joplin, testified that Freeman had confessed to killing Macklem. Joplin later recanted, saying he had lied to get a better deal from prosecutors and the judge. Documents show he got favorable treatment within a month after Freeman's trial.
Read more about Freeman’s case in today’s Detroit Metro Times. (Part Two of a two-pert investigative report)

Read more about snitch cases in our Understand the Causes section.



Tags: Informants/Snitches, Frederick Freeman

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

Posted: August 9, 2007 12:08 pm

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

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

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

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



Tags: DNA Databases

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Innocence Project receives "Problem Solver" award

Posted: August 10, 2007 9:41 am

The American Bar Association’s annual Lawyer as Problem Solver Award recognizes lawyers and groups who find creative solutions to complex problems. Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck will accept the award today on behalf of the organization at a ceremony in California. From the Bar Association’s announcement:

Collectively, these diverse activities go far beyond the limited focus of lawyer as adversarial courtroom advocate (which the Project also does superbly). The approach provides an excellent example of zealous advocacy addressing the totality of clients' interests, including moral, social, economic, and political, in addition to legal. Through this innovative advocacy, the Project targets and achieves empowerment and recognition for its clients -- as well as freedom.

Read more about the 2007 Lawyer as Problem Solver Award.


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Sign up for breaking news email updates

Posted: August 10, 2007 3:30 pm

Today thousands of Innocence Project supporters received an email about our new video campaign “It Matters to Me” The video sends a powerful message to policymakers and the public that criminal justice reform matters to all of us.

We send out email updates when news breaks so you can be the first to know about an exoneration, a policy reform or an important campaign. An informed and active base of supporters helps the Innocence Project advance policy reforms based on DNA exonerations, and you can be part of that change.

Sign up today for email updates and timely bulletins.

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200th Exoneree Tonight on Colbert Report

Posted: August 14, 2007 10:50 am

Jerry Miller. the 200th person exonerated by DNA evidence in the United States, will join Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central's Colbert Report tonight at 11:30 p.m. ET. Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck was Colbert's guest in 2006. Watch Scheck's interview here.

Read more about Jerry Miller's case.

Read more about the Colbert Report, and find your local airtime here.



Tags: Jerry Miller

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Hear the Innocence Project on Blue Herald Radio

Posted: August 14, 2007 12:19 pm

Listen to exoneree Robert Clark and Innocence Project staffer Matt Kelley on Blue Herald Radio, an online radio show available here. Clark talks with host Jim Swanson about spending 24 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit and Kelley discusses how you can help the Innocence Project by spreading the word online.

Listen online – or download an mp3 file – here
.




Tags: Jerry Miller

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DNA overturns conviction in Washington

Posted: August 15, 2007 1:44 pm

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

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

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

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





Tags: Washington

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Watch Exoneree Jerry Miller on the Colbert Report

Posted: August 15, 2007 1:50 pm

Jerry Miller, who was exonerated in Illinois after serving 24 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, told Stephen Colbert last night that states should grant access to DNA testing for prisoners trying to prove their innocence. Miller, who was the 200th person in the U.S. to be exonerated through DNA testing, said he is now rebuilding his life and looking forward to being compensated for his wrongful conviction.

Watch the interview here.

Watch Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck on the Colbert Report.




Tags: Jerry Miller

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Eyewitness blog: The problems with jury instructions

Posted: August 15, 2007 1:49 pm

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

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

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



Tags: Eyewitness Identification, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Blogs: California needs eyewitness reform

Posted: August 16, 2007 11:19 am

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: California

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North Carolina case review raises questions about misconduct in identification procedure

Posted: August 16, 2007 11:26 am

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

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

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

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




Tags: North Carolina

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It Matters to You

Posted: August 17, 2007 9:57 am

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

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

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

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

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

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Maryland court says prosecutors must widen search for evidence

Posted: August 17, 2007 12:28 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: Alan Newton, Evidence Preservation

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Illinois exonerees celebrate four years of freedom on Wednesday

Posted: August 20, 2007 12:01 am

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

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

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

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





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

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The Norfolk Four: False confessions in Virginia?

Posted: August 20, 2007 1:52 pm

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

Read the New York Times Magazine story.

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



Tags: False Confessions, Norfolk Four

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New Mississippi project to open doors this fall

Posted: August 20, 2007 6:09 pm

A new law clinic devoted to overturning wrongful convictions will begin work this fall investigating possible wrongful convictions in Mississippi and representing clients on appeal. Authors John Grisham and Scott Turow will headline a dinner on Oct. 22 to raise money for the new program, which will be housed at the University of Mississippi School of Law. Tucker Carrington, a former public defender and visiting professor at Georgetown Law School, has been named as the director of the new project, which will act as a law course at the University of Mississippi School of Law and also involve law and journalism students from across the state.

"There is a desperate need for these types of centers and the kind of representation and outreach they provide," Carrington said. "The sheer number of exonerations nationally and the discussions about them are irrefutable proof that wrongful convictions are not isolated, rare events. They are a result of systemic defects in our criminal justice system."

Read the University of Mississippi press release here.
Currently, Innocence Project New Orleans also accepts some cases from Mississippi.

Many innocence-based organizations from around the world, including the Innocence Project, are members of the Innocence Network. All of these organizations are independent groups, operating as part of a university or college, in affiliation with a private law firm, or as an independent non-profit organization. Click here to find a network group in your area.



Tags: Mississippi

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Special master urged for Houston crime lab review

Posted: August 21, 2007 2:27 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: George Rodriguez

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New books review wrongful convictions in Arizona and Australia

Posted: August 21, 2007 2:44 pm

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

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

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

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



Tags: Ray Krone

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Exonerees call for Texas innocence commission

Posted: September 11, 2007 3:41 pm

Nine people exonerated after serving years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit met with students at Texas Wesleyan School of Law on Saturday to tell their stories and to call for the creation of a state innocence commission. Six states currently have such panels, which work to review and recommend criminal justice reforms aimed at eliminating wrongful convictions. Among the speakers on Saturday was Anthony Robinson, who spent 10 years in Texas prison before DNA testing proved his innocence.

Since Texas has one of the nation's largest prison systems and routinely puts inmates to death, Robinson said he doesn't understand why Texas doesn't have a similar agency.

A bill to establish a Texas Innocence Commission did not pass during the last legislative session. The proposed nine-member commission would have had the authority not only to review court documents, but also to call witnesses about what went wrong with the case.

"If Texas is to remain great, we need to step up and fight the good fight," Robinson said. "This is not a set of isolated incidents. There have been a lot of bitter tears shed."

Read the full story here. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 09/09/07)
View a map of the six states with innocence commissions, and read more about the Innocence Project’s recommendations for the creation of these panels nationwide.

Read more about Anthony Robinson’s case.



Tags: Anthony Robinson, Innocence Commissions

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Court TV blog features Korey Wise case

Posted: August 21, 2007 3:19 pm

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

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



Tags: Korey Wise

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Hearing Thursday on lost evidence in death row case

Posted: August 21, 2007 4:51 pm

Prosecutors in a Kentucky death row case have said they are not able to find crucial evidence that was alleged to place the defendant, Brian Keith Moore, at the crime scene. Moore has said that he was framed by the actual perpetrator and has been granted access to DNA testing in order to determine whether clothing found at the scene belong to the alternate suspect – who has since died.

In legal papers filed in 2006, prosecutors said pants and shoes from the crime scene were available for testing. But now, they say they can’t find the evidence – and defense attorneys are asking a judge to overturn Moore’s death sentence. A hearing in the matter is scheduled for Thursday. Although the Innocence Project is not involved in the Moore case, Staff Attorney Vanessa Potkin discusses evidence preservation in an article in today’s Lexington Herald-Leader:

Old evidence was found after multiple searches in recent cases in Virginia, New Jersey and New York, Potkin said. In the New York case, Alan Newton waited 11 years for a rape kit to be located and was released in 2006 after serving 21 years of a 40-year sentence.

Maryland's highest court last week ordered prosecutors to keep searching for evidence that could be tested in a 33-year-old murder.

"Evidence just doesn't disappear," Potkin said. "You really need to be diligent. In this case, the significance could be life or death."

Read the full story here. (Lexington Herald-Leader, 08/21/07)
A major Denver Post investigation last month revealed shoddy evidence preservation standards in police departments and prosecutor’s offices around the country, and a Maryland court ruled last week that prosecutors must search more widely for evidence before reporting it missing.

Read more about evidence preservation in our Fix the System section.



Tags: Kentucky, Evidence Preservation, Death Penalty

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Misplaced court file means more waiting for two Maryland men

Posted: August 22, 2007 11:37 am

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

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

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

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Did a secret deal lead to a Dallas wrongful conviction?

Posted: August 22, 2007 12:48 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tags: Clay Chabot

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

Posted: August 22, 2007 12:54 pm

Two former Colorado prosecutors involved in the conviction of Timothy Masters had ties to the alternate suspect in the case, a defense lawyer said yesterday. The defense will present evidence of the relationship at a hearing on Thursday in the case, in which Masters is seeking to have his conviction overturned due to new analysis of questionable forensic evidence at his original trial.

Masters was convicted in 1999 of a murder 12 years earlier in his hometown. He was 15 at the time and the body of a classmate was found near the home he shared with his family. Masters’s "violent" drawings were a key piece of evidence against him at trial.

"I'm alarmed that there appears to be close relationships between the ex-prosecutors and the best suspect in this case," (Masters’s attorney) said Monday. "There are social, business and religious relationships I'm just now learning about, relationships that were never disclosed.

"If they had this conflict … they should have been disqualified from prosecuting Tim." Read the full story here. (Denver Post, 08/21/2007)




Tags: Timothy Masters

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Louisiana inmate finally secures access to DNA test

Posted: August 23, 2007 12:49 pm

After repeatedly requesting a DNA test to prove his innocence over the last 11 years, Innocence Project client Archie Williams was finally granted testing this week by a Louisiana appeals court. Williams, who is serving life in prison for a 1983 rape he says he didn’t commit, was identified by the victim in the case after she had viewed 17 photo lineups –  the last three of which included him.  (Williams’s was the only photo to appear in more than one photo array shown to the victim, which is improper.)

East Baton Rouge prosecutors said they would appeal Monday’s circuit court decision because they believed the identification in the case was valid and that DNA couldn’t prove innocence. Prosecutors have argued that the sperm cells in rape kit evidence in the case must have come from the victim’s husband, but the Innocence Project has countered in legal papers that DNA testing can identify and distinguish between the perpetrator and the husband.

Read more about the case in yesterday’s press release.

Read media coverage of the case in today’s Baton Rouge Advocate.



Tags: Archie Williams

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California man shares story of his wrongful conviction

Posted: August 24, 2007 1:02 pm

In 2004, a California judge threw out Harold Hall’s double murder conviction because new evidence showed that he was innocent. Now, he spends his time telling his story around the state to help prevent wrongful convictions. This week he told an audience in Los Angeles why he falsely confessed to a crime he didn’t commit.

"They questioned me for 18 hours straight without food or water," said Hall, 40, who grew up in South Los Angeles and said the detectives also shackled him to a chair. "It was a strain on an 18-year-old kid. I finally just told them what they wanted to hear."After confessing to two murders, Hall spent the next 19 years in prison. He was finally released in 2004 and celebrated his third anniversary as a free man on Aug. 17. “The judge reversed my case based on false evidence,” said Hall, who has since become an advocate for the falsely imprisoned.

Read the full story here. (Our Weekly, 08/24/2007)
Hall is not included in the 206 DNA exonerations tracked by the Innocence Project because DNA evidence wasn’t involved in his release. About 25 percent of the 206 DNA exonerees also falsely confessed, and since DNA evidence is only available in less than 10 percent of cases, there are many false confession cases that will never be overturned by the irrefutable evidence of DNA.

Read more about false confessions in our Understand the Causes section
.



Tags: False Confessions

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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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NC man freed after 18 years in prison

Posted: August 28, 2007 2:33 pm

A judge freed Dwayne Allen Dail this morning in Goldsboro, North Carolina, after DNA evidence proved his innocence of a 1987 rape for which he was sentenced to life in prison. Dail was misidentified by the 12-year-old victim in the case and a hair from the crime scene was reported to be consistent with Dail’s hair (and the hair of countless other Caucasian men). He had turned down an offer to plead guilty in exchange for three years of probation and had served 18 years in prison before his release this morning.

Chris Mumma, Dail’s attorney since 2001 and the director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, said the DNA results that prove Dail’s innocence also matches the profile of another person, already serving time in North Carolina prison.

District Attorney Branny Vickory joined with Dail’s attorneys in asking that the conviction be overturned, said that it became clear Monday when he received results of the DNA test that Dail should be freed immediately:

"The science has proved that Mr. Dail is innocent," Vickory told the Charlotte News & Observer. "He didn't do it. The evidence is so overwhelmingly strong, there's no need to wait."

Read the full story here.
Coverage of today’s hearing:

Charlotte News & Observer: Man released after 20 years in prison

WRAL, Raleigh-Durham: Judge Dismisses Rape Charges Against Goldsboro Man

Read more about how eyewitness misidentification and microscopic hair analysis have led to wrongful convictions.



Tags: North Carolina

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Canadian man finally cleared after 48 years

Posted: August 28, 2007 4:46 pm

Steven Truscott was 14 years old in 1959 when he was sentenced to death for allegedly killing a 12-year-old classmate in Ontario, making him the youngest man ever sentenced to die in Canada. His death sentence was commuted to life shortly after his conviction and he was released in 1969 amid questions of his guilt. The conviction has stood, however, until today, when Ontario’s highest court overturned his convction and called his case a "miscarriage of justice."

Truscott told police at the time of the crime that he lent his bicycle to the victim and then saw her get into a car. His appeals for DNA testing failed because evidence was destroyed, and it was other evidence – including indications that Truscott was in school at the time of the victim’s death – that led to his exoneration.

"I never in my wildest dreams expected that in my lifetime this would come true," said Mr. Truscott at a press conference held after the acquittal was announced.

Read the full story here. (The Globe and Mail, 08/28/2007)


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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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More coverage of Dwayne Dail exoneration in North Carolina

Posted: August 29, 2007 12:46 pm

Dwayne Allen Dail was exonerated yesterday in North Carolina, making him the 207th person freed by DNA testing nationwide. Read and watch today’s media coverage of his case here.



Tags: Dwayne Dail

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Barry Scheck discusses wrongful convictions on NPR

Posted: August 30, 2007 8:05 am

Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck, author Stuart Taylor and Oregon prosecutor Joshua Marquis joined National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm Show this morning to discuss prosecutorial misconduct and wrongful convictions.

Taylor, a National Journal columnist, is the co-author of a new book, Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case, which is due to be released next week. The group discussed how prosecutorial misconduct and flawed eyewitness identification procedures have led to wrongful convictions that were later overturned with DNA testing.

Listen to the show here.

Taylor’s book is already generating discussion in the media and on blogs. Pre-order it at Amazon.com or read a media roundup in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Taylor discusses the first 205 people exonerated by DNA evidence in his recent National Journal column, Innocents In Prison.


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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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North Carolina compensation law still lags behind national standard

Posted: August 30, 2007 10:42 am

Dwayne Dail was exonerated on Tuesday in Goldsboro, N.C., and his attorney Chris Mumma (the director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence) has said Dail will seek a pardon from the governor and compensation under the state statute, which provides $20,000 per year of wrongful incarceration. North Carolina is one of 22 states with laws providing for exoneree compensation, but the amount provided by the state lags behind the standard of up to $50,000 per year set by the federal government.

Texas lawmakers passed a law this year increasing exoneree compensation from $25,000 per year to $50,000 per year. The Innocence Project supports this reform.

How does your state stack up? View a map of compensation laws by state.

Read more about exoneree compensation.



Tags: North Carolina, Dwayne Dail, Exoneree Compensation

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First day of freedom for Dwayne Dail

Posted: August 30, 2007 11:02 am

In his first full day as a free man, Dwayne Allen Dail spent time with family and talked with reporters about the 18 years he spent behind bars for a 1987 North Carolina rape he didn’t commit. He became the 207th person exonerated by DNA testing on Tuesday after a judge dismissed the charges against him. Evidence from his case believed for years to be destroyed was located recently in a closet at the Goldsboro, N.C. police department. Testing on the evidence proved another man had committed the attack on a 12-year-old girl for which Dail was serving life in prison.

"I never thought I could be convicted, I thought if you didn’t do anything, then you have nothing to worry about," Dail told reporters yesterday.

Watch a video interview with Dail and his son here. (WRAL, 08/30/2007)
And the prosecutor in the case said yesterday "it was every prosecutor's nightmare that you somehow participated in putting an innocent man in jail." Read the full story here. (WRAL, 08/29/07)

More media coverage of the case:

Editorial: The wrong man…
(The News & Observer, 08/30/2007)



Tags: Dwayne Dail

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Illinois man finds a difficult road to a new life

Posted: August 30, 2007 3:04 pm

Robert Wilson was released from prison in Illinois in December after serving more than nine years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, and an article in today’s Chicago Tribune considers the difficult adjustment for the exonerated upon release.

Represented by attorneys at the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, Wilson was released last year after his attorneys presented evidence that he was misidentified by the victim in the case and that another man had confessed to committing similar crimes in the area. A judge granted Wilson a new trial based on these discoveries and prosecutors dropped the charges.

Now, Wilson is working to build a new life after nine years in prison.

Day by day, Wilson, 51, is trying. But he finds himself in a kind of purgatory unique to those exonerated of crimes: He isn't guaranteed the meager benefits allotted ex-felons on parole or the restitution awarded those who've been pardoned after wrongful convictions. For now, while he awaits a decision on his request for a pardon based on innocence, he's on his own.

To try to rebuild his life, he is using the same mind-set that got him through prison and childhood in a tough neighborhood: Focus on what needs to be done and ignore the rest, he said.
"If I stay focused on what happened and what I've been through, my whole attitude would change," Wilson said. "I would be bitter and angry."

Read the full story. (Chicago Tribune, 08/30/07)


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George Garfinkle, 72, used DNA evidence to free Massachusetts man

Posted: August 31, 2007 12:54 pm

George Garfinkle, the attorney whose tireless efforts led to Eric Sarsfield’s exoneration in Massachusetts, died on Monday in his home. He was 72.

Garfinkle, an architect and civil engineer before he became a lawyer in his 50s, took on Sarsfield’s appeal pro bono in the 1990s.

When he first took the appeal, he initially thought it was a routine motion that would take an afternoon to write. Then he saw the signs of Sarsfield’s innocence. Several years later, Garfinkle located the DNA evidence that would lead to his client’s exoneration and he called to tell him the news.

"It's a life very well lived, “ Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck told the Boston Globe. “To do all those different things, how could you not admire that?"

Read the obituary here. (Boston Globe, 08/31/2007)
Read more about Sarsfield’s case.



Tags: Eric Sarsfield

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Eighth anniversary of NY man's exoneration

Posted: September 4, 2007 1:13 pm

This week marks the eighth anniversary of Habib Wahir Abdal’s exoneration. He served 17 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit before DNA testing proved his innocence. Like most wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA evidence, Abdal’s wrongful conviction was caused in part by eyewitness misidentification.

In fact, the eyewitness identification procedure in Abdal’s case was an egregious example of police practices that lead to misidentifications and wrongful convictions. Four months after the crime, police brought the victim face to face with Abdal in what is called a “show-up” procedure. Even though police had told her he was the suspect, she did not identify him as the perpetrator. She was then shown a four-year-old photo of Abdal, and returned to the “show up” to identify him as the perpetrator.

Abdal died in 2005, just six years after he was exonerated. Read more about Abdal’s case, and learn about eyewitness identification reforms in our Understand the Causes section.



Tags: Habib Wahir Abdal

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New book examines Duke lacrosse case and prosecutorial misconduct

Posted: September 4, 2007 1:16 pm

Until Proven Innocent, a new book by Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson released today, examines the Duke University lacrosse case, in which three men were identified and charged in a rape, only for all charges to be dropped later due to evidence of their innocence. The prosecutor in the case, Michael Nifong, was disbarred and sentenced to one day in jail for his misconduct in the case.

Until Proven Innocent covers the Duke case and the broader problem of prosecutorial misconduct. Learn more about the book, and buy it online, at Amazon.com or read an excerpt on ABCNews.com.

Co-author Stuart Taylor, a National Journal columnist, appeared on National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm Show on Thursday with Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and Oregon prosecutor Joshua Marquis. Listen to the show here.



Tags: Government Misconduct

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Dan Rather Reports on Texas executions tonight at 8 p.m.

Posted: September 4, 2007 3:57 pm

Tune in tonight at 8 p.m. ET to watch a new episode of Dan Rather Reports on HDNet, asking the question: Did Texas execute innocent men?

Rather speaks with key players in the cases of Ruben Cantu and Carlos De Luna, both of whom were executed in Texas for crimes they said they did not commit.

Watch a preview of the show here.

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Innocence Network calls on FBI to investigate agent

Posted: September 5, 2007 1:08 pm

In April, a federal jury found that former sheriff's deputy Danny Miller fabricated evidence that led to the wrongful conviction of Innocence Project client Herman Atkins. Miller now works for the FBI, and  the Innocence Network yesterday called for him to be suspended and investigated. Atkins served 11 years in prison before he was exonerated by DNA testing, and he was awarded $2 million in a federal civil suit in April.

This is the first time that the Innocence Network, a consortium of 31 innocence organizations around the country, has asked that a law enforcement officer be suspended or investigated. The letter was signed by Kathleen Ridolfi, executive director of the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University Law School.

Ridolfi's letter to the Justice Department said that "in light of these extraordinary developments," the Innocence Network was asking that Miller be the subject of a formal investigation, "which could result in the termination of his employment with the Bureau. Indeed, given the security and sensitivity of Miller's assignment, we urge you to consider suspending him pending the outcome of the investigation."

"We are confident that the FBI and the Department of Justice will conclude . . . that it is inconceivable that our nation's homeland security will rely on the intelligence analysis of a man found in a court of law to be a liar and an evidence fabricator," Ridolfi added.
 
Read the full news story. (Los Angeles Times, 09/05/07)
Read more about the Innocence Network and Herman Atkins’s case.

Watch a video of Atkins telling the story of his wrongful conviction



Tags: Herman Atkins, Government Misconduct

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Wrongful Convictions Hurt Victims' Families, Too

Posted: September 5, 2007 3:01 pm

A post yesterday on the new blog of the organization Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights explains how the victim’s family suffers from a wrongful conviction.

When the wrong person is convicted of and sentenced for a murder, it is not only the innocent defendant who suffers; the family of the murder victim suffers as well.

Jeanette Popp’s story makes this clear. For years after her 20-year-old daughter Nancy DePriest was raped and murdered during a robbery of the Pizza Hut where she worked, Jeanette Popp believed she knew who was responsible: two men named Chris Ochoa and Richard Danziger, who were arrested a couple of months after the crime and eventually sentenced to life in prison. Jeanette had no idea that while Ochoa and Danziger were in one Texas prison, an inmate at another prison, Achim Marino, was writing letters to the county district attorney and to then-Governor George W. Bush, saying that he was the one who had robbed the Pizza Hut and killed Nancy DePriest. Marino said that he acted alone and had no idea why two other men had confessed.

… It has now come out that Ochoa’s confession followed two grueling days of police questioning, during which police openly threatened Ochoa by telling him that he would receive the death penalty if he didn’t cooperate (and even going so far as to jab his arm with a pen in a gesture mimicking lethal injection.)

Jeanette Popp believes the death penalty should be abolished so that it can no longer be used as a threat to coerce confessions from innocent people. But when she first learned that the two men she had believed were guilty might not be guilty after all, her most pressing question was, has the original story been a lie? Everything she thought she knew about her daughter’s murder was now called into question.

Read the full blog post here.
Visit the Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights website.

Read more about the cases of Chris Ochoa and Richard Danziger.

Watch a video interview with Chris Ochoa.




Tags: Richard Danziger, Christopher Ochoa

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Nebraska Supreme Court to hear DNA testing arguments tomorrow

Posted: September 5, 2007 4:06 pm

Nebraska’s highest court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in the cases of Thomas Winslow and Joseph White, who were convicted of killing a 68-year-old woman in 1985. Winslow pled guilty and was sentenced to 10 to 50 years, while White went to trial and received a life sentence. The men say that DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene can prove their innocence, but the state is opposing their request for testing, partly because Winslow pled guilty.

The state’s highest court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in the case. Lower courts have denied the men access to testing. Innocence Project Staff Attorney Alba Morales said that 25% of the 207 people who have been exonerated through DNA testing admitted to crimes they did not commit (including 10 people who pled guilty to crimes only to later be exonerated by DNA evidence). These exonerations show that innocent people sometimes admit guilt and plead guilty, for a variety of reasons – and that DNA testing should not be denied based on a guilty plea.

Read the full Innocence Project press release here.

Media coverage: High court to decide if conviction means no right to DNA tests (Associated Press, 09/05/07)

Read more about false confessions.

Learn about people who admitted to crimes before DNA proved their innocence.



Tags: Nebraska

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Anthony Capozzi case on DatelineNBC tonight

Posted: September 5, 2007 5:22 pm

Anthony Capozzi spent 21 years in New York prison for two rapes he didn’t commit before DNA testing proved his innocence and pointed to the real perpetrator – a man named Altemio Sanchez who has since pled guilty to committing at least three area murders. Although DNA tests on evidence from several area rapes match Sanchez, including those of which Capozzi was wrongfully convicted, Sanchez could not be charged because the statute of limitations had run out. Sanchez was sentenced this month to 75 years to life for the three murders.

Tonight at 10 p.m. ET on NBC, Dateline profiles the investigation that led Sanchez’s arrest and Capozzi’s exoneration.

Read a preview of the show on Dateline’s website.

Read more about Anthony Capozzi’s case on our website, or in this Washington Post article.



Tags: Anthony Capozzi

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Florida students get a first-hand account of wrongful conviction

Posted: September 6, 2007 6:01 pm

Incoming freshman at the New College of Florida were asked this summer to read The Exonerated, the play by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen about the lives of people freed from death row based on evidence of innocence. Students discussed the book during orientation, and tonight they will have the opportunity to meet New York exoneree John Restivo.

Restivo, who lives in Florida, will tell students about the 16 years he spent in prison for a 1984 murder he didn’t commit and his life since he was exonerated. Read more about the New College program here, and contact us for materials to host a teach-in at your university on the causes of wrongful conviction and necessary criminal justice reforms.

Read more about John Restivo’s case here.

The Exonerated has been seen by hundreds of thousands of viewers around the world and is now a Court TV film, available on DVD. Click here to buy the DVD at Amazon.com.



Tags: John Restivo

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Mississippi man awaits a new trial after his release from death row

Posted: September 6, 2007 6:02 pm

Innocence Project client Kennedy Brewer has been on Mississippi’s death row for almost 15 years for the 1992 rape and murder of a young girl that DNA testing now shows he didn’t commit. Brewer was released from prison on bail on August 31 after DNA results showed he was not the source of evidence collected from the victim’s body. Prosecutors, however, have refused to compare the DNA from the crime scene to the state’s database and plan to retry Brewer for this crime. Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld tells the New York Times today that Brewer’s case illustrates a justice system slow to adapt to the hard science of DNA testing.

"The Brewer case illustrates that there are two Mississippi criminal justice systems,” Mr. Neufeld said. “There’s the old system that hasn’t changed at all and the new system that is trying to take the Bill of Rights seriously."

Modern forensic tools do not appear to carry much weight in Noxubee County. (Prosecutor Forrest) Allgood said DNA reversals — there have been more than 200 nationwide — did not prove innocence. Read the full story. (New York Times, 09/06/07)




Tags: Kennedy Brewer

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Florida exoneree feels "reborn" as civil rights are restored

Posted: September 7, 2007 11:21 am

Alan Crotzer, who served 24 years in Florida prison for a crime he didn’t commit, is enjoying civil rights he had stripped of him years ago. He registered to vote on Thursday, and said he felt “reborn” as he gained the right to have his voice heard in our government. Crotzer encouraged people exonerated by DNA evidence as well as formerly incarcerated people who had served their full sentence to apply for restoration of rights under a new law passed in April in Florida.

''Today is a triumph for me because now I have the right to vote again,'' said Crotzer, 46. ''I just want to be heard. ... I want to say to anyone who has not had their rights restored, to try to get them restored.''

Read the full story here. (Tallahassee Democrat, 09/07/07)
Read more about Alan Crotzer and other Florida exonerees.



Tags: Alan Crotzer

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Innocence Project seeks DNA testing in case of man executed in Texas

Posted: September 7, 2007 2:24 pm

DNA testing can prove whether Claude Jones was wrongfully executed in Texas in 2000, and the Innocence Project joined several organizations in filing motions today seeking to prevent officials from destroying the only physical evidence in the case – a hair from the crime scene -- and seeking a court order to conduct DNA testing.

Testing on the hair could prove whether Jones was innocent or guilty of a 1989 murder in San Jacinto County, Texas, but officials have said they will not approve of DNA testing on the hair unless a court orders them to do so. The Texas Observer, the Innocence Project of Texas and the Texas Innocence Network joined the Innocence Project in filing the motions today.

“The San Jacinto District Attorney, who was one of the prosecutors during Claude Jones’ trial, told us this week that he will not agree to DNA testing without a court order. We are asking for an emergency order from the court that will mandate testing and prevent officials from destroying this evidence in the meantime,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project. “The public has a right to know whether Claude Jones actually committed the crime for which he was executed, and whether a serious breakdown in the state’s legal and political process led to a wrongful execution. Public confidence in the criminal justice system is at stake.”

Read the full Innocence Project press release here
.

Read the story from today’s Texas Observer.



Tags: Texas, Death Penalty, Claude Jones

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California legislature passes reforms to prevent wrongful convictions

Posted: September 7, 2007 5:25 pm

This week, the California legislature approved three bills including significant reforms to prevent future wrongful convictions in the state. All three are now awaiting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signature. He vetoed two similar bills last year, citing “drafting errors.”

The bills’ authors say the drafting issues have been addressed and they called today on the governor to sign the bills immediately. The first of the three bills passed this week would require that law enforcement agencies record interrogations of suspects, starting with Miranda warnings. This reform, already employed by several states, would prevent false confessions and help prosecutors and police officers do their jobs.

The second bill would require the state’s Attorney General to create new guidelines for law enforcement agencies to conduct eyewitness identification procedures according to accepted best practices. Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful conviction.

The third bill would require prosecutors to present corroborating evidence before allowing a jailhouse informant to testify against a defendant.

An op-ed by three California lawmakers in today’s San Jose Mercury-News calls on Gov. Schwarzenegger to sign these vital bills:

Working to free innocent people wrongly imprisoned is a long process, often taken up by volunteer attorneys and law students who can serve only a small fraction of those who need assistance. This trio of bills would curb the most common causes of wrongful convictions and protect defendants, police, victims and the state.

Read the full story. (San Jose Mercury News, 09/07/07)
View a map of reforms underway nationwide here.

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Northwestern Blog: Police should open closed cases when new arrests are made

Posted: September 10, 2007 2:24 pm

Claude McCollum is serving life in a Michigan prison for a 2005 murder he has always said he didn’t commit. McCollum may have a chance to prove his innocence in the months ahead, however, as another man, named Matthew Macon, was arrested in late August in connection with five other murders, which resemble the murder for which McCollum is serving time. In McCollum’s case, he was convicted despite evidence that biological material at the crime scene matched an unknown male and did not match McCollum. He was convicted partly based on admissions he made to police, involving how he could have committed the crime while sleepwalking. His relatives, and relatives of the victim, called this week for police in Lansing, Michigan, to reopen his case.

Lee Kronenberg, who was married to Carolyn Kronenberg (the victim in the murder for which McCollum was convicted), said … he wants to make sure the right person is held responsible for the killing, but until new information is brought to light, he supports the jury's decision.

"In the interest of justice, more information should be sought from Mr. Macon," he said. "The jury found (McCollum) guilty and I support the jury's decision. But I want justice."

Read the full story here. (Detroit Free Press, 09/04/07)
Steven Drizin, the Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, writes today on his blog that McCollum’s case has the hallmarks of a wrongful conviction. He goes on to say that police should reopen some closed conviction cases when they have evidence in a string of crimes, such as serial murders. A number of DNA exonerations – including those of Jerry Frank Townsend and David Vasquez – have come after police arrested serial killers.

Read Drizin's full post.



Tags: Jerry Frank Townsend, David Vasquez

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Legal help scarce in cases uncovered by Houston lab audit

Posted: September 10, 2007 2:30 pm

Nearly five years after the Houston Police Department suspended DNA testing due to the discovery of lab errors, dozens of defendants who may have been convicted based on faulty forensic evidence have received little legal assistance. An extensive independent audit of the crime lab, conducted from 2005 to 2007, found at least 61 cases in which forensic analysts had made errors in reporting their findings. And a Houston Chronicle investigation released yesterday shows that defendants in two-thirds of these cases have received little to no legal help in determining how their convictions could be affected by the faulty testing.

The Chronicle found 24 cases among the 61 in which attorneys appointed or hired to represent people in the crime lab controversy have taken little meaningful action with new test results. In 15 other cases, defendants received no representation at all.
Robert Hayden, convicted in a 1994 assault, discovered six months ago while searching the Internet that investigators had found major issues with the DNA testing in his case.

"No one contacted me or asked me if I wanted an attorney," said 48-year-old Hayden, who completed his sentence and now lives with family near Atlanta. "All I want is to have an independent attorney look at this on my behalf."

Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 09/10/2007)
 

At least two people – Josiah Sutton and George Rodriguez – were exonerated after DNA testing proved that Houston lab analysts testified incorrectly in their cases. Read more about the Houston crime lab scandal and audit.



Tags: George Rodriguez, Josiah Sutton

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Judge orders evidence preserved in Texas case

Posted: September 10, 2007 4:12 pm

A Texas judge today ordered officials to preserve a hair for possible DNA testing in the case of Claude Jones, who was executed in 2000. Testing on the hair, which was collected from the scene of a 1989 murder, could prove whether Jones was executed for a crime he didn’t commit. The Innocence Project joined with the Texas Observer, Innocence Project of Texas and Texas Innocence Network in filing papers on Friday requesting the evidence preservation and testing. A hearing is scheduled for October 3 on the DNA testing.

This case will be featured tomorrow morning at 11 a.m. (Tuesday 9/11/07) on Court TV’s Best Defense.

Read more in today's Innocence Project press release.

Read today’s stories on the case in the Texas Observer, Reuters Newswire and International Herald Tribune.



Tags: Claude Jones

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Column: Georgia public defenders woefully underfunded

Posted: September 11, 2007 3:48 pm

Two weeks ago, the director of the Georgia Capital Defender’s Office resigned, saying that the office could not adequately represent clients facing the death penalty with the budget provided by the state. And in a column in yesterday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution, ACLU death penalty stategist Christopher Hill argues that Georgia’s problems are not unique. Public defenders offices are underfunded nationwide, and those charged with capital cases are no better off.

Defendants are fighting for their lives during capital trials. The Constitution guarantees effective lawyers and a fair trial — that means lawyers with the time, resources and skill to properly represent them. It also means expert assistance, access to technology and investigators. All of this costs money. As things now stand, adequate resources are sorely lacking in many parts of the country. As a result, the death penalty is too often reserved not for the "worst" offenders, but for those defendants with the worst lawyers.

Read the full column here. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 09/10/07)
Bad and overburdened lawyers are a major cause of wrongful conviction, in capital and non-capital cases. Hill mentions cases in which attorneys slept through trials, drank four martinis at lunch, and failed to offer evidence of innocence. Read more about how bad lawyers and underfunded public defense offices can lead to wrongful convictions.
More recent coverage of public defense shortages nationwide:

Seattle Op-Ed: Mayor said to be ignoring court crisis

Wisconsin short of prosecutors, judges and public defenders while prison funding rises


New Mexico needs 45 more public defenders to meet caseload




Tags: Bad Lawyering

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Texas execution case on CourtTV today

Posted: September 12, 2007 7:00 am

Watch CourtTV’s Best Defense today at 11 a.m. ET to learn more about the case of Claude Jones, who was executed in 2000 in Texas for a murder he always said he didn’t commit. On Friday, the Innocence Project joined with the Texas Observer, Innocence Project of Texas and Texas Innocence Network in filing papers requesting evidence from Jones’s case be preserved and tested for DNA. Yesterday, a Texas judge ordered that the evidence be preserved and set an October 3 hearing on whether DNA testing can proceed on a hair from the crime scene that could prove Jones’s innocence.

Visit the Best Defense Blog.

Read the Innocence Project press release.

Media coverage:
Final execution case with Bush as Texas governor under scrutiny (Associated Press, 09/10/07)
Read more in Monday’s blog post.



Tags: Death Penalty, Claude Jones

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False confessions conference in El Paso, Texas

Posted: September 12, 2007 4:00 pm

The University of Texas at El Paso will host a conference from September 27-29 bringing together experts on interrogations and false confessions. The conference’s keynote speaker will be Innocence Project client Jeff Deskovic, who was exonerated in 2006 after serving more than 15 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. He was convicted as a teenager when he falsely confessed to the crime after several hours of interrogation and three polygraph tests.

Learn more about the conference and register to attend.

Read more about false confessions and proposed reforms to interrogation procedures to prevent wrongful convictions.

Read about other wrongful convictions caused, at least in part, by a false confession.



Tags: Jeff Deskovic

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New North Carolina innocence inquiry panel gets to work

Posted: September 12, 2007 4:09 pm

The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission was created last year to review possible wrongful convictions and refer cases to a three-judge panel for potential appeal. The eight-member commission is the only group of its kind in the U.S., and it has recently begun its substantative work. The group will have three full-time staff members and is currently investigating three cases, two of which may involve post-conviction DNA testing. The commission has received requests from 200 inmates seeking to have their cases reviewed.

And other major reforms aimed at preventing wrongful convictions in North Carolina are also set to take effect. At the end of August, North Carolina Governor Mike Easley signed three significant criminal justice reform bills into law. The new laws will create statewide standards for police lineups, require recording of police interrogations and strengthen the requirement the law enforcement agencies preserve biological evidence from crime scenes.

Recording interrogations has enormous benefits for both defendants and the police, said Chris Mumma, the executive director of the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence, which coordinates efforts by the state’s law schools to help the wrongfully convicted. Defendants get added protection, and police get the ability to review the interrogation tapes to get more information.

Mumma said that over 500 law-enforcement departments across the country are recording interrogations in some or all of their criminal investigations.

"They have reported that they would never go back,” she said.

Read the full story here. (Winston-Salem Journal, 09/10/07)
Last month, Dwayne Allen Dail was released from prison in North Carolina after DNA testing proved that he did not commit the rape for which he was serving life in prison. Dail was represented by Chris Mumma at the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence. Read more about Dail’s case here.

Download the full text of the new criminal justice reform laws in North Carolina:

 
  • HB 1625 (Eyewitness Identification)
  • HB 1626 (Recording of Custodial Interrogation)
  • HB 1500 (Access to DNA Testing)




Tags: Dwayne Dail, Innocence Commissions, False Confessions, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing

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Michigan DA to reopen murder case

Posted: September 13, 2007 10:40 am

The Lansing, Michigan, district attorney said yesterday he would reopen the case of Claude McCollum, a man who says he was wrongfully convicted of killing a 60-year-old woman in 2005. Biological evidence from an unknown male – not McCollum – was collected from under the victim’s fingernails in the case for which McCollum was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. McCollum was convicted, in part, because he told police during an interrogation how he might have committed the crime while sleepwalking. In a number of DNA exoneration cases, defendants were convicted partly based on “dream statements” or hypothetical accounts of how they might have committed the crime.

Now, McCollum’s attorney is requesting that the DNA evidence from his case be compared with the sample of another man, who was arrested in late August and has been charged with committing a separate murder and a rape. Police have said this man is connected to at least six other murders from 2004 to 2007. The Lansing district attorney said investigators would reconsider evidence in McCollum’s case.

"Whether or not I end up believing this information or not, in order for (McCollum) to have a fair hearing, the matter needs to be investigated and brought to the attention of the Court of Appeals," (County Prosecutor Stuart Dunning said) “If somebody got wrongfully convicted, I want to be the first person to correct that."

Read the full story here. (Lansing State Journal, 09/12/07)


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States slow to create compensation programs

Posted: September 13, 2007 3:09 pm

Only 22 states have laws compensating the wrongfully convicted after their release, and many of those laws are inadequate, as they haven’t been updated for years. An Associated Press story yesterday examines the situation nationwide, and reviews the Innocence Project’s ongoing efforts to create programs nationwide that help exonerees get back on their feet after release.

When Antonio Beaver was freed from prison by DNA evidence, he was overwhelmed by supporters eager to help him return to normal life after spending nearly 11 years behind bars.

After his release in March, some promised jobs. Others set up a charitable fund in his name. Relatives offered assistance, too. But six months later, Beaver was quick to list the number of people he could still count on: One.

"You got to fend for yourself," said Beaver, who was wrongly imprisoned in 1997 for a violent carjacking. "Everybody's making promises: 'We're going to do this and do that.' Ain't nobody done nothing yet. I got to deal with it, man. It's just the way our society is."

Read the full article here. (Associated Press, 09/12/2007)
What’s the law in your state? View our map to find out.

Read more about the Innocence Project’s recommended compensation reforms.



Tags: Antonio Beaver, Exoneree Compensation

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Colorado Governor creates evidence preservation task force

Posted: September 14, 2007 1:21 pm

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter this week announced the creation of a 21-member task force to examine how state law enforcement officials collect and preserve evidence and to make recommendations on potential policy reforms. A four-day Denver Post series in July investigated cases nationwide in which evidence had been lost or mishandled, and an editorial in yesterday’s Denver Post calls on the new task force to create strong state standards for evidence preservation.

Colorado does not have a comprehensive set of rules governing evidence preservation. Each police department and sheriff's office has been left to set up its own guidelines for preserving evidence in criminal cases.The panel the governor has named includes a variety of professionals who have an in-depth understanding of the criminal prosecution and legislative processes. They include current and former defense attorneys and prosecutors, lawmakers, a former judge and various law enforcement and public safety officials.

It's a strong group, and we look forward to seeing the solutions they craft.

Read the full editorial here. (09/13/2007)
Does your state have a statewide evidence preservation law? View our map to find out.



Tags: Evidence Preservation

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DNA proves Dallas man didn’t commit 1982 crime

Posted: September 17, 2007 11:01 am

Innocence Project client Steven Phillips has been in prison for 25 years for a series of sex crimes in Dallas, Texas, that has always maintained he didn’t commit. Now DNA evidence proves he is innocent of the rape for which he was convicted by a jury. The rape case is the only one for which biological evidence exists that can be subjected to DNA testing.  He would later plead guilty to several other crimes believed to have been committed by the same man. The evidence supports this theory, and a judge could clear Phillips of all of the related crimes.

Phillips is the first person to be cleared of wrongdoing by DNA tests ordered by District Attorney Craig Watkins, who took office in January. If exonerated, Phillips would be the 14th person from Dallas County since 2001 to be exonerated based on DNA testing…

Ms. Morrison said although there is no DNA evidence in those other cases, he could be cleared in those, too.
"From the very beginning, the police said all of these crimes were committed by the same man," Ms. Morrison said. "DNA now proves Steven Phillips was not that man."

But Mr. Ware said the district attorney's office is not prepared to agree Mr. Phillips did not commit the other crimes. Prosecutors are still investigating the cases to which he pleaded guilty.

"If the police were correct, that it was one person ... then it could impact those cases," Mr. Ware said.
The issue may ultimately be decided by a judge, he said.

DNA evidence can exonerate someone for related crimes that were committed by the same person even if there is DNA for only one of them, the Innocence Project said.

Read the full story here. (Dallas Morning News, 09/17/07)
Read about the 13 people exonerated by DNA evidence to date in Dallas County.




Tags: Steven Phillips

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Georgia hearings on eyewitness identification start this week

Posted: September 18, 2007 10:09 am

A new committee of the Georgia legislature began hearing testimony yesterday on proposed state laws governing eyewitness identification procedures. Georgia Innocence Project Director Aimee Maxwell testified, as well as Innocence Project client Calvin Johnson, Jr., who was misidentified by an eyewitness and wrongfully convicted of a crime he didn’t commit.

More than 80 percent of Georgia police departments responding to a recent survey said they had no written standards for eyewitness identifications. One of the first steps to statewide identification reform is to adopt written policies following accepted procedures.

Read more: Most Georgia police have no eyewitness guidelines (Associated Press, 09/17/07)

Men freed from jail urge change in eyewitness IDs (Atlanta Journal Constitution, 09/18/07) 

For the hearing schedule and more background on the new committee, visit the Georgia Innocence Project’s website.

In addition to Calvin Johnson, other Georgia exonerees will be present at today’s hearing. Read more about their cases here.

Watch video of a speech by Calvin Johnson, Jr. and an interview with Georgia exoneree Robert Clark.



Tags: Georgia, Robert Clark, Calvin Johnson, Eyewitness Identification

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Innocence Project receives Tech Museum honor

Posted: September 18, 2007 1:48 pm

Each year, the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, Calif., honors 25 organizations that use technology to improve people’s lives around the world. The museum announced today that the Innocence Project is among five nominees for this year’s Katherine M. Swanson Equality Award for using DNA technology to overturn wrongful convictions and reform the criminal justice system.

The awards will be presented at the museum’s November 7, 2007, gala event. Learn more about the event and the other recipients here.

Visit the Tech Museum’s website.

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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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New study calls for prosecutors to open files before trial

Posted: September 19, 2007 12:15 pm

A study released this week by the Justice Project calls for a nationwide expansion in the sharing of evidence between prosecutors and defense attorneys before criminal trials. The study’s authors say that improving discovery (file sharing) procedures would prevent wrongful convictions by ensuring that exculpatory evidence is not withheld from defense attorneys.

Some states, including North Carolina, Florida, Colorado, New Jersey, and Arizona, have passed laws expanding discovery, but this week’s report calls for all states to make this reform a priority.

Edwin Colfax, the Justice Project’s Director of State Campaigns, wrote yesterday on the Texas Kaos blog that Texas is among the states most desperately in need of discovery reform.

Adequate discovery supports the bedrock constitutional principle that the accused are innocent until proven guilty. Expanding discovery prior to trial is a cost-effective way to ensure that the right people are being put behind bars as quickly as possible.  Public safety is not served when innocent people are incarcerated and the guilty remain at large with the potential to commit more crimes.

Read the full blog post. (Texas Kaos, 09/18/07)
Download the full report and read more background on the Justice Project’s website.

More Texas blog posts on open discovery:
Grits for Breakfast I Was the State
 

Several wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing were caused, in part, by prosecutors withholding exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys. In the case of Roy Brown, prosecutors had evidence before Brown’s trial suggesting that another man had committed the crime, but those documents were not given to defense attorneys.

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Hearing set for October in Long Island case

Posted: September 19, 2007 12:20 pm

Marty Tankleff was a senior in high school in 1988 when his parents were killed. He allegedly confessed to the crime and has served more than half his life in prison for killing his parents – a crime he has always maintained he didn’t commit. An appeal based on new evidence of his innocence will be heard by a New York appeals court on October 4. The Innocence Project is among groups that have urged the court to grant Tankleff a new trial based on evidence that Tankleff’s confession was false and other new evidence in the case. In a press release yesterday, Tankleff’s attorneys called for justice after nearly two decades.

“In light of the overwhelming evidence that Marty's conviction was unjust, the outcome of this case will say more about our system of justice than it will about Marty.  No system of justice can claim legitimacy if it incarcerates a man so obviously innocent.  Our optimism, therefore, is based on the quality of our judicial system, the integrity of appellate judges who are separated from local politics and ultimately our faith that truth will prevail.

Read the full press release here.

Read the Innocence Project’s Amicus brief in this case, as well as other briefs filed on Tankleff’s behalf and the District Attorney’s response. Listen to Innocence Project Staff Attorney Olga Akselrod and others as they discuss Tankleff’s case on public radio in March 2007.



Tags: Marty Tankleff

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Alabama governor refuses to hear evidence in case scheduled for execution next week

Posted: September 19, 2007 6:12 pm

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley today refused to discuss DNA testing in the case of Thomas Arthur with Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld and Staff Attorney Olga Akselrod. Arthur is scheduled to be executed next week for a murder he has always said he didn't commit. The Innocence Project doesn't take a position on Mr. Arthur's guilt or innocence, but says the state should test key DNA evidence in the case before executing a man who says he is innocent.

Less than two months ago, Riley allowed Darrell Grayson to be executed over the calls of several groups, including the Innocence Project, to first test DNA evidence in his case that could prove innocence or guilt.

"Our concern is that biological evidence may exist that could be subjected to DNA testing and prove whether or not (Arthur) is guilty," Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld said today. "Governor Riley this afternoon refused to even meet with us to get a clearer understanding of what DNA testing could show in this case and why testing should be conducted.  Rather than looking at the science, he is burying his head in the sand."

Read the full Innocence Project press release here.
And a column in Sunday's Birmingham News calls for Riley to "do the right thing."
Defense lawyers are pleading with Gov. Bob Riley to do the right thing, to order tests using the DNA technology not available when Arthur was convicted of killing Troy Wicker in Muscle Shoals.

Riley should do it. Even the victim's sister, Peggy Wicker Jones, is supporting the effort. "I would like to have as much information as possible about what happened on the day my brother Troy was murdered," she said in a statement provided to the governor.
Read the full column here. (Birmingham Daily News, 09/16/07)




Tags: Tommy Arthur

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Discussion of new discovery laws on Texas blog

Posted: September 20, 2007 11:53 am

The Texas criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast is the home of a lively discussion today on the recent Justice Project report advocating open file sharing between prosecutors and defense attorneys in criminal cases.

Galveston Judge Susan Criss writes today that she requires both sides to share more documents than the law requires:

I read what you wrote in (Grits for Breakfast) about discovery in criminal cases. I make both the prosecutor & defense attorney enter into an agreed discovery order when they come to court for their status conference to set the trial date. This is either the first or second appearance they make. If they do not sign it, or just one side signs it, I enter the order anyway.
Everyone knows this discovery is ordered in every case. And they know I will enforce it. I got input from several prosecutors & defense attorneys when I drafted it. If they have something unusual that is not provided for in the order, the defense can file a motion & have a hearing.
Read the full blog post, download Criss’s agreement document and make a comment. (Grits for Breakfast, 09/20/2007)
Download the Justice Project report, or read yesterday’s Innocence Blog post on open file discovery.

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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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Sunday marks three years of freedom for Calvin Willis

Posted: September 21, 2007 3:39 pm

After serving 21 years in Louisiana prison for a sexual assault he didn’t commit, Calvin Willis was exonerated on September 23, 2003, after DNA testing proved his innocence. Willis, who is one of nine people exonerated by DNA testing in Louisiana, will celebrate three years of freedom on Sunday.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Today: Gilbert Alejandro, Texas (Served 3 years, Exonerated 09/21/94)
Tomorrow: Chester Bauer, Minnesota (Served 9 years, Exonerated 9/22/97)



Tags: Gilbert Alejandro, Chester Bauer, Calvin Willis

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Wish Georgia death row inmate a happy birthday

Posted: September 24, 2007 11:31 am

Troy Davis was sentenced to death in Georgia in 1991 for a murder he says he didn’t commit. His conviction was based largely on the testimony of nine eyewitnesses – six of whom have recanted since his trial. This summer, he came within one day of execution before he was granted a 90-day stay. He then won the right to appeal his conviction by a 4-3 decision of the Georgia Supreme Court in August.

Davis turns 39 on October 9, and a coalition of his supporters is asking you to send him a video birthday message. Click here to watch other messages and submit your own, and be sure to watch the Innocence Project video “It Matters to Me” – where concerned citizens speak out about why overturning wrongful convictions and reforming the system should matter to everyone.

Don’t have a video camera – send Troy an email here.

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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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Michigan man may get new trial, 2 years after conviction

Posted: September 24, 2007 4:13 pm

A Michigan county prosecutor has asked a judge to grant a new trial to Claude McCollum, who was convicted two years ago of a rape and assault on the campus of Lansing Community College in Michigan. McCollum has always maintained his innocence and has said that his alleged confession was coerced by police asking if he could have hypothetically committed the crime. DNA evidence from the crime scene was shown at trial to exclude McCollum and come from an unknown male.

New evidence in the case has led County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings to join McCollum’s attorney is asking for a new trial, officials said. This is the first time Dunnings has asked for a retrial after a conviction. Dunnings has not spoken publicly about the nature of the new evidence, and says it is “totally independent” of charges filed recently against another man in similar assaults.

"As the evidence became more developed, and another piece popped up, I felt that the evidence was of such a compelling nature that a jury had to hear it," said Dunnings, who reopened the investigation Sept. 11. "One of the responsibilities of a prosecutor is to see that people receive justice and a fair trial, and not just to convict people."

Read the full story here. (Detroit Free Press, 09/22/07)
Read previous blog posts on the McCollum case.

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Court grants new trial in Michigan; task force calls for recording of interrogations

Posted: September 25, 2007 11:06 am

A Michigan judge yesterday granted a new trial to Claude McCollum, who was convicted two years ago of a rape and assault he says he didn’t commit. The county prosecutor joined with McCollum’s attorney on Friday in asking the court to grant a new trial based on new evidence. The Lansing State Journal is now reporting that a videotape has surfaced that may show McCollum on a different part of the Lansing Community College campus when the assault took place in a classroom.

Attorney Hugh Clarke Jr., who said he is planning to represent McCollum, was pleased with the court's ruling.
"It doesn't surprise me how fast they acted, given the potential injustice inflicted on Mr. McCollum at the hands of the government," he said.

Read the full story here. (Lansing State Journal, 09/25/07)
McCollum says he told police hypothetically that he could have committed the crime while sleepwalking. This admission contributed to McCollum’s conviction, and only part of the interrogation was recorded. He says he repeatedly denied involvement in the crime, but those statements do not appear on the videotape.

A task force formed by the State Bar of Michigan has called for legislation mandating the recording of interrogations statewide. Although recording of interrogations has been shown to prevent false confessions – a factor in 25 percent of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing – there is currently no Michigan law requiring that law enforcement agencies record any part of any interrogation.

Seven states and the District of Columbia have some statewide requirement for recording of interrogations. Is yours one? View our map to find out.

Learn more about reforms underway to require the recording of custodial interrogation and prevent false confessions.

Read more coverage of this case in a blog post by false confession expert Steve Drizin at the Center on Wrongful Convictions in Chicago.

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Birmingham News: Governor ignores truth in upcoming execution

Posted: September 25, 2007 11:11 am

Thomas Arthur is scheduled to be executed in Alabama on Thursday, despite the possibility that DNA testing in the case could prove Arthur’s innocence. The Innocence Project has called on Alabama Gov. Bob Riley to seek the truth in this case before allowing the execution to take place, and Riley has refused. This is the second time in two months that Riley has denied an inmate the right to possibly prove their innocence through DNA testing before an execution – Darrell Grayson was executed in July despite pleas for DNA tests. An editorial in today’s Birmingham News says Riley’s disappointing pattern is beyond logic and should be broken.

In a statement criticizing Alabama's governor, the Innocence Project pointed out that 15 of those cleared nationwide by DNA testing were on Death Row and that some of them were days away from execution when they were exonerated.
"If any of those 15 people had been in Alabama, they would be dead today," Innocence Project co-director Peter Neufeld said last Wednesday.

Neufeld called it "unconscionable" that Riley won't insist on using the best science to determine the truth before putting inmates to death. Neufeld is right.

Read the full editorial here. (Birmingham News, 09/25/07)
Read the Innocence Project press release on Arthur’s case.

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Sign up now to get our email newsletter tomorrow

Posted: September 25, 2007 4:36 pm

We’re sending our free monthly email newsletter tomorrow to thousands of members in our online community. Tomorrow’s newsletter will include an update on the case of Thomas Arthur, who is scheduled to be executed Thursday in Alabama despite his pleas for DNA testing that could prove his innocence.

Join our online community to be the first to know about exonerations, pending reforms, online features and more. Click here to sign up now.

Already a subscriber? Invite your friends to join.

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Dallas to study new identification procedures

Posted: September 26, 2007 2:55 pm

Since 2001, 13 wrongful convictions have been overturned by DNA testing in Dallas County – more than any other county in the United States. Eleven of those 13 wrongful convictions were caused, at least in part, by eyewitness misidentification. But starting in January, Dallas officials aim to do something about the problem by participating in a major federal study of lineup procedures and reforms proven to increase the accuracy of eyewitness identifications.

The $300,000 study will be led by the Urban Institute, and will consist of more than 800 lineups in robbery cases. Four different types of lineups will be used – about 200 cases will be tested using each type – to collect scientific data on the outcome. Dallas police officials told the Dallas Morning News that they are excited to improve the county’s identification systems.

"Everybody in law enforcement wants to use the best system," said Dallas police Assistant Chief Ron Waldrop, commander of the criminal investigations bureau. "Once it's been shown scientifically which is the best system, I think everybody will move to that system."
Among the lineup styles being tested will be “sequential double-blind,” in which the lineup administrator doesn’t know which lineup member is the suspect, and the witness views individuals one at a time, instead of all at once. Social science research, including a field study in Hennepin County, Minnesota, have shown that this method reduces misidentifications. A report last year in Illinois challenged this format, but today’s Dallas Morning News article notes that the Illinois report “has come under withering criticism from experts who say it had major design flaws, including a lack of uniformity in the way the lineups were conducted.”

The Innocence Project strongly supports additional field study of “sequential double-blind” – particularly field study that, unlike the Illinois report, uses solid scientific methodology.  The Dallas County study may also include field testing of “blind” administration as compared to “non-blind” administration, but the Innocence Project and leading researchers in the field have long expressed concerns about the ability to effectively field study the impact of “blind” administration on the accuracy of eyewitness identifications.

Read the full story here. (Dallas Morning News, 09/26/07)

Read more about eyewitness misidentification and the Innocence Project’s proposed reforms to prevent wrongful convictions.



Tags: Eyewitness Identification, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Former prosecutor calls for governor to sign California bills

Posted: September 26, 2007 3:03 pm

Three bills awaiting the signature of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would reform the state’s criminal justice system to provent wrongful convictions. In an op-ed in today’s Sacramento Bee, former federal prosecutor Thomas Sullivan calls for the state to improve its justice system for all parties involved.

I have sat on both sides of the table -- prosecuting crimes as a U.S. attorney and representing the accused as a defense lawyer. This broad experience has shown me that if we can bolster the reliability of evidence in the courtroom, we can strengthen our system of justice for everyone's benefit. California now has a vehicle for that brand of change with three significant bills. If enacted, the trio would enhance the overall accuracy of evidence -- and ensure that California heeds the lessons of (wrongful convictions).

Read the full column here. (Sacramento Bee, 09/26/07)
Read more about the pending bills in our previous blog post.

Watch a video of California exoneree Herman Atkins, explaining how these reforms would prevent others from suffering the injustice he did.




Tags: California, Herman Atkins, False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification, Informants/Snitches

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George Rodriguez celebrates two years of freedom

Posted: September 27, 2007 7:00 am

Saturday marks the second anniversary of George Rodriguez’s exoneration. Rodriguez, who was wrongfully convicted of rape and kidnapping, served 17 years of his 60-year sentence before DNA testing proved his innocence. His wrongful conviction was based largely on faulty analysis of hair and other biological evidence by the Houston Police Department crime lab.

The faulty forensic testing involved in Rodriguez’s case helped bring to light the unsound practices of the Houston crime lab. In 2002, all DNA testing at the lab was stopped after an audit raised questions about the integrity of the lab’s work. Following Rodriguez’s exoneration, a more thorough probe into the lab’s practices began. This examination revealed over 400 cases in which lab work was flawed.

Read more about the recent audit of the Houston crime lab.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Today: Frederick Daye, California (Served 10 years, Exonerated 9/27/1994)



Tags: Frederick Daye, George Rodriguez

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Breaking news: Alabama Gov. delays execution for 45 days

Posted: September 27, 2007 1:49 pm

Alabama Governor Bob Riley today granted a 45-day stay of execution for death row inmate Thomas Arthur, who was scheduled to die tonight at 7 p.m. Riley said he was granting the stay due to pending questions about the state’s lethal injection procedures.

Read more. (Associated Press, 09/27/07)

Read today's Innocence Project press release on the case.



Tags: Tommy Arthur

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Alabama editorial: No excuse not to allow DNA testing in death row case

Posted: September 28, 2007 1:47 pm

Yesterday, Alabama death row inmate Thomas Arthur came within hours of execution before Gov. Bob Riley ordered a 45-day stay in his execution. Riley said he was ordering the delay because the state was adjusting its lethal injection procedures, but the Innocence Project called on state officials to use this time to allow DNA testing that could prove Arthur’s innocence or guilt. The Birmingham News agreed with the Innocence Project this morning in an editorial, calling for Riley to order the DNA tests.

This 45-day period is more than enough time for Riley to order DNA testing on biological evidence in Arthur's case, which was prosecuted before today's scientific methods were developed.

The nonprofit Innocence Project of New York has said the results could be available in a couple of weeks, and the testing would come at no cost to the state. Even Wicker's family has expressed support for DNA testing; Arthur's case contains enough weird elements to justify some doubts.Riley did the right thing in delaying the execution. Now, he has a perfect opportunity to go a step further and order DNA tests. As the Innocence Project said Thursday in a statement, there's no excuse not to.

Read the full editorial here. (Birmingham News, 09/28/07)
Read yesterday’s Innocence Project press release on Thomas Arthur’s case.



Tags: Death Penalty, Tommy Arthur

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DNA tests uncover secret deals in Dallas

Posted: September 28, 2007 3:41 pm

Innocence Project client Clay Chabot has already served 21 years in prison for a Dallas, Texas, rape and murder that he has always maintained he didn’t commit. The main witness against him was his brother-in-law, Gerald Pabst, who was arrested last month after DNA tests showed that he was involved in the crime and lied on the stand during Chabot’s trial. An article in today’s Dallas Observer investigates the secret dealings of the Dallas District Attorney’s office in the 1980s – including the unspoken agreement that allowed Pabst to lie on the stand and walk free.

Chabot remains in a Texas prison while (Dallas District Attorney) Craig Watkins decides if the case against him will be dismissed. Even if the case isn't dismissed, Chabot will get a new trial.
"What's important is now, regardless of what happened back then, we've arrested and charged Pabst and we intend to try him," says Mike Ware, special assistant in charge of conviction integrity, a post newly created by Watkins. "And if we make any deals in this case or any other case, they are going to be disclosed and they are going to be aboveboard."

Read the full story here. (Dallas Observer, 09/28/07) 
 

Read previous blog posts about this case.

False testmony by incentivized informants was a major cause of dozens of the 208 wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing. Read more about this issue here.



Tags: Clay Chabot

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Editorial: Dallas study will “advance the cause of airtight justice”

Posted: October 1, 2007 12:06 pm

In January, the Dallas Police Department will launch a pilot program to study its eyewitness identification procedures, comparing the accuracy of traditional methods with techniques shown by several previous studies to reduce misidentifications. An editorial in yesterday’s Dallas Morning News praises the city's police department for taking part in this pilot program, and calls on jurisdictions throughout Texas to adopt practices shown to prevent wrongful convictions. A good next step, the newspaper writes, will be the creation of a Texas Innocence Commission, which was proposed this year in the state’s legislature but did not pass.

Dallas may well prove to have the most up-to-date photo lineup methods available, but there's no vehicle to evenly apply the lessons across the state. And there's no doubt about failures in other counties, as the Innocence Project has tallied 29 exonerations statewide.

State leaders should be weary of hearing apologies to innocent men who have spent years in prison.
They must do everything possible to break this disgraceful pattern.Read the full editorial. (Dallas Morning News, 09/30/07)
Read more about eyewitness identification reforms underway nationwide, and learn more about the six states with active Innocence Commissions.

The Dallas study is part of a larger national study by the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. Read more about this effort.



Tags: Innocence Commissions, Eyewitness Identification

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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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Renewed calls for Texas Innocence Commission

Posted: October 2, 2007 3:04 am

Legislators are again calling for the creation of a panel in Texas to study the problem of wrongful convictions and consider reforms proven to prevent injustice. In Texas, 29 wrongful convictions have been overturned by DNA testing – more than any other state – but a proposed Innocence Commission did not pass the legislature this year.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, the chairman of the Innocence Project Board of Directors, introduced the 2007 bill and plans to renew his efforts in 2008. He has been speaking with Senate colleagues about the proposed bill and asked Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to order an interim study on the commission.

"I think the exonerations are clear and convincing evidence that the system is broken," said Ellis, a Houston Democrat. "In no other sphere of public policy would rational people see this many exonerations and not be willing to be able to pull together a panel of experts to ask what went wrong and what can be learned from those cases."
Read the full story here. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 09/30/07)
View a map of the six states that have already created innocence commissions.



Tags: Innocence Commissions

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Video: Innocence Project Policy Director calls for evidence preservation and quicker testing

Posted: October 2, 2007 4:27 pm

Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom discussed evidence preservation and DNA databases at a Johns Hopkins University panel discussion yesterday on DNA and law enforcement. Watch the video here.



Tags: Evidence Preservation, DNA Databases

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DNA testing proves Houston man's innocence

Posted: October 3, 2007 5:02 pm

DNA testing has proven that Innocence Project client Ronnie Taylor has been in prison for 12 years for a rape he did not commit. The DNA results also implicate another man, who is already in prison. Taylor is still in prison and the Innocence Project will work with the Harris County District Attorney’s office to secure his release as soon as possible.

Taylor’s wrongful conviction highlights the history of scandal at the Houston Police Department Crime Lab, which came under fire in 2002 after reports raised questions about the quality of DNA testing at the lab. DNA testing has already reversed two wrongful convictions caused in part by faulty testing at the HPD lab, and there are serious questions about the testing done before Taylor’s trial.

A crime lab expert testified at Taylor’s trial that she did not find semen on a bedsheet from the bed where the rape took place. It is on that same sheet that recent testing identified semen from the rapist. It was this testing that proved Taylor’s innocence.

“Ronnie Taylor’s wrongful conviction is the result of serious problems in the Houston Police Department Crime Lab,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project. “The HPD Crime Lab failed to identify a stain on a sheet as semen. If the HPD Crime Lab had correctly identified the semen stain, DNA testing could have been conducted and Ronnie Taylor might not have been convicted. The faulty testing conducted in the HPD Crime Lab led to Ronnie Taylor’s wrongful conviction and prevented law enforcement from apprehending the true perpetrator.”

Read the Innocence Project press release here
.
Read media coverage on Taylor’s case:

Houston Chronicle: DA’s office says DNA testing shows man innocent of rape

A two-year independent audit of the HPD crime lab was completed in August. Read the reports here, or read previous blog posts on the lab.

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Editorial: Public deserves to know if innocent man was executed

Posted: October 3, 2007 4:55 pm

An upcoming hearing in San Jacinto County, Texas, will determine whether DNA testing can proceed in the case of Claude Jones, who was executed in 2000 for allegedly killing a liquor store clerk during a robbery. Jones was convicted based on the similarity of a hair from the crime scene to his hair and the testimony of another man who admitted a role in the crime in exchange for a lighter sentence (that man has since signed a sworn affidavit saying his testimony against Jones was not true).  Jones always claimed he was innocent.

Last month, the Innocence Project joined with the Texas Observer and other innocence organizations in Texas in filing motions asking the state to preserve the hair evidence and to allow DNA testing to proceed in the case. Oral arguments will be heard on the motions at an upcoming hearing.

And an editorial in today’s Dallas Morning News calls on a state judge and prosecutors to allow testing that could determine whether a miscarriage of justice has occurred. The public has a right to know if a person was wrongfully executed in Texas, the paper says.

The case in San Jacinto County, north of Houston, would be the first time hair analysis had been exposed as faulty after a defendant's death. County officials must be prepared for the fallout if the initial test proves wrong. After all, we need to know everything we can about cases prosecutors depicted as airtight.
Prosecutors argue that they brought evidence against the accused in addition to the hair analysis, including crucial testimony from an accomplice who was out to cut a deal. The DNA tests could lead to a rough debate over whether such self-serving testimony should have been enough to send a man to his death. (The accomplice got 10 years.)
Read the full editorial here. (Dallas Morning News, 10/03/2007)
Read a recent Houston Chronicle article on the case.

Read the Innocence Project press release.




Tags: Death Penalty, Claude Jones

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Hearing today in Long Island case

Posted: October 4, 2007 12:55 pm

An appellate court is hearing arguments today in the case of Marty Tankleff, who has maintained his innocence since he was arrested in 1988 for allegedly killing his parents. He was convicted in 1990 based partly on an admission of guilt that he says was coerced.

The Innocence Project has consulted with Tankleff’s attorneys and filed a brief in the case asserting that it has some of the hallmarks of a false confession and a wrongful conviction.

Read more about the case on Tankleff’s website.

Listen to Innocence Project Staff Attorney Olga Akselrod and others as they discuss Tankleff’s case on public radio in March 2007.




Tags: Marty Tankleff

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Media coverage: Houston man proven innocent 12 years later

Posted: October 4, 2007 1:05 pm

DNA testing has proven that Ronnie Taylor did not commit the Houston rape of which he was convicted in 1995. His Innocence Project attorneys are now working with prosecutors to secure his release from prison as soon as possible. Read the press release here.

Read and watch media coverage of the DNA results clearing Taylor.

Houston Chronicle: Mix-up on DNA deals HPD lab another blow

Associated Press: DA's office says DNA testing shows man innocent of rape

VIDEO: KHCW  — DNA evidence clears prisoner of sexual assault

VIDEO: ABC13 — DNA testing proves inmate innocent

VIDEO: KHOU — Innocent man serves 12 years for rape

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Why do innocent people confess?

Posted: October 5, 2007 12:05 pm

An article on Alternet.org this week considers the reasons innocent people have confessed to crimes they didn’t commit, and discovers a common refrain from exonerees who falsely confess after long police interrogations –  “I just wanted to go home.”

When 16-year-old Korey Wise entered the Central Park Police Precinct at 102nd St on April 20, 1989, he didn't realize what he was walking into. It was the day after one of the most grisly crimes in official New York memory-the brutal sexual assault of a woman who would become known as the Central Park Jogger-and Wise had been asked to come in along with other black and Latino youths who had allegedly been in the park the night before. Wise was taken to the scene of the crime and shown graphic pictures of the woman's injuries, which included a fractured skull. Eventually, his visit to the police station would lead to an interrogation and, after nine hours of questioning, a videotaped confession that was confusing, convoluted, and chilling.

Read the full story here. (Alternet.org, 10/02/07)
And visit Alternet.org today to join a lively discussion on the issue of false confessions and reforms to prevent them.

Read more about reforms that can prevent false confessions
.



Tags: Jeff Deskovic, Christopher Ochoa, Korey Wise, False Confessions, False Confessions, Norfolk Four

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Lab backlogs continue to slow investigations

Posted: October 5, 2007 1:38 pm

Police departments nationwide are suffering the repercussions of backlogs and slowdowns in crime labs, due to the overwhelming number of samples being submitted for testing, growth in state databases (which requires testing and storing more samples) and the costs of conducting complicated forensic tests. Delays in DNA testing can cause leads in investigations to go cold, can keep innocent people incarcerated longer than necessary and can lead to forensic error.

Officials in Wyoming have begun to outsource DNA tests to private labs, finding the labs can get testing done more quickly. But the backlog hasn’t been erased. Dan Zivkovich, police chief in Jackson, Wyoming, said that the net effect of lab delays “does have an impact. Not only does it affect solving; it also affects what direction you go in eliminating or including suspects.”

Read the full story here. (Casper Tribune, 10/01/07)

Meanwhile, other jurisdictions are experimenting with plans to increase their labs’ capabilities. North Carolina, Colorado and California have all developed crime lab expansion plans that aim to drastically reduce backlogs and expand the nature of DNA testing.

• North Carolina completed construction this month on an expanded crime lab. This expansion effort aims to reduce the severe backlog in North Carolina labs, which included thousands of rape cases. With a larger staff and improved technology, the lab is now able to take every rape case submitted. Read more.

• The Denver police crime lab will undergo a $40 million expansion project to improve its facilities. The lab currently faces severe space shortages and unsafe working conditions, according to an article in The Rocky Mountain News.

• The San Diego County Sherriff’s Department is responding to the ever-increasing demand for DNA testing by creating a new rapid response DNA team. This team, set to begin work in January 2008, will allow San Diego to expand its use of DNA testing from homicides and sexual assaults to other crimes including burglaries and auto theft. Read the article here.




Tags: Crime Lab Backlogs

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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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Innocence Project fundraiser Sunday in New York City

Posted: October 5, 2007 5:00 pm

Join Innocence Project staff members and get your hair cut for a good cause on Sunday, October 7, in New York City from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. The Innocence Project has teamed with SuperCuts, at 19 St. Mark’s Place, to offer $5 haircuts. All proceeds will benefit the Innocence Project. Snacks will be provided by Erica’s Rugelach.

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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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Breaking News: Ronnie Taylor released in Houston

Posted: October 9, 2007 3:20 pm

Ronnie Taylor was released from a Houston courtroom this morning, a free man for the first time in 14 years. DNA tests have now shown that Taylor was wrongfully convicted of a rape based on eyewitness misidentification and crime lab errors.

Today’s press on the case:

Associated Press: Texas man cleared on rape charges ordered released from prison on $10 bond

Read the Innocence Project press release on the case.

In an op-ed piece in Sunday’s Houston Chronicle, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck joined with Texas State Senators John Whitmore and Rodney Ellis (the chairman of the Innocence Project Board of Directors) to outline a plan for testing to proceed in these cases before any injustice continues to stand. Read the op-ed here.


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Media coverage: Ronnie Taylor released

Posted: October 10, 2007 12:48 pm

Innocence Project client Ronnie Taylor walked out of a Houston courtroom yesterday a free man for the first time in 14 years, after DNA tests proved that he did not commit the 1993 rape for which he was imprisoned. He was released on $10 bond and the conviction will not be fully cleared until he receives a pardon or the state’s highest criminal court grants him a writ of habeas corpus.

Taylor’s case has continued to raise questions about the Houston Police Department Crime Lab, where a recent audit pointed to several hundred cases in need of immediate retesting. Taylor left the courthouse and spoke yesterday before the Houston City Council, where emotional council members called for the Houston community to work together on retesting evidence in cases highlighted by the recent audit.

Read more about Taylor’s case and the Houston lab issues here.

Media coverage from yesterday and today on Taylor’s release:

VIDEO: ABC 13: Man wrongfully convicted of rape now a free man

VIDEO: KHOU – Now a free man, Taylor takes cause to City Council

Houston Chronicle:  Man cleared for rape granted $10 bond 

Associated Press: Wrongly Imprisoned Man Freed in Texas

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Lecture on wrongful convictions tonight in Westchester County, NY

Posted: October 11, 2007 10:11 am

Purchase College in New York is holding a lecture tonight entitled “Innocence: The Wrongfully Convicted in America.” Among the event’s featured speakers will be Jeff Deskovic, who was wrongfully incarcerated for 15 years before DNA analysis proved his innocence.
 
The lecture will take place at 6:30pm. For more information, visit Purchase College’s website.

Read more about Deskovic’s case here and visit his website to see his upcoming speaking events.



Tags: Jeff Deskovic

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Innocence Project Northwest marks its tenth anniversary

Posted: October 11, 2007 10:20 am

The Innocence Project Northwest is celebrating its tenth anniversary tonight with a benefit celebration and a screening of the documentary “The Trials of Darryl Hunt.” The IPNW, a clinical law program at the University Of Washington School Of Law, has overturned 11 convictions in ten years. The project accepts cases involving DNA evidence and those in which non-DNA evidence can prove innocence. Hunt and his attorneys will be in attendance to mark IPNW’s tenth anniversary and to discuss Hunt’s 19-year battle for freedom.

The screening will take place at 7pm tonight. To buy tickets visit IPNW’s website.

Read more about Darryl Hunt’s case here.

The Innocence Project Northwest is a member of the Innocence Network.



Tags: Darryl Hunt

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Federal money for DNA testing goes unspent

Posted: October 11, 2007 12:28 pm

Although Congress set aside $8 million in 2006 to be spent on DNA testing in cases in which it could overturn a wrongful conviction, not a penny has been spent, according to a report today in USA Today. The funding can be provided to states that certify that biological evidence is being preserved for future testing statewide. Only three states have applied for the funds, and at least one – Arizona –  has been rejected.

"DNA evidence is such a powerful tool in proving guilt or innocence that it's inexcusable not to use it," says Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chief sponsor of a bill to provide more funding for what is known as innocence testing.
 
Read the full article here. (USA Today, 10/11/07)
View a map of states that require evidence preservation in at least some crime categories.
 
Learn more about the Innocence Project’s recommendations on evidence preservation, and read a major Denver Post series on preservation issues nationwide.



Tags: Evidence Preservation

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Eyewitness identification discussion Sunday in New York City

Posted: October 12, 2007 2:29 pm

Innocence Project Staff Attorney / Mayer Brown Eyewitness Fellow Ezekiel Edwards will join the Society for Ethical Culture in New York City for a discussion on wrongful conviction and eyewitness misidentification on Sunday, October 14, at 11:30 a.m. Edwards will discuss how eyewitness misidentification has contributed to 77 percent of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing, and outline law enforcement reforms proven to increase the accuracy of identifications.

Learn more about the event here.

Read more about eyewitness identification reforms here
.


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Dallas editorial: State needs innocence commission

Posted: October 12, 2007 2:31 pm

The editorial board of the Dallas Morning News this week called for the creation of a state innocence commission, which failed to pass in the legislature during the 2007 session. Six states have created commissions to study the causes of wrongful convictions and recommend reforms to prevent future injustice.

The concept is this: A broad-based commission of experts would examine breakdowns in the criminal justice system and pinpoint ways they might have been prevented. Lawmakers could follow up by putting reforms into law.

In a state with 29 documented DNA-linked exonerations – more than any other in the nation – any serious effort to improve criminal justice is laudable. Especially for Dallas County, which accounts for 13 of those 29 exonerations.

Read the full editorial here. (Dallas Morning News, 10/10/07)
Read more about innocence commissions and view a map of the six states with commission.



Tags: Innocence Commissions

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Denver police destroyed biological evidence in hundreds of cases

Posted: October 12, 2007 2:34 pm

The Denver Police Department disclosed in a recent grant application that it disposed of 90 percent of evidence in sexual assault cases before 1995, according to a Denver Post report today. Department officials said they were running out of storage options in the 1990s and began to routinely destroy evidence.

Scientists who specialize in genetics have called the purging of evidence after the DNA revolution disturbing.
"By 1990 to 1993, at that point, DNA is well-known," said Alec Jeffries, the British geneticist who discovered the DNA "fingerprint" in 1984. "They would have known the real utility (of DNA)," he said, referring to most law-enforcement officials nationwide.

Even if statutes of limitations have expired on cases, the samples can still be used to aid criminal investigations into serial offenders. They also can help defense attorneys prove the innocence of their convicted clients when DNA analysis wasn't previously available.

Read the full story here. (Denver Post, 10/11/07)
After a major series in the Denver Post this summer uncovered problems with evidence preservation in Colorado and nationwide, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter created a task force to review state law enforcement practices. The commission first met in September and the next meeting is set for Oct. 17.

Read more about the new DNA task force
.

Read more about reforms to ensure evidence preservation.



Tags: Evidence Preservation

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North Carolina man receives governor's pardon

Posted: October 12, 2007 2:45 pm

Dwayne Dail, who was exonerated in August after serving 18 years in North Carolina prison for a rape he didn’t commit, received a pardon from Gov. Mike Easley this week, proclaiming his innocence of the crime. The pardon makes Dail, who has since moved to Florida, eligible under the state’s compensation statute to receive $20,000 for each year he was incarcerated.

Dail learned of the pardon this week from his attorney Chris Mumma, the director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence. Dail said he plans to to start pursuing an education in collecting and preserving crime scene evidence.

"I'm impatient," Dail said. "I'm trying to catch up on every day I've lost. I've been antsy sitting still."
Dail, 19, a day laborer when he entered prison, left it without health insurance, without a job and without a degree that might help him secure a good one.

"We open the doors and say, 'You're out. That's it,' " Mumma said. "I'm embarrassed that all we can offer him is $20,000 a year for all he's been through."

Read the full story here. (The News & Observer, 10/11/07)
Read more about Dwayne Dail’s case here.

North Carolina is one of 22 states with a state law compensating exonerated individuals. View our map to see if your state has a compensation law.



Tags: Dwayne Dail

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Six years of freedom for Ohio man

Posted: October 15, 2007 10:40 am

Anthony Michael Green celebrates the sixth anniversary of his exoneration this Thursday. He was released from prison on October 18, 2001, having spent 13 years behind bars for a rape and robbery he did not commit.

Green’s wrongful conviction was based partly on false testimony from a Cleveland Police Department Forensic Lab expert. At Green’s trial, the expert testified that serological testing performed on a washcloth left at the scene proved that Green could have been the attacker. Further, the expert told the jury that only 16 percent of men could have left this stain. Because the victim and Green had the same blood type, this statistic was false.

In 2001, DNA testing conducted upon the request of the Innocence Project proved Green’s innocence beyond a doubt. Forensic science misconduct is one of the major causes of wrongful convictions.

Read more about Green’s case.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Friday: James Ochoa, California (Served 10 months, Exonerated 10/19/2006)



Tags: Anthony Michael Green, James Ochoa

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The Ronnie Taylor case: A chain of errors and a path to reform

Posted: October 15, 2007 3:51 pm

In 1994, when Ronnie Taylor had been in a Houston jail for a year awaiting a rape trial, he wrote a note to the judge: "I've set here for over one year without bond on charges I didn't commit. As each day passes it gets harder and harder.”

He was wrongfully convicted in 1995 and it was over 5,000 difficult days later – last Tuesday – that he finally walked free after DNA testing proved his innocence. An article in the Houston Chronicle this weekend uncovers the errors that led to Taylor’s wrongful conviction, and an editorial calls for immediate reform in Taylor’s name.

Taylor was convicted based on shoddy police work, a questionable eyewitness identification and a major error by the scandal-plagued Houston crime lab. Hours after the crime, the police had the street name of the man who is now implicated in the crime by a DNA match. Instead, they pursued Taylor and charged him after the questionable identification.

As the case against Taylor unraveled, leading to his release from prison last week, weaknesses throughout the investigation have become clear, according to a review of police and court documents.

Read the investigative report here. (Houston Chronicle, 10/14/07)
After Taylor’s release last Tuesday, he went straight to a Houston City Council meeting to ask officials to take action to ensure that no more innocent victims of crime lab error remain behind bars in Texas. The Chronicle pointed out this weekend that it has been five years since errors were first uncovered at the Houston Police Department Crime Lab, and yet hundreds of cases have never received a second look. The editorial praised a group of Houston judges for taking action last week by forming a panel to study 180 convictions for possible lab error. But private groups in Houston must work together to ensure that this effort is well staffed and moves quickly.
Among these inmates might be more Houstonians like Ronald Taylor: innocent men and women for whom each day behind bars is another robbed from their lives.

This is why it's so urgent to re-examine these documented miscarriages of justice. It's also why the job requires expert, disinterested professionals. Some judges presiding over the case reviews were prosecutors on some of the very cases in question.

The new panel must be able to publicly account for its progress by January. Ronald Gene Taylor should not have to wait one day longer to see Houston pursuing justice

Read the full editorial here. (Houston Chronicle, 10/14/07)


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Group calls for investigation of Washington lab

Posted: October 16, 2007 3:04 pm

A criminal defense organization today called on Washington State’s Forensic Investigations Council to review alleged misconduct in the Washington State Patrol’s crime labs. The Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (WACDL) urged the council in a letter today to examine possible problems in lab testing during the tenure of toxicology lab manager Ann Marie Gordon, who resigned in July after the allegations were made public. The group is also questioning the testimony of a ballistics analyst in a number of cases.

Read the full story here. (The Olympian, 10/16/07)

WACDL’s president-elect called for a thorough review of the lab’s work in a statement today:

“We want to ensure that innocent people are not imprisoned, and that people who have committed crimes are brought to justice. Accurate forensic work is essential to the fair administration of the law,” said Bill Bowman, president-elect of the Washington State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (WACDL).

Read the WACDL press release here. (PDF)


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"The Trials of Darryl Hunt" on DVD

Posted: October 16, 2007 3:05 pm

An award-winning documentary film about a North Carolina man’s two-decade fight for justice, “The Trials of Darryl Hunt” releases today on DVD.

Watch a trailer of the film.

Add it to your Netflix Queue.

Buy it on Amazon.com.




Tags: Darryl Hunt

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California governor vetoes justice reforms

Posted: October 16, 2007 3:15 pm

For the second year in a row, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday vetoed three bills passed by the state legislature to reduce the number of wrongful convictions in the state. The bills would have required law enforcement agencies to record interrogations in certain crimes, required jailhouse informant testimony to be corroborated and created a task force to develop guidelines on increasing the accuracy of eyewitness identifications.

The chairman of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice said in a statement yesterday that “Schwarzenegger has taken California out of the front lines of criminal justice reform.”

The vacuum of leadership in the Governor’s mansion will not make the causes of wrongful convictions disappear. We cannot insert our heads in the sand as the parade of innocents who have been wrongfully convicted continues to grow.

Read the full statement here. (PDF)
Schwarzenegger, in his veto messages, said new state policies would “would place unnecessary restrictions on police.”

Read the governor’s veto statements here
.

More coverage: Gov. vetoes bills on criminal procedures (Los Angeles Times, 10/16/07)

The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, one of six innocence commissions nationwide, will hold its next public meeting tomorrow, October 17, at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California. Click here for the meeting’s agenda.





Tags: California, Innocence Commissions, False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification, Informants/Snitches

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Dispatch from the field: Colorado sets an example by exploring evidence reforms

Posted: October 17, 2007 7:00 am

BY: Rebecca Brown, Innocence Project Policy Analyst


(NOTE: This is the first post in a new Innocence Blog feature called "Dispatches from the Field." These posts will bring you a personal perspective from Innocence Project attorneys, policy analysts, exonerees and others as breaking news and major events happen. Thanks for reading.)


I’m writing from Denver, Colorado, where I will be testifying later today before the state’s new Task Force on the Preservation of Evidence.  I’m here to educate the panel members about the importance of preserving biological evidence for both solving criminal cases and protecting the innocent, and to help them understand how law enforcement agencies can – simply yet effectively – collect, preserve and catalogue crime scene evidence. The existence of this panel, which brings together a cross-section of state criminal justice experts, represents significant momentum to improve the quality of justice in Colorado. We at the Innocence Project are happy to be part of this reform process.

After a groundbreaking four-part series this summer in the Denver Post highlighted shortcomings in the state’s evidence preservation policies, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter formed this task force to review state policies and make recommendations for reform. Colorado’s current preservation law fails to require the automatic retention of biological evidence, and only mandates the preservation of biological evidence when a court has granted a hearing pursuant to its post-conviction DNA testing law.  The law explicitly states that there is neither “a duty to preserve biological evidence” nor liability on the part of those who fail to preserve evidence. There is no statewide inventory or catalogue system, making it extremely difficult in some cases to find evidence attached to both innocence claims and old or “cold” cases. There have been reports of evidence room purges throughout the state, including in Denver and Colorado Springs. It is time for a statewide system to be put in place, and this panel is the right way to start. In the DNA age, states have a duty to handle biological evidence with an eye to its ability to factor into criminal investigations and legal appeals in the future.

As I will tell the panel today, none of the 208 people exonerated by DNA testing would be where they are today if evidence in their cases had been lost or destroyed. Through DNA exonerations, we have seen the need for critical reforms – in areas like identification and forensic policy – and we have also seen the incredible power of this technology to solve old crimes – exonerating the innocent and identifying the guilty. Some states have been slow to adapt policies to the new technology, and far too many law enforcement departments around the country continue to operate with no formal system for cataloguing and preserving  evidence. When the evidence room gets full, older items are often thrown out to make more room or lost in long-term storage. In the interest of justice, that simply can’t continue to happen

In 2004, Congress passed the Justice for All Act, recognizing the importance of preservation by offering millions of dollars in criminal justice funding to states that follow certain preservation practices. An article last week in USA Today revealed that much of this money is going unspent because states have either not applied for these funds or have been rejected due to their preservation policies. We expect to see more federal funding programs tied to proper evidence handling in the near future – giving states even more incentive to act now in updating these policies.

It is inspiring to see Colorado taking steps to improve evidence preservation and it is time for more states to follow this example. Interest from the press and the public sparked this momentum in Colorado and you can make this happen in your state. Click here to reach out to the media, elected officials or your local law enforcement agency to tell them you’re concerned about evidence preservation in your state.

The Innocence Project Policy Department is also happy to provide resources to help law enforcement agencies review and reform evidence handling practices. Please contact us at info@innocenceproject.org for more information.



Tags: Evidence Preservation

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Michigan man freed amid doubts about his guilt

Posted: October 17, 2007 12:23 pm

Claude McCollum, who had been incarcerated since 2005 for a murder he says he didn’t commit, walked out of a Lansing, Michigan, jail yesterday after prosecutors asked a judge to throw out the conviction due to new evidence in the case. McCollum was arrested in 2005 and convicted in 2006 for allegedly killing a professor on the campus of Lansing Community College. The judge decided this week McCollum could wear an electronic monitoring device instead of being held on bond. State Police officials told reporters yesterday that the new evidence is a confession from another man, who is also facing charges in at least five other murders.

McCollum, 30, was convicted based partially on statements he allegedly made to police about how he could have committed the crime while sleepwalking. DNA evidence from the crime scene was shown at trial to exclude McCollum and come from an unknown male. Officials have not disclosed whether this biological evidence has been compared to the profile of the new suspect.

After his release Tuesday, McCollum, 30, told reporters: "It was one of the greatest feelings in the world. There was a time when I had doubts, but something told me things were going to work out, and that I'll finally see this day."


Read the full story here. (Detroit Free Press, 10/17/07)
Read previous blog posts about this case.

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Innocence Project calls on lawmakers to fix New York State's justice system

Posted: October 18, 2007 2:22 pm

At a press conference this morning, Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld and two New York exonerees announced the release of a major new Innocence Project report: “Lessons Not Learned.” The report details the 23 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing in New York State and lays out a clear path to reform.

Only two states – Texas and Illinois – have had more wrongful convictions overturned with DNA testing than New York. Some more facts from the report:

• In 10 of New York’s 23 DNA exonerations, the actual perpetrator was later identified.

• In nine of those 10 cases, the actual perpetrators of crimes for which innocent people were wrongfully convicted went on to commit additional crimes while an innocent person was in prison.

• In 10 of the 23 cases in New York, innocent people falsely confessed or admitted to crimes that DNA later proved they did not commit.
But while other states have passed reforms proven to address these issues and prevent future injustice, New York lawmakers have failed to act.
• Six states – but not New York – have formed Innocence Commissions to identify the causes of wrongful convictions and develop remedies to prevent them. All but one of those states (Illinois) have far fewer wrongful convictions overturned through DNA than New York does.

• 22 states – but not New York – have statutes mandating the preservation of crime scene evidence. The 22 states with such laws include California, Florida, Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma, Montana and Kentucky.

• Nine states – but not New York – require at least some interrogations to be recorded (either through state statute or ruling of the state high court). In addition, more than 500 local jurisdictions record at least some interrogations. Even though more people have been exonerated by DNA after falsely confessing to crimes in New York than in any other state, only two of these 500 local jurisdictions are in New York State.
Download the full report here.

Read the Innocence Project press release.

New York Times: New York State Not Doing Enough to Prevent Wrongful Convictions, Report Says 

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Innocence Project calls on Alabama governor to stop execution and grant DNA tests

Posted: December 3, 2007 5:25 pm

The execution of Alabama death row inmate Tommy Arthur is set for Thursday, despite a pending appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court and the Innocence Project’s repeated requests that Gov. Bob Riley stop the execution and order crucial DNA testing that could prove Arthur’s innocence or guilt.

Read a new letter from the Innocence Project to Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, as well as more of today’s breaking news on the case here.

Updates will be posted throughout the week here on the Innocence Blog.





Tags: Death Penalty, Tommy Arthur

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Hearing tomorrow in Dallas case

Posted: October 18, 2007 5:34 pm

For 21 years, Clay Chabot has said he had nothing to do with the brutal 1986 murder for which he was convicted. Tomorrow, his conviction is finally expected to be thrown out by a Dallas judge, after DNA testing proved that a key prosecution witness lied on the stand to protect himself and convict Chabot.

The Innocence Project, which joined with the Dallas County Districty Attorney’s office in calling for Chabot’s conviction to be vacated, is seeking Chabot’s release on bond tomorrow.

Read the Innocence Project press release here.

Read previous blog posts on Chabot’s case.



Tags: Clay Chabot

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Innocence Project calls for evidence reforms in Colorado

Posted: October 18, 2007 5:31 pm

Innocence Project Policy Analyst Rebecca Brown told Colorado’s DNA task force yesterday that state evidence preservation standards are vital to ensuring fair justice in criminal cases.

Brown stressed that any new effort to reform Colorado's statute also could aim to protect cold-case evidence, alluding to recent discoveries that crucial materials have been lost in dozens of unsolved cases.

"It's an incredible waste" of criminal justice resources, Brown said, to see crime-scene items lost or destroyed.

Most panel members - the vast majority appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter boast backgrounds in law enforcement - reached a consensus that uniform standards should be pursued.

Read the full story here. (Denver Post, 10/18/07)
In an Innocence Blog dispatch yesterday, Brown wrote that “none of the 208 people exonerated by DNA testing would be where they are today if evidence in their cases had been lost or destroyed.” Read the full post here.

Read more about evidence preservation here.View our map to see where your state stands on the preservation of evidence.
 



Tags: Evidence Preservation

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Media coverage: Innocence Project calls for New York reforms

Posted: October 19, 2007 11:50 am

There has been a great deal of media coverage of the Innocence Project’s report, “Lessons Not Learned,” released yesterday at a press conference in New York City. The report details the causes of the 23 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing in New York State and calls for reforms to prevent future injustice.

Read the press release and download the full report here.

Click on the links below to read media coverage online:

New York Times: New York State Not Doing Enough to Prevent Wrongful Convictions, Report Says

NBC 4: N.Y. Group Asks For Legal Reforms To Prevent Wrongful Convictions

Reuters: N.Y. failing to act on wrongful convictions: study

Associated Press: NY group asks for legal reforms to prevent wrongful convictions


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Dispatch from Dallas: The waiting continues for Clay Chabot

Posted: October 19, 2007 4:11 pm

By: Vanessa Potkin, Innocence Project Staff Attorney

Yesterday I sat in a Dallas jail visiting room with Clay Chabot, discussing with him the likelihood that he would not be released after his hearing in a Dallas courtroom this morning. He has been waiting 21 years to prove his innocence, he said, and he would wait a little bit longer.

This morning a judge granted the joint request of the Innocence Project and the Dallas District Attorney’s office to throw out Clay’s conviction based on the new DNA evidence that Clay’s brother-in-law committed the crime. We had asked that Clay be released on bail to rejoin his family in Ohio, but that decision is pending until another hearing, which is set for next Friday.

After this morning’s hearing I spent time with Clay’s brother Mark and his longtime friend Anna, who have been waiting two decades for Clay to rejoin them at home. Clay’s two sisters and his 23-year-old son, who was an infant when he was arrested, are among the family members waiting for Clay in Ohio. Family and friends are the most important support system an exoneree can have, and when Clay is released he will be welcomed home by a wonderful group of people who have stood by him for a long time. We hope this day comes soon.

Dallas has had more wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing than any other country in the nation. When he is finally freed and his name cleared, Clay will join 13 other Dallas exonerees. This is a reprehensible record, but the future for criminal justice in Dallas looks promising. Prosecutors have committed to reviewing hundreds of cases in which there may be the possibility of biological evidence to prove innocence – or confirm guilt. In January, the Dallas Police Department will begin participating in a major study of eyewitness identification practices that could reduce the number of misidentifications (11 of the 13 DNA exonerations in Dallas County were caused, at least in part, by misidentifications).

While Clay’s case is currently receiving a thorough review, we are hopeful that prosecutors and judges will do the right thing and set him free. The main evidence against him at trial was the testimony of his brother-in-law Jerry Pabst, who is now implicated by a DNA match in the case. Pabst testified at Chabot’s trial that they were at the victim’s house together and that Chabot committed the crime. The DNA evidence now proves that Pabst lied on the stand to protect himself, and there is not a shred of evidence indicating that Chabot was with him. Chabot has said for 21 years that he was asleep with his wife and infant son on the night of the murder.

Clay Chabot and his family and friends will remain strong as they wait for a final decision in his case. But for his sake, let’s hope his family is reunited soon.




Tags: Dispatches, Clay Chabot

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Barry Scheck testifies before Georgia identification panel today

Posted: October 22, 2007 10:00 am

In an effort to examine eyewitness identification procedures used by law enforcement agencies statewide, Georgia legislators this year created a House Study Committee on Eyewitness Identification Procedures. Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions and was a factor in the convictions of all six innocent Georgians who have been exonerated by DNA.

Today, at the panel’s third meeting, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck will testify on eyewitness misidentification as a cause of wrongful conviction and will also outline reforms underway nationwide to improve the accuracy of identification procedures. Iowa State Psychology Professor Gary Wells will testify on social science research in the field of eyewitness identification, and Jennifer Thompson-Cannino will discuss her experience as the victim in a case involving misidentification.

Download the panel’s full schedule here.

Read a previous blog post on this topic
.





Tags: Eyewitness Misidentification

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Wisconsin man celebrates the 11th anniversary of his exoneration

Posted: October 22, 2007 3:10 pm

Fredric Saecker spent six years behind bars in Wisconsin for a crime he did not commit before DNA testing proved his innocence. Saecker was wrongly convicted of rape in 1990 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Wednesday marks the 11th anniversary of his exoneration.

Saecker’s wrongful conviction centered on several incriminating statements he made while being questioned by police. False confessions have played a role in more than 25% of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing.

Read more about Saecker’s case.

Read about other false confessions cases.

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In support of New York reforms

Posted: October 22, 2007 4:10 pm

It’s time for criminal justice reform in New York State, writes Ezekiel Edwards today on the Drum Major Institute blog. Edwards, an Innocence Project Staff Attorney and Mayer Brown Eyewitness Fellow, writes that 23 people have been exonerated by DNA testing in New York after being wrongfully convicted, but “the 260 years that those 23 innocent people spent in prison has not been tragic enough to move our policymakers into action.”

Details on these 23 cases and a clear path to reform are included in a major report released last week by the Innocence Project. An except from Edwards’ blog post:

Even in the face of repeated injustice, and with full knowledge that the above factors have repeatedly caused wrongful convictions, New York has barely lifted a finger.

• Why is it that 17 states considered legislation this year to improve eyewitness identification procedures (with bills passing in five states and making progress in seven others), but New York did nothing?

• Why is it that 22 states have statutes mandating the preservation of crime scene evidence, but New York does not?

• Why is it that six states --- five of which have had far fewer known wrongful convictions that New York --- have formed Innocence Commissions to identify the causes of wrongful convictions and develop remedies to prevent them, but New York has not?

• Why is it that, even though DNA has exonerated more people in New York who falsely confessed than in any other state, of the nine states that require at least some interrogations to be recorded, New York is not one of them?

• Why are there more than 500 local jurisdictions across the country that record at least some interrogations, but only two of these are in New York State?

Read the full blog post here. (DMI Blog, 10/22/07)
Download the full report here.

Read about the 23 New York exonerations.

On October 29, the Drum Major Institute will host a forum on wrongful convictions in New York City with Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins. The forum is free and open to the public. Click here to RSVP.


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Alan Newton’s two-decade struggle for freedom

Posted: October 23, 2007 3:32 pm

After being sentenced in 1985 to 40 years behind bars for a New York City rape he did not commit, Alan Newton continuously fought to clear his name. For eleven years he tried unsuccessfully to have the rape kit from his case tested for DNA. Finally, after the Innocence Project began to represent Newton, a final request for the evidence led to its discovery – in the exact place it should have been all along. DNA testing proved his innocence and he was released from prison, having spent 21 years behind bars.

Now a student at Medgar Evers College in New York, he often speaks to audiences about his struggle for freedom and problems plaguing the criminal justice system. Last night, he shared his story during a lecture at Wagner College.

For 12 years after (Newton) was in prison, he kept fighting his conviction, filing motions in state and federal courts to get the DNA evidence tested. Claims were made that the kit couldn't be found, it had been misplaced or was presumed destroyed.

"All these different responses told me something wasn't kosher," said Newton. "It gave me the inspiration to keep the litigation going."

Read the full story here.
Read more about Alan Newton’s case here.





Tags: Alan Newton

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Crime victim calls for better identification practices in Georgia

Posted: October 23, 2007 4:45 pm

After Jennifer Thompson-Cannino was raped in 1984, she identified a man in a police lineup as her attacker. The officer conducting the lineup told her she had done a “good job,” confirming that she’d picked the suspect. Eleven years later, DNA evidence proved that suspect, Ronald Cotton, had been wrongfully convicted of the rape.

Before a rapt audience Monday at a legislative study committee hearing, Cannino recounted the horror of her sexual assault on June 29, 1984, and her horror when learning 11 years later she had misidentified her attacker and helped send the wrong man to prison. The real attacker, later identified by DNA evidence, had gone on to rape six more women after he attacked Cannino.

"It's a human system," Cannino said. "We are fallible. We make mistakes. There are practices that can be put into place."

Read the full story here. (Atlanta Journal Constitution, 10/23/07)
Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and Iowa State Psychology Professor Gary Wells also testified before the group Monday, describing lineup procedures proven to increase the accuracy of eyewitness identifications. Download the study committee’s full schedule here.

Read more about Ronald Cotton’s wrongful conviction and exoneration here.



Tags: Georgia, Ronald Cotton, Eyewitness Identification

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Houston convictions reopened due to possible lab error

Posted: October 23, 2007 5:05 pm

Houston prosecutors met with 19 inmates at a Texas state prison Monday to offer them a state-appointed legal representative to review possible lab errors in their case. Between now and Nov. 1, this option will be presented to 180 defendants whose convictions involved questionable serology testing at the Houston Police Department Crime Lab.

Prosecutor Marie Munier said the review might find that the serology lab work played very little in the conviction of an inmate.

“The question is do we have anyone in there that faulty serology work played a part or has someone that is innocent in prison. That’s the issue I’m concerned with,” she said.

Read the full story here. (KHOU, 10/22/07)
This review stems from a two-year independent audit of the lab, completed in June, that found hundreds of cases in need of review based on possible forensic error. The Innocence Project has identified more than 400 cases in need of immediate review and called upon Houston officials and private organizations to work together to address all of the cases.  The Innocence Project and local and state leaders maintain that the cases cannot be truly addressed unless independent attorneys with access to forensic expertise review them.

Read about the case of Ronnie Taylor, who was released Oct. 9 after DNA evidence proved his innocence of a rape for which he had served 12 years in prison. An error at the Houston crime lab contributed to Taylor’s wrongful conviction, and after his release he went straight to the Houston City Council to call for systemic reforms to review possible wrongful convictions and prevent future injustice.

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Michigan lawmakers consider compensation law

Posted: October 24, 2007 1:10 pm

Nationwide, 22 states have laws providing some form of compensation for wrongfully convicted people after their release. In considering a bill that would make Michigan the 23rd state with a compensation statute, lawmakers in Lansing heard testimony yesterday from representatives of the Innocence Project at Cooley Law School and two people who served time in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. The proposed bill would provide exonerees with $50,000 for each year they spent behind bars, plus lost wages, legal fees and medical care.

Although 22 states have laws, they vary greatly in the level of compensation. With this law, Michigan would join just three other states – Texas, Vermont and Alabama – in meeting or exceeding the federal standard of up to $50,000 per year of incarceration.

Rep. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, sponsor of the proposed compensation law, said the cost to taxpayers would be relatively small because there would be very few ex-inmates eligible. But the small cost needs to be balanced against the “immeasurably huge injustice” a wrongly convicted inmate has suffered, Bieda said.

Read the full story here. (Detroit Free Press, 10/23/07)
Does your state have a compensation law? View our interactive map to find out.

The Innocence Project at Cooley Law School is a member of the Innocence Network.

 



Tags: Michigan, Exoneree Compensation

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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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Law review article: “Innocentrism” moves criminal justice forward

Posted: October 25, 2007 11:55 am

Using the term “innocentrism” for the innocence movement’s progress and the increased public awareness of innocence issues, a recent law review article responds to critics of the “actual innocence” standard and the work of innocence organizations around the country. Written by Daniel Medwed, a professor at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah, the paper finds that “innocentrism, while far from a panacea to the criminal justice system's many ills, is a positive occurrence and one that ultimately can complement, rather than replace, the emphasis on substantive and procedural rights that for good reason rests at the core of American criminal law.”

The article will be published in an upcoming issue of the University of Illinois Law Review.

Read an abstract and download the full paper here.



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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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CNN: An exoneration raises questions about eyewitness identification in Georgia

Posted: October 25, 2007 4:42 pm

In a new video and article today on CNN, Willie “Pete” Williams describes the struggle of spending half his life in Georgia prison for a rape he didn’t commit. He tells reporter Thom Patterson that it took him years to overcome his anger at the injustice he suffered.

"I couldn't function out there around the other inmates," Williams said. "I was mad, I was bitter. I felt the whole world just gave me up."

It wasn't until 1997 -- more than a decade after he was locked away -- that Williams' own voice freed him from the grip of his anger. At Valdosta State Prison, a close friend named Charlie Brown helped him join a Christian choir -- leading him to accept Jesus.

"Singing was like being out here, in a sense. It freed me from all the things, from all the fights, from the officers who were cruel, prison, stabbings," said Williams, who especially embraced the hymn "Amazing Grace."

Read the full story and watch the video interview here. (CNN, 10/25/07)
The wrongful convictions of Williams and five other Georgia men were all all based, at least in part, on eyewitness misidentification, the leading cause of wrongful conviction. This week, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck testified about proposed reforms before a panel of Georgia lawmakers charged with reviewing statewide eyewitness identification practices and reporting on possible improvements to these procedures.

Read more about eyewitness identification reforms in today’s CNN article.

Download the full meeting schedule of the Georgia House Study Committee on Eyewitness Identification Procedures.




Tags: Willie Williams

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Dallas District Attorney and Barry Scheck speak Monday at NYC event

Posted: October 26, 2007 2:10 pm

On Monday, October 29, New Yorkers will have the chance to hear directly from Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and two prosecutors who have been active in uncovering wrongful convictions in their counties and taking steps to prevent future injustice. Keynote speaker Craig Watkins will discuss his experiences in his first year as the District Attorney for Dallas County, Texas, which has seen more wrongful convictions overturned by DNA than any other county in the nation. Scheck will join Janet DiFiore (District Attorney for Westchester County, New York) and New York Lt. Gov. David Patterson for a panel discussion on reforms proposed in New York to prevent future wrongful convictions.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held at the Harvard Club at 8 a.m. on Monday, October 29. Click here for details and to RSVP.

Read more about an Innocence Project report issued last week on the 23 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA New York State and the critical reforms needed to address the problem.

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Exoneree Stephan Cowans found dead in his home

Posted: October 26, 2007 3:20 pm

Stephan Cowans, who served more than five years in prison for an armed assault he didn’t commit, was found dead this morning in his Randolph, Massachusetts, home. He was apparently shot by someone he let into his house, according to a media report.

The New England Innocence Project represented Cowans during the appeals that led to his exoneration, with the assistance of the Innocence Project. Cowans had been convicted in 1998 of the May 1997 shooting of a Boston police officer.  A Boston Police Department crime lab fingerprint analyst testified that Cowans’ fingerprint was found at the crime scene.  Once DNA testing proved Cowans did not commit the crime, the fingerprint was re-analyzed – and it was not Cowans’.  As a result of Cowans’ exoneration, the fingerprint unit of the crime lab was closed and analysts were investigated. Read more about his case here.

We are deeply saddened by the loss of Stephan Cowans, who had been free just three years and was rebuilding his life after clearing his name.  Our thoughts are with his friends and family. We will post information about memorial arrangements here when they are available.

News coverage:

Boston Globe: Man wrongly convicted in Boston police shooting found dead



Tags: Stephan Cowans

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Dispatch from Dallas: Eugene Henton is freed

Posted: October 26, 2007 3:40 pm

By Vanessa Potkin, Innocence Project Staff Attorney

I’m writing from Dallas, where I spent the morning in court with two men who are already free after being exonerated through DNA testing and two wrongfully convicted men who had hearings seeking their release from custody.

Eugene Ivory Henton walked out of the courtroom today a free man for the first time in more than a decade. Mr. Henton served nearly two years in prison in the 1980s for a sexual assault DNA now proves he didn’t commit and was later imprisoned again for unrelated charges and given harsh sentences reserved for repeat offenders.

After Mr. Henton and his attorneys secured the DNA testing that cleared him of the wrongful sexual assault conviction last year, he filed for the sentences on unrelated charges to be reconsidered in light of the fact that his contact with the criminal justice system was forever marred by the wrongful conviction. The Texas court system did the right thing by throwing out those harsh sentences – and today a judge resentenced Mr. Henton to time served. He walked out of the courtroom into the arms of his family. Technically, he was exonerated in 2006 (and is one of 13 Dallas County men exonerated by DNA testing since 2001), but today he is finally free.

In the courtroom with me this morning were Texas exonerees James Waller and James Giles. Mr. Waller and Mr. Giles were exonerated by DNA testing this year. The two of them knew each other while wrongfully incarcerated at the massive Coffield state prison and have rallied around others joining their “family of exonerees.”

In Mr. Chabot’s case we agree with the Dallas District Attorney’s office and the judge that his conviction should be overturned, and we’re waiting for Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, to rule on that request. Meanwhile, a hearing on bail in his case has been continued until next week.  We will keep you updated here on the Innocence Blog as there are developments in the case.

Learn more:

Read about Clay Chabot’s case here.

Read about Eugene Ivory Henton’s case:

Dallas Morning News: Judge orders release of prisoner exonerated by DNA

Eugene Ivory Henton’s Innocence Project case profile




Tags: James Giles, Eugene Henton, James Waller, Clay Chabot

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Florida public defender proposes identification reform

Posted: October 29, 2007 12:15 pm

Almost 20 years ago, Larry Bostic was convicted in Florida of a rape he didn’t commit after the victim identified him in a photo lineup.  He was exonerated this year when DNA evidence proved his innocence, and a new investigation of the crime uncovered shocking news about the misidentification – the victim never saw the perpetrator. She told investigators this year that she had identified Bostic because she knew she had seen him around the neighborhood days before the attack.

In the wake of Bostic’s exoneration, Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein sent a letter last week to area law enforcement urging them to consider reforming their eyewitness identification policies. Eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing.

"These procedures will impact the human cost of misidentification," (Finkelstein) said. "This isn't about pointing the finger at law enforcement. This is about making sure the methodology and the systems we employ are designed so innocent people don't get ensnared in our system."

Read the full story here. (Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 10/29/2007)
Read more about proposed eyewitness identification reforms.

Read about Larry Bostic’s case.




Tags: Larry Bostic

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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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Today's news from around the nation

Posted: October 29, 2007 5:12 pm

Dallas, Texas: Eugene Henton’s chance at a new life (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 10/29/07)

Houston, Texas: Police Department should reform lineup procedure

Buffalo, New York: Wrongful Convictions show that state’s highest court was right to rule that death penalty is fatally flawed



Tags: Eugene Henton, Death Penalty

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Video: Dallas DA says his job is to seek justice, not just convictions

Posted: October 30, 2007 11:45 am

At a speech in New York City yesterday, Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins said “it’s easy to get on television and tell someone you’re going to be tough, but a hard concept is telling your constituents you’re going to be smart on crime.”

Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck joined Watkins at the panel discussion, hosted by the Drum Major Institute, calling Watkins’ work in Dallas “historic.”

Watkins, elected in 2006, is the first African-American District Attorney in Dallas history. He created a Conviction Integrity Unit to review possible past wrongful convictions. Dallas has had more wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing than any other county nationwide.

Watch a video of Watkins at yesterday’s event.

Read more about yesterday’s event on the Drum Major Institute blog.

View photos from yesterday’s event on Flickr.




Tags: Texas

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Jeffrey Deskovic celebrates his first year of freedom on Friday

Posted: October 30, 2007 11:55 am

On November 2, 2006, Jeffrey Deskovic was officially exonerated of an upstate New York rape and murder for which he had spent nearly half his life behind bars.

Deskovic’s injustice began in 1989, when police focused on him as a suspect after his high school classmate was raped and killed in Westchester County, New York. Despite being cleared as a suspect by DNA testing before the trial began, the prosecution continued with their case against Deskovic on the basis of an alleged confession he gave after three polygraph sessions and six hours of extensive questioning by detectives. He was convicted of murder based on this confession and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

In January 2006 the Innocence Project took Deskovic’s case, asking state officials to check the foreign DNA profile from the crime scene against the state database. In September 2006, the semen was matched to a convicted murderer and Deskovic was subsequently released from prison, his conviction overturned. Deskovic was released later that same month, and officially cleared on November 2.

In July 2007, the Westchester County District Attorney released a report on Deskovic’s wrongful conviction, “showing the urgent need for reform – and what’s at stake.” Read the full report here.

Today Deskovic is working toward his bachelor’s degree at Mercy College in New York and speaks frequently on the issues of wrongful convictions and false confessions. Visit his website for more information on his upcoming appearances.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Saturday: Rolando Cruz, Illinois (Served 10.5 years, Exonerated 11/3/1995)





Tags: Rolando Cruz, Jeff Deskovic

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Two years later, Louisiana exoneree searches for home

Posted: October 30, 2007 1:15 pm

An article on the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal profiles Michael Anthony Williams, who was exonerated in 2005 after serving 24 years in Louisiana prison for a rape he didn’t commit. Williams was convicted at age 17 and has had a difficult time adjusting to life outside of prison.

“When you are in prison for as long as I was, people either think you must be guilty or at least damaged,” says Mr. Williams.

Read a story preview here. (Wall Street Journal, 10/30/07. Full article only available to subscribers)
Read more about Michael Williams’ case.

Make a donation to the Innocence Project Exoneree Fund
, which helps the recently exonerated with vital necessities like food, housing and clothing immediately upon release.





Tags: Michael Anthony Williams

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"The Exonerated" onstage in New York

Posted: October 31, 2007 2:26 pm

Opening tomorrow in New York City 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.

Kerry Max Cook, who served 22 years on death row in Texas for a crime he didn’t commit, will answer questions after the performances this weekend, and Innocence Project Staff Attorney Alba Morales will speak on a panel after the Nov. 10 performance.

The play runs through Nov. 11. For more information and to buy tickets visit the Red Fern Theater website or call 212-712-6322.

Each production at the Red Fern Theater supports an organization that addresses the themes of the play. A portion of proceeds from “The Exonerated” will go to Brooklyn Law School’s Second Look Program, which works on non-DNA post-conviction innocence claims. The Second Look Program is a member of the Innocence Network.



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Connecticut exoneree tells students his story

Posted: October 31, 2007 6:10 pm

James Tillman told a packed auditorium at Qunnipiac University last week that he just wanted to clear his name before he died.

“I just always wanted to say I’m not a rapist,” Tillman told the audience, as he recounted his wrongful rape conviction and his 16 years in Connecticut prison before he was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2006.

The jury, according to Tillman, was made up of upper middle class whites. Besides his mother, he said, he was the only African American in the court room."There were no blacks in my jury," Tillman said. "I felt that I should've had a cross section, but it didn't happen."

Read the full story here. (Quinnipiac Chronicle, 10/31/07)
Read more about James Tillman’s case here.

 



Tags: James Tillman

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Funeral arrangements for exoneree Stephan Cowans

Posted: October 31, 2007 6:10 pm

Stephan Cowans, who served more than five years in prison for an armed assault he didn’t commit, was found dead Oct. 26 in his Randolph, Massachusetts, home. He was apparently shot by someone he let into his house, according to a media report. We are the Innocence Project are deeply saddened by the loss of Mr. Cowans.

Following are the funeral arrangements:

Friday, Nov. 2 Elliot Congregational Church, 56 Dale Street, Roxbury, MA, 02119. Viewing at 6 p.m. and service  at 7 p.m.

Read more about this tragedy in our previous blog post
.



Tags: Stephan Cowans

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Exoneration becomes campaign issue for prosecutors

Posted: November 1, 2007 12:45 pm

When the Innocence Project appealed Douglas Warney’s Rochester, New York, murder conviction in 2004, prosecutors opposed his right to DNA testing and a judge ruled against Warney. Meanwhile, the prosecution proceeded to conduct the testing in secret. DNA tests proved Warney’s innocence and matched the profile of a man in prison for other crimes. This man admitted that he had committed the murder for which Warney was wrongfully convicted, and Warney was freed in 2006.

Rochester District Attorney Michael Green told reporters recently that he is “extremely proud of the way that we handled that case.” But Carla Biggs, who is challenging Green in the county’s election for district attorney on Nov. 6, said she believed Green’s office had botched the case by opposing testing and then conducting the tests anyway.

"There's never a reason to hide from the truth," Briggs said.

Read the full story here. (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 11/01/07)
Read more about Warney’s case here.





Tags: Douglas Warney

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Another execution date in Alabama, still no DNA test

Posted: November 1, 2007 2:14 pm

Despite a halt in capital punishment in many states due to a Supreme Court challenge to lethal injection, Alabama officials announced yesterday they had scheduled two executions for December and January. Set for Dec. 6 is the execution of Thomas Arthur, who has always said he was wrongfully convicted and is still seeking DNA testing in his case. The Innocence Project has asked Alabama Gov. Bob Riley to delay Arthur’s execution until DNA testing can be performed. Riley has refused these repeated requests.

“As we have said before, we do not have a position on whether Thomas Arthur is guilty or innocent. Our concern is that biological evidence may exist that could be subjected to DNA testing and prove whether or not he is guilty. The victim’s wife in this case was convicted of murdering her husband and then changed her story; DNA testing could show that she changed her story only to get out of prison sooner, and that in fact someone other than Thomas Arthur committed this crime,” Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld said in September, after Riley granted a 45-day stay for Alabama to review lethal injection procedures.

Read the Innocence Project press release on this case.

Read the Birmingham News story on the scheduled executions of Arthur and James Harvey Callahan.

Read news coverage of the nationwide halt to executions.



Tags: Death Penalty

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Houston inmates ask to reopen their cases

Posted: November 2, 2007 3:20 pm

During the last two weeks, groups of inmates convicted of crimes in Harris County, Texas, gathered at various state prisons for a conference call with officials in Houston. The court representatives were asking the inmates if they would like to have their cases reexamined due to possible forensic errors at the troubled Houston Police Department crime lab. Most inmates said “yes.”

In July, an independent auditor completed a review of hundreds of cases handled by the crime lab. The audit’s report identified 180 cases with “major issues” in forensic analysis. Of that group, 160 inmates have been offered legal representation and a case review thus far. Ten additional inmates are out of prison and will be contacted. The remaining 10 were executed. This review stems from the problems first identified in Houston’s crime lab in 2002. The Innocence Project has recently called for community support to review hundreds of additional Houston cases (beyond the initial 180) where serology in the crime lab was incomplete. Last month, Innocence Project client Ronnie Taylor was released from prison after DNA testing showed that he did not a commit for which he was convicted. Taylor’s conviction was caused, in part, by incomplete serology work at the crime lab. Two people – George Rodriguez and Josiah Sutton – have been exonerated by DNA testing after they were wrongfully convicted based partly on faulty testing in the Houston lab.

The cases being reviewed, some which date back to the 1980s, include several death row inmates and others convicted of violent crimes such as robbery and rape.

While some of the inmates simply said "yes" before shuffling back to their cells, for others it was more emotional.

"Some of them wanted to start talking about their case right away," said Bob Wicoff, a Houston defense lawyer assigned to lead the review. "One of them told me, 'I've been waiting for this day. I love you.'

Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 11/02/07)
More news:

VIDEO: A Houston news report today raises questions about current, ongoing problems at the Houston Police Department crime lab, based on allegations by a former lab analyst that officials at the crime lab ignored proficiency standards. Watch now. (KHOU, 11/02/07)

Read more about Ronnie Taylor’s release last month and the ongoing review of Houston lab cases.



Tags: George Rodriguez, Josiah Sutton

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California lab report finds no error, Neufeld calls findings “hopelessly compromised”

Posted: November 2, 2007 3:28 pm

Officials announced this week that an internal investigation of alleged errors at the Santa Clara County, California, crime lab has cleared a lab technician of wrongdoing. The district attorney’s internal report was sparked by the Northern California Innocence Project’s allegation that a lab analyst had testified falsely about chemical analysis in the case of Jeffrey Rodriguez, who spent five years in prison for a robbery he says he didn’t commit. Rodriguez was freed last year amid significant evidence of his innocence.

In an article in today’s San Jose Mercury News, Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld calls the district attorney’s report “hopelessly compromised,” because it was not an independent review by an outside agency. A federal program provides funding for forensic labs if they can show that they have a process in place to independently investigate allegations of serious negligence or misconduct. The Innocence Project has said that an internal investigation does not meet this standard.

The internal report, conducted by district attorney investigator Gil Vizzusi, appears to minimize Moriyama's errors - suggesting they were simply imprecise testimony - and states that Rodriguez's innocence "has not been established."

The attorney who succeeded in overturning Rodriguez's conviction, Irma Castillo, called the report "really troubling to me." …

(Innocence Project Co-Director) Peter Neufeld contended that Carr's office had a vested interest in upholding the science of the lab because (lab analyst Mark) Moriyama's examinations were used in scores of Santa Clara County cases.

Read the full story here. (San Jose Mercury News, 11/02/07)

More background:

The Santa Clara County Bar Association is hosting a special meeting today with local prosecutors and defense attorneys on the topic of forensic testing.

Innocence Project Research Analyst Gabriel S. Oberfield wrote an Innocence Blog post last week on crime lab oversight commissions and investigations.

Read more about crime lab oversight in our Fix the System section.



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Column: new policies needed to halt unjust convictions

Posted: November 5, 2007 1:40 pm

In yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, forensic psychologist Katherine Ramsland writes that wrongful convictions have uncovered flaws in the American criminal justice that need to be addressed immediately. She compares the proposed reforms to Miranda Rights, which were controversial when mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1966 but are considered standard practice today.

Of course, we should expect collateral damage within any human institution, but if we have identified ways to reduce it, we should utilize them. It is shocking that officials entrusted with public safety would worry more about technical slip-ups that might free a guilty person than about errors that repeatedly have victimized the innocent.

Read the full column here. (Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/04/07)


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David Gray celebrates nine years of freedom

Posted: November 5, 2007 2:35 pm

Nine years ago tomorrow, on Nov. 6, 1998, David Gray walked out of an Illinois prison after serving 20 years for a crime he did not commit. He was wrongfully convicted of rape and sentenced to 60 years behind bars. He fought to clear his name for 20 years before he attained the testing to prove his innocence. In 1998, DNA testing on a quilt from the scene of the rape proved that Gray could not have committed the crime. His conviction was overturned one year later, making his exoneration official.

The first trial against Gray, which centered on the victim’s misidentification of him as her attacker, ended in a hung jury. At a second trial, however, the prosecution’s case was supplemented with testimony from a jailhouse snitch who claimed that Gray had confessed to him. Snitch testimony and eyewitness misidentification are two of the major causes of wrongful conviction. Learn more about these and other causes of wrongful conviction here.


Read more about David Gray's case here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Wednesday: Bernard Webster, Maryland (Served 20 years, Exonerated 11/7/2002)



Tags: David A. Gray, Bernard Webster

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Oklahoma District Attorney Bill Peterson to retire

Posted: November 6, 2007 10:41 am

Bill Peterson, the lead prosecutor in the trials that sent two innocent Oklahoma men to prison – one to death row – in 1988, announced yesterday that he plans to retire after January 1, 2008.

Peterson, who has been the district attorney for Pontotoc, Seminole and Hughes Counties in Oklahoma since 1980, will not finish his term, which had three years remaining. He was the lead prosecutor in the convictions of Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson, who were wrongfully convicted in 1988 of the 1982 murder of Debra Sue Carter in Ada, Oklahoma. Two other men convicted by Peterson’s office, Thomas Ward and Karl Fontenot, are serving life in prison for a murder they say they didn’t commit.

Read the news coverage of Peterson’s announcement. (Ada Evening News, 11/05/07)

The cases of Fritz and Williamson are the subject of John Grisham’s recent book, “The Innocent Man,” and Fritz’s own book, “Journey Toward Justice.”

Read more about the cases of Thomas Ward and Karl Fontenot.




Tags: Dennis Fritz, Ron Williamson

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Fox News: Schwarzenegger vetoes justice

Posted: November 6, 2007 10:43 am

In a column published yesterday on FoxNews.com, Radley Balko reports on California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision to veto three criminal justice reform bills last month. The bills would have required law enforcement agencies to record interrogations in certain crimes, required jailhouse informant testimony to be corroborated and created a task force to develop guidelines on increasing the accuracy of eyewitness identifications.

Our criminal justice system is in dire need of repair. The spate of DNA exonerations has at least opened many Americans' eyes to the very real possibility that we're sending innocent people to prison—and even to death row.

But the number of cases in which DNA was found at the scene of a crime was properly preserved, and where testing could establish guilt or innocence, is vanishingly small. DNA testing has exposed the flaws in our system, but those flaws don't exist only in cases where DNA was significant—they also exist in the overwhelming majority of cases where it isn't. That's why we need to apply the lessons we've learned from DNA exonerations to other cases.

And it's why Gov. Schwarzenegger's refusal to adopt even modest reforms is so regrettable.Read the full column here. (FoxNews.com, 11/05/07)




Tags: False Confessions, Informants/Snitches, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Nebraska Supreme Court approves DNA testing for two inmates

Posted: November 6, 2007 2:00 pm

In an important case for the right of defendants in Nebraska to seek DNA testing when it has the potential to prove their innocence, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday that two men convicted of murder – Thomas Winslow and Joseph Edgar White – had the right to DNA testing in their case.

In a unanimous opinion written by Judge Lindsey Miller-Lerman in the Winslow case, the Supreme Court said for the first time that convicted criminals who pleaded guilty or no contest have not given up their right to seek DNA testing.

In the White opinion, also unanimous and written by Miller-Lerman, the high court noted that the credibility of the witnesses testifying against White would be called into question if DNA tests showed the semen belonged neither to White nor to Winslow, but to someone else.

Read the full story here. (Omaha World-Herald, 11/06/07)
The Innocence Project is not involved in the cases of Winslow and White, but has said for months that the men deserve DNA testing. Read a September press release on the case.




Tags: Nebraska

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Dispatch from California: Using technology to ensure justice for all

Posted: November 7, 2007 10:46 am

By Audrey Levitin, Innocence Project Director of Development

I’m writing from San Jose, California, where tonight Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld and I will attend the 2007 Tech Museum Awards Gala. We’re here because the Innocence Project is among 25 laureates from around the world to be nominated for this year’s awards, which honor groups using technology to make the world “safer and healthier, more prosperous and just.” Representatives from organizations around the world are here for the awards, and we’re honored to a part of this prestigious event. The Tech Awards are hosted by the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, an institution devoted to educating the public on the technology that affects our daily lives.

The Innocence Project is among the groups nominated for this year’s SanDisk Equality Awards. One group from each category is chosen to receive a $50,000 grant, but aside from that, it is simply a pleasure to be here, sharing our experiences with groups that make an impact around the world. Over 10 countries are represented here, including the Ukraine, Bangladesh and India. All laureates partner with the Tech Museum to raise awareness of their cause through the web and events around the world during the coming year. The other nominees in our category are: Counterpart International, which employs technology to efficiently deliver humanitarian aid around the world; Devendra Raj Mehta, which uses low-cost technology to provide prosthetic limbs for amputees in India; Grameen Shakti, which is based in Bangladesh and uses renewable technology to empower disadvantaged rural women with economic opportunities; and the Tropical Forest Trust, which uses GPS technology to help indigenous people in the Republic of Congo protect their land from loggers. Click here for a full list of this year’s laureates.

We’re thrilled to be a part of this group because it will help raise awareness of the need for reliable science in our court system. For almost two decades, the Innocence Project’s work has helped to show that solid technology can make the American criminal justice system fairer and more accurate. Not only has DNA evidence overturned 208 wrongful convictions, it has uncovered flaws in the system that need to be fixed. One of these flaws is the court system’s reliance on questionable “science” – such as bite mark evidence – that can lead to wrongful convictions.

Meeting the other laureates this week has reaffirmed my belief that through developing technology we can alleviate poverty and injustice around the world. The groups we are meeting here – like those mentioned above – are truly world leaders in demonstrating this powerful new paradigm. I’m looking forward to tonight’s dinner and a year of partnership with the Tech Museum to spread the word about DNA testing in the criminal justice system and the power of technology to create a more just society.

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Events tonight in Boston, Fort Worth and New York

Posted: November 7, 2007 1:52 pm

When Innocence Project client Calvin Johnson, Jr. was convicted of a rape and burglary in 1983 in Georgia, he stood in the courtroom and said, “With God as my witness, I have been falsely accused. I’m an innocent man.”

At a lecture tonight at the Boston Museum of Science, Johnson will describe the 16 years he spent in prison before DNA testing proved his innocence, and his readjustment to life after exoneration. The lecture, which is free and open to the public, begins at 7 p.m. For more information, click here. The lecture is part of the museum's "CSI: The Experience" exhibition, which introduces visitors to forensic science used by law enforcement officials. 


And a free production of the the hit play “The Exonerated” is scheduled for tonight in Fort Worth, Texas, at the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts. Read a column about the play in today’s Forth Worth Star-Telegram.

Another production of the play is continuing through this weekend in New York. Innocence Project Staff Attorney Alba Morales will speak on a panel following the Nov. 10 performance. Read more here.





Tags: Calvin Johnson

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Column: Exonerations reveal flaws in the system

Posted: November 7, 2007 5:11 pm

In a column on BlackAmericaWeb, Tonyaa Weathersbee writes that the case of Innocence Project client Michael Anthony Williams highlights the racial injustices of our criminal justice system. Williams was wrongfully convicted of a Louisiana rape when he was just 16 years old and served 24 years in prison before DNA testing freed him.

Black Entertainment Television recently featured two defendants from the “Jena Six” case on a televised awards show. Weathersbee writes that the Jena case (which involved disproportionate prosecution and sentencing) certainly reveals racism in the criminal justice system. Weathersbee urges the community not to forget the cases of innocent people who were wrongfully convicted – such as Williams, who is trying to rebuild his life after serving 24 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

To ease his readjustment Williams said he hopes to join a community of exonerees who, like him, were freed through the efforts of the Innocence Project – an organization whose efforts have led to the release of more than 200 prisoners who have been proven innocent by DNA testing. But the project needs more money to help the former inmates – many of whom are black – who are struggling with depression and other psychological trauma after years of being locked up and then spat out into a world that, to them, might as well be Mars.

BET should champion that cause – and highlight someone like Williams on one of its award shows. Sure exonerees like him may not be young anymore. They may not project the hip-hop generation aura that I’m sure (Jena defendants) Jones and Purvis projected – and that BET audiences eat up with a spoon.

But when it comes to the criminal injustice system, people like Williams illustrate something that transcends hairsplitting about whether black miscreants will receive equal justice compared to white miscreants. People like him illustrate the fact that in many cases, innocent black people don’t get any justice at all.

Read the full column here. (BlackAmericaWeb, 11/06/07)
Read more about Michael Williams' case here.




Tags: Michael Anthony Williams

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Radio interview on bills before Michigan legislature

Posted: November 8, 2007 7:00 am

In an interview yesterday on Michigan Public Radio, the co-director of an organization that works to overturn wrongful convictions in Michigan said bills currently pending before the state’s legislature would improve access to DNA testing and help to prevent future wrongful convictions.

Donna McKneelen, the Co-Director of the Cooley Innocence Project at Cooley Law School (an Innocence Network member), said innocent inmates could possibly be denied DNA testing due to restrictions in the current law. A pending bill, HB 5089, would amend that law to remove unnecessary restrictions on applying for testing. McKneelen also said she supports the bill that would provide compensation to exonerees.

Listen to McKneelen’s interview here.





Tags: Michigan, Exoneree Compensation, Access to DNA Testing

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Movies, on screen and online, argue for innocence

Posted: November 8, 2007 10:05 am

The Innocence Project receives dozens of requests each year from filmmakers interested in bringing the stories of the wrongfully convicted to the screen. And the Internet has also made it possible for families and friends of the wrongfully convicted to argue their case online. Hundreds of home-made videos are available on websites like YouTube, pleading for the public to take a look at a case and demand justice.

The reason for the volume of requests is obvious. Few fears are as universal as the fear of being wrongfully accused and imprisoned, and few stories are as compelling as those about the failures of a justice system in which we put an incredible amount of faith.  

Read the full story here. (ABC News, 11/07/07)
Among the most popular documentaries on the topic of wrongful conviction are “The Thin Blue Line,” “Paradise Lost,” and “After Innocence.”

Sites like YouTube have also given people a chance to voice their concerns about an unfair criminal justice system. We recently asked blog readers to send us their thoughts on wrongful convictions for a video called “It Matters to Me.” Watch that video and other Innocence Project videos on our YouTube page.

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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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Editorial: Questions remain at California crime lab

Posted: November 9, 2007 12:19 pm

An editorial in today’s San Jose Mercury News calls for labs in the state to follow the intent of a federal law that requires independent investigations of allegations of forensic wrongdoing. A recent internal investigation at the Santa Clara County lab was “an inherent conflict,” the editorial says. Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld has called the lab’s internal investigation “hopelessly compromised.”

In a case involving the imprisonment of a man falsely convicted of armed robbery, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office took the convenient path by ordering its own investigators to review allegations of errors by the county crime lab. In turning the matter over to her own Bureau of Investigations, District Attorney Dolores Carr apparently met the letter of federal law. But her decision certainly ran counter to common-sense reading of Congress' intent and the spirit of the law. The county crime lab reports to Carr, and prosecutors and crime lab examiners work closely together, so there was an inherent conflict.

Read the full editorial here.
Read a previous post on Santa Clara’s crime lab investigation.

Innocence Project Research Analyst Gabriel Oberfield wrote recently on the Innocence Blog that Texas was taking a step toward true independent crime lab oversight with the state’s newly funded Forensic Science Commission. Read his post here.



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Dispatch from Philadelphia: Why I tell my story

Posted: November 9, 2007 12:45 pm

By David Shephard, Exoneree; President, Northeast Council on the Wrongfully Convicted

Twenty-three years ago I was convicted in New Jersey of a horrible rape I didn’t commit, simply because I worked at the Newark airport, near where the victim’s stolen car was found. I was in prison for almost a decade before DNA testing proved my innocence and led to my release. I was 32 years old and I walked into a changed world. I had to rebuild old relationships. I had to look for a job and explain what I had been doing during my twenties. It wasn’t easy.

Now I’ve been out for 12 years and I’m proud to say I live a happy and productive life. I have a beautiful family, I work hard at my county’s Department of Citizen Services and, whenever I can, I tell anyone who will listen about my case and the causes of wrongful conviction. This morning I’m writing from Philadelphia, where I joined Innocence Project Executive Director Maddy deLone on a panel at the 29th annual conference of the National Association of Women Judges. I’m excited to be here, because telling my story is one of the most important contributions I can make to the innocence movement.

I tell my story because people in this country still have too much faith in our broken criminal justice system. They watch TV and they think the courts are just like they seem in “Law & Order.” I can tell you from experience that they aren’t. I’ve spoken to thousands of people over the years, and many of them already knew about the problem of wrongful convictions before they met me. I’ve learned, however, that they don’t really feel the depths of the issue until they meet an exoneree. It doesn’t have to be me – it can be anyone who has been through the minefield of wrongful conviction. I was speaking in southern New Jersey last week and during my speech I saw faces changing from skeptical to intrigued to devoted. Events around the world are often posted on this blog. If you read about an exoneree’s speech in your town, go hear it. You won’t regret it.

This morning, I spoke to an audience of judges from across the country, all of whom have firsthand knowledge of how our justice system works. But even among this group of insiders, I was the first exoneree many have met in person. And the same holds true for anyone I meet: you can read about this problem all you want, but until it has a human face, it isn’t real.

During this morning’s panel, I told the audience that every inmate with a valid claim of innocence should have access to DNA testing. Why should we have this all-powerful science and not use it? It’s a tragedy that eight states still don’t have laws allowing inmates to apply for DNA testing when it can prove innocence. Even in many of the 42 states with DNA access laws, defendants are still often denied access due to technicalities. If the prosecutor in my case hadn’t agreed to test the evidence, I might not be writing this today. But this issue is bigger than me, it’s bigger than the 208 DNA exonerees. It’s a national problem and we need a national standard for DNA testing access. I told my story this morning, and I will continue to speak out, because there are more innocent people behind bars and we shouldn’t rest until they are free.

David Shephard was exonerated in New Jersey in 1995. He lives with his family in Newark, New Jersey, and serves as the Founding President of the Northeast Council of the Wrongfully Convicted. Learn more about his case here.





Tags: David Shephard, Access to DNA Testing, Dispatches

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Dallas man's release expected next week

Posted: November 9, 2007 12:35 pm

At a hearing this morning in Dallas, a judge set bail for Clay Chabot, who was convicted of murder in 1986 based on the testimony of a man who is now implicated in the crime based on new DNA test results. The Innocence Project and the Dallas County District Attorney’s office agree that Chabot’s conviction should be thrown out, and the District Attorney’s office said today that it will not appeal the bail decision. The Innocence Project, which represents Chabot, said the $500,000 bail is being posted today and Chabot will be released from prison next week (once electronic monitoring, a condition of bail, is in place).

Last month, Judge Lana Myers agreed with the Innocence Project and the Dallas County District Attorney’s office that Chabot’s conviction should be vacated. The judge’s recommendation now goes to the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals, which has the ultimate authority to vacate convictions in such cases. In court papers, the District Attorney’s office has said that it is investigating whether to retry Chabot. Meanwhile, Jerry Pabst, who testified against Chabot at his trial more than 20 years ago, is now being held in custody in Dallas County after being indicted on capital murder charges based on DNA results showing that he lied in his testimony in order to hide his own guilt in the rape and murder. Without Pabst’s testimony (which is now proven to be false) there is no evidence that Chabot was involved in the crime in any way, the Innocence Project said.

Following is a statement from Innocence Project Staff Attorney Vanessa Potkin after this morning’s hearing:

“This is an important step forward in Clay Chabot’s two-decade-long fight to clear his name. We know that the District Attorney’s office is still investigating this case, and we believe that Clay Chabot will ultimately be vindicated and the true perpetrator will finally be brought to justice.”

Read more background on Chabot’s case.




Tags: Clay Chabot

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Brandeis Innocence Week starts today

Posted: November 12, 2007 7:00 am

The Brandeis University Innocence Club begins a week of events today aimed at raising awareness of the causes of wrongful conviction. The student group has planned events from Monday through Thursday this week, including a speech by Neil Miller, who spent nine years in Massachusetts prison for a rape he didn’t commit. Dick Lehr, a journalist who has covered wrongful convictions for the Boston Globe, will also speak Thursday. Group members will be asking students throughout the week to sign a petition calling for the records of exonerees to be expunged.

By hosting Innocence Week, (club president Kate) Millerick hopes to “educate the Brandeis community and let them know that this actually happens. It could happen to any of us, it could happen to anyone that we know. It’s a really serious issue that we all are very passionate about and we just want to sort of share that passion with Brandeis students and faculty and let them know that this issue exists and maybe some of them will be inspired to join the club, or even the Innocence Project on campus.”

Read the full story here. (Brandeis Hoot, 11/09/07) 
Events this week at Brandeis are open the public. Click here for a full schedule of events.

Visit the Brandeis Innocence Week Facebook page
. The Innocence Project community on Facebook is growing every day, join our cause page here: www.inncoenceproject.org/facebook.

Want to host an Innocence Week at your high school or college? Contact us at info@innocenceproject.org for more information.



Tags: Neil Miller

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New video: Three minutes with Illinois exoneree Jerry Miller

Posted: November 13, 2007 11:05 am

In a video posted today, Innocence Project client Jerry Miller discusses the 24 years he spent in prison for a rape he didn't commit. Miller's conviction was caused in part by the misidentifications of two eyewitnesses, a factor that was involved in more than 75% of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing.

Click the link below to watch the video on our site, or visit our YouTube page for more Innocence Project videos.

An interview with Illinois exoneree Jerry Miller [video: 03:35]



Tags: Jerry Miller

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Texas exoneree reunites with fiance in Atlanta

Posted: November 13, 2007 1:37 pm

When Ronnie Taylor was released last month after DNA tests proved he didn’t commit the rape for which he served 12 years in prison, he had devoted parents and a fiancé waiting for him. This month, he moved from Texas to Atlanta, Georgia, to reunite with his fiancé Jeanette Brown, who stood by him for more than a decade while he was wrongfully incarcerated.

“When you’re in a place like that, it’s important that somebody’s in your corner, keep in touch with you, and keep you optimistic,” Brown said of her relationship with Taylor.

Taylor was convicted based on eyewitness misidentification and faulty testing by the troubled Houston Police Department Crime Lab, and he said he knows he wasn’t the only innocent person in Texas prison.

Watch a video clip of Taylor and Brown here. (WSBTV, Atlanta, 11/12/2007)

Read more about Taylor’s case and the Houston crime lab here.


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DNA tests planned in Colorado man’s exoneration bid

Posted: November 14, 2007 12:46 pm

Tim Masters has been in prison since 1999 for a murder he says he didn’t commit, and the DNA tests he has been requesting are finally scheduled. Masters was 15 when his classmate was murdered in 1987. When he was convicted of the murder 12 years later, his “violent” drawings from high school were key evidence against him.

Now, prosecutors say they are ready to move forward with DNA testing on evidence collected from an alternate suspect, who may have also had ties with prosecutors in the Masters conviction.

Defense attorneys and members of the public have criticized police and prosecutors in the Masters case, and Larimer County District Attorney Larry Abrahamson said this week that he feels his office has been unfairly attacked.

"It just needs to be emphasized that our position has always been that we want to do what's right. We want the truth to be known. But there is a process for that, rules for that," Abrahamson said. "We did everything we feel was proper and legal. It's an accusation. Just because we're accused of doing something doesn't mean we've done something wrong."

Read the full article (Fort Collins Coloradoan, 11/14/2007)
Read about the pending DNA tests in this case. (Fort Collins Coloradoan, 11/5/2007)

Read a previous blog post on Tim Masters’ case.



Tags: Timothy Masters

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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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Dallas man released on bail after DNA tests show he was wrongfully convicted

Posted: November 14, 2007 4:06 pm

Innocence Project client Clay Chabot, who was convicted of murder in 1986 based on the testimony of a man who is now implicated in the crime based on new DNA test results, was released from jail on bail this afternoon.  While on bail, Chabot is living with his sister Carolyn, who moved to the Dallas area in recent days to be with him once he was released.

Last month, Judge Lana Myers agreed with the Innocence Project and the Dallas County District Attorney’s office that Chabot’s conviction should be vacated.  The judge’s recommendation is now awaiting approval by the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals, which has the ultimate authority to vacate convictions in such cases.  In court papers, the District Attorney’s office has said that it is still investigating whether to retry Chabot. Meanwhile, Jerry Pabst, who testified against Chabot at his trial more than 20 years ago, is now being held in custody in Dallas County after being indicted on capital murder charges based on DNA results showing that he lied in his testimony in order to hide his own guilt in the rape and murder.  Without Pabst’s testimony (which is now proven to be false) there is no evidence that Chabot was involved in the crime in any way, the Innocence Project said.

“It has been a very hard 21 years, but I’m grateful that the truth has finally come out,” Chabot said this afternoon.  “I am looking forward to spending time with my family and clearing my name once and for all.”

Read more background on Chabot’s case here

Media coverage: New trial in '86 murder raises questions of a plea deal (Dallas Morning News, 08/11/07) 



Tags: Clay Chabot

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Anthony Robinson celebrates seven years of freedom today

Posted: November 14, 2007 3:45 pm

After spending 13 years fighting to clear his name, Anthony Robinson was exonerated on November 14, 2000 in Houston after DNA testing proved his innocence. Robinson was convicted of sexual assault in 1987 and sentenced to 27 years. He would spend ten years behind bars and three on parole before he raised his own funds to pay for private DNA testing. Robinson’s 13-year struggle for freedom ended in 2000, when the state conducted its own DNA test, confirming his innocence and leading to his exoneration.

At Robinson’s trial, the prosecution’s case relied heavily on the victim’s identification of Robinson as her attacker. Though Robinson offered to provide police with a blood sample to prove his innocence, at the time of his trial DNA testing was not yet admitted as evidence in Harris County, Texas, where Robinson was tried. Robinson was thus convicted largely on the basis of eyewitness testimony. Eyewitness misidentification is one of the major causes of wrongful conviction.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Friday: Donald Reynolds, Illinois (Served 11 years, Exonerated November 16, 1997)
Billy Wardell, Illinois (Served 11 years, Exonerated November 16, 1997)



Tags: Anthony Robinson

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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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Problems persist at Houston crime lab

Posted: November 16, 2007 2:46 pm

Despite completion of a major audit this summer at the troubled Houston Police Department crime lab, along with the October release of Innocence Project client Ronnie Taylor and the ongoing review of past convictions based on questionable forensic tests, news reports yesterday allege that forensic misconduct continues at the lab.

"I see this slide back toward silence,” is what an analyst, who is on the job in the lab now, had to say. "Abuse of power, people being threatened, people afraid to stand up. Watching the morale dip to levels lower than ever before. Even before the last time."
And a leading national DNA expert said this week that the lab should be shuttered again while officials review procedures.
"The fact that there are so many of these problems raises real concerns about the reliability of the evidence coming out of the crime lab once again,” said Dr. Bill Thompson, a nationally renowned DNA expert.

His work was pivotal five years ago in exposing the evidence of errors at the crime lab.

He says the huge increase in problems -- seven of the issues in a six-week period and four in seven days back in August -- is trouble.

“You would want to shut down the lab and review the procedures,” Thompson said. “That is a pretty bad week.”

Read the full story and watch video here. (KHOU, Houston, 11/14/2007)
Innocence Project client Ronnie Taylor was released last month 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 Police Department Crime Lab.

Read more about Taylor’s release.



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Dispatch from Louisville, Kentucky: Statewide Conference Examines Innocence Issues

Posted: November 16, 2007 4:10 pm

By Rebecca Brown, Innocence Project Policy Analyst

I’m writing from Louisville, Kentucky, where today I addressed attendees at “Advancing Justice,” a statewide conference on criminal justice reform issues. Hosted by the University of Louisville, and co-sponsored by the Salmon P. Chase College of Law, the University of Kentucky College of Law and Eastern Kentucky University’s College of Justice and Safety, today’s conference should be a national model for opening dialogue on critical reforms with all key stakeholders in a state’s criminal justice community.

The conference organizers ensured lively conversations throughout the day by bringing together a diverse group of professionals committed to the integrity of Kentucky’s criminal justice process. Attendees included judges, law enforcement professionals, legislators, lawyers from both sides of the table, civic leaders, victims’ rights advocates and members of the innocence community. I am inspired by the energy they all bring to the process of criminal justice reform in Kentucky and the inevitable cross-pollination of ideas when such a group is brought together.

State and national leaders here today identified a set of remedies that can create a more accurate and fair system. Let’s hope that the momentum continues beyond today and these reforms become reality. The primary topics covered were eyewitness identification procedures, the benefits of properly preserving biological evidence, and the value of forming a statewide innocence commission. Notable national figures were in attendance to contribute valuable insights on each issue and provide specific examples of how similar reforms have been implemented in other states.

We first heard this morning from Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, a victim of rape who mistakenly identified the wrong man, Ronald Cotton, in two different trials in the 1980s. Her suffering from this crime was renewed when she learned that Cotton had spent more than a decade behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. But Ms. Thompson-Cannino was committed to ensuring that some good come from this tragedy. She became a staunch advocate for eyewitness identification reform and has candidly and courageously spoken to audiences nationwide about the pain those misidentifications caused her personally. Several people at today’s conference told me that her story powerfully illustrates how misidentification harms not only the innocent, but crime victims, their families, and the community at large.
 
Indeed, eyewitness misidentifications have contributed to more than 75% of the wrongful convictions later overturned through DNA testing. To address this, reforms to eyewitness identification protocols grounded in scientific research have become standard procedure in a number of states across the country. Gary Wells, a psychology scholar who has researched the issue of misidentification for more than 25 years and worked with law enforcement and prosecutors in more than a dozen states, briefed attendees today on cutting-edge advances in the field of eyewitness identification research and also about proven practices to reduce misidentifications.

As I discussed at today’s conference, another significant issue that hampers the fair administration of justice is the improper preservation of biological evidence.  Despite DNA technology having transformed the power of preserved biological evidence to solve cold cases and enable us to check credible claims of innocence, many jurisdictions’ preservation practices have not changed since before this was true. As a result, they must struggle to locate that evidence in their possession which can solve crimes or prove innocence because of the chaos in their evidence storage facilities. At the Innocence Project, we are forced to close many cases due to lost or destroyed evidence.  Similarly, law enforcement efforts to solve old or “cold” cases are also prevented.

Some jurisdictions have addressed this issue head-on and undertaken efforts to overhaul and re-inventory all of their existing biological evidence so that it may be easily accessible when requested.  The nation’s gold-standard evidence room is located in Charlotte, North Carolina, and overseen by Major Kevin Wittman, who described today how evidence custodians in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department bar-coded every piece of biological evidence in the department’s possession, solving more than a dozen cold cases and clearing a path for DNA testing of crime scene evidence connected to innocence claims. 

Finally, Wisconsin Innocence Project Co-Director Keith Findley gave an in-depth presentation about the value of establishing a statewide innocence commission. He detailed the efforts undertaken by two such commissions in Wisconsin: the Wisconsin Assembly Judiciary Committee Task Force and the Wisconsin Criminal Justice Study Commission, both of which have helped enact reforms on eyewitness identification and the electronic recording of interrogations.  Such non-partisan commissions, with broad representation from across the criminal justice spectrum, have proven beneficial in a number of states, from California to North Carolina.

Today’s conference was a big step for criminal justice reform in Kentucky, and other states would be well-served by replicating this approach. It is wonderful to observe first-hand the willingness and openness of key players from across Kentucky to examine where the state's criminal justice system may be falling short.  When problems of shared concern are identified and discussed in an open forum, thoughtful remedies that will strengthen the quality of justice are just around the corner.




Tags: Kentucky, Dispatches

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Sunday on 60 Minutes: Flawed forensics and wrongful convictions

Posted: November 16, 2007 5:29 pm

Watch CBS this Sunday at 7 p.m. for a special joint report from 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft and the Washington Post’s John Solomon on a flawed forensic tool used to convict hundreds of defendants, dozens of whom may be innocent.

Visit the 60 Minutes web site for more.


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Task force planned to address cases affected by faulty FBI tests

Posted: November 19, 2007 12:05 pm

A joint investigation published yesterday by the Washington Post and CBS News’ “60 Minutes” has revealed that FBI lab analysts have been giving misleading forensic testimony in courtrooms for 40 years. The evidence in question is bullet lead analysis, a procedure first used after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and employed in thousands of criminal convictions since then. The investigation turned up hundreds of convictions in need of review for possible evidence of wrongful convictions, and the Innocence Network announced today that it had formed a joint task force with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to assist the FBI in reviewing closed cases and serve as a resource for defense counsel and for defendants who may have been wrongfully convicted based on erroneous or misleading FBI testimony.

“The FBI’s plan to deal with this serious and deeply troubling problem is good but long overdue,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “This should have happened in 2004, when the scientific community made it clear that bullet lead analysis is not reliable. A serious review of old cases is critical because innocent people … may well have been convicted based on discredited, unreliable FBI analysis.”

Read more here. (11/19/07, The Innocence Network)
The joint investigation by the Washington Post and “60 Minutes” was published yesterday and today and includes examples of specific convictions in which the FBI’s bullet lead analysis was the only physical evidence of guilt. Learn more in the interactive online features from both news organizations.

Special Report from The Washington Post: Silent Injustice

CBS News "60 Minutes": Evidence of Injustice

Washington Post Reporter John Solomon is taking questions from readers today from noon to 1 p.m. EST. Join the discussion here.



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DNA Blues Ball fundraiser in Dallas on Saturday

Posted: November 19, 2007 5:40 pm

The Innocence Project of Texas will host a blues concert fundraiser this Saturday night, November 24 at the Lakewood Theater in Dallas, Texas. Several people exonerated by DNA in Texas will be in attendance, and at least ten musical performers are scheduled to appear.

For a list of performers, ticket information and more, visit the event’s website.

The Innocence Project of Texas is a member of the Innocence Network.

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Column: NJ Exoneree has a right to oppose death penalty

Posted: November 19, 2007 6:25 pm

Byron Halsey was exonerated earlier this year after spending 19 years in New Jersey prison for two brutal child murders he didn’t commit. The DNA testing that freed Halsey also pointed the guilt of another man, Clifton Hall, who is already imprisoned for a sexual assault in New Jersey. Hall was charged today with the murders.

And Halsey recently said in an interview that he supports the pending measure in New Jersey that would repeal the state’s death penalty.

"I could have been killed, and I was innocent," he said...

"They said I was a monster, everybody wanted to stone me," he says. And when, in an obvious jury compromise, he was spared death, people in the courtroom booed.

"They wanted me dead."

Read the full story here. (Newark Star-Ledger, 11/19/07)
Read more about Halsey’s case.




Tags: Byron Halsey, Death Penalty

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More proof of innocence in Florida case

Posted: November 20, 2007 10:55 am

Chad Heins has been imprisoned for 13 years in Florida for the murder of his sister-in-law, a crime he has always said he didn’t commit.  Based on DNA testing secured by the Innocence Project, Heins’ murder conviction was thrown out last December, but the prosecution is re-trying him for the crime. New DNA test results reported yesterday provide further proof of his innocence.

Heins has been an Innocence Project client since 2001, and DNA tests in 2003 first showed that an unknown man’s hairs were on the victim’s bed and the same man’s skin cells were under her fingernails. The new results show that semen from her bed also matches the unknown man. Prosecutors had previously argued that a stray hair from a stranger had accidentally ended up in the victim’s bedroom.

"It completely blows out of the water any notion that the sheet picked up a stray hair," (Innocence Project Co-Director) Barry Scheck said. "That is completely absurd."

Chad Heins' stepmother in Wisconsin said she is grateful for any news that bolsters his innocence but said waiting for justice has been frustrating.

"It's kind of like you don't know what to feel because he's still in there. You hate to get your hopes up," said Mary Heins. "It's like, how much more time before this is over?"

Read the full story. (Florida Times-Union, 11/20/07)
Read more about Heins’ case in previous blog posts.
 



Tags: Florida, Chad Heins

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John Grisham’s “The Innocent Man” released in paperback

Posted: November 20, 2007 4:01 pm

Innocence Project Board Member John Grisham’s popular recent book about the wrongful convictions of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz in Ada, Oklahoma, was released today in paperback. The gripping story follows these two men and their families as the men are tried for a murder they didn’t commit. Williamson spent 11 years on death row, coming at one point within five days of execution. Fritz was sentenced to life in prison and also spent 11 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. Both were exonerated in 1999 after DNA tests proved their innocence.

Buy a copy at Amazon.com today and a portion of your purchase price will support the Innocence Project.

Learn more about the cases of Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson.






Tags: Dennis Fritz, Ron Williamson

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Ten years of freedom for Ben Salazar

Posted: November 20, 2007 4:08 pm

Ben Salazar celebrates the tenth anniversary of his exoneration today. Salazar was wrongfully convicted of rape in 1992 and sentenced to 30 years. Three rounds of post-conviction DNA testing were performed before Salazar was finally exonerated on November 20, 1997. He had spent 5 years behind bars in Texas for a crime he didn’t commit.

Salazar’s wrongful conviction was caused, at least in part, by eyewitness misidentification, the most frequent cause of all wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing. Learn more about eyewitness misidentification and other causes of wrongful conviction.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Ronnie Bullock, Illinois (Served 10.5 years, Exonerated 11/23/1994)



Tags: Ronnie Bullock, Ben Salazar

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Washington Post: FBI must move quickly to right wrongs

Posted: November 20, 2007 4:18 pm

A joint investigation by the Washington Post and CBS News’ “60 Minutes” released this week showed that hundreds of people may have been wrongfully convicted based on faulty bullet lead analysis by the FBI. The FBI has known about the problem for years, but only this week said it would release details and records of cases in which the unreliable forensic process was used. Yesterday, the Innocence Network and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers announced the formation of a joint task force to assist and monitor the case review.

Today, an editorial in the Washington Post says the FBI has finally done the right thing to promise steps to rectify these errors. This episode should remind prosecutors and law enforcement officials, the paper says, that fair justice is always the goal in a criminal case.

It is troubling that some law enforcement officials seem to have forgotten their legal and moral obligation to disclose exculpatory evidence that could help a defendant. This obligation not only ensures that innocent people are spared incarceration but also helps government to focus on capturing real perpetrators. Justice -- not victory -- should be the sole purpose of prosecutions. This principle should be foremost in the minds of FBI agents and Justice Department lawyers as they review these cases.

Read the full editorial here.
Another Washington Post story yesterday detailed the case of former Balitmore police sergeant James A. Kulbicki , who was convicted of murder in 1995 based on bullet analysis. The expert who testified about the gun has since committed suicide amid questions about his credentials and testimony in other cases. Read the full story here.

View the Washington Post’s interactive feature on this investigation here.

Learn more about unreliable science as a cause of wrongful conviction here
.

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Editorial calls for new trial in conviction based on unreliable science

Posted: November 21, 2007 3:02 pm

Lee Wayne Hunt was convicted two decades ago in North Carolina of a murder he says he didn’t commit. The lone piece of physical evidence tying Hunt to the crime scene was the testimony of an FBI expert who said bullets in Hunt’s possession matched the bullets used to shoot the victims. Media reports this week revealed that the FBI has been providing unreliable bullet lead testimony for 40 years, and the FBI itself has said the testimony was false and misleading. The Innocence Network has helped create a new task force to assist and monitor the review of more than 2,500 cases in which faulty forensic played a part.

Editorials and blog posts have appeared around the country and the web this week, urging the FBI to act quickly to ensure that wrongful convictions caused by this unreliable science are overturned. An editorial in today’s Raleigh-Durham News & Obersver calls for a new trial for Lee Wayne Hunt.

America's tradition of justice requires not only a showing of guilt beyond reasonable doubt, but arriving at that determination through a fair process. In that light, Hunt deserves a hearing before a jury that can hear Hughes' relevant testimony but that cannot be swayed by the FBI's flawed, prejudicial bullet analysis.

Read the full editorial here. (News & Obersver, 11/21/07)
More editorials and and blogs:

Tacoma, Washington, News Tribune: FBI clammed up on bullet evidence (11/21/07)

Wichita, Kansas: Bullet evidence was full of holes (11/19/07)

Dozens of blogs around the country commented on this story this week. Read them here.

Read previous Innocence Blog posts for more
.



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North Carolina police to review practices in wake of exoneration

Posted: November 21, 2007 3:15 pm

The city of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has decided to hire an independent security-consulting company to conduct an audit of its police department’s investigative practices. City officials have said that the decision is one of the effects of the exoneration of Darryl Hunt in 2004. Hunt was wrongfully convicted in 1985 of killing Deborah Sykes in Winston-Salem. He served nearly two decades in prison before DNA testing led to his release.

A review of police procedures by an outside agency was recommended by a recent report produced by a volunteer panel on the city’s handling of the Hunt case.

City Manager Lee Garrity said yesterday that the police department has changed since detectives investigated Sykes’ death, but that “there were still things that came out” during the Sykes review. One of them, he said, was that detectives were not filing incident reports consistently on time, a key step in the investigation of a crime.

Read the full story here. (Winston-Salem Journal, 11/20/07)
Read more about Darryl Hunt’s case here.





Tags: Darryl Hunt

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Buffalo woman seeks a new trial on DNA evidence

Posted: November 23, 2007 7:00 am

A New York judge will decide next week whether a Buffalo woman deserves a new trial in the 1993 murder of her 13-year-old daughter. Lynn DeJac has been in prison for 14 years for a murder she says she didn’t commit, and new DNA tests have revealed that skin cells on her daughter’s body and bloodat the crime scene match the profile of DeJac’s boyfriend at the time. DeJac’s attorneys argued in court on Tuesday that she would not have been convicted if the jury in her first trial had heard about the DNA evidence. Detectives have said the timeline of the crime points to DeJac’s innocence.

Read the full story here. (New York Newsday, 11/20/07)

A column in Wednesday’s Buffalo News says DNA tests in DeJac’s case should guarantee a retrial, and that Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark “refuses to acknowledge the obvious.”

Read the full column here. (Buffalo News, 11/21/07)

Last week, Buffalo Police Department detectives on the city’s Cold Case Squad told reporters that they believe DeJac was innocent and deserved a new trial.

“In our opinion, after investigating this case and looking at all the available evidence, Lynn DeJac could not have killed her daughter,” Detective Dennis Delano said.

“Any person on the street could read the facts available to us and tell that Lynn DeJac could not possibly have killed her daughter,” Delano added. “In my mind, she’s 100 percent innocent.”

Read the full story here. (Buffalo News, 11/17/07)
Delano and other Cold Case Squad detectives were involved in solving the city’s notorious “Bike Path Rapist” case earlier this year. During their investigation of those crimes, DNA tests proved that Anthony Capozzi had been in prison for two 1986 rapes he didn’t commit. Capozzi was exonerated and released in April.

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Rocky Mountain Innocence Center works for Utah compensation law

Posted: November 26, 2007 2:43 pm

Utah is one of the 28 states lacking a law to compensate the wrongfully convicted upon their release, but the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center is working to change that. A bill that would compensate exonerees with $40,000 for each year they were wrongfully imprisoned passed a Utah Senate interim committee this summer and is set for introduction during the 2008 session. The bill passed the House last year, but didn’t make it to a Senate vote.

Katie Monroe is the executive director of the RMIC, which is affiliated with University of Utah’s law school. She said the compensation bill’s success will rely on a unique partnership with prosecutors.

The center teamed with the Utah Attorney General's Office to promote the bill - a partnership Monroe called nearly unprecedented.

"We were able to bring two seemingly opposing sides to find the middle ground," she said. "I think that's incredible."

Read the full story here. (Salt Lake Tribune, 11/26/07)
Read more about compensation laws nationwide.

Visit a special New York Times interactive feature, published on Sunday, on the lives of exonerees after they are released.





Tags: Utah, Exoneree Compensation

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Michigan DA asks for investigation in wake of wrongful conviction

Posted: November 26, 2007 2:50 pm

In October, Michigan prosecutors dismissed murder charges against Claude McCollum, who had served 18 months in prison for a murder he said he didn’t commit. The charges were dropped after new videotape evidence came to light revealing that McCollum wasn’t near the crime scene at the time of the 2005 murder. McCollum’s attorneys also said that another man confessed to the murder.

In the wake of McCollum’s release, Ingham County District Attorney Stuart Dunnings III has asked the state attorney general’s office to investigate the convictions. McCollum’s defense attorneys have alleged that the videotape evidence was known to police before McCollum’s conviction but never handed over the defense attorneys.

“This thing was bad from the beginning,” said his attorney Hugh Clarke Jr. “It’s going to cause people to take a look, a real good look. People should do that. They have to search themselves.”

Read the full story here. (Battle Creek Enquirer, 11/24/07)
Prosecutors told the jury at McCollum’s trial that he had confessed to the murder, because he made statements during a police interrogation about the possibility of killing the victim while sleepwalking. McCollum denied that he had confessed to the crime. Read an excerpt of the interrogation here.

False confessions or admissions have contributed to more than 25% of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing. Many false confessions can be prevented by videotaping of custodial interrogations. Read more here.





Tags: False Confessions

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U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear DNA appeal from Alabama death row inmate

Posted: November 26, 2007 4:18 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court today refused to hear the case of Thomas Arthur, who has claimed his innocence throughout the 25 years he has spent on Alabama’s death row. Arthur is seeking DNA testing in his case and the Innocence Project has advocated on his behalf. State and federal courts have denied Arthur’s appeals, and Gov. Bob Riley has refused to halt the execution so that testing can proceed.

Arthur’s execution is set for December 6, despite the fact that he has been denied access to DNA testing that could prove his innocence. Click here to read more about his case.



Tags: Death Penalty, Tommy Arthur

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Dallas prosecutors approve testing for seven inmates

Posted: November 26, 2007 4:16 pm

The Dallas District Attorney’s office announced  Monday that it would grant DNA testing access to seven inmates who had applied for tests under the previous district attorney and been denied. The seven cases were identified from a group of 57 cases; about 350 additional cases are still waiting for review.

Mike Ware, who oversees the district attorney’s public integrity unit, said tests would be granted in every case where DNA could potentially prove innocence. The tests will be performed by a private lab and funded by the Innocence Project of Texas and a $25,000 donation from the Texas Bar Foundation. The Innocence Project of Texas raised $15,000 at a fundraiser blues concert on Saturday night.

Read more here. (Dallas Morning News, 11/26/07)



Tags: Access to DNA Testing

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Wyoming legislature considers DNA access law

Posted: November 27, 2007 6:05 pm

There’s one thing all 208 exonerees have in common – at some point they were able to secure DNA testing in their cases. Sometimes prosecutors agree to testing immediately upon request, but other times it takes a long court battle for an innocent defendant to obtain testing. Today 42 states have some form of law allowing inmates to apply for DNA testing if it could prove innocence. Eight states still have no such law, meaning inmates in those states are often unable to prove their innocence, even when key biological evidence is sitting untested in a storage facility.

Wyoming is one of those eight states without an access law, but lawmakers there say it’s time for a change. A joint legislative committee yesterday heard testimony on the issue from a cross-section of criminal justice experts, and many are hoping to see a bill passed during the 2008 session.

Rep. Edward Buchanan, R-Torrington, who raise the issue with the committee last year, warned against rushing the bill to the full Legislature if it is not “rock solid.”

But other committee members, including Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, said the committee should push the bill forward.

“For those people who may be sitting in jail or prison who are in fact not guilty, for us to sit there and say, 'We want to wait until it's absolutely perfect,' that's unacceptable in my mind," Burns said.

Read the full story here. (Jackson Hole Star-Tribune, 11/27/07)
Does your state have a DNA access law? View our interactive map.






Tags: Wyoming, Access to DNA Testing

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Buffalo woman released after DNA tests implicate another suspect

Posted: November 28, 2007 1:32 pm

Lynn DeJac was released from custody in Buffalo, New York, today after serving 13 years in prison for the murder of her 13-year-old daughter, a crime she has always maintained she did not commit. She was released today after a judge granted her a new trial because DNA evidence has created the reasonable probability that a jury a would acquit her.  The Innocence Project has assisted DeJac’s attorneys on the case, providing expertise about DNA testing and innocence claims.

DeJac told police at the time of the murder that she believed her then-boyfriend had committed the crime. The new DNA evidence from the victim’s bedroom matches the boyfriend.

"This court must conclude that if the newly discovered forensic evidence was available at the time of trial, there exists a reasonable probability that the verdict in the defendant's trial would have been more favorable to the defendant," the judge's decision stated.

Read the full story here. (Buffalo News, 11/28/07)
Update: DeJac free after judge tosses out conviction (Associated Press, 11/28/07)




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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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Brown University lacrosse team raises money for Innocence Project

Posted: November 28, 2007 11:28 pm

The Brown University men’s lacrosse team is jogging around campus today in a 36-hour run-a-thon to raise money for the Innocence Project. Team member Reade Seligmann pitched the idea before he transferred to Brown from Duke this year. Seligmann and two teammates faced charges in 2006 of raping a woman at a Duke lacrosse team party, but charges were dropped this year when evidence of their innocence surfaced. The Innocence Project was not involved in the Duke case, but Seligmann said he became an Innocence Project supporter after seeing first-hand how wrongful convictions can happen.

With his personal story, Seligmann would be a natural spokesman on campus for the Innocence Project, even though the organization did not personally help him during the Duke case. But Seligmann was quick to deflect credit for organizing the event, saying that it was really his coaches who put in the grunt work to get the event together.

"Just having gone through what I went through really opened my eyes to the injustices" of the court system, Seligmann said. "The Innocence Project right now is the most legitimate program trying to change the wrongs of the criminal system."

Read the full story here. (Brown Daily Herald, 11/28/07)
Donations from community events and fundraisers are vital to the Innocence Project’s work. To host your own community event, email us at info@innocenceproject.org.

To donate now online, click here.



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John Dixon celebrates six years of freedom

Posted: November 29, 2007 1:36 pm

Today marks the sixth anniversary of John Dixon’s exoneration. He was wrongfully convicted of rape, kidnapping and burglary in New Jersey in 1991 and sentenced to 45 years. He spent 10 years behind bars before DNA testing proved his innocence and led to his exoneration on November 29, 2001.

Dixon was misidentified by the rape victim in two photo arrays conducted in the weeks after the attack. Misidentification was a major factor in Dixon’s wrongful conviction and has played a part in 77 percent of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing to date. Since Dixon’s exoneration in 2001, New Jersey has adopted eyewitness identification reform policies aimed proven to prevent wrongful convictions. Learn about New Jersey’s reforms and those in other states in our interactive map.

Hear an audio interview with Dixon about his first six years of freedom on the New York Times website.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Friday: Dale and Ronnie Mahan, Alabama (Served 11.5 years, Exonerated 11/30/1998)





Tags: John Dixon, Ronnie Mahan, Dennis Maher

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Colorado task force says state should improve evidence preservation

Posted: November 29, 2007 1:38 pm

A 21-member panel formed this year by Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter has developed a set of recommendations that could lead to evidence preservation reforms in the state during the 2008 legislative session, members said this week. The group was created after a Denver Post series revealed serious problems with the way law enforcement agencies in Colorado – and nationwide – handle the storage and preservation of critical biological evidence. In the DNA age, this evidence has the power to overturn wrongful convictions and identify perpetrators.

"We all agree there ought to be a duty on the part of law enforcement to preserve DNA evidence involving the most serious crimes," said retired Denver District Judge Jeffrey Bayless.

Read the full story here.

The Innocence Project assisted in the research undertaken by the Colorado task force. Read Policy Analyst Rebecca Brown’s October blog post from Colorado.





Tags: Evidence Preservation

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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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The state's duty to help exonerees rebuild their lives

Posted: December 3, 2007 9:51 am

Only 22 states have laws compensating the wrongfully convicted upon their release, and many of those laws are outdated and woefully inadequate. A major study published last week by the New York Times surveyed more than 130 people exonerated by DNA evidence and found that dozens had met with severe struggles on their reentry to society. An article in the Times’ Week in Review asks where the state’s duty lies in helping exonerees get back on their feet.

“One of the biggest challenges is that once an innocent person comes out of prison, they are not equipped with the tools to reintegrate into society, and that’s something that money alone can’t solve,” said Representative Donald M. Payne, a New Jersey Democrat who introduced a bill to set aside $1.25 million a year for programs for exonerated prisoners.

Of the states with compensation laws, only three — Massachusetts, Louisiana and Vermont — provide for the costs of medical and psychological care.

… “Some people feel, ‘All right, it’s over now. You’re out, you’re free, so what are you complaining about? What’s the problem?’ ” said Darryl Hunt, exonerated in North Carolina after serving 18 years for murder.

“The problem is that we’re free physically,” he said. “But mentally, we’re still living the nightmare every day.”

Read the full story here. (New York Times Week in Review, 12/2/07)
The Innocence Project exoneree fund supports exonerated Innocence Project clients as they rebuild their lives. Donate to the fund now.





Tags: Anthony Hicks, Darryl Hunt, Exoneree Compensation

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Calvin Lee Scott celebrates four years of freedom

Posted: December 3, 2007 5:20 pm

Monday marks the fourth anniversary of Calvin Lee Scott’s exoneration in Oklahoma. Scott was wrongfully convicted of rape in 1993 and sentenced to 25 years. He spent 20 years behind bars before DNA testing proved his innocence. He was exonerated on December 3, 2003.

Faulty forensics contributed to Scott’s wrongful conviction. A criminologist testified at trial that a hair sample taken from Scott was microscopically consistent with those found at the crime scene. Scott was convicted largely based on this unreliable science. When DNA testing from the rape kit was conducted twenty years later, the criminologist’s findings were discredited, as Scott was excluded as a suspect. Learn more about faulty forensics and other causes of wrongful conviction here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:


Wednesday: Marcellius Bradford, Larry Ollins, Calvin Ollins & Omar Saunders, Illinois (Exonerated 12/5/01)



Tags: Marcellius Bradford, Larry Ollins, Calvin Lee Scott

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Breaking News: Chad Heins Freed in Florida

Posted: December 4, 2007 3:10 pm

Innocence Project client Chad Heins was released today in Florida after prosecutors dropped pending charges against him in a 1994 murder case. Read today's press release on the case.

Watch video coverage of the story here. (WJXT, 12/4/07)

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Report reveals a history of negligence and fraud in New York City crime lab

Posted: December 4, 2007 1:26 pm

New York City crime lab technicians were engaging in incompetent and fraudulent testing as recently as 2002, according to a report released yesterday by the state inspector general. The report reveals that sloppy drug testing by criminalists in the lab could have contributed to wrongful convictions or unnecessarily high sentences for defendants in hundreds of drug cases. The testing problems could have included “dry labbing,” – or reporting test results when a sample was never tested at all.

Since the lab took five years to initiate a review of the problems in 2002, evidence from hundreds of questionable cases has been destroyed, officials said.

“The integrity of evidence is a cornerstone of law enforcement,” (New York Inspector General Kristine) Hamann said yesterday. “These lapses were a threat not only to the prosecution of drug crimes, but to the public’s trust in our criminal justice system.”…

Peter Neufeld, a lawyer and co-founder of the Innocence Project, a legal group based in New York that uses DNA evidence to represent people it thinks have been wrongly convicted, said the inspector general’s findings “undermine God knows how many convictions” in drug cases. He said he expected many motions to dismiss or to amend the severity of sentences that are based on the amount or weight of the illegal substance tied to a defendant.

Read the full story here. (New York Times, 12/04/07)
Forensic science misconduct has contributed to dozens of the 209 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing to date, and the Innocence Project has called for better crime lab oversight nationwide, ensuring that standards of testing, accreditation and training are followed. Read more about crime lab oversight reforms here.

More background on yesterday’s report:

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U.S. Supreme Court delays Alabama execution; take action today to help secure DNA testing

Posted: December 6, 2007 1:35 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday delayed the execution of Tommy Arthur in Alabama due to challenges to the constitutionality of lethal injection methods. Arthur, who says he is innocent, has been opposed by Alabama officials multiple times in his quest for DNA testing on biological evidence collected at the crime scene. The Innocence Project, which doesn’t represent Arthur, has called on Alabama Gov. Bob Riley to grant DNA testing to Arthur, but Riley has refused. Now, the Supreme Court has delayed the execution, leaving plenty of time for testing to be conducted. Click here to download today's letter to Riley, along with others sent over previous weeks, and to get more background on the case.


We need your help. You can help show Riley that the public – in Alabama and across the country – is watching. It’s your turn to call on Riley to grant justice to Tommy Arthur.

Send Riley an email right now explaining why it’s important to you that Alabama learns the truth in Arthur’s case before executing him. After you send an e-mail, write to your friends, family and contacts and ask them to take action, too. Here's a link to the email form you can copy send to your friends - http://www.innocenceproject.org/testing-for-tommy



Tags: Tommy Arthur

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Chad Heins, finally free, returns to Wisconsin

Posted: December 6, 2007 1:26 pm

Innocence Project client Chad Heins, exonerated and released on Tuesday in Jacksonville, Florida, rejoined his family in Wisconsin on Wednesday. The joyful reunion came more than a decade after Heins was wrongfully convicted of killing his sister-in-law in Florida. He was exonerated and released this week because DNA evidence has shown that an unidentified man killed the victim.

Read media coverage of Heins’ exoneration and his return to Wisconsin below:

Freed man returns home. (First Coast News, 12/06/07)

DNA exonerates Nekoosa man of 94 murder (Wausau, WI Daily Herald, 12/6/07)

13 years later, DNA frees man in family death (Associated Press, 12/05/07)
 



Tags: Wisconsin, Chad Heins

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Bipartisan federal bill would exempt exoneree compensation from taxes

Posted: December 7, 2007 12:01 pm

Laws in 22 states provide compensation for people proven innocent after serving time in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, but federal tax is unclear on whether the federal government can take some of that money back. A bill introduced yesterday by New York Senator Chuck Schumer (and co-sponsored by Kansas Senator Sam Brownback) would clarify the law to exempt exonerees from paying federal income tax on compensation for a wrongful conviction. The public owes a debt to these people wronged by the justice system, Schumer said, and this bill can help make amends after the criminal justice system makes a major error.

Seven months after his release from prison in 2001, after serving 15 years for a rape he did not commit, David Pope received $385,000 in compensation from the State of Texas and set out to rebuild his life: He rented an apartment, bought a car, helped his mother pay bills and traveled overseas for the first time.

The money did not last long, but being broke is not the only problem Mr. Pope, 46, has grappled with since his exoneration. He said the Internal Revenue Service has notified him that he owes $90,000 in federal taxes on the compensation he received for his wrongful conviction, but he has no idea how he is going to settle the debt.
“I didn’t know I had to pay taxes over it until the government started sending me letters,” said Mr. Pope, who has struggled to find a steady job.

Read the full story here. (New York Times, 12/07/07)
In addition to supporting this bill, the Innocence Project is working to pass compensation laws in the 28 states that currently lack them. Is yours one? Check out our interactive map to find out.

Compensation laws in California, Massachusetts and Vermont all explicity exempt exoneree compensation from state income tax.



Tags: David Shawn Pope, Exoneree Compensation

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Birmingham News calls on Gov. Riley to Order DNA Testing for Tommy Arthur

Posted: December 10, 2007 2:20 pm

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s order last week delaying the scheduled execution of Tommy Arthur in Alabama, the Innocence Project called on Governor Bob Riley to order DNA testing in the case that can resolve serious questions about Arthur’s guilt or innocence. Last week, the Innocence Project launched a web-based campaign to mobilize people throughout Alabama and nationwide to write to Riley and call for DNA testing in the case.

An editorial in today’s Birmingham news echoes the call for testing and asks Riley to act now while the execution is already delayed.

Testing the DNA isn't going to hold up the execution any longer than it is already being held up. A test that confirms Arthur's guilt will merely remove one less concern when states get a green light to resume executions. A test that raises questions about Arthur's guilt will indeed open a whole new can of worms - but it's a can that should be opened before Arthur is put to death for a crime he insists he did not commit.

Riley is called on to make many difficult decisions as governor. But this isn't a difficult one. Riley should order DNA testing for any Death Row inmate who disputes his guilt and whose case involved evidence that could be screened.

Read today’s full editorial
. (Birmingham News, 12/10/07)
It isn’t too late to join the effort. If you haven’t yet sent an email to Gov. Riley you can do so now by following this link.

After you send an email, write to your friends, family and contacts and ask them to take action, too. DNA testing wasn’t available at the time of Arthur’s trial, but now this technology can help reveal the truth and ensure that Alabama does not execute an innocent man.



Tags: Tommy Arthur

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John Jerome White Cleared by DNA in Atlanta

Posted: December 12, 2007 1:00 pm

John Jerome White became the seventh Georgia man to be cleared by DNA evidence yesterday. White was wrongfully convicted in 1980 for the rape and robbery of a 74-year-old woman. DNA from hairs found at the scene excluded White and matched a convicted rapist serving time in a Georgia state prison. That man was arrested Tuesday. In each of the Georgia cases, eyewitness misidentification was a factor contributing to the wrongful conviction. White’s case underscores the need to reform identification procedures, said Aimee Maxwell of the Georgia Innocence Project which represented White.

Maxwell said her organization is working with state lawmakers and authorities to require all law enforcement agencies to develop and follow clearly written procedures for doing an eyewitness identification with a victim, Maxwell said. The organization says 82 percent of the 355 Georgia law enforcement agencies surveyed do not have any type of written eyewitness standards.
Read the full story here. (AP, 12/12/07)
Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA evidence. The Innocence Project advocates reforms that are proven to reduce the incidence of misidentifications. For more information about how eyewitness misidentifications occur and how they can be prevented click here.



Tags: Georgia, Eyewitness Misidentification

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30th Texan Freed by DNA Evidence Rebuilds Life in Atlanta

Posted: December 10, 2007 4:45 pm

Innocence Project client Ronnie Taylor was released from prison in October after DNA testing proved he did not commit the 1993 rape for which he was convicted. He spent 14 years behind bars based on an eyewitness misidentification and crime lab errors before regaining his freedom. A Houston Chronicle article on Sunday follows Taylor as he moves from Houston to Atlanta, where he and fiancée Jeanette Brown are working to build their future together after many lost years.

"It's been a long time getting back here, but this is where I need to be,"[Taylor] says. "This is where I can make something happen. That is the way it always was in Atlanta. Me, with Jeannette, making something happen."

He speaks with buoyant optimism. Unspoken are the doubts of a life resumed, the things that just 10 days after his release from prison remain utterly unknown. His is the story of yet another wrongful conviction and DNA exoneration, the 30th in Texas, leaving a man to reinvent his life after a miscarriage of justice.

Read the full article here. (Houston Chronicle, 12/9/07)
Read more about Taylor’s case here.

Learn about the struggles people face after exoneration – and how you can help – here.
 


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White’s exoneration raises questions about racial inequity in the Georgia criminal justice system

Posted: December 13, 2007 5:15 pm

On Tuesday, John Jerome White became the seventh Georgia man, and the 210th nationwide, to be exonerated through DNA evidence. In all seven cases, an eyewitness misidentification contributed to the wrongful conviction, and all seven of the wrongfully convicted have been black men. Atlanta Journal-Constitution guest columnist, Rick Daguette, a former spokesman for the Georgia Supreme Court, writes about the racial disparity in the criminal justice system and wonders how many more innocent people will have to be exonerated in the state of Georgia before the system changes.

There are any number of reasons people can be convicted of crimes they did not commit. In many cases, however, unreliable eyewitness identification is one very common denominator. But race seems to be the deciding factor. If it isn't, then maybe someone can explain why all seven men thus far exonerated in Georgia have been black.

Read the full opinion editorial here. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12/12/07)
For more information about White’s case, see the Georgia Innocence Project press release.

Click here for more on reforms to prevent eyewitness misidentification.



Tags: Georgia

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Houston Chronicle editorial says Texas has made important progress in compensating the wrongfully convicted, but says services are critical

Posted: December 13, 2007 5:25 pm

An editorial in today’s Houston Chronicle questions the lack of state services for the 29 people who have been wrongfully convicted in Texas and proven innocent through DNA testing. Although Texas provides a more generous compensation statute than many other states—thanks to the recent passage of a bill sponsored by Senator Rodney Ellis, raising the standard to $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration—it still fails to provide for the career, educational, psychological and health care needs of exonerees after their release. Innocence Project client Ronald Taylor, the latest Texan to be proven innocent, is eligible for the state funds but not until he receives a full pardon from the governor, and even then he may wait years before the funds are dispensed. In the absence of state support, the Innocence Project seeks to meet the immediate needs of the wrongfully convicted.

The Innocence Project also has a special exoneree fund that provides counseling when other sources are absent. As Chronicle writer Roma Khanna's recent story showed, even exonerees like Taylor — who was buoyed during years in prison by his fiancée — face dizzying emotional challenges. How to rebuild a relationship interrupted by years of separation? How to overcome grief and rage for all the wasted time? How to stave off depression, anxiety and paranoia, all aggravated by a life in prison?

Simply having been in prison, even wrongly, creates a stigma that can make job-hunting daunting. Add to this the reality that many exonerees went into their sentences with limited education or skills, and the prospects for finding work unaided can be bleak.
 
Read the full editorial here. (Houston Chronicle, 12/12/07)
Twenty-eight states offer no compensation, and only six state compensation laws include provisions for additional services, including education, counseling and job training. To find out more about compensation laws click here.

Click here to donate to the Innocence Project’s exoneree fund.



Tags: Texas

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National Public Radio examines DNA privacy rights

Posted: December 14, 2007 5:30 pm

“The Ethics of DNA Use,” a three-part series on National Public Radio explores DNA privacy rights in criminal cases. NPR’s justice correspondent, Ari Shapiro, discusses the legal and ethical implications of DNA testing with Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck in the first of the three-part series. Shapiro also looks at expanding DNA databanks, police use of DNA to solve cold cases, and how crime lab backlogs complicate the issue.

Scheck thinks there should be a limit to what investigators can do with abandoned DNA. Comparing it to samples in a DNA database seems acceptable to Scheck, because it's "like comparing a fingerprint." But he believes "it would be quite another thing to start searching that DNA for more private information," such as familial connections or susceptibility to diseases.

To listen to the three-part series, click here. (National Public Radio, 12/12/07)
 

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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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Applying for DNA testing in Ohio: an uphill battle

Posted: December 17, 2007 12:50 pm

A report published yesterday in the Lebanon (Ohio) Western Star examines the difficulties faced by convicted defendants in Ohio applying for DNA testing that could potentially prove their innocence. Of the 315 Ohio cases in which a defendant has requested DNA testing to prove innocence, courts have granted testing to only 19 people, with 66 cases awaiting rulings. Prosecutors have fought testing in most cases, based on legal grounds or due to lost or destroyed evidence (Ohio doesn’t have an evidence preservation law). Ohio is one of the 42 states with a post-conviction DNA testing law, but these numbers indicate that even among these states the path to testing isn’t always easy.

Ohio's DNA testing law, revised and made permanent last year, also closes the door to many potential applicants, including ex-convicts trying to clear their names and anyone who pleaded guilty. Another hurdle: Inmates must demonstrate that the testing would change the outcome of their trials.

Read the full story here. (Western Star, 12/17/07)
Does your state have a post-conviction DNA access law? What are the restrictions? Find out with our interactive map.






Tags: Ohio, Access to DNA Testing

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Oakland police criticized for recording only parts of interrogations

Posted: December 18, 2007 4:49 pm

An Oakland Tribune investigation published today has found that the Oakland, Calif., Police Department is alone in the Bay Area in its policy of tape recording only portions of interviews with suspects and witnesses. Two recent high-profile murder cases – including the murder of an Oakland Post editor – have bought Oakland Police practices under scrutiny, but police officials defended the practice, saying it allows them to better win the trust of the suspect or witness being interviewed.

Other local law enforcement agencies, which almost always tape entire interviews, disagree. The San Francisco Police Department records entire interrogations and has found that the practice has helped solve crimes.

"Recording is the best evidence, and we encourage it if at all possible," said homicide Lt. John Murphy with the San Francisco Police Department, which investigates an average of 85 homicides a year.

Read the full story here. (Oakland Tribune, 12/18/07)
California does not have a state law requiring that law enforcement agencies record custodial interrogation. Does your state have a law? View our interactive map to find out.

Read about the need for mandatory recording of interrogations.



Tags: False Confessions, False Confessions

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Today on NPR: Life After Exoneration

Posted: December 19, 2007 12:02 pm

NPR’s Leonard Lopate Show today welcomed as guests two men who served a combined 28 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. Barry Gibbs was released from a New York prison in 2005 after proving his innocence and David Shephard was exonerated and released from a New Jersey prison in 1995 based on DNA tests proving his innocence.

Innocence Project Staff Attorney Vanessa Potkin joined Gibbs and Shephard as they discussed their cases and the difficulties of adjusting to life after exoneration. Listen to today's show on WNYC's website.



Tags: David Shephard

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Alabama editorial: DNA testing should be conducted in Tommy Arthur's case

Posted: December 19, 2007 2:18 pm

Alabama should reconsider its death penalty while executions in the state – and nationwide – are on hold pending a U.S. Supreme Court decision on lethal injections, a major Alabama newspaper said today. An editorial in today’s Tuscaloosa (Alabama) News calls for DNA testing for death row inmate Tommy Arthur and goes on to consider waning national support of capital punishment, the cost of the practice and the risk of executing an innocent person.

Certainly some people were wrongly put to death before DNA testing became available in the mid-1980s. In all likelihood, others on death row now would be exonerated if DNA testing could prove guilt or innocence in their cases….

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to reconsider DNA testing for Tommy Douglas Arthur, who waits on death row in Alabama for a 1982 murder in Muscle Shoals. The court found that Arthur missed a deadline in filing his appeal. His execution is on hold while the court considers lethal injection challenges. Amazingly, this state doesn't require DNA testing for murder defendants, even though the tests may provide the most reliable way to determine guilt or innocence.

Read the full article here. (Tuscaloosa News, 12/19/07)
The Innocence Project has called for Alabama Gov. Bob Riley to grant DNA testing in Arthur’s case, and you can get involved today – it just takes 30 seconds to send an email to Riley. Click here to send your personalized email right now.





Tags: Death Penalty, Tommy Arthur

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Stronger justice in Vermont around the corner?

Posted: December 19, 2007 2:25 pm

In the next few days, leading criminal justice experts will release their recommendations on improving Vermont’s criminal justice system to prevent and address wrongful convictions.

In an op-ed published today in the Rutland Herald, Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom writes that legislation passed this year in Vermont advanced the state’s justice system. The reform package provided DNA testing access to convicted people, created a system for compensating the exonerated. The legislation also created task forces to review procedures on evidence preservation, recording of interrogations and eyewitness identification procedures. Saloom, Massachusetts exoneree Dennis Maher and many criminal justice experts testified at the Vermont Legislature in support of the reforms this year. The panels are scheduled to release their findings in the coming days.

Since the task forces were formed, five more innocent people have been exonerated through DNA evidence. The state Legislature and the task forces are positioned to prevent such injustice in Vermont. The opportunity to enhance the state's criminal justice system is in their hands. In the next few days, we'll find out what they choose to do with it.

Read the full op-ed here. (Rutland Herald, 12/19/2007)
View Vermont’s legislation and find your state’s criminal justice reform stance on our interactive map.





Tags: Vermont, Dennis Maher, False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification, Evidence Preservation

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Men wrongfully convicted in the 'Central Park Jogger case' mark fifth exoneration anniversary

Posted: December 19, 2007 3:25 pm

Today is the fifth anniversary of the exonerations of Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise. They were wrongfully convicted of committing the brutal 1989 attack and rape of a central park jogger. Police investigations quickly focused on the five teenagers, who were in police custody for a series of other attacks perpetrated in the park that night. At the time, the defendants were between 14 and 16 years old. They were convicted in two separate trials in 1990 and sentenced as juveniles to 5 to 10 years; Wise, convicted as an adult, was sentenced to 5 to 15 years. The men were exonerated on December 19, 2002, after another man, Matias Reyes, confessed to the crime and subsequent DNA testing excluded all five as suspects. They had served between 5 and 11 years for a crime they did not commit.

Faulty forensics and false confessions contributed to the wrongful convictions of McCray, Richardson, Salaam, Santana and Wise. After prolonged periods of police interrogation, all five confessed to being involved in the attack. McCray, Richardson, Santana and Wise all gave videotaped confessions. These tapes were presented as evidence at trial (despite the glaring inconsistencies among the confessions); the prosecution also presented forensic evidence that was said to link the defendants to the crime. This forensic evidence was later dismissed when DNA testing of the rape kit in 2002 matched Reyes, corroborating his confession and excluding the five as suspects.

Learn more about faulty forensics here. The convictions of these five teenagers have also raised questions regarding police coercion and false confessions, as well as the vulnerability of juveniles during police interrogations. Learn more about false confession, which have contributed to 25 percent of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing.

Matias Reyes is currently serving a life sentence for a murder and four rapes that occurred after the Central Park attack.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:


Monday: Clyde Charles, Louisiana (Served 17 years, Exonerated 12/17/99)

Thursday: McKinley Cromedy, New Jersey (Served 5 years, Exonerated 12/20/99)
Billy Wayne Miller, Texas (Served 22 years, Exonerated 12/20/06)

Friday: John Kogut, New York (Served 17 years, Exonerated 12/21/05)
Larry Mayes, Indiana (Served 18.5 years, Exonerated 12/21/01)

Saturday: Willie Davidson, Virginia (Served 12 years, Exonerated 12/22/05)
Dwayne Scruggs, Indiana (Served 7.5 years, Exonerated 12/22/93)
Phillip Leon Thurman, Virginia (Served 19 years, Exonerated 12/22/05)