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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



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



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



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



Judge says Tennessee must either give Paul House a new trial or free him

Posted: December 20, 2007 6:15 pm

A federal judge today gave the state of Tennessee 180 days to either grant death row inmate Paul House a new trial or to free him. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the jury in House’s case may have acquitted him if it had access to new DNA evidence that suggests his innocence.

"Based upon the record as a whole, and in light of the Supreme Court's ruling, this court (concludes) that (House) is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on several of his claims," U.S. District Judge Harry S. Mattice Jr. wrote in an opinion released today. "(He) is entitled to a new trial on all the evidence."

Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 12/20/07)
Download the Innocence Network Amicus brief in House’s Supreme Court case.

Tags: Tennessee



Delays continue in Tennessee death row case

Posted: March 4, 2008 11:05 am

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: Tennessee, Death Penalty, Paul House



Tennessee death row inmate to be released in May

Posted: April 8, 2008 11:10 am

A federal judge yesterday ordered that the state of Tennessee release Paul House from death row while his appeals continue to move slowly through the court system. House, 46, has been on death row for 22 years for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit. After new DNA evidence invalidated the prosecution’s original theory of the crime, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that he should get a new hearing. A federal judge then ruled that House should get a new trial, but the prosecution appealed that ruling, and their appeal is still pending. In Monday’s ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Harry S. Mattice Jr. said House should be released after a May 28 hearing where the court will set conditions of his release.

House has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. His mother has asked for his release so that she can manage his medical care.

"I'm thrilled that he's coming home," House's mother, Joyce House, said. "He's going to get the medical attention he needs. I hate that it has taken so long."
And Judge Mattice had harsh words for the prosecution in his decision on Monday: “The public has a compelling interest in the State not continuing to incarcerate individuals who have not been accorded their constitutional right to a fair trial,” he wrote. “The State of Tennessee does not have a defensible interest in the continued incarceration of an individual whose conviction was obtained in violation of the U.S. Constitution.”

Read the full story about Monday’s decision here. (The Tennessean, 04/08/07)

Download the Innocence Project Amicus brief in House’s U.S. Supreme Court case. (PDF)

Download the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case. (PDF)

Tags: Tennessee



Tennessee prosecutors plan to retry Paul House despite evidence of innocence

Posted: June 27, 2008 3:15 pm

Drawing the ire of federal judges, defense attorneys and legal onlookers, a Tennessee prosecutor announced at a hearing recently that the state plans to retry Paul House for a 1985 murder he has always maintained he didn’t commit. Mounting evidence in the case – including important DNA tests on evidence from the crime scene – points to House’s innocence. House spent 22 years on death row for the murder before his appeals finally led to his conviction being overturned. In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case and ruled that “no reasonable juror” would convict House based on the current evidence. Then, last year, a federal judge ordered the state to retry House, who has chronic multiple sclerosis and is unable to bathe and feed himself without help.

“This is the first time in our history, so far as I know, that it has ever happened that the Supreme Court has made such a ruling and the state has gone forward to prosecute the guy anyways,” U.S. Circuit Judge Gilbert S. Merritt tells the Nashville Scene. The Nashville-based judge sits on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has reviewed the convoluted case several times over the years, as recently as last week. “Why, after all this evidence has poured in that House is innocent of the crime, does the state continue to so zealously defend the situation? The reason is because state prosecutors typically never admit error.”

Read the full story here. (Nashville Scene, 06/26/08)

Read the Innocence Project’s friend-of-the-court brief in House’s Supreme Court case

Tags: Tennessee, Paul House



Tennessee Lawmakers Consider Recording Interrogations

Posted: April 7, 2009 4:50 pm

Tomorrow, the Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on a bill that would require law enforcement agencies to record custodial interrogations in murder cases.  The bill, however, would not render statements inadmissible in court if law enforcement officials fail to record the interrogation and preserve the recording.
Read the full text of the bill – SB261 – and watch video of the Senate Judiciary Committee discussion of the bill last week.

Over 500 jurisdictions nationwide, including the states of Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia require the recording of interrogations, and state Supreme Courts have taken action on the issue in Alaska, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire and New Jersey.
With mental health issues of perpetrators and aggressive law enforcement tactics to contend with, it is not uncommon for innocent people to confess to crimes they did not commit.  The electronic recording of interrogations, from the initial arrest and reading of Miranda rights forward, can help prevent false confessions.

Tags: Tennessee, False Confessions



Science Thursday - September 13, 2012

Posted: September 13, 2012 12:45 pm

Massachusetts is investigating the work of a drug analyst that might lead to a review of tens of thousands of cases, forensic evidence from the West Memphis 3 trials are reviewed, and coroners in Kentucky push for funding for a medical examiner. Here’s this week’s round up of forensic news:
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick stated that there will be criminal and civil consequences for the "breakdown in oversight" that shuttered a state police crime lab drug unit.
Drug evidence from the St. Paul Police Crime Lab continues to be scrutinized. Pre-trial hearings are now focusing on whether the leftover evidence that could be retested might be contaminated.
Fibers which were once said to be "similar” to samples retrieved from the homes of two members of the West Memphis Three are now being questioned by three different forensic scientists.
A former Missouri medical examiner, who lost his medical license in the state and was fired from another medical examiner position in Florida, is now being investigated for keeping body parts in a storage unit.
A group of coroners in Kentucky worked together to save a medical examiner position in their state budget.

Tags: Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee, Science Thursday



African American Wrongful Convictions Throughout History

Posted: February 28, 2013 4:35 pm

Tags: Alabama, Georgia, New Jersey, Mississippi, Tennessee, Racial Bias



Tennessee Man Exonerated of Rape after Serving 11 Years

Posted: April 7, 2014 12:00 pm

Tags: Tennessee



Tennessee Exoneree among Growing Number of DNA Cases

Posted: June 2, 2014 5:00 pm

Tags: Tennessee, Randy Mills