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Misidentification led to false charges in Pittsburgh case

Posted: February 15, 2008 4:32 pm

While Michael Disimo spent two months in jail for a bank robbery he didn’t commit, he lost his job and missed his son’s birthday. Disimo was arrested for the 2005 bank robbery when a police officer thought he looked like the description of the perpetrator. A bank teller was then brought to the location of the police stop to identify Disimo, in what is called a “show up” identification procedure. She said she was 100 percent sure it was him.

He was questioned by police and the FBI.

Disimo said, "They had given me the polygraph test and they said that I failed it and at that point, ya know, I was really like confused, shocked, scared, definitely scared because I had never been arrested before."

Disimo was taken to the Allegheny County Jail and held on $50,000 bond. Money he didn't have.

"I flipped out and basically had a breakdown. They had put me on a suicide watch." Disimo said. 
Disimo was freed after the eyewitness withdrew her identification and another man confessed to committing the robbery.

Read the full story here. (, 02/15/08)

Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful conviction, contributing to 75 percent of the 213 cases overturned by DNA testing to date. Improving the identification procedures used by police around the country will prevent both wrongful convictions and wrongful arrests. A witness’ “100 percent” identification is strong evidence in a courtroom. Would Disimo have been convicted if the real perpetrator hadn’t come forward?

Read more about eyewitness identification reforms supported by the Innocence Project

Tags: Pennsylvania, Eyewitness Identification, Eyewitness Misidentification



Four Years Out: Tommy Doswell Moves Forward

Posted: July 30, 2009 5:30 pm

Four years ago this week, Thomas Doswell walked out of Allegheny County jail a free man for the first time in more than 18 years. In 1986, he was convicted of rape after the victim misidentified him in a suggestive lineup. During his time in prison, Doswell was denied parole four times because he refused to admit to a crime he didn’t commit. In 2005, DNA testing conclusively proved that he could not have been the perpetrator.

After being released, Doswell was welcomed by his family, including his 80-year-old mother Olivia and two sons, who were only three and five years old when he initially went to jail. Doswell said that he was glad to be able to go home and thankful that justice had been served. Despite what he had to endure, Doswell said that was neither angry nor bitter about his wrongful incarceration. He told ABC 4 Pittsburgh, "I wanted to be, and I think I had a right to be, but I couldn't walk around like that for 20 years. It would have done me more harm than good.”

Later that year, the City of Pittsburgh named a day in Doswell’s honor. The day also promoted reforms to prevent wrongful convictions and provide compensation for the exonerated. At the ceremony, Doswell said that he believes he was wrongly imprisoned so that he could prevent others from going through what he did. He told ABC 4, "I questioned God many days, 'Why would you let this happen?' That it may never happen again.” Doswell also received a scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh and planned to continue his education. During his time in prison, he had already finished his Associate's degree, learned to speak Spanish and mastered seven musical instruments.

Doswell showcased his musical talent when he opened for famed guitarist and singer-songwriter B.B. King at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh. He sang “I Need You Now,” a song about the power of God to usher a person through any tragedy, which he felt most greatly helped him to overcome his long incarceration. At end of his performance, Doswell received a standing ovation. Along with other exonerees, Doswell also performed with the rock band Pearl Jam as a guest musician during a May 2006 concert in Camden, New Jersey.

More recently, Doswell has sued the City of Pittsburgh and Detective Herman Wolf, who allegedly targeted him as a suspect because he had been acquitted in a prior rape case.  Among other injustices, Doswell contends the lineup put together by Detective Wolf was tainted because his mug shot was the only one marked with an “R,” which was how rape suspects’ photos were identified by Pittsburgh police at the time. Although U.S. District Judge Donetta Ambrose dismissed part of Doswell’s lawsuit last month, she refused to dismiss claims of violations of Doswell's rights to due process and against cruel and unusual punishment. Those claims are still pending.

Other Exoneration Anniversaries This Week:

Thursday: Larry Johnson, Missouri (Served 18 Years, Exonerated 7/30/2002)
Friday: Jerry Watkins, Indiana (Served 13.5 Years, Exonerated 7/31/2000)

Tags: Pennsylvania, Thomas Doswell, Larry Johnson, Jerry Watkins



Friday Roundup: Cases and Reforms Move Forward

Posted: July 31, 2009 5:30 pm

Around the country this week, individual cases moved forward – as did efforts to reform the criminal justice system to prevent wrongful convictions and assist the exonerated.

A judge in Wisconsin this morning dismissed rape and murder charges against Ralph Armstrong, who has been in prison for 28 years. Evidence shows that a prosecutor concealed substantial evidence that Armstrong was innocent. Armstrong will remain in custody while the state decides whether to appeal the ruling. The Innocence Project has worked on Armstrong’s case since 1993, and Co-Director Barry Scheck today called Armstrong’s case a “particularly chilling” example of prosecutorial misconduct.

Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County may be the home of pilot programs for identification reforms, according to District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr., who chairs the county’s investigations section of the state Committee on Wrongful Convictions. The news comes on the heels of the Innocence Project’s new report on eyewitness identification reforms, released earlier this month. Read more in the press release here.

Republican and Democratic leaders are asking Virginia’s General Assembly to provide compensation for exoneree Arthur Whitfield, who spent more than 22 years in prison and was released when DNA tests proved his innocence. Bob McDonnell and Creigh Deeds, the respective Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates, are calling for action during the assembly’s special session in August.

DNA may play a key role in the case of a Florida man convicted of murder 25 years ago. David Johnston was scheduled for execution in May, but the Florida Supreme Court delayed his execution when defense attorneys requested DNA testing on blood samples and nail clippings kept as evidence.

Tags: Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin, Arthur Lee Whitfield, Exoneree Compensation, Eyewitness Identification



Pennsylvania Man Seeks DNA Testing

Posted: January 27, 2010 5:20 pm

Scott Oliver has spent two decades in Pennsylvania prisons for a rape and murder that he has always maintained he didn't commit, and new DNA test results obtained by the Innocence Project provide strong evidence that he’s telling the truth.

The Innocence Project filed a motion in a Pennsylvania court this month revealing the new test results, which show DNA from a man other than Oliver, and seeking additional tests that could resolve any doubts about Oliver's innocence. Prosecutors have agreed to allow DNA testing to go forward, and the Innocence Project will pay for the tests at a private laboratory.

Oliver was convicted in 1991 of the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl. His conviction was based in part on a two-page confession he signed following a police interrogation. He later said he signed the papers without reading them after being forced to do so by a police officer. The interrogation was not recorded.

Ten people have been exonerated through DNA testing in Pennsylvania - four of whom gave false confessions or admissions to crimes they did not commit. The Pennsylvania Innocence Project has joined the Innocence Project in representing Oliver. Watch a video interview about the case with Pennsylvania Innocence Project Legal Director Marissa Bluestine here.

Tags: Pennsylvania



Preserving Evidence and Overturning Injustice

Posted: December 9, 2010 6:00 pm

Of the 261 exonerations involving DNA evidence nationwide, half involved a failure to provide exculpatory evidence to the defense at trial.

The potential for abuse is easy to see: Without any requirement that the prosecution hand over material, there's no way to determine whether the government has met its constitutional obligations. And a prosecutor who neglects or decides not to provide an exculpatory piece of evidence need not fear detection, as it will never be disclosed.

After a defendant has been convicted in Pennsylvania, information is even more difficult to obtain. Under the law, a defendant may not engage in a fishing expedition for exculpatory evidence. But the defendant has no way of knowing what potentially exculpatory information exists.

None of the nation’s 261 DNA exonerations would have been possible had biological evidence not been available to test. There are currently 32 states that provide for automatic preservation of biological evidence in certain cases; 23 require it in cases of homicides and sex offenses for the duration of a defendant's incarceration.

While there is no certain way to prevent all wrongful convictions, Pennsylvania can assure fewer of them with two steps: broadening the open-records law to allow disclosure of limited information related to investigations, and establishing standards for preserving physical evidence.

Read the full article.

Learn about preservation of evidence

Find out if your state requires evidence preservation.

Tags: Pennsylvania



Scientific Advances Raise Doubt about Arson Convictions

Posted: February 14, 2012 5:15 pm

Tags: Pennsylvania



Science Thursday

Posted: February 16, 2012 10:45 am

Tags: California, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington



Science Thursday

Posted: February 23, 2012 5:25 pm

Tags: Pennsylvania, Texas



Science Thursday - May 17, 2012

Posted: May 17, 2012 3:40 pm

Tags: North Carolina, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania



The Fight for Pennsylvania's Wrongfully Convicted

Posted: June 20, 2012 1:45 pm

In an op-ed in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, Legal Director of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, Marissa Boyers Bluestine, questions how many Pennsylvanians remain in prison for crimes they didn’t commit and what forms of evidence will be available to help prove their innocence.

These questions can't be answered because so few people who are wrongly convicted get a chance to prove their innocence in court. Access to justice after conviction is limited, especially in Pennsylvania.


Even if an inmate has the resources for a post-conviction investigation, his chances in Pennsylvania are slight. State law sets extremely strict deadlines for inmates to file petitions asserting their innocence after conviction. And in Pennsylvania, unlike any other state in the nation or the federal system, an inmate who misses a deadline even by a single day can't have his claim heard.

Other courts treat deadlines for such claims more flexibly and equitably, stretching them when there is convincing evidence of innocence, for example.Our criminal justice system must act with a degree of finality to maintain the confidence of the public, particularly crime victims. But while it should always be difficult to overturn a conviction, it should not be impossible. We have to start acknowledging the innocents in prison and ensuring that viable and credible claims get their day in court.

Read the full op-ed.

Read more about limitations to post-conviction DNA access in Pennsylvania.

Tags: Pennsylvania



Panel of Exonerees to Join Barry Scheck at American Chemical Society Conference

Posted: July 31, 2012 5:50 pm

In late August, the 244th American Chemical Society National Meeting will take place at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and include a full presentation on the work of the Innocence Project.
The Chemistry and the Law Division of the ACS will discuss how forensic science can play a tragic role in convicting the innocent and hear firsthand from DNA exonerees Steven Barnes, Ray Krone and Raymond Santana about the effects of wrongful conviction. Additionally, Innocence Project Co-Founder Barry Scheck will speak about what should be done to strengthen forensic science.
Steven Barnes spent more than 19 years in a New York prisons, Ray Krone was sentenced to death and spent 10 years in Arizona prisons, and Raymond Santana, one of the Central Park Five, spent five years in prison. Unvalidated or improper forensic science played a role in all three convictions which were later overturned when DNA testing proved their innocence.
Other panelists include Idaho Innocence Project Director Greg Hampikian and Pennsylvania Innocence Project Legal Director Marissa Boyers Bluestine, who will speak about their work with the wrongfully convicted.
The meeting will take place in Philadelphia on August 19-23 with the Innocence Project presentation taking place on Monday, August 20.
Read more about the Innocence Project panel.
Download a PDF of the final program for the fall 2012 ACS national meeting in Philadelphia, Aug. 19–23.

Tags: Pennsylvania



Science Thursday - August 23, 2012

Posted: August 23, 2012 5:45 pm

An Indiana woman convicted of murder based on arson evidence receives a new trial, a panel of exonerees speak about forensic flaws at a conference in Philadelphia, and laboratory issues in North Carolina and Minnesota affect criminal cases. Here’s this week’s round up of forensic news:
Kristine Bunch, of Indiana, was released from prison and has been granted a new trial after serving 16 years. Her conviction for the murder of her three-year-old son was reversed because the arson evidence critical to her conviction has been discredited.
Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld called on the American Chemical Society to help prevent wrongful convictions based on faulty forensics at a recent conference in Philadelphia. He was joined by three exonerees who spent years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.
North Carolina prosecutors dropped a DWI case because a former state crime lab analyst refused to accept a subpoena to testify.
Senior officials at the St. Paul Police Department are demanding answers for the drug unit’s failure.

Tags: North Carolina, Indiana, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Science Thursday



Prosecutorial Oversight Tour Stops in Pennsylvania

Posted: October 1, 2012 4:00 pm

Tags: Pennsylvania



The Ongoing Struggle for Access to Post-Conviction DNA Testing

Posted: October 5, 2012 3:00 pm

Tags: Arizona, Pennsylvania



NJ Exoneree Featured in False Confession Symposium

Posted: November 20, 2012 4:20 pm

Tags: Pennsylvania, Byron Halsey



Science Thursday - November 29, 2012

Posted: November 29, 2012 3:00 pm

Tags: Colorado, District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Science Thursday



Implications of a Supreme Court Ruling for False Confessions

Posted: June 20, 2013 1:30 pm

Tags: Pennsylvania, Texas, Nicholas Yarris



Science News - July 11, 2013

Posted: July 11, 2013 3:55 pm

Tags: Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Science Thursday



Pennsylvania Capital Murder Conviction Overturned

Posted: August 22, 2013 1:40 pm

Tags: Pennsylvania, Innocence Network



Important Decision on Misidentifications

Posted: August 23, 2013 1:30 pm

Tags: Pennsylvania, Eyewitness Misidentification, Innocence Network



Pennsylvania Judge Vacates Murder Convictions Based on New Evidence

Posted: October 9, 2013 5:15 pm

Tags: Pennsylvania



Two Pennsylvania Men Ordered Released

Posted: November 12, 2013 6:05 pm

Tags: Pennsylvania



False Confessions in 2013

Posted: January 3, 2014 3:45 pm

Tags: California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, False Confessions



Pennsylvania Arson Case Draws Comparison to Willingham

Posted: February 28, 2014 12:30 pm

Tags: Pennsylvania



Philadelphia District Attorney Announces Conviction Review Unit

Posted: April 16, 2014 6:05 pm

Tags: Pennsylvania



Pennsylvania Court Rules against False Confession Expert Testimony

Posted: June 10, 2014 6:00 am

Tags: Pennsylvania



Philadelphia District Attorney Will Not Retry Two Men in Murder Case

Posted: June 19, 2014 3:30 pm

Tags: Pennsylvania



Advances in Science a Factor in Pennsylvania Arson Case

Posted: July 1, 2014 11:10 am

Tags: Pennsylvania



Arson Conviction Overturned

Posted: August 13, 2014 1:40 pm

Tags: Pennsylvania



New York Man to be Released from Pennsylvania Prison

Posted: August 22, 2014 1:00 pm

Tags: Pennsylvania



Philadelphia District Attorney Agrees to New Trial for Man Who Served 22 Years for a Murder DNA Proves Was Committed by Another Man

Posted: September 19, 2014 6:05 pm

Tags: Pennsylvania, False Confessions, Eyewitness Misidentification



Twenty Years Later, Convictions Overturned for Philadelphia Man

Posted: September 22, 2014 3:20 pm

Tags: Pennsylvania, Anthony Wright



Philadelphia Inquirer Urges Philly DA to Drop Charges Against Anthony Wright

Posted: October 17, 2014 3:40 pm

Tags: Pennsylvania, Anthony Wright