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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.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.
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)
Read more about evidence preservation in our Fix the System section.
Tags: Kentucky, Evidence Preservation, Death Penalty
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
Wrongful convictions a factor in death penalty case before U.S. Supreme Court
Posted: January 7, 2008 4:40 pm
This spring, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear arguments in a case challenging the constitutionality of capital punishment for the crime of child rape. Defendant Patrick Kennedy, convicted of raping his 8-year-old stepdaughter, brought the case, arguing that execution for rape is cruel and unusual punishment. In a friend-of-the-court brief at the Supreme Court, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has raised the concern that impressionable witnesses (such as children) increase the chances of wrongful conviction. The Louisiana law, the group says, presents “an intolerably high risk” that innocent defendants will be put to death.
Read more about Kennedy v. Louisiana here.
Download the NACDL Amicus brief.
New York Times: Justices to decide if rape of a child merits death
The court also heard oral arguments this morning in Baze v. Rees, asking whether Kentucky’s lethal injection practice amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. While a decision on this case is pending, most states have ceased to carry out lethal injections. Read more about Baze v. Rees here.
Tags: Kentucky, Louisiana
Dispatch from the Field: Kentucky Moves Toward Eyewitness Identification Reform
Posted: March 12, 2008 4:47 pm
By Rebecca Brown, Innocence Project Policy Analyst
Today I will be providing testimony before Kentucky’s House Judiciary Committee on HB 298, a bill that can greatly enhance the accuracy of Kentucky’s eyewitness identification procedures. The introduction of this bill resulted, in part, from a statewide conference held in November of last year in Louisville, 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. The conference focused on the state of Kentucky’s criminal justice system and sought to bring stakeholders from all corners of the criminal justice system under one roof for dialogue and consensus on systemic reform. Attendees heard about a range of issues, prominent among them the potential for misidentification by eyewitnesses to crimes.
Audience members were moved to tears as Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, a crime victim who misidentified her rapist at two different trials in the 1980’s, described her feelings of re-victimization when she learned that flawed eyewitness identification procedures led her and the police to the wrong man. She told listeners that her misidentifications placed an innocent man, Ronald Cotton, in prison for over a decade. (DNA testing years later exonerated Mr. Cotton and a hit in the national DNA databank identified the true perpetrator, Bobby Poole.) Ms. Thompson expressed her feelings of guilt and horror after she learned how her inadvertent misidentification had created another victim, and described how her experiences drove her to become a devoted crusader to reform identification procedures.
Ms. Thompson-Cannino was followed by Gary Wells, an academic whose life’s work has focused upon the science of misidentification. Much of his research addresses the fallibility of human memory and its susceptibility to inadvertent or deliberate influence. Professor Wells described the simple, but effective reforms that are necessary to stem the tide of misidentifications in Kentucky and across the nation. These reforms can be trusted to work; they are grounded in a large body of peer-reviewed research that has been conducted over the past quarter century by respected social scientists.
These improved practices – shown to enhance the accuracy of eyewitness identifications – have been embraced by a number of jurisdictions across the nation. Just last year, laws were passed in five states to improve the reliability of eyewitness evidence. The most comprehensive of these laws came out of North Carolina, which included all of the major reform recommendations put forth by the Innocence Project. A similarly comprehensive bill stands before the House Judiciary Committee today in Kentucky, the provisions of which are bolstered by a strong and deep body of scientific literature.
HB 298 includes the following reforms:
- the blind administration of the eyewitness identification procedure;
- the provision of instructions to the eyewitness;
- the appropriate selection of non-suspect, or filler, photographs/individuals;
- taking confidence statements upon identification;
- the video-recording of the entire procedure; and
- the sequential presentation of line-up members to the eyewitness.
It is our hope that legislators will heed the lessons of wrongful conviction, and place robust science and experiential support above resistance to change. After all, traditional lineup methods are not the product of either scientific lessons or systemic validation. The unreliability of conventional eyewitness identification procedures undermines the effectiveness of public safety nationwide – and as importantly, the public faith therein. It bears repeating that eyewitness misidentification has contributed to more than three-quarters of the nation’s wrongful convictions proven through DNA testing.
The problem is well established, as are the solutions. I am testifying in Kentucky to help their legislature understand what the Innocence Project has learned – through deep study, and more importantly, through the reality of DNA exonerations – about the value of reforming their eyewitness identification procedures.
William Gregory, a Kentucky man whose innocence was proven through DNA testing, knows firsthand about the tragic implications of flawed eyewitness identification procedures; he spent seven years in prison for a crime he did not commit after two crime victims misidentified him.
Passage of HB 298 will not only protect the public and enhance Kentuckians’ confidence in their criminal justice system – it will also prove to Mr. Gregory that his suffering was not in vain.
Tags: Kentucky, Eyewitness Misidentification
Kentucky lawmakers ponder eyewitness identification reforms
Posted: March 25, 2008 4:20 pm
In the last three years, dozens of states have considered bills to reform eyewitness identification procedures and prevent wrongful convictions. So far this year, Kentucky is one of six states considering such a proposal. A bill introduced by Kentucky State Rep. Kathy Stein would require law enforcement agencies to change the way they conduct lineups – they would present participants simultaneously and the witness would give a statement assessing their confidence in the identification. (For more detail on these reforms, visit our eyewitness identification page)
And although Kentucky’s bill is unlikely to be passed this year, advocates say they are laying groundwork for reforms in future legislative sessions. Dozens of law enforcement agencies around the country have reported that reforms have improved the way they investigate crimes.
Margie Long, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Beach, Va., Police Department, said the recommendations were adopted three years ago and have improved police work by taking away bias in putting together photo lineups.Read more about eyewitness identification reforms around the country here.
"We've added a great deal of credibility to our line-up process," Long said.
Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 03/25/08)
Adequate defense counsel can prevent wrongful convictions
Posted: April 11, 2008 4:15 pm
Too many wrongful convictions are caused by the lack of experienced and available public defenders. For decades, the American criminal justice system has failed to consistently provide resources for the defense of people who can’t afford to hire a lawyer themselves. And the inequalities don’t stop with lawyers. Prosecutors have state resources to hire courtroom experts; they have police departments to act as investigators. Public defenders struggle with caseloads in the hundreds and nearly nonexistent funds for investigations and experts. To prevent wrongful convictions in our country, this has to change.
Headlines around the country this month show that budget shortfalls threaten even the low standards of public defense in many states. Lawmakers in Kentucky – where the average public defender has 436 clients in a year – recently slashed $2.5 million from the state’s public defense budget. Georgia’s public defense system is near the breaking point.
But there are signs of progress on the horizon:
This week, commissioners in Houston – the largest urban area in the country without a public defense office – voted to explore the creation of a department. Currently, elected judges appoint attorneys and set budgets for investigation and experts, creating a system with little quality control and no consistency. A public defense office would bring that consistency to the city.
Also this week, Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Pascal F. Calogero, Jr., praised state lawmakers for advances in public defense in recent years, and called for continued growth in the delivery of defense to the poor.
Read more about how overworked – or negligent – defense attorneys have contributed to the problem of wrongful convictions.
Tags: Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Bad Lawyering
Missing Evidence Presents a Problem in Kentucky
Posted: November 30, 2009 3:40 pm
In 2004, Kentucky improved its evidence preservation law, requiring that law enforcement agencies save evidence from most major crimes. But an Associated Press report this weekend shows that evidence is missing in several key cases across the state and casts doubt on preservation policies in practice.
Defense attorneys say evidence has gone missing in Kentucky, resulting in problems for six capital cases and possibly hundreds of other prosecutions, including rapes and robberies.Procedures mandating proper collection, cataloguing and storage of crime scene evidence are crucial to a fair justice system -- preserving evidence doesn’t only help free the innocent, it also helps law enforcement agencies solve cold cases.
All the cases predate DNA testing, which can now be used to determine guilt.
"It's really becoming an issue," said Kentucky Innocence Project chief Ted Shouse, whose office is reviewing more than 4,000 old cases. "This is going to be a huge problem."
… "Clearly, the number of exonerations from DNA in this country should be a wake up call to preserve evidence," Shouse said.
The catch is making sure the law is followed by all parties - clerks, court reporters, law enforcement, said Rebecca Brown, a policy advocate for The Innocence Project, a New York-based national organization that seeks to free those wrongly convicted.
"There's sometimes a disconnect between what's on the books and actual practice," Brown said. "A mandate doesn't necessarily make it down to all the people charged with retaining that evidence."
Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 11/26/09)
View a map of evidence preservation policies nationwide.
Learn more about the Innocence Project’s recommended policies for evidence preservation.
Tags: Kentucky, Evidence Preservation
Kentucky Supreme Court Hears DNA Testing Request
Posted: April 15, 2010 3:00 pm
DNA testing in Bowling's case found genetic material from multiple people on a jacket identified as having been worn by the shooter. A circuit judge turned away a call for further testing on the jacket and his car, saying the evidence was contaminated and the law didn't allow for more tests.
Bowling's attorney, public defender Jamesa Drake, said further testing would probably produce results that would have affected the outcome of Bowling's trial. The evidence linking Bowling to the shootings is circumstantial, so DNA pointing to someone else is valuable and could warrant a new trial, Drake said.
"To this day, the commonwealth has never proven Mr. Bowling even knew the victims, much less killed them," Drake said.
Justice Wil Schroeder seemed skeptical of Drake's claims, noting that Bowling lived with the people he's citing as alternate suspects. That relationship makes it likely the DNA of those people is on his jacket and in his car, which has never been DNA tested.
"What's this going to show?" Schroeder asked. "It's highly possible somebody else picked up the jacket and wore it."
Justice Lisabeth Hughes Abramson noted that DNA testing produced a three-point match, while a five-point match is generally considered acceptable. The low number of matches is likely to make any test results useless, Abramson said.
"I don't see why in the world additional testing is going to matter," Abramson said. "There's no reason to go any further."
While it is yet to be determined if the outcome of the case would be different if this testing is granted, the law states that a person convicted and sentenced to death for a capital offense is permitted to petition the court for post-conviction DNA testing at any time.
Bowling is not the first man on death row to request post-conviction testing, but no one before him has had their conviction overturned.
Read full article here.
See if your state is one of the 47 with post-conviction DNA access laws here.
After 30 Years, Kentucky Man is Cleared
Posted: June 8, 2010 5:40 pm
VonAllmen was convicted of rape, sodomy and robbery nearly 30 years ago despite several alibis and the victim’s description of the attacker having blue eyes while VonAllmen are brown. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
The Kentucky Innocence Project’s DNA unit, working under the Bloodsworth Actual Innocence Grant Program (which authorizes $5 million per year for five years for post-conviction DNA testing) tested several hairs that were collected in 1981 following the rape. Unfortunately, the test results came back inconclusive. But during the reinvestigation, the Kentucky Innocence Project developed new evidence supporting VonAllmen’s innocence claim and identified an alternative suspect who was charged with a similar crime in 1978, but died in died in 1983 while fleeing from police.
The Judge dismissed VanAllemn’s conviction stating the evidence suggests he did not commit the crimes.
The prosecutor has until the end of the month to decide whether or not to prosecute VanAllmen again.
Read more here.
Editorial Calls on Kentucky to Compensate Recent Exoneree
Posted: December 28, 2011 10:30 am
Kentucky Prosecutor Calls for Increased Access to Post-Conviction DNA Testing
Posted: February 7, 2012 10:55 am
Friday Roundup: False Confessions, DNA Access, Compensation
Posted: February 24, 2012 5:15 pm
Tags: Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky
Kentucky Legislation Introduced to Allow Expansion for Post-Conviction DNA Testing
Posted: March 16, 2012 5:00 pm
Kentucky Prisoners Fight for DNA Testing
Posted: May 14, 2012 4:40 pm
Courier-Journal Urges Kentucky to Expand DNA Access Law
Posted: May 17, 2012 5:00 pm
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
Integrity Unit Investigates Wrongful Conviction
Posted: November 1, 2012 1:40 pm
Kentucky Bill Would Expand DNA Access to Inmates
Posted: December 18, 2012 4:00 pm
Former FBI Director Sessions Calls for Improvements to KY's DNA Testing Law
Posted: February 25, 2013 4:50 pm
Tags: Kentucky, Access to DNA Testing
Kentucky Governor Signs Improved Post-Conviction DNA Access Law
Posted: March 27, 2013 3:10 pm
Tags: Kentucky, Access to DNA Testing