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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



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



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



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



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



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



Testing granted in Florida death row case

Posted: January 2, 2008 5:15 pm

A Florida judge recently granted DNA testing in the case of Innocence Project client Samuel Jason Derrick, who has served nearly two decades on Florida’s death row for a murder he says he didn’t commit. Derrick says he falsely confessed to detectives investigating the crime because they threatened to put his infant son in foster care.

Derrick was convicted of stabbing a convenience store owner in an apparent robbery in 1987. In December, a judge approved advanced DNA testing on a bloody remnant of a white T-shirt, a partially eaten hot dog, blood found under a picnic table and scrapings from the victim's fingernails.

The fingernail scrapings were tested in 2002 but gleaned no DNA profiles, the defense motion said. But they could still yield something to a more sensitive DNA test called Y-STR now available, according to the defense motion, that "targets genetic markers found on the Y-chromosome, which only males possess."

"It's really vital that we use Y-STR or one of the really cutting- edge tests that have been developed," said Alba Morales, Derrick's Innocence Project attorney. "Because it really improves the chance of getting a result from what is by now a fairly degraded sample."

Read the full story here. (St. Petersburg Times, 12/28/2007)
The Innocence Project wants the testing on the evidence be conducted at a private lab specializing in Y-STR and mini-STR DNA technology. These two kinds of advanced DNA testing may be able to show whether Derrick is innocent – and private labs have expertise and experience in this area that the Florida state labs do not.

Tags: Florida, Death Penalty, Samuel Jason Derrick



Florida editorial: Compensate the exonerated

Posted: January 30, 2008 4:55 pm

An editorial this week in the St. Petersburg Times examines the case of Alan Crotzer, who was exonerated through DNA testing in 2006 after serving 24 years in prison for a rape and kidnapping he didn’t commit. Crotzer has been out for two years, but has yet to receive any kind of compensation from the state of Florida, which is not among the 22 states with standing laws compensating the wrongfully convicted.

Crotzer and his advocates are working this year to pass a “private” bill that would provide him the compensation he deserves; such bills only apply to one individual, rather than to anyone who has been proven innocent. The editorial calls for a systemic solution. A bill proposed by State Sen. Arthenia Joyner would compensate the wrongfully convicted with up to $100,000 for each year of wrongful conviction. Passing this bill, the newspaper says, should be a priority for state lawmakers.

The Legislature has a responsibility to address an issue it has kicked down the road for years: compensation for the wrongfully convicted. Lawmakers need to put aside their differences and bring Florida into the ranks of those states that have an automatic system for providing recompense to people wrongly incarcerated - sometimes for decades. It is not just a duty but a moral imperative.

Read the full story here. (St. Petersburg Times, 01/29/08)
Does your state have a compensation law? View our interactive map to find out.

Tags: Florida, Alan Crotzer



Chad Heins: At home in a new world

Posted: February 19, 2008 9:55 am

A new Florida Times-Union feature checks in with Innocence Project client Chad Heins, two months after his exoneration in Florida. Heins, who served 11 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, lives in Wisonsin with his family. In a video on the Times-Union site, Heins says he tries to stay busy in order to avoid thinking about the years he lost. He was 19 when arrested and 33 when exonerated.

He does his best to lift the pall of 14 years behind bars. He keeps his bedroom blinds open 24-7 so he can always see the countryside. He finds reasons to tinker outside his parents' house in snowy weather - in a T-shirt no less - just so he can feel the northern chill. He teases his mom and sister relentlessly, an impish grin belying years of hard time.
"You don't realize how good it is to be home until you get it all snatched away," he told the Times-Union as he relaxed at the dining room table noshing on brats and cheese curds.
Read the full story and watch the video here. (Florida Times-Union, 02/17/08) 
Read more about Chad Heins’ case here.

Tags: Florida, Chad Heins



Florida editorial calls for eyewitness reform

Posted: February 20, 2008 12:08 pm

Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing, yet many jurisdictions have not implemented simple reforms that are proven to increase the accuracy of lineups and other identification procedures.  An editorial in the Daytona Beach News-Journal calls for Florida lawmakers to enact new procedures for law enforcement officials that would prevent misidentification.

One of the easiest, and potentially most effective, fixes involves a simple tweak to a basic police tool: the lineup. This practice -- in which police actually line up a row of people, or display a set of photographs and ask a witness to identify one as the criminal -- is subject to flaws, particularly when the officer administering the lineup knows who the suspect is. Even though the officer might not intend to taint witness identification, it happens, through subtle "tells" such as fleeting changes of facial expression.

The solution is to remove that officer from the lineup process, substituting another officer -- one who has never seen the suspect and doesn't know who the ringers are. This procedure, called a "double-blind" lineup, is the best way to ensure that eyewitness IDs are as accurate as possible. In addition, police should take care to ensure that all subjects in a lineup are as physically similar as possible.

These two fixes are simple. They require no new technology and, because they simply substitute one officer for another, little extra police time. Moreover, they're fully supported by irrefutable research. Witnesses tend to trust their eyes, but by now police and lawmakers should know better.

Read the full editorial here.

What is your state doing to improve eyewitness identification procedures? Find out on our interactive map.

Read a guest post from the Eyewitness Identification Reform Blog on a proposed eyewitness reform bill in Georgia

Tags: Florida, Eyewitness Identification



Florida lawmakers will move forward with compensation for exoneree

Posted: February 21, 2008 4:45 pm

For three years, exoneree Alan Crotzer has been asking the Florida Legislature to compensate him for the 24 years he spent in Florida prisons for a crime he didn’t commit. Yesterday, he got some good news.

The Senate President said yesterday he would prioritize Crotzer’s claim to $1.25 million for 24 years of wrongful incarceration. That’s approximately $50,000 per year served, which is the amount that the federal government recommends and the Innocence Project advocates for compensation statutes across the country. Legislation to compensate Crotzer had stalled in the Senate last year on procedural grounds despite strong support from the House and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who called the bill a “no-brainer.”

While Crotzer deserves to be compensated immediately for the injustice he suffered, Florida needs a more inclusive solution to help the exonerated get back on their feet. Innocence Project of Florida Policy Director Jenny Greenberg said it’s time for the state to join 22 others and pass legislation that would compensate people who have been wrongfully convicted (rather than considering separate bills to compensate each individual).

Greenberg … said a ''universal claims bill'' for the wrongfully convicted will help, but hopes that lawmakers won't make the bill so restrictive that victims of the justice system won't be able to get money to get back on their feet.
''It's not just Alan Crotzer who's affected,'' she said.

Read the full story here. (Miami Herald, 02/21/08)
Our free monthly email newsletter, which was sent to subscribers yesterday, included an update on compensation reforms nationwide.

Didn’t get it in your inbox? Subscribe here.

Or read the newsletter on our website here.

Tags: Florida, Alan Crotzer



Florida Exoneree May Finally Be Compensated

Posted: March 11, 2008 2:05 pm

Alan Crotzer, who was exonerated through DNA testing in Florida in 2006, may finally receive compensation through a special bill in the Florida Legislature that would pay him $1.25 million for the more than 24 years he spent in Florida prisons. The 2007 legislative session ended without passing the bill. Crotzer is one of nine people exonerated through DNA evidence in Florida, only one of whom has been compensated.

"From Al's perspective, finally having a glimmer of hope - to me, that's a hallelujah," said Michael Olenick, Crotzer's attorney.

Read the full article here. (Palm Beach Post, 03/11/08)
The special “private” bill applies only to Crotzer and does not include provisions for the other eight Florida exonerees who have not been compensated. It also does not create a system for compensating people who are exonerated in the future.  Florida is one of the 28 states that do not have a compensation statute.

In addition to the bill to compensate Crotzer, the Florida Legislature is considering a bill that would pay $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration for exonerees, but only if they have no prior felony record. The Innocence Project of Florida is urging legislators to drop the provision about prior felonies.  None of the 22 states with compensation laws have provisions about prior felonies that prevent innocent people from being compensated for the years or decades they lost to a wrongful conviction.

Read more about Crotzer’s case here.

Tags: Florida, Exoneree Compensation



Editorial: Fair, straightforward compensation needed in Florida

Posted: April 29, 2008 2:10 pm

Florida is one of 27 states with no law compensating the wrongfully convicted upon their exoneration. Last month, lawmakers approved a bill compensated Alan Crotzer $1.25 million for the 24 years he spent in prison for a rape he didn’t commit, but the bill was for him only, making him the second Floridian to receive state compensation after exoneration. Another Florida exoneree, Wilton Dedge, received a similar state compensation package.

The state desperately needs a universal compensation law, and lawmakers are considering one right now. But there are serious problems with the Florida bill in its current state, and an editorial in today’s Daytona Beach News-Journal details some of these problems:

Both House and Senate versions deny compensation to anyone with another felony conviction -- even if the other conviction is relatively minor. This so-called "clean hands" provision is a cruel excuse to perpetrate injustice.
The fact that someone has a prior conviction does not make a wrongful conviction any less wrong. In fact, the existence of a prior conviction increases the possibility of injustice: Police sometimes focus an investigation on someone who's already been in trouble with the law, to the exclusion of other more likely suspects.

Crotzer's case provides a perfect example of how unfair this provision can be. Before he was wrongfully convicted of robbery and rape, he stole beer from a store. While in prison, he was convicted of a drug offense. Both crimes were relatively minor and would draw relatively short prison terms -- if any. Yet under this proposal, he would be barred from compensation for his 24 years behind bars.
Read the full editorial here. (Daytona Beach News-Journal, 04/29/08) 

Tags: Florida, Alan Crotzer, Wilton Dedge, Exoneree Compensation



“Fatally flawed” compensation bill advances in Florida, California exoneree settles for $500K

Posted: May 1, 2008 4:22 pm

Florida lawmakers voted on Tuesday to advance a bill compensating the wrongfully convicted for each year they spent in prison before their exoneration, but restrictions on the bill exclude too many people. The bill would pay some exonerees $50,000 per year served, but it excludes anyone with a prior felony conviction. This would include Alan Crotzer, who spent almost 25 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. He was convicted of stealing beer from a convenience store before his wrongful conviction, and that would disqualify him. Crotzer will be paid $1.25 million by the state after lawmakers passed a bill specifically written for him. While the Innocence Project has commended Florida legislators for addressing this important issue, the provision about unrelated prior felony convictions falls far short of the state’s obligation to compensate the wrongfully convicted.

Eric Ferrero, spokesman for the national Innocence Project, said the clean hands provision is a ''fatal flaw.'' He said that of the 23 states that have compensation laws for the wrongfully incarcerated, none disqualify people based on unrelated prior felony convictions.

''Prior convictions have nothing to do with the fact that an innocent person was wrongfully convicted,'' Ferrero said. ``They have paid their debt to society for prior convictions but society has not paid its debt to them for a separate and unrelated wrongful conviction.''

Read the full story here. (Miami Herald, 04/29/08)

In other news, California exoneree James Ochoa has reached a tentative settlement in his lawsuit against Buena Park, California for his wrongful conviction. Ochoa spent 10 months in prison for a carjacking he didn’t commit before DNA cleared him. He also received approval recently to receive $30,000 in state compensation. Read more here.

Does your state have a compensation law? Find out here.

Tags: Florida, Alan Crotzer, Exoneree Compensation



Florida's Wrongful Incarceration Act restricts compensation for exonerees

Posted: May 13, 2008 5:00 pm

The Wrongful Incarceration Act which recently passed in the Florida Legislature and is pending signature from the Florida Governor, offers $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration to exonerees. Only three of the nine people exonerated through DNA testing in the state of Florida have received compensation for the time they served unjustly. Both Wilton Dedge and Alan Crotzer endured months of battling with the State Legislature before receiving compensation through private bills that applied only to them. A third Florida exoneree, Jerry Frank Townsend, just received a settlement last week after fighting for compensation since his release in 2001.

Several of those who have not yet been compensated would be restricted from receiving funds through the Wrongful Incarceration Act because of a “clean hands” provision which disallows compensation for anyone with an unrelated prior felony conviction. None of the other 23 states that provide compensation to the wrongfully convicted restrict funds in this way.

An article in the Tallahassee Democrat outlines the controversy around the bill:

Advocates for the wrongfully incarcerated say they will wait to see how the process works, but they have doubts whether all the proven innocent will be compensated.
"You're innocent when we release you but you're not innocent enough to be compensated?" said Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida. "These two ideas just don't jibe together."

Read the full story here.

Tags: Florida, Exoneree Compensation



Florida exoneree receives settlement

Posted: May 14, 2008 12:20 pm

Miami city commissioners recently agreed to pay Jerry Frank Townsend a $2.2 million settlement as a result of his wrongful conviction of six murders and one rape despite his dubious confessions. Townsend served over 21 years for crimes he didn’t commit in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.

The main evidence against Jerry Frank Townsend: his own confessions. But those confessions were fundamentally flawed. Townsend has an IQ of 58, making him vulnerable to police coercion. Following his 1979 arrest, he was questioned for five days by Miami police and the Broward Sheriff's Office, without an attorney present.

Prodding by both police departments led Townsend to claim responsibility for a host of crimes in Miami-Dade County, Broward County -- even California. Townsend's confessions were rife with inconsistencies, but he was sent to prison anyway.
Read the full Miami Herald article here.
Townsend’s lawsuit against the Broward County Sheriff’s Office still stands. Meanwhile the Florida Governor is expected to sign a new bill into law that would provide $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration to Florida exonerees. However, the law would render several of those waiting to be compensated ineligible for the funds.

Learn more about Jerry Frank Townsend’s case here.

Learn more about Florida’s “Wrongful Incarceration Act” here.


Tags: Florida, Exoneree Compensation



His First Year of Freedom

Posted: December 4, 2008 4:50 pm

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the day Chad Heins walked out of a Florida prison after spending 13 years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit. After his exoneration, he returned to his home state of Wisconsin to live with his family.

The Heins family’s nightmare began on April 17, 1994. Chad had recently moved from Wisconsin to Florida and was living with his brother, Jeremy, and sister-in-law, Tina. Jeremy was in the Navy and on board his ship that night. Chad woke up on the couch at 5:45 a.m. to find three small fires burning in the house. He ran to Tina’s bedroom and found that she had been stabbed to death. Although Heins immediately called police, he quickly became a suspect in the case. Despite the lack of physical evidence, prosecutors developed a case against him. They theorized that Heins had made a sexual pass at his sister-in-law. When Tina Heins refused, they alleged, he broke into a jealous rage and repeatedly stabbed her.

Aside from his presence in the apartment, no evidence suggested that Chad Heins was Tina Heins' murderer. There was no blood on his clothes or under his fingernails, no scratches or scrapes on his body. Furthermore, DNA tests performed on pubic hairs in the victim's bed did not belong to Tina, Chad or Jeremy. However, at trial, two jailhouse snitches testified that Heins spontaneously confessed his guilt to them. Despite the lack of physical evidence, Heins was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

In 2001, Heins wrote to the Innocence Project, which took the case with help from the Innocence Project of Florida. Together with Heins’ pro bono attorney, the Innocence Project filed a motion for DNA testing on the skin cells collected at an autopsy from underneath the victim's fingernails. Additional testing was done on the pubic hairs and semen found at the crime scene. The test results proved that the skin cells, semen and hair all came from an unknown male. As Heins' innocence became clear, key evidence surfaced. During the original trial, prosecutors suppressed evidence that indicated a third person's fingerprints were found in the apartment. After the test results and the suppressed evidence were released, a Florida judge tossed Heins’ conviction and he was exonerated on December 4, 2007. He had been only 19 years old when Tina was murdered and today he is 34.

Learn more about Heins’ case, and read about jailhouse informants as a cause of wrongful conviction.

Other Exoneree Anniversaries:

Marcellius Bradford, Illinois (Served 6.5 years, Exonerated 2001)

Dewey Davis, West Virginia (Served 7 years, Exonerated 1995)

Larry Ollins, Illinois (Served 13.5 years, Exonerated 2001)

Calvin Ollins, Illinois (Served 13.5 years, Exonerated 2001)

Omar Saundars, Illinois (Served 13.5 years, Exonerated 2001)

Tags: Florida, Chad Heins



Prosecutors Drop Charges in Florida Case, 27 Years Later

Posted: December 11, 2008 12:45 pm

William Dillon was freed from Florida prison last month after serving 27 years for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit. DNA testing secured by the Innocence Project of Florida and Dillon’s public defender proved that biological evidence from another person was on a bloody T-shirt used against Dillon at his trial.

Dillon’s conviction rested on other highly questionable evidence, including testimony of a dog handler who was also involved in the wrongful conviction of Wilton Dedge, an Innocence Project client who was exonerated in the same county in 2004.

Mike Pirolo, Dillon's public defender, described Wednesday's development as bittersweet.

"Sweet that justice was done and he's a free man," he said. "Bitter that 27 years of his life was taken away that he'll never get back."

Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 12/10/08)
Read more on the Innocence Project of Florida blog.

More coverage:

Exonerated Wilton Dedge Inspired Dillon (Florida Today, 11/20/08)

Video of Dillon’s release from prison (WFTV)

The Innocence Project is currently reviewing Dillon’s case for possible inclusion in our database of DNA exonerations in the United States.

Tags: Florida, William Dillon



Friday Roundup: Compensation and Crime Lab Woes

Posted: June 5, 2009 5:00 pm

William Dillon of Florida was denied compensation from the state on Tuesday as a result of a "clean hands" law, which prevents exonerees with unrelated prior convictions from receiving compensation. The Innocence Project of Florida is pursuing measures to exempt Dillon from the statute, which would allow Dillon to receive $1.3 million in compensation for his wrongful conviction, but requires finding a sponsor in the state legislature, filing the claims bill and having it pass.

Two states are facing budget cuts that may put their crime labs at risk. In Wisconsin, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is trying to convince the state Justice Department to restore funds that were cut by the state legislature. Hollen says the budget cuts would force him to lay off staff and would result in increased backlogs.

The North Carolina legislature is considering closing the Greensboro crime lab, less than a year after it opened, to reduce state spending. The state has a $4 billion budget shortfall. Crime lab supporters argue that keeping the lab open could actually save the state more money in the long run.

According to Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes, the lab not only takes on work that would otherwise have to be done in Raleigh, but it also saves local departments travel time. If getting a particular result is urgent, Barnes said, officers can wait for evidence to be processed on-site rather than having to drive back and forth twice.

“That has value you just can’t imagine or put a price on,” he said.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will hear arguments in the case of a Mississippi man requesting DNA testing to prove his innocence. Steve Michael Fasono and his attorneys argue that Fasono was not involved in the 2002 robbery of a bank, and that DNA testing of clothing used during the crime can conclusively prove he was not involved with the crime.

Meanwhile, Tim Kennedy is awaiting retrial with his family in Colorado while on bond after DNA tests proved not only that another man was present and left the tested samples at the scene of a murder, but that Kennedy’s DNA was not found on any of the evidence collected. Having spent 14 years in prison for the murder of a Colorado Springs couple, Kennedy’s retrial is scheduled for Sept. 21.

Kennedy’s case, along with various others, is posted on the Just Science Coalition’s news page – you can visit for weekly updates on forensic news.

Tags: North Carolina, Colorado, Florida, Mississippi, Wisconsin, William Dillon



Growing Calls to Reopen Florida Cases

Posted: June 23, 2009 1:45 pm

Florida exonerees William Dillon and Wilton Dedge were both convicted based, in part, on the testimony of John Preston, a now-discredited dog handler. The Innocence Project of Florida is now working on another case involving Preston, and calls are increasing for officials to reexamine any possible wrongful convictions from the early 1980s – especially those involving Preston.

An editorial on Saturday in Florida Today listed some of the evidence of prosecutorial misconduct in Brevard County in the 1980s and called on Governor Charlie Crist to launch an official investigation into questionable convictions from the county.

-- Titusville attorney and former Brevard prosecutor Sam Bardwell, who encountered Preston in a 1981 rape case, says then-State Attorney Doug Cheshire … as well as the Brevard Sheriff’s Office and most law enforcement officers at the time knew Preston was a charlatan.

“I left the State Attorney’s Office because I could not abide by the fabrication of evidence,” Bardwell says.

-- Retired 18th Circuit and appellate Judge Gil Goshorn confirmed Cheshire relied heavily on Preston in a number of cases, along with questionable jailhouse snitches.
“Cheshire’s office often relied on such evidence of dubious reliability,” Goshorn said in a sworn affadavit in 2008.
Dedge, an Innocence Project client, was exonerated in 2004. Dillon, represented by the Innocence Project of Florida, was cleared last year. The Innocence Project of Florida is now working on the case of Gary Bennett, who was convicted of murder based in part on Preston’s testimony. Preston, who testified in 60 cases in Brevard County and many more elsewhere in the U.S., is now deceased.

Read more about Bennett’s case on the Innocence Project of Florida website. And set your DVR for a special report on Dillon’s case from CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 – scheduled to air tomorrow (Wednesday) night at 10 p.m. ET.

Read the Florida Today investigative article and editorial.

Tags: Florida, Wilton Dedge, William Dillon



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



Five Years Later: Wilton Dedge and Dog Scent Evidence

Posted: August 13, 2009 2:30 pm

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the day Wilton Dedge walked out of a Florida prison into the arms of his parents. In 1982, he was convicted of a rape he didn’t commit and sentenced to life in prison. He would serve 19 years before DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project conclusively proved his innocence in 2001. The state then opposed Dedge’s release on procedural grounds and he was not freed for another three years.

In addition to an eyewitness misidentification and unreliable testimony by a forensic hair analyst, unvalidated dog-scent evidence played a large role in Dedge’s first conviction in 1982. At trial, a “scent-tracking expert” named John Preston testified that his dog, “Harass 2,” sniffed an item with Dedge's scent and then allegedly alerted Preston of the same scent in the victim's house. Although Dedge’s conviction was overturned in 1983, the appeals court nevertheless asserted that the dog’s scent identification was persuasive. Mainly based on the testimony of a known jailhouse snitch, Dedge was reconvicted after a second trial in 1984.

Despite not being a validated science, dog-scent identifications and lineups have continued to be permitted at trial and have been a contributing factor in other wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing. The case of another recent Florida exoneree, William Dillon, also hinged on the testimony of the same so-called expert, John Preston, who died in 2008. In the course of his career, Preston convinced over one hundred juries in Brevard County, Florida, and around the country of his dog’s ability to track scents, even if those scents were underwater or it had been more than a week since the crime had occurred. Other scent experts have countered that such scent identifications are impossible.

Responding last month to public outrage and concern that others are still wrongly jailed based on the fraudulent dog scent testimony, Florida State Attorney Norman Wolfinger ordered a review of murder and sexual battery cases in which Preston testified. Florida Today wrote that an in-house review of the cases won’t be reliable, and the Innocence Project of Florida has called for an independent investigation.

Unvalidated forensic science such as dog scent evidence has been involved in about half of the 241 wrongful convictions overturned to date. The Innocence Project supports the creation of the National Institute of Forensic Science, a federal agency to support and oversee forensics to prevent wrongful convictions and ensure public safety. Thousands of people have joined the campaign by signing the Just Science Coalition’s petition calling for federal forensic oversight. Add your name now.

Other Exonerations
Sunday: Ryan Matthews, Louisiana (Served 5 years, Exonerated 8/9/2004)
Friday: Gary Dotson, Illinois (Served 10 years, Exonerated 08/14/1989)
Saturday: Roy Criner, Texas (Served 10 years, Exonerated 08/15/2000)
Eduardo Velasquez, Massachusetts (Served 12.5 years, Exonerated 08/15/2001)

Tags: Florida, Wilton Dedge, Forensic Oversight



Exoneree’s Wrongful Conviction Featured in “On the Case With Paula Zahn” on Investigation Discovery This Sunday

Posted: May 21, 2010 3:00 pm

Tags: Florida



Florida Inmate Released After 18 Years

Posted: April 5, 2011 4:42 pm

Wearing a t-shirt that read "Not Guilty," Williams addressed the media.

"This is love," he said.

Williams couldn’t stop smiling as he offered his thanks in front of the media.

"I want to first thank God because without him this wouldn’t be happening and I want to thank my family for believing in me,” he said. “It’s going to be a long road for me, but a sweet one."

He said when he got the news Monday morning he fell to the floor and thanked God.

The Innocence Project of Florida, who represented Williams, worked on his case for more than five years and was preparing to fight for his release on bond, according to its executive director Seth Miller.

Williams spent the night with his family celebrating his release and his son’s birthday and held his grandson for the first time but didn’t have much time to look to the future.

"I know one thing, I need a job right now," he said.

Read the full article.

Read a copy of the order Williams’ conviction.

Tags: Florida



Florida Exonerees Endorse Statewide Identification Reform

Posted: April 29, 2011 4:39 pm

The exonerees wrote:

During our years of incarceration, the actual perpetrators of the crimes for which we were convicted remained at large and free to commit countless additional crimes. Consider statistics collected by the national Innocence Project: Real perpetrators were identified in more than 100 post-conviction DNA exoneration cases. These real perpetrators were convicted of more than 60 sexual assaults and 20 murders that were committed while innocent men like us suffered behind bars.

Introduced by republican State Senator Joe Negron, the bill is expected to pass in the Senate but has met substantial opposition in the Florida House, where an identical bill was recently modified to exclude the provision for blind administration. “We could not understand why,” wrote the seven exonerees. “We urge them to pass S.B. 1206 in its current form.”

In their letter, the seven exonerees recognized the bill’s urgency: "If even one person could be spared the fate we were forced to endure, it would lessen our suffering and bring a little meaning to the years, experiences and opportunities we lost."

Tags: Florida



Florida Questions the Use of Jailhouse Informants

Posted: December 28, 2011 12:15 pm

Tags: Florida



Friday Roundup: False Confessions, Investigating Wrongful Convictions

Posted: February 3, 2012 4:30 pm

Tags: California, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Alan Crotzer



Friday Roundup: False Confessions, DNA Access, Compensation

Posted: February 24, 2012 5:15 pm

Tags: Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky



Friday Roundup: Favorable Compensation, Actual Innocence Bills

Posted: March 2, 2012 2:20 pm

Tags: Florida, Louisiana, Utah, Wisconsin



Science Thursday

Posted: April 5, 2012 5:20 pm

Tags: California, Florida, Illinois, New York



Florida Exoneree Becomes a Father at 57

Posted: April 20, 2012 4:00 pm

Tags: Florida, James Bain



Florida Editorial Emphasizes Need for Reform

Posted: May 23, 2012 3:30 pm

The Tampa Bay Times has called for bold changes in Florida’s criminal justice system in order to reduce the number of wrongful convictions across the state. Thirteen of the 291 people exonerated through DNA testing were wrongfully convicted in Florida. Only Texas, Illinois, New York and Virginia have more.
On Monday, the Florida Innocence Commission embarked on several weeks of hearings to review how wrongful convictions occur and how to prevent them in the future. The commission, which is comprised of prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement and other professionals in the criminal justice community, is expected to propose criminal justice reforms at the end of June.

When the criminal justice system gets it wrong, innocent people are denied their liberty. Their families are left behind often without a father or provider. Crime victims don't get justice because the real perpetrator went free, possibly to offend again. Everyone loses.

The Florida Innocence Commission is studying the most common contributing factors of wrongful conviction. It has already recommended reforms to improve police lineup procedures and reduce the rate of eyewitness misidentification.

It was an important step, but without more far-reaching and substantial recommendations from the commission, there won't be real change. This is Florida's opportunity to better its system of justice.

Read the full editorial.
Read about the formation of criminal justice reform commissions. Read more.

Tags: Florida, Innocence Commissions



Ocala Star Banner calls for Enhancements to Florida Criminal Justice System

Posted: July 23, 2012 3:00 pm

An editorial in the Ocala Star Banner supports the Florida Innocence Commission’s finding that the state’s criminal justice system needs a bigger budget in order to function properly and prevent injustice. The Legislature has refused to consider any increase in spending to enhance the system.

Commission Chairman Belvin Perry, a circuit judge from Orlando, spelled it out: “The only thing the criminal-justice system has is the confidence that people have in it. The underfunding of this system in this state is going to lead us to a situation where people will look at the system and have no faith or confidence in it.”

Among its recommendations, the commission said that more money should be spent on DNA testing and preservation of evidence. Thirteen of the 297 people exonerated through DNA testing were wrongfully convicted in Florida. The commission’s report, released in June, promotes additional funding for public defenders and DNA testing.
Read the full editorial.
Read more about the Florida Innocence Commission.

Tags: Florida, Innocence Commissions



Sunny Jacobs Stars in "The Exonerated" This Week

Posted: September 24, 2012 5:15 pm

Sonia “Sunny” Jacobs spoke with The New Yorker on the eve of her performance in “The Exonerated” at the Culture Project. Jacobs is one of six people freed from death row who are featured in the play by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen. The current production stars Delroy Lindo, Stockard Channing, Lyle Lovett and others, and will feature Jacobs for just one week to play the role of herself.
Jacobs told The New Yorker:

“I was asked to fill in as a Sunny. At first, it was difficult, and then it was freeing. It is not easy to dig down inside and relive the most painful parts of one’s life night after night. But the overwhelming feelings of love that I felt from the cast and crew, and, afterward, from the audience, were very healing. I feel very blessed for having had the opportunity.”

The Innocence Project will participate in talkbacks after the performances on September 27, October 11 and November 1.
Read the full interview.
For more about the play and for tickets.

Tags: Florida, New York



Longest Serving Exoneree Looks Toward the Future

Posted: October 17, 2012 2:45 pm

Tags: Florida, James Bain



Innocence Network Week in Review: December 14, 2012

Posted: December 14, 2012 4:40 pm

Tags: North Carolina, Florida, Illinois, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Innocence Network



Florida Officer Linked to Two Wrongful Convictions

Posted: March 19, 2013 5:00 pm

Tags: Florida



New DNA Testing Reveals Florida Death Row Inmate's Innocence

Posted: May 13, 2013 11:50 am

Tags: Florida



The New York Times Urges Veto of Bill that Would Expedite Executions

Posted: May 15, 2013 1:00 pm

Tags: Florida, Clemente Javier Aguirre-Jarqui



"I remember them coming in and taking Dad�

Posted: November 30, -0001

Tags: Florida



"I remember them coming in and taking Dad"

Posted: June 14, 2013 4:00 pm

Tags: Florida



Florida's Timely Justice Act to Speed up Executions Becomes Law

Posted: June 17, 2013 5:35 pm

Tags: Florida, Frank Lee Smith, Clemente Javier Aguirre-Jarqui



Science News - June 20, 2013

Posted: June 20, 2013 4:35 pm

Tags: Colorado, Florida, Mississippi, Washington, Science Thursday



Florida Death Row Inmate to Receive New Trial

Posted: July 1, 2013 4:30 pm

Tags: Florida, Death Penalty



New York State Funds Equipment for Recording Interrogations

Posted: November 20, 2013 3:40 pm

Tags: Florida, False Confessions



In Memoriam of Delbert Tibbs, Death Row Exoneree

Posted: November 26, 2013 3:55 pm

Tags: Florida, Death Penalty



Florida Police Charge Wrong Man with Same Name as Offender

Posted: February 26, 2014 5:15 pm

Tags: Florida



Florida Supreme Court Reverses Murder Conviction of Man Who Has Served 28 Years on Death Row

Posted: June 26, 2014 6:05 pm

Tags: Florida, Paul Hildwin, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics



Florida Judge Demands New Treatment of Eyewitness Expert Testimony

Posted: June 27, 2014 5:10 pm

Tags: Florida



Gainesville Sun Editorial Cites Wrongful Convictions as Reason to End Death Penalty in Florida

Posted: July 3, 2014 1:15 pm

Tags: Florida, Paul Hildwin



Support Mounts for Death Row Inmate's Innocence

Posted: July 17, 2014 3:45 pm

Tags: Florida, Death Penalty, Clemente Javier Aguirre-Jarqui



Former Officers Ordered to Pay $7 Million to Florida Man Wrongfully Convicted at 15

Posted: January 23, 2015 4:55 pm

Tags: Florida, Exoneree Compensation