Spotlight on Eyewitness ID Reform
Posted: October 22, 2014 2:12 pm
Boston Globe Says Hold Prosecutors Accountable for Errors
Posted: October 21, 2014 6:05 pm
A recent Boston Globe editorial called for prosecutors to be held accountable for miscarriages of justice that occur at their hands and specifically called out a former Berkshire County prosecutor who may have withheld exculpatory evidence in a child rape case nearly 30 years ago.
Bernard Baran Jr., an openly gay teenager, was convicted of multiple counts of child rape and spent 21 years behind bars for crimes he didn’t commit. In the face of homophobia and hysteria, Baran was convicted in 1985 despite a lack of evidence linking him to the crimes. In the years following, an examination of trial records suggests that the prosecuting attorney, Daniel Ford, withheld evidence from Baran’s defense attorney.
Baran was ultimately freed from prison in 2006. In the wake of his death last month, his defense lawyer, Harvey Silvergate, submitted a letter to the editor to the Globe calling for Ford to be removed from his job as a superior court judge, a position he’s held since 1989. The Globe writes:
That’s premature — but Silverglate and Baran’s other supporters are right to seek a full, public inquiry into both the prosecution’s conduct and its decision to try the case in the first place. The decision to release Baran in 2006 did not settle the question of whether Ford and the Berkshire County district attorney Gerard Downing acted appropriately, or whether the Commonwealth has adequate safeguards to prevent such a wrongful conviction again. Reviewing the long-ago prosecution now may seem pointless, since it’ll be difficult to establish facts and Baran will never be able to see the results anyway. But wrongful convictions represent a serious failure of the justice system. To prevent such miscarriages of justice in the future, it’s critical that the state revisit this painful episode. Whatever an investigation reveals about Ford, it’s crucial for the Commonwealth to set the precedent that prosecutors will answer for their actions in cases of wrongful conviction.
In 1985, Baran worked as a teachers’ aide in a day care center in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. At least one of the parents of the alleged victims complained about a gay man caring for their child, going so far as to use a slur and to say that gay people should not be allowed outside. According to the editorial, videotaped interviews show that other supposed victims were coached into making accusations against Baran after first denying he did anything to them. Decades later, the allegation stands that by Ford and Downing not sharing the full videotapes with Baran’s attorney, the jury was forced to believe they weren’t missing anything by missing the removed sections. A claim against Baran by a young boy that ultimately was attributed to his mother’s boyfriend was also withheld from Baran’s defense. The Globe writes:
No matter what Ford shared with the defense lawyer, there’s a broader question about his decision to charge Baran in the first place. Ford and Downing certainly knew themselves that the case rested on dubious testimony. Prosecutors are supposed to seek justice and apply good judgment, not just score convictions by any means. So why did he bring it?
The fact that Ford is now a judge is, ultimately, a coincidence. He could have gone on to be a pilot or a professor, and the concerns about his actions in the 1980s would be just as relevant today. Massachusetts has been through witch hunts before, and later sought to learn from those mistakes. But Ford’s actions have never been subject of a full public investigation. It will take some courage, but the Supreme Judicial Court should investigate what happened in Pittsfield and put in place whatever trial rules it would take to prevent such a travesty from happening again.
Read the full editorial.
Compensation for Oklahoma Woman Doesnâ€™t Add Up
Posted: October 20, 2014 12:34 pm
Philadelphia Inquirer Urges Philly DA to Drop Charges Against Anthony Wright
Posted: October 17, 2014 3:40 pm
An editorial in Friday’s Philadelphia Inquirer urges the city’s District Attorney Seth Williams not to retry Anthony Wright, whose rape and murder convictions were overturned last month based on new DNA testing that revealed the crimes were committed by another man with a long criminal history. In addition, DNA testing of clothing alleged by police to have been worn by Wright to commit the crime now shows that the clothes were not, in fact, his. The Inquirer writes:
But the revelation that there is little if any physical evidence now linking Wright to the victim has been interpreted by prosecutors merely as proof that he had an accomplice who - incredibly - was completely unknown to Philadelphia detectives investigating the crime. No word on how the then-19-year-old Wright would know a felon roughly twice his age, nor on why he wouldn’t have mentioned the accomplice when he signed a confession, later recanted, under police pressure.
It’s Williams’ prerogative, of course - no doubt he would say his duty as district attorney - to test his far-fetched theory before a jury in a second trial. But it would serve justice better if Williams declined to retry Wright, who has likely served a 22-year prison sentence either for a crime he did not commit or for one in which he played a far less significant role than alleged.
In any case, there is absolutely no cause for Williams’ office to suggest - as it did in a filing Wednesday - that Wright may be sent to death row if the new trial yields a guilty verdict. Not only did the first jury deadlock on the death penalty without seeing the new evidence of Wright’s innocence, but Pennsylvania is in the midst of a wholesale reexamination of its flawed capital punishment system - as are many states amid growing public and legal pressure to scrap executions altogether.
Williams can use the Wright case to get on the right side of that historical shift toward a more just criminal justice system.
Read the full editorial.
Tags: Pennsylvania, Anthony Wright
Murder Conviction Overturned After Three Decades Based on DNA Evidence
Posted: October 16, 2014 2:05 pm
The Los Angeles Times Calls for Recording of Interrogations
Posted: October 15, 2014 6:25 pm
One month after DNA evidence exonerated a pair of North Carolina brothers who were convicted of rape and murder based on their coerced confessions, an editorial in Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times outlines how law enforcement can prevent future missteps and wrongful convictions.
Mentally disabled half-brothers Henry Lee McCollum, 50, and Leon Brown, 46, spent 30 years behind bars before they were released last month. Their cases are among the roughly 30% of DNA exoneration cases where innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty.
Research shows that innocent people sometimes confess to crimes they did not commit as a result of mental health issues and aggressive law enforcement tactics. The electronic recording of custodial interrogations, from the reading of Miranda rights onward, is the single best reform available to stem the tide of false confessions. The Times writes:
Outfitting all those interrogation rooms wouldn’t be cheap, and storing the interviews would take some logistical configuring. But those are minor hurdles. Since 2010, Congress has considered several bills that would have provided matching federal funds to install recording systems, but it has failed to pass them. It should do so.
But even if it doesn’t, the Legislature should work with Gov. Jerry Brown to recraft legislation requiring the recordings. It would protect both the integrity of the criminal justice system and the innocent.
Read the full editorial.
Understand the causes of false confessions and learn more about mandatory recording of interrogations.
Tags: California, North Carolina, Leon Brown, Henry Lee McCollum, False Confessions, False Confessions, Death Penalty
California Woman Exonerated of Murder
Posted: October 14, 2014 5:15 pm
A woman who spent 17 years behind bars for the murder of a homeless man in California was exonerated Friday by a Los Angeles County judge. California Innocence Project client Susan Mellen, now 59, was convicted of planning the murder of her former boyfriend, Richard Daly, over items he allegedly stole from her mother’s house. NBCLA-Southern California reported that Judge Mark Arnold ordered Millen’s immediate release and dismissed the case. She walked out of the courtroom a free woman by 6 p.m. that evening and celebrated with her three children.
“This is the greatest miracle ever,” Mellen said, according to NBCLA-Southern California. “I’m just so excited; I don’t know what to say. I’m overwhelmed. It’s just so amazing, this is huge.”
Mellen maintained her innocence since the very beginning and told police repeatedly that she had nothing to do with Daly’s murder. Despite witnesses’ testimony in support of her alibi for the time of the murder, Mellen was convicted in 1998 based primarily on the testimony of what the judge called “a habitual liar.”
“I told the judge the day I got sentenced that one day God would bring the truth to the light,” she said to NBCLA-Southern California.
In 2009 the California Innocence Project began interviewing people who knew Daly and Mellen and who could have had information about the murder. Last year, Innocence Matters worked with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office to reexamine evidence from the case. The evidence pointed to three known gang members, one of which told investigators that Mellen had nothing to do with Daly’s murder.
Read the full article.
Kentucky Woman Will Not Face New Trial for Murder Charges
Posted: October 10, 2014 4:25 am
Three months after murder charges against a Kentucky woman were dismissed by the state’s Court of Appeals, the state’s attorney ruled Tuesday that she won’t face a new trial. The Courier-Journal reported that Susan Jean King spent six years behind bars for a 1998 murder after pleading guilty, even though she didn’t commit the crime, because of pressure from a state police detective who told her she faced life in prison. She was released in 2012 before she had served out her sentence.
Charges of murder and tampering with physical evidence were dismissed and although prosecutors could bring a new indictment, Kentucky Innocence Project’s Supervising Attorney Linda Smith said it would be impossible to retry King.
Despite maintaining her innocence, King pleaded guilty in 2008 to the manslaughter of Kyle “Deanie” Breeden and accepted a 10-year sentence. Breeden’s body was discovered in the Kentucky River after being thrown off a bridge.
In a motion filed last week demanding King be retried or charges dropped, Smith claimed that former Detective Todd Harwood perjured himself to obtain King’s indictment, covered up evidence that showed she was innocent, then tried to suppress the confession of a man who told Louisville police in 2012 that he was the real perpetrator.
Smith and the Kentucky Innocence Project took on King’s case after they concluded that it would have been physically impossible for King, who weighed 97 pounds at the time of the offense and has only one leg, to have committed the crime.
Smith said King will meet with private attorneys next week to consider bringing a lawsuit against the state.
Read the full article.
Connecticut Governor Makes Surprising Appointment to Parole Board
Posted: October 9, 2014 12:20 pm
Kenneth Ireland spent two decades — almost half of his life — in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit before DNA proved his innocence and he was released in 2009. Now five years later, Governor Dannel P. Malloy announced his appointment to the state Board of Pardons and Paroles.
The Hartford Courant reports that Ireland’s responsibilities on the board will include deciding the future of others who claim innocence and appeal for clemency. Joining Ireland on the five- person board are people with backgrounds in nonprofit management, law and parole or probation. The Courant writes:
“Ken Ireland is a man of extraordinary character, who endured the unimaginable pain of nearly 20 years of wrongful incarceration and yet is not only without bitterness, but is incredibly thoughtful, insightful and committed to public safety and public service,” said Malloy, who announced four other appointments to the Board of Pardons and Paroles Wednesday.
“By long experience, Ken Ireland is intimately familiar with the criminal justice system and knows better than most that there are individuals who deserve to be in prison and there are individuals whom society should give another chance, and I believe that he will take very, very seriously the responsibility of making those judgments,” the governor said.
In a statement released by his attorney William Bloss, Ireland said he was honored by Malloy’s trust in him.
“Perhaps more than most, I understand the importance of fairness in the criminal justice system and the importance of public safety. I look forward to serving the people of the state of Connecticut in any way possible,” said Ireland, according to the Courant.
Read the full article.
More about Ireland’s case.
Tags: Kenneth Ireland
Watch Now: Frontline Revisits Willingham
Posted: October 8, 2014 5:15 pm
Nearly four years after Frontline premiered “Death by Fire,” an examination of the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in Texas in 2004 for allegedly setting a fire that killed his three young daughters, the series revisited the case in “Death by Fire 2,” which aired Tuesday evening on PBS.
The follow-up show, which questions if Texas executed an innocent man, was prompted by new allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in the case against Willingham. In August, the Innocence Project filed a detailed grievance with the Chief Disciplinary Counsel of the State Bar of Texas urging investigation in to whether former Willingham prosecutor John Jackson failed to disclose a deal with jailhouse informant Johnny Webb, who testified that Willingham, while in jail, confessed to the arson murder of his three children. This supposed confession became indispensable evidence on the eve of Willingham’s execution in 2004 when an expert report was filed with courts, exposing the arson evidence against Willingham as false. Current and former Navarro County prosecutors were not aware that Jackson had reduced Webb’s conviction for robbery in the first degree to robbery in the second degree based on cooperation in the Willingham case. If the plea deal between Jackson and Webb had not been hidden by Jackson prior to the execution, the prosecutor assigned to the case now says that he would have disclosed it.
“Death by Fire 2” includes an exclusive on-camera interview with Webb.
Watch the full episodes.
Learn more about Cameron Todd Willingham.
Tags: Texas, Death Penalty, Cameron Todd Willingham