Two Years After Being Freed, A Montana Man is Back in Custody For Same Crime
Posted: May 17, 2013 4:50 pm
A Montana man was taken back into custody for a 1979 murder earlier this week following a state Supreme Court ruling that could send him to prison for the rest of his life, reported the Associated Press. After new evidence pointed to a false confession in 2011, a Montana District Court judge released Barry Beach and ordered a new trial. Although prosecutors appealed the decision, a retrial date was never set.
Beach was convicted in 1984 of the murder of 17-year-old Kim Nees and sentenced to 100 years behind bars. He has always maintained his innocence and claimed that the confession was coerced during a three-day interrogation.
“It was hard enough to be innocent to begin with,” Beach told The Associated Press less than two hours before his surrender. “But to be going back, still innocent, for the second time, is just unbelievable.”
Billings Mayor Tom Hanel said the high court’s 4-3 ruling upholding the original conviction denied Beach his chance to prove his innocence. Hanel said he befriended Beach at the local diner where he found employment after his release.
“It’s a question of whether justice has really been served and if a fair opportunity has been provided,” Hanel said.
Beach’s attorneys promised to fight for his release, saying that the case could potentially go to federal courts or even the U.S. Supreme Court.
Read the full article.
Read more about the Beach case.
Read more about false confessions.
Innocent in America’s Worst Jails
Posted: May 16, 2013 4:30 pm
By Hannah Riley, Communications Assistant
A recent Mother Jones magazine series profiles the 10 worst prisons and jails in the United States. Worth noting is the number of jails on the list, where the majority of inmates have not yet been convicted and may very well be innocent of their charges. A number of Innocence Project clients have lived in these facilities. I spoke with two of them, Barry Gibbs of New York, who served time in Rikers Island, and Ray Krone of Arizona, who served time in Maricopa County Jail.
The United States prison population has quadrupled in the past quarter-century alone. The uptick in inmate numbers has seen a corresponding deterioration in living conditions. The 306 people exonerated through DNA testing spent, on average, 13 years in these facilities.
Rikers Island, an island jail-complex in the middle of New York City’s East River, is listed as the tenth worst facility on the Mother Jones list. Rikers is infamous for its deeply entrenched patterns of violence, abuse at the hands of guards and high numbers of inmates in solitary confinement. The majority of the 10,000 inmates on Rikers Island have not yet been tried.
“A horror,” Gibbs says. “Every day was an absolute nightmare.” Gibbs spent nearly two years there, awaiting the trial that would eventually wrongfully convict him of murder. He served over 17 years in prison before his exoneration in 2005, and although he was bounced around to several different New York State prisons—including Attica—Rikers still stands out as the worst in his memory.
“It’s a very dangerous place for a person who is innocent, for someone who has had nothing to do with the criminal justice system.” On his third day in Rikers, Gibbs walked into the main room of his housing unit to get a cup of coffee. Suddenly, a blanket was thrown over his head and six men began to punch and kick him. “And the whole time I’m wondering, where’s the security? Who’s watching? Where are the guards?” he says. “Finally, they stopped, but I was all messed up, and I had to go to court the next day.”
Gibbs continued to assert his innocence to anyone who would listen. “When I first got there, I kept saying over and over that I was innocent. They didn’t want to hear it. They put me in the Mental Observation ward and forced me to take Sinequan [an anti-anxiety medication]. It turns out that I was allergic to it. My whole body swelled up. I had to go to the hospital. They took me to Bellevue, handcuffed, and in chains and shackles with the other prisoners. They dragged us down the hallway of the hospital like that. Everyone could see us. I could hear the people saying ‘look at those murderers.’ Do you know how humiliating that is?”
In 1993, faced with the high cost of constructing a new jail to accommodate the ever-expanding inmate population, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio found that housing inmates in Korean War-era military tents—in the baking hot Arizona desert—would be more cost effective than constructing a new facility. Tent City, as it has become known, is an extension of Phoenix’s Maricopa County Jail, housing approximately 2,000 inmates. The conditions at Tent City—which Sheriff Arpaio likened to ‘a concentration camp’—landed it the number three spot on Mother Jones’ list.
Ray Krone, who was wrongfully imprisoned (and later sentenced to death) for a murder he did not commit, was housed at Maricopa County Jail until he was convicted and moved to prison. “It’s Arizona, and you’re living outside. The coolest it gets is in the 90’s, maybe, at night. There’s one fan in this giant tent for about 40 guys… the tough guys got to be near the fan, so there was a lot of violence and fights over that cool area.” In 2011, the Arizona Republic reported that the internal temperature at Tent City surged to 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
I asked him about the food. “It was the stuff that wasn’t fit to be sold in stores, so the inmates got it,” he said. “The sheriff would brag about spending 50 cents a day on his inmates and a dollar a day on his dogs.”
Like Gibbs, Krone was also prescribed antipsychotic medication. “If you’re facing the death penalty, like I was, you didn’t have to get real forceful to be put on psych meds. In fact, during most of my trial, I was on Thorazine. On the weekends, when I wasn’t in court, they would come around with a cart to give you your pills. But it’s so violent in there; you don’t want to walk around all blocked out from the drugs. I needed my mind about me. So I’d hide the pills under my tongue.”
Krone was finally exonerated through DNA testing in 2002 after 10 years in prison. He says, “You’re treated like a criminal from day one. There is no innocent until proven guilty. It’s guilty until proven innocent.”
Krone and Gibbs’ experiences are sobering reminders that innocent people continue to inhabit our prisons and jails. DNA testing provides the opportunity to identify and free some of the innocent, but those cases are a select minority. Many others will serve out their sentences or die behind bars. At the very least, our correctional institutions should be habitable for them.
Read the Mother Jones series.
Tags: Arizona, New York, Ray Krone
Science News - May 16, 2013
Posted: May 16, 2013 4:00 pm
More problematic cases are found at the Washington State Crime Lab, a top deputy at the New York City Medical Examiners’ Office has resigned amidst allegations of violating lab protocol, and Forensic Magazine explores the limits of “touch DNA.” Here is the round up of news for the week:
In the investigation of evidence at the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab, officials discovered that evidence in 19 cases had never been processed. While the investigation led to the resignation of the lab manager, the lab claims the errors have not led to wrongful convictions.
Ongoing cases in Brooklyn and the Bronx have been affected by the abrupt departure of one of the medical examiner’s top analysts. She is accused of overruling her staff when they disagreed with DNA testing results rather than reporting the disagreements. Ultimately, her results in those cases were determined to be accurate. She has told reporters that the allegations are not true.
In a new twist to the problems at the Hinton State Crime Lab in Massachusetts, a drug case was dropped since prosecutors could not retrieve untested evidence that was locked in the crime lab. If the evidence is ever recovered, prosecutors may renew the charges.
The Nebraska Supreme Court ordered a new trial for a man after prosecutors failed to prove that a state crime lab scale used to weigh drugs was properly calibrated. Since the drug sample weight was on the boundary of a higher felony charge, a properly calibrated, accurate scale may change the man’s sentence.
A recent article published by Forensic Magazine stresses that while touch DNA is becoming increasingly accurate, there are still limitations and problems with contamination. Because touch DNA can be recovered from a sample as small as several cells, preserving the crime scene and having stringent lab protocols is necessary to prevent foreign DNA contamination.
Tags: Massachusetts, Nebraska, Washington, New York, Science Thursday
The New York Times Urges Veto of Bill that Would Expedite Executions
Posted: May 15, 2013 1:00 pm
An editorial in Wednesday’s New York Times called a Florida bill that would speed up execution dates for death row inmates’ grotesque, adding that Clemente Javier Aguirre-Jarquin’s case is a good reason why the governor should veto it.
The Timely Justice Act would require a governor to sign a death warrant within 30 days of a review of a capital conviction by the State Supreme Court, and the state would be required to execute the defendant within 180 days of the warrant.
The state’s indisputably defective death penalty system is made more horrifying by attempts to rush inmates to execution. There is a strong chance that Mr. Aguirre-Jarquin will become the 25th death-row inmate exonerated in Florida since it reinstated capital punishment in 1973. More death-row inmates have been exonerated in Florida than in any state.
As the American Bar Association explained in a scathing 2006 report on the state’s death penalty system, Florida is one of the few states that allows a jury to recommend a sentence of death based on a majority vote rather than a unanimous one. Defendants charged with capital crimes often have woefully unqualified counsel, and are much more likely to be convicted and sentenced to death if the victim is white — a sign of racial disparity that is clearly unconstitutional. The flaws in Florida’s system, which soaks up huge amounts of resources, cannot be fixed. It is long past time to abolish capital punishment.
Aguirre has been on Florida’s death row since 2006 for the murders of Williams and Bareis, a mother and daughter who were found stabbed to death in their trailer in Seminole County on June 17, 2004. New DNA testing reveals Aguirre’s innocence and points to a family member of the victims as the perpetrator.
The Innocence Project and lead counsel for Aguirre are presenting compelling new evidence at a hearing this week. Aguirre’s family was unable to travel from Honduras to attend the hearing, but he was joined in court yesterday by New York exoneree John Restivo who resides in Florida and the parents of Florida exoneree Wilton Dedge, who was exonerated in the same county where the hearing is taking place.
Read the full editorial.
Read coverage of the hearing.
Tags: Florida, Clemente Javier Aguirre-Jarqui
Historic Brady Rule Doesn’t Always Hold Up
Posted: May 14, 2013 3:20 pm
In a new column in The Atlantic, contributing editor Andrew Cohen writes about the 50th anniversary of the “Brady” Rule, in which the Supreme Court unanimously declared that prosecutors have a constitutional obligation to share exculpatory evidence with criminal defendants. Cohen highlights the case of John Thompson, who was wrongfully convicted of murder and sent to death row in Louisiana. While facing his seventh execution date, a private investigator hired by his appellate attorneys discovered evidence of Thompson’s innocence that had been concealed for more than a decade by the New Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office.
Thompson is a free man today because of the so-called “Brady” rule. But he likely would have been a free man all along — without spending 14 years on death row — had his prosecutors obeyed the law in the first place. That dichotomy is what makes Thompson such a poignant symbol of the Brady rule. He proves both that it works and that it is deeply flawed; that it saves innocent people from being railroaded by prosecutors and that countless others are wrongly convicted and imprisoned anyway. The sad truth is that 50 years after Brady, in an increasingly complex criminal justice system, too many prosecutors still hide exculpatory evidence, and too few judges do anything about it.
A rare example of being held accountable for a Brady violation occurred last month in Texas, when a court ruled that former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson will face criminal contempt and tampering charges for failing to turn over evidence pointing to the innocence of Michael Morton, who was later exonerated by DNA evidence after serving 25 years for his wife’s murder, despite a court order and legal obligation to do so.
Anderson faces relatively minor charges. But if it were up to Thompson, Anderson would be facing attempted murder charges. “What happens when we learn that a district attorney has killed an innocent man?” he asked me yesterday. “Isn’t it premeditated murder? What are we willing to accept” from our prosecutors?
Read the full article.
Watch our video about the Thompson case and the One for Ten video about the case.
Tags: Louisiana, Michael Morton, John Thompson
Conviction Integrity Unit to Review 50 Brooklyn Murder Cases
Posted: May 13, 2013 1:30 pm
The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit will reopen every murder case that resulted in a guilty verdict that was investigated by Louis Scarcella, a detective who handled some of Brooklyn’s most notorious crimes in the 1980s and 1990s, including the 1990 murder of a Rabbi for which David Ranta was exonerated earlier this year.
Scarcella’s tactics and the legitimacy of his convictions came under fire after The New York Times examined a dozen of his cases, and defense lawyers and advocacy organizations shared their own suspicions about his methods with the district attorney’s office. Among the cases examined was that of James Jenkins. The Times reports:
In the 1987 murder trial of James Jenkins, who was convicted, Judge Francis X. Egitto said that the witness identification procedures used by Mr. Scarcella were “a classic illustration of what not to do.” Witnesses were shown one photo rather than a gallery, the court records show. They were allowed to mingle together while making an identification of Mr. Jenkins, and Mr. Scarcella told them, “We have the guy who committed the murder.”
“That was wrong if I did that,” Mr. Scarcella said. “But I don’t remember.”
Interviews with lawyers, prosecutors, witnesses and suspects, as well as a review of legal documents, suggest Scarcella didn’t comply with the rules during his investigations.
Read the full article.
Tags: New York
Texas Considers Discovery Bill on 50th Anniversary of Supreme Court Decision
Posted: May 13, 2013 1:10 pm
Michael Morton speaks at the Innocence Project annual gala in New York City.
Update: The Texas House of Representatives approved the Michael Morton Act on May 13. Gov. Perry is expected to sign the bill into law. Read more about the bill’s passage.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brady v. Maryland, on May 13, 1963, which ruled that prosecutors must share any evidence favorable to the accused with the defense at trial. The Texas House of Representatives has selected this historic date to vote on a bill that would expand upon that ruling. SB 1611, the Michael Morton Act, could help standardize discovery procedures across the state and lead to greater transparency.
Supporters of the bill hope that it may also prevent wrongful convictions based on prosecutorial misconduct. Michael Morton spent 25 years in prison for murdering his wife and was later exonerated through DNA testing. The lead prosecutor in the case, Ken Anderson, has been criminally charged with concealing evidence of Morton’s innocence at his trial among other charges of misconduct. He is also being investigated by the State Bar of Texas.
State Senators Rodney Ellis and Robert Duncan co-sponsor the bill. Ellis is also the Chair of the Innocence Project Board of Directors. Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck, who represented Morton, supports the legislation.
With the proposed legislation, lawmakers hope to reduce chances for prosecutors to overlook evidence of innocence. The law would require prosecutors to give defense lawyers access to evidence in the state’s file without regard to the information’s potential impact on the verdict.
“It telegraphs legislators’ intent that they want prosecutors to err on the side of disclosure,” Scheck said. “That’s how you take care of this problem.”
Read the full article.
Tags: Maryland, Texas, Michael Morton
New DNA Testing Reveals Florida Death Row Inmate’s Innocence
Posted: May 13, 2013 11:50 am
New DNA testing reveals the innocence of a man on Florida’s death row and points to a family member of the victims as the likely perpetrator. At a hearing that begins today in Sanford, the Innocence Project and lead counsel for Clemente Javier Aguirre-Jarquin will present compelling new evidence for overturning his conviction.
Aguirre was sentenced to death in 2006 for the murders of his neighbors, Cheryl Williams and Carol Bareis, a mother and daughter who were found stabbed to death in their trailer in Seminole County on June 17, 2004. An undocumented Honduran, Aguirre initially told the police that he didn’t know anything about the murders. Later the same day, however, he admitted that he had discovered their bodies at approximately six a.m. when he went to the house hoping to get some beer. He panicked and didn’t report the crime because he feared deportation.
At trial, the prosecution presented DNA evidence to show that the victim’s blood was on Aguirre’s clothes, shoes and the bloody knife. However, no testing was conducted on the more than 150 bloodstains that were photographed and swabbed from the crime scene.
In August 2011, Aguirre’s counsel at the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel – Middle Region, in consultation with the Innocence Project, sought DNA testing of some of the previously-untested evidence. Most matched the two victims, but there were eight bloodstains that matched to William’s daughter (and Bareis’ granddaughter) Samantha Williams who has a history of violence and mental illness.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, prosecutors oppose Aguirre’s attempt to overturn his conviction and in a prepared statement, State Attorney Phil Archer said, “These are extremely important questions that need to be fully explored in open court.”
Read the full article.
More in today’s press release.
First Mother’s Day Home
Posted: May 10, 2013 5:30 pm
Washington Gov. Inslee Signs Wrongful Conviction Compensation Law
Posted: May 10, 2013 3:30 pm