Innocence Blog

Former District Attorney Admits to Detaining Witnesses

Posted: April 18, 2014 1:08 pm

Months after former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Joe Hynes denied reports that his office detained witnesses overnight in hotel rooms, he admitted to the practice in a sworn deposition in December that is now getting attention from the public.

The New York Daily News reported that Hynes’ deposition, which is part of a $150 wrongful conviction lawsuit, is in stark contrast to statements he made during his 2013 reelection campaign against current District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson.  During the campaign, Hynes denied that his office detained the witnesses. Yet, in a deposition in  the suit brought by Jabbar Colllins, who spent 16 years in prison for killing a Brooklyn rabbi before the conviction was vacated by a federal judge, Haynes conceded that his office did detain witnesses prior to their testimony. Hynes said in the deposition:

 “You would go to a jail or go to a hotel room … typically the stay, as I understood it, was an overnight stay and then they would testify and that would be the end of it… They were not free to leave; so sure, they were prisoners.” 

During his reelection campaign, Hynes went further than denying any wrongdoing.  He also called any practice of detainment in a hotel room “truly frightening” and “insane.” Thursday, he told the Daily News that there was nothing inconsistent about his two remarks and that the program was misunderstood, claiming that witnesses weren’t held against their will.

Read the full article



Rally to Support ‘Central Park 5’

Posted: April 17, 2014 4:50 pm

Two days before the 25th anniversary of the Central Park Jogger attack, supporters of the men known as the “Central Park Five,” who were wrongly convicted of the crime, will rally in New York City’s City Hall Park this afternoon at 4 p.m. to urge Mayor Bill deBlasio to make good on his promise that the men would receive a settlement for the injustice done so many years ago.
Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Abdus-Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise were wrongfully convicted of raping and assaulting a female jogger in Central Park on April 19, 1989 based on their false and coerced confessions. They were exonerated by DNA evidence —that matched the real perpetrator — on December 19, 2002. It has been more than a decade since the men were proven innocent, but they have yet to be compensated by the state.
Read more in Business Insider.

Tags: New York



Philadelphia District Attorney Announces Conviction Review Unit

Posted: April 16, 2014 6:05 pm

On Tuesday, Philadelphia’s District Attorney, Seth Williams, announced the creation of the city’s Conviction Review Unit. The unit, which will investigate claims of innocence in homicide convictions, will be under the leadership of veteran prosecutor Mark Gilson.
The Philadelphia Daily News reported that Gilson, who has spent 27 years with the city’s District Attorney’s Office, will work closely with prosecutors assigned to the existing Post Conviction Relief Unit, which currently handles about 500 cases a year.
Philadelphia joins a number of states that have established similar groups authorized to review cases with claims of innocence, identify the causes of wrongful convictions and recommend remedial steps to avoid their recurrence. Among the most celebrated and accomplished is the Dallas County District Attorney’s unit, created in 2007, which has helped uncover injustice in a number of cases.
Marissa Bluestine, legal director of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, applauded the formation of the new unit.”We are looking forward to working with Mr. Gilson and his staff to give full evaluation to those cases where there is a colorable claim of actual innocence,” said Bluestine. Her organization, which is based in Philadelphia, has petitioned city prosecutors to reopen 10 cases in the last three years.
The Innocence Project believes that it is critical that these units include defense attorneys in the process in order to guarantee a meaningful review of the cases.
Read the full article.

Tags: Pennsylvania



Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck Discusses Race Bias in the Courts

Posted: April 15, 2014 3:35 pm

In a new article written for, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck discusses race bias in the criminal justice system, focusing on a case before North Carolina’s high court.
Thirty years after Glenn Ford, who is African-American, was convicted by an all-white Louisiana jury, he was exonerated and released from prison in March. He spent 30 years on death row for a murder he did not commit. Now, a month later, the North Carolina Supreme Court is considering the fate of four people of color who have already shown that racial discrimination played a factor in their having received death sentences. Originally, they had all been sentenced to death, but with the passage of the Racial Justice Act in 2009, a lower court ruled that the discrimination in jury selection was a significant factor in their sentences. The prosecution is seeking to restore the death sentences after the state legislature eliminated the Racial Justice Act in 2013.
Newly discovered evidence shows the discrimination in jury selection for the defendant’s cases, and research conducted across the state found that rampant racial discrimination against African-American jurors by the prosecution was the norm. Scheck notes that this problem is not limited to Louisiana and North Carolina, though. According to data collected from across the country, all white juries or juries with only one or two people of color, deliberate less than diverse juries drawn from a range of backgrounds. Scheck writes:

The all-white or nearly all-white juries are more likely to rush to judgment and are more likely to get it wrong. We know there is a strong link between all-white juries and conviction of the innocent. And we know that diverse juries are more likely to challenge one another, and less likely to fall back on what may be unconscious stereotypes. Mistaken eyewitness identification, a major contributor to wrongful convictions, is more likely to be accepted by non-diverse juries.

North Carolina was the first state to enact legislation banning racial discrimination in jury selection in capital cases. But, despite the evidence of discrimination against the four defendants, that law, the Racial Justice Act, was repealed.
Scheck concludes:

Now in North Carolina, it is up to the state’s Supreme Court to acknowledge the evidence of discrimination in the cases that had the benefit of the Racial Justice Act. The superior court judge who had re-sentenced the prisoners to life without parole was overwhelmed by the evidence of pervasive and persistent bias. He wrote, “The Court takes hope that the acknowledgement of this ugly truth of race discrimination … is the first step in creating a system of justice that is free from the pernicious influence of race, a system that truly lives up to our ideal of equal justice under the law.” That judgment must stand.

Read the full article.

Tags: North Carolina, Racial Bias



Innocence Project Urges Congress to Pass Justice for All Reauthorization Act of 2013 to Strengthen the Criminal Justice System

Posted: April 14, 2014 4:30 pm

The Innocence Project joins Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in calling on the Senate to continue to work towards reauthorizing the Justice for All Act. In recognition of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, both senators are urged reauthorization of the legislation last week.
The Justice for All Reauthorization Act encompasses a variety of initiatives to ensure safety and justice for women and men across the country. Among its many components, the legislation will improve and expand the DNA testing capacity of federal, state, and local crime laboratories, increase research and development of new DNA testing technologies and provide post-conviction DNA testing. Together they serve the criminal justice system in ways greater than each of their parts.
The bill was introduced on April 25, 2013 and the Senate Judiciary Committee passed it out of committee a few months later. Now the full Senate is considering passage of this critical legislation.
Read a statement from Stephen Saloom, senior policy advisor at the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law.



Senate Commerce Committee Approves Bill Ensuring Forensics Practices are Based on Best Science

Posted: April 14, 2014 12:10 pm

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation approved the Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2014, establishing scientific review and standards for forensic sciences, Wednesday. The bill, which was introduced by Committee Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, was unanimously voted out of committee by a bipartisan voice vote and clears the way for the bill to be considered by the full Senate.
Unvalidated and improper forensic science is one of the greatest contributors to wrongful convictions, playing a role in nearly half of the 316 cases later overturned by DNA evidence. The landmark 2009 National Academy of Sciences’ report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, found that there is a desperate need to improve the validity and scientific quality of forensic evidence.

The Forensic Science and Standards Act would employ existing scientific agencies to develop and direct forensic research and set and implement standards for the forensic disciplines, helping to ensure that these disciplines are based on solid, reliable research.



New York Man Cleared of 1989 Murder

Posted: April 9, 2014 5:15 pm

After serving 25 years in prison for a Brooklyn murder he did not commit, a New York man was released Tuesday and his conviction for murder was overturned. The New York Times reported that Jonathan Fleming was in Florida when the 1989 murder took place and new evidence proving that fact is what led to the indictment being dismissed. The valuable piece of evidence was a phone bill from the hotel where Fleming was staying during his Florida trip. In court yesterday, both parties agreed that the bill proved his innocence.
Fleming was convicted of the murder of a rival drug dealer and sentenced to 25 years to life behind bars despite his alibi of being in Orlando for a family trip to Walt Disney World. Plane tickets and video from the vacation were ignored by prosecutors who said he could have taken any number of flights back to New York to commit the murder. An eyewitness identified Fleming at trial in exchange for a dismissal of a grand larceny charge. When she recanted before sentencing, the prosecution claimed she was lying.
The Times reports that after Fleming’s attorneys presented new evidence proving that their client was out of town when the crime occurred, an assistant district attorney, Mark Hale, told the judge, Matthew J. D’Emic, “Had it [the evidence] been available at the trial, the likely outcome of the trial would have been different.”
Fleming is among dozens of wrongful conviction cases that the new Brooklyn District Attorney, Kenneth Thompson, inherited from Charles Hynes when he took office this year. It is a separate group from the 50 murder cases that resulted in a guilty verdict that were investigated by Louis Scarcella that the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit reopened last year. Scarcella was not involved in Fleming’s case.
Hale said based on the evidence, the state cannot retry Fleming.
Read the full story.

Tags: New York



Listen to Jim Dwyer Talk about New iBook Collaboration with the Innocence Project and the New York Hall of Science

Posted: April 9, 2014 3:10 pm

A new ProPublica podcast features Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Jim Dwyer talking about a new ibook, False Conviction: Innocence, Guilt and Science, that he wrote in collaboration with the Innocence Project and the New York Hall of Science.
Dwyer, who co-wrote Actual Innocence with Innocence Project Co-Directors Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, discusses eyewitness misidentification among the other factors of wrongful convictions that are covered in the new interactive book.
“We’ve all seen the people with the hazmat suits on, and the big gloves, and the crime scene tape,” Dwyer tells ProPublica, “but none of that is used when a witness is asked to look at a lineup or when a suspect is interrogated. And it’s important to recognize that things can happen that influence or contaminate the person’s identification or can be suggested to a suspect in the course of an interrogation.”
Listen to the podcast.

Tags: Dispatches



Former Ohio Attorney General Weighs in on Wrongful Conviction

Posted: April 8, 2014 5:00 pm

Ohio’s former Attorney General Jim Petro filed documents last week in Federal court in support of a man whom he believes falsely confessed to a murder he did not commit. The Morning Journal reported that Petro asked U.S. District Court Judge Jack Zouhary to hold a hearing to determine if Alfred Cleveland was wrongly convicted of murder.
Cleveland was convicted of murdering Marsha Blakely and has been behind bars since 1996, where he has been fighting for a new trial. In addition to Petro’s amicus brief, Cleveland’s lawyers have submitted new evidence of his innocence.
Blakely’s body was found in an alley in Lorain, Ohio, in 1991. She had cracked ribs, a broken neck, a slit throat and torture-type wounds on the side of her head and neck. According to a witness, a group of four men, including Cleveland, attacked and murdered Blakely. Cleveland wasn’t arrested until 1995 and he maintained his innocence throughout the trial. Numerous witnesses testified at trial that Cleveland was in New York when the murder happened and when Blakely’s body was discovered. Evidence supporting Cleveland’s claims that he was in New York were also presented at the trial.
Cleveland was convicted of aggravated murder in January, 1996, and was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.
Petro wrote in his brief that he stumbled on Cleveland’s case when he was reviewing wrongful conviction cases: “Specifically, I became concerned with the essential role that the testimony of William Avery Jr. played in Mr. Cleveland’s conviction… . As a friend of the Court, I have an interest in ensuring that the Court is aware of the full spectrum of information necessary to render a decision in this case.”
Avery had testified that he saw Cleveland and the three co-defendants kill Blakely. Nearly a decade after Cleveland and the others were convicted, however, Avery contacted the FBI and said that he lied during the trials to cover for his father, who actually committed the murder. According to Avery, his father pressured him to collect the reward money and cover up his guilt.
A couple of years later, during a 2008 hearing of a motion for a new trial in Lorain County Common Pleas Court, Avery said that he wanted to recant his trial testimony. He was informed that he could face 30 years in prison for perjury and, after being denied immunity, he pleaded the fifth amendment.
According to the Morning Journal, Petro noted in his brief that since Avery’s testimony is the only evidence linking Cleveland to the crime, it needs to be carefully examined. Petro wrote, “And while courts and prosecutors are often suspicious of a witness’ recantation, it is also possible that the recantation is a genuine attempt to do the right thing… . Simply put, Mr. Cleveland’s conviction hangs solely upon the recanted testimony of someone who was paid to give that testimony and who angled to extort more for it.”
A final oral argument was held Monday where both parties reviewed evidence. They now await the judge’s decision.
Read the full article.

Tags: Ohio



Death Row Exoneree Explains Why Capital Punishment Will Never Work

Posted: April 7, 2014 5:05 pm

Kirk Bloodsworth spent eight years in prison — including two on death row — for a murder and rape he did not commit before becoming the first person to be exonerated from death row through postconviction DNA testing. In Sunday’s edition of the New York Times, Bloodsworth took to the paper’s Opinion Pages’ Room for Debate column to explain why capital punishment will never work.
Having been wrongfully convicted based largely on eyewitness misidentification and spending time on death row, Bloodsworth knows firsthand that it’s possible to execute an innocent man. He writes: “If you want to know if capital punishment is cruel and unusual, ask Carlos DeLuna, Ruben Cantu or Cameron Todd Willingham. Oh, that’s right. You can’t ask those guys. They were executed even though they were probably innocent.”
Bloodsworth, who is among 18 death row prisoners that have been proven innocent and exonerated by DNA testing in the United States, also points out the shift the country has been making regarding capital punishment, noting that six states have ended the practice in the past six years. According to Bloodsworth, the Death Penalty Information Center reports that the number of death sentences and executions has declined drastically since the 1990s.
“Next time the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether the death penalty is constitutional, the justices will have to take notice of where the country is heading. If it can happen to me, it could happen to you,” writes Bloodsworth.
Read the full opinion piece.
More on Bloodsworth’s case.

Tags: Kirk Bloodsworth



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