Innocence Blog

Wrongful Conviction Civil Suits Mounting in New York

Posted: July 31, 2014 3:00 pm

Another New York man settled a wrongful conviction suit with the city adding to the tab of settlements accrued under former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes.
The New York Post reported that Ronald Bozeman will receive $150,000 after spending a year behind bars for a robbery he did not commit. Bozeman was charged with a $9,000 armed heist outside a Brooklyn bank in 2011 based largely on the eyewitness testimony of the victims who later told a second grand jury that another man was the culprit. Hynes’ office ignored the victims’ reversal and let Bozeman sit in jail until the case was tossed.
“What is truly disgraceful is that even as Ronald sat in jail month after month, the former Brooklyn DA’s Office exhibited complete indifference to the plainly-obvious fact that Ronald was innocent,” said Bozeman’s attorney in the criminal case, Mark Bederow, according to the Post.
According to Bozeman’s suit, Hynes staffers coached the witnesses in order to frame him. Bozeman now joins the list of wrongful conviction civil suits that have named Hynes in recent years, including Jabbar Collins and Jonathan Fleming who spent 15 and 24 years in prison, respectively, for murders they did not commit. Both men have civil suits pending against the city. David Ranta, who was convicted of killing a beloved Brooklyn rabbi, spent 22 years behind bars before he was proven innocent with help from with help from the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit and settled with the city for $6.4 million earlier this year.
Read the full article.

Tags: New York



Bumps in the Road for Hair Microscopy Case Review

Posted: July 30, 2014 6:05 pm

One year after the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers announced its partnership with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to review microscopic hair analysis cases, the review was stopped after finding forensic errors in nearly every case spanning the past two decades.
The Washington Post reported that the DOJ ordered case reviews to resume earlier this month after the inspector general criticized the department and the FBI for unacceptable delays and inadequate investigation in a separate inquiry from the mid-1990s.
“I don’t know whether history is repeating itself, but clearly the [latest] report doesn’t give anyone a sense of confidence that the work of the examiners whose conduct was first publicly questioned in 1997 was reviewed as diligently and promptly as it needed to be,” said Michael R. Bromwich, who was inspector general from 1994 to 1999 and is now a partner at the Goodwin Procter law firm, according to the Washington Post.
Before the review was halted last August, officials notified defendants in 23 cases, including 14 death-penalty cases, that FBI examiners “exceeded the limits of science” when they linked hair to crime-scene evidence. When errors were found in nearly all of the cases, the FBI and the DOJ started to butt heads.
The FBI said the investigation was stalled due to a disagreement with the DOJ about what scientific standards to apply when reviewing past FBI lab examiner testimony, but the issue has since been resolved and notification letters will be going out in the next few weeks regarding cases where a hair match may have contributed to a wrongful conviction.
Read the full article.

Tags: Forensic Oversight, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics



Connecticut Exoneree Seeks Compensation

Posted: July 29, 2014 6:15 pm

Nearly five years after a Connecticut man was exonerated of a rape and murder he did not commit, he will go back to court in an effort to be compensated from the state.
The Hartford Courant reported that Kenneth Ireland, who spent two decades in prison before DNA evidence proved his innocence, is expected to testify today before Waterbury attorney James P. Brennan, the special master assigned to his case, and elaborate on a 100-page “analysis of damages” submitted earlier this year to the claims commissioner that seeks up to $8 million. DNA testing not only cleared Ireland, it pointed to the real perpetrator who has since been convicted at trial and is now serving a 60-year prison sentence.
Ireland is poised to become the first Connecticut exoneree to be compensated under the state’s 2008 legislation which was passed after James Tillman’s exoneration. Tillman, who served 18 years for a rape he didn’t commit, was compensated under case specific legislation signed by the governor the year following his release.
After Ireland testifies, the special master will make a compensation recommendation to the claims commissioner which will then be forwarded to the legislature for approval. Because Connecticut is among the states that does not specify a set amount of compensation per year of wrongful conviction, there is no limit on the amount that may be awarded.

“We’re very pleased that it has been scheduled, and he looks forward to being able to tell his side of what he went through,” William M. Bloss, Ireland’s attorney, said Monday. “This took away half of his life and affected whatever remaining years he has in a permanent and irreparable way.”

Earlier this year Attorney General George Jepsen wrote to Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr. and said the state is not opposed to the compensation Ireland has requested, saying “there is no dispute that Mr. Ireland was wrongfully incarcerated and is now, therefore, entitled to compensation” under state law.
Read the full article. More on Ireland’s case.

Tags: Connecticut, Exoneree Compensation



New Study Links Sleep Deprivation to False Memories

Posted: July 28, 2014 5:20 pm

Photo: la_farfalla/Creative Commons
Frenda told the Huffington Post in an email: “Sometimes memory distortions are trivial and don’t matter, but there are contexts (e.g., eyewitnesses in court, clinicians making medical decisions) where errors have serious consequences, so we need to be concerned about factors that make memory less reliable, and more vulnerable to distortion.”
The study, which was published in Psychological Science, tested participants on their susceptibility to false memories based on how much sleep they had gotten the night before. In one experiment, participants were asked if they had seen video footage of Flight 93 crashing in Pennsylvania on 9/11. Despite claiming footage of that crash had been widely circulated, no such video actually exists. Study participants who had gotten five hours or less of sleep the night before were more likely than the normal sleepers to claim that they had seen the footage, 54 percent versus 33 percent.
“One parallel [to this experiment] might be witnesses who are present at the scene of a crime but don’t actually see everything,” explained Frenda to the Huffington Post. “They might hear other witnesses talking, or learn more about the event in the aftermath. After learning about things they didn’t actually see, they might come to believe they have a more complete memory than they really do.”
Another experiment showed participants a photo slide show of a crime and evaluated their retelling of the events based on the hours of sleep they had the week prior. Once again, the sleep deprived group recounted misinformation more than the others. And a final experiment tested the memories of participants who were up all night against those who had a full night’s sleep. The group that went without sleep had the highest false memory rate.
Based on Frenda’s study, eyewitness and false memory expert Henry Otgaar said the legal system should be very interested in how many times suspects or witnesses were interrogated, as well as how much sleep they had gotten before and after the incident because simple exhaustion, not criminal culpability, could be to blame for someone cracking under the pressure of an intense interrogation.
“For example, it might be tempting to think that maybe we should send witnesses home to rest before collecting their testimony,” Frenda told the Huffington Post. “But as more time passes, memories fade and become more vulnerable to distortion. So while you’re addressing one risk factor, you might be introducing others.”
Read the full article.

Tags: Eyewitness Identification, Eyewitness Misidentification



Winston-Salem Chronicle Calls for Justice in Howard Case

Posted: July 25, 2014 1:40 pm

An editorial in Thursday’s Winston-Salem Chronicle called for justice in the case of Darryl Howard who has wrongly served 20 years in prison for a double murder and arson of which he is innocent.
In May, Howard’s convictions were overturned based on new DNA evidence and previously undisclosed evidence pointing to his innocence. The court found that prosecutor Mike Nifong, who was disbarred and held in contempt for his actions in the Duke Lacrosse case, violated Howard’s constitutional rights by failing to turn over exculpatory evidence and for soliciting false and misleading testimony from the lead detective in the case. Despite strong evidence pointing to Howard’s innocence, the prosecution filed a notice of appeal, which delayed justice.
The Winston-Salem Chronicle writes:

If North Carolina is not careful, it could garner the dubious reputation as a place where expediency trumps justice.

With these type of shenanigans, it’s no wonder that the Innocence Project, which works across the nation to free the wrongfully convicted, is calling for a review of all the capital cases prosecuted by Nifong. There is no telling how many men and women were railroaded. It is not lost on us, by the way, that what finally derailed Nifong was his overzealous prosecution of rich, white boys. Seemingly, he was allowed to employ underhanded tactics for years as long as only the black and poor were impacted.

Read the full editorial.

Tags: North Carolina, Darryl Anthony Howard



Prade Continues Fight to Clear His Name

Posted: July 25, 2014 1:39 pm

A year and a half after Ohio Innocence Project client Douglas Prade was cleared of a 1997 murder based on new DNA results that excluded him as the source of critical crime scene evidence, he is stilling fighting to clear his name.

Prade was an Akron police captain when he was convicted in 1998 of the murder of his ex-wife, Dr. Margo Prade, and sentenced to life in prison. The victim’s body was discovered slumped behind the wheel of her car in her office parking lot. She was shot six times and had a bite mark on her arm. When DNA testing results proved inconclusive at trial, prosecutors’ used unscientific bite mark analysis to link him to the crime. But further testing proved his innocence in January 2013 and he was freed. Earlier this year, an appellate court reversed the lower court’s finding that Prade was innocent,  and the Associated Press has reported that a divided Ohio Supreme Court has refused to reverse that ruling. However, the supreme court decision did not disturb the prior trial court ruling that he is entitled to a new trial.  

After the court’s 4-3 ruling against hearing Prade’s appeal of a lower-court ruling that tossed out the judge’s innocence declaration this year, Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh made it clear she doesn’t believe in his innocence. 

“We intend to return Prade to prison, where he belongs,” Walsh said in a statement Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.

However, the Ohio Innocence Project has vowed to “continue to fight with vigilance to clear Mr. Prade from a crime he did not commit.”

Read the full article



Texas Man Never Claimed Innocence, but is Poised for Exoneration

Posted: July 25, 2014 10:00 am

Thanks to the Dallas County District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit, a Dallas man is poised to become exonerated by DNA evidence without having ever asked for post-conviction testing. The unit, which is spearheaded by District Attorney Craig Watkins, tests DNA evidence from past cases even in cases where convicted defendants haven’t proclaimed their innocence.

USA Today reported that Michael Philips heard the life changing news in May when two police officers visited him at the nursing home where he resides to say prosecutors now knew he spent 12 years in prison for a rape he didn’t committed. Philips, 57 and wheelchair-bound from severe sickle cell anemia, is a registered sex offender but that is about to change come Friday when he is exonerated. 

Watkins created the nation’s first conviction integrity unit to investigate claims of wrongful conviction in 2007 and in the seven years following, it has exonerated 33 people. Watkins work with the unit caught the attention of Samuel Gross, editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, who urged the unit to look at rape cases even if there wasn’t an innocence claim. That worked commenced in 2009, and Philips is the first case out of seven that have been tested from 1990 where innocence was proven. 

“This case means not just Dallas County but other DAs (need) to proactively look at issues that they may have in their files,” Watkins says, according to USA today. “There may be an innocent person that is languishing in prison for something they didn’t do. Don’t wait for somebody to knock on your door to tell you… ‘I didn’t do the crime.’ “

Phillips was the only suspect in the rape of a 16-year-old white girl that occurred at the motel where he worked and lived. Philips, who is black, and was misidentified by the victim in a photo lineup, feared a jury would take her word over his and agreed to a plea bargain to avoid a lengthy prison sentence. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Although his lawyer said he’d be out in after four years, he was denied parole and served the full term.

When Watkins’ Conviction Integrity Unit put the semen from the rape kit through the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, the profile identified another man that also lived at the hotel. Because the statute of limitations has run out, that man cannot be prosecuted but Watkins said his criminal record will note that he was a match in the rape. 

During the 12 years Philips was behind bars, his father died, he served a month in solitary confinement and was hospitalized nine times because of sickle cell anemia. Shortly after his release in 2002 he was arrested for failing to register as a sex offender and served another six months. When a court challenge to his conviction failed, he gave up trying to prove his innocence. 

Read the full article. 



Louisiana Man Still Fighting for Compensation

Posted: July 23, 2014 5:30 pm

Photo: Damon Thibodeaux with a photo of fellow exoneree Timothy Durham during a visit to the Innocence Project offices in December, 2013.
Nearly two years after DNA testing proved a Louisiana man’s innocence, the state’s attorney general’s office will not consent to compensation. Damon Thibodeaux spent 15 years on Louisiana’s death row for a murder he did not commit before his conviction was vacated in September 2012.
The Times-Picayune reported that in spite of Jefferson Parish dropping its prosecution of Thibodeaux when District Attorney Paul Connick Jr. said he no longer believed in Thibodeaux’s confession, the attorney general’s office said it isn’t enough.
Thibodeaux, the 18th death row exoneree, was convicted in 1997 of the murder and rape of his 14-year-old step-cousin, Crystal Champagne, largely based on a false confession he gave after an overnight interrogation.
Louisiana’s compensation statute provides $25,000 per year of wrongful incarceration with a cap of $250,000 plus up to $80,000 for loss of life opportunities for exonerees who have proved factual innocence. Thibodeaux petitioned the court last year for the full amount but the attorney general’s office, which by law responds to all requests, has challenged it. The resistance is coming from Assistant Attorney Generals Colin Clark and Emma Devillier, who disagree with Connick’s assessment. Thibodeaux’s attorneys Herbert Larson and Sara Johnson argued that his conviction being tossed shows his innocence.
“This was no rubber stamp… . This was after 15 years of investigation by the best experts you can find in the United States,” said Larson, according to the Times-Picayune.
In addition to his petition for compensation, Thibodeaux sued the Sheriff’s Office in U.S. District Court in New Orleans earlier this year, accusing detectives of violating his constitutional rights. A jury trial is set for December.
Read the full article.
More on Thibodeaux’s case.
National View: Thirty States Have Compensation Statutes: Is Yours One?

Tags: Louisiana, Damon Thibodeaux, Exoneree Compensation



D.C. Man Exonerated After Hair Analysis Review

Posted: July 22, 2014 4:41 pm

Four months after a Washington, D.C. man was cleared by DNA when the hair analysis used to convict him was found to be wrong, his conviction was vacated Monday. Kevin Martin’s exoneration comes nearly one year after the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) announced its partnership with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the U.S. Department of Justice to review microscopic hair analysis cases. 

Martin was convicted of the 1982 rape and murder of Ursula Brown based largely on the claim that his hair was found at the scene of the crime. He spent more than 26 years behind bars before he was paroled in 2009 and settled in San Francisco.  

The Washington Post reported that after DNA testing pointed to Martin’s innocence earlier this year, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. joined defense calls to overturn his conviction. Martin was joined in court by family when a Superior Court judge finally said the words he had been waiting to hear for nearly three decades.

 “I am free at last. I am humbled. I never gave up,” Martin said, hugging and high-fiving his attorneys. Martin’s younger sister, his fiancee, his 6-year-old niece and other family members gathered around.

“I just want to live,” said Martin, 50.

Brown’s partially clothed body was discovered between a school yard and an apartment building in southwest D.C. She had been shot in the head, slashed and raped. Some of her belongings were found near the scene. A pair of sneakers, which the prosecutor said belonged to the victim, was also found. Those sneakers became key to the case; at trial, the prosecution said that the FBI found one of Martin’s pubic hairs on one of the shoes. Facing multiple life sentences if the case went to trial, Martin entered an Alford plea to manslaughter acknowledging that the prosecution had sufficient evidence to convict him, but he did not admit guilt.

Martin first sought DNA testing in 2001 but was told the evidence from his case had been lost. More than a decade later, boxes from the investigation turned up at a new facility and although the hair was not located, other genetic evidence was recovered for testing. According to prosecutors, the DNA matched William D. Davidson, who is serving a sentence of 65 years to life for multiple offenses including being the lookout during Brown’s attack.

Martin’s is the fifth case since 2009 in which FBI hair analysis has been found to be wrong. Donald Gates, Kirk Odom, Santae Tribble and Cleveland Wright were also wrongly convicted based on false FBI hair analysis.

The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project assisted in Martin’s case. 

Read the full article



Kentucky Woman Likely to be Exonerated

Posted: July 21, 2014 5:30 pm

A woman who has been granted a retrial by a Kentucky appeals court after someone else confessed they had committed the crime is likely to be exonerated, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. Susan Jean King was convicted of manslaughter in 2008 for the 1998 slaying of Kyle Bredeen and sentenced to 10 years in prison. While maintaining her innocence, King pled guilty to the manslaughter charge rather than face a trial for murder and potential life sentence.
The Kentucky Innocence Project began investigating the case after doubts were raised about King’s ability to throw Bredeen’s body off of a bridge and into the Kentucky River, where it was found. King has only one leg and weighed just 97 pounds at the time of the crime. In May 2012, Richard Jarrell Jr. confessed to Louisville narcotics Detective Barron Morgan that he had killed Bredeen and two other people. Morgan sent Jarrell’s statement to the Kentucky Innocence Project.
Detective Morgan hailed the appeals court ruling, saying it vindicated both him and King, according to the Courier-Journal. Morgan won a $450,000 settlement from the city of Louisville for being demoted in violation of the state’s whistleblower act after he helped King by sending Jarrell’s statement to the Kentucky Innocence Project.
A circuit court judge had earlier rejected King’s request for a retrial, saying that he could not determine if Jarrell’s confession were true. In granting King’s retrial, the Court of Appeals noted the detailed and accurate nature of Jarrell’s confession and held that if the confession had been available when the case was first in court, it likely would have changed the result.
King spent more than six years in prison before serving out her sentence in 2012. Read the full story.

Tags: Kentucky



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