Chicago Man’s Rape Conviction Overturned After 30 Years
Posted: December 11, 2013 3:25 pm
Three decades after a Chicago man was convicted of rape and sentenced to 100 years in prison, a Cook County judge overturned his conviction and granted a new trial for the 1982 crime.
Stanley Wrice maintained his innocence throughout the years and asserted that two detectives working under former Police Commander Jon Burge beat him until he gave a false confession. Burge was fired in 1993 for his role in the torture and beating of criminal suspects, a number of whom falsely confessed and were wrongfully convicted. He is now serving a four year federal prison term for perjury related to torture allegations. According to the Chicago Sun Times, the victim never identified Wrice as one of her attackers.
The paper also reported that a year after missing his daughter Gail Lewis’ wedding, Wrice shared an emotional embrace with her after Judge Richard Walsh gave his ruling.
Police “lied about how they handled the defendant,” Walsh said, adding that Wrice’s claims against former detectives John Byrne and Peter Dignan were “unrebutted.”
At a two-day evidentiary hearing, Byrne and Dingan invoked their Fifth Amendment protections against self incrimination rather than answer questions about the interrogation. Earlier, Bobbie Joe Williams recanted his testimony against Wrice, claiming that he too had been beaten into giving false testimony.
Lewis, who was only a year old when her father was arrested for his alleged participation in a brutal gang rape is hopeful that Wrice will be released from the Pontiac Correctional Center on Wednesday after posting a $5,000 recognizance bond.
Special Prosecutor Stuart Nudelman must now decide whether he will try Wrice again. Wrice’s attorneys, Jennifer Bonjean and Heidi Lambros said it would be hard to retry their client since two of his co-defendants are dead and all living witnesses have recanted their testimony.
“It took too long, but I’m thrilled that we had the opportunity today to do in two days what could have been done 31 years ago,” Bonjean said.
Read the full article.
December 10 is Human Rights Day
Posted: December 10, 2013 5:40 pm
Today is Human Rights Day. Our client Damon Thibodeaux (pictured, next to exoneree Timothy Durham’s portrait) spent 15 years on Louisiana’s death row for a crime he did not commit, all of those years in solitary confinement. He visited our offices today, and had this to say:
“Human beings are supposed to be free. We’re not made to be slaves, we’re not made to be confined in small spaces, we’re not made to be locked up like animals. I’ve heard politicians say that if one person goes to prison unjustly then the system is broken. Well, the system’s broken. Many times over.”
Tags: Damon Thibodeaux
Connecticut Implements Law Mandating Recordings of Police Interrogations
Posted: December 9, 2013 5:00 pm
As of January 1, 2014, a new law in Connecticut will go into effect requiring all police departments across the state to record interrogations of serious crimes. According to TheDay.com, Connecticut police will be mandated to audio and video record any written or oral statements given by suspects in all capital, Class A and Class B felonies—a wide range of crimes including murder, first-degree sexual assault and burglary.
Some local police departments have been recording interrogations since 2008, when Connecticut selected a small number of sites to receive funding to install and use recording equipment. Lieutenant Brett Mahoney of the Waterford Police Department, one of the sites to receive the initial state funding, says that all of his department’s supervisors and many of its officers are trained in how to use the equipment. Detective Sergeant James Tetreault of Norwich said that detectives in his department are also experienced in using the equipment, but given the wide range of crimes covered under the law, will need to train more officers.
According to Mahoney, the “number of crimes covered by the new law could become a strain for his and other smaller departments ‘until it becomes the new normal,’ ” but he believes that recording interrogations has important benefits, including protecting “ ‘police from false claims of mistreatment.’ ”
“ ‘A picture is worth a thousand words. The video camera is not going to lie to you,’” says Mahoney.
The U.S. Office of Personal Management’s (OPM) Criminal Justice, Police and Planning Division has disbursed $2.65 million in one-time grants to departments across Connecticut to help them purchase and update equipment.
Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane worked with the Police Standards and Training Council, as well as the state police and the Connecticut Police Chief Association to develop standards for the new law. Some from the state’s legal system, such as New London County State’s Attorney Michael Regan, say that the law will require more work for many people, including attorneys who have to view the recordings, which can last at least six hours. But, says Regan, “ ‘…everybody is pretty much on board… . Any time (police) interview a defendant, we usually like to have it on video.’ ”
Read the full article.
Read more about the benefits of mandatory recording of interrogations.
Tags: Connecticut, False Confessions
DNA Evidence Leads to Arrest of Michigan Man and Excludes Man Serving Life Sentence
Posted: December 6, 2013 5:20 pm
Jason Anthony Ryan from Davison, Michigan, was charged on Tuesday with the murder of Geraldine Montgomery, a crime for which another man, Jamie Lee Peterson, has been serving time in prison since 1997.
In 1996, Montgomery was beaten, raped and murdered. She was found in the trunk of her car in the garage of her home in the small town of Kalkaska, Michigan.
NBCnews.com reports that Peterson became the prime suspect four months after the murder when a jailhouse informant told investigators that Peterson, who was in jail for an unrelated sex charge, claimed to commit the crime. After a series of interrogations, Peterson confessed to the police. Although Peterson recanted just days later, police insisted that Peterson was guilty because he provided telling details about the crime that only the perpetrator would have known. He was sentenced to life in prison without the chance for parole.
While DNA testing of semen left on the victim’s shirt was unable to identify the source, testing of the rape kit excluded Peterson. Police said that the inconclusive results revealed that another perpetrator was present at the crime scene.
Michigan News reports that earlier this year, at the request of Peterson’s former attorney, the Michigan Innocence Clinic re-investigated the case and worked with the state police and Kalkaska’s new prosecutor to get new DNA testing of the evidence. The results identified Ryan as the source of the semen from both the rape kit and the victim’s shirt.
According to A.J. Dixon, the University of Michigan law student who has led the Michigan Innocence Clinic’s work on the Peterson case: “ ‘There is absolutely no reliable evidence that there are multiple perpetrators involved. And there is zero evidence that Peterson and Ryan had ever even met each other before the crime, let alone that they were friends or co-conspirators. It takes an incredible amount of mental gymnastics to conclude anything but the arrest of Ryan proves Peterson is innocent.’”
Police interviewed Ryan as part of the investigation in 1996. He was living with a man, now deceased, who lived just two blocks away from the victim. As part of the investigation, police took a saliva sample from Ryan, but that sample was never tested. He was ruled out as a suspect after he passed a polygraph test.
The Michigan Innocence Clinic is working with the Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions on Peterson’s case. A motion for a new trial will be filed on December 25.
“ ‘I would certainly say that the true perpetrator being arrested is enormous and enormously important,’ ” Dixon told the Michigan Daily. “ ‘We’re not going to be satisfied until Jamie Lee Peterson has been released.’ ”
Texas State Fire Marshall is Commended for Transforming State’s Law Enforcement
Posted: December 5, 2013 5:35 pm
In a Dallas News opinion piece, Cory Session, policy director at the Innocence Project of Texas, declares: State Fire Marshall Chris Connealy should be named “Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year for 2013.” He says that Connealy has taught him “what is good in Texas law enforcement.”
Session is the brother of Texas exoneree Tim Cole, who was wrongfully convicted of rape in 1988 and served 13 years of a 25-year sentence before he died in prison in 1999. Session writes: “I’ve learned how easy it is for most officials to cover up their mistakes and never admit to doing anything wrong.”
According to Session, he’s sees a sea change with Connealy—the state’s law enforcement is beginning to evolve. “When Connealy, a 36-year firefighter, took over the job,” says Session, the agency “was seen as a national joke. Within a few weeks, Connealy started turning everything around.”
Connealy resumed the position of state fire marshal just a year ago, when the state was receiving national attention for the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, whose murder conviction had been based on expert testimony and evidence that was later discredited by the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Within the past year, Connealy has begun to rebuild the reputation of his office. According to Session, “As Dr. John DeHaan, one of the most prominent fire scientists in the world … put it recently, Connealy’s efforts are turning Texas into a model for the entire country.”
Connealy has made important allies during his short tenure. Earlier this year, he teamed up with the Innocence Project of Texas to launch a review of more than 1,000 arson convictions. That review led to the creation of a scientific advisory panel that is made up of the nation’s top arson experts. The panel has completed five reviews. Of those cases, three were found to contain flawed science.
Session commends Connealy not just for the work he’s done with the Innocence Project of Texas, but for the way he has “energized his agency from top to bottom.”
“In the space of a little over a year, he has made his agency into what it should have been all along,” writes Session, “a dynamic force of dedicated men and women seeking the truth and keeping the rest of Texas safe.”
Read the full story.
Learn more about Tim Cole.
Tags: Texas, Forensic Oversight
Tune-In: CNN Films Premieres An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story
Posted: December 4, 2013 3:10 pm
On Thursday, December 5 at 9 p.m., CNN Films will premiere An Unreal Dream:The Michael Morton Story, a documentary about Texas exoneree Michael Morton.
Morton spent 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife, Christine, before he was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2011. Last month, former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson entered a plea to criminal contempt for deliberately withholding exculpatory evidence pointing to Morton’s innocence before he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life.
The film details how, with help from the Innocence Project, Morton proved his innocence and started his life over. The DNA evidence that cleared Morton implicated another man, Mark Norwood, who had been tied to a similar Texas murder that occurred two years after the murder of Morton’s wife. Norwood has since been convicted of Christine Morton’s murder.
More from CNN.
Read about Morton’s case.
Tags: Texas, Michael Morton
Demystifying False Confessions
Posted: December 3, 2013 4:30 pm
by Audrey Levitin
Director of Development and External Affairs
“False confessions are one of the most counter intuitive aspects of human behavior,” says Saul Kassin, a leading expert in the study of false confessions and a Distinguished Professor of Psychology at John Jay College.
Professor Kassin’s research helps demystify why people confess to crimes that they did not commit. The term, false confession, is actually a misnomer. A confession is a rational decision by someone who chooses to accept responsibility for his or her actions when the guilt of the crime becomes too much to bear.
A false confession is something completely different. When someone falsely confesses, it’s not a one-way conversation and it doesn’t take place during an interview with the police. Rather, it occurs during an interrogation — a totally different type of interaction.
It is a largely unknown fact that police are allowed to present false information to extract a confession. Hence, the interrogation process can be disorienting and can cause people to doubt themselves. Also, in an interrogation, the person questioned is considered a suspect — someone who the police already think is guilty.
The problem is that the police can be wrong.
In his November 12, 2012, review of “The Central Park Five,” Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan said the film “serves as a cinematic primer on what has become one of the most disturbing aspects of our criminal justice system: the ability — and the unabashed willingness — of police to psychologically manipulate people into confessing to things they have not done.”
Raymond Santana, who is among the Central Park Five, falsely confessed. Santana recounted in a video for Be the Witness — a campaign launched by The Innocence Project, which helps exonerate wrongfully convicted individuals based on DNA testing — that the officers who interrogated him were friendly at first. But when they didn’t receive the information they wanted, they became aggressive, yelling in his ear. He was 14 years old at the time.
Of the Central Park Five, Kassin says, “The kids were interrogated for 14 to 30 hours, the detectives trying to break [them] down into a state of despair, into a state of helplessness, so that … [they were] worn down and looking for a way out.” Kassin emphasizes that people who falsely confess nearly always believe that once they are away from the police, the situation can be fixed.
In another case, Jeff Deskovic was wrongly convicted of the murder and rape of a classmate, Angela Correa. Deskovic became a suspect because he was late to school the day of the victim’s murder and because he appeared overly distraught at her wake. For two months, he denied having anything to do with Correa’s death. Finally, in late January 1990, he agreed to a polygraph test, which preceded the interrogation that led to his confession.
He was held in a small room with no lawyer or parent present. Deskovic’s confession came after six hours, three polygraph sessions and intense questioning by detectives. Like most of the public — and certainly most teenagers — Deskovic did not know that the police are allowed to lie during the interrogation. The 17-year-old told the police what they wanted to hear, believing his statements would later be fixed.
“I thought it was all going to be O.K. in the end,” said Deskovic, because he was sure that the DNA testing would show his innocence.
In convicting him, the jury chose to give more weight to his tearful confession than to the DNA and other scientific evidence that excluded him from the crime. Kassin says that once a confession is made, everything changes — and it almost doesn’t matter what exculpatory evidence emerges, including DNA, after the confession.
“The confession trumps all other evidence. It has to power to change eyewitness identification testimony,” Kassin adds. “Forensic scientists no longer believe their own work and people who provided alibis doubt themselves.”
Among the most egregious cases of false confession, George Allen of Missouri was wrongly convicted of a murder that took place in 1982 and spent more than 30 years in prison. The crime took place during one of the heaviest snowstorms in St. Louis history.
Allen, who has schizophrenia, had been admitted to psychiatric wards several times. A month after the crime, police officers mistook him for the suspect they were looking for and picked him up. Though they recognized their mistake, police interrogated Allen and an officer prompted him to give answers to fit the crime. He was charged with murder on the basis of the false confession, convicted and sentenced to life.
Allen was freed on bond in November of 2012 when a judge vacated his conviction, ruling that police had failed to disclose exculpatory evidence. Allen was fully exonerated in January of this year and reunited with his 80-year-old mother, Lonzetta.
It is understood that police are under enormous pressure to solve violent crimes. However, it does not advance justice or public safety for an innocent person to go to prison and a guilty party to go free. For this reason, it’s critical that the American criminal justice system improve how interrogations are conducted. We must avoid long interrogations, deception, leading questions and promises of leniency, and we must record interrogations from beginning to end to prevent false confessions and end this tragic flaw in our criminal justice system.
Innocence Project Joins Effort to Improve Investigative Procedures
Posted: December 3, 2013 12:50 pm
The Innocence Project and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) joined the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) at a press conference today to release a new report urging police departments nationwide to make changes in the way they conduct criminal investigations in order to prevent wrongful convictions.
Marvin Anderson, exoneree and Innocence Project board member with Jennifer Thompson, victims’ advocate, at today’s press conference launching the IACP report.
The Washington Post reported that the IACP, which lists a total of 30 recommendations in its report, will call for law enforcement to adopt new guidelines for conducting photo lineups, recording interrogations and corroborating information from jailhouse informants. It also proposes formalizing the ways flawed cases are reviewed and innocence claims are investigated.
“ ‘At the end of the day, the goal is to reduce the number of persons who are wrongfully convicted,’ said Walter A. McNeil, the police chief in Quincy, Fla., and past president of the chiefs association, which convened a national policy summit on wrongful convictions. ‘What we are trying to say in this report is, it’s worth it for all of us, particularly law enforcement, to continue to evaluate, slow down, and get the right person,’ McNeil said.”
Errors in the criminal justice were exposed in the report’s findings by advances in post-conviction DNA testing. According to legal experts, the report marks a milestone for law enforcement to correcting those errors.
“ ‘We may appear to some to be strange bedfellows, but in fact we all support these reforms because they protect the innocent and enhance the ability of law enforcement to catch the guilty,’ ” said Barry Scheck, co-founder and co-director of the Innocence Project.
In the wake of convictions being overturned after flawed science was exposed, IACP said it and the DPJ should provide tools to help agencies investigate claims of innocence and resolve wrongful convictions.
“ ‘Any time new information comes forward that could indicate the need for redirection, justice system officials across the continuum must welcome and carefully examine that information,’ the IACP said in its report.”
Read the full article.
Download the report.
Posted: December 2, 2013 5:00 pm
Posted: November 27, 2013 1:00 pm
Photo: Gerard Richardson after speaking to students at the Patrick School in New Jersey
It’s been five years since DNA testing proved Steven Barnes innocent of a New York murder for which he spent nearly twenty years in prison. He was released two days before Thanksgiving in 2008 and exonerated six weeks later in January 2009. And it hasn’t even been a month since Gerard Richardson walked out of a New Jersey prison after serving 19 years behind bars for a murder that new DNA evidence shows he did not commit. As we approach Thanksgiving, the Innocence Blog caught up with both men to see how they plan to spend the holiday and learn what they have done since regaining their freedom.
In the years following Barnes’ exoneration, he worked as a counselor for troubled youth, purchased his first home and gained a greater appreciation for the Thanksgiving holiday. Throughout the two decades Barnes was in prison, he remained close with his family whose support never wavered. But according to Barnes, nothing is as good as spending the holidays together.
“Thanksgiving has been more special to me in the past five years than it was the years before my wrongful conviction,” Barnes said. “It’s a happy time, we don’t think about the past. I’ve got my life back, so we’re all happy.”
He will be spending Thursday with his immediate family just as he does every year. “Everything is good. Freedom is good. You should live each day as a holiday.”
While Richardson will also spend the day with family on Thursday, he kicked off Thanksgiving early this past Sunday when his family hosted a coming home get-together/pre-thanksgiving bash in his honor. In attendance were about 100 close family members and his Innocence Project legal team.
“[T]he students, the whole team working on weekends, doing whatever they could for me … I love all of them for real. When I tell them ‘I love you,’ I mean it sincerely. They helped me get something back that I couldn’t get on my own. I consider them my friends for life, not just my legal team.”
When Richardson was behind bars, Thanksgiving was much like every other day, but all of that has changed in the past month.
“[I]n prison, you see Thanksgiving as just another day,” Richardson said, “… [but] you can’t help but think about what’s going on outside, wondering what your family is doing and wanting to be there for them… . It’s special now that I’m home and can spend this time with my family.”
Even though Richardson missed his family throughout his time in prison, he says that he just tried to remain optimistic about his future and to keep busy. To help pass the time, he mentored younger inmates, tutored others and helped people learn to read and write.
“I didn’t have my family come visit that often and I didn’t keep calling them because it was expensive. Someone had to pay for all of that. So I wrote letters. As long as I knew they were O.K., I was O.K. While I was away, they still had to keep going.”
Richardson is now awaiting a December 17 court date, at which the prosecution will decide if they will dismiss the charges — formally clearing him — or retry the case. For now he is focusing on all of the good in his life.
“I’m lucky to come home to the support and love of my family. I know everyone doesn’t have that; relatives die or they lose contact with you when you’re behind bars,” Richardson said. “I’m not mad and bitter. That went away over time. You just gotta let it go, otherwise it will kill you, and you won’t be able to move on.”
More on Barnes’ case.
Tags: Steven Barnes, Gerard Richardson