Innocence Blog

New York Man Cleared by DNA of Wife’s Murder Dies in Car Crash

Posted: January 26, 2015 3:50 pm

Newsday reports that John Grega of Long Island, New York, died in a tragic car accident on Friday evening. Grega had been wrongly convicted in 1995 for the 1994 rape and murder of his wife, but was released in 2012 after DNA proved that he wasn’t the perpetrator. He was just blocks away from his Lake Ronkonkoma home at 5:00 p.m. on Friday when he lost control of his van and crashed into a tree.
More than 20 years ago, Grega was vacationing with his wife and young son in West Dover, Vermont, when his wife was found strangled and sexually assaulted. With a lack of physical evidence linking Grega to the murder, prosecutors at the original trial relied on circumstantial evidence and his own conflicting statements that some of his wife’s injuries were caused by rough sex they had before her death. He was convicted within a year and served 18 years behind bars.
In 2012, Grega was released from prison and in August 2013 prosecutors dismissed his aggravated murder charge after DNA testing revealed cells from an unknown male and not Grega.
Grega told Newsday after he was released: “I’m blown away… . Imagine, after 20 years, seeing them dismiss a case against you for a crime you didn’t commit. I don’t even know how to feel… . I went through hell… . To get them to admit it was a mistake. It feels fabulous.”
Although Grega continued to be haunted by his wife’s murder, he was making the most out of his life since his release from prison. Grega’s mother, Marion Grega, 74, said, “He was so happy… . He always wanted to be on a boat, or on the beach, or by water.”
His family and friends say that they are devastated to learn about Grega’s sudden and tragic passing.
Ian Carleton, the attorney who represented Grega since 2004, said about Grega’s death: “I’m heartbroken … Here is a man who had the rarest of opportunities — a second chance at freedom and a second chance at life. He seemed to be making the most of that.”
“He was so wonderful,” said Grega’s mother, according to Newsday. “I don’t know how I’m going to live without him.”
Read the full article.
Learn more about Grega’s case: here and here.

Tags: New York



Joseph Sledge Exonerated and Released After 36 Years in Prison

Posted: January 23, 2015 5:07 pm

A panel of judges exonerated and released Joseph Sledge on Friday. Sledge, 70, served 36 years in prison for a double-murder which DNA evidence proves he did not commit.  

Since his arrest, Sledge has denied involvement in the 1976 murders of Josephine and Ailene Davis. Police linked Sledge to the crime because he escaped from a nearby prison on the day of the murder after a fellow inmate threatened his life. 

The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission began examining Sledge’s case in December after a ten-year investigation by the Center on Actual Innocence revealed that DNA testing of hairs on one of the victim’s bodies could prove his innocence. 

Herman Baker, one of the two jailhouse informants that testified during Sledge’s trial, went before the Innocence Inquiry Commission in December, telling members police offered him early release from prison and a monetary reward if he said Sledge confessed to him. The other informant is deceased but was also given a deal in his own criminal case. 

Sledge is the longest-serving wrongfully convicted person in North Carolina history.  

Read the breaking news story here.

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Tags: North Carolina


Former Officers Ordered to Pay $7 Million to Florida Man Wrongfully Convicted at 15

Posted: January 23, 2015 4:55 pm

A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that two retired police officers accused of framing Anthony Caravella for a murder he did not commit must pay him $7 million for the nearly 26 years he spent behind bars.
Caravella was only 15 years old and had an IQ of 67 when Officers William Mantesta and George Pierson coerced him into confessing to the 1983 rape and murder of 58-year-old Ada Cox Jankowski. He was arrested by the two officers for failing to appear in court for a minor theft charge. Over the course of a week in juvenile custody, Caravella was told and forced to repeat information about the crime scene where Jankowski was found stabbed more than 24 times. In exchange for his confession, the officers offered to free his friend, Dawn Simone Herron, who was arrested with him on the theft charge.
In 1984, Caravella was sentenced to life in prison, narrowly avoiding the death penalty. Seventeen years later, reporters at the Sun Sentinel investigated the case and reported their findings to the Broward Public Defender’s Office. Chief Assistant Public Defender Diane Cuddihy had DNA evidence from the crime scene tested. The results excluded Caravella and matched to the now deceased Anthony Martinez, Jankowski’s neighbor and the last person seen with Jankowski before her body was identified at a local schoolyard. Caravella was exonerated in 2009.
In 2013, a federal jury in Fort Lauderdale found Mantesta and Pierson liable for framing Caravella. The jurors found that the officers acted with malice or reckless indifference, violated Caravella’s constitutional rights, coerced him into confessing and withheld evidence that could have cleared him soon after his arrest. A three-judge panel from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the verdict.
The decision entitles Caravella to $2.5 million in compensatory damages and $4.5 million in punitive damages, plus legal expenses. Jurors found Mantesta liable for $4 million and Pierson liable for the remaining $3 million.
According to the Sentinel, legal experts uninvolved in the case “believe that Miramar, or its insurance company, may have to pay all or some of the money judgment for the retired city employees.”
“It feels like I’m one step closer to getting justice,” said Caravella, according to the Sentinel.
Read the full article here.

Tags: Florida, Exoneree Compensation



Montana DNA Testing Law Must Be Fixed

Posted: January 22, 2015 12:52 pm

The Montana Billings Gazette ran an op-ed Thursday by Keegan Flaherty, executive director of the Montana Innocence Project and former state senator Larry Jent, urging lawmakers to revise the state’s DNA testing law.

The law was created in 2003 and was intended to create an avenue for the innocent to request testing of DNA evidence in their cases. Under the current law, however, a person seeking DNA testing must first prove their innocence before a court will grant it. In most cases, this is nearly impossible to do without the DNA test results. State courts have not approved a single request for testing since the law was created.

Representative Margie MacDonald of Billings is sponsoring legislation to make revisions to the law to create a more reasonable standard for defendants in the state to get evidence tested.

The revisions would also allow judges to order a DNA profile to be entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), increasing the likelihood of identifying the real criminal in a wrongful conviction case. 

The law would also be revised so that the defendant does not have to be incarcerated in order to receive testing. Currently 37 other states have similar laws.

Read the full op-ed here.

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Tags: Montana, Jimmy Ray Bromgard, Access to DNA Testing, DNA Databases


Illinois Enacts New Blind Lineup Law

Posted: January 21, 2015 12:55 pm

Illinois is now conducting blind lineups and photo arrays under a new state law that went into effect on January 1st. The new legislation requires police departments to have an “independent administrator” (a detective with no ties to a particular case) conduct both photo and in-person lineups. In cases where an entire police department may be involved, authorities will be able to use a computer program to conduct the lineup. 

The aim of this new law is to increase transparency in police practice and hopefully limit detectives’ intentional or inadvertent influences over witness identifications. The use of an independent administrator will ensure that no one involved in the lineup knows the identity of the suspect. Improper lineups have been found to contribute highly to wrongful convictions, which can be seen in almost three-fourths of the 325 wrongful convictions that were overturned by DNA. 

While there are still some kinks to be worked out, like detectives’ ability to bypass video and/or independent administrator-conducted lineups if it’s not available or practical to do so, Illinois’ new requirements look to be a great improvement for best police practice throughout the state.

Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon says that he’s pleased with the new law and hopes that it will work to ensure more accurate arrests and prosecutions. “Cognitive bias is not something the administrator is doing intentionally,” McMahon said. “It certainly has been an issue in wrongful convictions nationally, not just in Illinois. This is a ripe area for us in law enforcement to look at and challenge us to do better.”

Under the same law, Illinois police departments have already begun video-recording lineups. Authorities are now required to record the victim or witness when making an identification. The recordings will be made available for a judge to examine and are required to be shared with the defense attorney in the case. 

Read the full articles here and here

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Tags: Illinois


Innocence Project Director Urges Obama to Push for Better Forensic Practices

Posted: January 20, 2015 1:59 pm

Innocence Project co-director Peter Neufeld told the Marshall Project that he hopes President Obama will urge Congress to fund scientific research and set standards for forensic practices during his State of the Union address tonight. 

The article featured input from some of the big names in criminal justice on what they hope the president will touch upon during his speech.

Neufeld highlighted the importance of proper forensic practices in preventing wrongful convictions.

One thing I hope people in both parties can agree on is that we need to provide law enforcement with the best, science-based tools to do their jobs well. One way President Obama can help do that is by urging Congress to provide the necessary funding and impetus to conduct scientific research and set standards to validate forensic practices – greatly reducing the number of wrongful convictions caused, at least in part, by unvalidated and improper forensic practices. These standards can also help prevent eyewitness misidentifications, the leading contributor of wrongful convictions, by requiring federal law enforcement officials to use the best practices endorsed in the recent National Academy of Science report on misidentification and giving incentives to the states to do so.

Steven Drizin, Assistant Dean of the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University, said he hopes the president will urge Congress to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act, which provides funds to states that follow a series of federal protections on the care and treatment of youth in the justice system.

President Obama should say: ‘In 2014, I launched My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative to address persistent gaps faced by young people of color and ensure that all young people are able and willing to reach their full potential. But each year, approximately 200,000 children under the age of 18 are being prosecuted and punished as adults. It is time for the federal government to make juvenile justice a priority again. Today, I ask the 113th Congress to follow the bipartisan lead of Senator Grassley and the White House to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). We should also restore funding to the Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention. I also ask Congress to work with me to rectify our past mistakes by giving the states financial incentives to reduce, and eventually eliminate, their harmful reliance on prosecuting and punishing juveniles as adults and to develop alternatives to incarceration.’

See the full article here.

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Tags: Reforms, Forensic Oversight, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics


Study Shows It’s Relatively Easy to Convince People They Committed a Crime that Never Happened

Posted: January 16, 2015 11:35 am

Researchers in Canada have proven that it is relatively easy to convince adults that they committed a crime that never happened.  The findings could have implications for police interrogation methods. 

The researchers identified 60 college students who had not been involved in the crimes they intended to questions them about.  The students were questioned in a lab three times for 40 minutes about a week a part.  The interviewers asked the students about two events that they had experienced as a teen.  One was real and the other was either a made up crime (assault, assault with a weapon or theft) or a false emotional event such as a personal injury, an attack by a dog or the loss of a huge sum of money.  Through communicating with the students’ caregivers, all of the false events included some real details about that time in the student’s life.  


The students were probed over the course of the three interviews and urged to use memory strategies to recall more details.  Of the participants who were told they committed a crime, 71% had a false memory of the crime.  A similar percentage, 76.67%, formed false memories of the emotional event.  

Lead researcher Julia Shaw of the University of Bedfordshire told the Association for Psychological Science, “Our findings show that false memories of committing crime with police contact can be surprisingly easy to generate and can have all the same kinds of complex details as real memories.  All participants need to generate a richly detailed false memory is three hours in a friendly interview environment where the interviewer introduces a few wrong details and uses poor memory-retrieval techniques.”     

Read the full article here.  

Tags: False Confessions



LA Times Editorial Calls for Death Penalty Moratorium

Posted: January 15, 2015 3:28 pm

An op-ed in the Los Angeles Times today calls for a national moratorium on the death penalty, emphasizing the fact that innocent people have been and will continue to be wrongfully convicted and executed.

The article notes that DNA testing has exonerated 325 people since 1989, 20 of whom served time on death row. 

That’s 20 individuals who would have been killed by state authorities if no one had dug up the truth. 

[…] executions should be put on hold until there is some way to achieve certainty about the guilt of every person on death row. To paraphrase English jurist William Blackstone, it is better for 10 killers to go free than for one innocent man to be wrongfully put to death.

Read the full editorial here.

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Tags: Death Penalty


New York Times Editorial Urges Compensation for Wrongly Convicted

Posted: January 14, 2015 3:30 pm

The New York Times published an editorial Wednesday on the importance of monetary compensation for wrongful convictions and calling for states to provide exonerees the same critical re-entry services that parolees get upon release, like job training and substance-abuse treatment. 

The article comes on the heels of recent news that New York City will pay a total of $17 million in settlements to three brothers who were exonerated in May.

The convictions of Robert Hill, Alvena Jennette and Darryl Austin were among the 130 handled by homicide detective Louis Scarcella which are now being reevaluated by Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson’s Conviction Integrity Unit. The trio spent a combined total of 60 years incarcerated for murders they didn’t commit. Darryl Austin died in prison in 2000.

The editorial notes that 20 states still do not have laws entitling wrongfully convicted individuals to compensation. In states with compensation laws, the process is often long and complicated. 

Exonerees and their advocates have lobbied to pass compensation bills in numerous states, but in recent years such efforts have failed in Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, Michigan, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

Read the full editorial here.

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Tags: New York, Exonerees, Exoneree Compensation


Massachusetts Jury Instructions Updated to Help Assess Reliability of Eyewitness Testimony

Posted: January 13, 2015 5:55 pm

The Massachusetts high court has issued new instructions for jurors on how to assess the reliability of eyewitness testimony in a criminal trial.  

The decision comes in one of three cases the court accepted to review the framework for how courts throughout the state deal with identification evidence. The trial court had refused the defendant’s request for jury instructions similar to those embraced in a landmark decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court acknowledging the science on memory and identification.  In his decision, Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants took notice of the science and drafted a new template for judges to use when instructing jurors in such cases. 

The new instructions include warnings that, just because a witness expresses certainty about what they saw, it doesn’t necessarily mean events occurred in that manner. Sometimes the effect of stress on an eyewitness or the passage of time can interfere with the accuracy of a memory. 

The instructions note that witnesses are often influenced by descriptions given by others, including police officers, which “may inflate the witness’s confidence in the identification.” Often, witnesses will “recognize” a suspect because they have been shown the suspect multiple times during identification procedures. 

Read the full Boston Globe store here.

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Tags: Massachusetts, Eyewitness Identification, Eyewitness Misidentification


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