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Innocents in Prison News
& Views 2010-2011

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November 2011


After 14 Years in Prison, Dale Duke Is Cleared of Sexual Abuse Conviction and Free At Last

By Leslie Minora, Dallas Observer (blog)  

11-04-11 -- As a free man for the first time in 14 years, Dale Duke tightly embraced his tearful mother. His every move followed by a swarm of cameras, the wrongfully imprisoned man, now 60, exited the packed courtroom of District Judge Susan Hawk with his parents, lawyer and supporters from his church. Wearing thick tortoise-shell glasses, a brown wool blazer and matching tie, the exoneree looked more like a lawyer than a former inmate as he walked through the Frank Crowley halls. . . . Duke and his mother didn't let go of each other. Their eyes were wide at the frenzy of attention swarming around them -- this newly freed man, one more to join the ranks of the wrongfully imprisoned from Dallas County.


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October 2011


Freed Convict’s Attorneys To Question Former Central Texas Prosecutor

Attorneys for a man freed by DNA evidence after serving 24 years for the murder of his wife plan to question the former Central Texas assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case.


10-31-11 -- Former Williamson County prosecutor Ken Anderson, who is now a Texas judge, will be questioned Monday behind closed doors by attorneys for a man who claims he was wrongfully sent to prison for nearly 25 years because evidence was suppressed in his case. . . . Anderson was to give a deposition Monday in the Williamson County courthouse in Georgetown, where he is a judge. . . . He will be questioned by attorneys for Michael Morton, who was freed this month based on new DNA evidence after serving 24 years of a life sentence in the 1986 murder of his wife in Williamson County, located near Austin.


Willkie Farr Duo Helps Exonerate Louisiana Man After 30 Years in Prison

Posted by Victor Li, AmLaw Daily 

10-26-11 -- When Henry James entered the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola nearly 30 years ago to serve a sentence of life without parole after being convicted of raping a next-door neighbor at knifepoint, it appeared that he would only leave the infamous prison when he died. . . . On October 21, though, the 50-year-old James walked out of the prison a free man thanks to the efforts of Innocence Project attorneys and a two-lawyer pro bono team from Willkie Farr & Gallagher. Upon his release, James had spent more time behind bars than any of the other 11 wrongfully convicted Louisiana prisoners to be exonerated using DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project. . . . James's case is among the more difficult ones the Innocence Project has tackled, says Vanessa Potkin, a senior staff attorney for the organization. The Innocence Project—which has now won the release of 274 wrongfully convicted inmates since 1989—nearly closed James's case file because the original crime-scene evidence could not be located—something that happens in roughly one out of every four cases the organization investigates.


Man cleared of 1981 rape freed from La. prison after 30 years; lawyer says man is ‘overjoyed’

By Associated Press, Washington Post

10-21-11 -- A man convicted of raping a woman in 1981 but cleared last month by DNA tests was freed from a Louisiana prison Friday after nearly 30 years behind bars. . . . Henry James was released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola a day after state District Judge Henry G. Sullivan vacated his conviction. Jefferson Parish prosecutors had joined James’ lawyers from The Innocence Project New Orleans in asking Sullivan to throw out the case and order James’ immediate release. . . . The Innocence Project says James served the longest prison sentence of any Louisiana inmate cleared by DNA tests. . . . Paul Killebrew, one of James’ attorneys, said his client is “overjoyed.” . . . “He’s really excited to be able to see and spend time with his family, and he’s grateful to the district attorney’s office that once the DNA results came in, they acted decisively and correctly,” Killebrew said in a statement.


Beyond innocence, Morton owed answers

Austin American-Statesman Editorial Board  

10-13-11 -- We all should celebrate the swift action of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to dismiss Michael Morton's 1987 conviction and life sentence for a murder he did not commit. That happened Wednesday, eight days after Morton walked out of a Texas prison, where he had spent nearly 25 years for killing his wife, Christine Morton. In the past few weeks, it has become abundantly clear to anyone paying attention that Morton did not commit that heinous crime in 1986. . . . For the first time in his life, Michael Morton has no conviction over his head. It's a good day for justice, but that won't be fully realized until the system is held accountable for the misconduct or incompetence by the Williamson County legal system that put him in prison and kept him there. . . . Justice won't be served until there are answers. Morton through his lawyers has made that clear. He and the public are owed a full explanation of why the system broke down, given what has come to light in the past few weeks regarding evidence that prosecutors and law enforcement hid from Morton's attorneys that could have established his innocence. A motion filed by Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley might have buried chances of investigating the way his predecessor handled the case. Bradley filed a motion to expedite Morton's appeal. The practical effect of the motion would have closed the case — and with it any investigation into how it was handled.

Innocence: Three Men Walk Free in One Day After Unrelated Murder Convictions Overturned

Death Penalty Information Center

10-12-11 -- On October 4, three men were released from prisons in Chicago (Illinois), Austin (Texas), and Los Angeles (California), after serving a combined six decades in prison for unrelated murders when courts overturned their convictions. In Texas, Michael Morton, who was convicted of killing his wife in 1986 based on circumstancial evidence, was cleared by new DNA tests. Jacques Rivera from Illinois was convicted of a gang-related murder on the basis of false evidence. In California, Obie Anthony's murder conviction was overturned after it was established that the primary witness in his case had lied after making a deal with the prosecution. While these defendants were not facing execution for their murder convictions, their cases highlight flaws in the criminal justice system that have also led to wrongful convictions in death penalty cases. "I thank God this wasn't a capital case. I only had life," Mr. Morton said after his release. In Morton's case, prosecutors withheld a statement by his son saying that he was not the killer. Government misconduct, along with false eyewitness testimony, false or coerced confessions, and use of informants, are some of the leading causes of wrongful convictions, according to the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization that assisted in the release of the three defendants. / Read more


An 'open and shut case' vs. an innocent man: Daniel Gristwood was imprisoned 9 years for beating his wife, but N.Y. state police had it wrong

By John O'Brien / The Post-Standard

10-09-11 -- Mastho Davis always knew.

He knew that in January 1996 he wandered into a stranger’s apartment in Clay and pounded Christina Gristwood in the head three times with a hammer he found on the counter. He left her brain-damaged and paralyzed on one side. . . . Seven years later, he tried to confess to Onondaga County jail deputies while he was held on a different assault. Later, he tried to admit in open court that he beat Gristwood, but the judge kept resisting the confession. . . . Davis was crazed and violent, but he had a conscience. In August 2003, he tried again. He walked into the Syracuse Police Department late one night and again told officers he’d beaten a woman with a hammer in 1996. . . . It’d be another two years before a judge finally accepted what Davis knew all along. . . . But for all those years, someone else knew the truth, too. . . . Christina’s husband, Daniel Gristwood, seethed in prison. A judge, jury and prosecutor had sent him there for the crime, persuaded by a false confession coerced by state police investigators. . . . “I’ve lost everything in my life – my wife, my children, my job, my freedom, everything,” Daniel Gristwood wrote in a letter from prison. “Why am I being railroaded like this?”


`Incendiary' review: Justice, or just business as usual?

By Stephen Whitty/The Star-Ledger

10-07-11 -- The Papacy is not the only institution in the world that lays a claim to infallibility. . . . So, apparently, does the Texas Department of Justice. Over the years, they have executed over 1200 prisoners. Every one, they firmly claim, was guilty, and deserved to die. . . . “Incendiary” disagrees. . . . Taking the case of Cameron Todd Willingham (already the subject of an excellent article in the New Yorker), the film focuses on a horrible event – and perhaps an even more horrible miscarriage of justice. . . . A foul-mouthed and abusive husband, Willingham was no saint. But was he the sort of person who’d wake up one morning, set his own house on fire, and watch his three little daughters burn to death? . . . Prosecutors said so, and they said their arson investigation scientifically proved it. . . . The problem – as both the New Yorker and “Incendiary” point out – is that unless done correctly, these sorts of investigations often have very little science to them at all. Instead, the experts – who may have as little as a few weeks of training – work backwards.


Death row inmate harmed by law firm error may get second chance from high court

Marcia Coyle, The National Law Journal

10-04-11 -- Alabama death row inmate Cory Maples, who lost his chance to bring a critical appeal because of a mailroom snafu in a New York law firm, may be getting a second chance from the U.S. Supreme Court. . . . In fast-paced arguments on Tuesday that delved into the obligations of lawyers representing criminal defendants, all of the justices, with the exceptions of Justice Antonin Scalia and a silent Justice Clarence Thomas, appeared concerned about the predicament in which Maples finds himself and skeptical of the state's arguments that they should do nothing about it. . . . Maples, sentenced to death for the 1995 murders of two men, was represented pro bono in his state post-conviction appeal by two associates at New York's Sullivan & Cromwell. As required by Alabama rules at the time, the two lawyers associated themselves with a local attorney, John Butler, in order to be admitted to practice in the state. Although the rules required Butler to be jointly and severally responsible for the case, he claimed his only role was to secure the New York attorneys' admission.


Judge orders stay of Wednesday's execution

By Bill Rankin, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

10-04-11 -- A state court judge on Tuesday delayed Wednesday's scheduled execution of Marcus Ray Johnson to give his legal team the opportunity to see if DNA testing can be conducted on available biological evidence. Johnson sits on death row for the 1994 rape and murder of Angela Sizemore in Albany. . . . State prosecutors will appeal the order signed by Dougherty County Superior Court Judge Willie Lockette to the Georgia Supreme Court. Johnson had been scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection at 7 p.m. at the state prison in Jackson. . . . "I'm extremely gratified the court has recognized there's a capital case with a question of innocence with available biological evidence that can be tested with modern DNA methods," Brian Kammer, a lawyer for Johnson, said of Lockette's decision.


Judge overturns murder conviction in 1994 slaying

Jurist criticizes prosecutors for not revealing that the main witness received leniency in return for his testimony implicating Obie Anthony in a case featured in the LAPD book 'The Killing Season.'

|By Jack Dolan, Los Angeles Times  

10-01-11 -- A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge on Friday overturned the murder conviction of a man who has spent 17 years behind bars for a killing outside a South L.A. brothel — a slaying that was prominently featured in a book about two LAPD homicide detectives. . . . The judge ordered that Obie Anthony, 37, be released from prison after concluding that the prosecution's key witness, a pimp, lied to the jury. The witness has since admitted he never clearly saw the gunman at the scene of the crime.

September 2011


Judge Overturns Conviction and Vacates Life Sentence of Northern California Innocence Project Client

In a case representing a record third exoneration in one year, NCIP lawyers assist in getting a Los Angeles man's murder and attempted robbery convictions set aside by uncovering new evidence of innocence

Business Wire / Market Watch 

09-30-11 -- A Los Angeles County superior court judge today threw out the 1995 murder and attempted robbery convictions of Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) client Obie Anthony. . . . Judge Kelvin Filer granted the habeas petition on the basis of the cumulative harm of prosecutorial misconduct in the case. Specifically, the judge cited the trial prosecutor's failure to correct the false testimony of its key witness, and the prosecution's failure to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense -- specifically the fact that the prosecution's key witness received a "sweetheart deal" in exchange for his testimony against Anthony. . . . In overturning the conviction, Judge Filer said that the prosecution's chief witness, around whom the entire case for trial was built, "will say almost anything to avoid consequences to himself . . . in an earlier proceeding, he lied about the death of his own mother."


Lawyers argue Haynesworth's innocence before Appeals Court

By: Jim Nolan ,Richmond Times Dispatch  

09-28-11 -- Prosecutors in Richmond and Henrico County, as well as Virginia's attorney general, all believe Thomas E. Haynesworth is innocent. . . . Now it's up to the nine judges on the Virginia Court of Appeals. . . . The court on Tuesday heard arguments from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and lawyers from the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project on behalf of Haynesworth, who is seeking writs of actual innocence to clear his name of crimes officials now believe, thanks to DNA evidence, that he did not commit. . . . Haynesworth, 46, who spent 27 years behind bars before being paroled by Gov. Bob McDonnell in March, attended the 30-minute hearing, during which judges questioned how much weight should be given to testimony from eyewitnesses that was used to convict him in 1984.

Virginia AG Not Only Seeks to Exonerate Paroled Rapist But Hires Him to Work in AG’s Office

By Martha Neil, ABA Journal

09-28-11 -- Convinced that a convicted rapist exonerated by DNA evidence in two cases, after serving 27 years, is also innocent in two other cases, Virginia's top law enforcement official has personally apologized and is trying to persuade a state appeals court to clear Thomas Haynesworth's record completely. . . . And Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II has also given the 46-year-old Haynesworth a job in his own office, reports the Washington Post.


Motion: Botched DNA Evidence Used To Convict Man Of Rape

State Attorney Says Man's DNA Sample Was Swapped With Victim's Boyfriend's

WKMG Orlando

09-26-11 -- Authorities are asking a judge to release evidence in a 2004 rape case because there was a mistake with the DNA testing that helped convict a man of the crime. . . . The state attorney's office says there was a mistake made in DNA testing that connected Andrew Lingard to the rape. . . . Lingard was convicted of home invasion robbery and two counts of rape by threat of a deadly weapon in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison. . . . The state attorney's office filed a motion on Monday asking for the original rape kit to be released for further testing and for new DNA swabs from Lingard to be tested.


Attorneys seeking reversal of man's conviction for 1982 LaSalle Park murder

By Valerie Schremp Hahn, 

09-26-11 -- Attorneys have filed a petition alleging that a St. Louis man is innocent in the 1982 rape and murder of court reporter Mary Bell in her LaSalle Park home. . . . At the first trial of George Allen Jr., jurors voted 10-2 to acquit. Three months later, a different jury found him guilty. Allen, now 55, has served more than 29 years of a 95-year sentence. . . . Allen's supporters have since professed his innocence, saying his confession was coached and that no physical evidence linked him to the crime. . . . Now, attorneys for the Bryan Cave law firm and the New York City-based non-profit Innocence Project, filed a petition of habeas corpus in Cole County this morning, saying that they have more evidence that proves that Allen, a diagnosed schizophrenic, did not commit the crime. They hope for a meeting with the Missouri Attorney General's office, which would handle the case for the state at this point, or hope a judge will grant them a hearing for them to argue in more detail that Allen is innocent.


Innocence: North Carolina Exonerates Two Men Who Faced Possible Death Sentences

Death Penalty Information Center

09-26-11 -- On September 22, Kenneth Kagonyera and Robert Wilcoxson (pictured l. to r.) were exonerated of murder and freed from prison in North Carolina after a special commission ruled they were innocent.  The two men spent a decade in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder.  They have consistently maintained their innocence, claiming that they only pled guilty because they were threatened with the death penalty and feared execution.  The exonerations came after a 3-judge panel of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission found sufficient evidence pointing to the men's innocence, including a confession from another man and DNA testing that implicated other suspects.  Ken Rose, an attorney with the Durham-based Center for Death Penalty Litigation, said, "Along with executing an innocent person, coercing a guilty plea with the threat of lethal injection underscores the terrific risk associated with having a death penalty.... This case highlights the substantial threat that the use of the death penalty poses to innocent persons.  In North Carolina in just the last several years, three innocent men - Edward Chapman, Levon Jones and Jonathon Hoffman - were exonerated from death row."


Cleared of Rape but Lacking Full Exoneration

John Schwartz, Blue Ridge     

09-24-11 -- One Sunday morning in February 1984, Thomas Haynesworth’s mother sent him to the Trio supermarket to pick up some bread and sweet potatoes. . . . He never got there. Instead, he was stopped and questioned in connection with a recent rape. That began a 27-year odyssey through false accusation, arrest, prison and pain. . . . Mr. Haynesworth, then 18 and never in trouble with the law, had been mistakenly identified by the victim as her assailant. He was arrested on suspicion of having committed five rapes and assaults in his neighborhood, and was tried for four of them. He was convicted in three and sentenced to 84 years in prison.******** With no one arguing against exoneration, most judges would be expected to congratulate Mr. Haynesworth on his new life, perhaps with an apology as well, and send him into daylight and freedom. But in July, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals of Virginia said, in essence, “Not so fast.” The court called for additional briefs in the case, which will be heard again on Tuesday by all of the judges of the court. . . . It is a move that has left legal experts astonished. “It’s very rare for a court to set a case for argument when all the parties are agreed,” said Stephen J. Schulhofer, an expert in criminal justice at New York University law school, adding that “it’s essentially unheard of” for a court to take matters into its own hands, instead of appointing a special advocate to argue on behalf of the interests that they believe are unrepresented.


Motion: Botched DNA Evidence Used To Convict Man Of Rape

State Attorney Says Man's DNA Sample Was Swapped With Victim's Boyfriend's

WKMG Orlando

09-26-11 -- Authorities are asking a judge to release evidence in a 2004 rape case because there was a mistake with the DNA testing that helped convict a man of the crime. . . . The state attorney's office says there was a mistake made in DNA testing that connected Andrew Lingard to the rape. . . . Lingard was convicted of home invasion robbery and two counts of rape by threat of a deadly weapon in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison. . . . The state attorney's office filed a motion on Monday asking for the original rape kit to be released for further testing and for new DNA swabs from Lingard to be tested.


Attorneys seeking reversal of man's conviction for 1982 LaSalle Park murder

By Valerie Schremp Hahn,  

09-26-11 -- Attorneys have filed a petition alleging that a St. Louis man is innocent in the 1982 rape and murder of court reporter Mary Bell in her LaSalle Park home. . . . At the first trial of George Allen Jr., jurors voted 10-2 to acquit. Three months later, a different jury found him guilty. Allen, now 55, has served more than 29 years of a 95-year sentence. . . . Allen's supporters have since professed his innocence, saying his confession was coached and that no physical evidence linked him to the crime. . . . Now, attorneys for the Bryan Cave law firm and the New York City-based non-profit Innocence Project, filed a petition of habeas corpus in Cole County this morning, saying that they have more evidence that proves that Allen, a diagnosed schizophrenic, did not commit the crime. They hope for a meeting with the Missouri Attorney General's office, which would handle the case for the state at this point, or hope a judge will grant them a hearing for them to argue in more detail that Allen is innocent.


Cleared of Rape but Lacking Full Exoneration

John Schwartz, Blue Ridge     

09-24-11 -- One Sunday morning in February 1984, Thomas Haynesworth’s mother sent him to the Trio supermarket to pick up some bread and sweet potatoes. . . . He never got there. Instead, he was stopped and questioned in connection with a recent rape. That began a 27-year odyssey through false accusation, arrest, prison and pain. . . . Mr. Haynesworth, then 18 and never in trouble with the law, had been mistakenly identified by the victim as her assailant. He was arrested on suspicion of having committed five rapes and assaults in his neighborhood, and was tried for four of them. He was convicted in three and sentenced to 84 years in prison.******** With no one arguing against exoneration, most judges would be expected to congratulate Mr. Haynesworth on his new life, perhaps with an apology as well, and send him into daylight and freedom. But in July, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals of Virginia said, in essence, “Not so fast.” The court called for additional briefs in the case, which will be heard again on Tuesday by all of the judges of the court. . . . It is a move that has left legal experts astonished. “It’s very rare for a court to set a case for argument when all the parties are agreed,” said Stephen J. Schulhofer, an expert in criminal justice at New York University law school, adding that “it’s essentially unheard of” for a court to take matters into its own hands, instead of appointing a special advocate to argue on behalf of the interests that they believe are unrepresented.


Judges rule Asheville men convicted of murder are innocent

By Clarke Morrison and Jon Ostendorff, Citizen 

09-22-11 -- Video evidence taped over with a segment from a daytime soap opera. A dismissed confession from a man never charged. A defense attorney’s admission that he put on too much pressure to accept a plea deal. . . . All added to a case fraught with errors — from the day a sheriff later convicted of corruption stepped into an interrogation room to revelations that DNA evidence that might have cleared two Asheville men of murder never made it to defense attorneys. . . . The weight of those mistakes and others convinced three judges Thursday that Buncombe County deputies and prosecutors botched the murder investigation. . . . The panel ordered both men set free — almost 11 years after being jailed for a killing in which they had no part.


Dad freed from conviction: 'It's over'

Murder charges dropped in 2004 death of infant daughter.

Nicole Norfleet , Star Tribune / The Associated Press contributed to this report

09-18-11 -- It was his youngest daughter's first day of school, and Michael Ray Hansen wasn't there. . . . "All I got was a picture in the mail of them getting off the bus," said Hansen, 34, now of Blaine. . . . That image, from the early part of his six years in prison, was just one of many events he missed out on during his time behind bars for the 2004 murder of his infant daughter in Alexandria, Minn. -- charges now dropped by prosecutors. . . . On Friday, about a week before Hansen's new trial was to begin, the Douglas County Attorney's Office dropped all charges against him and said it "no longer believes that it can prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." . . . The exoneration came after a judge in July had vacated Hansen's conviction and ordered a new trial based on evidence presented by the Innocence Project of Minnesota, saying that there was evidence that the Ramsey County medical examiner might have given "false or incorrect" testimony at the first trial. He was released from prison in August.


Judge orders $125k for man wrongfully convicted

Associated Press, Houston Chronicle

09-12-11 -- A Utah judge says a Louisiana man convicted of an aggravated robbery in 2003 is factually innocent of the crime. . . . Court records show 3rd District Judge Royal Hansen signed an order vacating Harry Miller's conviction and lifetime prison sentence on Monday. . . . Hansen also ordered the state to pay Miller nearly $125,000 in reparations for his wrongful conviction.


Former Va. death row inmate could walk free

By Maggie Fazeli Fard  Washington Post (blog)

09-02-11 -- A former death row inmate convicted in a Prince William County slaying could be released from prison now that a Virginia judge has tossed the gun and drug convictions against him, reports the Associated Press. . . . Justin Michael Wolfe, 30, has served nearly 10 years since being convicted of murder-for-hire in the slaying of his marijuana supplier, Daniel Petrole, in 2001. . . . His death sentence was vacated in July when the same judge, U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson, ruled that the prosecution knowingly use false testimony and withheld information from the Wolfe’s attorney.

August 2011


Man freed after 13 years hopes DNA ends suspicions in ISU student’s slaying

Associated Press, Chicago Sun-Times

08-29-11 -- Alan Beaman’s conviction in a former girlfriend’s murder was overturned in 2008, but his lawyers say he lives under suspicion in spite of his freedom. . . . They hope new DNA tests requested by prosecutors in the 1993 killing of Illinois State University student Jennifer Lockmiller will help ease that suspicion rather than lead back to Beaman. . . . “Hopefully, the state and the defense are looking for the same thing. We hope the results will point to the person who killed Jennifer Lockmiller,” Chicago lawyer Jeff Urdangen told the Pantagraph newspaper in Bloomington.


Innocence: Barry Scheck Challenges Texas Decision Blocking Innocence Investigation

Death Penalty Information Center

08-26-11 -- Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project in New York, recently disagreed with the opinion issued by the Texas Attorney General limiting the power of the Forensic Science Commission to investigate the case of a possibly innocent man who was executed in 2004. The AG's decision held that the Commission does not have jurisdiction to examine evidence prior to 2005 and therefore could not look at evidence from the case of Cameron Todd Willingham (pictured), who was executed for arson based on highly questionable evidence.  In an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle, Scheck described the state attorney general's opinion as, "yet another stunning example of politics preventing the commission from carrying out the responsibilities that led the Legislature to create the commission in the first place: to ensure that what passes as forensic science in Texas court rooms is actually based on science and to prevent innocent people from being wrongly convicted based on testimony that is not scientifically based."  / Read more


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How Preconceptions and Bias May Have Led to Wrongful Convictions of West Memphis Three

Death Penalty Information Center

08-23-11 -- In a recent op-ed in the L.A. Times, Professor Jennifer L. Mnookin of the UCLA Law School provided an analysis of how preconceptions and biases toward the unconventional suspects known as the West Memphis Three may have led to their wrongful convictions and a death sentence in Arkansas in 1994.  Because of the grisly nature of the murders, investigators decided early on that it was probably related to satanic cult rituals. This theory pointed them to Damien Echols, who was a self-described Wiccan with an unusual taste in clothes and music. Mnookin explained that "cognitive biases" - the tendency of humans to see what they expect to see - played a role in these convictions. Mnookin wrote, "Investigators and prosecutors, even when they are trying their best to do their jobs, may seek out or take special notice of evidence that confirms their prior beliefs rather than evidence that challenges it. And they are likely to interpret ambiguous evidence in ways that accord with their preconceptions." For example, the police interviewed Echols's friend, Jessie Misskelley, who had an IQ of 72, and accepted his account of the crime even though it contradicted the evidence.  Mnookin wrote, "The prosecutor's case was based largely on character assassination, innuendo and the not-very-credible testimony of the likes of a jailhouse snitch and a witness with a mail-order doctorate. Not a shred of physical evidence linked any of the young men to the crime scene (and post-conviction DNA testing has also failed to find any biological evidence that they were there)."  Mnookin noted that at least three of the most common causes of wrongful conviction were present in the West Memphis Three case: dubious forensic evidence, false confessions and evidence from an unreliable jailhouse informants. She attributed the recent release of the defendants partly to the work of documentary filmmakers who investigated the case. / Read more


Despite Questions of Bias, John Bradley Will Stay on Innocence Appeal

by Morgan Smith, Texas Tribune

08-23-11 -- A state judge Tuesday declined to remove firebrand Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley from investigating the case of Michael Morton, whose 1987 murder conviction has been called into question after new DNA evidence suggests someone else killed his wife. . . . District court judge Billy Ray Stubblefield, who has been on the bench since 1993, said he was not prepared to take “the extraordinary act” of recusing Bradley. He said he had a “high degree of confidence” in the two assistant district attorneys in Bradley’s office handling the appeal and that he would “take this case as seriously as any case that has come before me in 19 years on this court.”


Relief delayed for prisoners deemed wrongfully convicted

U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson failed for years to rule on a number of eligible habeas corpus petitions. In one case, the prisoner died in the sixth year of the judge's inaction.

By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times 

08-21-11 -- Justice delayed was justice denied for Omer Harland Gallion. He died in prison in his sixth year of waiting for U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson to act on a decision that he had been wrongfully convicted and should be released or retried. . . . Anderson took no action until December, when he dismissed the matter as moot after an attorney brought Gallion's death to his attention. . . . Two other cases in which junior judicial officials found grounds for striking prisoners' felony convictions also languished unattended by Anderson for five and a half and eight years, respectively. Another prisoner who petitioned for relief in 2002 is still waiting for an answer. . . . Prisoners who appeal to federal judges with claims of wrongful conviction are rarely successful in their quests for relief, known as writs of habeas corpus, "the great writ" that is a hallmark of American justice. Only 1 in 284 petitions is approved, according to a 2006 report by a Vanderbilt University law professor. But ignoring recommendations for relief in the few meritorious cases among the 17,000 or so filed each year raises concern about a judge's objectivity, judicial scholars say.


The West Memphis Three and the Urgent Need for Criminal Justice Reform

John Mark Byers, adoptive father of Christopher Byers, a victim in the 1993 killings of three West Memphis, Ark. , children, proclaims the innocence of three men convicted in the case outside of the Craighead County Court House in Jonesboro, Ark.


08-19-11 -- The Memphis Three were freed today after spending nearly two decades in prison. Several documentaries were made about the case, and a number of celebrities and musicians rallied behind the men. If you’re not familiar with the case, read this. . . . Alyssa Rosenberg sums up the implications of the case and the newfound freedom rather nicely:

I am, of course, pleased to see that the West Memphis Three, men who were convicted in 1993 of killing three 8-year-old boys as part of a theoretically Satanic ritual on the confession of one of their number who was later diagnosed as mentally handicapped, a confession which was later clouded by new DNA evidence, are getting out of jail. I’d hesitate to celebrate this as any kind of victory for American justice, however. That it takes three HBO documentaries, a celebrity benefit album organized by Henry Rollins, and the quiet financial support of Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh to free three wrongfully convicted men is an illustration of how difficult, and how expensive it is to exonerate people who are on death row. As long as we have to rely on campaigns like these, we are extraordinarily unlikely to regularly and promptly recognize grievous errors. And as David Grann’s reporting into the evidence that convicted Cameron Todd Willingham and sent him to his death indicates, sometimes even those heroic efforts won’t come fast enough to give people some of their lives back.

New Resources: The Causes of Wrongful Convictions

Death Penalty Information Center

08-18-11 -- The Innocence Project has launched a new multimedia resource illustrating the main causes of wrongful convictions and the reforms necessary to prevent such mistakes. This interactive tool, “Getting it Right,” features videos, case studies and research on such topics as false confessions, eyewitness identification, informant testimony, and failures by the defense and prosecution. Three  death penalty cases are highlighted: Ron Williamson, Earl Washington, Jr., and Ray Krone, who collectively spent 44 years in prison or on death row before the discovery of their innocence and eventual exoneration. Washington's lawyer had never handled a death penalty case before.  He was convicted after a five-hour trial and came within nine days of execution. Williamson was convicted based on questionable forensic evidence that seemed to tie him to the scene of the crime. At one point, Williamson came within five days of execution.  Krone was convicted on the basis of faulty bite-mark evidence that even the FBI indicated was not a match to Krone.  All three were later exonerated based on DNA evidence. / Read more


Man in Prison for 25 Years May be Innocent

Innocence Project raising alarms about incarceration

Jim Forsyth, WOAI Radio

08-18-11 -- A potentially scary case in central Texas, as attorneys say a man who has been in prison since 1986 for killing his wife may in fact be innocent, 1200 WOAI news reports. . . . The Innocence Project, a volunteer group of researchers and attorneys who act as advocates for the improperly convicted, say its time that the state deal with the case of Michael Morton. . . . Morton, 57, was convicted of beating his wife to death at their home near Georgetown, north of Austin.  Morton maintained that an intruder into the home committed the crime. . . . Now, Innocence Project attorney Nina Morrison has filed court papers in Williamson County saying the district attorney at the time was biased against Morton, and she says newly tested DNA found on a blood-stained bandana in the Morton home matches the victim and a different man.


Jury Rules Against Texas Pair That Sued Officials for Wrongful Imprisonment

Posted by Victor Li, The Am Law Daily

08-15-11 -- Jesus Ramirez and Alfredo Sifuentes spent 12 years in prison for a murder they say they didn't commit before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals vacated their convictions. It took a federal jury less than five hours to decide that the two men weren't entitled to collect damages from those who put them away. . . . As previously reported by The Am Law Daily, Ramirez and Sifuentes—represented by the same Haynes and Boone lawyers who helped win their freedom—filed a civil rights suit in Lubbock federal district court in April 2009 alleging that authorities had conspired against them and committed misconduct in arresting and prosecuting them for the 1996 killing of a woman at a Littlefield, Texas, convenience store. . . . In their complaint—which named Lamb County, Texas, prosecutor Mark Yarbrough, former Texas Ranger Sal Abreo, Littlefield police officer Leonel Ponce, Lamb County, and the city of Littlefield as defendants—Ramirez and Sifuentes accused the law enforcement officials of suppressing or manufacturing evidence, ignoring the men's alibi, and using shoddy investigative procedures during the murder probe. The men sought $12 million apiece in damages—$1 million for each year they were imprisoned—for false arrest, wrongful imprisonment, unconstitutional eyewitness identification procedures, and defamation.


Virginia to appeal ruling that tossed ‘02 death sentence in drug dealer’s murder-for-hire plot

By Associated Press, Washington Post 

08-08-11 -- The Virginia Attorney General’s office plans to appeal after a judge threw out the conviction of a Virginia death row inmate and chastised the prosecution for using a witness who lied on the stand. . . . The office filed notice Monday with the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to challenge a federal judge’s ruling last month that threw out 30-year-old Justin Michael Wolfe’s murder-for-hire conviction. . . . Wolfe has been on death row for nearly a decade for the 2001 slaying of his marijuana supplier, Daniel Petrole, in Prince William County. . . . In a scathing ruling, U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson said the prosecution erred in using testimony from shooter Owen Barber, who said Wolfe paid him to kill Petrole but later recanted. He rejected prosecutors’ claims that they did not know Barber’s testimony was false at the time.


Working to Free Justin Michael Wolfe

Wolfe Falsely convicted of Murder for Hire, Justin is fighting for his life. . . . He had No Criminal Record or History of Violence. Knowing he could be facing charges for selling marijuana to his friends, he voluntarily turned himself in to clear his name. . . . He has been victimized by a system in which - Procedure Overrules Innocence. . . . But his innocence does not change even though a jury rendered a verdict based on incomplete, inaccurate and unreliable evidence.


Charges Dropped Against Sailor Convicted of Capital Murder and Rape

Death Penalty Information Center

08-06-11 -- On August 4 in Virginia, Norfolk Circuit Court Judge Charles Poston accepted the state's request to dismiss charges against Derek Tice, one of four men known collectively as the Norfolk Four (pictured; Tice is at the lower left), who were originally convicted of a rape and murder following a suspect series of confessions.  All four were sentenced to prison.  Appeals by attorneys for the Norfolk Four alleged that Robert Glenn Ford, the police detective in the case, obtained false confessions from the men, partly by using the threat of the death penalty. A fifth man, Omar Ballard, later confessed to committing the crime alone, and his DNA matched evidence from the crime scene, while the DNA from the four sailors was not a match. Former Governor Tim Kaine granted commutations to three of  the four who remained in prison in 2009.  However, the men remained on probation and were required to register as sex offenders in their communities. Derek Tice is the first to fully clear his name. Officer Ford was later convicted of multiple counts of extortion and lying to federal agents in another matter.  Ballard is serving multiple life sentences. / Read more


Attorneys seek dismissal of hundreds of local drug cases

By Kameel Stanley, Curtis Krueger and John Barry, Tampabay Times Staff Writers

08-05-11 -- Tampa Bay defense lawyers are asking judges to free hundreds of people from local jails and throw out their drug charges because of a recent ruling by a federal judge. . . . "It has great potential to open the floodgates," said St. Petersburg defense attorney Frank Louderback, who already has filed motions to dismiss some drug cases because of the new ruling. . . . U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven of Orlando said in her ruling last week that a "draconian and unreasonable" Florida law violates the U.S. Constitution by allowing people to be convicted of drug possession even if they didn't intend to possess drugs.


Judge dismisses lawsuit over wrongful Beatrice convictions

By Kevin O'Hanlon and Lori Pilger / Lincoln Journal Star

08-04-11 -- A federal judge has dismissed lawsuits filed by four people wrongly convicted of a 1985 murder against Gage County and several county officials. . . . Kathy Gonzalez, JoAnn Taylor, Thomas Winslow and James Dean were among six people convicted in the death and rape of Helen Wilson, 68. . . . In 2008, DNA testing on evidence preserved from the crime scene exonerated the six and identified another man as the sole killer. . . . Five of the six were pardoned in early 2009, and the case against Joseph White was dropped. They became the first people in Nebraska to be exonerated by DNA testing under the DNA Testing Act passed by the Nebraska Legislature in 2001.


Texas Blocks Investigation into Execution of Possibly Innocent Man

Death Penalty Information Center

08-01-11 -- On July 29, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott ruled that the state's Forensic Science Commission (FSC) does not have authority to review evidence regarding the possible innocence of Cameron Todd Willingham (pictured), who was executed in 2004.  Willingham was convicted of setting the fire that killed his three children, but investigtions by prominent forensic scientists have discredited the evidence of arson presented at trial.  Abbott said evidence that was tested or offered into evidence prior to September 1, 2005 is beyond the scope of the FSC's legal jurisdiction.  In 2008, the Innocence Project filed a complaint with the FSC alleging professional negligence by arson investigators in the case. The Commission previously issued a report finding that the original arson investigators relied on now-outdated science in concluding that the fire was intentionally set. In a statement released by the Innocence Project, Co-Director Barry Scheck said, "We are disappointed in the Attorney General’s ruling.... We believe the reasoning of the opinion is wrong and contrary to the clear intention of the legislature when it formed the Commission. We urge the legislature to correct this injustice and fully empower the Commission to investigate all matters that could help prevent wrongful convictions." / Read more

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July 2011


Wrongly convicted sees rapist sentenced

Man lost 12 years in jail in ’91 crime

By Brian R. Ballou, Globe Staff

07-29-11 -- During his 12 years behind bars on rape charges, Anthony Powell staunchly maintained his innocence. Eventually, DNA forensics, which had come of age, showed that he was telling the truth, and he was freed. . . . Yesterday, Powell sat in a Suffolk County courtroom as another man, Jerry Dixon, admitted in a low, gruff voice that he committed the brutal 1991 rape in question and two other, similar rapes months apart. . . . Powell remained expressionless throughout the proceedings and glanced only briefly at Dixon, about 30 feet away. After Dixon, 38, of Dorchester, pleaded guilty and was led out of the courtroom to begin serving a 30-year sentence, Powell, 40 and now living in New York state, declined to talk with reporters. . . . But Howard Friedman, the Boston-based attorney who represented Powell in a federal civil rights claim stemming from his wrongful conviction, said Powell remains upset that he has not received an apology from Judge Robert A. Mulligan, who presided over the case and is now the Superior Court’s chief justice for administration and management.


Texas Court Stays Execution to Review Claim of Innocence

Death Penalty Information Center

07-29-11 -- On July 28, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed the scheduled August 18 execution of Larry Swearingen in order to consider new evidence that might prove his innocence.  Swearingen was convicted of the 1998 murder of Melissa Trotter, whose body was found in the Sam Houston National Forest.  Trotter was last seen alive with Swearingen.  Forensic scientists who examined the evidence from Trotter's body have said that she could not have been in the forest for longer than two weeks, which means that her murder would have happened while Swearingen was in jail for an unrelated offense.  In 2007, Dr. Joye Carter, a medical examiner who testified at Swearingen’s trial in 2000 that the victim had been in the forest for 25 days, changed her original conclusion after reviewing new evidence that indicated the murder happened within two weeks of the body's discovery. / Read more


Report: LA fed judge lets inmate reports languish

The Associated Press, San Jose Mercury News

07-28-11 -- A federal judge in Los Angeles has let reports recommending inmates who may have been wrongly convicted languish for years, saying he was either drafting an opinion or there were many documents to review. . . . The Daily Journal reported Thursday that U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson has had the opportunity to rule on three cases where evidence could exonerate the inmates but he failed to do so.


Justice denied

DeChristopher sentenced to prison

Salt Lake Tribune 

07-27-11 -- Tim DeChristopher is on his way to prison. The climate-change activist Tuesday was handed a sentence he did not deserve after a trial in which he was not allowed to explain the reasons for his action, when his motivation was his only real defense. . . . DeChristopher certainly is a martyr for those who want to focus attention on human-caused global warming, and he probably takes some comfort in that. He said he has no regrets. But this extreme sentence, more than a rallying point, is an indictment of the judicial system that zeroed in on one young man who was acting according to his conscience but looks the other way when others illegally make the opposite point. . . . U.S. District Judge Dee Benson sentenced DeChristopher, 30, to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He was convicted in March of bidding on oil and gas leases during a December 2008 federal auction. A jury found DeChristopher defrauded the federal government, running up a $1.8 million tab he couldn’t pay.


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States look to right wrong convictions

By Jon Ostendorff, USA TODAY

07-18-11 -- Kenneth Kagonyera had been in the county jail for 13 months when he finally gave in. . . . Prosecutors and investigators interrogated him repeatedly, he says, and told him he faced at least 25 years in prison for first-degree murder, with life or a death sentence possible. So he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the 2000 slaying of Walter Rodney Bowman. . . . "It just kind of wore down on me," he later told the commission investigating whether the justice system wrongly imprisoned him. . . . Kagonyera was sentenced to 15 years in prison, as was his co-defendant, Robert Wilcoxson. Both continue to maintain their innocence. . . . In September, the two men are scheduled to have a hearing before a three-judge panel that could free them. The hearing comes after the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission in April found enough evidence to indicate the men are innocent. That evidence includes the confession of another man and DNA testing that points to other suspects.


Possible Innocence: Federal Judge Overturns Capital Murder Convition in Virginia, Citing Prosecutorial Misconduct

Death Penalty Information Center

07-13-11 -- On July 12, U.S. District Court Judge Raymond A. Jackson overturned the murder conviction and death sentence of Justin Wolfe (pictured), who allegedly orchestrated the slaying of his marijuana supplier, Daniel Petrole Jr., in Virginia over a decade ago.  Judge Jackson ruled that prosecutors in Wolfe's case withheld or ignored crucial evidence that could have helped Wolfe's defense.  The Court held that Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert and his assistant Richard Conway allowed the use of false testimony from the admitted shooter that linked Wolfe to the slaying, failed to disclose evidence that others might have wanted to kill Petrole, and orchestrated the testimony of key witnesses.  The key state witness against Wolfe later recanted his testimony.  Judge Jackson wrote, "Ebert and Conway’s actions served to deprive Wolfe of any substantive defense in a case where his life would rest on the jury’s verdict.  The Court finds these actions not only unconstitutional in regards to due process, but abhorrent to the judicial process.” The Court also found that Wolfe's Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury was violated by the improper exclusion of a potential juror. / Read more


Intoxication conviction upheld

High court ruling involving woman who had a designated driver spurs call to modify law

Written by Carrie Ritchie, Indy Star

07-01-11 -- An Indiana Supreme Court ruling has some worried that riding with a designated driver after a night of drinking could still land them in jail. . . . The state's highest court this week upheld a woman's public intoxication conviction for being drunk while riding as a passenger in a car. . . . The 4-1 ruling has one state lawmaker renewing his call for changes to the state's public intoxication law, which allows people to be arrested when they're drunk in public even if they're not hurting anyone or being disruptive. . . . "I don't think the court did anything wrong in its decision," said Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis. "I think it just shows that until we change the law, more innocent people are going to be made (into criminals)."

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June 2011


Tim Masters: Exoneration a 'good feeling after 25 years'

Former suspect in 1987 slaying now formally cleared

Written by Trevor Hughes, The Coloradoan

06-29-11 -- Tim Masters has always known he had nothing to do with the 1987 murder of Peggy Hettrick in Fort Collins. Now, so does everyone else. . . . Attorney General John Suthers announced Tuesday that a grand jury investigation of Hettrick's slaying had ruled out Masters as a suspect, formally exonerating him. . . . A jury convicted Masters of murder in 1999, and he spent nearly 10 years in prison before new DNA testing techniques provided evidence pointing toward another suspect. But even though Masters was freed in 2008, he technically remained a suspect. . . . "Based on the testimony, the forensic analysis and the crime scene analysis, the overwhelming conclusion is that Timothy Masters was not involved in the murder of Peggy Hettrick," Suthers said in a statement. "Masters cooperated fully with our investigation, including the grand jury proceedings. Given the nature and extent of the grand jury investigation, the time has come for law enforcement to officially exonerate Timothy Masters."


Graves continues campaign for justice

Exonerated man shares his story in Third Ward

By Kenneth Ware Jr., Houston Chronicle

06-26-11 -- A Texas man exonerated from death row last year shared a message of hope and advocacy with the Third Ward community Sunday. . . . "The very system that almost took my life for something I did not do still exists. Yet I am still hopeful," Anthony Graves, 45, told a crowd at the S.H.A.P.E. Community Center. . . . Graves spread the same message during a recent speaking tour in Germany, France, Sweden and Switzerland. . . . "I went to educate people about the death penalty and the flaws of our system," said Graves, who spent 18 years behind bars, 12 of them on death row, for the murders of a grandmother and five children in Somerville. . . . Robert Carter, who confessed to the killings, absolved Graves of the crime in his final statement moments before his execution in 2000.


New DNA test in 1994 Waukegan killing fails to match man convicted of crime, lawyer says

Prisoner has spent 15 years behind bars for Waukegan businessman's death

By Lisa Black, Ruth Fuller and Dan Hinkel, Chicago Tribune

06-20-11 -- A new DNA test of blood evidence from the 1994 murder of a prominent Waukegan businessman has been found to match someone other than the man who has served 15 years in prison for the crime, his lawyer said Monday. . . . James L. Edwards, 62, has been incarcerated since 1996, when he was convicted in the bludgeoning death of Fred Reckling, owner of Grand Appliance and TV. . . . Edwards, then already a convicted murderer, has argued that he was coerced into a confession after a 26-hour interrogation. . . . "We have been advised that there is a potential (DNA) hit, and it is not my client," said Edward's attorney, Paul DeLuca. . . . Officials will now try to get a fresh sample of the person's DNA to verify the match, he said. The person's identity has not been disclosed.

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A Watchdog Professor, Now Defending Himself

By David Carr &John Schwartz, New York Times 

06-17-11 -- For the last two years, David Protess, a renowned journalist and professor who spent three decades fighting to prove the innocence of others, has been locked in a battle to do the same for himself. It hasn’t gone as well. . . . Mr. Protess, who taught at the Medill journalism school at Northwestern University, was the founder and driving force behind the Medill Innocence Project, which was instrumental in exonerating at least 12 wrongly convicted defendants and freeing them from prison, including five who were on death row in Illinois, and in prompting then-governor George Ryan to clear the rest of death row in 2003. . . . But during an investigation into a questionable conviction, the Cook County state’s attorney turned her attention instead on Mr. Protess and his students. Since then, questions have been raised about deceptive tactics used by the Medill students, about allegations that Mr. Protess cooperated with the defense lawyers (which would negate a journalist’s legal privilege to resist subpoenas) and, most damning, whether he altered an e-mail to cover up that cooperation.


SJC overturns ’09 conviction

By Martin Finucane, Boston Globe Staff

06-11-11 -- A certificate routinely issued by the Registry of Motor Vehicles cannot be used as evidence in court that individuals have been notified that their license has been suspended or revoked, the state’s highest court ruled yesterday. . . . The Supreme Judicial Court said the introduction of the certificate in a Middlesex County case violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses testifying against him. . . . “We conclude that the registry certificate, like a certificate of drug analysis, is testimonial in nature,’’ the court said. “It is a solemn declaration made by the registrar for the purpose of establishing the fact that a notice of license revocation was mailed.’’


The Innocence Project's Poster Child with a Past

They hailed Alan Newton's exoneration—without mentioning his other case of attempted rape

By Graham Rayman, Village Voice

06-01-11 -- In 2006, a judge ordered the release of Alan Newton after 22 years in prison when a DNA test on a rape kit exonerated him. The rape kit had been misplaced by the New York City Police Department for a decade. The dramatic tale received high-profile press coverage. The Innocence Project—which specializes in using DNA tests to free the wrongly convicted—and Newton's attorney, John Schutty, got well-deserved plaudits for their work on Newton's behalf. . . . Newton had protested for years that he was innocent, filing motion after motion, seeking NYPD records, asking for help from anyone who would listen. Lots of inmates claim to be innocent, of course, but the DNA test, not available at the time of his 1985 conviction, proved it in his case. . . . Last fall, a federal court jury found his story so sympathetic that it awarded him $18.5 million for his ordeal. In that civil trial, police officials admitted to problems with the NYPD's evidence-storage system, including the existence of hundreds of unaccounted pieces of evidence. How many other people, critics ask, have been wrongfully convicted and can't prove their innocence because property has been mishandled? Alan Newton certainly wasn't the first or only person in that position.

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May 2011


Man spends 27 years wrongly imprisoned writing songs

By Kim Segal, CNN Supervising Producer, CNN

05-29-11 -- Prison-issued toilet paper is what musician William Michael Dillon used to write down most of his songs, including "Black Robes and Lawyers," which has just been released on iTunes. . . . "I was arrested for murder on August 26, 1981, for a crime I didn't commit," Dillon tells his audience as he starts strumming his guitar. "I was released on November 18, 2008. Thank you to the keepers of justice." . . . According to Dillon, justice prevailed when he was released from prison after 27 years. He is now on the Innocence Project of Florida's list of 13 prisoners exonerated by DNA evidence. . . . It was Dillon's life story and not his music that moved Grammy Award winning music producer Jim Tullio to invite Dillon to his Chicago studio to record the songs he wrote in prison. . . . "I was just blown away by this story," says Tullio, who learned about Dillon's wrongful incarceration and his dream to record an album.


Shurtleff explains 'emotional' flip-flop in Debra Brown innocence appeal

By Emiley Morgan, Deseret News

05-26-11 -- The Utah Attorney General's Office formally announced Thursday it will appeal the ruling that determined a Logan woman was factually innocent, releasing her from prison after 17 years in custody. . . . Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff explained at a news conference — in which he was backed by 26 of the state's 29 county attorneys — that he was caught up in the emotion of the moment May 9 when Brown was released. His office had announced that day that it would appeal the ruling, but hours later Shurtleff announced over his Twitter account that his office would not appeal. . . . "It was very emotional, highly charged," he said Thursday. "Many felt in their hearts that enough was enough and I was one of those."

North Carolina

Two Cases of Probable Innocence Illustrate Need for Better System of Review

Death Penalty Information Center

05-16-11 -- Attorneys for a murder defendant who may be innocent have called for reforms in the system of federal review, and particularly to the "accumulated barriers to habeas corpus review of claims of factual innocence."  Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project, along with attorneys for Dr. Jeffrey R. MacDonald in North Carolina, pointed to the mounting evidence of MacDonald's possible innocence that was dismissed by the federal courts until DNA evidence finally became available:  "MacDonald's various legal teams filed successive habeas petitions over the decades. All of these petitions were denied by the federal district court in North Carolina and by the 4th Circuit, in large measure because each new discovery was viewed, and analyzed, in isolation.... When the DNA test results were finally available, the 4th Circuit, in an abrupt turnaround, derided the piecemeal approach previously taken to one evidentiary discovery after another and instructed the district court this time to review 'the evidence as a whole' and apply 'a fresh analysis.'" / Read more


Michigan Innocence Clinic to argue today for Lorinda Swain

Final arguments filed for woman's hearing

Written by Trace Christenson, The Battle Creek Enquirer 

05-15-11 -- A written response is expected this morning shortly before defense attorneys hope to successfully argue Lorinda Swain should remain free of her prison cell. . . . Lawyers from the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School said over the weekend they will file another answer to prosecution arguments that Swain has no new evidence in the case and that Calhoun County Circuit Court Judge Conrad Sindt, overruled by an appeals court, should send Swain back to prison on her sexual assault conviction. . . . Swain, 50, was convicted by a jury in 2002 of having oral sex with her adopted son in the 1990s. She had denied the allegations and the boy, Ronnie Swain, has since recanted his testimony. . . . Last year Sindt ruled Swain was entitled to a new trial because of evidence from two witnesses that was not presented at her trial, and might have cast doubt on the allegations.

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Judge sets aside $18.5M award to NYC man cleared in rape; says no proof city withheld evidence

By Associated Press, Washington Post 

05-13-11 -- A federal judge has set aside an $18.5 million jury award to a New York City man who was exonerated after spending more than two decades in prison. . . . The New York Times says the judge ruled Thursday that Alan Newton had not proved that any city employees had deliberately withheld evidence or disregarded his right to due process.


No technicality

Innocence law a hope for justice

Salt Lake Tribune Editorial

05-11-11 -- The people of Utah have no use for a criminal justice system that cannot admit when it has made a mistake. . . . And the evidence is strong that our system made a very serious error indeed in locking Debra Brown away from her three children for 17 years for a crime that, according to the only neutral official to have recently examined the evidence, she did not commit. . . . It speaks well of our state that the Legislature has passed, and a judge has invoked, a law that recognizes that police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and juries are human and capable of error. The 2008 law allows those convicted of serious crimes to seek reversal of their convictions, based not on much-decried “legal technicalities” such as jury instructions, incompetent counsel or Miranda warnings, but actual hard evidence that they really did not commit the crime.


Editorial - Prosecutors want to make it harder for the innocent to be heard  Editorial 

05-10-11 -- As officers of the court, North Carolina district attorneys should feel ashamed for pushing legislation making it harder for wrongfully imprisoned inmates to prove their innocence. A bill in the N.C. House of Representatives would limit access to the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission and set a higher bar for those whose cases are taken. . . . The commission, some may recall, was established in 2007, partly in response to several high-profile cases in which prosecutors or law enforcement deliberately withheld potentially exculpatory evidence from the defendant and the court. . . . So far the commission has received 850 applications on behalf of inmates claiming innocence. Only one – Greg Taylor, who spent 17 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit – has been declared innocent. Because he was.


Exonerated Inmates Fight Lawyer’s Lobbying Fees

By John Schwartz, New York Times

05-09-11 -- If you are a wrongly convicted inmate in Texas and are exonerated, you stand to receive a very rewarding apology from the state. . . . Steven C. Phillips, proved innocent of rape by DNA tests in 2008 after serving nearly 25 years, got a $2 million lump sum payment, with substantial annual payments to come. . . . But then came a legal bill: $1,024, 166.67. . . . The tab did not come from the lawyer who helped free him. Instead, it came from the lawyer he hired afterward to sue the City of Dallas and the state for his wrongful imprisonment, with an agreed contingency fee of 25 percent of any award. . . . But no suit was filed on Mr. Phillips’s behalf. Instead, the lawyer, Kevin Glasheen, lobbied the state Legislature to pass a bill that in 2009 increased the payout to exonerated prisoners. What had been a simple payment of $50,000 for every year served became $80,000 for every year behind bars; the bill also called for paying freed inmates an additional $80,000 a year. Those who had been exonerated still had the option of suing, but the richer terms for settling outright significantly shifted the balance of the decision.


Woman free from prison for belated Mother's Day

Lynn DeBruin, Associated Press, Beaumont Enterprise 

05-09-11 -- A Utah woman has been freed from prison after 17 years and is celebrating a belated Mother's Day with her family after being declared "factually innocent" in a 1993 murder. . . . Fifty-three-year-old Debra Brown is the first inmate exonerated under a 2008 Utah law allowing judges to reconsider convictions based on new factual — not scientific — evidence.


Greenleaf plans legislation on timing of post-conviction appeals

By William K. Marimow, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer 

05-06-11 -- The chairman of the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee plans to propose legislation that would permit defendants to file post-conviction appeals at any time based on significant new evidence of their innocence, regardless of when that evidence was unearthed. . . . The current state law, one of the nation's most stringent, requires such evidence - unless based on DNA - to be presented to the court within 60 days of discovery.


Did Lawyers Fail Convicted Murderer? Cert Weighed in Case of Nine Alibi Witnesses

By Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal

05-03-11 -- Nine alibi witnesses say Richard Rosario was in Florida on the day of a Bronx murder, yet federal courts have refused to overturn his conviction. . . . One appeals judge deemed the performance of Rosario’s lawyers to be “a colossal failure,” the New York Times reports. Rosario was convicted based only on the testimony of two witnesses who picked his picture out of a book of police photos. . . . Rosario’s first court-appointed lawyer sought and received money for a Florida investigator to check out the alibi defense, but she didn’t follow through, the story says. Her replacement thought the court had denied the funds. Two alibi witnesses testified at trial, and seven more came forward after conviction.


Judge: Utah woman imprisoned for 15 years is innocent

By Roxanna Orellana, The Salt Lake Tribune

05-02-11 -- A 2nd District Court judge on Monday ruled Debra Brown, who has been imprisoned for more than a decade in the murder of Lael Brown, is innocent. . . . Officials at the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center were at the Utah State Prison on Monday afternoon waiting to tell Brown of the ruling. . . . "She doesn’t even know," said RMIC director Kathryn Monroe. . . . A 2:30 p.m. conference call between Judge Michael DiReda and attorneys in the case should give officials a better idea of whether the state will appeal the ruling and when Brown might be released.


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April 2011


Man acquitted in 1986 killing of Austin roommate

The Associated Press, Houston Chronicle  

04-28-11 -- A Texas judge has acquitted a man charged in the 1986 fatal shooting of his roommate in a case once dropped. . . . Judge Karen Sage on Wednesday found Jimmie Dale White not guilty in the death of Michael DesJardines. . . . Sage dismissed as unreliable the testimony of main prosecution witness Euna White Kilbert, who is White's sister. She testified White confessed to her.


Appeals court backs clearing record for one of Norfolk Four

By Louis Hansen, The Virginian-Pilot

04-21-11 -- A panel of federal appeals judges ruled Wednesday after an extensive review that one of the Norfolk Four defendants should be a free man. . . . The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit unanimously upheld a lower court's decision to grant a petition to clear the criminal record of Derek Tice, one of four former sailors convicted in the 1997 rape and murder of a Navy wife. . . . Attorneys for the former sailors immediately called for the state to permanently dismiss charges against the men. The ex-sailors, pardoned by then-Gov. Timothy M. Kaine in 2009, are free from prison but have felony criminal records, remain on supervised probation and are registered sex offenders. They say their criminal records have prevented them from living productive lives.


Decision in expungement request in 30-year-old murder prolonged

Chao Xiong, Star Tribune 

04-20-11 -- Aaron Foster Sr.'s request to have a 2007 murder charge expunged from his record was taken under advisement Wednesday morning after a contentious exchange between the judge and an assistant county attorney arguing against the expungement. . . . Foster was acquitted in 2008 of the charge levied against him for the 1981 shooting death of his girlfriend, Barbara Winn. Winn's relatives had expected Ramsey County District Court Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin to make a ruling from the bench and help resolve 30 years of grief. But Gearin gave attorneys more time to submit material to support their stance on the expungement, and could make her decision sometime next month. . . . Foster's attorney, Earl Gray, argued that he deserved the expungement because he hasn't been arrested or convicted in 30 years. Foster needed to clear his record to improve his chances of finding better work, Gray said. He submitted a list of 11 businesses where Foster was turned down for jobs in the past two years.


Federal judge considering whether Mo. city committed fraud by refusing to pay $16M ruling

Bill Draper  Associated Press, The Republic

04-17-11 -- A federal judge in Kansas City is considering a fraud probe of Lee's Summit and its attorneys after the city refused to pay $16 million to a former resident who spent several years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. . . . The case involves Ted White, who was sentenced to 50 years in prison after being convicted of molesting his stepdaughter. A federal court later determined White's estranged wife and the detective investigating the case were having an affair and had conspired to get White convicted on false charges. . . . A federal appeals court last year upheld a $16 million judgment against former detective Richard McKinley and White's ex-wife, now Tina McKinley. . . . Lee's Summit says it doesn't have to pay, despite a 2006 contract it signed with White promising to cover any award against McKinley in a federal civil lawsuit. In return for the city signing the deal, White dropped Lee's Summit and its police chief from the suit.


Judges See Injustice, but the Calendar Disagrees

By Adam Liptak, New York Times     

04-17-11 -- The federal judiciary is in something like open rebellion over a new law addressing the sentences to be meted out to people convicted of selling crack cocaine. . . . A couple of weeks ago, for instance, a judge in Massachusetts said he found it “unendurable” to have to impose sentences that are “both unjust and racist.” . . . The new law, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, narrowed the vast gap between penalties for crimes involving crack and powder cocaine, a development many judges welcomed.


DNA evidence links man to 1991 murder, may clear 5 convicted in case

By Steve Mills, Chicago Tribune reporter

04-15-11 -- Cook County prosecutors say they have reopened their investigation into the rape and murder of a suburban girl 20 years ago, after defense lawyers said DNA testing done last month linked a convicted rapist to the crime. . . . Five teenagers were convicted of the rape and murder of 14-year-old Cateresa Matthews, and three of them are still serving long prison sentences for the crime. DNA does not connect any of the five to the rape and murder, according to their lawyers. . . . The convicted rapist linked to the case by DNA was taken into custody this week on unrelated drug charges, but he has not been charged in connection with Matthews' murder and rape, according to sources. . . . Prosecutors said they are not yet prepared to throw out the convictions of the five men, who were teens when they were charged with Matthews' rape and murder. . . . A hearing is scheduled for Friday at the county courthouse in suburban Markham.


OP-ED: "The Prosecution Rests, but I Can't"

Death Penalty Information Center

04-11-11 -- A recent op-ed in the New York Times by John Thompson (pictured, right) describes his anguish after being wrongly convicted, sentenced to death, and most recently denied financial compensation in Louisiana.  He spent 18 years in prison, including 14 on death row, because prosecutors deliberately withheld evidence that could have led to his acquittal.  Thompson wrote, “The prosecutors involved in my two cases, from the office of the Orleans Parish district attorney, Harry Connick Sr., helped to cover up 10 separate pieces of evidence. And most of them are still able to practice law today.” He continued, “I don’t care about the money. I just want to know why the prosecutors who hid evidence, sent me to prison for something I didn’t do and nearly had me killed are not in jail themselves. There were no ethics charges against them, no criminal charges, no one was fired and now, according to the Supreme Court, no one can be sued.”  / Read more


Appeals Court reverses slew of Whatcom County convictions

Peter Jensen; The Bellingham Herald

04-11-11 -- At least 17 Whatcom County convictions, including some for rape and murder, have been or could be overturned on appeal because a judge improperly closed portions of jury selection before trial. . . . And the problem - as prosecutors and crime victims see it - is far more widespread, with the potential to overturn hundreds of convictions statewide, said Pam Loginsky, an attorney with the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. . . . "There's hundreds - easily," Loginsky said. "It potentially can affect a lot of people." . . . Based on a 1995 state Supreme Court ruling and a subsequent ruling in 2009, defendants have been appealing their convictions arguing their right to a public trial was violated because jurors were questioned inside a judge's chambers. . . . And in serious felony cases such as child molestation, rape and murder - when a prospective juror wouldn't want to discuss a personal experience with those crimes in front of other prospective jurors - those closures were common, said Mac Setter, the chief criminal deputy prosecutor in the Whatcom County Prosecutor's Office.


Judge dismisses murder charges against man who spent more than 20 years in prison

The action brings to an end a two-decade legal saga in which five of the six witnesses who identified Francisco "Franky" Carrillo in court as the gunman in a drive-by shooting recanted their testimony last month.

By Jack Leonard, Los Angeles Times

04-05-11 -- A Los Angeles County judge dismissed criminal charges Monday against a man who spent more than 20 years behind bars for a murder he insists he did not commit. . . . The action brings to an end a two-decade legal saga in which five of the six witnesses who identified Francisco "Franky" Carrillo in court as the gunman in a fatal drive-by shooting recanted their testimony last month. . . . Though Carrillo's conviction was overturned three weeks ago, prosecutors could have sought to retry the murder case. But the district attorney's office asked Superior Court Judge Paul A. Bacigalupo on Monday to dismiss the charges.


Arrested man turns down $25,000 from city, gets $100,000 from jury

By Frank Main Staff Reporter/ Chicago Sun-Times  

04-04-11 -- A federal jury awarded a South Side man $100,000 Monday in a lawsuit against the city alleging he was beaten by Chicago Police officers who planted drugs on him. . . . Al Williams was 35 when members of the now-disbanded Special Operations Section arrested him on May 31, 2007, near 79th and Dobson in the Grand Crossing neighborhood, his attorneys said. . . . The officers had jokingly referred to Williams as “Mr. Cataract” because he is blind in one eye, the lawsuit said. The officers allegedly struck Williams in the head with a blunt object. He was charged with cocaine possession and resisting arrest. He spent about 40 days in jail before he was released on bail. He later went to trial on the criminal charges and won. . . . “Juries have believed him twice now,” said one of Williams’ attorneys, Brendan Shiller, adding that the city rejected a $25,000 settlement offer and opted to go to trial. . . . The officers denied they had roughed up Williams or planted drugs on him. Williams had dropped the drugs on the ground after he crashed his bicycle into a utility police, the officers said.


NY AG Must Turn Over Records of Internal Probe to Man Allegedly Railroaded for Murdering His Parents

Daniel Wise, New York Law Journal 

04-04-11 -- The state Attorney General's Office must turn over materials it gathered during a six-month investigation that resulted in a decision not to re-prosecute Martin Tankleff for the 1988 murder of his parents, a U.S. magistrate judge in Central Islip ruled last week. . . . Magistrate Judge William A. Wall rejected the state's claims that the more than 200 documents were privileged and need not be turned over in response to a subpoena. . . . Lawyers for Mr. Tankleff, who spent 17 years in prison, are seeking the materials as ammunition in a $38 million damage action for wrongful conviction against Suffolk County and five of its police officers, Tankleff v. County of Suffolk, 09 civ 1207. . . . "We expect the files of the A.G.'s independent investigation to reveal exculpatory evidence Suffolk County police ignored and suppressed in their campaign to convict Marty Tankleff of his parents' murders," said Debi Cornwall, one of Mr. Tankleff's lawyers.

March 201


Lawyers seek Haynesworth's exoneration

By Frank Green, Richmond Times Dispatch  

03-31-11 -- Thomas E. Haynesworth had a front-row seat Wednesday as lawyers argued for his exoneration in his first courtroom appearance in 27 years. . . . A three-judge panel of the Virginia Court of Appeals in Richmond asked some tough questions of his lawyers and a representative of the Virginia Attorney General's Office in a hearing on Haynesworth's petition for writs of actual innocence. . . . But both sides stuck to their belief that Haynesworth is innocent of rape and other crimes in two 1984 attacks against women in Richmond's East End and eastern Henrico County. . . . "Our position is he is actually innocent," Alice T. Armstrong, an assistant attorney general, told the judges. "This case is unique and it is different from other actual innocence cases this court has addressed." . . . After the hearing, Haynesworth said he was pleased, though "I was kind of anxious — back in a courtroom."


Prosecutors Get a Mulligan, Wrongfully Convicted Man Gets Squat

By Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic  

03-30-11 -- United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote his first majority opinion of the Term Tuesday and, naturally enough, it was a 5-4 decision against the interests of a criminal defendant whose constitutional rights had been dramatically violated by prosecutors. To mark the occasion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read her dissent aloud in court (also a first for the Term) and Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Ginsburg's well-chronicled BFF, took a few shots at her in an otherwise needless concurrence joined by Justice Samuel Alito. . . . All of this, mind you, occurred before the justices heard oral argument in Walmart v. Dukes, the massive class-action case which garnered sweeping attention at the courthouse Tuesday morning. No wonder the justices seemed so grumpy when the plaintiffs' lawyers started making their discrimination case (or maybe it was just the traffic ticket Justice Scalia's got coming in for work Tuesday morning). And no wonder the Court's striking ruling in Connick v. Thompson was left largely underreported


Status of thrown-out conviction now up to prosecutors in Osage County

By Tony Rizzo, The Kansas City Star  

03-30-11 -- The stain of matricide that has plagued Dale Helmig for 17 years came closer to finally being erased Tuesday. . . . The Missouri Court of Appeals upheld a judge’s decision from late last year that threw out the mid-Missouri man’s 1996 conviction and life sentence for the 1993 killing of his mother. . . . Tuesday’s ruling leaves it up to prosecutors in Osage County, Mo., to decide if Helmig should be retried. They have 180 days to do so or the reversal of Helmig’s conviction becomes final. The prosecutor did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. . . . Helmig, 55, spent 14 years in prison before being released on bond last year. He has maintained his innocence in the killing of Norma Helmig, whose body was found in a river tied to a concrete block.


U.S. Supreme Court rejects $14 million judgment against New Orleans district attorney's office

By Laura Maggi, The Times-Picayune 

03-29-11 -- In a close decision split along ideological lines, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed rulings from lower courts and decided that the Orleans Parish district attorney's office does not have to pay a $14 million judgment to a former death row inmate who was convicted of murder after prosecutors withheld evidence. . . . Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro heralded the decision, saying it "removes a dark cloud of uncertainty that was hanging over the district attorney's office when I arrived here in 2008." . . . Cannizzaro noted that the judgment, which he estimated had grown to $20 million with interest over the past four years, would have effectively shuttered the district attorney's office. . . . The opinion was signed off on by the court's conservative majority. It was written by Justice Clarence Thomas, who was joined by Justices John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy. At issue was whether the district attorney's office could be held liable for the actions of a couple of prosecutors who admittedly hid some blood evidence favorable to John Thompson in an armed robbery case before taking him to trial in the 1984 murder of hotel executive Ray Liuzza during an Uptown stickup. . . . Prosecutors typically enjoy immunity from such lawsuits, but a jury in 2007 sided with Thompson, who sued the district attorney's office for railroading him onto death row by keeping exculpatory evidence secret in the robbery case.


Judge overturns Palmetto man's rape conviction

The Associated Press,

03-29-11 -- A judge has overturned the rape conviction and life prison sentence of a man who served 17 years in prison. . . . Circuit Judge Marc Gilner's ruling on Tuesday granted Derrick Williams a new trial on the strength of new DNA evidence that showed that other people - and not Williams - wore a gray T-shirt that the victim kept from her


Innocence Project professor pulled from class

Associated Press, Yahoo News

03-18-11 -- A Northwestern University journalism professor whose students are credited with helping to free more than 10 innocent men from prison — including death row — has been pulled from the class that made him famous amid allegations of ethics violations. . . . David Protess told the Chicago Tribune he was notified by email this week that he wouldn't be teaching the investigative journalism course for the upcoming quarter. . . . He will continue as director of the Medill Innocence Project, but he said he doesn't know whether the project will continue to be affiliated with the class. Investigative journalism students usually conduct the project's investigations. . . . Protess and his investigative reporting students have helped free more than 10 innocent men from prison, including death row, since 1996. Their work also is credited with prompting then-Gov. George Ryan to empty the state's death row in 2003, re-igniting a national debate on the death penalty and leading to the end of capital punishment in Illinois.


Murder conviction voided after 20 years

Five witnesses who identified Francisco Carrillo as the gunman in a Lynwood drive-by shooting recant. A mock staging of the crime raises doubts about whether they could ever have reliably identified the shooter.

By Jack Leonard, Los Angeles Times

03-16-11 -- Superior Court Judge Paul A. Bacigalupo posed a question to the slim man wearing blue jailhouse scrubs. Which is worse, the judge asked, an innocent man wrongfully convicted or the real perpetrator remaining free? . . . "The wrong guy going to prison," Francisco "Franky" Carrillo replied without hesitation. "For the past 20 years, I've lived that experience. And I think it's the worst predicament any human being can be under." . . . Days after the courtroom exchange, Carrillo, 37, was expected to be freed late Tuesday or Wednesday from Los Angeles County Jail, having spent two decades behind bars for a fatal drive-by shooting he insists he did not commit. . . . Bacigalupo overturned Carrillo's 1992 murder conviction Monday after witnesses recanted their identification of him as the gunman and a dramatic reconstruction of the shooting raised doubts about whether they could have ever reliably identified the shooter.


Next hearing set for man seeking exoneration in attacks

By Frank Green, Richmond Times Dispatch   

03-16-11 -- The Virginia Court of Appeals has scheduled a March 30 hearing in the case of Thomas E. Haynesworth, a Virginia inmate seeking exoneration in two 1984 attacks on women. . . . The court set aside 40 minutes for arguments, although Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and prosecutors in Richmond and Henrico County are backing, not opposing, Haynesworth's bid for freedom. . . . Christopher Mann, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said the hearing is part of the court's deliberative process. "We don't know what kind of questions the court may have," he said. . . . Cuccinelli is supporting Haynesworth and has asked the court to consider Haynesworth's petition as quickly as possible. Peter Neufeld, a co-founder of the Innocence Project, said Tuesday that he will be appearing on behalf of Haynesworth at the hearing. . . . Haynesworth, 45, has been in custody since 1984, when five women identified him as their assailant in a string of attacks. One of the five cases was not prosecuted; he was convicted in three and acquitted in another.


Judge Dismisses Capital Murder Charges After Finding State Report "Intentionally Misleading"

Death Penalty Information Center

03-14-11 -- On March 10, a North Carolina superior court judge released his opinion throwing out murder charges against Derrick Michael Allen, who was accused in the 1998 death and sexual assault of a 2-year-old girl. Judge Orlando Hudson dismissed the case after finding that a State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) report was prepared in an "inaccurate, incomplete and intentionally misleading manner.” Judge Hudson also found that an SBI agent (now suspended) and a former assistant district attorney working on the case “decided to stop further testing of items for DNA testing because they believed further testing of physical evidence of the case would not prove inculpatory to the defendant Derrick Allen and could possibly inculpate others." He wrote that Allen was coerced into entering an Alford plea (a plea in which the defendant accepts that the weight of the evidence points to his guilt but without admitting actual guilt) after being threatened with the death penalty. An autopsy showed that the girl died of shaken baby syndrome. Allen spent more than 10 years in prison.  Allen’s case was among 200 cases that an outside audit discovered were mishandled by the SBI. The audit revealed that agents failed to report correct evidence in a number of cases. Because evidence has been destroyed or is missing since Allen’s case started, Judge Hudson noted, “It is no longer possible for Mr. Allen to ever receive a fair trial.” / Read more


Posthumous Pardons in the United States

Death Penalty Information Center

03-08-11 -- A recent study by Dr. Stephen Greenspan, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado, revealed that throughout American history at least 106 individuals have been granted posthumous pardons, including 12 individuals who were executed. Although not all of the pardons were granted because of doubts about the defendant's guilt, Dr. Greenspan found that in many instances the defendant was proven, or was very likely, not guilty and had originally received biased or unfair legal proceedings.  Among those who were executed and later pardoned were Joe Arridy in Colorado (pardoned in 2011), Lena Baker in Georgia (pardoned 2005), and four men in Illinois who were hanged for their participation in the Haymarket Square riot in 1886 (pardoned 1893).  Other reasons for the pardons included a change in political, moral or legal climate, or as a reward for exemplary character. The author participated in the effort to win a pardon for Joe Arridy and noted that recent cases of innocence may have spurred an increase in posthumous pardons. / Read more


Wrongly Arrested NJ Man Wants Supreme Court to Hear His Case on Jailhouse Strip Searches

By Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal

03-08-11-- The U.S. Supreme Court will likely decide this month whether to accept the case of a New Jersey man who is challenging the constitutionality of jailhouse strip searches. . . . Albert Florence was arrested in 2005 on an outstanding warrant for an unpaid fine for a traffic offense, even though he had a document with him showing it had been paid, the New York Times reports. . . . The problems began during a traffic stop for speeding. Florence’s wife was driving his BMW and he was a passenger. Florence, a black man who works as a finance director at a car dealership, keeps the document showing payment handy because he believes police have a penchant for pulling over black men who drive nice cars. Despite his protests, he was held in jail for eight days and strip searched twice.


Judge declares Houston man innocent in '87 rape

Copyright 2010 Houston Chronicle  

03-04-11 -- A judge this morning granted the Harris County District Attorney's Office request to exonerate a Houston man of the 1987 aggravated kidnapping and sexual assault convictions that had imprisoned him for 17 years, District Attorney Patricia Lykos announced. . . . The amended dismissal orders state that advanced DNA testing, conducted at the request of the district attorney, has confirmed that George Rodriguez is actually innocent. Test results also verified that the abduction and sexual assaults of the victim, a Denver Harbor-area girl, had been committed by two other men. Manuel Beltran, 50, is serving a 60-year prison term for those offenses; Isidro Yanez, who was never charged, is now deceased. . . . Rodriguez said he hopes the new designation changes his life.


Judge orders Beaman to resubmit certificate

Associated Press, Chicago Tribune 

03-03-11 -- A judge in Champaign has asked attorneys to resubmit their request for a certificate of innocence for a Rockford man who spent 13 years in prison for murder before his conviction was overturned. . . . Champaign County Judge Jeffrey Ford rejected prosecutors' argument that the request duplicates allegations in Alan Beaman's pending clemency petition and the civil rights lawsuit he's filed.


DA: Man who spent 17 years in prison is innocent KTRK

03-02-11 -- The Harris County District Attorney's Office says a man who was imprisoned for 17 years on kidnapping and rape convictions is actually innocent. . . . Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos announced Wednesday through a press release that she's requesting a full exoneration of 50-year-old George Rodriguez. Rodriguez was one of two men convicted in 1987 of kidnapping a girl from her Denver Harbor-area home and sexual assaulting her. . . . Rodriguez was sentenced to 60 years sentence in prison but was freed in 2004 when the verdict was overturned because of an appellate ruling that faulty scientific evidence had been introduced at his trial. . . . "When this scientific inquiry began, there was no legal requirement or mandate for any further work to be done by our Office, because the case had been dismissed," Lykos said. "Instead, we acted on the most important obligation of all -- to see that the truth emerges, and that justice is done. Today, we can state that an innocent man has been vindicated." . . . The district attorney's office says DNA analysis on the only remaining evidence -- hair collected during the original sex assault examination -- cleared Rodriguez and led them to the actual offenders, who they say are Manuel Beltran and Isidro Yanez.

Outrageous Prosectution: The Eric Rinehart Story

Jack Marshall, Ethics Alarm

03-01-11 -- Reason reporter Radley Balko, who uncovered this absurd story, provides an excellent analysis of the child pornography laws and mandatory sentencing. But the ethical breakdown here is primarily in one place, the federal prosecutor’s office. . . . Why would Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven DeBrota prosecute Rinehart for a federal felony under this set of facts? He broke the law, but the circumstances render the violation technical, contradictory, and meaningless. This is precisely the kind of situation in which prosecutorial discretion is essential. Moral matters aside, Rinehart did nothing wrong, and certainly nothing that warranted 15 years behind bars. DeBrota knew about the mandatory sentencing, knew that Rinehart was caught in a law that was never intended to net people like him. . . . Nevertheless,  DeBrota set out to ruin Rinehart’s career and life, and absent a Presidential pardon (fat chance!), he appears to have succeeded. This is the criminal prosecution equivalent of the idiotic no-tolerance decisions in public schools, except that the consequences of this abandonment of compassion, fairness, and common sense is far, far worse. This isn’t justice; it is abuse of power, it is an inhumane travesty of law enforcement. . . . The misapplication of the vast power of a federal prosecutor can do more harm  than ten crooked lawyers at their slimy, greedy worst. The unethical conduct of Steven DeBrota is far worse than anything his victim, Eric Rinehart, did or was accused of doing.

February 2011


Court asked to declare wrongly convicted man innocent

By Harvey Rice, Houston Chronicle

02-28-11 -- Lawyers for Anthony Graves filed a lawsuit today asking a Travis County district court to declare him innocent of capital murder, making him eligible for state compensation for the 18 years he spent behind bars. . . . "He holds no grudge against the state of Texas," the lawsuit says about Graves. Prosecutors said publicly in October that he was innocent, but the Texas comptroller denied him compensation under the Timothy Cole Compensation Act because the document ordering his release did not contain the words "actual innocence." . . . Graves did not seek an order compelling Comptroller Susan Combs to pay the compensation because he believes she erred in interpreting a relatively new and untested law and will correct it upon receiving the court order, the lawsuit says.


Man seeks final exoneration after murder conviction tossed out

By Tony Rizzo, The Kansas City Star    

02-24-11 -- A Missouri man’s bid for final exoneration brought him to Kansas City on Thursday for a hearing in the Missouri Court of Appeals. . . . An attorney for Dale Helmig argued that a DeKalb County judge’s ruling that threw out Helmig’s conviction for the 1993 killing of his mother was correct and should be upheld by the appeals court. . . . Sean O’Brien said that Helmig did not receive a fair trial and that new evidence was “clear and convincing” proof that Helmig did not commit the crime. . . . Assistant Attorney General Stephen Hawke, however, argued that the evidence was not new and that the judge who ordered Helmig’s conviction thrown out exceeded his legal authority.


Wrongly Convicted Man Sues Morgenthau, Prosecutors, NYC for $30 Million

By Daniel Wise | New York Law Journal | New York Lawyer

02-23-11 -- A man who was jailed for 18 years before being found actually innocent by a state judge has sued New York City for $30 million in damages. . . . In his Southern District lawsuit, Fernando Bermudez charges that the police and prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office failed to investigate obvious leads, withheld exculpatory documents and coerced witnesses. The suit was filed on Feb. 3 by Mr. Bermudez's lawyer, Michael S. Lamonsoff. . . . Mr. Bermudez was convicted in 1992 for murdering a teen outside of a Greenwich Village nightclub and was sentenced to at least 23 years in prison. No forensic evidence tied him to the crime and five prosecution witnesses recanted their testimony a year after his trial.


Chief Justice: Prove You Didn’t Do It

by Melissa Bailey,  New Haven Independent

02-07-11 -- Nine months after they were exonerated of murder charges and freed from prison, two New Haven men met Monday with a new obstacle: In the eyes of the state Supreme Court justices now reviewing their case, they remain guilty until proven innocent. . . . Ronald Taylor and George Gould, who served over 16 years of 80-year sentences on murder convictions, were released from state custody last April after a judge found they were imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit. . . . Now a free man, Gould walked Monday into state Supreme Court, where Assistant State’s Attorney Michael O’Hare asked a panel of justices to put him and Taylor back in prison. The justices’ questioning signaled the legal obstacles the men must overcome in order to remain free. . . . Taylor, 51 and Gould, 48, were convicted in 1995 of killing Fair Haven bodega owner Eugenio Deleon Vega two years earlier. After the state’s star witness recanted her testimony, Superior Court Judge Stanley Fuger last year overturned their convictions and ruled they were actually innocent and had suffered “manifest injustice” in the hands of the law. The state was not swayed by the recantation; it’s seeking to overturn Judge Fuger’s decision. . . . Wearing a white Yankees hat and a black leather jacket, Gould watched the hour-long proceedings Monday morning from the public gallery. He joined about 40 attorneys, reporters and supporters under the gold chandeliers and gilded ceiling of the 1910 courtroom. Taylor stayed home to recover from major surgery related to Stage IV colon cancer.

Lillian Vernon

Lillian Vernon Online

A Victims-of-Law Associate

January 2011


Mentally challenged man freed 14 years after false confession

By Brian Rokus, CNN Special Investigations Unit   

01-30-11 -- For 14 years, Floyd Brown was confined to a mental hospital in North Carolina, accused of murdering an 80-year-old woman. His chief complaint in his psychiatric assessment report: "I was framed." . . . His case is one of several that have shaken the foundations of the criminal justice system in North Carolina. . . . In 1993, Brown, then 29, was arrested in Wadesboro, North Carolina, suspected of killing Katherine Lynch. Acting on a tip that an African-American male knew something about the crime, an agent of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation brought Brown in for questioning. . . . Brown didn't match the description in the tip, and there was no physical evidence linking him to the killing. But after a day of questioning, SBI Agent Mark Isley had something even more compelling: A six-page confession that he said Brown had dictated to him. . . . His lawyers found it unbelievable. . . . "Floyd could never in a million years make that confession," said Kelley DeAngelus, one of Brown's attorneys. "He doesn't have that capacity, he doesn't have the communication skills, he doesn't have the knowledge, he could never speak with that much definition or detail." . . . Isley, who is under investigation by the North Carolina Department of Justice, declined to comment.


Man paroled in Dallas after DNA test casts doubt on rape conviction

By Jennifer Emily, Dallas Morning News Staff Writer

01-27-11 -- A 60-year-old man walked out of a Dallas County courthouse Thursday on parole after a judge found that new DNA tests cast doubt on his decades-old rape conviction. . . . Larry Sims was expected to be released on bond. But prison officials required him to be placed on parole with a leg monitor because Sims’ 1986 conviction has not been overturned. Wrangling and delays with the monitor kept him waiting behind bars for most of the day when he had expected freedom in the morning. . . . “I’d already waited,” he said in an interview, adding that a few more hours didn’t matter. “I always knew I was innocent.” . . . Sims was eager to reunite with family, although his mother died while he was in prison. . . . “I want to get with those three wonderful aunties I have,” he said. “I have a couple of cousins I’ve never seen.” . . . Sims’ attorney, Michelle Moore of the Dallas County public defender’s office, was not so forgiving of the delays. . . . “It is a joke that this man did not walk out of the courtroom” in the morning, she said. “It is a joke he has to report to parole.” . . . Moore said she was not notified of any problems when she spoke with prison officials Monday, and she added that she plans to challenge the prison’s decision in court, if needed. . . . Sims has already served all but five months of his 25-year sentence.


Lawyer targeted for billing two exonerees $1.6 million

By Mitch Mitchell,

01-18-11 -- The State Bar of Texas wants to discipline a Lubbock attorney who billed two clients more than $1.6 million of the compensation they received because they were wrongfully convicted of rapes and spent years in prison. . . . Attorney Kevin Glasheen could receive a public reprimand, be suspended or be disbarred, and he could be ordered to pay restitution. . . . "We're seeking sanction against Glasheen's law license. That's our primary goal," Maureen Ray, a bar spokeswoman, said. . . . Glasheen said the money was reasonable compensation for the work his law firm did in lobbying the Legislature to increase the amount of compensation that exonerees receive. . . . The lobbying helped pass the Tim Cole Act, named for a Fort Worth man who died in prison after serving 13 years for a rape that he did not commit. Texas went from paying the wrongly convicted $50,000 for each year of incarceration to $80,000 per year plus a lifetime $80,000 annuity. . . . The disciplinary action, filed Jan. 11, stems from grievances filed with the bar during the summer of 2010 by Steven Phillips and Patrick Waller, Glasheen's former clients. Both men were convicted in sexual assault cases and were later exonerated after Phillips spent 24 years and Waller spent 16 years in prison. Both Waller and Phillips received lump-sum payments from the state.


Bill would compensate exonerated Wash. inmates

By Gene Johnson, Associated Press, Seattle Times  

01-16-11 -- Alan Northrop spent 17 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit. When he was finally exonerated, he received no compensation from Washington state. . . . Instead, he got a six-figure child-support bill. . . . Rep. Tina Orwall says the episode illustrates a failure on the part of the state. She's planning to introduce legislation this week that would recompense wrongfully convicted inmates for their time behind bars, bringing Washington into line with more than half of U.S. states and the federal government. . . . It calls for giving former inmates found to be actually innocent $50,000 per year in prison, plus $50,000 more for every year spent on death row and $25,000 for every year on community supervision or as a registered sex offender. Other tenets could include providing health care and paying child support obligations incurred by prisoners during their incarceration. . . . But because of Washington's dire financial situation - lawmakers are trying to fill a $4.6 billion budget gap - Orwall's bill wouldn't allow exonerated inmates to start collecting until 2014. . . . "The bill is about fairness," says Orwall, D-Des Moines. "Hopefully the money helps them rebuild their lives. They really need a certain amount of support and resources."

After Years, Even Decades, the Exonerated Leave Prison Walls Behind—Only to Find New Barriers

By Kevin Davis, ABA Journal

01-14-11 -- On the morning of July 7, 2009, Marvin Reeves and Ronnie Kitchen stood before a criminal court judge in Chicago and heard the news they had long waited to hear: They were going to be freed from prison after serving 21 years for murders they insisted they never committed. . . . Both had been arrested by detectives linked to the notorious Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge, accused of leading a rogue crew of cops who tortured suspects to extract confessions. In 1988, police claimed that Reeves and Kitchen killed two women and three children and then set fire to the victims’ home to cover up the crime. Juries convicted both men, despite a lack of physical evidence in their respective trials. Kitchen was sentenced to death, Reeves to five life terms. . . . After revelations surfaced about Burge and his reign of torture, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office re-examined Reeves’ and Kitchen’s cases and found insufficient evidence to prove the pair was responsible for the murders. . . . As Reeves and Kitchen walked down the steps of the Cook County Criminal Courts building that day as free men, they were swarmed by photographers, reporters shouting questions, well-wishers and loved ones waiting to embrace them. Both men felt overwhelmed. . . . The exhilaration didn’t last. “After the lights and cameras go off, you’re faced with the reality,” Reeves says now, more than a year after his release. “This is the real world.”


Wrongfully Convicted SF Man Walks Free After 18 Years Behind Bars

KTVU San Francisco

01-12-11 -- A San Francisco man walked out of jail a free man Wednesday after spending 18 years in prison. . . . Caramad Conley's murder convictions were thrown out after it was determined the star witness in the case lied on the stand and police detectives knew it. . . . When Conley walked out of the San Francisco City Jail on Wednesday, he had little to say. Instead he was focused on getting reacquainted with his family. . . . The 40-year-old Conley was dressed in white, and smiled as he walked into the sunlight and freedom to cheers and hugs from family and supporters. . . . Conley was accompanied by attorneys who have worked several years to free him. When asked what his plans were, he answered simply: "Take it one day at a time." . . . The long saga began when Conley was convicted for his involvement in a 1989 drive-by shooting in Hunters Point that left two people dead. . . . Conley's freedom came after a judge found former San Francisco Police Chief Earl Sanders -- who was lead homicide inspector on the Conley case -- suppressed evidence and let the prosecution's paid witness lie on the stand.


Wis. judge grants new trial in 23-year-old slaying

By Todd Richmond Associated Press, Chicago Tribune 

01-10-11 -- A judge ordered a new trial Monday for a man accused of killing a young woman and hanging her body in a tree 23 years ago, saying there is enough evidence to suggest someone else did it. . . . Angela Hackl was found in the woods outside Sauk City in 1987. She had been shot and hung by the neck from a tree branch with a chain, and a pile of brush was arranged beneath her body in a makeshift pyre. . . . A jury convicted Terry Vollbrecht, now 49, of killing Hackl in 1989. He was sentenced to life in prison. Attorneys with the Wisconsin Innocence Project have been working to free him for years. They have argued new evidence suggests that another man who is serving a life sentence for killing a different woman and chaining her to a tree also killed Hackl.

DNA justice

Texas man is freed after 30 years in jail thanks to DNA evidence, but a Virginia man awaits a ruling in his case

The Free Lance-Star

01-10-11 -- CORNELIUS DUPREE Jr. spent the prime of his life, from age 21 to 51, in prison for a rape and robbery he didn't commit. Thanks to DNA testing, the Texas man is free to do what he chooses with the rest of his life, and he is well on his way. . . . Not only has he married the woman who believed in his innocence and to whom he became engaged while in prison, but he also will have a pile of money to make his dreams of future freedom come true. Texas, which leads the nation with 41 convicted felons exonerated by DNA evidence since 2001, provides the wrongly convicted with $80,000 for every year spent in prison. For Mr. Dupree, that's $2.4 million, tax-free. . . . He probably would exchange that for the 30 years of his life that he lost. . . . Nevertheless, this episode once again raises the question of how many others remain incarcerated, despite the existence of DNA evidence that could exonerate them.

Supreme Court takes dim view of suing prosecutors

The high court often rules that prosecutors, like judges and grand jurors, are part of the judicial process and must be protected from harassment that could deflect them from doing their duty.

By David G. Savage, Washington Bureau Los Angeles Times 

01-09-11 -- After 14 years on Louisiana's death row, John Thompson had one month to live when he received a stapled letter from his lawyers with an unusual request. They asked him to prick his finger with the staple, put drops of blood on the letter, seal it and return it the same day. . . . "I was cranky and disillusioned that day. I was preparing to tell my family this execution date was final," he recalled. His appeals were over, and he was scheduled to die the day before his son graduated from high school. "But when they asked for blood, I thought they must have found something." . . . They had. . . . Prosecutors in the New Orleans district attorney's office had intentionally hidden a blood test that would have unraveled the criminal case against Thompson. By a stroke of luck, a young investigator scouring the crime lab files found a microfiche copy of it. Thompson's blood type did not match. That single piece of evidence led eventually to Thompson being declared innocent of murder.


Voices in support of imprisoned man who claims his innocence grow louder

Tim Goff, WCSH-TV

01-07-11 -- Supporters of Ward Bird, a 49-year-old farmer sentenced to serve three years in jail for a crime he claims he didn't commit, are asking New Hampshire Governor John Lynch to consider pardoning him. . . . "He's a family man, minding his own business up on the mountain," said John Tolman, a friend of Bird's for decades in describing Ward Bird. "I think it struck a nerve with a lot of people, saying 'Wow, somebody on their own property in a he said, she said situation and he is the one that ended up in jail?'" . . . According to court documents and published accounts, Bird and his family were in their home on March 27, 2006 when a woman drove onto their posted property and parked in their driveway. Bird stepped out onto the porch to tell her that she was trespassing and asked her to leave. . . . He says she continued to ask him questions that he did not feel like answering, became frustrated and started back inside to call the police. / 'Free Ward Bird' Website


False Justice has former Ohio attorney general decrying wrongful convictions

By Steve Weinberg, Plain Dealer

01-07-11 -- During his 2003-07 term as Ohio attorney general, Jim Petro experienced an epiphany that surprised him; his wife, Nancy Petro; some of his staff; and many of his supporters within the electorate. . . . The former prosecutor, who identifies himself as a law-and-order Republican, realized that a significant number of prisoners who claim to be innocent indeed are.. Having implemented Ohio's collection of 210,000 new DNA profiles of convicts, he saw numerous cold cases solved. But the flip side became apparent, too: Wrongful convictions were occurring across the state, in county and federal courts. . . . Perhaps most profoundly, Petro realized he must speak out and become involved in reform. The cause of accuracy fits his conservatism, too, because when wrongful convictions occur, the actual perpetrators -- murderers, rapists, burglars, etc. -- go unpunished and are at liberty to murder or rape or burglarize again. And again.


Texan declared innocent after 30 years in prison

By Jeff Carlton, Associated Press, Breitbart

01-04-11 -- A Texas man had his conviction overturned Tuesday for a rape and robbery he didn't commit after serving 30 years in prison, more time than any other inmate subsequently exonerated by DNA evidence in his state. . . . Cornelius Dupree Jr., 51, was formally cleared of the aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon conviction that had kept him behind bars from December 1979 until July of 2010. He served 30 years of his 75-year sentence before making parole in July. About a week later, DNA test results came back proving his innocence. . . . "It's a joy to be free again," Dupree said after the ruling in a Dallas courtroom. . . . Dupree is the longest-serving inmate cleared by DNA evidence in Texas, which has freed 41 wrongly convicted inmates through DNA since 2001—more than any other state. . . . Nationally, only two others who have been exonerated by DNA evidence spent more time in prison, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal center representing Dupree that specializes in wrongful conviction cases. James Bain was wrongly imprisoned for 35 years in Florida, and Lawrence McKinney spent more than 31 years in a Tennessee prison.


Exonerated inmate gets rest of life back

Convicted in 1990 robbery-rape, he hears a judge dismiss the charges

By Brian Rogers, Houston Chronicle     

01-04-11 --- Allen Wayne Porter's toothy grin told the world exactly what the 40-year-old was thinking Tuesday after a Houston judge officially dismissed charges against him, putting a wrongful conviction and 19 years of prison behind him forever. . . . "I just want everybody to know, whatever you go through, just don't ever give up," Porter said. "Sometimes I had doubts, but I trusted God through it all." . . . After state District Judge Joan Campbell cleared him, Porter's attorney said his ordeal is over. . . . "We weren't going to be satisfied until it was final and now it is," said Casey Garrett. "Now he can finally move on." . . . She also noted her client's grin. "It's an infectious smile, and behind it is a really happy person."


False memories, false justice; Striving to ID the right 'bad guy'

By Susan Spencer-Wendel, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer 

01-02-11 -- An eyewitness' memory is evidence itself. . . . But memory, social scientists have found, is nothing like a video recorder simply replayed in the mind. . . . It's an engram of evidence re-created in the mind - one especially susceptible to suggestion and contamination. Thus police should lift a memory from an eyewitness' mind as carefully as a fingerprint from a crime scene. . . . As wrongful convictions based on mistaken eyewitness identification swelled, the U.S. Department of Justice recommended to police and sheriffs nearly a dozen years ago a host of simple safeguards: . . . How to create fair photo lineups; how to advise eyewitnesses when they look at lineups; how to document an eyewitness' identification. . . . Yet according to an investigation by The Palm Beach Post, most area law enforcement agencies failed to adopt those recommendations in their written policies and procedures. . . . Using Florida's public records law, The Post gathered and examined written policies, procedures and training materials of 32 agencies from Boca Raton to the Treasure Coast and west to the Glades. Only four agencies didn't respond to The Post's request. . . . The Post looked for those simple safeguards recommended by the Justice Department in 1999. . . . Is the suspect in the lineup?

December 2010


Flint lawyer who worked for years to get Thomas Cress released from prison overjoyed at commutation order

By Khalil AlHajal |

12-29-10 -- Attorney David Nickola today received news he's been waiting years to hear: . . . Thomas Cress will soon be released from prison. . . . After serving 25 years of a life sentence for a murder many believe he didn't commit, the 54-year-old man will be set free after Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a commutation order Tuesday. . . . Nickola has worked on the case for free since 1996 in an effort to free the man he believes was falsely convicted in the 1983 murder of a teen girl near Battle Creek. . . . "I was overjoyed," the Flint attorney said. "It was great news to us. It's been years and years of a long, drawn-out battle."


Finally, justice for Mt. Laurel family

Cherry Hill Courier Post  

12-24-10 -- Governor was right to set Brian Aitken free after he was unfairly prosecuted and convicted. . . . No person and no thing is infallible, including our justice system. . . . Brian Aitken was a man sentenced to seven years in prison who didn't even deserve a day. Even if he broke a law in some technical sense, and that's in doubt, he went out of his way to try to adhere to the spirit of the law. . . . We applaud Gov. Chris Christie for recognizing this and commuting Aitken's prison sentence Monday.********** But now, a wrong has been righted and justice has prevailed. The judge, Morley, who torpedoed Aitken's defense, is no longer a judge. Christie did not reappoint him to the bench. . . . And Aitken is a free man who will now appeal his case in hopes of fully clearing his name by erasing the conviction from his record. We wish him luck in that pursuit. . . . We would hope that in the future, this case sticks in the mind of police officers who would arrest and prosecutors who would pursue a gun possession case against citizens who have clearly tried to abide by New Jersey's rigid gun laws, as Aitken did. No one in this state was made safer by Aitken being imprisoned.

Freed New Jersey Man Wants Gun Conviction Overturned

By Joshua Rhett Miller  

Brian Aitken, 27, seen here in an undated photograph, was sentenced to seven years in prison for guns his attorney and father claim were owned legally. Some experts told Fox the entrepreneur was a victim of the country's "patchwork" of gun laws.

12-23-10 -- A New Jersey man whose seven-year prison sentence was commuted this week and is now seeking to get his felony gun charge conviction overturned blamed judicial "bullying" for his guilty verdict. . . . Brian Aitken told Fox News on Thursday that he is armed with an e-mail he claims he received earlier this week from a juror who told him that then-Superior Court Judge James Morley pushed the jury into obtaining a conviction. . . . "Interestingly enough, I got an e-mail from one of the jurors a night or two ago, and he told me, 'You know, we all pretty much knew what was going on. We knew the judge was bullying us to this position. That's why we came back three times and asked for the exemptions,'" Aitken said. . . . Aitken, an entrepreneur and media consultant with no prior criminal record, was arrested in January 2009 in New Jersey for possession of two locked and unloaded handguns he legally purchased in Colorado but didn't have a carry permit for in the Garden State. . . . He was later convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison in August. But after serving four months in a New Jersey prison, the cause célèbre for gun advocates was released after  New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie commuted the sentence on Monday. 


With Charges Withdrawn, Ex-Lawyer Says Queens DA Should Have Realized Her Innocence Long Ago

By Mark Fass | New York Law Journal | New York Lawyer

12-27-10 -- After five felony charges against her were dismissed earlier this month, a former Queens attorney has accused the Queens District Attorney's Office of pursuing a grand-larceny case against her despite ample evidence of her innocence. . . . The attorney, Jennie Dellaria, says that defending against the year-long prosecution bankrupted both her and her elderly mother. . . . "A basic investigation would have established that she was not involved in these transactions," Ms. Dellaria's attorney, Robert Gottlieb, said yesterday in an interview. "It's not an overstatement to say that this case drove [Dellaria] and her mother to bankruptcy." . . . Ms. Dellaria was charged in January 2010 with stealing funds from former clients after several checks bounced from her attorney escrow account.


KC woman helped to free inmate, but has yet to share in $7 million settlement

By Judy L. Thomas, The Kansas City Star 

12-25-10 -- Anne Danaher stands amid a mountain of file boxes crammed with court documents, police reports, videotapes and receipts. . . . “For more than nine years,” she says, gesturing toward the cardboard stacks, “this was my life.” . . . Danaher, a soft-spoken Kansas City woman with two years of college and no legal experience, helped gain the release in 2003 of a convicted killer who had spent 25 years behind bars in Iowa. . . . She methodically tracked down evidence that pointed to another suspect, racking up thousands of dollars in expenses and taking on three jobs at a time before the prisoner, Terry Harrington, was set free. . . . Now Harrington has won a $7 million settlement — and Danaher hasn’t received a dime. . . . Not that she wants to make money, Danaher said, but she would like her expenses covered, and she says Harrington had promised to share any settlement he received. . . . Mary Kennedy, an Iowa lawyer who helped with Harrington’s case, thinks Danaher deserves it. . . . “He’d most certainly still be in prison if not for Anne,” Kennedy said. “She gave up the best years of her life for this. He got so much money. What would it hurt to give her some?” . . . Harrington declined repeated requests to talk on the record about the case. . . . One of his attorneys, J. Douglas McCalla, who is with a high-profile firm handling Harrington’s lawsuit, said he couldn’t discuss the issue of why Danaher had not been reimbursed. . . . “As I understand the story, I think that Anne was there and did help Terry,” McCalla said. “But whether or not he would have succeeded in his release without her help, I don’t know.”


A Solitary Jailhouse Lawyer Argues His Way Out of Prison

By Sean Gardiner Wall Street Journal

12-24-10 -- Each morning for 5,546 days, Jabbar Collins knew exactly what he'd wear when he awoke: a dark-green shirt with matching dark-green pants. . . . The prison greenies of a convicted murderer, he says, were "overly starched in the beginning, but as time wore on, and after repeated washes, they were worn and dull, like so many other things on the inside." . . . For most of those 15 years, Mr. Collins, who maintained his innocence, knew the only way his wardrobe would change was if he did something that's indescribably rare. He'd have to lawyer himself out of jail. . . . There was no crusading journalist, no nonprofit group taking up his cause, just Inmate 95A2646, a high-school dropout from Brooklyn, alone in a computerless prison law library. . . . "'Needle in a haystack' doesn't communicate it exactly. Is it more like lightning striking your house?" says Adele Bernard, who runs the Post-Conviction Project at Pace Law School in New York, which investigates claims of wrongful conviction. "It's so unbelievably hard…that it's almost impossible to come up with something that captures that." . . . Mr. Collins pried documents from wary prosecutors, tracked down reluctant witnesses and persuaded them, at least once through trickery, to reveal what allegedly went on before and at the trial where he was convicted of the high-profile 1994 murder of Rabbi Abraham Pollack. . . . The improbable result of that decade-and-a-half struggle was evident on a recent morning in a Midtown Manhattan skyscraper. Mr. Collins sat in a small office he now shares, wearing one of the eight dark suits he owns, a white shirt with French cuffs, a blue-and-gray striped tie and a pair of expensive wingtips. "Every day is beautiful" now, he said, smiling. "I don't have a bad day anymore. I think that my worst bad day out of prison will be better than my greatest good day in prison."


New Insights into Recent Texas Exoneration from Death Row

Death Penalty Information Center

12-17-10 -- More information has emerged about the wrongful conviction of Anthony Graves who was exonerated from Texas's death row in 2010. Prosecutor Kelly Siegler, who had tried many capital murder cases and sent 19 people to death row as a Harris County assistant district attorney, and Otto Hanak, a state trooper and Texas Ranger for 28 years, were brought into the case after an appeals court found that the original prosecutor, Charles Sebesta, had withheld statements from the defense and elicited false testimony. It was originally thought that Siegler would retry the case against Graves.  According to prosecutor Siegler, Sebesta used ethically questionable tactics to persuade a co-defendant to testify against Graves. Sebesta also violated the rules of evidence by introducing only a partial transcript of a taped interview of the co-defendant and not introducing the actual tape. During her investigations, Siegler was never able to find the tape of the interview. When the co-defendant faced execution in 2000, he admitted that he lied about Graves’s involvement in the crime. After reviewing 19 boxes of evidence and interviewing more than 50 witnesses, Siegler and Hanak independently concluded that Graves was not guilty. Siegler said, "There came a time I believed he was innocent, but I wanted Otto to arrive at that on his own.  One morning he came in and said, 'I don't think he did it.’” Hanak added, “In all these years I've been in this business, I never thought I would be party to saving someone who was on death row.”  The original prosecutor, Charles Sebesta, plans to take out full page ads explaining his side of the story.  "We've got some things on Siegler that when push comes to shove, we've got things that are going to sink her ship," he said.


Judge: Caramad Conley wrongly convicted of murder

Jaxon Van Derbeken, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer

12-15-10 -- A San Francisco judge ruled Tuesday that a man imprisoned for 18 years was wrongfully convicted in a double-murder case in which San Francisco authorities failed to tell the defense that they paid thousands of dollars to the star witness. . . . Caramad Conley, 40, has been locked up since 1992 - serving two life-without-parole terms in the 1989 double slayings on Third Street that prosecutors claimed were gang-motivated. . . . He may soon be free as a result of the ruling by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Marla Miller, who found that Conley was denied a fair trial and unconstitutionally convicted. . . . Miller found that police investigators knew that the prosecution's star witness, Clifford Polk, lied on the stand about whether he was being paid, but they did nothing to intervene. . . . Citing "voluminous evidence" that Polk was lying when he claimed he was not in witness protection and therefore not receiving benefits, Miller went further, finding that the lead investigator in the case, Earl Sanders - who later became police chief - knew about the perjury. "I find that Sanders knew the testimony was false and did not correct it."


Northwestern attorneys seek to seal evidence in wrongful conviction case

By Matthew Walberg, Chicago Tribune reporter

12-14-10 -- Northwestern Law School has asked a Cook County judge to seal evidence in a case that has drawn attention to the methods used by the school's journalism students investigating a murder in which they say a man was wrongfully convicted. . . . Attorneys from the school's Center on Wrongful Convictions, who are representing Anthony McKinney in his bid for a new trial in the 1978 murder of a Harvey security guard, argued that Supreme Court rules prevent prosecutors from publicly revealing hundreds of documents turned over by the university. They also contended media coverage of the case might deprive McKinney of a fair hearing.


Lawyer: DNA tests shed doubt on conviction of 'stocking strangler'

By the CNN Wire Staff  

12-13-10 -- The attorney for the convicted Georgia "stocking strangler" said Monday that new DNA results prove his client's innocence, while a district attorney vowed that he'd remain on death row given a preponderance of evidence tying him to the crimes. . . . Carlton Gary, 59, was convicted in 1986 of killing at least three women between 1977 and 1978 in Columbus, Georgia, and was considered a suspect in the deaths of four others under similarly gruesome circumstances. The nickname arose after the killer left stockings around the women's necks. . . . He was hours away from being executed December 16, 2009, when Georgia's Supreme Court issued a stay. One reason was Gary's requests for genetic testing that, he claimed, would clear him using technology that was not available at the time of his conviction.


Wrong to jail woman who helped put murderers behind bars

By Wendy J. Murphy, GateHouse News Service 

12-13-10 -- Testify truthfully and you die. Lie and you go to jail. A horrifying choice but that’s exactly what Latoya Thomas-Dickson faced in the recent re-trial of a Boston murder case against her ex-boyfriend and another man. . . . Ultimately she did the right thing and because of Latoya, the men were convicted. But because she lied initially, she’s in jail for three years. . . . By all accounts, the crime was a gang-related execution – which is why Latoya at first wanted no part of testifying. When people think nothing of taking a human life, killing a snitch is easy. In fact, you win status for killing a rat in gangland. . . . Latoya was vulnerable to the “no-snitch” pressure for a while. Rather than subject herself and her family to lethal payback, Latoya lied at the second trial and it ended with a hung jury. (The first trial ended with a hung jury, too, because a juror was threatened). . . . But she came around, and she put herself on the line at the third trial – and now the streets are safer because two killers are behind bars for life.


Justice exposed: Jim Morrison pardoned in Miami indecency case

By Robert Farley, St. Petersburg Times  

12-09-10 -- Forty-one years ago, the state sent a message about community standards, charging rock icon Jim Morrison of the Doors with exposing himself during a 1969 Miami concert. . . . On Thursday, the state reconsidered, and offered Morrison a pardon. . . . The posthumous pardon isn't going to settle the boundaries of artistic freedom, or alter the Morrison myth in the annals of rock history. Nor is it likely to settle the ongoing debate about whether Morrison ever actually did pull his zipper down at the concert that night. . . . But it does send a message about forgiveness, said outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist. . . . ``In this case, guilt or innocence is in God's hands, not ours,'' Crist said, arguing for the pardon, which was granted unanimously by the four-member panel that also included Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson.


Attorney seeks $115,000 from state for man cleared by DNA evidence

Dee J. Hall | 

12-09-10 -- Wisconsin should pay Robert Lee Stinson $115,000 for sending the “soft-spoken young man” to prison for 23 years for a murder he didn’t commit, Stinson’s attorney told a state claims board Thursday. . . . “He’s a kind, gentle and gracious human being who has dealt with this loss in an admirable way,” Heather Lewis Donnell said. “This man spent his 20s, his 30s and part of his 40s in prison.” . . . Stinson was freed in 2009 after DNA evidence cleared him of the 1984 murder of his Milwaukee neighbor, Ione Cychosz. The only evidence tying Stinson to the murder were bitemarks on Cychosz’s body that the state’s experts said came from Stinson. . . . However, a panel of four experts assembled by the Wisconsin Innocence Project demonstrated that the marks found on the 63-year-old woman could not have come from Stinson. And DNA testing discovered male DNA on the woman’s body that was not Stinson’s.


'Perfect Storm of Injustice'? N.J. Man Serving 7 Years for Guns He Legally Owned

Friends, Parents Say Brian Aitken Living a Nightmare; Prosecutors Insist He Broke Law

By Devin Dwyer, ABC News 

12-02-10 -- When Brian Aitken confided in his mother during a moment of emotional distress last year that life wasn't worth living, he never could have imagined the words triggering a chain of events that ultimately landed him in a New Jersey state prison. . . . But that's precisely what happened, according to an account of the events by Aitken's father, Larry, and attorney, Evan Napper. . . . Brian Aitken, 25, a successful media consultant, had been in the process of selling his home in Colorado and moving to a suburban New Jersey apartment to be closer to his son, 2. . . . But on the afternoon of Jan. 3, 2009, the stress of a recent divorce and messy cross-country move caused him to crack. Aitken stormed out of his parent's suburban home in Mount Laurel, N.J., hopped into his car filled with belongings and set out on a drive to cool off. . . . Aitken's mother, a social worker trained to be sensitive to suicidal indicators, instinctively dialed 911 but abruptly hung up, second-guessing her reaction. But police tracked the call, came to the Aitken's home and greeted Brian when he returned to make sure he was OK.  . . . Then, they asked to search his car.

Amazon MP3 is a Victims-of-Law Associate

November 2010


Revision to List of Exonerated Individuals

Death Penalty Information Center

11-29-10 -- Thanks to additional research by Prof. Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan, DPIC has learned that one of the individuals on its list of exonerated death row inmates had conceded his guilt to a lesser offense in connection with the crime that originally sent him to death row.  He was, however, acquitted on the murder charge.  James Bo Cochran was originally found guilty of a 1976 murder in Alabama in connection with a robbery at a grocery store.  His first trial resulted in a mistrial and the convictions from his second and third trials were overturned.  When he was retried in 1997, a jury acquitted him of murdering the grocery store's assistant manager.  However, in an agreement made with prosecutors prior to his release, it now appears that Cochran accepted guilt to a robbery charge.  Earlier research had indicated that he had been acquitted of all charges.  Since inclusion on DPIC's list requires not only the removal of the capital conviction but also of all convictions related to the original offense, we can no longer include Cochran's case on our list of exonerations.  The number of exonerations from death row since 1973 now stands at 138.  Accurate research occasionally requires revisions based on new information, and we are grateful to Prof. Gross, one of the nation's leading experts on the reversal of convictions, for this research.  We regret any inconvenience.


Man imprisoned 17 years for murder looks forward to freedom

By Tony Rizzo, The Kansas City Star  

11-23-10 -- It took 17 years and a judge’s ruling in a “rare and exceptional” case to tell the world what Dale Helmig always has proclaimed. . . . He did not kill his mother. . . . Now the mid-Missouri man is hoping a court soon will free him for the first time since March 9, 1996, when he was handcuffed and led away to spend the rest of his life in prison for the 1993 death of Norma Helmig. . . . A web of false and misleading testimony, overreaching prosecution and defense attorney incompetence that had convinced a jury Helmig was guilty of first-degree murder was dismantled by a team of lawyers and college students, many from Kansas City, who believed Helmig had been wrongly convicted. . . . On Nov. 3, a judge agreed with them. . . . “Mr. Helmig is the victim of a fundamental miscarriage of justice,” DeKalb County Senior Circuit Judge Warren McElwain wrote in ordering Helmig’s conviction and sentence thrown out. “This case is indeed one of those rare and exceptional cases in which new evidence demonstrates that the petitioner (Helmig) is actually innocent of the crime for which he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.”


Clemency: Ohio Governor Grants Fifth Clemency

Death Penalty Information Center

11-15-10 -- Ohio Governor Ted Strickland granted clemency to Sidney Cornwell, reducing this sentence to life without parole.  Cornwell faced execution on November 16 for a 1996 gang-related shooting in Youngstown. Attorneys for Cornwell argued that he grew up in an abusive environment and that he suffered from a genetic condition that contributed to his violent tendencies. The attorneys also said that Cornwell's death sentence was disproportionate to sentences handed out for similar killings in Mahoning County, and that the jury did not have the option of giving him a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Cynthia Mausser, chairwoman of the state parole board, and the only member who favored clemency for Cornwell said of the evidence presented at the clemency hearing, "I cannot conclude that it would have made no difference to the outcome of the penalty phase, as it seems reasonably probable that a juror may have viewed Cornwell and the other mitigation evidence presented in a more positive light. This evidence is significant enough to question the reliability of the outcome of the penalty phase and conclude that the exercise of executive clemency is warranted." Governor Strickland granted clemency in two other cases this year: Richard Nields and Kevin Keith.  He also commuted John Spirko's death sentence in 2008 and Jeffrey Hill's sentence in 2009.


Innocent man seeks his due from state

Ex-death row prisoner pursues $1.4 million for 18 years in prison

By Harvey Rice, Houston Chronicle 

11-11-10 -- Attorneys for a Somerville man freed last month after spending more than a decade on death row will return to court next week to take the first step toward claiming the $1.4 million they say he's due for 18 years of wrongful imprisonment. . . . Anthony Graves will ask the Texas Comptroller's Office for compensation provided for under the Tim Cole Act, enacted last year and named for an imprisoned Fort Worth man posthumously exonerated of committing a rape. Burleson County District Attorney Bill Parham and special prosecutor Kelly Siegler have said Graves is innocent of the 1992 murders of five people. . . . Graves, 45, kept track of every day of his 18 years and two months imprisonment. "It wasn't written on paper, but it was definitely written in my heart and in my mind," Graves said.


This Week in Innocence: Why the Hell is Kenny Hulshoff Still Practicing Law?

Radley Balko,

11-10-10 -- Last week, Missouri Circuit Court Judge Judge Warren McElwain declared Dale Helmig innocent of killing his mother in 1993. Helmig was convicted in 1996. In his ruling, McElwain declared Helmig to be "the victim of a fundamental miscarriage of justice." . . . Many factors contributed to Helmig's conviction, including an inept public defender, false police testimony, and snitch testimony from inmates. But McElwain went out of his way to criticize the behavior of former Missouri prosecutor Kenny Hulshoff.

In his opinion, McElwain cited numerous instances where either Hulshof or Schollmeyer presented testimony that was later shown to be false and that they should have known was false. One section is titled “Kenny Hulshof knew or should have known that the testimony presented was false that Dale Helmig tacitly admitted killing his mother.” . . . In another section, McElwain states that Hulshof made improper use of unsupported testimony that Dale Helmig and his mother had been in a fight in which Helmig allegedly threw hot coffee in his mother’s face. That altercation, at a restaurant, actually involved Norma Helmig and Ted Helmig, her estranged husband. . . . “Even though the prosecution could not find a witness to substantiate this allegation, that did not stop them from trying to put the unproven and very inflammatory fact before the jury,” McElwain wrote.

This is the second case in two years in which Hulshoff has been cited by a judge for misconduct that helped convict an innocent person.


Multimedia: PBS Frontline to Air Documentary on Norfolk Four

Death Penalty Information Center

11-04-10 -- Frontline’s documentary, The Confessions, investigates the conviction of four Navy sailors for the rape and murder of a woman in Norfolk, Virginia in 1997. The documentary highlights some of the high-pressure police interrogation techniques, including the threat of the death penalty, sleep deprivation, and intimidation, that led each of the “Norfolk Four” defendants to confess, despite a lack of evidence linking them to the crime. The case raises significant questions about the actions of state officials, who relied primarily on the sailors’ contradictory confessions for their convictions, and disregarded DNA evidence that pointed to a lone assailant. The four sailors are now out of prison (one has served his sentence and the other three were granted conditional pardons by former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine), and the person who probably committed the murder has since confessed to the crime while serving prison time for another rape. The Confession is scheduled to air on Tuesday, November 9.


Texas Prosecutors Accuse Former District Attorney of Egregious Misconduct in Innocence Case

11-02-10 -- At a recent press conference in Texas, prosecutors accused former district attorney Charles Sebesta of hiding and tampering with evidence, and of threatening witnesses in order to convict Anthony Graves in 1994. Graves was recently exonerated from death row and freed after 18 years of confinement for a crime he did not commit. Kelly Siegler, a special prosecutor hired to review Graves's case after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned his conviction, said Sebesta indicted a woman without evidence, fabricated evidence, manipulated witnesses and took advantage of victims. Graves was convicted of being one of two men responsible for a fire that killed 6 people in their home. His co-defendant, Robert Earl Carter, admitted two weeks before his execution that he had lied about Graves’s involvement. Siegler said, “Charles Sebasta handled this case in a way that could best be described as a criminal justice system’s nightmare.” Siegler also went on to say that what occurred in this case was the worst example of prosecutorial misconduct she had ever seen: “It’s a travesty, what happened in Anthony Graves' trial."

October 2010


An army of believers

8-year battle to free Graves won by a band of lawyers and students

By Jeannie Kever, Houston Chronicle

10-28-10 -- One by one, Anthony Graves built an army of believers, a group of lawyers and students who fought to prove his innocence. . . . "I think, even from the first time we read through it, we felt like this case was different," said Meghan Bingham, who first heard of Graves in 2002, when she was a journalism student at the University of St. Thomas. "We knew there was actually a chance he was innocent." . . . As the students continued to investigate, their certainty grew. . . . The work lasted for eight years and involved several dozen students and almost as many lawyers. . . . In that sense, Graves was lucky. . . . "Anthony Graves is fortunate he had lawyers who, not at the very beginning maybe, but who eventually came to the conclusion that he was an innocent person," said lawyer Katherine Scardino. "Each and every person who had something to do with this case told me, 'This is an innocent person.' "


Anthony Graves Becomes 12th Death Row Inmate
Exonerated in Texas

Death Penalty Information Center

10-28-10 -- Anthony Graves (pictured) was released from a Texas prison on October 27 after Washington-Burleson County District Attorney Bill Parham filed a motion to dismiss all charges that had resulted in Graves being sent to death row 16 years ago. Graves was convicted in 1994 of assisting Robert Carter in multiple murders in 1992. There was no physical evidence linking Graves to the crime, and his conviction relied primarily on Carter’s testimony that Graves was his accomplice. Two weeks before Carter was scheduled to be executed in 2000, he provided a statement saying he lied about Graves’s involvement in the crime. He repeated that statement minutes before his execution. In 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned Graves’s conviction and ordered a new trial after finding that prosecutors elicited false statements and withheld testimony that could have influenced the jurors. After D.A. Parham began to reassemble the case and review the evidence, he hired former Harris County assistant district attorney Kelly Siegler as a special prosecutor. Siegler soon realized that making a case against Graves would be impossible: "After months of investigation and talking to every witness who's ever been involved in this case, and people who've never been talked to before, after looking under every rock we could find, we found not one piece of credible evidence that links Anthony Graves to the commission of this capital murder. This is not a case where the evidence went south with time or witnesses passed away or we just couldn't make the case anymore. He is an innocent man," Siegler said.

Books: "The Confession" by John Grisham

Death Penalty Information Center

10-27-10 -- A new novel by acclaimed author John Grisham, entitled “The Confession,” tells the story of Donte Drumm, an innocent man who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in Texas. The book begins as the execution of Drumm is only four days away and another man confesses to the crime to a minister.  Although a work of fiction, Grisham’s work offers a critique of our criminal justice system and of the death penalty in particular. USA Today's review of the book notes, "Readers who share [Grisham's] views as well as those sitting on the fence will find much to love and lament in the tragic story of Donté Drumm."


Texas Court of Inquiry Begins Exploring Whether Executed Man Was Innocent

Death Penalty Information Center

10-19-10 -- Lawyers for Cameron Todd Willingham’s family recently presented expert testimony at a court of inquiry in Texas to determine whether Willingham was wrongfully convicted and executed for starting a fire that killed his children. The lawyers presented testimony from nine experts who have reviewed evidence presented by fire marshals and found “many critical errors,” as one report stated. Gerald Hurst, who published a report regarding the evidence in the case, argued that the evidence actually suggests that the fire was accidental. John Lentini, another fire expert, debunked the fire marshal’s testimony at the original trial that Willingham spread accelerants to fuel the fire. Lentini said that no such chemicals were found and that much of the fire marshal’s analysis of the evidence did not meet [arson] standards of 1991. At the end of the first day of the hearings, the Texas Third Court of Appeals ordered the presiding judge not to hold further proceedings or issue rulings. The appeals court has been asked to determine whether a court of inquiry is the proper venue for this hearing and whether the presiding judge, Charles Baird, should be conducting the hearing.


Calif. Bar Reviewing Records of 130 Prosecutors for Discipline After Report

By Sarah Randag, ABA Journal

10-18-10 -- In response to a study released this month by the Northern California Innocence Project stating that California courts disciplined prosecutorial misconduct less Than 1% of time, the State Bar of California is reviewing the records of 130 prosecutors named in that report. . . . The study of more than 4,000 state and appellate decisions between 1997 and 2009 identified 707 cases in which the courts found that prosecutors had committed misconduct. The courts reversed159 of those convictions, but the state bar only publicly disciplined six prosecutors. The state bar now plans to review those 159 cases handled between them by 130 prosecutors.


Man convicted of murder in 2004 goes free, charges dropped

Factual error by prosecution at trial cited

By Steve Mills, Chicago Tribune reporter

10-08-10 -- Like many defendants do, Maurice Patterson insisted he was innocent of murder at his sentencing in 2004. But he made an unusual vow that day that he would someday return to the same courtroom after proving his innocence. . . . "…if I come back … next month or a year, or five years, I will be back and are you going to apologize to me?" Patterson asked, according to a transcript of the sentencing hearing made available by his attorneys. "…Because I didn't kill that man. I never saw that man, never in my life." . . . On Friday, Patterson made good on his vow when prosecutors dismissed the murder case against him. . . . The turn of events came after crime lab reports showed Cook County prosecutors and Chicago police incorrectly declared in court that blood from the victim was not found on a knife recovered near the murder scene, according to court records. . . . In fact, blood from the victim, Robert Head, was on the knife, as was DNA from a man who lived close to the crime scene and whom Patterson's attorneys suggest in the court filings might be a suspect. . . . Patterson's DNA was not on the knife.


Multimedia: Frontline to Examine Possible Innocence of Man Executed in Texas

Death Penalty Information Center

10-08-10 -- On October 19, PBS's FRONTLINE will air Death by Fire, a documentary closely examining the evidence used to convict Cameron Todd Willingham of the arson deaths of his three children. The documentary will focus on a critical finding that was revealed just weeks before Willingham's execution -- that fire investigators apparently relied on outdated arson science to determine that Willingham had set the fire that killed his children. Gerald Hurst, a forensic arson expert, reviewed the evidence based on modern arson science and concluded it was a classic accidental fire.  Death by Fire also features writer Elizabeth Gilbert, who corresponded with Willingham in prison and first began to question his guilt.  Willingham's case is also being examined by the Texas Forensic Science Commission and a special Court of Inquiry that may determine that Texas executed an innocent man. offers quality merchandise at affordable prices

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Justices Appear Ready to Hold New Orleans Prosecutors Liable for Misconduct

Tony Mauro, The National Law Journal

10-07-10 -- Supreme Court justices on Wednesday appeared ready to give the green light to efforts by a New Orleans man to win compensation for prosecutorial misconduct that put him behind bars for more than two decades for a murder he did not commit. . . . The Court heard arguments in the case of Connick v. Thompson in which former New Orleans District Attorney Harry Connick maintains that his office should not be held liable for what he contends was a single incident of failing to hand over exculpatory evidence to the defense before trial. . . . Louisiana appellate chief Stuart Duncan, arguing against liability, acknowledged that defendant John Thompson has suffered "terrible injuries" because of the actions of a lawyer in the prosecutor's office, but insisted that Supreme Court precedent does not allow Thompson to recover damages in a civil rights suit when no pattern of misconduct has been shown.


Tennessee Man Wrongfully Convicted of Murder is Set Free

Sidley Austin Gains Innocent Man’s Freedom After Four Years of Pro Bono Efforts

Kansas City Star 

10-07-10 -- On Monday, October 4, a Tennessee Court ordered David Housler released on bail, and Mr. Housler walked out of prison a free man, after serving 15 years of a life sentence for four murders he did not commit. A team of lawyers from the Washington D.C. office of law firm Sidley Austin LLP, led by partner Paul Hemmersbaugh, secured the release of Mr. Housler, who had been erroneously convicted of quadruple homicide in the notorious “Taco Bell” murders in Clarksville, Tennessee. The bail ruling and Mr. Housler’s release followed the Court’s recent decision vacating his 1997 convictions.


Judge Delays Hearing Into Execution of Father Convicted of Arson Deaths

Jeff Carlton, The Associated Press,

10-07-10 -- A judge asked to re-examine arson evidence used to convict a man executed for killing his three daughters postponed a hearing in the case on Wednesday, after prosecutors asked him to step aside. . . . Texas District Judge Charles Baird delayed the hearing in the Cameron Todd Willingham case until Oct. 14, telling the court he wanted to give an attorney for Willingham's family time to respond to prosecutors' request to have him removed. In the meantime, Baird may decide to recuse himself or ask another judge to decide whether he should step aside. . . . Attorneys for Willingham's family, backed by the New York-based legal aid center the Innocence Project, are seeking to clear his name. Willingham was put to death in 2004 after being convicted of burning down his Corsicana home in 1991 and killing his 2-year-old daughter and 1-year-old twins. Several fire experts have found serious fault in the arson findings that led to Willingham's 1992 conviction.


DNA matches, but Federal Way man's child-rape conviction overturned

The state Supreme Court has unanimously overturned the conviction of a Federal Way man who was sentenced to more than nine years in prison for the rape of an 11-year-old girl, saying his DNA was obtained in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.

By Christine Clarridge, Seattle Times staff reporter

10-07-10 -- The state Supreme Court has unanimously overturned the conviction of a Federal Way man who was sentenced to more than nine years in prison for the 2006 rape of an 11-year-old girl. . . . At issue was not the man's alleged actions, but whether his DNA was obtained lawfully. . . . In a ruling issued Thursday, the justices found there wasn't probable cause to take a DNA sample from Alejandro Garcia-Salgado, thus violating his Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizure. . . . Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, said Garcia-Salgado will be retried and will remain in jail until then.


Washoe DA accused of hiding evidence

By Geoff Dornan,

10-01-10 -- The woman who claims her deceased brother was wrongly convicted because Washoe prosecutors hid evidence got her hearing in court Thursday. . . . Washoe District Judge Pat Flanagan took Tonja Brown's petition asking him to call for a grand jury and state bar investigation under submission, promising a decision in about two weeks. . . . Lawyer Gabriel Raviv told Flanagan that prosecutors who convicted Nolan Klein of sexual assault in 1988 “willfully concealed exculpatory evidence which we maintain would have resulted in acquittal at trial or reversal on appeal.” . . . That evidence, which Raviv argued would have helped clear Klein, includes cigarette butts from the scene where a Sparks shoe store employee was raped — which have since disappeared from the evidence — and a police officer's report that identified a potential suspect who Brown said better fit the description of the rapist than her brother.


September 2010


Texas Judge Opens Court of Inquiry on Execution of a Possibly Innocent Man

Death Penalty Information Center

09-30-10 -- Judge Charles Baird of Austin, Texas, will conduct a court of inquiry on October 6–7 (Update: Hearing postponed until Oct. 14) to determine whether Cameron Willingham (pictured) was wrongfully convicted and executed for the death of his three daughters in a fire originally deemed to be an arson. Willingham maintained his innocence up until his execution in 2004. Former Texas Governor Mark White, one of the petitioners for this rare legal proceeding, said that attorneys representing Willingham's relatives are “prepared to put on witnesses that will be persuasive that the forensic evidence was tantamount to witchcraft.” Last month, the Texas Forensic Science Committee issued preliminary findings that outdated and flawed forensic science was used to determine that the fire that killed Willingham’s daughters was arson, and voted to continue further inquiry into the case. Judge Baird, who will be presiding over the hearings, said, “Obviously the most troubling aspect of this - and it just dwarfs everything else - is whether or not to believe that an innocent person has been executed by the state of Texas.”


Nevada Judge Orders Immediate Release of Former Death Row Inmate

Death Penalty Information Center

09-29-10 -- Earlier in September, a Nevada district judge ordered the immediate release of Ronnie Milligan, who spent over 20 years on death row. Milligan, a Navy veteran, may have been wrongfully convicted of the 1980 killing of Zolihon Voinski. Milligan was the only one of three co-defendants who was sentenced to death for the crime. Four years ago, the Nevada Supreme Court set new death penalty sentencing protocols that toughened requirements for making an inmate eligible for the death penalty. The new ruling required the existence of at least two aggravating factors, and Milligan was among a handful of inmates who benefited from the ruling. Doubts concerning Milligan’s guilt were also raised after a letter written by an eyewitness at his trial, Ramon Houston, was discovered. In the letter, Houston indicated that he killed Voinski, not Milligan. The letter also disclosed that Milligan, who testified at his trial that he was in an alcoholic blackout at the time of the crime, was not even at the scene when Voinski was killed. Another co-defendant signed an affidavit saying that Milligan was not present during the killing, and that everybody involved conspired against him when they learned he had no memory of that day. Expressing “grave reservations” about Milligan’s guilt, District Judge Richard Wagner sentenced Milligan to a term of life with the possibility of parole and determined that Milligan was immediately eligible for parole.


New evidence exonerates deaf Texas man


09-28-10 -- A judge has released a deaf Texas man imprisoned for years for a sexual crime after exonerating him based on new evidence, authorities said. . . . Stephen Brodie, 39, was convicted in 1993 of the 1990 sexual assault of a 5-year-old girl based on his confession rather than physical evidence, CNN reported. . . . But evidence -- a fingerprint at the crime scene from a different man who has since been convicted of a sexual crime against an underage teen, and a hair found on the girl's blanket that did not match Brodie or anyone in the girl's family -- emerged, leading to Brodie's exoneration Monday by State District Judge Lena Levario.


Not guilty, but stuck with big bills, damaged career

By Kevin McCoy and Brad Heath, USA TODAY

09-27-10 -- A judge had a warning for the Justice Department lawyers who accused Army Lt. Col. Robert Morris of conspiring to steal military supplies: The case could be "ill-advised." A nearly two-year Army probe had cleared him. And another U.S. attorney's office had declined to prosecute. . . . The cost of fighting federal charges could "take the guy's life savings away," the judge added. . . . Prosecutors went ahead, anyway. The judge's prediction was right — a jury needed only 45 minutes to find Morris not guilty. By then, though, his career had derailed. His parents had mortgaged their home to help with $250,000 in legal bills. He had drained his own savings. . . . The government he had served in uniform for decades could have compensated Morris for some of the losses. A 1997 law requires the Justice Department to repay the legal bills of defendants who win their cases and prove that federal prosecutors committed misconduct or other transgressions. . . . But Morris didn't get anything from Washington. It took a gift from a Texas billionaire to help the Morris family pay off part of the debts. . . . The law, known as the Hyde Amendment, was intended to deter misconduct and compensate people who are harmed when federal prosecutors cross the line. A USA TODAY investigation found the law has left innocent people like Morris coping not only with ruined careers and reputations but with heavy legal costs. And it hasn't stopped federal prosecutors from committing misconduct or pursuing legally questionable cases. . . . USA TODAY documented 201 cases in the years since the law's passage in which federal judges found that Justice Department prosecutors violated laws or ethics rules.

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DNA evidence shows convicted killer deserves new trial

By John A. Torres • Florida Today

09-27-10 -- Lawyers for a convicted murderer said similarities between their client's case and other inmates recently released through DNA evidence should be enough to grant a new trial. They also want to disqualify Brevard County judges from the case. . . . In a motion filed last week in the 18th Judicial Circuit, attorney Paul Casteleiro asserted that Gary Bennett is an innocent man and should follow the footsteps of William Dillon and Wilton Dedge, both released in recent years. . . . Gary Bennett was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in 1984 for the murder of his neighbor, Helen Nardi, the year before. He has long maintained his innocence. He passed a lie detector test. He could not be tied to the case by a rape kit examination. And several people testified he was elsewhere when Nardi was sexually assaulted and murdered. . . . "Gary Bennett's case is the latest in a series of prosecutions initiated in the early 1980s in Brevard County of innocent men arrested and convicted through the use of the fraudulent testimony of John Preston," the motion stated, going on to call Preston a "serial perjurer for the state."


Dallas County prosecutors to request release of deaf man convicted of 1990 child sexual assault

By Jennifer Emily / The Dallas Morning News

09-27-10 -- The Dallas County district attorney’s office this morning is expected to ask a state district judge to release a 39-year-old deaf man prosecutors now believe was wrongly convicted for the 1990 sexual assault of a child. . . . Stephen Brodie pleaded guilty to the crime in 1993 in exchange for a five-year sentence for abducting a 5-year-old girl from her Richardson home and forcing her to perform a sex act. . . . But after Brodie's plea, his attorneys learned that a fingerprint found on a window matched a suspected serial rapist who was convicted of a similar crime and that a hair found on the girl’s blanket did not match Brodie or anyone in the girl’s family. Brodie also confessed to a crime made up by police.


INNOCENCE: DNA Test Clears Three Wrongfully Convicted Inmates Who Might Have Been Executed

Death Penalty Information Center

09-23-10 -- Two men who were serving life sentences were exonerated on September 16 from a Mississippi prison after 30 years. Phillip Bivens and Bobby Ray Dixon were accused of the 1979 rape and murder of Eva Gail Patterson. Larry Ruffin, a co-defendant who died in prison eight years ago, will be posthumously exonerated.  Ruffin was the first defendant to be arrested for the crime. Dixon and Bivens were later charged as co-conspirators, even though Patterson’s 4-year-old son, who witnessed the crime, testified that there had only been one man at the scene. Bivens was threatened with the death penalty, and, fearing for his life, backed up Dixon’s account that they were all at the crime scene that evening, even though Bivens had never met Dixon before.  Ruffin was convicted and faced the death penalty, but was given a life sentence because of a hung jury.  Lawyers from the Innocence Project, who accepted a request for help from Dixon, cited studies showing the ubiquity of false confessions and requested a DNA test of the evidence from Patterson’s rape kit. In July, test results finally came back, implicating a man who had been living near Patterson at the time of the crime and is now serving a life sentence for a prior rape. Ruffin's exoneration will be the first instance in Mississippi where DNA evidence has cleared an inmate posthumously.


A Victims-of-Law Associate


Prosecutors' conduct can tip justice scales

By Brad Heath and Kevin McCoy, USA TODAY‎  

09-22-10 -- The jurors who helped put Nino Lyons in jail for three years had every reason to think that he was a drug trafficker, and, until July, no reason to doubt that justice had been done. . . . For more than a week in 2001, the jurors listened to one witness after another, almost all of them prison inmates, describe how Lyons had sold them packages of cocaine. One said that Lyons, who ran clothing shops and nightclubs around Orlando, even tried to hire him to kill two drug suppliers. . . . But the federal prosecutors handling the case did not let the jury hear all the facts. . . . Instead, the prosecutors covered up evidence that could have discredited many of Lyons' accusers. They never revealed that a convict who claimed to have purchased hundreds of pounds of cocaine from Lyons struggled even to identify his photograph. And they hid the fact that prosecutors had promised to let others out of prison early in exchange for their cooperation.


Justice, delayed and denied

By Leonard Pitts Jr.

09-22-10 -- It was once a staple plot of TV westerns: There's been a vicious killing. Everybody knows who did it -- or thinks they know -- and the posse wants to string the varmint up. No need for the bother of a trial. The crime was outrageous, people are furious. So get the rope, find a tree. . . . Watching, you'd be glad we've moved beyond frontier justice, glad the howling of the mob can no longer stampede us into condemning an innocent man. . . . Anthony Graves would beg to differ. In 1992, he was arrested for a multiple murder that roiled the tiny Texas town of Somerville. A 45-year-old woman, her 16-year-old daughter and four children, all younger than 10, had been beaten, stabbed and shot to death and their home torched. . . . No physical evidence linked Graves to the crime. He had no motive to butcher six strangers. Three witnesses placed him at home at the time of the murders. . . . And in the end, it didn't matter. Graves was convicted and sentenced to die solely on the word of one Robert Carter, father of one of the murdered children. . . . Carter had shown up to his son's funeral with his hands, neck and ears heavily bandaged, the result, he said, of having accidentally burned himself while doing yard work. / Truth comes out . . . Questioned by authorities, he said he had driven Graves, his cousin by marriage, to the victims' house and sent him up to the door after Graves asked if Carter knew any women. Carter, who had just been slapped with a paternity suit for his now-dead son, claimed Graves, for some unknown reason, simply went berserk. . . . Eventually, Carter backed off that story, saying he alone was responsible for the crime. Over the years, he would say repeatedly -- including at his execution in 2000 -- that he had lied. Anthony Graves had nothing to do with it.


Miss. judge frees 2 men wrongly jailed 30 years

Associated Press,

09-16-10 -- A judge on Thursday freed two men who spent three decades in prison before DNA evidence showed they didn't rape a woman and cut her throat in a grisly 1979 attack. . . . A crowded courtroom erupted in applause after Forrest County Circuit Judge Robert Helfrich's ruled to set aside the men's guilty pleas, ending what some described as a 30-year ordeal for the imprisoned men. . . . Helfrich said the case was marked by a series of tragic events _ from the violent attack on the woman to the years the men spent in prison for a crime they didn't commit. . . . "The common thread in this case is tragedy," Helfrich said. . . . Helfrich ruled on a petition filed by the Innocence Project on behalf of Bobby Ray Dixon and Phillip Bivens. He'll rule later on a posthumous petition for Larry Ruffin, who died in prison in 2002. . . . The three men were convicted in the 1979 rape and murder of Eva Gail Patterson, whose 4-year-old son watched her be killed. . . . Dixon, who has lung cancer and a brain tumor, received a medical release from prison last month. He and Bivens were both in court. . . . "I feel good. I've been blessed," said Dixon, who later added, "I was done wrong. I know that."


Confessing to Crime, but Innocent

By John Schwartz, The New York Times 

09-13-10 -- Eddie Lowery lost 10 years of his life for a crime he did not commit. There was no physical evidence at his trial for rape, but one overwhelming factor put him away: he confessed. . . .  At trial, the jury heard details that prosecutors insisted only the rapist could have known, including the fact that the rapist hit the 75-year-old victim in the head with the handle of a silver table knife he found in the house. DNA evidence would later show that another man committed the crime. But that vindication would come only years after Mr. Lowery had served his sentence and was paroled in 1991. . . . “I beat myself up a lot” about having confessed, Mr. Lowery said in a recent interview. “I thought I was the only dummy who did that.” . . . But more than 40 others have given confessions since 1976 that DNA evidence later showed were false, according to records compiled by Brandon L. Garrett, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. Experts have long known that some kinds of people — including the mentally impaired, the mentally ill, the young and the easily led — are the likeliest to be induced to confess. There are also people like Mr. Lowery, who says he was just pressed beyond endurance by persistent interrogators.


Long wait for justice with DNA testing

The slow pace of Maryland's effort to examine claims of wrongful convictions

Dan Rodricks, Baltimore Sun  

09-12-10 -- It has been nearly 10 years since Maryland adopted one of the nation's most far-reaching rules for reopening old criminal cases and giving inmates convicted of murder and rape an opportunity to prove their innocence based on DNA evidence. . . . It has been a year since the National Institute of Justice, in support of expeditious and scientific truth-finding, gave the state a $307,000 Kirk Bloodsworth grant, named after the Maryland man who was the first American sentenced to death and later exonerated by DNA testing. . . . So what's the score so far? How many cases have been reopened? How many innocents set free? . . . I turned to Michele Nethercott, who co-directs the Baltimore branch of Barry Scheck's Innocence Project, operated as a partnership of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender and the University of Baltimore law school. Ms. Nethercott's unit received the bulk of the Bloodsworth grant to reopen certain cases, locate evidence and get it tested.


Florida moves to protect innocent people from wrongful convictions

Dave Heller, 10 Connects

09-10-10 -- Some of the most important movers and shakers in Florida's criminal justice system huddled in Tallahassee today with a simple, yet critical mission: protect innocent people from wrongful conviction. . . . The Florida Innocence Commission held its first meeting in what will be a two-year examination of how the state administers justice. . . . There are clear problems. A dozen inmates have been released from Florida prisons since 2000 after DNA testing proved they were innocent. . . . The commission will get to the bottom of what went wrong in those cases and offer ideas to make sure such mistakes never happen again.


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August 2010


Chastain Park woman, man in Dooly Prison become unlikely friends

By Bill Rankin, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

08-30-10 -- “I can’t believe you did this,” Mary Shannon scolded her mom. “You don’t even know what he did.” . . . You’re right, Carol Raeber admitted. I don’t. . . . At the urging of a church friend, Carol had become a pen pal with James “Country” Parkerson, an inmate at Dooly State Prison. She introduced herself in her first letter, dropping in a family photo and also telling the prisoner the names and ages of her children and grandchildren and where they all lived. . . . Her daughter learned of the letter and was instantly alarmed. How could you share so much personal information with a stranger? What do you know about him? . . . Carol was shaken to the point of tears. What was I thinking? . . . The next letter from Dooly State Prison seemed to wonder the same thing. I’m surprised, Parkerson wrote. Why haven’t you asked the first question most inmates get from their new pen pals: Why are you in prison? . . . So Parkerson told her: He was serving time for theft. And murder.


Wrongly Convicted Man Gets $7.95 Million Settlement

By Rebecca Cathcart New York Times 

08-12-10 -- A man who spent 24 years imprisoned for a murder he did not commit will receive $7.95 million from the City of Long Beach after he sued the police there for withholding evidence in his 1980 trial. . . . The settlement, made public Thursday, is the largest pretrial settlement ever in California for a wrongful conviction and one of the largest in the country, said Barry Litt, a lawyer for the man, Thomas Lee Goldstein. . . . In 2004, Mr. Goldstein was freed from prison after the Los Angeles district attorney dismissed all charges against him in the 1979 killing of a Long Beach drug dealer. The move was based on new evidence that the police had coached the only witness in the case by pointing Mr. Goldstein out in a photo spread as a suspect who had failed a polygraph test.


Columbia man gets settlement in wrongful conviction

By Associated Press, Columbia Missourian

08-11-10 -- A man who spent nearly 16 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of murder has reached a settlement in a lawsuit filed against the southeast Missouri county that put him behind bars. . . . Terms of the settlement between Joshua Kezer, Scott County and the county's former law enforcement officers were not released. . . . A member of Kezer's legal team confirmed the settlement Tuesday with the Southeast Missourian newspaper but says a judge must still finalize it. Both sides had been meeting with a federal mediator since early spring.



DNA evidence could prompt release of Zion man jailed for murder

By Dan Rozek Chicago Sun-Times  Staff Reporter

08-03-10 -- A Zion man jailed since 2005 on charges he murdered his young daughter and her friend could be released from custody as soon as Wednesday. . . . That’s because Lake County prosecutors may drop the murder charges filed against Jerry Hobbs III — or at least agree to allow him to be released on bail following a recent DNA match that links another man to the killings, sources said Tuesday. . . . Hobbs, 39, is scheduled to appear Wednesday for a hearing on the murder charges he faces in the Mother’s Day 2005 stabbing deaths of his 8-year-old daughter, Laura, and her friend, 9-year-old Krystal Tobias.


NY Prosecutors' "Shameful" Screwup Triggers $30 Million Suit Against City, State

By Mark Fass | New York Law Journal | New York Lawyer

08-03-10 -- A Brooklyn man who spent 15 years in prison before his murder conviction was thrown out in June by a federal judge has initiated $30 million in lawsuits against New York City and the state alleging malicious prosecution and a wide variety of constitutional violations. . . . Jabbar Collins was convicted in 1995 of shooting Abraham Pollack during a Williamsburg robbery. After the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office conceded earlier this year that it failed to turn over evidence that a key witness had temporarily recanted his accusations before trial, Eastern District Judge Dora Irizarry granted Mr. Collins' petition for a writ of habeas corpus, vacating the conviction and barring the state from retrying the case.


Ohio governor, attorney general push for DNA testing for death row inmate, 7 others

JoAnne Viviano  Associated Press Writer, The Republic

08-03-10 -- DNA testing should be done on evidence collected in the cases of seven men who have served time in Ohio prisons, including one man currently on death row, the governor and attorney general said Tuesday in letters to county prosecutors. . . . Gov. Ted Strickland and Attorney General Richard Cordray asked the prosecutors to make available evidence related to the convictions, which date from 1986 to 1999. . . . The cases were brought to the attention of Strickland and Cordray by the Ohio Innocence Project, which seeks to help prison inmates who claim to be innocent. . . . "We believe that when DNA testing has the genuine and real potential to clarify the guilt, innocence or identity of a person suspected or convicted of a crime, significant efforts should be made to accomplish that testing," the letters say. "We make this request to you only to promote, as best and fairly as we can, confidence and certainty in the administration of justice."


Odds still against clearing convicts

Despite county's new approach on innocence claims, most of Texas still takes a hard stance

By Peggy O'Hare, Houston Chronicle

08-02-10 -- The exonerations of two wrongfully convicted Houston men in a week suggests a new era may be unfolding in Harris County's criminal justice system — a period in which prosecutors are more interested in seeing justice gets done than in winning convictions, some say. . . . But the difficulties of proving one's innocence in court will be just as tough as always — nearly impossible in criminal cases in which DNA evidence has been used up, lost, destroyed or is otherwise unavailable, legal experts agree. . . . While some appellate attorneys are applauding Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos' establishment of a Post Conviction Review Section, whose work led to the freedom of two wrongfully convicted men in the past week, Texas law continues to make it difficult for inmates appealing convictions to be heard in court. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals remains unfriendly to innocence claims, said Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel for The Innocence Project of Texas. . . . "I'm convinced there are thousands of people in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice that are innocent and need to get out," Blackburn said. "But getting them out is very, very difficult."


Books: "False Justice: Eight Myths that Convict the Innocent"

Death Penalty Information Center

08-02-10 -- A new book written by Jim and Nancy Petro offers a comprehensive analysis of how miscarriages of justice result in wrongful convictions. Jim Petro, a former Republican Attorney General of Ohio, has observed the justice system from all sides and was appalled by the frequent mistakes in the criminal justice system.  As attorney general, he advocated along with the Innocence Project to help free a man wrongfully convicted of murder and rape.  In “False Justice,” the Petros expose a series of myths and misconceptions about the American justice system, such as, Only the guilty confess; and Wrongful conviction is the result of innocent human error.  These misconceptions, they argued, not only prevent juries from carefully weighing evidence but also prevent local judges and prosecution teams from examining cases in an unbiased fashion. "False Justice" will be released in October.

July 2010


Innocent prisoner's outburst delays release

Lawyer says he was angered by tight cuffs and having to wear leg irons to court

By Brian Rogers, Houston Chronicle    July 30, 2010, 6:56AM

07-30-10 -- A Houston man expected to be freed Thursday after being imprisoned 27 years for a rape he did not commit had to wait at least one more day after shouting from a holding cell and threatening bailiffs and jailers. . . . Michael Anthony Green reacted "emotionally" to the reality of his release, said Bob Wicoff, his attorney. . . . "He was threatening everybody and anybody, but nobody," Wicoff said. Wicoff said he did not hear Green, 45, threaten anyone specifically. . . . Green blew up after he was put in handcuffs and leg irons for the walk to court, Wicoff said. He also said the jailer who handcuffed Green jerked his arm roughly and put the cuffs on too tight. . . . "T>here was no reason to put leg irons on a guy who is getting out," Wicoff said. "It's totally ridiculous, and it's mean." . . . In a jailhouse interview with KHOU Thursday night, Green blamed the outburst on his anger at a guard he said was hurting his wrists and forcing him to walk faster than the shackles would allow.


DNA clears Houston man 27 years after conviction

By Brian Rogers, Houston Chronicle

07-28-10 -- A Houston man is expected to be freed this week after serving more than 27 years in prison — the longest time behind bars of any Texan who has been exonerated - for a rape prosecutors now say he did not commit. . . . Michael Anthony Green, 45, is expected to be in court today, when his attorney, Bob Wicoff, will ask that he be released on bail while the case moves forward. . . . If freed, Green would be the eighth local man let out of prison in recent years, and the second in a week, after serving time for a crime he did not commit. . . . "He is innocent," Wicoff said. "We've got the bad guys, too. We've pegged the bad guys." . . . Green was sentenced to 75 years in prison for the 1983 rape of a Houston woman based on faulty eyewitness identification, Wicoff said.


Houston judge recommends inmate be freed

© 2010 The Associated Press, Houston Chronicle

07-23-10 -- A judge who says a Houston man spent 19 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit has recommended his release. . . . Members of 39-year-old Allen Wayne Porter's family joyfully jumped from their seats as state District Judge Joan Campbell made her ruling Thursday. . . . Porter's attorney said her client was set to be released on a recognizance bond Friday afternoon while awaiting a final decision by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.


Innocence Commission Created in Florida

Death Penalty Information Center

07-09-10 -- Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canaday issued an Administrative Order creating a Florida Innocence Commission “to conduct a comprehensive study of the causes of wrongful conviction and of measures to prevent such convictions.”  The Administrative Order creating the commission stated the basis for the investigation: "WHEREAS, the occurrence of cases in which the innocent are convicted and punished constitutes a grave injustice; and WHEREAS, the imperative of avoiding such injustice requires a comprehensive examination of the causes of wrongful convictions and an in-depth consideration of measures to prevent the conviction of the innocent." The commission will only review cases that have already been determined to be wrongful convictions.  The 23-member Innocence Commission is scheduled to submit an interim report to the Court no later than June 30, 2011 and a final report and recommendations to the Court no later than June 30, 2012. 


2 men cleared by DNA; judge dismisses charges

By Laura Mcvicker, The Columbian     

07-16-10 -- Seventeen years ago, Alan G. Northrop and Larry W. Davis were led from a Clark County courtroom in shackles, convicted of brutally attacking and raping a woman in La Center. . . . Wednesday, they walked out of the courtroom free men, smiling and hugging family members after a judge dismissed their charges, citing new DNA evidence showing they weren't at the scene and pointing to different assailants. . . . The dismissal signaled the future, they told reporters in the courthouse lobby. They can now make up for lost time with children, nieces, nephews and friends, and enjoy the simple things in life, such as having a job and going to the grocery store. Their record is completely cleared; they no longer must register as sex offenders. . . . "It's just a major relief that it's over," Northrop said. "If it wasn't for the Innocence Project and my friends in prison, I don't know if I would have gotten through it."


Dallas D.A.'s Office Looking Into Whether Richardson PD Put Wrong Man in Prison in '93

By Robert Wilonsky, Dallas Observer (blog)

07-14-10 -- This morning, the Associated Press tells the tale of Stephen Brodie, a deaf inmate serving time in the TDCJ's Estelle Unit till 2012 -- and, quite possibly, yet another innocent man imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit. In 1991, Richardson police detained a 19-year-old Brodie for "stealing quarters from a soda machine," writes the AP's Jeff Carlton. At which point they began peppering him with questions concerning the sexual assault of a 5-year-old girl. And they did so for 18 straight hours, with and often without an interpreter. And so he confessed -- not only to that crime, but others made up by police just to test the kid.

Why Someone Might Confess to a Crime He Did Not Commit

Death Penalty Information Center

07-12-10 -- More often than many realize, innocent people falsely confess to crimes they did not commit, according to a recent review in the Chicago Tribune.  For example, Kevin Fox, was accused of sexually assaulting and murdering his 3-year-old daughter in Illinois.  He confessed to the crime after spending 14 hours in interrogation, during which police ignored his requests for a lawyer and told him that they would arrange for inmates to rape him in jail. Fox was later released after DNA evidence excluded him as a suspect, and another man was subsequently charged with the crime.   Saul Kassin, psychology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, explained the pressures that could lead to this happening, "The interrogation itself is stressful enough to get innocent people to confess. But add to that a layer of grief and shock and perhaps even some guilt — 'I should have been there' — and then that the parent is trying like hell to be cooperative because they want the murder of their child solved." Trauma, lack of sleep and highly manipulative interrogation techniques can cause false confessions to even the most heinous crimes, including ones carrying the death penalty.  Experts believe that false confessions account for an estimated 25% of wrongful convictions.   "We know that for certain kinds of people, particularly those with mental illness and mental deficiencies, but other people as well, the psychological intensity of an interrogation can prove absolutely as torturous as physical pain," said Lawrence Marshall, a Stanford University law professor who co-founded Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions.


Woman arrested on mistaken charge can't sue

Case is thrown out by appellate court even though she was held in cuffs more than 12 hours

By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

07-08-10 -- Eyrania Smith is, in the words of Maryland's second-highest court, a "truly innocent and injured" person. . . . Eyrania Smith, in the words of the same judges of Maryland's Court of Special Appeals, has no basis to sue over her mistreatment. . . . That ruling comes even though all sides agree that Smith was mistakenly arrested on a city warrant that should never have existed, taken away by a police officer who left her two children alone in a car in a highway parking lot, and was shackled by her left wrist and ankles to a pole for more than 12 hours in a Baltimore County police precinct. . . . Smith had been arrested at 9:08 a.m. on March 26, 2005. She was released from custody at 12:54 a.m. on March 27, 2005. She sued for $2 million in Baltimore County Circuit Court, alleging that her detention amounted to the use of excessive force. A judge threw out the case and on Wednesday the appeals court upheld that ruling. . . . It appears from reading the court's 25-page opinion that there are so many people to blame for Smith's predicament that no one person or agency can be held responsible for the entirety of her mistreatment.

Maryland's Court of Special Appeals (here's the acutal opinion).


Editorial: Innocence panel good for Florida

The News-Press

07-06-10 -- The Florida Innocence Commission was created Friday by Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Canady, marking a significant new day for justice in our state. . . . Simultaneously, the Florida Bar Foundation board of directors approved a $114,862 grant to help fund this commission, which Canady created by an administrative order. . . . The commission is charged with studying issues related to wrongful convictions that cost the state millions but, more critically, take away the freedoms of innocent people - while the guilty remain at large. . . . "I am very optimistic about the chances for (the commission) to do important work to improve our justice system," said Sandy D'Alemberte, former American Bar Association president and Florida State University president who has long worked for the creation of this notable research arm of the judicial branch.


Justice and compensation

Capozzi gets a large check, but it can't replace 22 years

Buffalo News Editorial

07-05-10 -- To start with, here's a test for anyone who might think that Anthony Capozzi is being over-compensated for his wrongful conviction. Imagine your local assemblyman spots you one day and makes you this offer: . . . New York will give you $4.25 million if you will agree to spend 22 of your prime years in some of the worst prisons this state can offer. That would be about a quarter of your likely lifespan, during which time, if you are as unfortunate as Capozzi, your mental health deteriorates significantly. . . . Any takers? . . . Indeed, it is impossible for the people of this state, in whose name Capozzi was wrongfully convicted of rape, to make this right. A few million dollars doesn't qualify even as a down payment on the burden that Capozzi bore, to say nothing of the one inflicted upon his family. . . . What is astonishing, and to some extent unforgiveable … again … is that it took three years since Capozzi's innocence was established for him to win this necessarily inadequate compensation.


Texas Judge to Hold Hearing on Risk of Executing the Innocent

Death Penalty Information Center

07-02-10 -- Texas District Judge Kevin Fine scheduled a hearing in a death penalty case to consider whether there is a substantial risk that Texas's death penalty laws could result in the execution of an innocent person. The hearing, expected to last two weeks, will likely include testimony from experts around the country. Casey Kiernan, one of the attorneys for the defendant, John Green, filed a pre-trial motion regarding the issue of innocence, which led to the hearing.  Kiernan said, "I think everybody in the United States would agree that the possibility exists [an innocent person has been executed]. We think there is much more than a possibility, based on all the exonerations, all the problems with the forensics." Defense attorneys are also planning to raise other issues at the hearing, including the reliability of eyewitness testimony. The hearing will begin on November 8.  Judge Fine had initially granted the motion in March, finding Texas' death penalty law to be unconstitutional.  However, he withdrew that decision so that more evidence from both sides could be submitted.

June 2010


DNA Evidence Could Show If Texas Executed an Innocent Man

Death Penalty Information Center

06-16-10 -- Texas Judge Paul C. Murphy recently ordered prosecutors to hand over key evidence from a 1989 murder case to the Innocence Project and the Texas Observer for DNA testing. In 2007, the Innocence Project and the Observer filed suit to obtain a one-inch strand of hair that allegedly implicated Claude Howard Jones (pictured) in the killing of a liquor store owner in San Jacinto County. Other than vague eyewitness accounts and questionable testimony from Jones's two friends who were also at the scene of the crime (one of whom later recanted his testimony), the only pertinent physical evidence that linked Jones to the crime scene was a strand of hair found on the liquor store counter. At Jones's trial in 1990, a forensic expert testified that the hair appeared to belong to Jones, but DNA technology did not exist at the time to determine if the strand was a match.  Jones was executed on Dec. 7, 2000, one of the last executions overseen by then-Gov. George W. Bush.


Governor Rebuffs Clemency Board in Murder Case

By Adam Liptak, NY Times / Sidebar

Ronald Kempfert was a young boy in 1975 when his father was sent to prison for murder, and they had no contact for 28 years. . . . Then, in 2003, Mr. Kempfert heard from a lawyer who had been looking into the case. “Your father is innocent,” said the lawyer, Larry A. Hammond. “And we’re pretty sure your mother framed him.” . . . That would seem a lot to digest, but Mr. Kempfert, 42, said he felt no hesitation. “My reaction was that it didn’t surprise me,” he said. “She’s my mother, and I love her. But I think she’s capable of anything.” . . . Mr. Kempfert is now certain that his father, William Macumber, is innocent. Arizona’s clemency board, citing Mr. Kempfert’s “very moving testimony” and saying there had been “a miscarriage of justice,” unanimously recommended last year that Mr. Macumber be freed. . . . But Mr. Macumber remains in prison, and Gov. Jan Brewer has refused to explain why. . . . The case against Mr. Macumber began in 1974 as his marriage was disintegrating. His wife, Carol, who worked in the local sheriff’s office, went to her superiors with a surprising story. Her husband, she said, had recently confessed to the unsolved murders of a young couple shot to death a dozen years before, in 1962, in the open desert north of Scottsdale, Ariz. . . . Largely on the strength of his former wife’s testimony, Mr. Macumber was convicted and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. . . . But the jury did not hear a significant piece of evidence. . . . In 1967, five years after the murders in the desert, a drifter named Ernesto Valenzuela was charged with a similar double homicide. He told his lawyer that he had also killed the couple in the desert.


Judge Orders Release of 'Jailhouse Lawyer,' Blasts D.A.'s Lack of Remorse

Convicted in shooting, Collins filed pro se state and federal lawsuits and conducted at least one undercover investigation

Mark Fass, New York Law Journal

06-10-10 -- In vacating a murder conviction and barring prosecutors from retrying the case, a federal judge in New York has lashed out at the Brooklyn district attorney's Office for failing to take responsibility for its prosecutors' alleged misconduct. . . . At a contentious, 90-minute habeas corpus hearing Tuesday morning, Eastern District Judge Dora L. Irizarry noted that petitioner Jabbar Collins, a renowned jailhouse attorney, had uncovered numerous documents while serving his 34-years-to-life sentence suggesting that prosecutors had withheld evidence, coerced witnesses and lied to the court and the jury. . . . However, in agreeing earlier in the morning not to oppose either Collins' habeas petition or an order barring retrial, the district attorney's office had conceded to a single Brady violation, which it claimed was unintentional.


Judge: DNA exoneree's family can't depose police

By Betsy Blaney  / Associated Press, Dallas Morning News  

06-10-10 -- A judge threw out a motion Wednesday that sought depositions of Lubbock police who worked on the investigation that led to the wrongful rape conviction of a man who later died in prison. . . . The motion was filed on behalf of the family of Tim Cole, who was convicted of the 1985 rape of a Texas Tech University student. DNA evidence cleared the Army veteran in 2008, nine years after he died in prison of complications from asthma at age 39. . . . State District Judge Les Hatch granted the city of Lubbock's motion to dismiss the petition, ruling that Cole's family lacked legal standing to take the depositions. . . . Gov. Rick Perry granted Cole the state's first posthumous pardon in March. Attorneys for the city of Lubbock had argued Cole's conviction needed to be overturned before he died for his survivors to be have a claim to depose the officers. . . . "Our position is shown by our pleadings we've filed and apparently the judge agreed with us," said William Wade, an attorney for the city.



Lawyer: Man framed, awarded $1.3M

Sun-Times Media

06-09-10 -- A Southwest Side man who spent three years in jail was awarded $1.3 million Tuesday after a Cook County jury found two police detectives and a police polygraph administrator framed him for the 2001 murder of his elderly neighbor, according to the man's lawyers. . . . The jury awarded Donny McGee -- who had previously faced the death penalty -- $1.3 million, including $330,000 to come from the officers' personal funds as punitive damages, according to a news release from the law firm Loevy & Loevy.


State Bar and Lawmakers Unveil Proposals to Curb Wrongful Convictions

By Joel Stashenko | New York Law Journal | New York Lawyer

06-07-10 -- State bar leaders joined lawmakers last week to unveil a package of proposals designed to curb wrongful convictions. . . . The proposals were among those advanced by a New York State Bar Association task force on wrongful convictions chaired by Acting Supreme Court Justice Barry Kamins, who is now administrative judge for the criminal term in Brooklyn Supreme Court. . . . Former state bar president Bernice Leber, of Arent Fox, who appointed the task force, said in an interview that its ideas were developed in consultation with the state's "top legal minds" and deserve serious consideration by legislators.

Read The Task Force on Wrongful Conviction's Final Report.


Our views: Still seeking justice

Innocence panel a start, but probe of Preston-era cases still needed

Florida Today Editorial  

06-04-10 -- Tallahassee lawmakers delivered in one key area this year:

Providing for a commission to improve Florida’s judicial system by studying ways to prevent wrongful convictions that imprison far too many innocent persons, leave actual criminals on the streets and saddle taxpayers with steep compensation costs when they are later exonerated. . . . At least 11 wrongful convictions have been reversed in Florida in recent years through new DNA evidence. . . . State Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, helped secure $200,000 for the commission in a tough budget year and deserves credit. . . . The panel will consist of prosecutors, public defenders, judges, law enforcement leaders, scholars and victims’ advocates, operating under the oversight of Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Peggy Quince.


NYC Agrees to Pay Man Framed for Murder by "Mafia Cops" $9.9 Million

By Mark Fass | New York Law Journal | New York Lawyer

06-04-10 -- The City of New York has agreed to pay $9.9 million to a man who spent nearly 19 years in prison after being framed for murder by former police officer Louis Eppolito, one of the two so-called "Mafia cops." . . . The deal, which must still be approved by Eastern District Judge I. Leo Glasser, constitutes the largest individual civil settlement in the city's history. . . . Plaintiff Barry Gibbs, a 61-year-old former postal worker, was arrested in 1986 and convicted in 1988 of murdering prostitute Virginia Robertson. He was sentenced to 20 years to life. . . . Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Michael A. Gary vacated the conviction in September 2005, after the only eyewitness against Mr. Gibbs admitted that he lied on the stand after being threatened by Mr. Eppolito.

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A Victims-of-Law Associate

May 2010


Murder Conviction Voided Over Prosecutors’ Conduct

By A. G. Sulzberger, New York Times

05-25-10 -- He was known as a jailhouse lawyer, a high school dropout turned amateur legal adviser who helped other inmates file legal motions and craft appeals while he served a sentence of 34 years to life for a murder he swore he never committed. . . . But the cause for which the inmate, Jabbar Collins, most zealously advocated was his own. He requested public records; tracked down old witnesses; and, on at least one occasion, impersonated a law enforcement officer — all in an effort to gather evidence of prosecutorial misconduct. . . . The fruit of Mr. Collins’s efforts wound its way to United States District Court in Brooklyn on Tuesday and into the hands of Judge Dora L. Irizarry, who indicated that she would vacate his 15-year-old murder conviction because of concerns about how the prosecution was handled by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office. . . . “I found the allegations to be quite troubling,” Judge Irizarry said at the beginning of the daylong proceeding. “The whole history of this case is quite troubling.” . . . The formal decision to grant Mr. Collins’s habeas corpus petition, in which he challenged his state-court conviction in federal court, was postponed by Judge Irizarry pending an evidentiary hearing that will begin Wednesday, during which lawyers for Mr. Collins are likely to highlight the conduct of the prosecution team, most notably that of Michael F. Vecchione, now the chief of the rackets division in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.


Man convicted in 1998 killing to be released

By Ryan Haggerty of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

05-24-10 -- A judge Monday ordered that a man convicted in the 1998 strangulation of a Milwaukee prostitute be released from prison based upon a new DNA test that proves he was not the killer. . . . William Avery, 38, was convicted in 2005 of first-degree reckless homicide in the killing of 39-year-old Maryetta Griffin and sentenced to 40 years' imprisonment. . . . In April, however, Avery wrote a letter to Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm asking that a specific DNA sample taken from Griffin's body be sent to the State Crime Laboratory for testing. . . . The analysis excluded Avery and revealed that the DNA sample matched the profile of accused serial killer Walter E. Ellis.


July 22 court date set in Beaman innocence case

Associated Press, Chicago Tribune 

05-21-10 -- A judge has scheduled a July 22 hearing in a 37-year-old man's efforts to get a certificate of innocence after spending 13 years in prison before his murder conviction was overturned. . . . Judge Jeffrey Ford was named in April to hear a petition that could declare Alan Beaman innocent of the 1993 murder of Illinois State University student Jennifer Lockmiller. . . . Ford scheduled the hearing to determine if he should handle the proceedings. Beaman's petition was moved to the Urbana judge because of a possible conflict.


DNA test clears American musician after 28 years in jail for rape

Giles Whittell, Times Online 

05-08-10 --  “You’re going to have to bear with me,” the judge said. “I know you’re anxious.” . . . For a man wrongly convicted of rape almost 30 years ago, Raymond Towler did not look anxious. Perhaps it was because a few more minutes in custody made little difference after so long. Perhaps it was because he had a reasonable idea of what Judge Eileen Gallagher was about to say. . . . In an extraordinary scene, barely noticed in America this week amid coverage of the enormous oil spill and the New York bomb plot, Mr Towler, a 52-year-old musician, walked free from a Cleveland court after spending more than half his life in prison for a crime of which he always maintained his innocence and which DNA analysis proved he did not commit. . . . His case is not unique, but the way it ended was uniquely moving. It may serve to galvanise a national movement of lawyers and activists who have used DNA evidence to free more than 250 inmates since 1992, almost all of them black men, but who have so far lacked the resources to tackle thousands of other cases in which experts’ fear of “junk science” and racial bias have produced unsafe convictions.


Court overturns 17-year sentence for Oregon man

Associated Press  

05-07-10 -- A 17-year prison sentence for an Oregon man arrested while trying to get back into his mother's house because he did not have a key has been overturned by a federal appeals court. . . . The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that police must get a warrant or make a reasonable attempt to determine actual trespassing before an arrest. . . . Rian Struckman was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm after police confronted him in his mother's back yard and found an unloaded gun in a backpack. . . . The appeals court ruled Tuesday that Portland police had no probable cause to arrest or search Struckman because he lived at the house and was not trespassing or committing any other crime.

Stevens: Risk of wrongful sentences higher

By Joan Biskupic, USA TODAY

05-06-10 -- Modern pressures on the judicial system have raised the chance a defendant could be wrongly sentenced to death, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said Wednesday, explaining his changed view on the constitutionality of capital punishment. . . . "The risk of an incorrect decision has increased," he told an audience of hundreds of lawyers and judges at a judicial conference here, responding to a question about his 2008 assertion that the death penalty should be abolished. He said that because of advances in DNA testing, which have led to the freeing of some innocent convicts, "we're more aware of the risk than we might have been before." . . . In a lethal-injection dispute from Kentucky two years ago, Stevens concluded for the first time that "the death penalty represents the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions" to society.

US won’t appeal verdict in case of four framed by FBI

Plaintiffs to get damage judgment of $101.7 million

By Jonathan Saltzman, Boston Globe Staff

05-01-10 -- The federal government has decided not to appeal to the Supreme Court a landmark verdict for four men framed by the FBI in a gangland slaying, meaning the plaintiffs will receive a damage judgment that totals $101.7 million, according to one of their lawyers. . . . US Solicitor General Elena Kagan let the deadline pass yesterday for the government to challenge the award before the high court, said Victor J. Garo, the lawyer for Joseph Salvati, who lives in the North End. . . . His 77-year-old client spent more than 29 years in prison as a result of his wrongful conviction. . . . Garo said Salvati will receive the $31 million he was awarded by US District Court Judge Nancy Gertner in 2007 plus more than $2 million in interest that accumulated since then. . . . Garo said he and the lawyers for the other plaintiffs went to Washington several weeks ago to urge Kagan’s office not to appeal. The Justice Department, which had refused to pay up, tried to persuade Kagan’s lawyers to continue the legal fight.

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A Victims-of-Law Associate

April 2010


DNA Clears Man Wrongly Convicted of Murder

Death Penalty Information Center

04-29-10 -- A New York truck driver, who spent nearly 19 years in prison for murder, was released on April 28, after testing of DNA found in the victim's clothing excluded him as the killer. Frank Sterling, now 46, was convicted of the 1988 murder of Viola Manville after he confessed to the crime during an all-night interrogation. He later recanted this confession, claiming he had slipped into an hypnotic state during the lengthy questioning and parroted details given to him about the crime.  The DNA test pointed to another man, Mark Christie, as the killer. Christie, who is serving a sentence for strangling a 4-year-old in 1994, confessed to the murder earlier this month. He had been questioned about Manville's killing in 1988 but was discounted as a suspect after he denied involvement.  (Sterling was convicted in 1992, shortly before New York adopted the death penalty in 1995.  The state abandoned capital punishment again in 2007.)


Evidentiary Hearing Set for June 30 in the Case of Troy Davis

Death Penalty Information Center  

04-27-10 -- Federal District Court Judge William Moore set a date of June 30, 2010, at 10 AM in Savannah, Georgia, for the evidentiary hearing regarding Troy Davis' (pictured) claim of actual innocence.  Davis filed an original habeas corpus petition with the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009 asserting that new evidence from witnesses who had recanted their trial testimony established his innocence. He had been denied an evidentiary hearing in the Georgia state and lower federal courts.  On August 17, 2009, the Court directed the District Court in Savannah to hold a hearing to "receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes petitioner's innocence."  Judge Moore also issued a ruling on various discovery requests made by both parties in the litigation.  For more information on the Troy Davis case, click here.


Lawyer: Stuck Throttle Found in Car of Imprisoned Toyota Driver

'New Hope' for Man Convicted of Vehicular Homicide After Possible Cruise Control Fault Identified in 1996 Camry

By Joseph Rhee, Brian Ross & Angela Hill, ABC

04-21-10 -- The lawyer for a Toyota owner serving an eight-year prison sentence for vehicular homicide says a new inspection of his car found a possible fault in the car's cruise control that may have jammed the throttle into an open position. . . . "There is enough evidence now to support a new trial," said Robert Hilliard, the lawyer for Koua Fong Lee, 32, of St. Paul, Minnesota, who was convicted following a 2006 accident that killed three people when his car slammed into a vehicle at a stop sign. . . . "If the cruise control was working properly, it would allow the brakes to take over and the car to stop," said Hilliard. . . . At the trial, Lee insisted his Toyota, a 1996 Camry, suddenly sped out of control and that he was pumping the brakes up until the point of impact. . . . "We see a mechanical device that appears to stick open and therefore keeps the throttle from closing," attorney Bob Hilliard told following an inspection of the car yesterday by experts hired for him.


Judge vacates 2 men's convictions after DNA test

The Associated Press, Seattle Post Intelligencer

04-21-10 -- A judge has vacated the convictions of two men who were found guilty in 1993 of attacking a woman in La Center. . . . The Columbian newspaper says Clark County Superior Court Judge Diane Woolard ruled Wednesday that new DNA testing indicates Alan Northrop and Larry Davis were not at the scene. The new test was performed at the request of the Innocence Project Northwest.


The coddled lawyers of our fair state

By Rick Casey Houston Chronicle 

04-20-10 -- Criminal defense attorneys will tell you that the most important question to ask a potential client is not whether he is innocent or guilty. . . . It's how much money does he have. . . . Houstonian Brisby Brown has learned that it might be useful to turn the tables. . . . Brown sat in jail for about 18 months on drug charges as, he claims, his attorney pressured him to plead guilty while refusing to look at evidence showing his innocence. Only on the day a jury was being selected did the lawyer send an investigator to the scene of the alleged crime, he said in a complaint to the State Bar. . . . Apparently when prosecutors got around to examining the evidence, they weren't impressed. They dropped the charges. . . . In addition to filing a complaint with the Bar, Brown engaged an attorney to sue his defense attorney for malpractice. But the attorney, who would be paid from the winnings, dropped the matter when he learned that the defense attorney had no malpractice insurance. . . . A jury might have awarded Brown a nice chunk of money for sitting in jail needlessly, but it would be hard to collect that money from an uninsured lawyer, and the new lawyer didn't feel he could afford to spend a lot of time on the case with little chance of getting paid. . . . So before hiring a lawyer, you may want to ask if he or she has malpractice insurance. . . . But asking such a question can feel awkward, and one lawyer I talked to said it could discourage a lawyer from taking your case.

The Innocence Project Has Sparked a Movement, Founder Says

By Meredith Hobbs | Daily Report | New York Lawyer

04-20-10 -- The effort to free wrongfully convicted people from prison has grown from a few projects to an "international human rights movement in pursuit of the rule of law," said the Innocence Network's co-founder, Peter J. Neufield, at the group's 10th annual conference Friday at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis. . . . "The movement," said Neufield, "is making its way into the zeitgeist and public consciousness," which he attributed in part to press coverage of the increasing number of exonerations the umbrella group's members have brought about. . . . The Innocence Network's 59 member organizations prompted the release of 30 people from prison last year, said Keith Findley, the group's president, after they'd been wrongfully convicted based on mistaken eyewitness identifications, false confessions, faulty evidence or other problems. He said 12 were exonerated based on DNA evidence. . . . Neufield said there were only eight projects nationwide in 2000, when he and Barry C. Scheck started the Innocence Network. Just last year, he said, nine new projects joined, including ones in Canada and Australia. The network is an outgrowth of the Innocence Project, which Neufield and Scheck co-founded in 1992 and is housed at Yeshiva University's Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.


Innocence Groups Petition Supreme Court to Hear Case

Death Penalty Information Center

04-08-10 -- Innocence groups from around the country, along with a group of eyewitness testimony experts, recently filed amicus briefs asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case of Kevin Keith, an Ohio man who is on death row for fatally shooting three people in 1994. The innocence groups stated that Keith's conviction was based on faulty eyewitness testimony that was improperly influenced by the police. In addition, Keith's counsel uncovered another possible suspect, a man with a violent criminal history, who told a confidential police informant that he was paid to "cripple" the person who was the target of the shooting.  Defense lawyers asserted that the state withheld important information about the possible other suspect.  Keith has an alibi for the time of the crime supported by four witnesses.  No forensic evidence conclusively links him to the crime.  Keith is scheduled for execution on September 15.


Appeals court upholds finding that cops framed Riley Fox's dad

Steve Schmadeke, Chicago Breaking News

04-07-10 -- An appeals court today agreed with a federal jury's 2007 finding that Will County police framed Kevin Fox for the rape and murder of his 3-year-old daughter Riley, but reduced the damages awarded to Fox and his wife from $12.2 million to $8 million. . . . The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals chastised the investigators on the case, implying that their decision to quickly rule out Riley's 2004 death as the work of a sexual predator was "absurd." . . . The court, in a 52-page decision by Judge Terence Evans, also found that detectives lacked probable cause to arrest Fox using the "exceedingly weak evidence" they had assembled. . . . Fox was arrested four months after the death of his daughter, who was sexually assaulted, bound with duct tape and drowned in a Wilmington creek. Fox gave police a videotaped confession that he said was fabricated. The videotape was not shown during the civil trial.


Va. judge orders DNA test in 1984 case

-- Richmond Times-Dispatch, By Washington Post Editors

04-05-10 -- Richmond Circuit Court judge has ordered DNA testing in a 26-year-old sexual assault case. . . . Thomas E. Haynesworth's lawyers requested the testing even though he was acquitted of the crime. . . . Haynesworth's lawyers say in court papers that the DNA testing would provide further evidence to support Haynesworth's claim of innocence in several other rapes and robberies in 1984. . . . Haynesworth is serving 64 years for a rape in Henrico County and an abduction and robbery in Richmond. No evidence in these cases remains for DNA testing.


De-bug's role as legal watchdog grows

By Tracey Kaplan,

04-04-10 -- Ramon Vasquez's urban nightmare began when San Jose police surrounded him at gunpoint in a parking lot of a Coca-Cola distribution center. Instead of coaching his son's Little League game that day, the soft-drink deliveryman wound up jailed for a gang-related murder, facing a possible life sentence. . . . Few outside his family and friends believed he was innocent until his fiancee heard about a free legal clinic offered every Sunday near downtown San Jose by the grass-roots group De-Bug. With De-Bug's help, all charges against Vasquez were dismissed and he was set free five months after being arrested. In February, he was deemed factually innocent by a judge, erasing his record and increasing his chances of remuneration from the county. . . . "It was like I had a law firm behind me," Vasquez, 29, said of De-Bug's efforts, including urging his government-appointed attorney to mount a more aggressive defense. "I probably would have fallen through the cracks if it wasn't for my family and De-Bug." . . . Now, De-Bug's coordinator, Raj Jayadev, has been awarded a $75,000 fellowship by the liberal Soros Foundation to teach local pastors and leaders in minority communities nationwide to be legal watchdogs on behalf of defendants and their families trying to navigate a confusing criminal justice system.


Two Men Free After 16 Years In Jail

By Christine Dempsey The Hartford Courant

04-02-10 -- Gerald O'Donnell's eyes glistened with tears as he stood outside Superior Court, his right arm around Ronald Taylor and his left around George Gould. . . . Because of the private investigator's probing, the men who flanked O'Donnell were about to walk free. Each had been convicted of a homicide that a judge says they didn't commit. The two have spent the past 16 years behind bars. . . . "Justice is served, they're free," O'Donnell said. He called Taylor and Gould "two great guys" who, with patience, "sat there and waited for the system to work." . . . Earlier, inside a hushed courtroom, Judge Stanley Fuger Jr. cleared the way for the men to be set free by asking a prosecutor if there were any more motions opposing their release. Prosecutor Michael O'Hare — who previously had opposed the men's release — answered no. He did, however, file an appeal of Fuger's March 17 order to reverse the men's convictions. Because of the appeal, their release comes with a series of conditions, including that they wear GPS tracking devices.


March 2010


Driver Imprisoned Over Fatal Toyota Crash Seeks New Trial

Tresa Baldas, The National Law Journal

03-29-10 -- After months of insisting he was wrongfully convicted of vehicular homicide, a Minnesota man in prison for a fatal Toyota crash sought a new trial last week. . . . Attorneys for Koua Fong Lee filed their petition seeking a new trial on March 23 in Ramsey County District Court and provided county prosecutors with new evidence to support Lee's alleged innocence. The day before, prosecutors had agreed to a new inspection of Lee's vehicle in mid-April. . . . "The county attorney herself -- I've seen her twice on TV say, 'We need to see evidence.' Well, here it is. It's time for her to act," said Lee's lawyer, Robert Hilliard of Corpus Christi, Texas' Hilliard Munoz Guerra. . . . Hilliard said that he's given the prosecutor "more than enough evidence" to prove that a new trial is warranted. He said he's submitted 16 affidavits from individuals who experienced sudden acceleration in older model Toyota vehicles, including seven with the same 1996 Camry model that Lee drove.


SJC says judges cannot expunge criminal records

Woman in case wrongly identified

By Kyle Cheney, State House News Service, Boston Globe

03-26-10 -- Judges have no authority to purge criminal records, even when such records were issued by mistake, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled yesterday. . . . The ruling reversed a split decision by an Appeals Court panel that said keeping criminal records based on a mistake would be “unacceptably Kafkaesque.’’ . . . At issue is a 2006 ruling by a Boston Municipal Court judge expunging the criminal record of a woman who was mistakenly identified by authorities as the driver of a car in a hit-and-run accident. . . . The car involved was registered to the woman, identified by the pseudonym Tina Boe, but was driven by a male when the accident occurred, according to the court’s description. . . . Police summoned Boe to a hearing to determine whether she would be criminally charged, but Boe was directed to the wrong hearing room, according to the ruling.


Exonerated inmate given freedom, judge's apology

After 26 years in prison, DNA testing clears man.

By Paula Mcmahon, Mcclatchy-tribune News Service

03-25-10 -- Anthony Caravella got two things Thursday that he waited for since he was 15: total freedom and an apology from a Broward Circuit judge for the nearly 26 years he wrongfully spent in prison. . . . Caravella, 41, of Miramar was locked up for more than half his life for a 1983 rape and murder until DNA testing exonerated him this week. . . . Broward Circuit Judge Thomas M. Lynch IV tossed Caravella's life sentence and convictions for murder and rape Thursday, at the request of prosecutors and the defense. . . . "The past couple of years a lot of people have worked very hard for you ... on the other hand, there are some people who may owe you an apology," the judge, who is new to the case, told Caravella.

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Exonerated Inmates Ordered To Be Set Free

By David Owens, The Hartford Courant   

03-24-10 -- Two men who have served 16 years in prison for murder were ordered released today by the judge who overturned their convictions a week ago. . . . Judge Stanley T. Fuger Jr. ruled today in Superior Court in Rockville that 51-year-old Ronald Taylor and 48-year-old George Gould should be freed. . . . He placed a 10-day delay on his order that will expire April 1, the last business day before the end of the 10-day period. . . . Fuger set bail at $100,000 non-surety each, meaning that they do not have to post bail to be released but would owe that amount if they fail to appear in court. . . . On March 17, in a sharply worded ruling, Fuger ordered their "immediate" release after DNA evidence and testimony convinced him that the men did not commit the crime.


Supreme Court to Rule on Prosecutorial Immunity

Tony Mauro, The National Law Journal

03-23-10 -- The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to rule on a Louisiana dispute that could be an important test of prosecutorial immunity in a death penalty case. . . . In Connick v. Thompson, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court verdict that awarded accused murderer John Thompson $14 million for the district attorney's failure to train its lawyers about so-called Brady violations, a failure that led to his wrongful conviction and death sentence in 1985. . . . Current Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizaro Jr. appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, asserting that upholding the 5th Circuit's decision "exposes district attorney's offices to vicarious liability for a wide range of prosecutorial misconduct."


Movie Script Revision Needed?
High Court Accepts Case of Exonerated Inmate

By Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal

03-22-10 -- The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether the New Orleans District Attorney’s office may be liable for failing to turn over a crime lab report that could have helped an inmate avoid the death penalty. . . . Touchstone Pictures has signed a deal to produce a movie on the case of the inmate, John Thompson, who was acquitted of murder in a retrial after spending 18 years in prison for the crime. The Supreme Court granted cert on Monday to decide the liability issue, the Associated Press reports. . . . In 2007, a jury awarded Thompson $14 million for the district attorney’s failure to train its employees about turning over exculpatory evidence. On appeal, the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals evenly split in an en banc ruling, which had the effect of upholding the judgment. . . . In the first trial, prosecutors had used Thompson’s conviction in a separate carjacking to obtain the death penalty. A crime lab report had found Thompson’s blood type did not match that of the carjacking perpetrator, but it was never turned over to the defense.


Historical North Carolina Exoneration Almost Never Happened

Death Penalty Information Center

03-22-10 -- Gregory Taylor recently became the first person exonerated by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, the only state-run agency in the country with the power to overturn convictions based on claims of innocence. Taylor had been convicted of the brutal murder of a prostitute, a crime for which he might have been executed in many states.  In 1993, prosecutors relied partly on a lab report indicating that blood was found in Taylor's SUV, which was found parked near the victim's body. The lab report, however, did not mention that a second test came back negative for the presence of blood. The results of the second test were filed away in informal notes that did not surface until Taylor's case came before the Innocence Commission. Even these notes would not have been discovered if it were not for Assistant District Attorney Tom Ford, who prosecuted Taylor's case in 1993.  Ford said state investigators did not tell him until July 2009 about the negative second blood test. He subsequently told the Commission investigators where to find the bench notes, saying that he felt it was his duty to do so. Taylor was cleared of all charges after other parts of the state's case also were discredited, and he was freed after spending nearly 17 years in prison.


Judge Orders Two Prisoners To Be Set Free After Wrongful Murder Conviction

By Jenna Carlesso, Hartford Courant

03-19-10 -- Two men serving life sentences for the murder of a Fair Haven bodega owner have been ordered set free after more than 16 years behind bars. . . . Calling the matter a "manifest injustice," Superior Court Judge Stanley Fuger Jr. reversed the convictions of George Gould, 48, and Ronald Taylor, 51, the two New Haven men charged with the July 1993 slaying of bodega owner Eugenio DeLeon Vega. . . . Fuger's decision hinged on admissions by two key witnesses who said they had been pressured by police to give false testimony. Investigators also found that DNA on the electrical cord used to bind the hands of the slain shop owner didn't belong to either of the two men convicted of killing him, nor were their fingerprints among those found on the door handle of the store's safe. . . . "It is now an inescapable conclusion that a manifest injustice has been done to these two men," Fuger wrote in his decision, dated Thursday. "George Gould and Ronald Taylor have been convicted and spent over 16 years in the custody of the Connecticut Department of Correction for a crime that, based upon all of the available evidence, they did not commit." . . . Taylor's wife, Mary, with whom Taylor has a 21-year-old daughter, said Thursday she was pleased with the judge's findings. . . . "I always knew Ron didn't do this. There was never a day ... that I ever believed Ron had anything to do with this. I lived with the man. I know the man," she said. . . . "When you know someone's a decent human being and you know they're innocent of something, you stand by them."


Joe D'Ambrosio, once on death row on murder charge, now free after judge dismisses all charges

By Peter Krouse, The Plain Dealer

03-05-10 -- A judge declared Joe D'Ambrosio a free man Friday afternoon, ending more than 21 years of incarceration -- mostly on death row -- for a crime he has always said he didn't commit. . . . D'Ambrosio, 48, remained subdued as supporters hugged in the courtroom. He marched from the Justice Center to the nearby probation offices to have an electronic bracelet removed from his ankle, the last vestige of his imprisonment. . . . On the way back out, he extended his hand to one of the guards. . . . "Take it easy," D'Ambrosio said. "I'm done." . . . "Enjoy your life," the guard replied. . . . D'Ambrosio's newfound freedom is the culmination of a long struggle to win the release of a man several judges ruled was denied justice by prosecutors. . . . Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Joan Synenberg dismissed all charges against D'Ambrosio and ordered him released without any conditions. The move came two days after U.S. District Judge Kate O'Malley ruled D'Ambrosio cannot be retried for the 1988 killing of Tony Klann.


Prosecutor in Manhattan Will Monitor Convictions

By John Eligon, New York Times    

03-04-10 -- The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., announced Thursday that he would start a program to safeguard against wrongful convictions, addressing one of the most talked-about topics during his campaign for the office. . . . Known as the Conviction Integrity Program, the effort will be led by Bonnie Sard, a veteran assistant district attorney, who will monitor cases that raise red flags and oversee reinvestigations. The program will also include a panel of 10 of Mr. Vance’s top assistants to review cases and the office’s prosecutorial practices, as well as a panel of outside experts to advise on policy. . . . While Mr. Vance said he believed the office had long tried to make sure that it did not make mistakes, he said a structured system would take the approach one step further. . . . “I think this will help lawyers do better what they already were doing, and with more consistency,” Mr. Vance said in an interview.


Man Accused of Medically Impossible Murder

Autopsy Report Points to James Suttle's Guilt, but 'Body Farm' Experiment Says He's Innocent

By Geoff Martz & Rashida Johnson, ABC News

03-02-10 -- When James Suttle was arrested for first-degree murder in January 2001, it was a dramatic turnaround for a man who until that moment seemed to be living a golden life. . . . Suttle left the town of Pulaski, Tenn., as a teenager and headed to Las Vegas, where he became a high-stakes professional gambler and entrepreneur. He hadn't been back to Pulaski in nearly 20 years, but he returned in part to see his cousin Stevie Hobbs. . . . "Me and Stevie were inseparable," Suttle, 49, said. . . . But during his October 1998 visit, Suttle was awakened by Hobbs, who rushed into his bedroom and appeared to be having some kind of attack. . . . "The first thing I remember was him trying to call my name," Suttle said. "He couldn't get my whole name out." . . . Suttle said his cousin had his hands in the air and spun in a full circle, before ultimately falling backward on top of a glass coffee table. When the table broke, one of the shards of glass entered Hobbs' back, apparently killing him. . . . Suttle called 911. But over the next few days, Suttle said he sensed police didn't believe his story. . . . "I could tell that they were trying to pin this off on me as a murder," he said.

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February 2010


Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommends clemency for Tim Cole

By Mitch Mitchell,

02-28-10 -- More than a decade after his death and nearly 25 years since his arrest, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles is recommending clemency for a Fort Worth man who died in prison after being wrongfully convicted on rape charges. . . . The board sent a letter to Tim Cole's attorney at the Innocence Project of Texas on Friday saying that it had voted to recommend clemency and forwarded its decision to Gov. Rick Perry for his signature. . . . It would be the state's first posthumous pardon, and Perry has indicated that he would sign an order clearing Cole's name if recommended by the board. . . . "Gov. Perry looks forward to pardoning Tim Cole pending the receipt of a positive recommendation from the Board of Pardons and Paroles," Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press on Saturday. . . . Cory Session, who has been fighting to clear his brother's name for years, said he anticipates that the governor will sign Cole's pardon in March during a ceremony in Fort Worth. . . . "To say that the wheels of justice turn slowly would be an understatement," Session said Saturday. . . . "The question is: How many more Tim Coles are out there?"


This case was a crime: DAs must learn tough lessons from false rape conviction

New York Daily News Editorial

02-26-10 -- Five years after crying rape and sending a man to prison for a crime that never happened, Biurney Peguero has been slapped with a one- to three-year sentence for committing perjury. . . . She deserves that much - and more. Peguero should have been required to spend at least as much time behind bars as did William McCaffrey, the innocent man she locked away. . . . That Peguero eventually admitted fabricating her account of a brutal assault by McCaffrey and two other men does not mitigate her offense. Nor was hers garden-variety perjury of the kind that witnesses perpetrate to, say, dodge an indictment. . . . Peguero's sworn words stole the freedom of a blameless individual as surely as if she had kidnapped and held him hostage for 50 months. Her eligibility to apply for parole in a year pales in comparison. . . . She also played the criminal justice system - the police, the Manhattan district attorney's office, a judge and two juries - for fools. They bought a story that in the clear light of hindsight had grounds for doubt. . . . And, so, the Peguero case must serve as an object lesson for law enforcement authorities and judges as to the makings of a wrongful conviction. It should also reinforce for them the need for speedy reconsideration when there is substantial evidence that an injustice has been done.


Woman who falsely accused man of rape, sending him to prison for 4 years, gets 1-3 years jail

By Rich Schapiro, Daily News Staff Writer

02-23-10 -- A Manhattan judge on Tuesday excoriated a young woman who falsely accused a man of rape - sending him to prison for nearly four years - then tossed her behind bars. . . . "What happened in this case is one of the worst things that can happen in our criminal justice system," Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Charles Solomon said before sentencing Biurny Peguero to one to three years. . . . "She testified that an entirely innocent person committed an extremely heinous crime. ... It's hard for me to imagine how she could do that."

Landlords’ Convictions Overturned in Deaths of 2 Firefighters

By Sam Dolnick,  New York Times 

02-23-10 -- A Bronx judge on Tuesday overturned the convictions of the owner and former owner of a building where two firefighters leapt to their deaths from a fourth-floor window to escape advancing flames. . . . A jury convicted the defendants of criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment a year ago; prosecutors had argued that they knew about the illegal partitions that had turned the apartment building into a dangerous maze that helped disorient the firefighters as the flames quickly spread. . . . But Justice Margaret L. Clancy of State Supreme Court took the unusual step on Tuesday of overturning the verdict because, she said, prosecutors had failed to prove that the defendants — the company that owned the building, and Cesar Rios, its former owner — knew about the partitions. . . . “An individual or entity cannot be convicted of a crime without evidence of actual knowledge,” Justice Clancy said. . . . On the frigid morning of Jan. 23, 2005, firefighters were called to a blaze in a building at 236 East 178th Street in Tremont. Tenants had built partitions inside apartments on the third and fourth floors that created small, windowless rooms cut off from the fire escape and the hallway. . . . Six firefighters trapped in the warren of rooms were forced to jump 50 feet from the building to escape. Firefighter John G. Bellew and Lt. Curtis W. Meyran died; the other four suffered serious injuries.


Appeals Court Reverses Homicide Conviction for Leaving Overdose Victim on Lawn

Mark Fass, New York Law Journal

02-22-10 -- An upstate New York appeals panel has thrown out the negligent homicide conviction of a man who, after a woman overdosed on heroin and passed out in his car, dropped her off on the lawn of a trailer park. . . . The woman, who was unconscious but breathing when defendant Carl Erb pulled her from his car, died in a hospital after she was discovered two hours later. . . . The unanimous Appellate Division, 4th Department, panel found that the woman was no worse off on the lawn than in Erb's car. . . . "We agree with defendant that the evidence failed to establish that his acts in any way caused the death of the victim. Defendant did not procure or inject the drugs that caused the death of the victim, nor did he place her in a location that made her less likely to obtain medical assistance," the panel found in its unsigned opinion, People v. Erb, 138. "There is no evidence that removing the victim from the vehicle or leaving her outside contributed to her death."


State commissions would cut years innocents found guilty serve

By Joe Sommers,  Kansas State Collegian

02-22-10 -- Last week, a man in North Carolina was released after a panel of judges ruled he had been wrongfully convicted of murdering a prostitute. . . . Gregory F. Taylor, who had been in jail since 1991 after receiving a life sentence, was released after a special commission discovered he had been convicted on what the judges decided was flawed evidence and unreliable testimony. . . . The reason this case is noteworthy is not just because a wrongfully imprisoned man was freed, but also because it was made possible through the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. . . . The eight-member commission, which was created in 2006, investigates post-conviction claims and decides if there is sufficient new evidence to overturn the conviction. It then hands the case over to a special three-judge panel that gives an official ruling. . . . The commission is currently the only one of its kind in the United States, which is something that needs to change.

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Prosecutor Reflects On Taylor Case

Written by Mike Raley/David Horn, North Carolina News Network  

02-19-10 -- Friday marked the second full day of freedom for Greg Taylor, declared innocent by a three-judge panel on Wednesday of the murder of a prostitute in Raleigh in 1991. Wake County Prosecutor Colon Willoughby's office was in charge of the original case. . . . Willoughby said he prosecuted the case based on the evidence available.  "I think that what we need in the criminal justice system is all of the information that is available about particular pieces of evidence," said Willoughby.  "In this case I think neither the defense or the prosecutor were aware of information that later appeared to be very important."


Unique Innocence Commission in North Carolina Frees Murder Defendant After 17 Years

Death Penalty Information Center

02-18-10 -- In an historic decision, a panel of judges outside of the state's court system unanimously voted to exonerate and release Gregory Taylor, a North Carolina man who was imprisoned for nearly 17 years for first-degree murder.  In April 1993, Taylor was convicted of the 1991 murder of Jacquetta Thomas, a prostitute found dead at the end of a cul-de-sac in Raleigh. Police arrested Taylor after finding his SUV about 100 yards from the crime scene, even though there was never any physical evidence linking Taylor to the victim.  Taylor became the first person in the state to be exonerated by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, the only state-run agency in the United States with the power to overturn convictions based on claims of innocence. Earlier, the eight-member Commission had voted unanimously to send Taylor's case to the next level of review before the panel of  three judges.


Attorney: Masters can move forward

By Nate Taylor • The Coloradoan

02-17-10 -- With his civil court battle partially over against those he claims conspired to wrongfully imprison him, Timothy Masters is finally able to begin to move on with his life, his attorney David Lane said. . . . "Tim can now begin to put this behind him, and the financial pressure is behind him," Lane said in a phone interview Tuesday. . . . Larimer County commissioners approved a $4.1 million settlement with Masters Tuesday, but his suit continues against the other defendants, the city of Fort Collins and its current and former officers. . . . Lane said he believes the police were more culpable in his client's conviction and wrongful imprisonment in the 1987 slaying of Peggy Hettrick than prosecutors Jolene Blair and Terence Gilmore. . . . A visiting judge in 2008 overturned Masters' conviction, and he was set free.


Wrongfully convicted Broward man to be compensated

By Diana Moskovitz,

02-17-10 -- Convicted of a robbery he didn't commit, Leroy McGee's life consists of two parts: before prison and after prison. . . . Before prison, McGee was a young man with a family, four children and big dreams. . . . After prison, three years and seven months later, McGee was divorced, living with his mother and working three jobs to get by. . . . On Tuesday, with a few strokes of a pen in Fort Lauderdale, the 42-year-old signed the papers that will deliver compensation from the state for his lost years: $179,000. The amount will be spread out over at least 10 years. . . . He could have signed the papers six months ago, said his lawyer, David Comras. . . . Instead, McGee waited to draw attention to what he and several lawyers called flaws in the current laws that could exclude from compensation most people who have been wrongfully convicted.


Family requests pardon for man wrongly convicted of rape

Jeff Carlton, The Associated Press, Dallas Morning News

02-17-10 -- Attorneys for a man who died in prison after he was wrongly convicted of rape have filed for a pardon with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. . . . Tim Cole's pardon application was mailed this week to Austin by The Innocence Project of Texas. . . . Cole, an Army veteran, died behind bars in 1999 at age 39. He was convicted of a 1985 rape of a Texas Tech student in Lubbock. . . . A 2008 DNA test cleared Cole and implicated convicted rapist Jerry Wayne Johnson, who confessed in several letters to court officials that date back to 1995. . . . Cole's family has been asking for a pardon from Gov. Rick Perry, who was sympathetic but maintained he legally could not issue a posthumous pardon. . . . Last month, Attorney General Greg Abbott ruled that the Texas Constitution limits pardon power only in cases of treason or impeachment.

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Fort Lauderdale man to get $179,000 under new law

He unjustly spent 3 years, 7 months in prison

By Jon Burstein, Sun Sentinel

02-14-10 -- A Fort Lauderdale man who spent three years and seven months in prison for a robbery he didn't commit will become the first wrongfully convicted person to receive compensation under a new Florida law. . . . Leroy McGee, 42, plans to sign legal papers on Tuesday that will allow him to start receiving $179,000 under the state's Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act. The father of five is the first to apply for and receive compensation — $50,000 for every year unjustly spent in prison — under the law that took effect in July 2008. . . . McGee became eligible for the money in July 2009 but had refused to sign all the paperwork. His reluctance stemmed from the state's refusal to pay the legal costs he racked up in his fight for compensation. He said he feared that if the state refuses to cover such costs, other wrongfully convicted people would be unable to hire attorneys to seek reparations. . . . But McGee, a carpenter with the Broward School District, said last week that because of the uncertain economy and his desire to help his kids and move out of his mother's house, it's time to sign the papers. . . . "I still want to fight the fight," he said. "If you are willing to pay knowing I didn't do this crime, why wouldn't you pay the legal fees also?"


Defense Attorney in Fatal Crash Case Wants Toyota Vehicle Re-Examined

The Associated Press,

02-12-10 -- The attorney for a man imprisoned after a fatal car crash says he'll seek to have the man's Toyota re-examined in light of the automaker's recent recall over accelerator issues. . . . Koua Fong Lee is serving eight years in prison for a high-speed crash in Minneapolis that killed three people in 2006. . . . Accident reconstruction experts estimated Lee was going 72 to 91 mph when he left Interstate 94 and repeatedly pumped what he believed were the brakes before slamming into another car and killing three people.


Wrongfully Convicted: He spent 10 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit; now he’s getting $7.5M

By Shaun Hittle, Lawrence Journal World

02-11-10 -- Over the past 30 years, Eddie Lowery has been a soldier, a convicted rapist, an ex-convict, a registered sex offender, a husband and a father. . . . But Lowery, 50, is also an exonerated man who spent 10 years in a Kansas prison for a rape he didn’t commit. . . . After nearly three decades, Lowery’s struggle with the criminal justice system is almost complete. . . . “I feel now that justice is coming full circle,” he said in a recent interview. . . . Lowery has reached a $7.5 million settlement with the Riley County officials who worked to wrongfully convict him. And, last week, officials in the Kansas attorney general’s office announced they had arrested the man they believe actually committed the crime. . . . “Who could ever imagine a story like this?” Lowery said.

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Man convicted of statutory rape may get new trial after DNA report

By Mark Morris, The Kansas City Star

02-10-10 -- A Jefferson City man convicted of the statutory rape of a 12-year-old girl won a key court ruling Wednesday in his push for a new trial. . . . The reason: New DNA evidence proves that the girl lied. . . . Antoine Terry was 17 at the time he allegedly impregnated the girl, who testified at Terry’s 2008 trial in Cole County that he had to be the father of her unborn child. He was the only man with whom she’d had sex in the summer of 2007, she said. . . . But DNA testing after the child’s birth showed that Terry was not the father, court records say. . . . The Missouri Supreme Court ordered a lower court Wednesday to consider a new trial.


Editorial: Pressing for justice

Salisbury Post Editorial

02-10-10 -- North Carolinians have been up in arms about a court order that threatened to release dozens of convicted murderers and rapists after serving only 30 years of their life sentences. . . . In addition to keeping the guilty behind bars, fair-minded citizens should also be passionate about freeing the innocent. It's in their interest to follow the work of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. . . . This week in Raleigh, a three-judge panel is hearing the case of Greg Taylor, 47, of Cary. Taylor has been in prison almost 17 years for a murder he says he didn't commit — the beating death of a prostitute whose body was found near his abandoned car. . . . The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission pressed for this hearing after putting Taylor's case through a rigorous screening process. The commission's staff reviews public records and court records, conducts field investigations, contacts witnesses, evaluates new evidence and takes a case through a formal inquiry and a commission hearing before it can go to a three-judge panel — the stage where Taylor's case is now. The burden is on Taylor's lawyers to prove his innocence by clear and convincing evidence.

How Many More Are Innocent?

America's 250th DNA exoneration raises questions about how often we send the wrong person to prison.

Radley Balko,

02-08-10 -- Freddie Peacock of Rochester, New York, was convicted of rape in 1976. Last week he became the 250th person to be exonerated by DNA testing since 1989. According to a new report by the Innocence Project, those 250 prisoners served 3,160 years between them; 17 spent time on death row. Remarkably, 67 percent of them were convicted after 2000—a decade after the onset of modern DNA testing. The glaring question here is, How many more are there? . . . Calculating the percentage of innocents now in prison is a tricky and controversial process. The numerator itself is difficult enough to figure out. The certainty of DNA testing means we can be positive the 250 cases listed in the Innocence Project report didn't commit the crimes for which they were convicted, and that number also continues to rise. But there are hundreds of other cases in which convictions have been overturned due to a lack of evidence, recantation of eyewitness testimony, or police or prosecutorial misconduct, but for which there was no DNA evidence to establish definitive guilt or innocence. Those were wrongful convictions in that there wasn't sufficient evidence to establish reasonable doubt, but we can't be sure all the accused were factually innocent.

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Ill. man sues police, lawyers he says framed him

By David Mercer, Associated Press Writer, Chicago Tribune

01-27-10 -- A Rockford man who spent 13 years in prison before his murder conviction was thrown out is suing investigators and two prosecutors in central Illinois whom he claims disregarded and hid evidence that could have cleared him. . . . Lawyers for Alan Beaman filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday in Peoria against the five former police officers, the prosecutors -- current McLean County Judges James Souk and Charles Reynard -- the city of Normal and Mclean county. . . . Beaman, who is now 37, was convicted in 1995 and sentenced to 50 years in prison in the death of Illinois State University student Jennifer Lockmiller, his ex-girlfriend. The state Supreme Court threw out the conviction in 2008. . . . "They tried the case on the premise that Alan Beaman was the only person in a small circle of possible suspects with the motive and the opportunity to commit the crime; that was a false premise," Beaman's attorney, Locke Bowman, said Wednesday after a news conference in Bloomington announcing the lawsuit.


Professors, students to attack murder case at hearing today

By Joe Swickard, Free Press Staff Writer

01-27-10 -- Law professors and student of the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic will continue their attack on the murder case against Dwayne Provience in a hearing this morning at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice. . . . The clinic succeeded in getting Provience’s 2001 murder conviction tossed out last year saying key evidence was improperly withheld in the first trial, but Wayne County prosecutors are pressing to retry the case. . . . After the last hearing in December, Larry Wiley – the only witness to name Provience as the killer – said he was not at the scene and that police squeezed and coached him to testify against Provience.


Man released from prison to speak at forum

Poughkeepsie Journal

01-25-10 -- Dewey Bozella, a Dutchess County man released from prison after a judge ruled he had been wrongfully convicted of murder, will take part in a panel discussion on prison issues Sunday at a Town of Poughkeepsie church. . . . Bozella will share his prison experiences at the Justice for All Speakers Forum at the Poughkeepsie United Methodist Church on New Hackensack Road. The event will start at 4 p.m. . . . Bozella, 50, was convicted in two separate trials of murdering 92-year-old Emma Crapser in 1977 during a robbery at the woman’s home in the City of Poughkeepsie. . . . Last year, acting Dutchess County Court Judge James T. Rooney ruled evidence that could have convinced a jury to find Bozella not guilty had not been made available to Bozella’s attorneys.


9th Circuit: Police Can Be Sued for Coercive Interrogation of Teenage Murder Suspect

Cheryl Miller, The Recorder

01-15-10 -- A 9th Circuit panel on Thursday reinstated many of the legal claims of a Southern California man, who, as a 14-year-old boy, falsely confessed to killing his younger sister after a series of grueling and coercive interviews with police. . . . Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, Judge Sidney Thomas said authorities' marathon questioning of Michael Crowe and his accused accomplice, Aaron Houser, "shocks the conscience."(pdf) . . . "Michael and Aaron -- 14 and 15 years old, respectively -- were isolated and subjected to hours and hours of interrogation during which they were cajoled, threatened, lied to, and relentlessly pressured by teams of police officers," Thomas wrote. "'Psychological torture' is not an inapt description."


3rd Circuit Revives Suit, Opening Door to DNA Evidence

Shannon P. Duffy, The Legal Intelligencer

01-14-10 -- An Erie, Pa., man who was sentenced to 75 years in prison for three rapes he claims he did not commit has won an important victory in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in his battle for access to DNA evidence that he says will prove his innocence. . . . A unanimous three-judge panel revived the case, Grier v. Klem, and ordered new hearings on the issue of whether Pennsylvania's rules on DNA testing can have unfair results (pdf) by barring access to DNA evidence whenever a defendant has already confessed to the crime. . . . The panel found that a lower court erred in tossing out Emmitt Grier's §1983 civil rights suit on the grounds that it violated the Heck rule. Named for the U.S. Supreme Court's 1994 decision in Heck v. Humphrey, the rule bars state prisoners from bringing a civil rights suit "if the success of that claim would undermine the prisoner's conviction or sentence, unless that conviction or sentence has already been called into question."


Ex-Banker Begins 3-Year Prison Term Wondering Why

Commentary by Ann Woolner, Bloomberg   

01-08-10 -- One of the perks of wearing the robe of a federal judge is that you don’t have to explain yourself. . . . But when a judge sends to prison for three years-plus the man who pointed U.S. tax collectors to billions of dollars of untaxed American wealth, who tore open the veil of secrecy surrounding Swiss banking, he ought to say why. . . . If Bradley Birkenfeld hadn’t blown the whistle on his former employer, UBS AG, thousands of Americans would still be evading taxes instead of paying them on some $20 billion they had stashed away overseas at the bank. Switzerland wouldn’t have been forced to agree to make banking more transparent. . . . And hundreds of suspected tax evaders wouldn’t now be under investigation, spawning guilty pleas and multimillion-dollar recoveries for the national treasury. . . . “Without Mr. Birkenfeld walking into the door of the Department of Justice in the summer of 2007, I doubt as of today that this massive fraud scheme would have been discovered by the United States government,” Birkenfeld’s chief prosecutor, Kevin Downing, told the sentencing judge in August. . . . So, why is Birkenfeld headed to a federal prison in Pennsylvania today? . . . U.S. District Judge William Zloch gave no explanation in August when he sentenced him to 40 months, 10 months longer than prosecutors recommended. A transcript shows Zloch was silent on the point.


Santa Clara County judge orders man freed

By Tracey Kaplan,

01-07-10 -- In a stunning rebuke to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office, a county judge on Wednesday ordered a man who had been sentenced to 38 years to life freed on the grounds the trial prosecutor in the child molestation case committed "numerous acts of misconduct,'' including giving false testimony. . . . The ruling by Superior Court Judge Andrea Y. Bryan means Augustin Uribe, 66, will be released within several days after spending four years behind bars for a crime that even the alleged victim says he did not commit. . . . The decision casts a shadow over the career of Deputy District Attorney Troy Benson and further tarnishes the reputation of the District Attorney's Office, which has come under fire in recent years for alleged prosecutorial misconduct.


Texas attorney general says governor can pardon man exonerated by DNA after dying in prison

Jeff Carlton Associated Press Writer, Los Angeles Times

01-07-10 -- With a pardon for her dead son finally possible, the mother of a Texas man wrongly convicted of rape said she knows what to do now: take flowers to his grave and share the news. . . . An attorney general's opinion Thursday cleared the way for Gov. Rick Perry to issue a posthumous pardon for Tim Cole, an Army veteran and innocent man who died behind bars in 1999 at age 39. The opinion brings Cole's family a step closer to ending a 25-year effort to clear his name. . . . "He knows," Ruby Session said of her son. "I am sure he probably knew before the rest of us." . . . A sympathetic Perry embraced a tearful Session last year but said he did not have the power to issue a posthumous pardon, citing a 45-year-old attorney general's opinion. Current Attorney General Greg Abbott overturned that, saying the Texas constitution limits pardon power only in cases of treason or impeachment.


Prosecutor conduct case before Supreme Court is settled

Two Iowa men freed after spending 26 years in prison for murder had sued, saying prosecutors framed them. With justices signaling they might favor the men, the county settles for $12 million.

By David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times

01-05-10 -- Reporting from Washington - A Supreme Court case testing whether a prosecutor can be sued for framing suspects for a murder ended Monday when an Iowa county agreed to pay $12 million to two men who were freed after spending 26 years in prison. . . . In the past, the high court had said prosecutors could not be sued for doing their jobs, even if they sometimes convicted the wrong defendant. And in November, an Obama administration lawyer argued on behalf of Pottawattamie County, asserting that there is no constitutional "right not to be framed." . . . But several justices said they found that argument appalling. They signaled they were not prepared to shield prosecutors who knowingly fabricated a case against a suspect. . . . Over the holidays, the county and its lawyers offered to settle the case by paying $12 million to Terry Harrington and Curtis McGhee, who were convicted as teenagers in 1978 of murdering a night security guard. Both men are black. . . . On Monday, the Supreme Court said it was dismissing the case because it was settled. . . . "We're delighted to have this settled. It has been a long time coming for them," said Doug McCalla, a lawyer who sued on behalf of Harrington. "Cases like Terry's make it very clear that we need the powerful remedies provided by this country's civil rights statutes."



Brown County District Attorney John Zakowski confident he convicted the men who murdered Tom Monfils

By Paul Srubas •

01-03-10 -- Brown County District Attorney John Zakowski, who prosecuted the 1995 case against six paper mill employees accused of killing co-worker Tom Monfils, said a new book on the case does not raise any issues that were not covered during the trial. . . . The book, “The Monfils Conspiracy,” claims that six men were wrongly convicted of beating Monfils and dropping him alive into a paper pulp vat at the former James River paper mill. His body was found the next day, a 40-pound weight tied to his neck. . . . Authors Denis Gullickson and John Gaie wrote the book with the help of Michael Piaskowski, Gaie’s former brother-in-law and one of the six convicted men. . . . Piaskowski was released from prison when a federal judge ruled there had been insufficient evidence to convict him.


The Age of Innocents

Opening Statements

Barney Brown
Photo courtesy of Barney Brown

By Mark Hansen, ABA Journal

01-01-10 -- Barney Brown should have listened to his mother that fateful day in 1970 when she told him to stay home while she was at work. . . . But Brown, then 13 and living in Hollywood, Fla., did what many teens do: He ignored his mother and snuck out with friends. . . . “I thought I’d be back before she got home,” he says. But Brown didn’t come home for 38 years. . . . While out with his friends that day, police stopped the car in which he was a passenger. Brown, an African-American, was arrested for raping a white woman and robbing her husband. . . . Police then held the teen without charges for four days, during which time, Brown claims, they brutally beat and interrogated him while trying to force a confession. His parents weren’t notified that their son was in police custody, even though they had called police to report him missing. . . . Despite Brown’s repeated protestations of innocence—and numerous lineups in which the victims failed to identify him—prosecutors tried him as a juvenile for rape and robbery. After an acquittal, prosecutors used a quirk in the law to retry Brown as an adult. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. . . . Brown was released from prison in September 2008 after lawyers persuaded a judge that the second prosecution violated the constitutional protection against double jeopardy.

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It is better that ten guilty escape than one innocent suffer.
-- Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England --

The punishment of a criminal is an example to the rabble; but every decent man is concerned if an innocent person is condemned.

-- Jean de la Bruyere quotes (French satiric moralist, 1645-1696) --



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