Links to national and general articles about wrongful convictions.
Below are links to press articles, web pages and legal decisions relating to wrongful convictions of innocent people around the country and the world.
12 April 2013. Keene Sentinel publishes EDITORIAL in support of compensation settlement for the Central Park Five. Morrison Bonpasse posted online comment to editorial re: Chad Evans.
The editorial is titled, "The time has come for New York City officials to settle a lawsuit with the "Central Park Five" "
Thank you for your editorial in support of compensation, and soon, for the "Central Park Five."
3 April 2012. National Registry of Exonerations issues UPDATE report, which states that prosecutors and Attorneys General cooperated or assisted in 54% of last year's 63 exonerations. See page 18 for coverage of prosecutor cooperation. When Chad Evans is exonerated, will New Hampshire be considered as "cooperating or assisting" or will it continue to oppose Chad's quest for truth and justice, beginning with opposing his request for a second polygraph? [See also, the Wrongful Convictions Blog Summary of the report.]
24 October 2012. PBS program about one exoneree and two jurors efforts to help him get compensated, What Happens After Jurors Get It Wrong? by Carrie Johnson
The article begins...
About 300 people have been wrongfully convicted and exonerated in the U.S. thanks to DNA evidence. But overlooked in those stories are the accounts of jurors who unwittingly played a role in the injustice.
12 October 2012. Posting of New York Law School Law Review article, "Models of Justice to Protect Innocent Persons" re: Conviction Integrity Units and other systemic cures for a system which has produced too many wrongful convictions.
Excerpt from the article...
In contrast, rather than focusing on improving current procedures, this article considers systemic changes to the current
adversarial system. The article examines proposals that range from expanding
discovery in criminal cases to replacing police investigators with a neutral magistrate,
as in inquisitorial systems.
12 October 2012. Posting of article, "Seeking Second Chances Without DNA" re: exonerations of non-DNA cases. From the Pacific Standard, by Sue Russell.
The article begins...
The most hopeful scenario possible for innocent inmates fighting a wrongful conviction is when DNA testing of existing evidence might be enough to exonerate them. DNA holds out an unparalleled promise of certainty. As far as evidence goes, it’s the gold standard; solid science. Just last month, a Louisiana man became the 300th inmate in the U.S. exonerated by it.
[The article features the work of the Exoneration Initiative in New York, which assists claimants of innocence in non-DNA cases in New York.]
21 September 2012 Exoneration of Roger Leveille of Nashua from 5-10 year prison term for assault. See "Forensics evidence allows Hudson man to put five-year ordeal behind him" in the Nashua Telegraph.
After being charged with attempted murder, Roger Leveille was convicted in 2008 of first and second degree assault and sentenced to 5-10 years in prison. The background was that he had an argument with his brother-in-law whom he shot. The jury rejected his claim of accident and convicted him beyond a reasonable doubt. The NH Supreme Court rejected Leveille's initial appeal in its opinion on August 19, 2010. (State v. Leveille, 160 NH 630 (2010))
3 September 2012. Darrel Parker, now 80 years old, of Nebraska is awarded $500,000 for his wrongful conviction in 1957 for murdering his wife. The Neb. Atty General decided that compensation was what should be done.
Excerpts from the article, "State of Nebraska Clears Moline Man", are below:
“It was a pretty incredible thing for the state to go from filing a motion to completely dismiss the case, to withdrawing that motion and asking for a trial, and then to say, ‘You’re right, we’re wrong.’ All in the span of about 10 days,” Dan Friedman said Friday.
[In 1970, Parker was paroled, due to the recognition that his confession to the polygraph examiner was false. Parker has been fighting ever since for full exoneration. That effort was assisted by the publishing in 2010 of the book about the case, "Barbarous Souls."]
16 August 2012. New post on Wrongful Convictions Blog from Mark Godsey, re: new article by Andrew Kim, "Beyond Finality: How Making Criminal Judgments Less Final Can Further the ‘Interests of Finality' " Click here for .pdf copy.
The abstract of the article begins....
Courts and scholars often assume that granting convicted defendants more liberal rights to challenge their convictions and sentences would necessarily harm society's various interests in "finality," the most prominent of which are resource conservation, efficient behavior by defense counsel, and deterrence. The extent to which convicted defendants should be allowed to challenge their judgments depends, according to the common analysis, on how much society is willing sacrifice those interests to validate defendants' rights. This article argues that although expanding defendants' rights on post-conviction review inherently makes criminal judgments less "final," it does not necessarily harm the interests "finality" presumes to protect. Rather, when the financial costs of wrongful incarceration, resource constraints on defense counsel, and the effects of legitimacy on compliance are considered, it becomes clear that granting more liberal review can often conserve state resources, will rarely affect the behavior of defense counsel at trial, and can help reduce crime.
14 August 2012. Katie Monroe, of Rocky Mountain Innocence Project moves to position with Innocence Network in Washington, D.C. She had noteworthy comment about justice and exonerations. See the Article in the Wrongful Convictions Blog, "Re Wrongful Conviction: Katie Monroe Seeks Policy, Cultural Change."
The article begins....
“What we would like to see is change in the culture in the way government officials respond to wrongful convictions,” says Katie Monroe. “We’d like it to grow to a place where government officials realize that correcting mistakes is good for all of us and not just the person in prison.” Monroe, longtime leader of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Project (RMIP), is leaving her RMIP post, as reported here, to become the Innocence Project’s first person in Washington, D.C. dedicated to working with prosecutor and police groups to shape policy that can reduce wrongful conviction.
13 July 2012. New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Virginia Long retires and joins the Board of Directors of Centurion Ministries. See article in the NJ.com column,"Times of Trenton", "After retirement, judge joins group that aids the wrongfully convicted".Excerpts from article.... Former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Virginia Long has joined the board of directors of the Centurion Ministries, the Princeton organization dedicated to liberating prisoners from all over the country who have been wrongfully convicted. In its 29 years of operation, the group has successfully freed 49 inmates who served a collective 956 years behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit.
6 July 2012. The Wrongful Convictions Blog of the Center for Global Study of Wrongful Conviction posted an article by Phil Locke urging the application of Six Sigma management techniques to reduce to wrongful conviction rate from its currently estimated .5-5% to .00034 or 34 wrongful convictions per ten million criminal cases. (Even 34 seems like a lot.) The article is: "Rate of Wrongful Convictions – You Can’t Improve What You Don’t Measure – Six Sigma and the US Justice System"The article begins... Estimates of the rate of wrongful convictions in the US span a range from 0.5% to 5.0%, based upon several recent studies done by law schools, and cited on this blog. SCOTUS Justice Antonin Scalia happens to believe that it’s 0.027%, but he is clearly not connected with reality. Anything in the 0.5% to 5.0% range is a staggering number, and would cry out for remedy.
29 June 2012. In Greensboro, North Carolina, LaMonte Armstrong was released on bail from his prison where he has been since 1995 for a murder he likely did not commit. He was convicted only with the testimony of an inmate informant who has now recanted. A retrial is being considered.Excerpts from the Duke Law School press release.... Professor James Coleman commented on the case: “The willingness of the Greensboro Police Department and the District Attorney’s office to listen to our concerns and act as amenable, if skeptical, allies in pursuing the truth is a blueprint for how innocence investigations should proceed,” said Coleman. “In this case the system worked with us and together justice will be achieved for Mr. Armstrong and Ms. Compton.” [Such cooperation is sought from the Attorney General in New Hampshire in resolving the Chad Evans case.]
27 June 2012. In Canada, a mother was finally exonerated, after serving time in prison for the death of her daughter. "Brenda Waudby cleared of child-abuse charges from 1997" by Todd Vandonk in mykawartha.com. Excerpts from the article.... The judge’s decision was heavily supported by series of new disclosures, including ... information that came out in the Goudge Inquiry in 2008, including medical evidence from more than one pathologist that pinpointed all of Jenna’s injuries to the time of when she was in the care of her babysitter. It was disgraced pediatric pathologist Dr. Charles Smith that pinpointed Jenna’s fatal injuries, blunt force trauma to her abdomen which caused 13 broken ribs amongst other medical complications, to a time when Ms Waudby was at home taking care of her daughter. At an April 23, 1999 meeting between police, the Crown, defence, Dr. Smith and pathologist Sigmund Ein, it became clear that Ms Waudby couldn’t have inflicted the fatal wounds on her daughter. Dr. Smith confirmed that he had spoken with Dr. Ein in 1998 and agreed with Dr. Ein’s opinion that Jenna’s fatal injury occurred while she was in the care of the babysitter. A more recent examination of the case by forensic pathologist Dr. Christopher Mark Milroy has concludes that Ms Waudby wasn’t responsible for the injuries as it was in his opinion that occurred in the hours, not days, before Jenna’s death.
12 May 2012. Los Angeles Times article by
Molly Hennessy-Fiske about Craig Watkins, the groundbreaking Dallas District Attorney whose great-grandfather was executed (wrongly?) in 1932 for murder, and who established the first Conviction Integrity Unit: "Dallas County district attorney a hero to the wrongfully convicted" Excerpts from the article.... DALLAS — On the way to witness his first execution in the town known as the "Execution Capital of the World," the Dallas County district attorney stopped at the prison cemetery to find his great-grandfather's grave.
10 May 2012. Wall Street Journal article, "Prosecutor-led effort frees convicted man" shows increasing number of prosecutor efforts to exonerate the innocent. Excerpts from the article.... DENVER — Colorado's first prosecutor-led DNA exoneration of a man wrongfully convicted of murder came after a review of nearly 5,000 cases in a review effort that is spreading nationwide....
30 April 2012. Article about changes in medical understanding of cases like Kassidy Bortner's is published. The article, "Shaken Baby Syndrome, Abusive Head Trauma, and Actual Innocence: Getting It Right," was written by Keith Findley, Patrick Barnes, David Moran and Waney Squier. Excerpts from the article.... "As we develop more fully below, there is also a growing consensus that certain features of the [SBS] diagnosis were inaccurate, including some that were frequently used to obtain criminal convictions. For example, it is no longer generally accepted that short falls can never cause the triad, that there can be no period of lucidity between injury and collapse (a key element in identifying the perpetrator), or that massive force – typically described as the equivalent of a multi-story fall or car accident – is required.... (p. 2) While child abuse that results in neurological damage or death is horrific, particularly when committed by parents and caretakers who literally hold in their hands the lives of their infants, we have learned from the daycare cases of the 1980s and 1990s that the strong emotions that accompany allegations of child abuse can increase the likelihood of false convictions." (p. 3)
11 April 2012. New York State to establish a CONVICTION REVIEW BUREAU, the first of the 50 states to have such a statewide unit. See New York Times article, "New State Office to Review Questionable Convictions"The article begins.... Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York State attorney general, is creating a bureau to investigate criminal cases across the state in which convictions have been called into question.
21 March 2012. Jonathan Moore exonerated in Illinois from murder charges on prosecutor/police initiative. Chicago Tribune: "'Open mind' review led to vacated conviction, freedom - Wrongful-conviction experts praise Kane County's process when new evidence cast doubt on murder case" by Clifford Ward.The article begins.... Jonathan Moore slipped into a donated suit and walked out of the Kane County Judicial Center this month after a decade behind bars for a murder he didn't commit.
3 March 2012. "Ernest Lopez released on bond" From Channel 10 News in Amarillo, Texas.The story, in its entirety....Amarillo, TX - An Amarillo baby-sitter accused of sexually assaulting a six-month-old girl has been released on bond, just a month after his conviction and 60-year sentence were overturned.
11 February 2012. "Vt. high court orders bail hearing in murder case" from New England Cable News. The segment begins... MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The Vermont Supreme Court has ordered a lower court judge to consider new evidence and hold a new bail hearing for a 21-year-old man charged with his killing his girlfriend's 1-year-old daughter.
8 January 2012. Pew Research Center poll on the Death Penalty. Of those who oppose it, 27% oppose it because of the risk of executing an innocent, wrongly convicted person.Excerpts from the article... ...Well over half of those surveyed, or 62 percent, said they favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder, the Pew Research Center poll found. Just 31 percent said they are opposed to capital punishment.
29 December 2011. The national Innocent Network released its report of 21 exonerees for 2011. One exoneree was from Massachusetts: James Hebshie. See the 2011 REPORT 29 December 2011 (posting) WBUR (Boston) radio two-part series on false confessions. Many people cannot imagine why anyone would admit to committing a crime that they did not commit and in fact, confessions are the single most convincing piece of evidence to a jury, even more so than DNA. What’s frightening then is that in the first 250 DNA exonerations in the United States, 16% of exonerees gave false confessions to crimes that they did not commit and were eventually exonerated for. The WBUR story, and accompanying videos of a young 16-year-old mother who was pressured into falsely confessing to the murder of her baby, demonstrates how false confessions can occur and why they are not the slam dunk evidence they are often thought to be. Learn more about false confessions.
29 December 2011. Dallas Observer article about non-DNA wrongful convictions and exonerations; "Beyond DNA, Difficult Tests for the Justice System" by Leslie MinoraExcerpt from the article.... .... In the meantime, the sheer number of DNA exonerations — and the efforts to uncover how the courts failed so miserably — have revealed troubling gaps in the criminal justice system: Eyewitnesses are more fallible than jurors might think; forensic evidence isn't always reliable or interpreted correctly; the way police run lineups can lead to wrongful convictions. The trouble is, those problems may just as easily plague cases in which no DNA exists. Modern science has shown the justice system the tip of the iceberg, but how many innocent men and women are suffering in prison and likely to stay there because they have no evidence to test? Where do law enforcement and innocence advocates, faced with sorting out the guilty and innocent, go from here?...
27 December 2011. USA Today article about false confessions, "'Speeding train' interrogations can fuel false confessions" by John S. Adams.Excerpts from the article.... HELENA, Mont. – On Dec. 7, a Montana judge released confessed murderer Barry Beach after ruling that new evidence in his case was "credible" and that he deserved a new trial....
21 December 2011. Posting of December 6 Washington Post article, "Thomas Haynesworth fully exonerated by Va. appeals court," about Virginia man who was exonerated by a Virginia Appeals court with the support of the VA Attorney General. Excerpts from the article.... RICHMOND — A Virginia appeals court declared Thomas Haynesworth an innocent man Tuesday, clearing his name and acknowledging that he spent 27 years behind bars for rapes he did not commit.
20 December 2011. Posting of 2007 Readers Digest article about the "living nightmare" of Alice and Miguel Velasquez whose daughter had a chronic condition and the doctors and social workers assumed abuse. See "A Parent's Worst Nightmare"Excerpts from the article.... Because fractures stemming from compression injuries are often an indicator of child abuse, and noting Miguel’s seeming lack of emotion, Dr. Reed considered this a typical case of paternal mistreatment. He gave his opinion to his supervisor, Dr. Barbara Craig, head of the Armed Forces Center for Child Protection.
13 December 2011. "How Many Innocent People Are in Prison?" By Beth Schwartzapfel and Hannah Levintova in MOTHER JONES. Excerpt from the article... Extrapolating from the 281 known DNA exonerations in the US since the late 1980s, a conservative estimate is that 1 percent of the US prison population, approximately 20,000 people, are falsely convicted.
16 November 2011. Austin American-Statesman article, "Former prosecutor apologizes to wrongfully convicted man" by Chuck Lindell. The article begins.... Six weeks after Michael Morton was freed from prison after serving almost 25 years for a murder he did not commit, the former prosecutor who secured that guilty verdict offered an apology Wednesday.
16 November 2011. New York Times article, "When DNA Evidence Suggests ‘Innocent,’ Some Prosecutors Cling to ‘Maybe’ " by Erica Goode, about prosecutors resisting DNA evidence. Excerpts from the article... For most prosecutors, the presence of post-conviction DNA evidence is enough to prompt action. An examination of 194 DNA exonerations found that 88 percent of the prosecutors joined defense lawyers in moving to vacate the convictions. But in 12 percent of the cases, the prosecutors opposed the motions, and in 4 percent, they did so even after a DNA match to another suspect.
15 October 2011. In New York, Joseph McElheny was found not guilty of assault and murder of his 4-month old daughter, with extraordinary similarities to the Chad Evans case. The defense medical experts, including Dr. Cyril Wecht, who has advised Chad Evans, testified that McElheny's daughter died of rickets and non-criminal intestinal blockage. See Assorted MEDIA ARTICLES.
5 October 2011. Posting of newspaper articles about the Eric Hopkins case in Pennsylvania where a man was found not guilty of assault and murder of a 4 month old child, with uncanny similarities to the Chad Evans case. See COMBINED NINE ARTICLES from the Lancaster Eagle Gazette by Eric Burnett
Excerpt from the first article...
...Mershon was hospitalized Oct. 31, 2009, by the couple with a blunt impact injury to his head. He had subdural hemorrhages, skull fractures and multiple other fractures, police said at the time. An autopsy revealed that he died from a lack of oxygen to the brain due to head trauma....
26 September 2011. Murder Charges dropped against Michael Hansen who was originally convicted of murdering his daughter in Minnesota. See below at 28 July 2011. See Minneapolis Star Tribune article, "Dad freed from conviction: 'It's over' "Excerpts from the article,... 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."
26 September 2011. A Pennsylvania Legislative Advisory Commission issued a 328 page REPORT on Wrongful Convictions in Pennsylvania, with recommendations on how to avoid wrongful convictions in the future. The report estimates that there have been 11 DNA-based exonerations in Pennsylvania, and noted that another report found an additional 22. (p. 11)
28 July 2011. "Innocent Father Granted New Trial after Spending Six Years in Prison for a Crime He Did Not Commit" St. Paul Minnesota, Business WireThe article begins...
ST. PAUL, Minn.--The Innocence Project of Minnesota is proud to announce that the Douglas County District Court has overturned the wrongful conviction of Michael Ray Hansen. Hansen spent the last six years in prison for the second-degree murder of his infant daughter, Avryonna Hansen. However, new expert medical evidence proved that Hansen was innocent of hurting his child.
(See also July 27 Minnesota Public Radio article: "Innocence Project works for release of Minn. convicted child murderer")
25 July 2011. "Jailhouse informant bill a test for Jerry Brown" by Bob Egelko, San FranciscoExcerpts from the article....
...The current bill, SB687 by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, is a new version of a measure that Schwarzenegger vetoed twice. Similar to laws in 17 other states, it would require prosecutors to present independent evidence of guilt to corroborate an inmate's testimony that the defendant confessed to a crime. State law already requires the judge to tell jurors to consider such testimony with caution, and requires the prosecution to disclose any promises of leniency it has made to the informant.[Governor Brown signed the bill into law. See "Gov. Brown signs law weakening testimony of jailhouse snitches" Los Angeles Times, August 1, 2011]
18 July 2011 "States look to right wrong convictions" in USA Today by Jon Ostendorff.Excerpts from the article.... North Carolina is among a growing number of states taking steps to prevent and address wrongful convictions and grant greater access to biological evidence.
30 June 2011. "Anatomy of a Wrongful Conviction" by Lisa Marcus in "The Crime Report."The article begins.... Investigative journalists helped free a Missouri man who spent 15 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. But can the media continue to play its watchdog role?
28 June 2011. NPR/Pro Publica/PBS Special -"The Child Cases - Guilty Until Proven Innocent"l on wrongful convictions for child abuse. Excerpts from the story...
When the ambulance sped her [Isis Vas] to Northwest Texas Hospital in Amarillo on a Saturday morning in October 2000, doctors and nurses feared that someone had done something awful to her. A constellation of bruises stretched across her pale skin. CT scans showed blood pooling on her brain and swelling. Blood was found in her vagina. The damage was so severe that her body's vital organs were shutting down. Less than 24 hours later, Isis died. An autopsy bolstered the initial suspicions that she'd been abused. Joni McClain, a forensic pathologist, ruled Isis' death a homicide and said the baby had been sexually violated. McClain would later describe it as a "classic" case of blunt force trauma, the type of damage often done by a beating. The police investigation that followed was constructed almost entirely from medical evidence. In the end, prosecutors indicted one of the child's babysitters: Ernie Lopez....
But others say the criminal justice system has yet to confront the full scope of the problem, and that, as a result, more innocent people may be serving time for crimes they didn't commit. "I think it's time to look at these cases again," said Michael Laposata, chief pathologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, adding that this could "result in the liberation of a number of falsely accused people."...
[See also, September 1, 2010 OPINION of Judge Dick Alcala, finding ineffective assistance of counsel at Lopez's trial. See Also, the 2005 Article by Drs. Martha and Michael Laposata, "Children With Signs of Abuse - When Is It Not Child Abuse?"]
May 2011. Article in North Carolina Law Review, "Innocence Unmodified" by Professor Emily Hughes of the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. The article focuses on the distinction between "actual innocence" and "legal innocence" and devotes several pages to the Troy Davis case. Davis was executed by the State of Georgia on September 21, 2011.
16 January 2011 Nashua Telegraph editorial, "Don't Expand Death Penalty Law" with good understanding of the risks of wrongful conviction. Excerpts from the editorial... Fundamental to America’s system of justice is the presumption of a citizen’s innocence until proven guilty. Rooted in English jurisprudence, the concept is not expressly guaranteed in the Constitution but assumed in the Bill of Rights.
11 September 2010. "Florida Innocence Commission seeks to prevent wrongful convictions" by John Frank, Miami Herald, 11 September 2010.
22 May 2010 "Innocence, Harmless Error, and Federal Wrongful Conviction Law" by Brandon L. Garrett in the Wisconsin Law Review, Vol. 35, 2005 The abstract of the article begins.... This Article examines the body of law emerging in cases brought by former criminal defendants once exonerated, often through DNA testing, which may fundamentally reshape our criminal justice system. Federal wrongful conviction actions share a novel construction - they rely on criminal procedure rights incorporated as an element in a civil rights lawsuit...
6 March 2010. "Prosecutor Reflects on wrongful conviction in D.C. killing" by Keith Alexander, in the Washington PostExcerpts from the article....
"I can't express how sick this has made me feel," said Harrington, 61. "I was always trying to be about protecting people. To find out that I had the wrong guy is beyond description." It was the first murder conviction overturned by DNA evidence in the history of the U.S. attorney's office in the District. Prosecutors there declined to talk about the Gates case publicly. Behind closed doors, many are checking and double-checking their caseloads to make sure they don't have another Gates.
"Not only can this happen again, but it will," said Harrington, now an ordained minister in Fort Worth. "Nobody has any interest in convicting somebody who didn't commit a crime. You do your best with the evidence you have. I was just flatly wrong about it. I did my best, and it wasn't good enough."
25 February 2010. Cape Cod Times Editorial: "Improve Justice" Excerpts from the editorial.... "These DNA exonerations show us how the criminal justice system is flawed and how it can be fixed," said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project. "DNA exonerations have helped transform the criminal justice system, leading to reforms in virtually every state, but there is still a great deal of work to do to make our system of justice more fair, accurate and reliable." In the last several years, state and federal policy makers have begun using the lessons of DNA exonerations to prevent wrongful convictions.....
27 December 2009. Washington Post Editorial: "Innocents in Prison" [after the Gates and Bain cases - See Below, both on "16 December."]Excerpts from the editorial... "...As appalling as the two cases are, what's even scarier is the thought that imperfections in the criminal justice system will go uncorrected and more people could be wrongly jailed. ...In a letter to the court admitting that they had received information almost six years ago that called Mr. Gates's conviction into doubt, prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney's Office said that they have referred the matter to the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility. They also should follow the lead of states such as North Carolina in establishing innocence commissions that bring together judges, police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and victim's advocates in an attempt to identify the practices that lead to wrongful convictions and to recommend reforms."
16 December 2009. Boston Globe article about Boston Bar Assn report, "Getting It Right", "Study says widen access to DNA tests" by Jonathan Saltzman. Excerpts from the article.... The two cochairmen of the committee are well-known former prosecutors, David E. Meier and Martin F. Murphy. Meier knows all too well about wrongful convictions. As head of the homicide unit of the Suffolk district attorney’s office from 1996 to 2008, he had to inform judges that prosecutors had wrongfully persuaded juries to convict eight murder defendants who were ultimately freed. "The wrongful conviction of an innocent defendant strikes at the foundation of the criminal justice system," he said in an interview. "It impacts everyone: the defendant, the victim and the victim's family, the integrity of the system, and, perhaps most importantly, the public's confidence in our system of justice." [For the report, click on "Getting It Right, Improving the Accuracy and Reliability of the Criminal Justice System in Massachusetts"]
New York state, a new look at the wrongly convicted" from Reuters,
by Edith Honan.Excerpts
from the article....
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A recent spate of exonerations in New York state
has put renewed focus on the plight of the wrongly convicted, with advocates
saying it is not as easy as it should be to get an unjust verdict reversed.
In the last two decades, 246 people have been exonerated in the United
States with the help of DNA evidence after being convicted of crimes.
The New York state legislature is considering a bill that would remove administrative hurdles to having a court hear an appeal on the grounds of "actual innocence" -- cases where a convict claims conclusive proof he or she did not commit the crime. The bill would codify a remedy that courts have put in place in some form in at least eight states, including New York. "There are a lot of procedural obstacles to individuals who want to get into court and demonstrate that they're innocent," said the bill's sponsor, state Senator Eric Schneiderman.
[See related article below, at 22 November by John Eligon in the NY Times.]
22 November 2009. "Hope for the Wrongfully Convicted" by John Eligon, in the New York Times.Excerpts from the article, written after the exoneration of Fernando Bermudez in New York on 9 November 2009: In a recent 79-page decision, a Manhattan judge could well have stopped after the first four sentences of his concluding paragraph and still conveyed his main point: that Fernando Bermudez was no longer guilty of murder.... "It elevates substance over form," said Glenn A. Garber, a Manhattan defense lawyer and founder of the Exoneration Initiative, an organization that focuses on innocence claims that lack DNA evidence. "If they know they're required to engage in actual innocence analysis, it sends a message to courts that they have to do more when they're confronted with compelling evidence of innocence."[See 13 November NY Times article, below, of Bermudez's exoneration.]
19 February 2009. National Academy of Sciences calls for forensic science reform. See Story on NPR: "Call for Forensics Reform Linked to CSI effect"The article begins: "Millions of people watch CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation every week. But forensic evidence isn't nearly as ironclad as it appears on television. In fact, according to a study released Wednesday by the National Academy of Sciences, the nation's crime labs need a total overhaul."[See Morrison Bonpasse comment to Article at the NPR website and at COMMENT.]
8 February 2009. New York Times article by John Eligon, "New Efforts Focus on Exonerating Prisoners in Cases Without DNA Evidence"Excerpts from the article....
Two decades later, DNA evidence has been used to exonerate more than 230 people wrongfully convicted nationwide, including 24 in New York State.... But the proliferation of such exonerations, as well as the wider availability of DNA evidence, has also made it harder for prisoners seeking to prove their innocence in the much larger number of cases that do not involve DNA evidence. Many lawyers have grown more reluctant to take on these kinds of cases because they are much harder and more expensive to pursue....
Craig Watkins, the Dallas County district attorney, said he began taking aim at such cases after DNA tests performed by his office led to 13 exonerations. Now his office has established a conviction integrity unit to re-examine the validity of hundreds of convictions.
'This is about the duty of the district attorney to seek justice.' Mr. Watkins said. 'Justice means we right the wrongs of the past.'
[emphasis added here.]
1 July 2008. "No Retrial in '88 Double Killing on Long Island " by Bruce Lambert in the New York Times.The article begins.... "RIVERHEAD, N.Y. Ñ A criminal investigation that started two decades ago effectively came to an end on Monday, as the state attorney general's office said it would not retry Martin H. Tankleff for the murder of his parents." [Someday, the case against Chad Evans will end this way, and as with Marty Tankleff, there will be pressure on the authorities to prosecute other suspects.]
10 May 2008. "Even After Great Loss, Embracing Innocence" by Jim Dwyer in the New York Times. Brought together for an Innocence Project fundraiser, the mother of Debbie Carter (the murder victim in John Grisham's The Innocent Man), is now the loyal friend of one of the two men originally convicted of her daughter's murder, Dennis Fritz. The other econerated man was Ron Williamson who died in 2004. Said Mrs. Sanders, "I hated him so bad.. Why did they do that to my little girl? Later, after the exoneration, "I had to do it [reconciliation withh the exonerees] for my daughter.. They [Fritz and Williamson] had become victims of this, too. People still don't believe they're innocent...."[Someday in Massachusetts, one or more members of the Bortner family will embrace the exonerated Chad Evans, and work together for the improvement of justice.]
25 March 2008. "Consensus on Counting the Innocent: We Can't" by Adam Liptak in the New York Times.Excerpts from the Article...... Those numbers are too small to be reliable, of course, but they would suggest a false conviction rate of 6 percent. ... Ms. Armbrust said investigators in Virginia were able to get results in only 22 of the 31 tests, suggesting a false conviction rate of 9 percent....
Professor Gross concluded that the false conviction rate for death row inmates has ranged from 2.3 percent to 5 percent. Were even the lower end of that range applied to people who received prison sentences of a year or more in the last three decades, he wrote, it would suggest that about 185,000 innocent people have served hard time....
[Even at 1% of the 2 million people in U.S. Jails and prisons, that would mean 20,000 innocent people in prison. How do lawyers, legislators, police, corrections officials, and judges sleep at night? Included in that hypothetical 1% is Chad Evans.]
2 October 2007. New York Times article, "Exoneration Using DNA Brings Change in Legal System" by Solomon Moore, shows increasing awareness of the widespread conviction of innocent people in ALL crimes, and not just those involving DNA.The article begins... "State lawmakers across the country are adopting broad changes to criminal justice procedures as a response to the exoneration of more than 200 convicts through the use of DNA evidence."
3 August 2007. "Georgia Supreme Court will hear Troy Davis' appeal" by Rhonda Cook, Atlanta Journal-Constitution.Excerpts from the article... Davis, whose scheduled execution last month was put on hold by the state Board of Pardons and Paroles.
The court has put it on its November calendar.
Penny Haas Freesemann [the Savannah judge] ruled that Davis' new evidence did not meet the legal standards for new trials. Some of the new evidence was cumulative to evidence Davis presented at trial, some was obtained as long as 10 years ago, some was based on inadmissible hearsay evidence and some was not sworn testimony, the judge said....
2 August 2007. "The Presence of Malice" by Mt. Holyoke College professor Richard Moran, in Op-Ed in the New York Times.Excerpts from the article...
...My recently completed study of the 124 exonerations of death row inmates in America from 1973 to 2007 indicated that 80, or about two-thirds, of their so-called wrongful convictions resulted not from good-faith mistakes or errors but from intentional, willful, malicious prosecutions by criminal justice personnel. (There were four cases in which a determination could not be made one way or another.)
Yet too often this behavior is not singled out and identified for what it is. When a prosecutor puts a witness on the stand whom he knows to be lying, or fails to turn over evidence favorable to the defense, or when a police officer manufactures or destroys evidence to further the likelihood of a conviction, then it is deceptive to term these conscious violations of the law, all of which I found in my research as merely mistakes or errors....
9 October 2006. Author John Grisham publishes first non-fiction book, The Innocent Man. See "For Grisham, a new turn into non-fiction" by Carol Memmott in USA TodayExcerpts from the article.... Grisham found Williamson's real life just as compelling as the stories he has told in his hugely successful legal thrillers. "It just had everything," Grisham says. "A wrongful conviction, the near execution, the exoneration, the mental illness, the insanity, the baseball."
Grisham, 51, was so taken by the Ada, Okla., native's story that it has changed the course of his career. The author of 18 best-selling novels has now written his first non-fiction book, The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town (Doubleday, $28.95), on sale Tuesday. "Every time there's an exoneration and people walk out of prison after 10 or 15 years, people say, 'How could this happen?' Well, I want this book to show people how it can happen," Grisham says. "It was sloppy police work, or worse, cops who didn't want to find the real killer, vindictive police work and a prosecutor who became convinced he knew who the real killer was...." With no solid evidence, the police and the district attorney decided Williamson and an acquaintance, Dennis Fritz, were the murderers, Grisham writes. There was no proof the two men knew Carter, their fingerprints were not found at the scene, and there were no eyewitnesses. Grisham writes in the book that the case against Williamson consisted of "two 'inconclusive' polygraph exams, a bad reputation, a residence not far from that of the victim's, and the delayed, half-baked eyewitness identification" from the man who would turn out to be the real murderer. In 1988, Williamson and Fritz were convicted of first-degree murder. Fritz received a life sentence. Williamson was sent to death row. It's where he would stay for 11 years until DNA evidence exonerated him â€Ó just five days before he was to be executed. DNA testing proved that hairs and semen found at the Carter murder scene did not match either man. They were later shown to match those of Glen Gore, the last man to see Carter alive and someone to whom the police had paid little attention. Gore actually testified against Williamson at his trial. He was eventually convicted of murdering Carter and is in prison. Despite his exoneration, Williamson's story had no happy ending. The mental illness and drinking problems he had struggled with all his life continued to haunt him. He died of cirrhosis of the liver five years after he left prison in 1999. He was 51. So how could two men be tried and convicted on non-existent evidence, the false testimony of jailhouse snitches, faulty forensics work and suppressed evidence? "I don't know how it got that far," Grisham says. "Bad police work is not unusual, bad defense work and incompetent defense lawyers are not unusual, and rough, mean prosecutors are not unusual, but that's why you have a judge. The judge has got to guarantee that when you come into the courtroom, there's got to be a fair trial, and that was the great tragedy here. The judge was asleep at the switch." A hard look at the system
In 2002, a federal judge ruled that the circumstantial evidence used against the men "indicates a concerted pattern" that deprived them of their constitutional rights. The judge cited "repeated omission of exculpatory evidence ... inclusion of debatably fabricated evidence, failure to follow obvious and apparent leads which implicated other individuals, and the use of questionable forensic conclusions...."
6 October 2006 "Righting a wrong isn't being 'soft' on crime" in the Boston Globe by Ralph Martin, formerly Suffolk County District Attorney, Boston. Now a partner in Bingham McCutchen LLP. Excerpts from the Op-Ed...
PEOPLE MAKE mistakes in life, and evaluating them long after is the pursuit of critics galore. Currently the gubernatorial race features the Democratic candidate, Deval Patrick, who lent financial and other support to assist a convict who claims that he was wrongly convicted; Republican candidate Kerry Healey says that his assistance was a mistake, and makes him "soft on crime." A highly partisan political campaign is not the best way for voters to evaluate the societal issues raised by this subject matter... When I was district attorney of Suffolk County, I remember when my office first confronted the possibility that someone had been wrongly convicted. Barry Sheck, a lawyer in New York who pursues wrongful convictions in conjunction with the Innocence Project, cold-called me one day -- we had never met. He told me that he represented a defendant who had been convicted of rape approximately five years before the date of his call. Barry also told me that the Innocence Project carefully selected cases for review. This defendant's case had been selected because physical evidence was available to be tested with the use of DNA, a procedure that did not exist at the time of the defendant's trial. He then told me that they had obtained biological material of the defendant, had it tested, and that their test exonerated the defendant. Even though the conviction of this defendant occurred before I became district attorney, I was still disturbed that someone might have been wrongly convicted. I told Barry that he had raised enough concerns that I would arrange for my office to have a second DNA test performed and that I would get back to him after we received the test results. Approximately six weeks later, I called Barry to tell him what he already knew -- we had convicted the wrong person. I didn't resent Barry for his efforts, and I certainly didn't think he was soft on crime for raising the possibility that someone might have spent several years in state prison for something he didn't do. In fact, I continue to admire the work that Barry and the Innocence Project did in that case because it helped my office reverse an unjust conviction and pursue the truth. In that regard, the Constitution is the higher ideal that was served. It served no purpose or ideal to stonewall Barry Sheck or ignore the evidence; that would not have made me tough. It would have made me stupid. I had other wrongful conviction cases that my office had to contend with; in each case, we worked to squarely confront the truth. In at least one instance, the DA's office was the "moving party" -- the initiator of proceedings that released a man wrongly convicted of murder. I specifically remember that the seasoned homicide prosecutor who handled that case said he received more satisfaction from seeking the release of an innocent man than he did from hearing a jury say the word "guilty" at the end of its deliberations. That prosecutor is as "tough" on crime as anyone I know; he is also one of the most principled people I know. I never thought that serving the ideals of the Constitution made you soft or tough on crime. In this gubernatorial race, it is important for the voters to recognize that the governor should aspire to serve the ideals of the Constitution because it is the Constitution that governs us all. Respecting the Constitution doesn't make you soft or tough -- it only makes you just and fair.
[If such a column could be written by former Assistant Attorneys General, or Attorneys General in New Hampshire, the wrongful conviction of Chad Evans would move closer to being vacated.]
10 December 2005. "Ex-Lisker Juror Couldn't Stay Away" by Matt Lait and Scott Glover, Los Angeles Times. Abstract...
Lorraine Maxwell] was 56 years old and working at Prudential Securities in Encino when she served on the [Bruce Lisker] jury. Lisker was accused of killing his mother, Dorka, 66, by bludgeoning her with a Little League trophy and stabbing her with two steak knives. After speaking to [Anthony G. Kent] and [Holly Russo], Maxwell received a call from a private investigator for Lisker. He was calling jurors to see whether any would make a sworn statement saying they would not have convicted Lisker based on the latest evidence. Maxwell agreed.
Not all of the testimony went well for Lisker. On Wednesday, correctional officials and psychologists testified that Lisker had confessed to killing his mother. Lisker's lawyers called them phony confessions offered out of desperation by a man trying to minimize his time in prison.
20 August 2005. "For justice to prevail, prosecution must be just" Roanoke Times, VA
by John Flannery, a former federal prosecutor, former director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and former special counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.
...We are convicting innocent people in Virginia because of false eyewitness testimony, false confessions, over-eager snitches, faulty forensics, bad defense lawyers but also, and this is the worst of all, because of prosecutorial misconduct and police misconduct.
In this last category, what we often mean by misconduct is that the government is concealing or destroying evidence that is exclusively within its possession that demonstrates, or tends to demonstrate, that the accused is innocent or his accusers are not reliable. The commonwealth will fight to hold onto its information, keep it confidential from the accused, even at the risk of convicting the innocent. When I was a puppy prosecutor and other prosecutors would ask my advice as to whether they should turn over evidence to the defense counsel, I'd ask why they were asking the question. It must have been, so I thought, that the information might tend to help the accused and, consciously or not, that these eager advocates -- my colleagues -- were reluctant to yield that advantage. I always thought the impetus for such questions led to only one obvious answer -- that the information must be handed over. The best defense lawyer in the nation, ignorant of a client's factual innocence because the commonwealth is sitting on the evidence of his innocence, is helpless to save his client from prison or death row. We know that the innocent have been convicted in Virginia because DNA evidence now allows us to exclude individuals as suspects in crimes -- if the DNA evidence has been preserved....
[This is one of the best general statements in this website about wrongful convictions and the obligation of prosecutors to provide justice, not just victories. For other statements see: "Justice Stevens Criticizes Death Penalty" at 7 August 2005, "DNA Tests Can Free the Innocent. How Can We Ignore That?" By William S. Sessions at 7 August 2005, "Our duty to free the wrongly convicted" by Suffolk County (Boston) District Attorney, Daniel Conley, 19 March 2004.]
7 August 2005. Justice John Paul Stevens at the annual meeting of the American Bar Association, "Justice Stevens Criticizes Death Penalty" from the Washington Post by Gina Holland, Associated Press.
While much of his presentation was about the death penalty, he expanded his concerns to incude the overall justice system: Recent exonerations of death row inmates through scientific evidence are significant, he told the American Bar Association, "not only because of its relevance to the debate about the wisdom of continuing to administer capital punishment , but also because it indicates that there must be serious flaws in our administration of criminal justice ." (emphasis added by Trial and Error.) [The U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing two DNA-related cases this Fall. See the Robin Lovitt case below at 12 July 2005, and the Paul House case at 30 June 2005.]
August 2005 (but article originally published 21 September 2003 in Washington
Tests Can Free the Innocent. How Can We Ignore That?" By William S.
Sessions, former Federal District Court Judge and former FBI director.
Instead, I was stunned by the results. In about 30 percent of the cases, the DNA gathered in the investigation did not match the DNA of the suspect.
Fifteen years later, this rate remains virtually the same....
Prosecutors not only have a professional duty to seek the truth, they have a moral responsibility to respond to the DNA no-match rate....
It is one thing for prosecutors to argue that, in some cases, DNA test results wouldn't necessarily establish a defendant's innocence and that other evidence is so strong that the conviction should still stand. But what is not understandable, nor seemingly justified, are the efforts of prosecutors to deny defendants access to DNA evidence for testing in cases where the results could make a difference...
In 1997 in Harris County, Texas, after DNA testing exonerated Kevin Byrd of rape, court officials decided to discard the "rape kits" -- the vaginal swabs taken from victims -- in 50 other cases. They cited a lack of storage space....
Prosecutors have nothing to lose -- unless they put their pride before their professionalism -- in allowing post-conviction DNA requests to go forward. If the DNA test proves the defendant is guilty, then all doubts will be resolved. If it exonerates the defendant, then there is an opportunity to correct a tragic mistake and begin the search for the real criminal....
[Mr. Sessions did not mention the statistic that a very small percentage of crimes involve DNA, but it's the foolproof DNA that is leading to a epidemic of exonerations for wrongfully convicted people. As it's safe to assume that the wrongful conviction rate for non-DNA-rich crimes is the same as for DNA-rich crimes, that means that there are thousands of innocent/wrongfully convicted people in America's prisons.]
31 July 2005. "Mo. Prosecutor Re-Investigates Old Cases" from the Associated Press, appearing in Newsday. (This is a continuation of the wrong-man-executed story posted below on 18 July 2005.)ST. LOUIS (AP) -- After landing a job at a prestigious law firm, Jennifer Joyce was making good money with an office overlooking the Gateway Arch -- and was miserable. So she took a job at half the pay as an assistant prosecutor, sharing a dingy office with three other lawyers and one computer.
''Within a week I was just in love with the work,'' said Joyce, 43. ''I went from helping people fight over money to helping them pursue justice.'' Now the city's top prosecutor, part of Joyce's pursuit of justice has been to re-investigate more than 1,400 old cases to see if DNA evidence would prove the guilt -- or innocence -- of the person convicted of the crime. One of those cases could change the debate over the death penalty -- an investigation into whether a man was executed in 1995 for a murder he didn't commit. If so, it would be the first known execution of an innocent person in the United States. Looking into old cases isn't unheard of when new evidence arises, but few prosecutors have gone as far as Joyce. ''What she's doing here is appropriate and not common enough,'' said Barry Scheck, best known as part of O.J. Simpson's defense team. ''Prosecutors sometimes believe it's more important to win or to appear as though you don't make mistakes.'' So far, three St. Louis men convicted of rape have been exonerated -- each after serving at least 17 years in prison. Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, tried for years to convince Joyce's predecessor as circuit attorney, Dee Joyce Hayes, to reopen old cases. Hayes refused. When Hayes decided not to seek re-election in 2000, Joyce was elected to the post. Joyce said she spent her first day in office considering Scheck's request. At the time, he criticized her for not moving quickly enough. Eventually, her office determined that 1,400 people convicted in St. Louis before 1992 -- when DNA technology became widely available -- for crimes from robbery to rape to murder were still in prison. Joyce decided their cases deserved a second look, but with caution. Opening old wounds can be hard on the victims and their families. ''I've seen victims become suicidal,'' she said. ''I've seen victims throw up, become extremely emotional at the thought of reopening cases. We have to be mindful of that.'' Joyce brought in law students, working under the supervision of her staff, to examine all 1,400 cases, determining those in which DNA testing could potentially prove guilt or innocence. She estimated it took about 10 hours to look at each case. The ''DNA Justice Project'' is nearly complete -- fewer than a dozen cases remain to be looked at. So far, DNA evidence has exonerated three men. In July 2002, Larry Johnson was cleared after serving 18 years for the rape of a Saint Louis University student. The next year, Lonnie Erby was freed after serving 17 years for three assaults on teenage girls. Earlier this year, Anthony Woods was exonerated for a rape conviction. He was not among those studied through the DNA Justice Project because he had been released from prison after serving 18 years. Woods' attorney asked Joyce for the test. Joyce ''recognizes that prosecutors are human like the rest of us, and mistakes can be made,'' said Chet Pleban, Johnson's lawyer. Now her office is focusing on what would be a monumental mistake -- the potential execution of an innocent man. Quintin Moss, a 19-year-old drug dealer, was shot to death in 1980. Larry Griffin was an immediate suspect since word on the street was that it was Moss who weeks earlier had killed Griffin's brother. Griffin was convicted in 1981 largely on the eyewitness testimony of Robert Fitzgerald, a career criminal from Boston who was in St. Louis under the Federal Witness Protection Program. He was executed in 1995. Earlier this summer, Joyce was presented with a report on a yearlong study by Michigan law professor Sam Gross that cast doubt on Griffin's guilt. Among its findings: --A police officer who testified in support of Fitzergald's account now believes Fitzgerald's story was false. Gross cited other evidence that Fitzgerald, who died last year, had a reputation as an ''unreliable snitch.'' --A second victim of the shooting, Wallace Conners, has come forward. Conners, now 52, was shot in the buttocks, but was never called to testify. He said the government's witness was not even there -- and he was certain the shooter was not Griffin. ''The thing that was even more compelling was the victim's family had deep concerns about whether the right man had been convicted and executed,'' Joyce said. The investigation, headed by two assistant prosecutors, is expected to take months. Joyce said her feelings about the death penalty are irrelevant, though she seeks death for only the most heinous crimes. Had she been prosecutor when Griffin was tried, he might be awaiting results of the new investigation from a prison cell. ''In a case like Mr. Griffin's, a drive-by shooting, I don't know if that would rise to that level in my mind,'' Joyce said.
[See also the Missourinet article "Case Involving Executed Man Re-Opened" and the St. Louis Post Dispatch article "Was the wrong man executed?" andAssociated Press story by Jim Salter, "Mo. Prosecutors Look Into 1995 Execution"][Note that in this case, some members of the victim's family doubted that Griffin was the killer, and thus were asking for re-opening an investigation.]
June 2005. Updates on Marty Tankleff story. It
was featured on A&E's program, "American Justice" with the
the prosecutors recently filed a long appellate brief. See the New York
Times story: "Prosecutors
Scorn Appeal In '88 Long Island Slayings" and the Newsday
Tankleff witnesses lack credibility" which begins:
In an exhaustive response to Martin Tankleff's request for a new
trial in the 1988 murders of his parents, a Suffolk prosecutor said no
such trial should be granted because defense witnesses and their evidence
presented during a months-long hearing "lack credibility."
Assistant District Attorney Leonard Lato's 239-page summation, filed
Tuesday with Suffolk County Court Judge Stephen L. Braslow, is the latest
in an exchange of papers to end the evidentiary hearing....
27 June 2005. New York Times story on PBS Documentaries which bring justice to the wrongfully convicted: 13 in the last 14 years: "Crusading for Prisoners When the System Fails"The article begins:
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein started a generation of journalists' fantasizing that their stories would, if not bring down a president, provoke some small change in the system. Ofra Bikel, a producer for the PBS documentary series "Frontline," is one of the few for whom this fantasy has been realized over and over again..... This month, Patsy Kelly Jarrett, a convicted murderer, was released from prison after 28 years, largely, her lawyer said, because of Ms. Bikel's documentary, which was broadcast on PBS last year. Ms. Jarrett was the 13th prisoner released in 14 years of profiles by Ms. Bikel.
[See the 16 June 2004 posting here in "Links to Articles - Old" for more on the Patsy Jarrett story. For another article, see "Parole Board Watches "The Plea" and Frees Convicted Murderer Patsy Kelly Jarrett"
27 May 2005. The case of Bruce Lisker from "Innocence Case Archives" at www.talkleft.com. Bruce has served 19 years in prison for killing his mother, but now the newspapers report doubts about the conviction: "Five Jurors Question Old Conviction". The now-retired prosecutor is among those who question the original verdict. The most recent newspaper article is from the Los Angeles Times on 22 May, "New Light on a Distant Verdict". Bruce Lisker is the one who CALLED the police to report that his mother was wounded. He was also high on methamphetamines. So, he was convicted of murdering his mother. Simple case. Case closed.[See Peter Reilly Story in "Links to Articles (old)". The number of wrongful convictions which began with the exonerees calling the police to report a crime is scary.]
April 2005. "Texas
may have put innocent man to death, panel told" (from the Chicago
paragraphs from the article are relevant to the case of Alfred Trenkler:
"AUSTIN, Texas -- With Texas' criminal justice system the subject
of intense scrutiny for a crime lab scandal and a series of wrongful convictions,
a state Senate committee heard testimony Tuesday about the possibility
that Texas had experienced the ultimate criminal justice nightmare: the
execution of an innocent person.
Fourteen months after Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in the nation's
busiest death chamber, a renowned arson expert and Willingham's lawyer
told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee that they believed Willingham
might have been innocent but found nobody willing to listen to their claim
in the days before the execution in February 2004....
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has, by executive order, set up his own committee.
But critics, including state Sen. Rodney Ellis, a longtime advocate of
criminal justice reform in Texas, and Barry Scheck, a co-founder of the
New York-based Innocence Project, told the senators that to be effective
the governor's panel needed to subpoena sworn testimony, obtain documents
and seek forensic testing. Ellis, a Houston Democrat, has sponsored legislation
to beef up the power of Perry's panel.
"Without subpoena power and the ability to order testing, I don't
see how the committee can get to the bottom of these cases," Scheck said
after testifying. "I haven't heard of a committee that didn't want all
of those things. If you want to find out the truth, you have to have the
mechanisms to do it." ....
Willingham maintained his innocence until the end. Strapped to a gurney
in the death chamber last year, an angry Willingham said: 'I am
an innocent man, convicted of a crime I did not commit.' "
Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen are not your average struggling actors, first-time playwrights, married couple, or just about anything else. These talented activists and artists are the force behind the anti-death penalty play The Exonerated , and have recently authored a behind-the-scenes peek into their creative process and political awakening entitled Living Justice: Love, Freedom and the Making of The Exonerated (Atria, February 2005). The play was culled from their interviews with over 40 exonerated death row inmates, stemming from a symposium they attended on the death penalty at Columbia University, which sparked their interest and gave them a vision for the play they wanted to create.
From there, they traveled the country conducted interviews, learning about the judicial and penal system, and ultimately writing and staging a play with actors such as Gabriel Byrne, Kristin Davis, Richard Dreyfuss, Mia Farrow, Sara Gilbert, Lyle Lovett, Debra Winger and support from the likes of Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, at New York's 45 Bleecker Theater , as well as across the country. The play's political reach was wide as well: it's been performed at the United Nations and in front of the likes of Janet Reno, Supreme Court Justice David Souter, Senator Patrick Leahy, and members of the Justice Department. One of the most gripping moments in the book details a performance given in Chicago as then-Governor Ryan was deciding whether to exonerate people being held on death row in Illinois. The Exonerated also garnered Blank and Jensen numerous awards, including the 2003 Lucille Lortel Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Play, and a Drama Desk Award."
9 April 2005. National Geographic TV Channel: "DNA Frees Death-Row Inmates, Brings Others to Justice" by Brian Handwerk.The article begins:
"After five years on Louisiana's death row, Ryan Matthews received a second chance at life. He was exonerated last year with the help of DNA evidence. "He was 17 years old at the time of his arrest and is borderline retarded," said Martha Kashickey, the public-education associate for the Innocence Project at Yeshiva University's law school in New York City. "Post-conviction DNA testing on the mask the perpetrator left at the scene both exonerated Matthews and revealed the identity of the actual perpetrator," Kashickey said from New York City.
The Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) reports that 13 other death-row inmates have also been exonerated with the help of DNA evidence...."
19 March 2005. A Massachusetts Wrongful Conviction: "JUSTICE FOR BOBBY JOE"
Boston attorneys Robert Muse and his son Chris worked for six years, without compensation, to achieve justice for Bobby Jo Leaster who was convicted of a 1970 murder. Finally, in 1986, after a bullet analysis showed that the murder weapon came from someone else, he was released. Later, he was compensated with a $1 million annuity from the Massachusetts legislature. See the 1992 Boston Globe story: "STATE TO PAY WRONGLY JAILED MAN TODAY"
March 2005. Update on Jeffrey Scott Hornoff. (see
Below, for 7 January 2004).He
was the former policeman convicted of killing a girlfriend in 1989, and
was released after 6 years in prison after the real murderer confessed.
Without that break, he would still be in prison, which should give some
pro-prosecution people food for humble thought. See:
ON THE SCOTT HORNOFF EXONERATION" by his attorney from the
New England Innocence Project, Rob Feldman. From that essay comes
these words: "The Providence Journal published an essay by a Brown
University professor criticizing the Innocence Project for taking on Scott
Hornoff's case. After describing Hornoff as "truly guilty," the
essay concluded that "[t]aking the Hornoff case reveals the Innocence
Project as a cynical enterprise that is willing to trample on victims
and their families without good cause." If DNA and other exonerations
teach us anything, they should teach us to recognize that our system has
and will, at times, make catastrophic mistakes. Because of this,
we should exercise some measure of humility when we consider claims of
innocence. There are many reasons we should do this, not the least of
which is self-interest. For, as Scott puts it, if it happened to
him, it can happen to anyone."
16 March 2005. President Bush reiterates his support for DNA technology to be "absolutely certain" of guilt or innocence.
In the New York Times coverage of the President's news conference, President Bush states, "...one of the things we've got to make sure is that we use, in this case, technology, DNA technology, is to make sure that we're absolutely certain about the innocence or guilt of a person accused." (page A13, 17 March.) [A retrial is the way to be "absolutely certain" of justice in this case.]
14 February 2005. National Public Radio's program "This American Life" with Ira Glass presents segment about how a man set about reversing the wrongful conviction of a friend for murder. [At the WEBSITE, click on either of two audio icons and listen to the whole story.] The summary on the website reads: "After four lawyers fail to get an innocent man out of prison, his friend takes on the case himself. He becomes a do-it-yourself investigator. He learns to read court records, he tracks down hard-to-find witnesses, he gets the real murderer to come forward with his story. In the end, he's able to accomplish all sorts of things the police and the professionals can't.Pictured: left, Collin Warner, who spent years in prison wrongfully convicted of murder, and right, his childhood friend Carl King, who eventually got him out. Carl now runs an organization, called Success to Freedom devoted to helping wrongfully convicted inmates." [Collin Warner was convicted of murder in 1980 and spent 21 years in prison. A second man was convicted with him, but because the second was a juvenile at the time, he was released after 9 years. Only later did he confess that he was the lone gunman, thanks to King's efforts, and that Warner had nothing to do with the crime.]
27 January 2005. Court TV shows "The Exonerated" on Thursday Evening, and will broadcast again on Saturday, 29 January at 4 p.m. and Sunday, 30 January at 2 p.m.
See Court-TV's WEBSITE ABOUT THE MOVIE with Danny Glover, Brian Dennehy and Susan Sarandon. On Thursday, the movie was preceded by a program, "A life stolen", about one of the Innocence Project's Exonerees, Bruce Godschalk. It appears to be part of a Court TV series, "Stories of the Innocenced Project"For more about Bruce, and what is happening in South Carolina to correct wrongful convictions, see "Sometimes the bad guy isnâ€™t the one doing time" For a view of some prosecutors' views of "The Exonerated", see the USA Today article, "Prosecutors take exception to Court TV film" Another article appeared in the New York Times, similar to the U.S. Today article which gave the prosecutors' sides of the story, including statements from the President of the National District Attorneys Association. In response to the Times' article, the authors of "The Exonerated" wrote the following letter to the NY Times:To the Editor:
In ''Cross Examination for a Drama That Puts the Death Penalty on Trial'' (Arts pages, Jan. 27), you provided a platform to prosecutors who insinuate that not all those portrayed in ''The Exonerated'' are innocent, without providing significant opportunity for rebuttal by the defense attorneys involved.
While we appreciate your attempts at evenhandedness in the rest of the article, your sidebar ("Back From Death Row: Exonerated, or Just Freed?") quotes prosecutors without giving equal space to defense arguments that clearly refute prosecutors' claims, allowing prosecutors to create the impression that there is a reasonable question about the outcomes portrayed in the play. There is not. These cases have been resolved amid overwhelming evidence of innocence. The article also says nothing about prosecutors' strong motivations to maintain public perceptions of exonerees' guilt. After a wrongful conviction, prosecutors are often vulnerable to lawsuits as well as personal and political criticism. Unfortunately, many prosecutors continue to avoid addressing the very real problems that lead to wrongful confictions. JESSICA BLANK ERIK JENSEN BOB BALABAN New York , Jan 27, 2005
Ms. Blank and Mr. Jensen are the writers of "The Exonerated," and Mr. Balaban is the director and producer.
5 January 2005. For a look at wrongful convictions around the world and historically, see the website www.forejustice.org It's maintained by Hans Sherrer, and has references to a large number of books and articles.
January 2005. Book review of "Bloodsworth" and "The
Death Penalty on Trial: Crisis in American Justice" from the Chicago
Tribune, as published in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Justice
Restored by Science" by Maurice Possley.
Death Penalty book is by Bill Kurtis and it centers on Ray Krone, an exoneree
from Arizona (noted below in this section of this website) and of Thomas
Kimbell of Pennsylvania. Kimbell was retried four years afer his
wrongful conviction and found not guilty. Wrote Possley, at first
was biased on two counts. First, I thought some people deserved to die
for their crimes. For most of my life I had supported capital punishment.
... And second, as a lawyer, I had a deep faith in our system of justice."
17 December 2004. Mass. Supreme Court decides case about introducing evidence about alternate suspects.
The defendant was appealing his second conviction for murder, after a trial and retrial. At the retrial, the jury did know about the alternate suspect, the victim's landlord, but was not permitted to hear evidence about his past sexual aggression. In this appeal, the Court said the evidence should not have been excluded. Also in this case were hairs that were not DNA-tested. [They have not been incinerated, either.] The Boston Globe article is: "High court orders retrial in '94 Lexington murder case" Click for the Supreme Court opinion. The court stated, "There was substantially more evidence of motive on the part of the landlord than on the part of this defendant."
23 November 2004. Review of book about Kirk Bloodsworth, in "Church World, Maine's Catholic Weekly, " 'Little miracles,' DNA evidence led to death-row inmate's exoneration" by Emilie Lemmons, Catholic News Service This review of "Bloodsworth: The True Story of the First Death Row Inmate Exonerated by DNA" presents a summary of the stunning story. (Some of the story is contained in articles below on this page. See 6 August 2004) As with other cases of wrongful convictions, there are similarities to Alfred's case. The victim was a young girl. The defense tried to introduce evidence of alternate suspects. The police decided early, and incorrectly, after cutting some corners and ignoring some contrary evidence, who the perpetrator was. Despite the bad luck of being convicted, Kirk had considerable good luck as evidence was preserved by a judge who had his doubts. Even after his release, the prosecution still thought he was the killer, and did not check the telltale DNA against the Federal CODIS database. Finally, after considerable public pressure, that check was made, and the real killer was determined to be a former fellow inmate of Kirk's in prison. Belatedly, the prosecutor met personally with Kirk Bloodsworth to apologize. (Since his 1993 release, Kirk has worked on behalf of justice for the wrongfully convicted.)
17 October USA TODAY editorial "Wrongly imprisoned deserve much more than bus fare"
After noting that the new Federal DNA law urges the states to establish laws regarding the compensation of exonerated wrongly convicted people, the editorial concludes: "False convictions are rare, and prosecutors worry that if DNA tests become routine, thousands of guilty prisoners will inundate officials with demands for them. But that seems trivial when the alternative is to insist that innocent people stay in prison for crimes they didn't commit.
No sum of money can fully compensate innocent people who've lost years of their freedom. But at a minimum, states can make amends for their egregious errors by helping repair lives they've torn apart."
In this same issue is a column by an Oregon District Attorney, Joshua Marquis, who argues for wider DNA testing, including suspects. His column "Don't ignore larger issue" begins, "It is every prosecutor's worst nightmare to convict an innocent person." These columns followed the October 13 USATODAY article by Stephanie Armour about compensation for exonerees, "Wrongly convicted walk away with scars; DNA testing leads to more exonerations, but those freed face difficult job search and get little help" "...With the advent of DNA testing, more prisoners are being freed after wrongful convictions. The pace of exonerations has jumped sharply, from about 12 a year through the early 1990s to an average of 43 a year since 2000, according to a study by the University of Michigan.[See 4/20, NY Times, Adam Liptak story below.] There have been at least 328 exonerations since 1989, and about half of those since 1999 were based on DNA evidence. There are at least 41 Innocence Projects in 31 states providing legal assistance to inmates. ...Only 18 states, the federal government and Washington, D.C., have laws for compensating the exonerated. Compensation can take years to get, and the laws often aren't used by exonerees because they may need an official pardon or a court must declare them innocent.
Compensation amounts can vary widely. Some states, such as West Virginia, have no cap on the amount that can be received; others, such as Maine, set a maximum of $300,000. "
[ For more information about such compensation as provided by other states, see the PBS Frontline web information on the program "Burden of Innocence".]
but in Dark: Police Keep Files ClosedThis
New York Times article summarizes the story of then 18 year old
Peter Reilly from Connecticut who returned home from church in 1974 and
found his mother murdered. He was so intensely interrogated that
he confessed. Many people in the area were sure that he was not
the killer, and his witnessed alibi placed him 5 miles away at the time
of the killing. Donald Connery wrote a book, "Guilty until
proven Innocent" and it was published in 1977, the same year of Reilly's
release from prison. No doubt, it took the inquiring eyes of this
journalist author to help open the case. The
story is back in the news because Reilly wants the files opened up, because
he wants his mother's killer to be apprehended. Police have conceded
that they have not worked on the case for 25 years, but they still do
not want the file opened. After all, it will show all the details
of how they wrongfully convicted Peter Reilly for the crime, (New
York Times, 1/24/04) [Note how there are several parallels in every
one of these wrongful conviction stories to the Alfred Trenkler case.] For
another story about this case, see "In
the Peter Reilly Case, Odd New Developments" and consider
renting the movie, "A Death in Canaan". "Panel
Decries Wrongful Convictions" Boston GlobeThis
article describes the discussion at the "Preventing Wrongful Conviction"
session of the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Bar Association, on
Saturday, 24 January. After the session, in which he participated,
Mass. Supreme Court Justice Robert Cordy stated, " ''We need to rededicate
ourselves to making changes that will minimize the possibility of wrongful
the conference occurred on the day of the news that yet another wrongfully
convicted innocent man, Stephan Cowans, was ordered released from 6 1/2
years in prison. In
addition to the article, see comments in this website's Latest
Globe, Sunday, 1/25/04)
National Public Broadcasting System Interview with former prosecutor Bennett
It's extraordinary, and you will see situations analogous to Alfred's on many pages. He is part of a large national tragedy, and our lock-em-up society is slow to see what harm it has done. On page 246, there is a summary of the reasons for the 67 exonerations as of 1999 (now raised to over 130) just by the Innocence Project: 84% mistaken eyewitnesses 21% snitches and inmate informants 24% false confessions 27% poor defense lawyers 42% prosecutorial misconduct 50% police misconduct. 33% fraudulent or tainted science. For those struggling with their laptop calculators, these percentages do NOT add up to 100, and therefore overlap with multiple explanations for the same cases. Appendix 2 gives more information about those categories. At the time of the book writing, only 16 states had laws which provided for compensation to the wrongly convicted. New Jersey is said to have a good compensation law providing for up to $20,000 per year of wrongful incarceration. At the time of the 2000 publication, only 2 states had specific statutes authorizing post conviction DNA testing. They were Illinois and New York, and they were the states with the most exonerations. In the other states the DNA tests were done by court order, in the interests of justice, etc. At page 247, the book talks about the concept of "finality", which is the term courts use to achieve what we now call "closure". Prosecutors and police want to handle new cases, not old ones,and "finality" conserves legal system resources. It also saves the victims' emotions - as we have seen argued in Alfred's case. The authors have run up against finality many times in many states, where "finality" is cast against the need to test existing DNA evidence and most of the time, the "finality" wins and the only closure achieved is the final closing of the prison doors. Well, one state supreme court, South Dakota, voted 5-0 to permit DNA testing for an inmate for whom all other appeals had been lost. The state attorney general argued that the DNA in the case should not be tested. When Peter Neufeld stated to the court that DNA had already exonerated 55 people (as of March 1998), the A.G.'s priceless response was to object (!) to the information because it was not in the lower courts' records of the case. (Another example of lawyers arguing for the legal game and not for justice) The judges then asked the assistant A.G. if the State of S. Dakota would have opposed the DNA testing for any of those 55 if they had lived in S. Dakota and the assistant A.G. said, "We would not allow them to be tested." The authors wrote, "Chief Justice Miller reddened. He leaned over and his eyeglasses slid forward. At that moment, the case was as good as decided." (P. 248). The book concludes with an Appendix of proposals for reforming our legal system. The topics include: DNA testing, Mistaken Eyewitness Identification, False Confessions, Jailhouse Snitches and Informants, Forensic Fraud, Junk Science and Sloppy Science, Bad Prosecutors/Bad Cops, Bad Defense Lawyers, Compensation and Victims, The Death Penalty, Innocence Commissions and An Innocence Network at Law Schools.
by Dennis Dechaine ("Trials of Innocents") on the national scandal
of Convictions of Innocent people