June 22, 2008
Ronald Taylor says pardon brings new meaning to life
Ronald Gene Taylor on Thursday broke free of the bonds of the wrongful rape conviction that has defined his life for 15 years after receiving news of a pardon confirming his innocence."It's been hard to get restarted," Taylor said in a telephone interview from Atlanta. "Little things, like filling out a job application or renting an apartment are hard when you have to say you are a convicted felon. Now, I am officially a free man. I am so relieved."
Thursday, his lawyers learned Gov. Rick Perry had signed a pardon, fully clearing Taylor's name. Perry signed the pardon last Friday, but Taylor and his lawyers only received notice Thursday.
Taylor, 48, has worked to reclaim his life in the eight months since a Harris County judge ordered him released from prison after DNA evidence cleared him of a 1993 Houston rape. He moved to Atlanta in October and reunited with the woman who patiently had waited for him. In December, they married. This spring he started his own lawn care business.
But the shadow of his conviction darkened each of those milestones.
Taylor was accused in the 1993 attack of a woman in her Third Ward home, which sat less than a mile from where Taylor lived. He maintained his innocence, but prosecutors built a case on the victim's identification of Taylor and the now-discredited testimony of a Houston Police Department crime lab analyst.
Jurors at Taylor's 1995 trial found him guilty, and a judge sentenced him to 60 years in prison.
Taylor's family vowed to prove his innocence. At the behest of his stepfather, Herman Henderson, the Innocence Project, a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to clear the wrongly convicted, accepted the case in 1998.
As the lawyers worked, a forensics scandal at the Houston Police Department crime lab grew, casting doubt on thousands of convictions. In 2006, a judge ordered DNA tests on evidence from Taylor's case. [Mark Godsey]
DNA Tosses Auburn Man's 1995 Murder Conviction
For the second time in less than 18 months, a Cayuga County murder conviction has been thrown out after DNA testing cast doubt on the trial verdict. Thursday, County Judge Thomas G. Leone tossed out Sammy Swift's 1995 conviction and ordered a new trial for the Auburn man. Last year, Roy Brown, who had served 15 years of a life sentence for murder, was freed from prison after DNA showed he wasn't at the scene of the crime.
Swift, now 54, was sentenced in 1995 to 20 years to life in state prison in the killing of Stephen DeLuca and 12 to 25 years for robbery. DeLuca was beaten and left unconscious in his 24 Underwood Ave. home in April 1994. He died five months later, and Swift was convicted of the killing in a jury trial.
Swift filed a motion earlier this year to vacate his conviction after new DNA tests more sophisticated than those available in 1995 showed that the blood found in DeLuca's home was not Swift's. The trial transcripts from 1995 contained repeated references to blood evidence, and testimony from a co-defendant said Swift wiped his bloody arm on a couch cushion.
Swift appeared before Leone in April, and the judge adjourned the case to give himself, prosecutors and the defense time to study the case file. The issue before Leone was whether he believed the
impact of the DNA testing would have changed the original verdict.
"There's a reasonable probability the verdict would be more favorable to the defendant," Leone said Thursday in announcing his ruling.
Cayuga County District Attorney Jon E. Budelmann said trial jurors heard testimony by co-defendants and other witnesses, and heard about other evidence in the case, such as DeLuca's wallet being found in Port Byron. Swift lived in Auburn and worked in Port Byron.
Budelmann told Leone he believes jurors would return the same verdict despite the DNA test and reminded the judge he must decide whether a different verdict was not simply possible but probable. [Mark Godsey]
Eugene Volokh Gary T. Schwartz Professor of Law
Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, criminal law, religious freedom law, and church-state relations law at UCLA Law School, where he has also often taught copyright law and a seminar on firearms regulation policy. Before coming to UCLA, he clerked for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court and for Judge Alex Kozinski on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Volokh is the author of the textbooks The First Amendment and Related Statutes (3d ed. 2008), The Religion Clauses and Related Statutes (2005), and Academic Legal Writing (3d ed. 2007), as well as over 50 law review articles and over 80 op-eds, listed below. He is a member of the The American Law Institute, and an Academic Affiliate for the Mayer Brown LLP law firm.
Volokh also worked for 12 years as a computer programmer, and is still partner in a small software company which sells HP 3000 software that he wrote. He graduated from UCLA with a B.S. in math-computer science at age 15, and has written many articles on computer software.
Volokh is the founder and coauthor of The Volokh Conspiracy, a Weblog that gets over 20,000 unique visitors per weekday. [Mark Godsey]
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