Monday, March 31, 2008
From kansas.com: The Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday that the arrest warrants in seven rape cases -- the first in the nation to charge someone's DNA with a crime -- weren't specific enough to meet legal standards.
The ruling means death-row inmate Douglas Belt won't be tried for the rapes. But the opinion offered hope for both sides.
The court didn't completely strike down the DNA-based "John Doe" warrants.
Those arrest warrants are now commonly used when prosecutors have someone's DNA, but can't match it with a name within the five-year statute of limitations for bringing a rape charge.
The state joins California, Wisconsin and Ohio, which have seen the warrants survive appeals.
"This is actually a good day for law enforcement," said Marc Bennett, an assistant Sedgwick County district attorney who argued the state's case before the Supreme Court.
No one had tried to charge someone's DNA with a crime before McPherson County Attorney Ty Kaufman filed an arrest warrant in 1991 against the nameless defendant.
Kaufman wanted to preserve the five-year statute of limitations for charging someone with rape. He didn't know the suspect's name, but he had a DNA sample.
Yet the court ruled in Belt's case that the arrest warrants were invalid because they didn't fully describe the makeup of his DNA profile.
"The bottom line of the ruling is that even John Doe warrants have to describe an individual in specific detail," said Rebecca Woodman, who argued Belt's case.
The Supreme Court ruling does not preclude prosecutors from drawing up an arrest warrant in the future based on a person's DNA. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
From msnbc.com: Last week sheriff’s deputies in Chickasaw County, Miss., arrested Justin Albert Johnson for the 1992 rape and murder of a 3-year-old girl.
What makes the case noteworthy is that another man, Kennedy Brewer, was convicted and sentenced to death for the same crime. Brewer spent 12 years in various prisons and jails, including death row, at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parcham.
DNA evidence exonerated Brewer in 2001. But because certain prosecutors were reluctant to admit they made a mistake, Brewer remained imprisoned until last August. Charges against him are still technically pending, but they will likely be dropped soon.
Brewer’s case is yet another victory for the Innocence Project, a non-profit group that used DNA evidence to overturn 212 cases since 1992. Fifteen of the accused had been sentenced to death.
Rest of Story. . . [Mark Godsey]
Monday, February 4, 2008
From denverpost.com: Throughout the country, DNA tests that
could pave the way to jailing violent predators are routinely delayed,
sometimes for years, because of staffing and funding constraints at
crime labs and increasing numbers of convicts being tested. Last week, Boulder police arrested a suspect in the
10-year-old slaying of Susannah Chase, thanks to a DNA match from
Wyoming. Diego Olmos Alcalde's sample that the Wyoming crime lab
uploaded into a federal database had waited — untested — for more than
three years. Even the FBI's Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, which
coughed up the DNA sample taken from Chase's body after her death,
matching it with the Wyoming profile, faces a massive backlog. "The FBI Laboratory currently has a backlog of approximately
180,000 federal convicted offender samples that are waiting for DNA
processing," FBI spokeswoman Ann Todd said in an e-mail. "Additionally,
approximately 50,000 samples have been processed and are waiting to be
entered into the national DNA database." Colorado gave the DNA sample taken from genetic material found on Chase's body to CODIS in 2002.
Had it been submitted to the FBI in the past few months, there
is a chance it wouldn't have been available when Wyoming entered
Alcalde's sample little more than a week ago. In a 2003 study, the National Institute of Justice found
542,700 cases with possible biological evidence either still in
possession of local law enforcement or backlogged at local or state
forensic labs. "You need more labs, more personnel, more equipment and more
training. It is a chain, and any weak link in the chain can just break
it," said Lawrence Kobilinsky, chairman of the forensic sciences
department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. "There are many cases out there where a rape kit was sitting
around and wasn't analyzed for a lengthy period. That delay causes
other people to be raped, murdered and brutalized," said Kobilinsky, an
expert witness in cases involving DNA. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Last week, Boulder police arrested a suspect in the 10-year-old slaying of Susannah Chase, thanks to a DNA match from Wyoming. Diego Olmos Alcalde's sample that the Wyoming crime lab uploaded into a federal database had waited — untested — for more than three years.
Even the FBI's Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, which coughed up the DNA sample taken from Chase's body after her death, matching it with the Wyoming profile, faces a massive backlog.
"The FBI Laboratory currently has a backlog of approximately 180,000 federal convicted offender samples that are waiting for DNA processing," FBI spokeswoman Ann Todd said in an e-mail. "Additionally, approximately 50,000 samples have been processed and are waiting to be entered into the national DNA database."
Colorado gave the DNA sample taken from genetic material found on Chase's body to CODIS in 2002.
Had it been submitted to the FBI in the past few months, there is a chance it wouldn't have been available when Wyoming entered Alcalde's sample little more than a week ago.
In a 2003 study, the National Institute of Justice found 542,700 cases with possible biological evidence either still in possession of local law enforcement or backlogged at local or state forensic labs.
"You need more labs, more personnel, more equipment and more training. It is a chain, and any weak link in the chain can just break it," said Lawrence Kobilinsky, chairman of the forensic sciences department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
"There are many cases out there where a rape kit was sitting around and wasn't analyzed for a lengthy period. That delay causes other people to be raped, murdered and brutalized," said Kobilinsky, an expert witness in cases involving DNA. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Thursday, January 31, 2008
From dallasnew.com: A man found
to be the actual perpetrator in a 1994 rape and murder after DNA
cleared another man is alive and serving prison time for aggravated
sexual assault of a child and aggravated kidnapping. On
Tuesday prosecutors mistakenly said that the perpetrator in the slaying
and sexual assault of 14-year-old Nary Na had died. They discovered
their error Wednesday. Entre Nax
Karage, now 38, was originally convicted for the crime and sentenced to
life in prison in 1997. But DNA test results subsequently cleared him,
and he was ordered released from prison in 2004. Keith
Jordan is now charged with capital murder and aggravated sexual assault
of a child in the case. Court records show that DNA taken from evidence
left on the victim matches Mr. Jordan. His cases are pending in a
Dallas County court. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
On Tuesday prosecutors mistakenly said that the perpetrator in the slaying and sexual assault of 14-year-old Nary Na had died. They discovered their error Wednesday.
Entre Nax Karage, now 38, was originally convicted for the crime and sentenced to life in prison in 1997. But DNA test results subsequently cleared him, and he was ordered released from prison in 2004.
Keith Jordan is now charged with capital murder and aggravated sexual assault of a child in the case. Court records show that DNA taken from evidence left on the victim matches Mr. Jordan. His cases are pending in a Dallas County court. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
from dispatch.com: For 12 hours, they showed him photos from the bloody crime scene, screamed in his ears, threatened him with the death penalty, told him he failed a lie-detector test and even followed him into the bathroom, until Robert Caulley finally gave them what they wanted.
Told by detectives that if he confessed he could return home to his wife and young son to sort things out, Caulley buckled. On that day in December 1996, he told investigators that he had beaten his parents to death with a baseball bat nearly three years earlier in their Grove City home.
Convicted on little more than what he says was a false confession, Caulley wants a DNA test. Detectives originally had said Caulley's parents were killed when they interrupted a burglary.
"I loved my parents; I didn't kill them," said Caulley, 43, an Ohio State graduate who worked as an aeronautical engineer. He has served 10 years of his life sentence. "I just want the chance to prove my innocence."
Caulley's case is one of 30 that The Dispatch has identified as prime candidates for biological testing under a law passed in 2003 and revised in 2006. An accredited lab, which does work for the state crime lab, has agreed to conduct the tests free as a public service.
Gov. Ted Strickland called it a "terrific" opportunity to begin restoring credibility to a flawed system. He is urging prosecutors and judges to support the initiative.
"I can see no justification for any interference in the testing in those cases," Strickland said. "It's not going to cost the county. I don't know what the justification for trying to block that kind of testing would be."
The Dispatch, as part of a yearlong investigation, gathered public records and built files on the 313 cases in which Ohio prisoners applied for a DNA test under an old law, which stymied nearly everyone. Advocates hope that modest changes to the law in 2006 have created new opportunities for them.
Through consultation with the Ohio Innocence Project, a legal clinic based at the University of Cincinnati, The Dispatch identified prospects for testing.
The newspaper weighed several factors, including criminal histories, the evidence used to convict inmates and whether evidence remains available for testing. In several cases, judges had ordered tests but they hadn't been done more than two years later.
Many inmates who say they're innocent couldn't be included because evidence has been lost or destroyed.
In conjunction with The Dispatch investigation, lawyers representing the 30 inmates plan to seek approval from judges in 13 counties for DNA tests beginning today. The inmates are being represented individually either by the Ohio Innocence Project or the Ohio public defender. These cases will be among the first to be filed under the new law.
Prosecutors in Lucas and Marion counties already have agreed to tests in two cases after being questioned about the cases by Dispatch reporters. Other prosecutors said they would consider the requests after they are filed in court.
DNA tests could answer troubling questions looming over the convictions -- often with absolute finality.
The newspaper asked the Ohio Innocence Project for legal assistance in reviewing case files. Dispatch Editor Benjamin J. Marrison said the initiative is a test of Ohio's flawed system more than of any one conviction.
"There's no reason to not pursue the truth," Marrison said. "What motivated us was examining the system to find out if it's flawed and, where it is flawed, having the legislature and the governor craft fixes. The findings of this investigation should alarm every Ohioan, because the lack of evidence protocol means any one of us could be wrongly convicted."
The Ohio Innocence Project, a team of law students led by two professors, said the Dispatch investigation accelerated their review of innocence claims. Typically, the group has about five active cases, which can drag on for years and sometimes extend beyond DNA issues.
"Now that we've got the new (law) in place, we need to have a whole new round of examination on these cases and, of course, need to have a more open mind," said Mark Godsey, director of the Ohio Innocence Project.
"Each of these cases represents systematic flaws that suggest our justice system is not working the way we all would like," said Jenny Carroll, academic director. "I think the publicity The Dispatch can bring to those issues will bring about more systematic reforms than I can bring about as an individual lawyer."
Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Sunday, January 27, 2008
From dispatch.com: A man on Ohio's Death Row held faint hope that a DNA test might keep him from his grave. But no one could find the evidence in the Cleveland man's murder case.
Another man was changing a flat tire when a 5-year-old girl pointed to him as the man who had raped her 11 weeks earlier. The Toledo man was convicted on little more than her word. A DNA test could end all doubts, but swabs from the girl's medical exam are lost in an evidence room the manager describes as a disaster.
A judge ordered a DNA test for a Cleveland man, but the evidence remains untested more than two years later. When his father died, the prisoner stood alone over the casket, in shackles and unable to prove his innocence.
These cases reflect the empty promises and missed opportunities typical of Ohio's inmate DNA testing program.
A yearlong Dispatch investigation revealed a system in which prosecutors ignore court orders for testing, judges reject inmates without following the law, and evidence is routinely lost or destroyed before it can be tested.
The flaws have ruinous consequences for inmates, victims and society at large.
Presented with The Dispatch's findings, Gov. Ted Strickland immediately called for a compete overhaul that would speed up the review process, open up testing to more inmates and establish statewide standards for preserving evidence.
"It's not honoring the victim to take the chance that an innocent person is paying the price for victimizing them, because the flip side of the coin is that means the guilty party has escaped justice," Strickland said.
"It's just a matter of trying to do everything we can to be as careful and as accurate as we possibly can be."
The Dispatch reviewed the 313 cases of inmates who requested DNA testing and found:
• Evidence had been lost or destroyed nearly two-thirds of the time when prosecutors agreed to search for it. Ohio does not require evidence to be catalogued and saved, as 22 states do.
• Even when evidence was available, the applications for testing typically went nowhere. Judges didn't bother rejecting the requests in 53 cases; they simply ignored them.
• Ohio law requires judges to cite a reason when they reject a DNA test. Nearly a third of the time, they didn't. Many rulings were one-sentence denials.
• Even in cases in which a judge granted testing, the inmate's odds of actually receiving a test still were no better than a coin toss. The Dispatch discovered 13 cases in which testing hadn't been done more than a year after a judge approved it -- in some cases, more than two years.
• Tests have been done in only 14 cases since a 2003 law allowed inmates to apply. Two resulted in exonerations. Seven confirmed guilt. The others were inconclusive. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Thursday, January 24, 2008
It looks to be a busy year for the Mississippi Innocence Project, which began operation this month. The clinic housed at the University of Mississippi School of Law has started examining cases and will be pushing for legislative reform.
Project director Tucker Carrington said the state Legislature is to consider legislation this year that would allow prisoners like Arthur Johnson to request DNA testing that could prove their innocence
On Jan. 4, the Mississippi Supreme Court ordered the Sunflower County Circuit Court to determine whether Johnson's conviction 15 years ago for rape and burglary should be set aside. Recent DNA testing provided conclusive evidence that Johnson is not the person who committed the rape.
Johnson was convicted in 1993 and sentenced to 55 years in prison, despite no physical evidence linking him to the crime. Johnson's lawyer, Emily Maw from Innocence Project New Orleans, said she expects the Sunflower County Circuit Court to hold a hearing soon to review the new DNA evidence.
"This DNA testing proves that Arthur Johnson was telling the truth when he claimed from the beginning that he is innocent of this charge," she said.
If the court releases Johnson, he will be the first prisoner in state history to be fully exonerated based on DNA testing performed after the trial. The decision comes just as the UM law school's new Innocence Clinic begins operation, Carrington said.
The Innocence Project New Orleans, which represents Johnson, has successfully represented numerous prisoners in Louisiana and Mississippi and is playing a crucial role in the founding of the new clinic. The Mississippi Innocence Project was started with funding from many people, including author John Grisham and Columbus attorney Wilbur Colom.
The Legislature also is to consider requiring law enforcement authorities and courts to preserve biological evidence, even after a person is convicted, Carrington said. Mississippi is one of eight states without statute providing access to DNA testing for prisoners with claims of innocence. Legislative reform is a moral obligation, he said.
"Arthur Johnson's exoneration is yet another compelling
example of the powerful tool that DNA evidence can provide
- for people like Mr. Johnson, as well as for law
enforcement who now have an unsolved case on their hands
but also solid leads on the real perpetrator," Carrington
said. "But this kind of evidence can only be helpful if it
exists, and for that, Mississippi needs legislation to
ensure that there will be clearly established procedures to
provide for preservation and testing of this evidence for
those whose claims of innocence could be proven but who
cannot afford to pay for it." [Mark Godsey]
Sunday, December 2, 2007
Editorial Concerning Alabama's Refusal to Order DNA Testing Before Executing a Man Who Claims Innocence
birminghamnews.com: The Birmingham News recently ran an editorial discussing state of Alabama's refusal to order DNA testing before executing a Death Row inmate who claims to be innocent. Here is an excerpt:
homas Arthur may absolutely be guilty of a 1982 murder for which he was sentenced to death. Arthur emphatically claims he is not; a jury concluded he was.
The truth is, there's at least some evidence to suggest guilt and other evidence that makes you wonder. Unfortunately, the jury that decided Arthur's fate didn't have the luxury of DNA testing that might have helped them sort through the complicated facts of the case.
Had the technology existed at the time of his trial, surely DNA tests would have been conducted on the evidence, which includes hair and semen. It's routinely used now on the front end of criminal cases to confirm guilt or to eliminate suspects.
It boggles the mind, then, that the state of Alabama won't order DNA tests before proceeding to execute Arthur on Dec. 6.
True, the U.S. Supreme Court this week denied Arthur's legal bid for DNA testing. But the courts are bound by legal timelines and rules. We may not always like those constraints, but at least we can see the reasoning behind the decision.
Gov. Bob Riley is under no such rules. He can order DNA testing in this case, and there's no good reason for him not to do it. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Friday, November 30, 2007
9th Circuit Decides that DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act of 2000 remains constitutional even after Congress expanded that law in 2004 to include as qualifying offenses all felonies
Senior Circuit Judge Betty B. Fletcher dissented in an opinion that begins, "The majority holds, with an air
of shrugging inevitability, that without a warrant, without probable
cause, indeed without any suspicion whatsoever, the federal government
may seize and repeatedly search the DNA of all federal felons on
supervised release, regardless of their offense or their likelihood to
re-offend. They sanction the inclusion of that DNA in a massive and
permanent computer database, the sole purpose of which is to aid
generalized criminal investigation. This offends not only the Fourth
Amendment but our precedents. I respectfully dissent."
Full Opinion. . . [Mark Godsey, Hat Tip: Bergeron, Pierre H]
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Kirk Bloodsworth, whose capital conviction was the first in the country to be overturned as a result of DNA testing, will speak at 6 p.m. on Monday, November 19.
A former marine with no criminal record, Bloodsworth was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death in Maryland in1984 for a rape and murder that he did not commit. He spent nearly nine years in prison before DNA testing proved his innocence in 1993. It took another 10 years before the Maryland State’s Attorney announced that a DNA match had identified the actual perpetrator of the crime. That person pleaded guilty to the murder for which Bloodsworth had been wrongfully convicted.
Bloodsworth is now the program officer for The Justice Project, a nonpartisan organization in Washington, D.C., that addresses unfairness in the American Criminal Justice System. He will be joined at the presentation by John Terzano, president of The Justice Project.
The Justice Project develops and coordinates national and state-based campaigns involving public education, litigation and legislation to reform the criminal justice system, with particular focus on capital punishment. Bloodsworth and The Justice Project led a five-year campaign to pass the Innocence Protection Act in the U.S. Congress. The bill, which established the “Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program,” was signed into law in 2004.
The dramatic story of Bloodsworth’s 20-year journey is chronicled in the book “Bloodsworth: The True Story of the First Death Row Inmate Exonerated by DNA.” [Mark Godsey]
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
From physorg.com: Dr. Hawley Crippen was hanged
for murdering and dismembering his showgirl wife, then fleeing with his
mistress across the high seas with the police in hot pursuit. Loaded
with enough sordid details and twists to eventually fuel more than 40
books and several movies, this London case is second only to Jack the
Ripper in its sensational notoriety.
Back in 1910, it was forensic evidence that brought Crippen down. Now, David Foran, a forensic biologist and director of MSU’s forensic science program, partnering with clinical and forensic toxicologist John Harris Trestrail III, managing director of the regional poison center in Grand Rapids, is combining state-of-the-art DNA analysis with solid sleuthing to show the remains buried in Crippen’s basement couldn’t have been his wife.
“This can’t be Cora Crippen,” Foran said. “We’re certain of that.”
For nearly a century, Crippen, a homeopathic physician, was thought to have poisoned his flamboyant and domineering wife with an obscure toxin, dismembered her body and buried little more than tissue in his London cellar. Crippen was labeled “one of the most dangerous and remarkable men who have lived in this century.”
Trestrail has been engrossed by the case for 40 years. One of the nation’s leading experts in poisoning, he knew dismemberment and poisoning don’t go together.
“There were no identifying parts of the remains found, no head, no bones, no organs of gender. I’ve always wondered who is that under the steps?” Trestrail said. “Was he telling the truth? Now we have the possibility to bring the science of DNA up against actual specimens from the trial to answer the question: ‘Was that her under the steps or wasn’t it?’” Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Sunday, November 4, 2007
From dallasnews.com:All but four
of 160 inmates who were questioned over the last two weeks have agreed
to have their cases reopened because of shoddy blood analysis work by
the Houston Police Department crime lab, attorneys said Thursday.
Since Oct. 22, the inmates have been gathered each day at
prisons around the state so a Houston courts panel could tell them via
videoconference that their convictions could have been influenced by
the flawed lab work. They were told that if they wanted their cases
reviewed, a lawyer would be appointed for them.
While some of the inmates simply said "yes" before shuffling back to their cells, for others it was more emotional.
"Some of them wanted to start talking about their case right
away," said Bob Wicoff, a Houston defense lawyer assigned to lead the
review. "One of them told me, 'I've been waiting for this day. I love
you.' And you know what, he may be guilty, but if he was innocent, that
may be the way you'd expect somebody to react. We shall see."
Last month, Harris County judges announced plans to review 180
cases identified as having "major issues" in body-fluid analysis in a
final report this year from a special investigator hired by the city of
Houston to investigate the lab.
Of the 180 cases, 160 inmates were still in prison. Of the
remaining 20 cases, half are inmates who have been executed while the
other half are inmates who've been freed from prison. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey
Since Oct. 22, the inmates have been gathered each day at prisons around the state so a Houston courts panel could tell them via videoconference that their convictions could have been influenced by the flawed lab work. They were told that if they wanted their cases reviewed, a lawyer would be appointed for them.
While some of the inmates simply said "yes" before shuffling back to their cells, for others it was more emotional.
"Some of them wanted to start talking about their case right away," said Bob Wicoff, a Houston defense lawyer assigned to lead the review. "One of them told me, 'I've been waiting for this day. I love you.' And you know what, he may be guilty, but if he was innocent, that may be the way you'd expect somebody to react. We shall see."
Last month, Harris County judges announced plans to review 180 cases identified as having "major issues" in body-fluid analysis in a final report this year from a special investigator hired by the city of Houston to investigate the lab.
Of the 180 cases, 160 inmates were still in prison. Of the remaining 20 cases, half are inmates who have been executed while the other half are inmates who've been freed from prison. Rest of Article. . .
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
From NYTimes.com: In 1994, three teenagers in the small city of West Memphis, Ark., were convicted of killing three 8-year-old boys in what prosecutors portrayed as a satanic sacrifice involving sexual abuse and genital mutilation. So shocking were the crimes that when the teenagers were led from the courthouse after their arrest, they were met by 200 local residents yelling, “Burn in hell.”
But according to long-awaited new evidence filed by the defense in federal court on Monday, there was no DNA from the three defendants found at the scene, the mutilation was actually the work of animals and at least one person other than the defendants may have been present at the crime scene.
Supporters of the defendants hope the legal filing will provide the defense with a breakthrough. Two of the men, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, are serving life in prison, while one, Damien W. Echols, is on death row. There was no physical evidence linking the teenagers, now known as the West Memphis 3, to the crime.
“This is the first time that the evidence has ever really been tested,” said Gerald Skahan, a member of the defense team. “The first trial was pretty much a witch hunt.” Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Thursday, October 25, 2007
From baltimoreexaminer.com: For more than 100 years, police have relied on fingerprints to help identify criminals.
But in a groundbreaking ruling, a Baltimore County judge has disallowed prosecutors from using fingerprint evidence against a man facing the death penalty in a 2006 carjacking and murder at Security Square Mall.
"Fingerprints — along with DNA — are the gold standard for evidence," said Scott Shellenberger, the Baltimore County state's attorney, who said he was "shocked" by the judge's ruling. "The judge took 100 years of history and rejected it."
In her Friday ruling, Judge Susan Souder wrote that just because fingerprints have been used by police for years does not make them reliable.
"The long history of use of fingerprint identification does not by itself support the decision to admit it," Souder wrote. "Courts began admitting fingerprint evidence early last century with relatively little scrutiny. Relying on precedent, later courts simply followed."
Caught off-guard by the ruling, prosecutors asked — and received — a postponement Tuesday in the death penalty case against Bryan Rose, 23, of Baltimore, who is charged with first-degree murder and attempted armed carjacking in the January 2006 killing of Warren Fleming, 31, outside the mall. The trial is rescheduled for April 7.
In her ruling, Souder cited problems with fingerprint evidence in a joint investigation conducted by Spanish and U.S. authorities.
After the March 11, 2004 terrorist bombing of commuter trains in Madrid, Spanish National Police recovered fingerprints from a plastic bag containing explosive detonators, but the FBI used the prints to misidentify a suspect in the case, Souder wrote.
That case is not alone, wrote Souder, lamenting the lack of the certainty with fingerprint evidence — which is not 100 percent reliable — especially in a death penalty case.
"For many centuries ... humans thought that the earth was flat," the judge wrote, comparing fingerprint evidence to an old, discredited idea. "... But science has proved that the earth is not flat."
Souder's decision was immediately hailed by Rose's defense attorneys, but Shellenberger and his prosecutors worried other judges might soon follow suit and eliminate the crucial form of evidence for police and prosecutors to use.
"How far does this go?" he asked. "In Baltimore County and the state of Maryland?" [Hat Tip: Martin Yant]
From CNN.com: Willie "Pete" Williams had no idea when he was pulled over by police that the criminal justice system was about to steal away half his life.
Sitting in the flashing glow of Atlanta squad car lights along Georgia State Road 400, the 23-year-old part-time house painter didn't know police were looking for a rapist who had struck nearby three weeks earlier.
Police questioned -- and then arrested Williams, triggering a series of mistaken witness identifications that led to his unjust conviction for rape, kidnapping and aggravated sodomy.
It was 1985 and Williams was sentenced to serve 45 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. "I felt betrayed. ... I felt like these people had taken my life for something I didn't do. I felt like I was being treated unfairly. ... I felt very, very angry towards everybody," said Williams last week, a free man after nearly 22 years behind bars.
He said he spent many of those years stoking that anger by fighting guards and inmates, while his childhood friends were developing careers and raising families.
Earlier this year, after DNA science proved his innocence, the 45-year-old with a graying mustache stood again before a judge -- who this time exonerated Williams.
Williams' troubling story provokes discomfort in a nation that prides itself on a justice system where the accused are innocent until proven guilty. So far, DNA evidence has directly exonerated 208 wrongly convicted people in the United States, according to the Innocence Project. It's unknown how many prisoners now locked up in American jails could be freed by new testing of DNA evidence.
Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
The School of Law at Wake Forest University is beginning a DNA Innocence Project for the 2007-2008 academic year. The Forsyth County Bar Association recently began a project to identify prisoners who might benefit from DNA testing to demonstrate their innocence, and received so many requests that the Bar Association asked for help from Wake Forest law students. The law school agreed to manage the project, under the auspices of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence.
This academic year, volunteer law students will work with defense attorneys, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers to identify cases that qualify for DNA testing. District Attorney Tom Keith has agreed to request such testing for cases that the volunteer students and attorneys recommend to him.
This arrangement -- combining the efforts of law students, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and law enforcement officers – makes this Wake Forest DNA Innocence Project unique. After this special project to address the backlog of DNA testing requests from Forsyth County, the Wake Innocence Project in future academic years will continue to investigate potential claims of actual innocence, based on any type of reliable evidence. [Mark Godsey]
Monday, October 1, 2007
From NYTimes.com: 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.
All but eight states now give inmates varying degrees of access to DNA evidence that might not have been available at the time of their convictions. Many states are also overhauling the way witnesses identify suspects, crime labs handle evidence and informants are used.
At least six states have created commissions to expedite cases of those wrongfully convicted or to consider changes to criminal justice procedures. One of them, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, will hold a hearing this month on remedies for people who have been wrongfully convicted.
Laws in several states, including Illinois, New Jersey and North Carolina, have bipartisan backing, with many Democrats supportive on civil rights grounds and Republicans generally hoping that tighter procedures will lead to fewer challenges of convictions Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Thursday, September 6, 2007
From NYTImes.com: The scene in the tiny Noxubee County, Mississippi jail on a rainy afternoon has become almost commonplace. Kennedy Brewer, sentenced to death and locked up for 15 years for the rape and murder of a 3-year-old, was released on the strength of a DNA test showing that the semen in the rape kit was not his.
But Mr. Brewer is not free and clear. He is only out on bail.
In a move that appears to be novel, prosecutors intend to retry him for the crime.
Virtually no effort has been made to find the man who raped the girl, Christine Jackson, and dumped her body in a creek in Noxubee County, one of the most rural in the state.
This is the first time prosecutors have sought a new capital murder trial after a conviction was overturned by DNA evidence, said Peter Neufeld, director of the Innocence Project, a legal aid group based in New York that has used DNA testing to exonerate the wrongly convicted since 1992. Usually such cases are simply dropped. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
From chron.com: DNA testing should be provided free to prisoners in at least 413 cases in which substandard or incomplete serology work was originally performed by the Houston Police Department's crime lab, according to a report released today by the special investigator hired to examine HPD's much-maligned forensic work in thousands of cases.
The document, the final report filed in the $5.3 million independent investigation into the crime lab, also suggests that a special master be appointed to further review more than 180 of those serology cases in which "major issues" have been discovered.
The findings are included in Michael Bromwich's final report on the only comprehensive investigation of problems at the Houston crime lab, which have unfolded over the past 4 1/2 years, casting doubt on thousands of convictions and unsettling the criminal justice system in Houston and beyond.
The scandal also forced the city to conduct retesting of DNA evidence in 414 cases. Bromwich's team reviewed 135 of those cases, and found "major problems" in 43 — or 32 percent. The cases include those of four death row inmates: Franklin Dwayne Alix, Juan Carlos Alvarez, Gilmar Alex Guevara, and Derrick L. Jackson. With HPD's approval, the independent investigation forwarded information about each of these DNA major issue cases to the Innocence Project network that is exploring what additional steps, if any, should be taken on behalf of these defendants, according to a press release by Bromwich.
In his latest report, Bromwich recommends further testing in two of the 43 DNA cases — that of defendants Ronald Cantrell and Lonnie Van Zandt, both sexual assault cases. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Monday, May 28, 2007
Michael Ware, a Fort Worth lawyer and director of the Innocence Project of Texas at the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law, will be introduced as special assistant today at the law school.
The appointment comes after public criticism of Dallas County's high number of wrongful convictions in recent years. More than a dozen people – most of whom were sentenced for felonies before 1990 – have been freed after modern DNA testing proved their innocence.
Mr. Watkins, who took office in January, has said that correcting wrongful convictions is a priority.
Mr. Ware's "expertise and professional experience are certain to be an asset to our justice system as we focus resources toward making sure we convict people who are indeed guilty of crimes," Mr. Watkins said in a prepared statement. "Equally important is the assurance that innocent people are not wrongfully imprisoned, and having Mr. Ware on board will help us in these critical areas."
Mr. Ware's other duties will include overseeing community prosecution, expunctions, public information, public integrity, evidence destruction, mental health and computer crimes. He also will oversee the appellate division and the federal division. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]