CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Gov. Rod Blagojevich pardons 22 people

Marcus Lyons was so bitter after leaving prison in 1991 that he tried to nail himself to a wooden cross outside the DuPage County Courthouse.

On Friday, two decades after he was convicted of a rape he did not commit, Lyons was one of 22 people pardoned by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Lyons, 51, said he felt fortunate to have received clemency, knowing that a growing backlog has left hundreds of others waiting for decisions from the governor.

But Lyons, now living in Indiana, said he is still upset with police officers from Woodridge, where the crime took place in 1987. He said Friday's pardon can't return the one thing he wants most.

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December 29, 2008 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

State senators study case of innocent man who died in prison

Legislators may change state law to recognize the innocence of a Fort Worth man convicted in Lubbock more than 20 years ago.

State Sens. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, and Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, may clarify how the state compensates and exonerates wrongfully convicted inmates who die in prison.

The work, along with recognition by Texas courts, could bring closure after 22 years to the family of Timothy Brian Cole and formally recognize what could be the country's first posthumous exoneration.

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December 29, 2008 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

An Electronic Witness

07metrocard1largeWhen Jason Jones was arrested in a fatal shooting in the Bronx in May, he told the police that he had been nowhere near the scene. He said he had left work, ridden the bus with some co-workers and cashed his paycheck, and later had taken a subway to see his girlfriend.

Federal prosecutors charged Mr. Jones and his older brother, Corey, in the shooting, saying they had killed the victim because he had been a government witness in drug and gun cases. Both men could face the death penalty if the government decides to seek it.

But in recent weeks, the case has taken an extraordinary turn — because of Jason Jones’s MetroCard.

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November 19, 2008 in Criminal Law, Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Innocent Man's Conviction Vacated After 27 Years

Today the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit Court granted William Dillon a new trial based on DNA evidence which demonstrates Dillon's actual innocence of the 1981 murder of James Dvorak in Canova Beach Florida. Dillon's 27 years equals the longest time served by any of the 223 DNA exonerees nationwide. He is the third man to be exonerated in Brevard County in recent years.

 Mr. Dillon, who has always maintained his innocence, was convicted on the basis of unreliable and false evidence including: subsequently recanted testimony of a star witness who was threatened by and having sex with the State's lead investigator; fraudulent scientific testimony of a dog handler; testimony of a jailhouse snitch whose pending rape charge was dismissed after fingering Dillon; and a mistaken eyewitness identification by a man legally blind in one eye.

 "This case is indicative of the culture of corruption in Brevard County," said David Menschel, Legal Director of the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF). "They were more concerned with getting a conviction than convicting the right person. Once they identified a suspect, they were willing to do anything – even manufacture evidence – in order to win."

Dillon's case is particularly troubling because it involved the now-discredited testimony of dog handler John Preston, a man who has been exposed as a fraud by both courts and the national media. But as Melissa Montle, Staff Attorney with the IPF explained, "The only way the dog could do what Preston purported it could do is if someone from the inside was feeding Preston the information." 

Both Wilton Dedge and Juan Ramos were also wrongfully convicted on the basis of Preston's testimony. Seth Miller, Executive Director of the IPF, called for an investigation into the conduct of the Brevard County State Attorney's Office and Sheriff's Office as well as a comprehensive review of the hundreds of cases in which John Preston testified: "Governor Crist needs to take a hard look at what's been going on in Brevard County and restore public confidence in Florida's criminal justice system. Our organization would be happy to assist the Governor in these efforts." [Bobbi Madonna]

November 14, 2008 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Exoneration Man

From 1951 to 1987, the Dallas County district attorney's office was the domain of Henry Wade, a legendary prosecutor who personally never lost a case — and who rarely missed an opportunity to seek the maximum punishment for criminals. But in impoverished, predominantly African-American South Dallas, Wade's hardball tactics created resentment and distrust.

"Affluent people, people accepted by society, loved law enforcement. All of the other people who were economically disadvantaged, they didn't trust it — and I think rightly so," says Watkins. So in 2002, Watkins ran for D.A. Despite having no name recognition outside of South Dallas, Watkins came within 10,000 votes of winning. Four years later, he tried again and won, in the process becoming Texas's first elected African-American district attorney.

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November 4, 2008 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 17, 2008

First filings made for Ill. innocence petitions

CHICAGO - Lawyers at Northwestern University on Wednesday filed four petitions on behalf of exonerated former Illinois inmates, the first under a new law that would allow them to seek compensation from the state.

Under the law passed in September by the Illinois General Assembly, exonerees can apply to the county court of their conviction for compensation instead of waiting for a pardon from Gov. Rod Blagojevich. That county court may grant a "certificate of innocence."

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October 17, 2008 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Innocent Until Reported Guilty

Prison_cell__article As guards led Ellen Reasonover to the van that would transport her to prison, she could not comprehend that a St. Louis County, Mo., jury had just found her guilty of a cold-blooded murder. A 24-year-old single mother of a baby daughter, Reasonover had no history of violence, yet she stood convicted of killing a 19-year-old gas station attendant in the neighborhood where she lived.

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September 23, 2008 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Beyond guilt or innocence, remember public safety

THE shooting rampage in Skagit County raises basic issues of public safety. The tragedy is a blatant challenge to assumptions of how well civil society can protect its citizens, and isolate those who are a danger to themselves and others.

As murder suspect Isaac Zamora begins his journey through the criminal-justice system, a parallel proceeding should be initiated by lawmakers in Olympia to examine the failings of laws and institutions intended to protect the public.

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September 7, 2008 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Students free life-term prisoner

Brennan_michael_115x163 The Post-Conviction Justice Project at USC Law recently prevailed in a defining case for the California parole system for long-time client Sandra Davis-Lawrence.

USC Law students argued – and the California Supreme Court agreed – that a life-term prisoner is entitled to be granted parole once the prisoner no longer poses a danger to the community. The Court rejected the Governor’s reversal of the parole commission’s grant of parole based solely on the circumstances of Sandra Davis-Lawrence’s 1971 commitment offense (first-degree murder), holding that the reversal violated her due process rights.

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September 3, 2008 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

In cases of justice gone wrong, Dallas is willing to make it right

Steven Charles Phillips walked out of the courthouse this week in what has become something of a familiar ritual, even a cliché.

A wrongfully convicted man free at last, surrounded by joyful, tearful relatives – a mother grown old, children grown to adulthood. The obligatory what-will-you-do-first questions and the sweetly sentimental answers about fishing or home cooking or playing with the grandkids. The corny jokes about getting used to cellphones and the Internet.

Yet the atmosphere is heavy with the awful, nearly visceral horror of undeserved imprisonment. The story evokes the gothic misery of a real-life Count of Monte Cristo or the Dickensian sorrow of Alexandre Manette, whose lost years in the Bastille set the stage for A Tale of Two Cities.

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August 10, 2008 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

DNA not kept in half of states

Half the states lack requirements to preserve DNA evidence, despite a series of dramatic exonerations based on the critical biological material.

Supporters of retaining DNA evidence point to a growing list of wrongly convicted prisoners who have been freed. But some prosecutors and lawmakers cite concerns ranging from cost to expanding DNA collections from individuals who have never been convicted of crimes.

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August 10, 2008 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Two years of freedom, after 23 years behind bars

Briscoe After serving 23 years in Missouri prison for a rape he didn’t commit, Johnny Briscoe was exonerated on July 19, 2006. Saturday marks the second anniversary of his exoneration.

Briscoe’s case highlights the unreliability of eyewitness identification. When a line-up was arranged for the victim back in the early 1980s, Briscoe was the only man (out of four) wearing an orange jumpsuit – “Halloween orange,” he would later tell The Denver Post.  Possibly influenced by the jumpsuit, the victim misidentified Briscoe as her assailant — despite having spent an hour with the perpetrator in a well-lit room.

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July 17, 2008 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Current and Former ADAs Who Helped Convict Exonerated Men Reflect

Fry_james_05 In fewer than two years in office, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins has become a star for who he is not — namely legendary DA Henry Wade. Watkins has embraced the help of the Innocence Project and has worked to free the wrongfully convicted, blaming the "conviction at all costs" mentality of his predecessors' administrations as a reason for the injustice.

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June 10, 2008 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

NY to Study Wrongful Convictions

Manhattan attorney Bernice Leber, named president of the 74,000-member [New York State Bar] association on Monday, says that for every wrongful conviction that surfaces, unknown numbers of others remain unfairly resolved.

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June 5, 2008 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Innocence Project Focusing on Freeing the Wrongfully Jailed, Reforming a Flawed System

Resource Before he was convicted of a rape he didn’t commit, Dean Cage of Chicago had a stable existence, his lawyer said. He had a job and he was living with his girlfriend.

Now, 14 years later, the 41-year-old Cage is beginning to try and put his life back together after being released one week ago from an Illinois state prison. DNA tests proved that Cage did not rape the 15-year-old girl in 1994 who had picked him out of a police line-up.

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June 3, 2008 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

They didn't do it: Convicting the innocent

396bn20080525h002toomanypeoplewr264 At least 23 New Yorkers have been jailed for serious crimes they didn’t commit. Here’s how we can stop that from happening.  “You don’t have to be involved in anything wrong to have this happen to you. I had never been arrested for so much as a violation. … If it happened to me, it can happen to any of you. It can happen to your son or daughter. It can happen to your best friend, or it can happen to your spouse.”

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May 27, 2008 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Judge to allow dead witness's testimony

A Burleson County district judge ruled Wednesday that the transcribed testimony of a dead witness will be allowed in the retrial of Anthony Graves, whose capital murder conviction was overturned for prosecutorial misconduct.

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May 25, 2008 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Faulty Phot ID Practice was the Cause of Yet Another Wronful Conviction

From dallasnews.com: A questionable identification process nearly 23 years ago helped strip away freedom from Thomas Clifford McGowan Jr. Now the certainty of DNA testing is about to restore it.

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April 16, 2008 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

There is No Way to Know How Many Innocent People are in Prison

From NYTimes.com: A couple of years ago, Justice Antonin Scalia, concurring in a Supreme Court death penalty decision, took stock of the American criminal justice system and pronounced himself satisfied. The rate at which innocent people are convicted of felonies is, he said, less than three-hundredths of 1 percent — .027 percent, to be exact.

That rate, he said, is acceptable. “One cannot have a system of criminal punishment without accepting the possibility that someone will be punished mistakenly,” he wrote. “That is a truism, not a revelation.”

But there is reason to question Justice Scalia’s math. He had, citing the methodology of an Oregon prosecutor, divided an estimate of the number of exonerated prisoners, almost all of them in murder and rape cases, by the total of all felony convictions.

“By this logic,” Samuel R. Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan, wrote in a response to be published in this year’s Annual Review of Law and Social Science, “we could estimate the proportion of baseball players who’ve used steroids by dividing the number of major league players who’ve been caught by the total of all baseball players at all levels: major league, minor league, semipro, college and Little League — and maybe throwing in football and basketball players as well.”

Joshua Marquis, the Oregon prosecutor cited by Justice Scalia, granted the logic of Professor Gross’s critique but not his conclusion.

“He correctly points out,” Mr. Marquis, the district attorney in Clatsop County, Ore., said of Professor Gross, “that rape and murders are only a small percentage of all crimes, but then has absolutely no real data to suggest there are epidemic false convictions in, say, burglary cases.”

What the debate demonstrates is that we know almost nothing about the number of innocent people in prison. That is because any effort to estimate it involves extrapolation from just two numbers, neither one satisfactory. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

March 30, 2008 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Texas State Court Prevents State from Destroying Evidence That May Show an Innocent Man was Executed

From innocenceproject.org: A Texas state judge this morning issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the state from destroying evidence that could show whether a man was wrongfully executed in 2000.

On Friday, attorneys filed motions seeking DNA testing on critical evidence in the case and also seeking an immediate order to stop the state from destroying the evidence while the court considers the request for DNA testing. Today’s order, issued by District Court Judge Elizabeth E. Coker in San Jacinto County, granted the immediate request to block destruction of the evidence and set a hearing for October 3 on whether to conduct DNA testing in the case.

The Texas Observer, the Innocence Project, the Innocence Project of Texas and the Texas Innocence Network filed motions in state court in San Jacinto County, Texas, seeking DNA testing on the only piece of physical evidence in the case – a hair from the crime scene – that could determine whether the hair matches Claude Jones, who was convicted of murder in 1990 and executed on December 7, 2000.

The hair, which was found on the counter in a liquor store where a man was shot and killed, was central in Jones’ trial and post-conviction appeals. An expert for the state testified at the trial that the hair was consistent with Jones’. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, narrowly upheld Jones’ conviction, in a 3-2 ruling where the majority specifically cited the hair evidence as the necessary “corroboration” to uphold the conviction.

The groups, represented by attorneys at Mayer Brown LLP, filed the court motions Friday after the San Jacinto District Attorney refused to agree to DNA testing – and also refused to agree not to destroy the evidence while courts consider whether DNA testing can be conducted.

"The judge today recognized that this case raises very serious issues about the integrity of the criminal justice system. We’re grateful that the state will not be able to destroy this evidence before DNA testing can be conducted,” said Nina Morrison, Staff Attorney at the Innocence Project. “We are hopeful that the judge will also see that it’s in everyone’s interests to conduct DNA testing that could resolve serious, lingering questions about this case. DNA testing could show that Claude Jones was guilty, or it could show that the state had no basis for executing him. The public has a right to know whether Claude Jones committed the crime for which he was executed, and today’s ruling moves us one important step closer to learning the truth.” Read More About the Case. . . [Mark Godsey]

September 12, 2007 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)