March 30, 2007
Add the 198th Name to the List of People Exonerated Through DNA Evidence
Yesterday, the Innocence Project, working with the Missouri State Public Defender's Office, exonerated Antonio Beaver of his first-degree robbery conviction. DNA evidence proved that Antonio did not commit a violent carjacking near the Gateway Arch in St. Louis for which he was convicted in 1997 and sentenced to 18 years in prison. Beaver’s exoneration comes a decade after he was convicted and more than five years after he began seeking DNA testing to prove his innocence.
Beaver's story: In August 1996, a man approached a woman’s car as she parked at the Gateway Arch. He told her he was the attendant in the parking lot and that she needed to move her car. As she got back into the car, he threatened her with a screwdriver; a struggle ensued, and the man was cut and bled on the interior of the car. The victim, fearing for her life, stopped fighting and told the man to take her car. Later, she provided a detailed description to police and helped prepare a composite sketch. Although Beaver did not match the victim’s description or the sketch, she ultimately identified him during a substantially flawed police lineup. Although fingerprints in the car (including on the rearview mirror) came from neither Beaver nor the victim, he was tried and convicted in April 1997.
Beaver is the fifth St. Louis County man in five years exonerated by DNA evidence after being wrongfully convicted based on eyewitness misidentification. [Michele Berry]
January 29, 2007
San Jose Mercury News Re-examines the Santa Clara Criminal Justice System
Here is an extensive article from the San Jose Mercury News that reexamines the Santa Clara, California criminal justice system one year after the Mercury News published a five day series called "Tainted Trials, Stolen Justice", which addressed errors in the system and involved three years of investigation by the paper.
Here is a summary of the improvements made in the past year.
- A new district attorney has vowed to end a "win at all costs'' culture in the office.
- An independent state commission, the Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice (FAIR), chaired by former Attorney General John Van de Kamp, is recommending statewide policy changes and new laws to reduce the risk of wrongful convictions in cases relying on eyewitness identifications and jailhouse informants. And the county bar and the California Supreme Court have acted to address longstanding problems in the system.
- In the past year, six defendants who were sentenced to prison had convictions overturned or were released from custody in cases the Mercury News examined.
- And the decisions of the 6th District Court of Appeal, which oversees cases in Santa Clara and three neighboring counties, appear to demonstrate a new forcefulness. In the past year, the court has increasingly chastised local judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys for mistakes and misconduct. The court is reversing criminal cases at a rate higher than at any time in at least 18 years. Since 1988, the court's reversal rate has not exceeded 4.8 percent and averaged 3 percent. Last year, the rate climbed to 5.5 percent--still a small number, but strikingly higher.
And here is a summary of the problems originally addressed.
• Inadequate defense investigation. In three cases, felony convictions were overturned on appeal last year because lawyers for the defendants failed to properly investigate their cases. A fourth case has been scheduled for a hearing in March. Most prominent was the case of Michael Hutchinson, who was set free after seven years in prison based on evidence developed by the Mercury News, which his trial attorney never explored.
• Clerical mistakes. Two men were released after authorities discovered clerical errors in state records had wrongly connected them to crimes. One, Longino Acero, spent more than a year in custody because officials incorrectly believed he was required to register as a sex offender.
• Judicial errors. Federal judges are considering whether state court rulings that wrongly limited defense evidence at the trials of three different murder defendants warrant overturning the convictions of Timothy Parle, Richard Kolacki and Sonya Daniels.
• Jailhouse informants. Roy Lopez Garcia was released after six years in custody when a jury acquitted him of murder in a case that relied heavily on an informant who had previously been discredited by a federal judge.
• Withheld evidence. Another federal judge is considering whether to grant a new trial to Dung Pham, convicted of murder in 1998, based on the belated disclosure of physical evidence that points to another suspect.
• Eyewitness identification. Kenneth Foley was released after 11 years based on evidence that another man committed the robbery that sent Foley to prison for 25 years to life. The reinvestigation by the district attorney's office was sparked by "Tainted Trials, Stolen Justice.'' Foley's case was one of five plagued by questions about the reliability of eyewitness identification.
Full Story here. . . [Michele Berry]
January 23, 2007
Vermont Legislature Considers Bill Granting Access to Post-Conviction DNA Testing
At Senate and House judiciary hearings tomorrow, Dennis Maher, a wrongly convicted man who was exonerated through DNA testing, and Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom will testify in favor of legislation (VT HB 50, and VT SB 6) to improve the accuracy of the state's criminal justice system and grant post-conviction access to DNA testing. Vermont, which has yet to adopt many of the protections other states have, would become a model of criminal justice reform with the passage of the two bills. The House bill, introduced by Representatives Margaret Flory and Richard Marek, includes the following proposed reforms: Several of these provisions have been adopted by other states and municipalities. Vermont is one of only nine states that lack a post-conviction DNA access statute and one of 29 states that do not have legislation providing compensation for the wrongly convicted. The practice of recording custodial interrogations, an important safeguard against false confessions, has been voluntarily adopted by more than 350 jurisdictions. Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia require the taping of interrogations in homicide cases. Eyewitness identification reforms have been implemented in the state of New Jersey, as well as large cities like Minneapolis and Seattle. The Innocence Project and state and local advocates have helped pass these laws. [Michele Berry]
At Senate and House judiciary hearings tomorrow, Dennis Maher, a wrongly convicted man who was exonerated through DNA testing, and Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom will testify in favor of legislation (VT HB 50, and VT SB 6) to improve the accuracy of the state's criminal justice system and grant post-conviction access to DNA testing.
Vermont, which has yet to adopt many of the protections other states have, would become a model of criminal justice reform with the passage of the two bills. The House bill, introduced by Representatives Margaret Flory and Richard Marek, includes the following proposed reforms:
Several of these provisions have been adopted by other states and municipalities. Vermont is one of only nine states that lack a post-conviction DNA access statute and one of 29 states that do not have legislation providing compensation for the wrongly convicted. The practice of recording custodial interrogations, an important safeguard against false confessions, has been voluntarily adopted by more than 350 jurisdictions. Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia require the taping of interrogations in homicide cases. Eyewitness identification reforms have been implemented in the state of New Jersey, as well as large cities like Minneapolis and Seattle. The Innocence Project and state and local advocates have helped pass these laws. [Michele Berry]
January 17, 2007
Advances in Arson-Science Ignite Change in Investigation Techniques & Hope for Wrongfully-Convicted
Advances in arson science are spearheading changes in the way investigators interpret evidence from fire scenes. Along the way, those who claim innocence to arson convictions are finding new hope. The Philadelphia Inquirer featured a detailed, story on several cases in Pennsylvania, a couple of them capital, where the last decade's advances in fire scene analysis have cast doubt on convictions for arson and arson-murder. One featured case is Han Tak Lee, imprisoned for over 15 years for setting the fire which killed his teenage daughter. The application for allowance of appeal (state court equivalent of certiorari) on post-conviction is pending before the Pennsylvania state supreme court. Story here. . . [Michele Berry, thanks to Peter Goldberger]
November 21, 2006
DNA Matches Lost in the Mix
A DNA match —a crime "solved" by the FBI's CODIS database — does not mean that an arrest was made, that a criminal was prosecuted, or even that detectives considered a case closed. So how many DNA matches lead to an arrest and how often is the ball dropped? Unknown, no government agency keeps track.
But a USA TODAY investigation found almost three dozen cases during the past five years in which investigators failed to pursue potential suspects whose DNA matched evidence found at crime scenes. DNA matches that could have closed cases weren't pursued because of basic police foul-ups, such as overlooking a telephone message reporting the match. According to USA TODAY, backlogs of unsolved "cold cases" that threaten to overwhelm some big-city police departments caused matches to be ignored. In some jurisdictions — Richmond, Va., Cincinnati, and DeKalb County, Ga. — police offered no explanations for why matches were not pursued.
Among the cases USA TODAY found:
•In Oakland, in June 2004, the DNA of convicted child molester Kalonji Lee matched DNA from an attempted sexual assault of a 10-year-old Oakland girl the previous January. Police did not contact Lee until after he had molested another Oakland 10-year-old in December 2004, deputy chief Howard Jordan confirms. Lee was caught for the second assault after the victim's parents spotted his picture on California's "Megan's Law" website and alerted detectives.
•In Cincinnati, September 2004, the DNA of career felon Gary Box matched DNA left at a December 2001 rape and abduction that Cincinnati police had been unable to solve. At the time of the match, Box was serving a prison sentence for assault. But police did not contact him until May 2005, after he had been released from prison and had returned to Cincinnati. Court files show that police acted after being alerted by Box's victim, who encountered him by chance while walking in a local park.
•In Georgia, March 2003, the DNA of convicted burglar and sex offender Floyd "Tony" Arnold matched DNA left at separate rapes in Fulton and DeKalb Counties. The rapes had taken place in 1993 and 1995. But neither Fulton nor DeKalb authorities contacted Arnold, according to both police departments, even though at the time of the matches he was in Georgia's prison system serving a five-year sentence for cruelty to children. The unpursued matches came to light last December, when Arnold was matched through a third DNA hit to a 1981 Cobb County rape for which another man had been wrongly convicted. That man, Robert Clark, Jr., had served almost 24 years in prison.
•In Oregon, 2002, the state police crime lab used DNA to match 26 men to unsolved Portland burglaries. The names were reported to Portland police, department spokesman Detective Paul Dolbey acknowledges. None was followed until one of the 26 suspects was matched again to an additional burglary, and lab technicians pointed out the earlier matches.
More from USA TODAY including some DNA success stories. . . [Michele Berry]
November 20, 2006
China: Innocent Man Exonerated, Causes China to Rethink Death Penalty
She Xianglin could have been executed for the murder of his wife. He was charged with murder after police found an unidentifiable woman's body in a pond some weeks after Mr. She's wife disappeared. But the judge, who had doubts about his case, sentenced Mr. She to 15 years in prison instead of adding his name to the thousands put to death each year. He is one of the extraordinarily rare cases in China where a convicted murderer did not receive the death penalty. Eventually, his wife turned up, alive, and farming pigs. And he was released from prison after 11 years wrongfully served. Because of Mr. She's case, beginning in January, the Chinese Supreme Court will review every death sentence handed down in China.
From TimesOnline.co.uk: No one knows how many people are executed in China each year. That number is a state secret. However, Amnesty International estimates that at least 1,770 people were executed last year and 3,900 were sentenced to death — more than in the whole of the rest of the world put together. Chinese legal experts say that the actual number may be far higher.
The decision to restore to the Supreme Court the right to review all death sentences was motivated not only by a series of reports in the increasingly courageous Chinese media of miscarriages of justice. Debate about the widespread and arbitrary use of the death penalty has also raged in recent years. China holds that the death penalty should be used sparingly. However, the number of capital crimes has more than tripled since China promulgated its criminal law in 1980, many of the additions being non-violent or economic crimes such as VAT and insurance fraud. Today nearly 70 crimes qualify as capital offences, ranging from stealing pigs or cattle to hooliganism. More from TimesOnline.co.uk. . . [Michele Berry]
October 19, 2006
Chicago Tribune Editorial: "Leaving DNA on the Shelf is a Crime"
Here is an editorial from the Chicago Tribune about prosecutors' reluctance to allow post-conviction DNA testing: For a prosecutor, DNA analysis can be the best thing in the world. Nothing facilitates a conviction more than biological evidence irrefutably connecting the defendant to the crime through blood, saliva or semen. But DNA analysis can also be the worst thing in the world for prosecutors. It can prove that someone accused of a crime--or even convicted of a crime--could not possibly have done what he's accused of doing. Wait a minute. How can it be a bad thing for prosecutors to discover the crucial facts about a crime, even years later? No sensible state's attorney wants to put an innocent person in jail and let a guilty one go free.
But some prosecutors show a curious reluctance to learn what DNA could tell them. Once a defendant has been tried and convicted, some of them resent the notion that the verdict should ever be re-examined. Having concluded someone is guilty, they shield their eyes from anything that might suggest otherwise.
Take the case of Johnnie Lee Savory, charged in a double murder committed in Peoria in 1977, when he was 14 years old. He disavowed a confession that police extracted after a prolonged interrogation, but an appeals court ruled it inadmissible and threw out his conviction. After that, the prosecutors said they had no other evidence tying him to the killings. But he was convicted in a second trial, thanks partly to testimony that a hair recovered at the scene may have been his. In those days, sophisticated DNA technology was not available. It is now, and Savory, who has always maintained his innocence, has asked for tests on several items introduced in his trial, at his own expense. But the prosecutor has fought the request, arguing it conflicts with the public's interest in "finality."
When the case came before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit last month, the prosecutor's office tried to justify the refusal on all sorts of technical grounds. It may be true that the law doesn't require allowing testing of the items. But it's hard to see any good reason why the prosecutor shouldn't go along regardless. The prosecutors say that even if the tests come back negative for Savory, they wouldn't matter because there was other evidence against him. Wouldn't matter? Imagine, if you can, a prosecutor who wouldn't introduce DNA evidence supporting his theory--no matter how good his other evidence might be. In any case where a criminal has left biological traces at the crime scene, DNA matters a whole lot. It trumps just about everything.
It may be that DNA analysis would come out in Savory's favor. But it's also possible it will confirm the verdict against him...In about half of all such cases, that's what happens.
Most prosecutors are upright public servants who have no desire to punish people who don't deserve it...No fewer than 41 states have passed laws to let inmates petition for testing. But some government lawyers still take any request as an invitation to run screaming from the room...Like football coaches, stock analysts and newspaper columnists, prosecutors are human and sometimes screw up. They should welcome a tool that helps uncover devastating errors. When a prosecution has gone wrong, it's never a mistake to get it right. Full column by Steve Chapman. . . [Michele Berry]
May 30, 2006
All Charges Dropped Against A New Jersey Man Who Once Faced The Death Penalty
Prosecutors in New Jersey announced that they were dropping all charges against Larry Peterson who had been convicted of murder in 1989, saying they could no longer meet their burden of proof in his case. Peterson's conviction was overturned last year after DNA tests failed to match him with evidence from the scene of the crime. Story. . . [Mark Godsey]
May 25, 2006
Man Exonerated By DNA Must Sit in Jail
From AP: MARATHON, Fla. - A judge on Tuesday dismissed the conviction of a Cuban national wrongly accused of a 1982 rape but told him he would have to stay behind bars until immigration officials sort out his legal status. Orlando Bosquete, 52, expressed frustration at his extended incarceration but said he was glad that DNA evidence had proved he was innocent. “It is very important to me to forgive because I have to start a new life,” Bosquete said after Tuesday’s hearing. Rest of story.... [Mark Godsey]
May 18, 2006
Victim's Family Says CrimProf Scheck Intimidated Parole Board to Grant Reprieve to Convited Killer
Story. [Mark Godsey]
NY Man Exonerated Based on DNA Evidence
From DPIC: "After spending more than a decade in jail for a crime he did not commit, Douglas Arthur Warney has been exonerated and will be freed from prison in New York based on DNA evidence. Police maintained that Warney had confessed to the crime. Warney is a poorly educated man with a history of delusions and suffering from an advanced case of AIDS. He originally faced the death penalty for the 1996 stabbing murder in Rochester, but was ultimately convicted of second-degree homicide and sentenced to 25 years in jail." More. . . [Mark Godsey]
May 15, 2006
Success for Ohio Innocence Project
and CrimProf Blogger Mark Godsey and his students, with the release of Christopher Bennett on Mother's Day. CNN.com story here.
May 09, 2006
New Article Spotlight: Loyalty to One's Convictions: The Prosecutor and Tunnel Vision
CrimProf Susan Bandes of Depaul has posted the above-titled article on SSRN. Here's the abstract:
This essay, written as part of a symposium on loyalty, examines the dynamics leading to the disturbing phenomenon of prosecutorial tunnel vision. Specifically, it asks why prosecutors become loyal to a particular version of events - the guilt of a particular suspect - even when that version of events has been discredited. The essay begins with an examination of the concept of loyalty and the ambiguities inherent in that concept. It next discusses the relevance of these ambiguities to the divided loyalties of the prosecutor within the complex group dynamics of the prosecutor’s office. It then considers the prosecutor’s divided loyalties as one aspect of the larger issue of divided loyalties within the adversary system. Finally, it draws on psychological insights, particularly from the field of cognitive neuroscience, to place these conflicts in the broader context of loyalty to one’s beliefs. It concludes by suggesting that reforms are more likely to succeed when they recognize and attempt to ameliorate our ingrained and tenacious loyalty to pre-existing beliefs.
To obtain the paper, click here. [Mark Godsey]
May 05, 2006
Federal Jury Awards 2.2 Million to Exoneree
in his case against the detective who fabricated his confession. Story here. [Mark Godsey]
May 02, 2006
Innocence Project Hails SCOTUS Holmes Decision
(New York; May 1, 2006) -- The Innocence Project today released the following statement on the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling this morning in a case about whether defendants have the right to introduce proof of a third party’s guilt – and their innocence – if forensic evidence helped secure their initial conviction. The Innocence Project filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, Holmes v. South Carolina.
The statement is from Barry C. Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project.
“This is a profoundly significant ruling. This ruling is a big victory, and its impact will be felt in cases throughout the nation. Today, the Supreme Court expanded the right of defendants to prove their innocence by demonstrating the guilt of third parties. The ruling recognizes that courts cannot accept the prosecution’s version of forensic evidence automatically and uncritically, and the defense has a right to examine and rebut it. In many of the 175 post-conviction DNA exonerations nationwide, people were wrongly convicted based on flawed forensics or limited science. DNA is the most powerful form of forensic proof available, but it is still subject to erroneous interpretation or application, and the defense has a right to challenge that in court. This ruling says that certain kinds of forensic science aren’t foolproof, and the mere fact that forensic evidence helped secure a conviction can’t prevent people from trying to prove their innocence. Today’s ruling is a strong signal that the Supreme Court is taking the right of defendants to prove their innocence very seriously and is taking a critical look at forensic evidence.”
For more on the Innocence Project, go to: http://www.innocenceproject.org.
For today’s full ruling, go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/pdf/04-1327P.ZO
Contact: Eric Ferrero, Innocence Project, 212-364-5346
April 30, 2006
Man Recently Exonerated by DNA After Doing 12...
... years in the joint is killed in hit and run car accident.
April 25, 2006
MA: New Trial Ordered in 1973 Kidnapping Conviction
Story here. The tainted evidence: Bullet lead analysis and voice analysis; according to the story, "the FBI ordered agents not to hand over lab reports showing it was not possible to make a definitive match using the technology available." The defendant had filed numerous unsuccessful appeals over the years.
April 13, 2006
6th Circuit: Kentucky Exoneree May Sue City & Police for Wrongful Conviction
On Tuesday, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled that Kentucky exoneree William Gregory, who spent seven years in prison for rape before a DNA test exonerated him, may sue the city and several police officers who put him behind bars, for their actions leading up to his wrongful conviction. The court also questioned whether Louisville's police department used an unconstitutional practice of having witnesses identify suspects in one-on-one settings instead of in a lineup.
Gregory, 58, of Louisville, was released from prison in 2000 after DNA tests showed that hairs found at the rape scene could not have come from him. He sued the city and police department, but a federal judge in 2004 threw out most of the lawsuit. His attorney, Deborah Cornwall of the Innocence Project, said the ruling shows Gregory's arrest and conviction were not a case of sloppy police work or of a witness being wrong, but rather a result of active misconduct. Louisville police kept preprinted waivers, allowing police to show a suspect to a victim or witness without putting the person in a lineup featuring multiple people. More. . . [Mark Godsey]
April 12, 2006
DNA Exonerates Two Boys and Finds True Murderer
A convicted sex offender, Floyd Durr, pleaded guilty Monday to the 1998 murder of an 11 year-old girl whose death was originally pinned on two young boys, a 7 year old and an 8 year old. But DNA evidence has pointed to Durr, already serving a 125-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting other girls. With his guilty plea, he was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years for the murder and sexual assault of Ryan Harris. Ryan was beaten and sexually molested in July 1998, then dumped in a weedy lot on Chicago's South Side, where she was found dead the next day. Authorities initially said the two boys, then 7 and 8, confessed to the crime. It took almost a month before testing on the girl's clothing showed the boys couldn't have been responsible. DNA tests later led prosecutors to Durr. Story. . . [Mark Godsey]
March 21, 2006
DNA Exoneration for Texas Rape
A 47 year old man did 18 years before being exonerated; he was convicted after being picked out of a lineup.