Tuesday, December 6, 2005
Last year, the LA Times reported on a potential wrongful conviction in a 1985 murder. Now, at a federal habeas corpus hearing, a police officer testfied that perhaps he left the bloody footprint which was critical evidence in the trial as he stomped around the crime scene. A forensic expert called by the prosecutors at time of trial, and whose testimony was characterized by a California court as conclusive, testified that the court had mischaracterized his testimony--his analysis did not neecessarily show the defendant committed the crime. Earlier, police submitted false statements in opposition to the defendant's parole. [Jack Chin]
Sunday, December 4, 2005
The Jan. 24-25 University of Iowa performances of "The Exonerated," a play staged by Tim Robbins' Actors' Gang that focuses on death-row inmates cleared by new evidence, has prompted Hancher Auditorium and the University Lecture Committee to collaborate on three days of free, public events preceding the performances in Hancher. Among other events, former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno will address the death penalty and judicial reform in the Lecture Committee's annual Distinguished Lecture at 3 p.m. on January 22. Admission will be free and open to the public. A full schedule of events connected with "Exonerated" is now accessible on the Web -- www.hancher.uiowa.edu/exonerated.html -- and tickets to the Actors' Gang performances are available through the Hancher box office. Other participants in the three days of events will include Kirk Bloodsworth, the first person to be exonerated through post-conviction DNA evidence; Jeanne Bishop, a Chicago attorney associated with Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation; several members of the UI faculty; and company members of the Actors' Gang. At the lecture, Reno will receive the Distinguished Lecture Medallion from the Lecture Committee. Past recipients include President Bill Clinton, South African President F.W. DeClerk and Coretta Scott King, widow of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. The Hancher performances of "The Exonerated" are supported by Hayes Lorenzen Lawyers PLC, through the University of Iowa Foundation. Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial 319-335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to 319-353-2284. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 319-335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
CrimProf Blogger Mark Godsey runs the Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. Among his cases is one from where DNA points to another suspect. It has been blogged here before. The case will be featured this Saturday on A and E's American Justice at 11 p.m., 10 central. The episode: "What the Girl Saw. On June 6, 1998, between midnight and 6:30 a.m., a man crept into 58-year-old Judith Johnson's home, and raped and killed her--while her 6-year-old granddaughter Brooke slept. Brooke told police that a man who looked and sounded like "Uncle Clarence" did it. Despite new evidence--including Brooke's reidentifying a local resident, with a history of violent sexual attack and a dead ringer for her uncle, as the killer--Clarence Elkins' appeal was denied. His wife vows to continue her fight to free him." [Jack Chin]
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
From Law.com: "Congress moved on several fronts last week to impose sweeping limits on prisoners' ability to challenge the legality of their convictions and sentences in federal court. The Republican-led efforts included the last-minute insertion of a controversial key provision on federal habeas review into the USA Patriot Act legislation. Former Solicitor General Seth Waxman called it "a very grave mistake" that would remove power from the courts and give it to the U.S. attorney general." More from The National Law Journal. . . [Mark Godsey]
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Tuesday, November 8, 2005
From New Scientist.com: "IT SOUNDS like an open-and-shut case: a clear DNA match is made between semen from a serious sexual assault and a blood sample from a known criminal. Yet in a recent case from Alaska, the criminal in question was in jail when the assault took place. And forensic scientists had already matched the crime sample to the DNA profile of another person who was their prime suspect. It was only after careful detective work that the mystery was solved: the jailed man had received bone marrow from the suspect many years earlier.
This week, at a meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics in Salt Lake City, Utah, Abirami Chidambaram of the Alaska State Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in Anchorage described the case to highlight the danger of miscarriages of justice. Given the retribution that can be doled out to sex offenders by other jail inmates, the consequences could be severe. "If you implicate the wrong person, they can be killed in prison," says Chidambaram.
When Chidambaram discovered the perplexing match, she initially thought there had been a sample mix-up. But there was no mistake. What's more, the jailed man and suspect shared the same surname.Because medical records are confidential, a detective had to make further enquiries among family and friends of the two men. That revealed that not only were the convict and suspect brothers, but the inmate had received a bone marrow transplant from his brother. As a result, his blood was populated with cells bearing his brother's DNA profile.It's an instance of life imitating art: in November 2004, US TV channel NBC broadcast an episode of Law and Order: Special victims unit in which a rapist nearly got away with his crimes because of a similar bone-marrow mix-up." [Mark Godsey]
Monday, October 31, 2005
The men were serving life for a 1987 murder based on the testimony of a prostitute. But the testimony did not match the physical evidence, and a witness came forward to explain that the murder was committed by others, as part of a botched drug deal. Story here. [Jack Chin]
CrimProf Blogger and Cincinnati CrimProf Mark Godsey's representation of an innocence project client has lead to a remarkable stand-off between the Ohio Attorney General and a local prosecutor. Godsey and his students represent Clarence Elkins, who was convicted of raping and murdering an elderly woman and raping her six-year old grandaughter. Elkins was convicted based solely on the testimony of the surviving six-year old, who has since recanted. DNA evidence found on the girl's panties and the grandmother's vaginal swab does not match Elkins, but both samples match a convicted sex offender who resembles Elkins and lived in the neighborhood where the crime occurred. In spite of this evidence, the local DA insists that the conviction is solid. The Attorney General disagrees, and sent this letter stating that he intends to appear in the state habeas hearing supporting the defendant's release. Jana Deloach of Akron and Howard Nichols and Pierre Bergeron of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey also represent Elkins with Godsey and his students. Visit freeclarence.com here. [Jack Chin]
Saturday, October 22, 2005
From Law.com: (The National Law Journal): "If the chief judges of state and federal appellate courts, the national bar and a host of others say a bill that would strip the federal courts of nearly all authority to review state convictions and sentences is a mistake, you'd think the bill's proponents might back down. Think again. Lawmakers are seeking the most sweeping changes to federal habeas review in a decade. Judges have urged study into whether there really is unwarranted delay in resolving habeas petitions. But the Senate is ready to act." Story... [Mark Godsey]
Thursday, October 20, 2005
The Ninth Circuit reversed Larry James Plumlee's murder conviction based on distrust that arose between Plumlee and his appointed attorney. (Plumlee discovered that the chief deputy public defender was friends with Plumlee's roommate, who also was a suspect in the murder case). The opinion provoked a strong dissent, and the State intends to petition for rehearing and an en banc hearing. If upheld Plumlee will either walk free or stand a new trial in Nevada.
From Law.com: "'The resulting distrust that arose between Plumlee and his appointed attorney was such that the attorney himself likened his representation of Plumlee to no representation at all,' [Judge Betty Fletcher] wrote. Plumlee ended up representing himself at trial and was eventually convicted and sentenced to two life terms...
Perhaps it's fitting that the contentious case originated in the courtroom of former Washoe County Judge Mills Lane III, best known as the boxing referee whose catchphrase -- "let's get it on" -- kicked off dozens of boxing matches. Most notoriously, he officiated the 1997 fight in which Mike Tyson gnawed off a piece of Evander Holyfield's ear.
In the Plumlee case, Lane expressed clear discomfort with the defendant's relationship with public defenders, most notably the fact that Plumlee's roommate -- and suspect in the murder -- John Dewey was a close friend of Shelly O'Neill, the chief deputy public defender. Plumlee became convinced that O'Neill was leaking information to Dewey...But Lane said he was constrained from addressing that issue by an earlier Nevada Supreme Court review of the case.
In addition to the friendship between his roommate and the defender's office, Plumlee's suspicion was stoked when he found that his initial defense lawyer was leaving to become a prosecutor, and that his second public defender suggested that Plumlee might need psychiatric treatment.
In his dissent, [Judge Carlos Bea] said the majority opinion relied too heavily on the defendant's subjective beliefs. 'The majority disregards the voluminous evidence suggesting Plumlee's distrust was based on incidents that either did not occur or were fabricated by Plumlee,' he wrote...
By allowing Plumlee's distrust to be an "irreconcilable conflict" requiring a change of counsel, Bea wrote, 'the majority sets forth a rudderless, subjective rule for finding an 'irreconcilable conflict' between a criminal defendant and his counsel.'... If upheld, he added, the opinion would create 'a new, unworkable rule which raises to constitutional dimensions a defendant's unfounded suspicions.'" Story... [Mark Godsey]
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
The story of how the late forensic scientist Mary Jane Burton's meticulous work led to three exonerations...
From MSNBC.com: Richmond, VA (AP)--"The forensic scientist cut off the tip of a cotton swab and taped it to a lab sheet next to a snippet of stained clothing. Always save a piece of what you test, Mary Jane Burton instructed her watchful trainee.
But why? This was 1977, years before the invention of DNA testing. Yet day after day, she repeated this seemingly pointless procedure...taping swabs smeared with blood, semen and saliva and inserting them into their case files...[S]he retired from the Virginia state crime lab [and passed away in 1999], leaving behind scores of forgotten files, each holding samples imprinted with nature’s barcode.
The lab she worked in is gone now, but a few miles away...is a cavernous warehouse where 17 numbered rows of metal shelves tower 28 feet to the ceiling. They hold 75,000 covered cardboard boxes — more than 4,000 of them the property of the Virginia Department of Forensic Science. Many of the tiny pieces of bloodied clothing and cotton swabs that Burton taped down were tucked inside their manila folders, filed away in boxes scattered throughout the room.
There they remained undisturbed for years, waiting for science to catch up with them — and waiting for someone to discover that they are there." Years later, that's what happened.... [Mark Godsey]
Sunday, October 2, 2005
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Ray Krone, who spent 10 years in prison, including 2 on death row, based on bogus bite mark evidence, settled his suit against the City of Phoenix for $3 million. He already got $1.4 million from Maricopa County. Story here. [Jack Chin, thanks to Laura Conover]
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Ohio Innocence Project Director and CrimProf Blogger Mark Godsey and his students claim that they have proved that a man in prison for life for rape and murder is innocent. Clarence Elkins was convicted of murdering his mother in law and raping his niece. The niece has since recanted, and Elkins' wife--the daughter of the murder victim--offered an alibi. Most recently, the defense team developed an alternative suspect, a sex offender who lived a couple of doors down the street from the crime scene. The alternative suspect happened to be in prison with Elkins, and Elkins obtained a cigarette butt from the suspect, and mailed it to Godsey's co-counsel. DNA testing from the cigarette butt showed a match with DNA from the crime scene, including vaginal swabs and panties of the victims. Elkins has already been excluded as the source of the DNA from the crime scene. "We're hopeful the prosecution will be reasonable," Godsey said in the Cincinnati Enquirer. "The real perpetrator needs to be prosecuted, and Clarence needs to be released expeditiously." [Jack Chin]
Monday, September 19, 2005
The New Scientist reports that forensic shows teach criminals techniques to avoid detection and capture--such as snatching public ashtrays full of cigarette butts and scattering them at the scene to create a bunch of potential suspects. [Jack Chin]
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Thursday, September 15, 2005
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard argument last week in a case challenging the scientific validity of fingerprint evidence. Three Boston CrimProfs, BU's Stanley Fisher, Northeastern's Daniel Givelber and New England's David Siegel wrote this amicus brief arguing that fingerprint comparison evidence has not been scientifically tested and validated. [Jack ChIn]
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Texas Board of Pardons and Parole Recommends Delay in Woman's Execution; Governor Agrees: UPDATED--EXECUTED
Frances Newton, found guilty of murdering her husband and two children in 1987, was scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m. on December 1 in Houston, Texas. On November 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied her appeal, but the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole recommended in a 5 to 1 decision to delay the execution for 120 days to review ballistics evidence. The evidence has been handled by the Houston police crime laboratory, the same lab that misplaced and recently discovered 280 boxes of evidence involving 8000 cases, although Newton's case is not one of these 8000.
According to David R. Dow, a CrimProf at the University of Houston who runs the Texas Innocence Network, a clinic representing inmates contending wrongful convictions, "There are strong independent reasons for believing that she is actually innocent." More... [Mark Godsey]
UPDATE: Texas Governor Rick Perry agreed with the Parole Board and granted the stay to examine evidence of possible innocence. More...
The defendant filed a habeas alleging Brady violations and actual innocence. The prosecution filed a motion alleging that by claiming actual innocence, the defendant had waived the attorney client privilege, and the prosecution should have access to any incriminating statements made by the inmate to his attorney prior to trial. The lower court agreed, finding that a claim of actual innocence waives the privilege. The 6th Circuit reversed. Decision. [Mark Godsey]