Fraud Warning: Taking Money from the Vulnerable

Marianne Salcedo — September 30, 2014 @ 12:16 PM — Comments (0)

There are unscrupulous folks out there posing as legitimate innocence organizations who are targeting people in prison and their vulnerable mothers, wives, and other family members in order to take their money.  If this sounds harsh, consider the flyer below that was received by the Innocence Network.

Flyer received from Project Innocence of America

There is no such “Project Innocence of America,” or the other group to which the flyer asks for $1,000 checks to be made out, “Probable Grounds For Action.”  Another known imposter is “The Innocence Network at Bailey Law.” To incarcerated people and their anxious and distraught wives, mothers, children, and grandmothers, these bad guys guarantee release from prison in “five to eight years.” What the prisoners and their families will be is $1,000 poorer with no results.

Please NEVER SEND MONEY for legal services to anyone claiming to be an innocence organization.  ALL legal services provided by organizations like the Innocence Project of Florida, who are bona fide members of the Innocence Network, are FREE.

Please note the warning on our website and on most innocence organizations websites: “Fraud Alert: We have heard that there are people who fraudulently represent themselves as working for the Innocence Project of Florida, promising legal representation in exchange for money. These people do not work for the Innocence Project of Florida. If you believe you have been contacted by such a person, please contact us. The Innocence Project of Florida provides all legal representation for free. While we rely on charitable donations to support our work, we never solicit money for our services from our clients.”

If you or a loved one are approached by an organization posing as an innocence organization and asking for money to represent an incarcerated person, contact us or the Innocence Network so that we can take appropriate action against these dishonest endeavors.

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The Innocent Prisoner’s Dilemma: The Everton Wagstaffe Case

Marianne Salcedo — September 26, 2014 @ 10:09 AM — Comments (0)

Since January 1992, Everton Wagstaffe has refused to leave prison in New York on probation because that would require him to admit guilt of a crime of which he has steadfastly maintained innocence. Many state legal systems explicitly require an admission of guilt as a condition for parole. In states such as Florida, the admission of guilt is implicit, requiring the convicted to acknowledge their culpability and demonstrate remorse for their crime and for the people they have wronged. Some prisoners, who have claimed innocence have gone ahead and admitted guilt in order to be eligible for release, but find that they are prevented from pursuing their claims of innocence later because they admitted guilt at the parole hearing. This is the innocent prisoner’s dilemma. Northwestern University law professor Daniel Medwell calls it a true Catch 22.

Wagstaffe was convicted in 1992 of the kidnapping and death of a 16-year old girl whose body was found on a Brooklyn street. He spent nearly 23 years in prison protesting for his freedom. On September 17, 2014, Wagstaffe’s conviction was finally reversed by a panel of New York state appeals court judges who found that prosecutors were not forthcoming with evidence that would have shown that detectives and an eye witness to the crime had misled the jury. There had been no other evidence other than the witness’s testimony, which during the recent review of the investigation documents it was discovered that the witness had  been prompted and coached.

Like some other wrongfully convicted exonerees who refused early release because of their integrity, Wagstaffe declined to accept release on parole or probation rather than admit that he had anything to do with the crime. For the time being, he remains in state prison.

Considering the growing number of conviction reversals and exonerations throughout the United States, the “act of grace” that parole boards function as, needs to consider the possibility of false convictions and allow parolees the ability to pursue their claims of innocence after they are released without penalty.

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Letting the Guilty Walk Free

Marianne Salcedo — September 19, 2014 @ 9:42 AM — Comments (1)

When the American system of justice allows an innocent person to be wrongfully convicted and imprisoned, someone else is getting away with murder. Murder or another crime — but the point is that laws and policies throughout the United States limit access to state-of-the-art DNA testing for inmates who claim innocence. On September 18, 2014, the Newark Star-Ledger Editorial Board published an editorial titled, “End the absurd bureaucracy around DNA testing.”

Given the incredible power of DNA to exonerate the innocent and expose the guilty, it’s alarming that a mountain of red tape still impedes its use.

The fact that, out of the 317 exonerations due to exculpatory DNA crime scene test results cited in the editorial, 153 of those results enabled police and prosecutors to identify and catch the real perpetrator, barriers to current DNA testing only serve to destroy innocent lives and let the guilty walk scot-free. As the Star-Ledger editorial notes:

This is not only a problem for the wrongly imprisoned, it’s a threat to public safety.

In Florida, past laws impacting post-sentence DNA testing were fraught with time limits for filing petitions and limitations on how long physical evidence from crime scenes was preserved. In 2006, Florida legislators removed those time limits and extended the time period for preservation of evidence. And to this state’s credit, all DNA test results conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have the ability to be run through both the state’s DNA database and the FBI’s CODIS. In New Jersey, the reliance on private labs for post-sentence testing means that the real perpetrator’s DNA may not be run through CODIS for a possible match ensuring that the true culprit will never be identified.

Gerald Richardson, a 2013 exoneree who was represented by the Innocence Project in New York, will testify before the legislature in New Jersey advocating that the state require post-sentence DNA tests to be compared with CODIS. Not only would identifying the real perpetrator speed the timeframe in which the falsely convicted are released from prison, but public safety would be improved by getting the true criminal off the streets. Our laws and policies should enhance Americans’ safety, not endanger it.

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Michigan Man Exonerated After 17 Years in Prison

Justin Hirsche — September 9, 2014 @ 9:01 AM — Comments (0)

Jaime Lee Peterson was exonerated today after spending 17 years in custody and in a Michigan prison for the rape and murder of a elderly woman that he did not commit. He was serving a life sentence. The cause of his wrongful conviction stems from his false confession during the interrogation process which happened four months after the murder. Despite knowing that DNA testing of the victim’s rape kit excluded Peterson as the rapist, the jury convicted Peterson at a 1998 trial. The prosecutor led the jury to believe that semen found at the crime scene that was, at that time, untestable most likely belonged to Mr. Peterson. Along with his initial confession, this was enough to sentence him to life in prison. New DNA testing was conducted last year at the urging of Mr. Peterson’s new attorneys, the testing sought to prove that the previously untestable DNA belonged to the same person whose DNA was found initially with the rape kit. All of the male DNA  tested in this case was found to match a man named Jason Ryan (who was actually interviewed during the initial investigation).  Ryan was arrested last year for this decades old crime and currently is awaiting trial. Petersen’s case was led by the Michigan Innocence Clinic.

This case is just another one to add to the troubling ever growing list of coerced false confessions. After initially confessing Jaime (who is cognitively impaired) recanted his statements, but that usually does the person in such a situation no good. Roughly a fourth of those exonerated in America falsely confessed to crimes at some point during their interrogation. Jaime is the fourth man in Michigan to be exonerated by DNA evidence.

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DNA Evidence Clears Two men in 1983 North Carolina Murder Case

Justin Hirsche — September 3, 2014 @ 4:03 PM — Comments (0)

After spending 30 long years in prison, two brothers in North Carolina were exonerated Tuesday by a North Carolina Judge. Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown were both released from prison today They had been found guilty of the heinous rape and murder of an 11-year old girl. The two African American men were 15 and 19 at the time of the murder are both considered intellectually disabled. After long hours of unethical interrogation with no lawyer present each separately confessed to the crime, by signing statements written for them by police officers. But when they were sent to trial they recanted all of their statements confessing to the crime. Key evidence was left unaccounted for at the time of the trial. A similar murder had been committed in the same town within a month of the brother’s arrest, and a local man, Roscoe Artis, had confessed to the rape and murder of an 18-year old. Artis lived just a block from where the victim’s body had been found yet he was not seen as a suspect. A cigarette butt found near the vicitim’s body was tested  to see whose DNA would show up on it — there was not a match for either of the exonerees — but their was a match for Roscoe Artis’s DNA. Artis is currently serving a life sentence for his other rape and murder.

Leon Brown was sent away for life and Henry Lee McCollum received the death penalty with no evidence connecting them to the crime, but because they confessed to it under duress they had a huge chunk of their lives stolen. This just furthers the evidence that just because someone confesses to a crime when they are under immense pressure, that does not mean they are guilty of said crime. Roughly 25 percent of those wrongly convicted of crimes have admitted guilt during their initial interrogation, the only way we can stop this cruel treatment is to change the way we interrogate suspects and make sure all interrogations are videotaped. Over the past 23 years there have been over 2,000 exonerations in the United States and with the great news of today we can add two more to that ever growing list.

McCollum and Brown were defended in their search for the truth by Center for Death Penalty Litigation.

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Small Victory For Innocence in Washington State

Justin Hirsche — August 28, 2014 @ 10:44 AM — Comments (0)

Last week, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled, in a 6-3 decision, that DNA testing requests from convicts should be favorably considered. Specifically, judges should presume that the test results would favor the convict in making their decision, instead of denying them the chance to prove there innocence through DNA testing because the chances of exonerative results are remote. This decision spurs from the case of Lindsey Crumpton, who in 1993 was convicted of repeatedly raping a 75-year old woman. He was arrested running from the woman’s house with a bunch of incriminating items, including bedding smeared in blood among other things that the woman all identified as belonging to her. Crumpton is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison.

In 2011, he requested to have DNA testing done on the womans’ rape kit, her bedsheets and other pieces of evidence. A superior court rejected his request on the grounds that DNA testing would most likely not show that he was innocent. The case went all the way to the state supreme court and they reversed the ruling on the grounds that judges should presume that DNA testing will be in favor to convicts. Justice Mary Fairhurst when writing for the majority hit the nail on the head with this great statement: “Many innocent individuals have been exonerated through postconviction DNA tests, including some who had overwhelming evidence indicating guilt… and there is no direct evidence showing that labs have in fact been overburdened by an onslaught of postconviction testing.” This ruling is positive news for anyone falsely imprisoned in the State of Washington, because it now means their request for post-conviction DNA testing  cannot be denied just because the chances of them being proven innocent seem “slim” or “bleak”.

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New York Man One Step Closer to Exoneration in Arson-Murder Case

Justin Hirsche — August 26, 2014 @ 11:27 AM — Comments (0)

A New York man, Han Tak Lee (79), has been released on bail after serving 24 years of his life sentence for the crime of “intentionally” setting a fire at a religious retreat that ended up killing his mentally handicapped 20 year old daughter, Ji Yun Lee. He has long maintained that the fire was started accidentally. At the time of this incident investigators were under the impression (and so was the entire scientific community) that if a fire was unusually hot then that meant that said fire was most likely intentionally started, aided by the use of some type of accelerant. These “facts” (junk-science) have put many innocent people in prison for arson when they had nothing to do with the starting of fires they have been charged with.

Their has been a sweeping number of these types of exonerations lately. This is because scientists’ understanding of fires and the many theories about arson and the tell-tale signs that were considered give-aways, in regards to arson, have been debunked. The magistrate judge who reviewed Lees’ case had this to say on the matter: “much of what was presented to Lee’s jury as science is now conceded to be little more than superstition.” This does not mean Lee is in the clear though, prosecutors have been given 120 days to decide whether or not they will re-try Lee. Due to the long passage of time, charges are not expected to be filed and Lees’ supporters expect him to live out the rest of his life in peace in a retirement community. This and many other similar cases show that it is better to get it right then getting it fast, when it comes to finding your suspect to convict (if there even is one, in the case of arson v. accidental fires).

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Kentucky Women Close to Exoneration

Marianne Salcedo — August 14, 2014 @ 10:07 AM — Comments (0)

In 1998, Kyle “Deanie” Breeden was found bound with electrical cord and shot dead in the Kentucky River. For eight years, the case remained a murder mystery until Kentucky State Detective Todd Harwood announced he had solved it in only three weeks. The accused was a slight, 97-pound, one-legged women who had dated the 190-pound Breeden on-and-off for several months. Susan Jean King maintained her innocence, but was persuaded by Det. Harwood and her public defender to plead to second-degree manslaughter pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford. In other words, King did not admit guilt, but acknowledged there was enough evidence for a jury to find her guilty. She served eight years of a ten-year sentence. She later described herself as being “railroaded” and “set up by a corrupt cop.”

On July 20, 2014, after Richard Jarrell, Jr., who was being questioned by police about an unrelated crime, confessed in great detail to robbing and killing Breeden and throwing him off the Gratz Bridge and into the Kentucky River — and after Louisville Police Department Det. Barron Morgan, who took the Jarrell’s confession, was ordered off the case and summarily demoted to patrolman on the graveyard shift — and after a circuit court judge denied King’s motion for a new trial because she had pleaded guilty — and, finally, after the Kentucky Innocence Project (KIP) got involved, Susan Jean King was granted the hearing that is expected to exonerate her of Breeden’s murder in mid-August 2014.

The millstones of Justice turn slowly, as the saying goes, but this is in order to “grind exceedingly fine.” In other words, no detail should be overlooked to discover the Truth. When Det. Harwood solved the long-cold case, he should have wondered if his pat conclusion was too good to be true. Or as KIP attorneys wondered, if a one-legged, 97-pound woman could realistically heave a 190-pound body off a bridge. Or if Det. Morgan, who took the real killers confession and shared the details with KIP, should have been ordered off the case and demoted. Morgan sued the City of Louisville in 2012 and was awarded $450,000 in taxpayer money when the city settled the suit he filed after being demoted and humiliated. The Kentucky Innocence Project, the Innocence Project of Florida, and all the members of the Innocence Network nationwide work tirelessly to ensure that Justice and its millstones grind solely in the interest of Truth.

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Wrongfully Convicted Texas Man Exonerated

Julian Soto — August 6, 2014 @ 3:58 PM — Comments (0)

Michael Phillips’ 24-year nightmare is finally over. In 1990 in a Dallas motel room, a young white woman was brutally raped by a black man wearing a mask. At the time of the assault, Phillips was sleeping in his own room at the motel, but that fact proved inconsequential. Police dragged him out of bed at gunpoint, he was then“identified” in a police lineup, and  convicted of a crime he did not commit. He then spent the next 12 years of his life paying the price of a crime committed by another man. Worst of all, he was unable to be with his father when he died, simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But this was just the beginning of his hardships.

Michael Phillips was released from prison in 2002. However, that was hardly an improvement in his life. Yes, he may had been physically freed, but according to the State of Texas, he was still a convicted rapist. Not just any rapist, but a black man who raped a 16-year-old white girl. He was forced to register as a sex offender and to live with the intense social stigma associated with that title. There was now nowhere he could go where he would not be looked upon as a monster. His life was effectively ruined. This is the quiet tragedy of a false conviction: not only was Phillips wrongfully incarcerated in prison for 12 long years that he can never reclaim, but he then had to live as an ex-con/sexual predator once freed. His wrongful conviction did not just rob him of the the time he served, it stole a quarter-century of this innocent person’s life. Whatever possible future Michael Philip was heading toward in 1990, it was destroyed by the very justice system that was supposed to protect him. Phillips life will forever be defined by a series of tragic mistakes, oversights, and possible prejudice.

On July 24th, 2014,  Michael Phillips was at long last exonerated by a Dallas judge. After 24-years of prison, 24-years of shame, and after living decades of injustice, Mr. Phillips’ is finally recognized as the innocent man that he always was. Unfortunately, Phillips is now a 57-year old in a wheelchair slowly dying from Sickle Cell Anemia. He will never get his life back. Yes, the state will give him some money to compensate for their mistake, but money will not buy back one second of Mr. Philips’ life. People are only given one precious life to live in this world. Our legal system cannot continue to play so lightly with human lives. These are not mistakes which can be fixed. Mr. Philips is human being, and while his life may have been broken by an unfortunate series of events, he still has to keep on living it. This is the core reason why the post-conviction innocence movement is so critical. We cannot keep allowing innocent lives to be wrecked because of mistakes.

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News Roundup From Around The Nation 7/18/14

Julian Soto — July 24, 2014 @ 10:23 AM — Comments (0)

Often times, when working in the field of post-conviction justice, it is hard to find the good news amongst the hard realities of innocent men and women being wrongfully convicted. However, this week has proven to be the exception. We are thrilled to have so many positive stories to report from around the country.  From overturned convictions and exoneree compensation to exposure of wrongful conviction issues on national television, this week has been quite positive!

  • (North Carolina): On July 15th Darryl Howard, 52, walked out of a North Carolina prison as a free man. It had been a long and hard journey, but Howard never stopped fighting for this day (with the assistance of the National Innocence Project). He was convicted in 1995 for the murder of Doris Washington and her 13-year old daughter, Nishonda. This conviction was spearhead by disgraced and disbarred DA Mike Nifong (infamous Duke Lacrosse prosecutor). It has later been shown that Nifong withheld critical evidence from the defense.  Howard must still wait and see if the DA’s office will seek to re-try him, but for now he finally has his freedom.
  • (New York): After 16 years in prison and four additional years of waiting, Jabbar Collins will be compensated for his wrongful conviction. Originally convicted in 1995 for the murder of a prominent Rabbi, Collins spent 16 years in prison before justice was finally served. However, complete justice was delayed still further, as he was forced to wade through years of litigation in order to receive the compensation he deserved. Finally, that justice has arrived, in the form of a $3 million settlement from the State of New York. Congratulations to Mr. Collins!
  • (California): Sadly, most people in this country are unaware of the issues of wrongful conviction. It is this lack of awareness which can make it very hard for reforms to be pushed forward. Thankfully, there has been a positive development in the effort to spread awareness of wrongful convictions. Starting on July 16, WE tv has begun airing a brand new show titled “The Divide”–a show which tackles the issues of wrongful conviction. The show centers on a passionate lawyer who works for The Innocence Initiative and is working on overturning the conviction of an infamous killer. It is our hope that the manner in which this nationally broadcast show shines a light on the issues of wrongful conviction will lead to greater awareness amongst its wide audience. “The Divide” airs Wednesdays at 9:00 p.m.

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