Michigan Supreme Court Considering Relief for Michigan Innocence Clinic Client

Kate Mathis — April 17, 2016 @ 1:00 PM — Comments (0)

On April 6, 2016, the Michigan Supreme Court heard oral arguments in an appeal asking for the 2002 child sex abuse conviction of Lorinda Swain to be overturned. Swain was convicted of molesting her adopted son in 2002. The victim recanted after Swain had already served seven years of her 25-50 year sentence.

After filing several appeals, and despite the Michigan appellate court ruling that her conviction should stand, a Calhoun County judge released Swain on appeal after ordering a new trial for her twice.

Now, the Michigan Supreme Court will hear her case. Justice Bridget McCormack, however, was a lawyer at the University of Michigan’s Innocence Clinic and represented Swain prior to serving on the court, and therefore recused herself from the case.

Attorneys at the Michigan Innocence Clinic continue to represent Swain. According to David Moran of the organization, the defendant has garnered the support of some influential people, including several prosecutors, two former U.S. attorneys, and a former Michigan Bar Association President. In addition, a former Calhoun County prosecutor that supports Swain and her defense team submitted a friend of the court brief on their behalf.

Moran stated that his client received ineffective counsel and that prosecutors neglected to disclose all of the potential evidence that might exonerate her. He went on to say that rather than asking for Swain’s exoneration, her defense team is asking that she be retried and that justice should be served if the Calhoun County prosecutor is confident that the case against her is concrete.

Prosecutor Dan Gilbert claimed that Swain’s son recanted after the family pressured him to do so, and therefore his recantation is not credible. According to Moran, however, Gilbert has refused to meet with the victim.

In addition to her son’s recantation, other witnesses that did not testify at Swain’s original trial have come forward.

Although oral arguments began April 6, the Michigan Supreme Court is not expected to issue a decision until they adjourn in the next few months.

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Today in Wrongful Conviction History: April 17

Kate Mathis — @ 10:00 AM — Comments (0)

Happy exoneration anniversary Victor Larue Thomas and Megan Winfrey!

Victor was exonerated in Texas in 2002.


Megan was exonerated in Texas in 2013.


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Original Witness Testimonies that were Later Recanted will be Admissible in Murder Retrial

Kate Mathis — April 16, 2016 @ 8:48 AM — Comments (0)

A Criminal District Court Judge ruled on Monday, April 4, that trial transcripts from Jerome Morgan’s first murder trial would be admissible during his new trial next month. Morgan has served 20 years in Angola prison for the 1993 murder of a 17-year-old boy. He maintains his innocence of the crime in which Clarence Landry III was killed during a birthday party at a New Orleans East hotel.

The transcripts include the testimony of Hakim Shabazz and Kevin Johnson, who were teenagers at the time of Morgan’s conviction. Both men recanted in October 2013 during a post-conviction hearing, however, and the recantations will also be permitted during the retrial. Shabazz and Johnson testified that police and others pressured and coerced them into identifying Morgan as Landry’s killer.

In an Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office bill of information, the witnesses were charged with perjury in January 2015 for their “inconsistent statements.” They are scheduled to appear in court on May 18, facing up to 40 years in prison, each. For fear of incriminating themselves in the perjury cases, neither Shabazz nor Johnson is expected to testify during Morgan’s retrial.

The Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO), which has been working on Morgan’s case since 2010, helped overturn his conviction in January 2014. The defense team argued that Shabazz and Johnson’s 1994 testimony should be excluded from the retrial because they are unavailable to testify due to the perjury charges. In their motion, the defense attorneys argued that the prosecution would benefit from the witnesses being unavailable, and therefore have motive to prevent them from testifying. They also wrote that Morgan would not be implicated and that the state would have no case against him because Shabazz and Johnson would testify consistent with their recantations. Following the judge’s decision to admit the original testimonies, the director of IPNO, Emily Maw, stated that Morgan should not be in this position, and that it is a shame the courts, which have the power to stop what she called a frivolous prosecution, have not taken such actions.

Assistant district attorneys filed a state response, placing blame on IPNO attorneys, who they argue ignored legal ramifications regarding Shabazz and Johnson because they were so adamant about achieving favorable testimony for Morgan. The prosecutors wrote that IPNO should have advised the witnesses to consult with independent counsel but neglected to do so, and are now trying to hold the state responsible for their unavailability.

In a counter-response to the state, the Morgan’s attorneys claimed that they had arranged for an attorney to counsel Shabazz and Johnson prior to their post-conviction testimony. They also argued that a simple solution, one that the state did not address in its response, would be for the district attorney’s office to grant immunity for any new testimony from the witnesses during Morgan’s retrial. The defense team wrote that the district attorney should take the honorable path and stop trying to send Morgan, Shabazz, and Johnson to prison, but unfortunately chose not to take that course.

Morgan’s retrial is scheduled for May 2.

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Today in Wrongful Conviction History: April 15

Kate Mathis — April 15, 2016 @ 10:00 AM — Comments (0)

Today is the anniversary Dennis Fritz’s and Ron Williamson’s exoneration.

Both men were convicted of the same Oklahoma murder in 1988. They were exonerated in 1999 after Dennis contacted the Innocence Project. Dennis and Ron were the focus of John Grisham’s An Innocent Man. Ron unfortunately passed away in 2004.


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Today in Wrongful Conviction History: April 14

Kate Mathis — April 14, 2016 @ 10:00 AM — Comments (0)

Happy exoneration anniversary Nathaniel Hatchett!

Nathaniel was exonerated in Michigan in 2008 with help from the Cooley Innocence Project.


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Today in Wrongful Conviction History: April 13

Kate Mathis — April 13, 2016 @ 10:00 AM — Comments (0)

Happy exoneration anniversary Kia Stewart!

Kia was exonerated in Louisiana last year with help from the Innocence Project New Orleans.


(We love this photo of Kia with out IPNO colleague Emily Maw!)

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Today in Wrongful Conviction History: April 12

Kate Mathis — April 12, 2016 @ 10:00 AM — Comments (0)

Happy exoneration anniversary Calvin Wayne Cunningham!

Calvin was exonerated in Virginia in 2011 with help from the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project.

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Today in Wrongful Conviction History: April 11

Kate Mathis — April 11, 2016 @ 10:00 AM — Comments (0)

Happy exoneration anniversary Jeramie Davis!

Jeramie was exonerated in Washington state in 2013 with help from the Innocence Project Northwest.


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Exoneration Sought in Groveland Four Case to be brought to Governor Rick Scott

Kate Mathis — April 9, 2016 @ 4:00 PM — Comments (0)

Those who have been pushing for the exoneration of the “Groveland Four,” including Mayor Tim Loucks and Lake County Commissioner Sean Parks, are hoping to meet with Governor Rick Scott within the next several weeks. Loucks, who vowed to continue pursuing justice for the men of the Groveland Four, believes that Scott is interested in reviewing the case.

The Groveland Four consists of Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, who were all accused and convicted of raping Norma Padgett, a white woman, in 1949. On the morning following the alleged rape, after Thomas fled Lake County, he was tracked down, shot, and killed by then-Sheriff Willis McCall and other members of a deputized posse. In addition, Greenlee, Irvin, and Shepherd were beaten in the county jail’s basement. Although there was no physical evidence in the case, Greenlee, who was a juvenile, was sentenced to life in prison, and Shepherd and Irvin received the death penalty.

While Shepherd and Irvin were being transported from the Florida State Prison to the Lake County Jail, McCall claimed that he was jumped by the two handcuffed men and shot them three times. Shepherd died immediately and according to Irvin, he survived by playing dead. Following the incident, despite Irvin accusing the sheriff and his deputy of attempted murder, no charges were ever filed.

NAACP special counsel Thurgood Marshall petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the death penalty verdicts in November 1951. Irvin was retried and sentenced to death after being convicted a second time, but in 1954 the sentence was commuted to life in prison. In 1962, after serving 12 years in prison, Greenlee was paroled. Irvin was paroled in 1968. He was found dead in his car, however, while visiting Lake County, and there were doubts about the circumstances surrounding his death. Greenlee died in April 2012 at the age of 78.

Despite a Florida Senate resolution asking for the exoneration of the Groveland Four failing to pass during this legislative session, Lake County formally gave its support to an exoneration effort for the group on March 15, calling the men’s 1949 rape convictions a travesty and an injustice. During the city of Groveland’s council meeting on February 16, Loucks issued a similar proclamation.

The families of Greenlee, Irvin, Shepherd, and Thomas not only say that exoneration would bring closure to what has been a difficult part of their history, but also that the evidence in the case does not add up. Loucks commented on the uncertain circumstances of the case, stating that there was no doubt the men were beaten and tortured and that the shooting that occurred was very questionable.

Vivian Shepherd, Samuel Shepherd’s niece, stated that although she is not angry about what happened to her uncle, it has been difficult to find closure, which would only come if the Groveland Four’s names were cleared. She believes in the men’s innocence and wants justice, but also wishes to speak with Padgett so she can forgive her, ask her why, and share with her the families of the Groveland Four’s side of the story.

Gilbert King, the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the Groveland Four and Marshall, Devil in the Grove, also wrote that there was no physical evidence that a rape took place. He cited multiple instances of prosecutorial misconduct and a few inconsistencies in the prosecutor’s timeline of events, stating that all the physical evidence looked like it had been faked and that Padgett’s testimony was sufficient enough for the jury to hand down the convictions. He also wrote about a doctor who was supposed to testify in the case that found no evidence that Padgett was raped in the medical report, but was never called by the prosecution.

Ric Ridgway, chief assistant state attorney for the 5th Circuit, could not comment on the case’s specific details, but he did say that a case is not as strong if there is no physical evidence of a sexual assault, and that other evidence would be needed to compensate for it. A criminal defense attorney running for Lake County judge, Benjamin Boylston, agreed with Ridgway, stating that a case can be weakened due to a lack of physical evidence if the situation is expected to have that kind of evidence available, such as if a rape is reported immediately after it allegedly occurred. He added that even if the victim is telling the truth, a number of factors could make it less likely that there would be physical evidence.

Ridgway stated that the court system is extremely different today than it was in 1949, citing multiple changes, including DNA, an appeal process for reviewing defense counsel’s effectiveness, and more sophisticated jurors.

Although Scott’s office has declined repeated attempts to issue any new comments on the Groveland Four case, they referenced their comments made on March 1, which declared that they would follow the clemency process and review any case brought in front of them.

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Today in Wrongful Conviction History: April 9

Kate Mathis — @ 10:00 AM — Comments (0)

Today is the exoneration anniversary Timothy B. Cole, who unfortunately is no longer with us.

Timothy was exonerated in Texas in 2009 with help from the Innocence Project and the Innocence Project of Texas. He is the namesake of so much positive innocence protection reform efforts in Texas.


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