IPF client Cheydrick Britt was exonerated on November 20, 2013. This holiday season will mark Cheydrick’s first in nearly a decade where he will be home with his family and not wrongfully locked behind prison walls. Recently the ABC affiliate in Tampa, ABC Action News, covered his story.
In an exclusive interview with ABC Action News, he said he isn’t bitter, he’s just happy to be free. “I knew I was innocent,” said Britt. “I never wavered that I wasn’t coming home. I always had faith,” he said.
IPF congratulates Cheydrick and we are so happy we could play our part in bringing him hope for a very special holiday season this year.
Cheydrick Britt Exonerated Based on DNA Test Results Proving Innocence Britt Served Over Nine Years for a Sex Crime He Did Not Commit
(Tallahassee, FL) On November 20, 2013, the State Attorneys Office for the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit dropped all charges against Cheydrick Britt related to a 2002 sexual battery. Britt’s convictions and sentence for the sexual battery were vacated and he was released from prison on September 24, 2013, based on new DNA test results indicating Britt’s innocence of the sexual battery and lewd and lascivious molestation. Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Chet Tharpe signed the order vacating these convictions.
“I have been waiting for this moment for almost a decade. I always maintained my innocence and now the DNA testing has proven what I always knew to be true. Thank God for DNA,” said Britt upon his release.
The Office of the State Attorney agreed to postconviction DNA testing in this case on September 28, 2012 and the results showing that semen on the victim’s underwear came from an unknown male, excluding Britt as a contributor, were released on April 12, 2013. The DNA testing was performed at DNA Diagnostics Center, in Fairfield, Ohio. Local counsel, Charles Murray, Esq., and Melissa Montle, Esq. and Seth Miller, Esq., attorneys with the Innocence Project of Florida (“IPF”), worked closely with the Office of the State Attorney to facilitate the result on this case.
“I am thrilled that we were able to reunite Cheydrick with his family. We commend the State Attorney for taking an objective look at how these DNA test results impact the remaining evidence and pursuing justice in this case. This is a model for how prosecution and defense can collaborate to reach the just and right result,” said Melissa Montle, Staff Attorney with IPF.
Britt was wrongfully convicted for these offenses in May 2004. Britt spent over 9 years wrongfully convicted and incarcerated and is the 14th individual to be exonerated through the use of DNA testing in Florida since 2000.
IPF worked on Cheydrick Britt’s case for free, including drafting key motions and facilitating the DNA testing. Bonita Springs, Florida attorney Charles Murray was lead counsel, representing Mr. Britt since 2008.
Cheydrick Britt, Florida’s 14th DNA exoneree, with his legal team: Charles Murray, lead counsel, and Seth Miller and Melissa Montle, attorneys with the Innocence Project of Florida.
Daniel Larson’s innocence was declared more than three years ago after spending 10 years in prison, and yet he still awaits his freedom. The circumstances surrounding Larson’s delayed release are complicated; his lawyer is believed to be at fault for submitting documents to the court later than he should have. Larson’s fiancee’ has started a petition for his immediate release from a California state prison that she will send to the Attorneys General. The petition can be viewed here, and more information about Larson and his case can be found at the LA Times.
The co-founder of the Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions Rob Warden is set to retire next year. Warden founded the Center in 1999 and helped 25 people regain freedom after being wrongfully convicted. Warden also played an instrumental role in the creation of the National Registry for Exonerations. Rob’s retirement is a huge loss for the community of lawyers and groups doing innocence work. He is a founder of our movement and he will be sorely missed. Yet, some are taking pot shots at him on his way out the door. When asked about Warden’s retirement, a spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said “It is our hope that the new leadership there will display a more respectful and fair-minded view of the work of the prosecutor, rather than the cynical ‘Us versus Them’ theory disseminated by Mr. Warden throughout the course of his tenure.” More information about Warden’s retirement can be found at the Chicago Tribune and the Wrongful Convictions Blog.
In the waning days of September, Clark County, Washington, agreed to settle a lawsuit over wrongful conviction with Larry Davis and Alan Northrop for $10.5 million. The two men were wrongfully convicted of rape in 1993. The men were exonerated thanks to DNA evidence proving that they were innocence and the stellar work of our friends at the Innocence Project Northwest. More information can be found at the National Police Accountability Project.
Nancy Smith and Joseph Allen spent almost 15 years in prison for the supposed molestation of children. Smith and Allen were due in court in 2009 for a records update. Upon their court date, the Judge realized that they were innocent thanks to the convoluted and clearly perjured evidence and they were freed. Unfortunately Mr. Allen’s freedom was taken from him again in 2011 as prosecutors appealed Mr. Allen’s acquittal to the Supreme Court of Ohio. Mr. Allen lost his right to appeal and may never be free again. Mrs. Smith must continue to fight for her own freedom. More information can be found at the Wrongful Convictions Blog.
Samuel R. Gross, law professor at the University of Michigan School of Law , and Rob Warden, executive director of The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern School of Law, began reviewing data on exonerations in the United States in 1989.
In 2012, with the help of law student Michael Shaffer and many other volunteers, they published a comprehensive review of exonerations on a national scale and launched the website for the National Registry of Exonerations.
The report contains extensive research data from 1989 to 2012. The three help to define and clarify exonerations and the processes behind them. The report also significantly explained in large detail reasons for wrongful convictions. Here are some excerpts from the inaugural report from The National Registry of Exonerations.
“DNA exonerations also take longer than non-DNA exonerations; the median time from conviction is 14.9 years compared to 7.8 years. This is true for homicide cases, where the median time is 15 years with DNA and 11.9 years without; for sexual assault cases, where the comparable numbers are 14.6 years and 7.1 years; and for child sex abuse exonerations, where the median times are 17 years with DNA and 5.9 without DNA.”
“The 873 exonerations in the Registry come from 43 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, 19 federal districts, and the military. They are very unevenly distributed by state, and especially when broke down by county. This suggests we are missing many cases – both innocent defendants from jurisdictions where exonerations are vanishingly rare, and exonerated defendants whose cases have received little or no public attention.”
Along with detailing information regarding DNA testing for exonerations and national data, Gross and Ward explain the types of situations that may lead to wrongful incarceration. These situations are many and varied though common themes tie them together. Some of the most egregious wrongful convictions stem from official misconduct on behalf of law enforcement or the courts.
“The range of misconduct is very large. It includes flagrantly abusive investigative practices that produce the types of false evidence we have discussed: committing or procuring perjury; torture; threats or other highly coercive interrogations; threatening or lying to eyewitnesses; forensic fraud. At the far end, it includes framing innocent suspects for crimes that never occurred. The most common serious form of official misconduct is concealing exculpatory evidence from the defendant and the court.”
The average number of exonerations has grown by about 220 cases per year. The website is an invaluable resource that is intuitively designed and makes searching out exonerees a simple task. The website allows the user to search using name, exoneration date, contributing factors to exoneration, location, and status. The website also provides relatively short biographies of those profiled and their history regarding their exoneration.
You can find information about the Registry online and a copy of the inaugural exonerations report created by Gross and Warden can be found here.
Henry Thompson — September 30, 2013 @ 2:01 PM — Comments (0)
A man has waited on death row in Texas for his exoneration for twenty years. Hank Skinner was convicted of murdering his then girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two adult sons in January of 1993. The police failed to investigate another potential suspect, Twila’s uncle, who had a history of violent activity and molestation. At the trial, there was little mention of exculpatory evidence due to the fact that Skinner was at the scene of the murder. Upon his conviction, the jury recommended the death penalty. Skinner has been languishing on death row in Texas for twenty years all the while maintaining his innocence.
Now thanks to DNA testing Skinner may have a shot at regaining his freedom. Twila Busby’s uncle had often worn a jacket that was similar to the jacket found next to her body. Upon testing some hair on the jacket and in Twila’s hand it was found that the hairs belonged to her uncle. The District Attorney had made a promise to Hank Skinner that DNA testing would be allowed and taken into account though upon the test results being revealed the D.A was reticent to fulfill that promise.
After years of appeals and Skinner’s lawyers unsuccessfully fighting his case, Hank was to be executed, though at the last minute the state of Texas issued a stay of execution. Just one year later, the courts ruled that he would have access to the biological evidence in his case and justice would be served. Unfortunately for Hank and conveniently for Texas the original jacket that had already been tested was lost. However the hairs were still available. DNA testing on the hairs excluded Skinner and revealed a potential match to Twila’s uncle.
While the legal wrangling and testing has been going on, Hank was living on death row. Spending the majority of his days in a cramped small cell eating terrible food has begun to take its toll. Hank Skinner was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis recently and is back on death row while a resolution to his case is pending. What’s worse is that Twila Busby’s uncle, the only other suspect in the case, has been deceased for years and his body must be exhumed for Hank Skinner to be freed.
We all hope that Hank Skinner can stay healthy enough to see his family and friends again. More information about Hank Skinner’s case can be found at The Huffington Post and HankSkinner.org.
Henry Thompson — September 30, 2013 @ 1:53 PM — Comments (0)
Women are treated differently by the justice system in the United States. Their cases are often fraught with prosecutorial misconduct, falsifying or withholding evidence, and gender-based bias.
In many cases the bias against women by prosecutors, judges, and juries is often pivotal in deciding the case. This bias will often lead to vilification of a woman on the grounds that the crime was committed out of passion, rage, or another archaic nonsensical reason that parrots stereotypes of characteristics of women. In many cases women are convicted using circumstantial evidence. In recent years the plight that women face within the judicial system has begun to be studied by the law community. According to the Bluhm Legal Clinic’s Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law School “In 64% of female exonerees’ cases, no crime had occurred” and “40% of female exonerees were victims of police or prosecutorial misconduct”. Thanks to Northwestern University Law School and others this demographic information regarding women and wrongful convictions has shed more light on a significant problem.
In one such case, Cynthia Sommer was convicted of poisoning her husband with arsenic and charged with murder. At her trial, a defense forensic toxicologist testified that if her husband had indeed been poisoned with arsenic, then high levels of the chemical would have been found throughout his body; and this was not the case as arsenic was found in only his liver and kidneys. Cynthia Sommer was convicted nevertheless and spent ten months in prison until she was able to prove her innocence based on ineffective assistance of counsel. For whatever reason, Cynthia Sommer’s defense attorney failed to argue on the merits of the toxicologist’s findings and in turn she almost served a life sentence in prison.
In another case, Gloria Killian was convicted of first-degree murder, attempted murder, burglary, robbery, and conspiracy. These charges were brought against her with no evidence and they were based solely on the testimony of one man, Gary Masse. This false testimony proved to be enough for the Sacramento, CA sheriff’s office to arrest her. Masse later admitted that his testimony against Killian was a lie and he had tried to make a deal with the prosecution for leniency in his own case in exchange for the testimony. Killian’s conviction was overturned and she was released in August 2002 after being imprisoned for 16 years.
Both of the cases of these women indicate how easy it has become to be convicted of a crime you didn’t commit due to gender-biased evidence and false testimonies. In the case of Gloria Killian, the word of a convicted male murderer was trusted over that of an innocent woman to such an extent that she lost 16 years of her life.
Harris was recently released from prison after a wrongful conviction through a forced confession at the hands of the Chicago Police Department. She had served seven years of a 30-year sentence. Information about the upcoming wrongful conviction lecture can be found at Roosevelt University.
Henry Thompson — September 18, 2013 @ 10:00 AM — Comments (0)
Legislative action passed in California last week will improve the process by which wrongfully convicted Californians will receive compensation for their time served. Senate Bill 618 will streamline the process allowing those who are exonerated to receive their funds quicker and with less hassle. The Bill’s author, Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said “[t]his effort helps prevent the state’s faulty administrative process from perpetrating yet another wrong on these innocent individuals who deserve and need our help to get back on their feet and on with their lives.” For more information visit the California Senators news page here.
Recently, the wrongfully convicted man Carl Chatman was released from prison after serving nine years for a rape he did not commit. Many citizens have expressed outrage at the lack of response from the justice system in regards to Chatman’s accuser. The woman who accused Chatman of raping her had a previous experience in which she accused another man of the same crime. Unfortunately, Mr. Chatman’s situation is not a unique one. Due to the statute of limitations regarding perjury in Illinois, Chatman’s accuser cannot be punished. For more information about Carl Chatman visit the Chicago Sun-Times.
Barri White, a wrongfully convicted man, served six years in high-security jail for the murder of his girlfriend in 2002. In 2005, the BBC investigated his case and found the forensic evidence used to convict him was false and his case had been one of false accusations and demonization. Mr. White stated “I am still fighting, I have had enough of fighting, I deserve a life back. Getting compensation and an apology from the police, that would be my justice. It was six years of my life, my whole 20s, pretty much. They’re supposed to be the best years of your life but I was rotting in jail. Nothing can make up for that. No amount of money is going to bring my six years back.” The BBC program ‘Life after life: Barri and Keith’s story’ aired Monday Sept. 16th in the UK and will be available later online. Information can be found at the BBC.
Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson-Canino
Ronald Cotton was mistakenly identified and wrongfully convicted of raping Jennifer Thompson-Canino in 1984. Cotton was exonerated in June 1995 after DNA testing proved he was not the rapist. In an unusual turn of events, he and Jennifer have become friends and often appear together talking about wrongful convictions and incarceration. The two have written a book, “Picking Cotton“, and are to the keynote speakers at the centerpiece of Miami University (of Ohio) Regional Campus’ upcoming Criminal Justice Week. More information about the talks can be found at the Journal News.
They are also scheduled to be in Jacksonville at both of the Florida State College campuses in March 2014.
In Louisiana recently an exonerated man who was cleared of rape charges finds himself in court again. Darrin Hill, a 47 year old man who suffers from schizoaffective disorder, had been in prison for more than ten years for a rape he did not commit. His accuser pointed him out in a lineup and he was convicted quickly. Over the past 13 years Hill had been in and out of mental hospitals and jails. In 2010, a sexual assault kit that was used by doctors to examine Hill’s accuser was found by staff members of the federal National Institute of Justice-funded Orleans Parish Post-conviction DNA Testing Project. DNA testing revealed that Hill’s DNA was not present but rather the testing revealed the DNA of another man. Hill was exonerated with the help of Innocence Project New Orleans and charges were dropped. Now Hill has to face his accuser again as she refutes her earlier claim that he was her rapist. More information can be found at The Advocate.
Henry Thompson — September 13, 2013 @ 2:28 PM — Comments (0)
California Innocence Project Exoneree and NFL-hopeful Brian Banks was released from the Atlanta Falcons during a pre-season cut to the 53-man team. Banks was one of ten players released. Banks is neither upset nor dismayed. He noted his performance on the field was behind that of his peers because of his absence from the game and he put everything he had out there on the field.
Banks looks forward to free agency as well as other opportunities. He recently posted on his twitter account:
“As most have heard, my time with the Atlanta Falcons has come to an early end. I want to thank Mr Blank, Dimitroff,& Smith for such an amazing and unforgettable opportunity. This experience has shown me a piece of life that was once taken, and where things (football wise) would have been if it wasn’t for the 10 years of life loss.”
Banks has not announced any plans to continue playing football though he has tweeted about speaking engagements and other events he may be available for. Banks is the keynote speaker at the Innocence Project of Minnesota’sannual benefit on October 17th.
There have also been tweets about a potential documentary of his life story. Whatever the future holds for Banks, we hope for success for him as he continues to spread his story of exoneration and innocence.
Henry Thompson — September 10, 2013 @ 4:57 PM — Comments (0)
In an unprecedented case, the Irish Government is considering posthumously exonerating a man who was convicted of murder in 1940 and executed less than one year later. Seventy-two years after Harry Gleeson’s death, his family may be getting the closure they desire. The newly formed Irish Innocence Project at Dublin’s Griffith College is heading up the cause for Harry Gleeson’s exoneration.
Gleeson was wrongfully convicted of murdering his next door neighbor in November of 1940. Gleeson was denied a fair trial and evidence was withheld. This evidence is now just coming to light with the help of a new Justice Minister and a new pathologist’s report on the body of victim Mary McCarthy.
David Langwaller is the head of the Irish Innocence Project and works closely with DNA expert Dr. Greg Hampikian, scientist and Director of Idaho Innocence Project. Gleeson may be the first exoneration for The Irish Innocence Project. After reaching out to the the Justice Minister last year, the Irish Innocence Project was finally able to make headway in Gleeson’s case. According to Langwaller, new evidence has recently been discovered that can prove his innocence.
Gleeson’s family has been trying for years to get his case to the courts in Ireland and is just now able to thanks to the Irish Innocence Project. Their years of working to exonerate Harry Gleeson may pay off very soon.
Henry Thompson — September 06, 2013 @ 2:50 PM — Comments (0)
New York exoneree Jeffery Deskovic was recently awarded $5.4 million dollars for his wrongful conviction and imprisonment in a murder/rape case. Deskovic was convicted when he was 16 years old and served 15 years in prison after being forced to confess by police and a hired polygraph investigator. Deskovic was told if the DNA test came back negative then he would be cleared as a suspect and freed. The DNA tests returned without Deskovic’s DNA present, and yet he remained in custody because of his false confession.
Jeffery spent almost half of his life imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. The Peekskill Common Council board recently awarded him $5.4 million in return for the years spent in jail. Since being exonerated in 2011 with the help of the Innocence Project, Jeffery has earned his Masters Degree in Criminal Justice, started a foundation in his own name, and is working to further the exoneration of others who are wrongfully imprisoned.
Deskovic’s foundation has helped many already and will continue to help those in need. They offer services for recent exonerees who are often without anyone to turn to as well as research into wrongful incarceration cases.
Any views or opinions expressed by the content writers or those providing comments on the blog Plain Error do not necessarily represent the official position of the Innocence Project of Florida or views of individual members of its board of directors. The Innocence Project of Florida makes no representation as to the accuracy or completeness of any information provided herein.