Henry Thompson — October 25, 2013 @ 11:50 AM — Comments (0)
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.
Compensation,exoneration,Innocence Project of Florida,judicial,justice,legislation,policy, Alan Northrop, Anita Alvarez, clark county, joseph allen, larry davis, nancy smith, national registry of exonerations, ohio supreme court, retirement, Rob Warden, wrongful convictions blog
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.
Constitution,exoneration,justice,legislation,litigation,policy,prison, Chicago Innocence Project, death row, DNA, exonerate, freedom, Hank Skinner, Murder, Texas
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.
Compensation,exoneration,Innocence Project of Florida,judicial,justice,legislation,litigation,post-conviction, barri white, BBC, Carl Chatman, chicago, darrin hill, exoneration, Jennifer Thompson, justice, New Orleans Innocence Project, Picking Cotton, Ronald Cotton, Senator Mark Leno, wrongful convictions
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.
More information about Deskovic can be found at The Innocence Project, Deskovic Foundation, and Lohud.com.
Compensation,exoneration,judicial,justice,legislation, compensation, exoneree, innocence project, judicial, justice
Anna Fitzpatrick — July 10, 2013 @ 4:35 PM — Comments (1)
Florida death row inmate Michael Peter Fitzpatrick has been granted a new trial based on findings that he had constitutionally ineffective assistance from his trial attorney. Fitzpatrick was a pizza delivery man who was sentenced to death after being convicted of the 1996 rape and murder of Laura Romines. The justices who affirmed the lower court’s grant of a new trial agreed that, among other things, Fitzpatrick’s attorney should have consulted with experts on the DNA and other forensics used against him. Fitzpatrick has already spent twelve years on death row.
Meanwhile, the circuit court in Deminole County Florida has not yet reached a decision in the case of Clemente Aguirre-Jarquin, another Florida death row inmate. Aguirre-Jarquin’s attorneys have asked the court overturn his conviction based on newly discovered evidence after DNA testing results pointed to a family member of the victims as the real perpetrator. Read more here. Aguirre-Jarquin has been on death row for seven years and it is where he remains as he awaits the the judge’s decision on whether to grant him a new trial; if eventually exonerated, he will become the twenty-fifth Florida Death Row inmate to have been vindicated.
We’ll keep you updated on both of these cases as new developments arise.
exoneration,justice,legislation, Clemente Javier “Shorty” Aguirre, exonerations, Florida Death Row, Michael Peter Fitzpatrick, retrials, Timely Justice Act
Anna Fitzpatrick — June 27, 2013 @ 3:24 PM — Comments (0)
A June 3rd ruling on the U.S. Supreme Court case Maryland v. King states that police can take DNA samples from people who are merely arrested for serious crimes. The post-decision debate has focused on the appropriate breadth of the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable search and seizures. The federal government and twenty-eight states already authorize versions of what the Court has now ruled is acceptable; and law enforcement officials agree that DNA collection, like taking fingerprints, is a valuable tool for solving crimes.
The controversy stems from a long running battle between crime-fighting technology and centuries-old privacy rights. What makes this case so controversial is not the use of genetic samples in police work, but the fact that under the ruling, a suspect in custody – but still considered innocent under the law – may have their DNA taken, entered into a database, and screened against DNA profiles from evidence in unrelated cold cases to see if there is a match. All of this is done, despite there being no suspicion that the arrestee has committed other crimes in the past.
Despite the tension between law enforcement’s crime-solving function and civil liberties of citizens, DNA databases are just are a useful tool, especially to the innocents in the criminal justice system. More robust database of DNA samples could aid the wrongfully convicted; the existence of DNA databases provides the possibility to compare unknown DNA profiles from pretrial or post-trial DNA testing of crime scene evidence to profiles in DNA database to prove that someone has been wrongfully convicted. It can also help prevent an innocent person from being ensnared in a criminal prosecution in the first place.
Given that the constitutionality of this practice is now a settled matter, policy makers should develop ways to give the wrongfully convicted greater ability to use the DNA database as an effective tool to prove innocence.
judicial,legislation,Uncategorized, DNA, Fourth Amendment, maryland v. king, privacy, Supreme Court
Anna Fitzpatrick — June 12, 2013 @ 9:14 AM — Comments (4)
About once a year, Florida makes national headlines for righting a wrongful conviction. In recent years alone, more than a dozen men have been exonerated, most serving decades behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit. Florida also leads America in the number of people sentenced to death, only to later be exonerated – 24 people in the past three decades.
Florida may not be a leader in many things, but we are when it comes to stealing lives. We must do better; we must reform our systems.
There is a cost to reformation, but the cost of wrongful conviction is much, much higher. Millions of dollars are spent on holding and caring for innocent inmates, as well as the restitution paid once innocence is proved. There is the mental anguish the wrongfully incarcerated suffer, not to mention that their earnings and social interactions will forever be impaired – it almost like being thrown into a time warp. Scarier still is the fact that wrongful convictions mean the true criminal remains at large.
As Circuit Judge Belvin Perry says, “the consequence of inaction is injustice.” Perry chaired the Florida Innocence Commission, which spent two years studying the issue. The group of experts made concrete suggestions for improving justice:
- Record suspect interviews so there is no question about technique used to solicit confessions.
- Get neutral parties to conduct photographic lineups to avoid investigators encouraging witnesses to choose certain suspect, subconsciously or otherwise.
- Implement stronger guidelines for relying on jailhouse snitches.
The reasons for fixing this are obvious and plentiful, yet politicians have dragged their feet. The wrongfully convicted, you see, are not a powerful lobby. They don’t cut campaign checks, and their stories rarely win votes. But this issue is important, both financially and morally. Encourage your legislator to follow the recommendations of the Innocence Commission.
justice,legislation,policy, cost, injustice, Judge Belvin Perry, reformation, wrongful incarceration
Anna Fitzpatrick — June 07, 2013 @ 11:00 AM — Comments (0)
On May 24th, Oklahoma became the 50th and final state to pass a post-conviction DNA testing law. 307 people who were wrongfully convicted of crimes have been exonerated by DNA evidence in the United States since DNA testing first became available as a forensic tool in 1989.
Laws like the one passed in Oklahoma give many wrongfully convicted individuals the opportunity to gain access to DNA testing. Without such laws, innocent prisoners do not have a statutory right to testing and are required to rely on judges and prosecutors to grant access to DNA testing. Larry Peterson is one example of the harm done without these laws – Peterson spent sixteen years in prison in New Jersey, struggling to have evidence tested until a DNA testing law was passed in his state.
Oklahoma’s testing law is one of the most comprehensive in the nation, but some laws in other states have limitations which can be significant; several states specifically exclude those who pled guilty or confessed, even though more than a third of the 307 people exonerated by DNA testing either falsely confessed or pled guilty.
Check out this DNA testing law infographic put together by the Innocence Project in New York, as well as what the DNA testing law is in your state.
exoneration,legislation,post-conviction, DNA testing law, innocence project, Larry Peterson, Oklahoma
Anna Fitzpatrick — May 24, 2013 @ 2:17 PM — Comments (0)
Fifty years ago, in the landmark Brady v. Maryland case, the U.S. Supreme Court established a fundamental principle about the duty of prosecutors – to seek justice fairly, not merely win convictions by any means. This meant that due process required prosecutors to disclose any exculpatory evidence that was likely to affect a conviction or sentence. Known as the Brady Rule, the case was meant to lead to more transparency and equity in criminal proceedings; however, its power has been restricted by subsequent rulings of the court and severely weakened by a near complete lack of punishment for prosecutors who skirt around the rule.
It is impossible to know how often prosecutors violate Brady since this type of misconduct, by definition, involves concealment. But there is good reason to believe that violations are widespread. The National Registry of Exonerations has compiled detailed data for about 1,100 exonerations for the period 1989-2012. Of those cases, a whopping 42% were caused by what has been deemed “official misconduct.” Allowing for a 50-50 split between police and prosecutorial misconduct, the number still hovers around 21%, and when one considers that prosecutors are meant to seek justice rather than convictions, that is a rather alarming rate. The court has long agreed that individual prosecutors should be protected from civil liability so that they may freely pursue criminals; unfortunately, that allows for almost complete unaccountability for wrong-doings in judicial proceedings.
Recently the “Michael Morton Act” was passed in Texas, a law meant to decrease the amount of wrongful convictions within the state. The bill’s namesake spent 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife before DNA evidence finally exonerated him in 2011. The prosecutor in his case has been accused of deliberately withholding a substantial amount of evidence that would have led to an acquittal, including an account from the defendants three-year-old son who witnessed the murder and explained that “Daddy wasn’t home” at the time, neighbor testimonials who saw a man park a green van outside the house the morning of the murder, and a police officer in San Antonio who stated he could identify a woman who had used the victim’s stolen Visa card in a jewelry store – all of which were withheld from the defense.
The case of John Thompson represents another example of atrocious prosecutorial misconduct and the Supreme Court’s refusal to hold the prosecutor accountable. Mr. Thompson spent 14 years on death row before he was exonerated following the discovery that lawyers in the New Orleans district attorney’s office had kept more than a dozen pieces of evidence secret, even destroying some. Yet the Supreme Court overturned a $14 million jury award to Mr. Thompson, ruling that the prosecutor’s office had not shown a pattern of “deliberate indifference” to constitutional rights.
One root of the epidemic of misconduct may stem from prosecutors positions as pseudo-politicians. The position of “prosecutor” is imbedded with an incredible level of power, and as Lord Acton wrote 126 years ago, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Not only do prosecutors have power, but they are essentially free from accountability. The outrageous breaches of due process discussed here are merely illustrative of a deep-rooted indifference towards the assurance of justice.
But what can be done? One example of a better approach that has been adopted in North Carolina and now Ohio is to adopt an open-files reform to make criminal cases more efficient and fair. The state statute require prosecutors in felony cases, before trial, to make available to the defense “the complete files of all law enforcement agencies, investigatory agencies and prosecutors’ offices involved in the investigation of the crimes committed or the prosecution of the defendant.” The Justice Department insists that is has solved the problem by tightening requirements for disclosure, but numerous misconduct scandals show that is not sufficient. The best way to fulfill the promise of Brady is with open-files reform, which addresses the need for full disclosure of evidence that could show a defendant’s innocence.
exoneration,justice,legislation,policy, brady rule, John Thompson, Michael Morton, national registry of exonerations, open-files, prosecutor discipline, prosecutorial misconduct, Supreme Court
Anna Fitzpatrick — May 16, 2013 @ 10:00 AM — Comments (0)
Last Wednesday Washington became the 28th state to pass a wrongful conviction compensation law with Gov. Jay Inslee signing a bill that will take effect in July. Under the new law, a wrongfully convicted person would be eligible to file a claim against the state once their conviction is reversed. After a judge or jury determines the claim is valid, the courts can award up to $50,000 for each year of imprisonment, including time spent awaiting trial and an additional $50,000 for each year spent on death row.
Money will come from the new state liability fund, which can also provide education aid and pay past child support for those who qualify. The state estimates that at least 15 wrongly convicted former inmates are likely to file claims in the first three years, with one to two each year thereafter.
The bill, which passes through the Washington state House and Senate with bipartisan and nearly unanimous support, was championed by Representative Tina Orwall and the Innocence Project of Northwest Legislative Advocacy Clinic. We want to congratulate them as well as IPNW Policy Director Lara Zarowsky and her students who worked tirelessly to advocated the passage of the bill even during a year with tight budgets. Way to go “Team Compensate!”
Nationwide, one-third of people exonerated after proving their innocence have not been compensated for the injustices they suffered and the time they spent incarcerated.
Governor Inslee shakes hands with ICP exononree Alan Northrop, who served over 17 years in prison for crimes he did not commit.
exoneration,justice,legislation,post-conviction, compensation, legislation, Reversed Conviction, Washington