Last week, we had a motion hearing to clear up some matters in the Derrick Williams case ahead of the three-day evidentiary hearing next month in Bradenton, Florida. Following the hearing last week, Todd Ruger, of the Sarasota Herald Tribune, did a piece on how prosecutors typically respond to cases filed by IPF as opposed to other cases. Here was the response:
The Innocence Project of Florida has a record of using powerful new evidence to overturn wrongful convictions, but that does not mean prosecutors give up easily. Most of the time, state attorney offices will do what Manatee County prosecutors did in court Friday in the case of Derrick Williams — fight to uphold a conviction that is years old, even as exculpatory evidence mounts.
. . .
Innocence Project involvement brings extra publicity to appeals, and has led to a reputation for taking strong cases with new physical evidence such as DNA. The Innocence Project called on prosecutors to immediately release Williams last year. But revelations over new evidence do not automatically mean prosecutors will relent and agree to release inmates.
“The prosecutor is supposed to do justice,” said Chip Thullbery, a spokesman for Polk County State Attorney’s office, where the Innocence Project overturned James Bain’s rape conviction after 30 years. “If justice means upholding the jury’s verdict because the defendant is making a frivolous objection, that’s what the prosecutor should do.”
This is never more true than in this case. We have a horribly weak and tainted identification by the victim, some exculpatory biological evidence that existed at the time of trial, a fairly decent alibi, and now new DNA results that demonstrate that someone other than Derrick wore the shirt during the crime and left it in the victim’s car. Yet, the prosecution, while certainly civil and professional, have been fighting us despite this evidence. They have even gone so far to try to use procedural rules to prevent the court from hearing about many of the problems with the victim’s identification of Derrick, as well limit our ability to prove our unlawful destruction of evidence claim:
On Friday, Manatee County prosecutor Spencer Rasnake fought to prevent the Innocence Project from using the original police records from Williams’ case to argue for his freedom. Rasnake said the appeals based on new evidence are “difficult to do.” But in this case he does not think the new evidence would have changed the result at trial.
The Innocence Project says those records contain incorrect information and evidence of sloppy police work. Rasnake says those materials were available during Williams’ trial in 1993, and are not generally admissible at a trial, so they should not be used to overturn the conviction.
Adherence to the evidence code is a useful pretext. Instead, it is a naked attempt to use those rules to keep out evidence that bears directly on the issue of misidentificiation and which so clearly undermines the State’s case.
As we have more success, each exoneration seems like it gets progressively harder to achieve as the prosecutor’s dig in more and more. One would think that the opposite would be true, but when you are called the Innocence Project of Florida and you begin litigation, there is only one acceptable result. And I think that scares some prosecutors who don’t want to imagine that they or their offices could have contributed to a wrongful conviction. Maybe they don’t want the scrutiny, political or otherwise. Maybe they just don’t believe that it is possible to lock up an innocent person. Who knows.
We’ll keep you updated on how this shakes out.