Release of Innocents, Destruction of Evidence & Examination of Eyewitness Testimony: News Round-up

Alejandra de la Fuente — August 30, 2011 @ 12:32 PM — Comments (1)

West Memphis Three Released. “I cannot believe that this day has come…” said Damien Echols upon his release August 19 from an Arkansas prison. Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley were set free after serving 18 years for wrongful 1983 murder convictions of three children. A rarely used agreement called an Alford plea that is much like a sentence commutation provided the basis for letting the three innocent men out of prison.

Longtime supporter Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder said, “We are so grateful for the release of these three innocent men through the ‘Alford plea,’ a plea which essentially exists to right the wrongs of an imperfect system of justice. While we celebrate the freedom of Damien, Jason, and Jessie, we are also mindful that justice has been only half served. Three men lost 18 years of their lives to a wrongful conviction, and the killer of three young boys has still not been brought to justice. It is my hope that as the West Memphis Three begin to build their lives anew, the investigation of the real killer is pursued with renewed vigor.”

Many supporters from the legal, music and entertainment worlds worked hard on behalf of the West Memphis Three. Read more about it at BusinessWire or check out information about the HBO documentaries or a book on the subject at National Public Radio.

Justice Delayed, Stored, Then Finally Destroyed in Manatee County. We keep finding out more about destroyed evidence in a Bradenton bank vault. Thanks to legal efforts of the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) on behalf of Derrick Williams (later proven innocent and released), it came to light in 2002 that lots of evidence belonging to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office was destroyed due to water damage. The number of involved cases that occurred from 1980 to 1995 is staggering – 3,637 – some possibly containing exculpatory evidence for others who were wrongfully convicted.

Said Seth Miller, IPF Executive Director, “One would have to think there are other Derrick Williams in those 3,600 cases…The takeaway is we’ll never know…Derrick was lucky,” he added. “He had a key piece of evidence held in the clerk of court. He had a key to unlock the truth about his case. For other people, their evidence was destroyed. Their chance at freedom may have burned along with the rest of the evidence that was incinerated.”

To learn more, read Lee Williams’ article at

U.S. Supreme Court to Take Another Look at Eyewitness Testimony.  Adam Liptak of The New York Times reports that the U.S. Supreme Court will explore again what the U.S. Constitution has to say about using eyewitness evidence – at once powerful and frequently wrong. The last time The Court considered this issue was 1977 and much has changed since then, namely DNA evidence. In fact, of the first 250 DNA exonerations, fully 190 included mistaken eyewitnesses.

Former Justice William J. Brennan once wrote “There is almost nothing more convincing than a live human being who takes the stand, points a finger at the defendant, and says, ‘That’s the one!’”

While legal scholars and experts are happy that The Court is showing an interest in eyewitness testimony, the bigger issue of what is specifically involved in taking that look will likely not be addressed in the particular case of Perry v. New Hampshire, No, 10-8974. Barry Scheck, a director of the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, calls for a new “legal architecture” in which judges are gatekeepers of eyewitness testimony with increased discretion to manage it.

More on Eyewitness Testimony from Florida. Todd Ruger of the Herald-Tribune reports of false eyewitness testimony in Sarasota County – it was at least 50 percent wrong at any rate.

An eyewitness identified two assailants in the June fatal shooting of a man on a Sarasota street. One of the men, Timothy Jenkins, Jr., declared his innocence but turned himself in. He was sure justice would be served. However, after 15 days of solitary confinement he asked his family to hire a lawyer. His lawyer with the help of a private investigator found other witnesses and a gas receipt to corroborate Jenkins’ story.

Jenkins was released after 39 days in jail and plans to start a new life in a state other than Florida.

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Comments and Pings on “Release of Innocents, Destruction of Evidence & Examination of Eyewitness Testimony: News Round-up”

  1. Hi – I have recently joined the Innocence Project’s mailing list as I find these real life story’s quite amazing. I live in Australia where our laws are very soft compared to the USA however I am amazed that it takes so long to prove someone’s innocence?? It seems to take years to test DNA and then more years for the system to accept that there is an innocent man in prison? Can someone please explain why to me? I just feel so sorry for these people. Finally, are the majority morally innocent or just legally innocent?

    Many thanks & best regards,

    Andy Dunn

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