It wasn’t long after Douglas Prade was exonerated of murder that prosecutors for the State of Ohio made known their intentions to appeal the overturned conviction. Postconviction DNA testing proved Prade did not kill his ex-wife, Margo Prade, in November of 1997. However the prosecution continues to push hard the idea that Prade could in fact be Margo’s murderer.
In an Los Angeles Times article, Keith Findley, president of the Innocence Network, said, “Prosecutors have enormous power over all of our lives, . . . yet no other profession is shielded from the complete lack of accountability.” As representatives of the State, the prosecution must present a case that proves a person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But doesn’t their responsibility also include making sure the wrong person is not convicted? And correcting the wrong if the wrong person is?
Innocence projects get involved after the trial, conviction and all of the appeals have been exhausted. There has to be a very compelling reason such as newly discovered evidence to open the door to re-visit a conviction. During this phase, the prosecution has the ability to agree to DNA testing–testing that innocence projects pay for, so there is no expense to the State–and avoid needless litigation just to obtain this vital science. According to the Innocence Network, nationally 19% of prosecutors oppose DNA testing when it requested by an individual in prison. In Florida, the experience of the Innocence Project of Florida (“IPF”) far outpaces the national averages. For example, in 2011-2012, IPF has requested DNA testing on behalf of clients potentially wrongfully convicted in 22 cases and prosecutors have only agreed to DNA testing once. They have opposed testing 21 out of 22 times or 95% of the time. This kind of obstruction is an organized form of prosecutorial misconduct, akin to hiding evidence of innocence.
Not only does this misconduct include the effort of hiding evidence that leads to wrongful convictions or preventing a potentially innocent person from getting DNA testing that could prove their innocence, it also includes continuing to fight after the defense has presented sufficient evidence indicating innocence. There are many reasons and opinions as to why a prosecutor would continue to fight, but it comes down to admitting that a mistake was made. It is a difficult task to admit a wrongdoing; however is the preservation of a wrongful conviction worth keeping an innocent person in prison? After a conviction has been overturned and innocence declared, isn’t the deliberative thoughtful, diligent decision by a judge that a conviction is wrongful enough to give the case up and let the innocent individual go home? Why is it so important that the prosecution appeals the judge’s ruling? The Plain Dealer, a newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio, stated:
“Because the judge might be wrong,” said John Murphy, the executive director of the prosecuting attorney association. “That’s why we have appellate courts. If we believe there is a genuine issue, we have to take it to the appeals courts.”
Many will question whether prosecutors are out to seek justice, as they are sworn to do, or to win cases at all costs. These questions arise when solid DNA testing proves that the convicted person did not commit the crime and then prosecutors turn right around to fight vigorously against the exoneration and against any claim of innocence. The Center for the Global Study of Wrongful Convictions at the University of Cincinnati College of Law stated:
“tragically, when a prosecutor chooses to protect a verdict rather than fulfill his or her first responsibility to seek the truth and true justice, the real perpetrator—even if a violent murderer—can get a free pass.”
When does the focus shift from convicting an innocent man to identifying the real perpetrator?
In an Illinois double murder case, Daniel Taylor was convicted of committing a crime at 8:45 p.m on November 16, 1992. However police records show that Taylor was under arrest for disorderly conduct from 6:45 p.m. to 10 p.m that night, undermining the contentions of the prosecution that Taylor would have have the opportunity to commit the crime. The Chicago Sun-Times stated:
“seven 23rd District police personnel backed Taylor’s lockup alibi. Those records should have been turned over to the defense at the time of the trial, but Taylor’s trial lawyers say they were not.” … “An officer on guard that night claimed “ it’s just not possible that Taylor was freed or escaped earlier than 10 p.m., as prosecutors suggested at trial. Too many personnel from two different watches would have had to conspire to falsify the records, he says.”
For Daniel Taylor, it is simply not possible that he could have committed the murder as prosecutors are charging. Taylor attorneys returned to court last week seeking the right to continue to appeal his case. Northwestern Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions released an article entitled Still Imprisoned Despite Jail Alibi, which highlighted the assertion by State Attorney Anita Alvarez that her office has experienced “a shift in philosophy” and pledged to be “more open to the possibility that police and prosecutors had sent an innocent person to prison.” In her announcement, it was said the state’s attorney’s office was “about always seeking justice,” not simply “racking up convictions.” Taking a brief look into the evidence supporting the wrongful conviction of Daniel Taylor, can one believe that this statement is entirely true?
In convictions such as Douglas Prade and Daniel Taylor, the prosecutorial misconduct played significant roles at different times throughout the proceedings. Unfortunately, these two men will fight for a long time in order to find the freedom the justice system owes them. Prade was exonerated last month after a hearing when the judge ordered his immediately release claiming “no reasonable juror, considering all available evidence, would be firmly convinced that Prade was guilty of aggravated murder.” However Prade is still facing the appeals by the prosecution. Daniel Taylor is still awaiting his grant for re-trial in hopes that one day he will be declared an innocent man. In an imperfect system, one can only hope the intentions of those in the justice system are reputable and in the end, justice will be served.