Taylor Thornton — April 04, 2018 @ 11:54 AM — Comments (0)
Happy 7 year exoneration anniversary Derrick Williams!!
In March of 1993 Derrick Williams was found guilty of kidnapping, sexual battery, robbery, grand theft auto, two counts of battery and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in prison. Williams’ conviction was based strongly on the misidentification of the victim in court.
The victim was attacked inside of her car in her driveway in Palmetto, Florida at 6pm on August 6, 1992. The attacker drove the victim to an orange grove where she was raped, robbed, and beaten before she managed to escape. When the victim worked with police to create a composite sketch, one officer thought that the sketch looked like Derrick Williams. The officer recognized Derrick from his acquittal in a very similar 1981 case of abduction and rape in a Florida orange grove. Williams’ photo was placed in a photo lineup where the victim identified him and she subsequently identified him in a live lineup. Despite his alibi which was corroborated by many witnessed brought by the defense, and the holes in the prosecution’s case, Derrick Williams was convicted on March 19, 1993.
Following his conviction, with the help of the Innocence Project of Florida, Derrick was able to request DNA testing of a shirt that the attacker had worn and later used to cover the victim’s face during the attack. The t-shirt was found in the victim’s backseat after the incident. Despite the negligent destruction of much of the physical evidence in Williams’ case by incineration, they were able to test sweat and skin cells on the collar of the t-shirt. These tests were able to exclude Williams as a possible contributor of this DNA. The Innocence Project of Florida filed a motion for post conviction relief based on the new DNA evidence and the unlawful destruction of exculpatory by the police. Following a two day evidentiary hearing Derrick Williams was granted a new trial on March 29, 2011. On April 4, 2011 the prosecution dismissed the charges and Derrick Williams was released.
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Taylor Thornton — March 21, 2018 @ 12:12 PM — Comments (0)
Certificates of actual innocence are the highest form of expunging one’s criminal record. These certificates go beyond just sealing the charge from the party’s criminal record but also recognizes that the charge should have never existed and the party should have never been arrested in the first place. A certificate of actual innocence is only available to those who were convicted of crimes that they were later found innocent of.
A certificate of innocence is important to exonerated individuals because a mark on a criminal record can unfortunately persist to damage their life even following an exoneration. Having charges on one’s criminal record can bar exonerees from many parts of life and can damage their career, their image, and that of their family. A criminal record can keep them from being able to rent a home, from getting a good job, from being approved for a loan, and much more. An exonerated individual should not continue to suffer such struggles after they have already suffered a false arrest or conviction. An innocent person should never suffer the damages for a crime they did not commit.
It seems obvious that those found innocent and exonerated of false convictions deserve certificates of innocence, at the least, as a step to begin rebuilding their damaged lives. However, this is not so simple in many states. Following a massive scandal in Chicago surrounding police Sergeant Ronald Watts, numerous convictions have been overturned. It was found that this sergeant’s corruption was responsible for numerous wrongful convictions and those were subsequently overturned last year with more cases expected to surface as time goes on. A number of men who served time in prison because of these false convictions have received formal certificates of innocence as is laid out in Illinois statute.
However, an issue has come up for some of Sergeant Watts’ victims. According to Illinois statute, certificates of innocence can only be rewarded to those who actually served time in prison for their wrongful convictions. This has left five innocent men, who were only sentenced to probation in their cases, denied these certificates. These men are planning to appeal their cases to a higher court, but as it currently stands in Illinois statute they do not have a right to a certificate of innocence unless they spent time in prison.
This is a serious flaw in the system that allows innocent people to fall through the cracks. While few things can compare to the damage done by serving time in prison, a criminal record of any kind comes with the same stigma and societal damages. Even though these men avoided the harsh punishment of incarceration they still endured the struggles of being on supervision and they can still be barred from access to things like homes and jobs because of their records. An innocent person deserves their innocence regardless of what level to which they have suffered. The state is denying these men a fully cleaned slate simply because they were not damaged enough in the eyes of the courts. Any damage done to an innocent citizen because of a crime they never committed is too much damage. Every exoneree deserves formal innocence declared by the courts.
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Alejandra de la Fuente — March 21, 2014 @ 10:38 AM — Comments (0)
Glenn Ford became a free man last week after being on death row for 30 years, making him the longest serving death row prisoner in Louisiana.
Ford was exonerated after the real killer confessed to the murder that happened three decades ago to an unidentified informant, who then came forward to investigators. Ford says the hardest part about his imprisonment was the fact that he can’t do things that he should have been doing at 35, 40, and 45, like being there when his grandchildren were born. This is over half of his life he cannot just take back.
Glenn Ford became Louisiana’s 10th death row exoneration and is also one of the longest serving death row prisoners in the United States.
Congratulations Glenn, and we hope you take this chance to reconnect with old friends and family, as well as your new ones.
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Alejandra de la Fuente — February 11, 2014 @ 12:08 PM — Comments (0)
It was a normal night for the 18-year-old Anthony Yarbough until he came home and found his mother, sister and his sister’s friend choked to death with electrical cords with multiple stab wounds. In 1992, Yarbough and Sharrif Wilson were convicted after Wilson was pressured into saying that he and Yarbough committed the three murders. Wilson provided a written testimony against his friend in exchange for a shorter sentence of 9 years to life in contrast to Yarbough’s 75 years to life.
In 2005, Wilson recanted his written statement against Yarbough. In 2013, DNA evidence proved that neither Yarbough nor Wilson committed the murders. The DNA found under Yarbough’s mother’s fingernails matched the DNA in an unsolved rape from 1999, a crime that was committed after Yarbough and Wilson were already in prison.
Both men were freed this past week, and according to sources, there were no hard feelings between the two old friends when they finally met after decades of being in prison. Yarbough now waits to see if the real perpetrator will be identified, but this time he does it in the comfort of his home and his life in Brooklyn.
We wish these two men the best of luck and hope their story shines the light on the hundreds of others around the country that are in prison for crimes they did not commit and need our help. Congrats Anthony and Sharrif, and enjoy your freedom!
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Alejandra de la Fuente — February 07, 2014 @ 12:41 PM — Comments (0)
An Ohio man spent more than 20 years in prison for a high profile murder he did not commit. Dewey Jones, more commonly known as “Santa”, finally had all charges dropped for the kidnapping, robbery, and murder of Akron man and family friend, Neil Rankon.
“The truth is the truth and it always comes out… I sure would like to know who I did 20 years for,” Jones told a local Ohio news reporter.
DNA evidence proved that Jones could not have been the perpetrator in the crime committed in 1993. This truth came about after the rope that was used to tie up Rankon contained male DNA that was not Jones.
After his release, he was quick with laughter as it all sunk in and he was asked what he would do next. All Jones really wants to do? Take a bath. He says 20 years of showers is just too much. Jones could expect to receive almost $47,000 for every year he was incarcerated, plus lost wages.
Here is Jones last week when after all charges were dropped standing outside the Ohio courthouse with Jodi Shore, an employee of The Exoneration Project; Adam Vanho, an Akron Attorney; and David Owens of Loevy and Loevy.
You can find an article related to the release from the Columbus Dispatch here.
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Alejandra de la Fuente — January 28, 2014 @ 2:09 PM — Comments (1)
It’s safe to say that one of the best days of the lives of a wrongfully convicted person is the day that they are finally free from prison after serving time for crimes they did not commit. However, these men and women who had once thought their lives were over get a major news flash the moment they are set free. What do they do next?
If you are like Nicole Harris, a female exoneree from the greater Chicago area, you spend time with your teenage son, who was just 5 years old at the time of conviction, and apply to graduate school. You even might plan that long awaited trip to New York City. That is what Harris is doing, as she says it is the one place she has always wanted to go.
Maybe you are Brian Banks, who at the time of his conviction was being recruited by USC and Pete Caroll to play big- time college football. After five years in prison, what would you do if you were Banks? Why, play more football, of course. Since being exonerated almost two years ago, Brian has tried out for the Atlanta Falcons, making it to the next final cut before the 52-person team. He runs a twitter account and has done all he can to do what he has always wanted to do.
If you are Bill Dillon, you have 27 years of life to make up; you record an album, and sing the national anthem at the Tampa Bay Ray’s baseball game. Dillon spent over half of his life behind bars, and he is now working to make up for lost time. He plays in a band, loves Deep Purple, and has spent the last 5 years getting used to the major change in technology since 1981 when he was convicted.
IPF board member and exoneree, William Michael Dillon performed two songs about his wrongful conviction.
The stories of the exonerated are some of the most powerful out there. They were taken from their families, their dreams, their life plans, and put in prison for crimes they did not commit. Now, trying to get back to ‘normal’ life, it is not always the easiest thing to pick up where they left off. With that being said, many of those who have been wrongfully convicted restore in the rest of us hope, even when we may be in a place where no hope comes from at all.
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Alejandra de la Fuente — January 22, 2014 @ 6:21 PM — Comments (0)
January 23, 2014 marks 8 years since Alan Crotzer was released from prison for a rape, kidnapping, and robbery he did not commit. In 1981, three men forced entry into a Tampa home, kidnapped two females from the home, drove away, raped both of them and left them tied to a tree. One of the robbery victims was able to identify Alan Crotzer and Douglas James. James had been positively identified as the man who borrowed the car used in the crime. After three different identification attempts, all three suspects were identified, Douglas James, Alan Crotzer, and James’ brother.
Through the identification and trial, Alan Crotzer continued to stand by his story that he was with his girlfriend on the night of the crime. In 1982, Crotzer was convicted of the crimes and sentenced to 130 years in prison, despite his alibi. Over 20 years later, in 2003, DNA was used to identify that Crotzer was not in fact the man who raped the victims. After this event, Douglas James then changed his story; Alan Crotzer was not with him when he committed the crime.
Consequently, on January 23, 2006, the conviction was overturned and Alan Crotzer was a free man after spending 24.5 years in prison. Since then, Crotzer has become a face for the wrongfully convicted. He has spoken the words, “I am a new person”, and has dedicated the last 8 years to making sure his story is told, hoping it can be prevented for others in the future. Congrats, Alan!
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Alejandra de la Fuente — January 20, 2014 @ 8:22 AM — Comments (0)
Dr. Martin Luther King is well known for his ‘I have a dream’ speech that contained memorable lines almost any American can quote. But there were thousands of other words spoken by Dr. King that should not be forgotten. We take one day a year to remember this man who sacrificed so much for so many people. He had a dream and he instilled in us all his hope that we too would have one.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy”. For wrongfully convicted inmates, the days of challenge and controversy most of the time define who they are. However, while Dr. King was an advocate for equal rights, it seems Mr. King could have also looking out for those who have been wrongfully convicted. Mr. King, over 50 years ago, had a dream and all who work to correct the injustices of wrongful conviction also have a dream.
We dream that the wrongfully imprisoned will be reunited with their families, friends, and lives that they were forced to leave behind for a variety of mishaps. We dream that one day innocent men will not find themselves behind bars and one day the work of innocence projects around the world will be unnecessary. And last but not lease, we dream that the gift of freedom will be granted to all who have been victimized by wrongful conviction and wrongful convictions will be a thing of the past.
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Alejandra de la Fuente — October 25, 2013 @ 11:43 AM — Comments (0)
As of October 2013 the number of exonerations documented in the United States was 1,228.
Exonerations nationwide are documented in The National Registry of Exonerations, which is a joint project of the Michigan Law School and Northwestern University School of Law. The registry is a searchable and detailed database of information about those who have been exonerated from prison in the United States.
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.
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Alejandra de la Fuente — 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.
This issue will be addressed in an upcoming lecture at Gage Gallery in Chicago sponsored by Roosevelt University. Recently exonerated Nicole Harris and her attorney Karen Daniel, the co-founder of Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Women, will talk about the particular struggles that wrongfully convicted women face.
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.
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