Posts Tagged ‘exoneration’


Exoneration Anniversary: Jerry Miller!

Taylor Thornton — April 23, 2018 @ 4:47 PM — Comments (0)

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Happy Exoneration Anniversary Jerry Miller!!

On October 1, 1982 Jerry Miller was convicted of rape, robbery, and kidnapping and sentenced to 45 years following the brutal attack of a woman entering her vehicle in a Chicago, Illinois parking garage. Despite his alibi and the victim being unable to accurately identify her attacker, Miller was convicted based primarily on the identification by employees of the parking garage who had seen the true assailant.

In 2005 the Innocence Project took on Miller’s case. A slip worn by the victim at the time containing DNA was tested and Jerry Miller was able to be excluded. At that time, the Cook County State Attorney’s Office joined the Cook County Public Defender’s Office and the Innocence Project in filing a joint motion to vacate Jerry Miller’s conviction. The DNA testing was also able to identify the true attacker when the profile was entered into the FBI offender database. Happy 11 years of freedom Jerry Miller!!

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Exoneration Anniversary: Megan Winfrey and Victor Larue Thomas!

Taylor Thornton — April 17, 2018 @ 10:48 AM — Comments (0)

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Happy Exoneration Anniversary Megan Winfrey!!

In 2008 Megan Winfrey was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 2004 murder of Murray Burr in Coldspring, Texas. Her conviction was based on circumstantial evidence, primarily scent evidence from bloodhounds employed by the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Department who allegedly “alerted” to Megan as well as her brother and father. In February of 2013 Megan Winfrey was acquitted when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the dog scent evidence was insufficient. Megan was released on April 17, 2013 when the state was denied their petition to retry her. Happy 5 years of freedom Megan Winfrey!

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Happy Exoneration Anniversary Victor Larue Thomas!!

Victor Thomas was sentenced to three life terms on June 15, 1986 for the beating and raping of a worker during the robbing of a convenience store in Waxahachie, Texas. Thomas’ conviction rested on his identification by the victim and her testimony in court. After writing numerous letters from behind bars trying to get help, state District Judge Gene Knize took notice of Victor. Judge Knize appointed Victor an attorney, asked the Ellis County District Attorney’s Office to re-investigate the case, and asked for DNA testing. DNA testing excluded Victor from being the attacker and he was released in June of 2001. Finally, Texas Governor Rick Perry pardoned him on April 17, 2002. Happy 16 years of freedom Victor Larue Thomas!!

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The “Junk Science” Behind Bite Mark Analysis

Taylor Thornton — March 19, 2018 @ 3:21 PM — Comments (0)

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Bite mark analysis is a portion of forensic odontology. It is a way to match marks on a victim’s body with a potential perpetrator’s teeth patterns, based on the theory that the victim was bitten by the suspect. Across the country in many different cases, bite mark evidence has been used at trial. Often, the bite mark evidence is the most powerful forensic evidence going against a defendant.

The problem is, bite mark analysis has no real science or research supporting it. There are a number of reasons why testimony regarding bite mark analysis can be incredibly flawed. One reason is that when comparing a suspect’s teeth to a bite mark on a victim, it is not nearly the same as comparing to an impression made at a dentist’s office. Typically the suspects teeth are being compared to a bite into soft tissue or skin. Human skin can heal, it can swell, the body may have even decayed between the time of the crime and when the body was discovered. All of these things can warp the clarity of the bite mark and damage the accuracy of trying to match up a dental impression with the bite. In addition, the teeth of the suspect are typically being compared to a photo of the bite rather than the actual bite, which further skews the reliability.

Another reason why bite mark evidence can be very misleading is that it is presented in court as being right alongside DNA evidence. This is simply not true, DNA is definitively unique to every individual person but bite patterns are simply not this scientifically unique. In fact, it is not even close. Different analysts have come to vastly different conclusions while evaluating the same bite mark evidence. It is dangerous to present such a subjective opinion as scientific physical evidence in court because that kind of evidence is highly persuasive to a jury.

Some experts say that bite mark evidence should only be used to eliminate a potential suspect based on the bite mark not being able to have come from them. At best, bite mark testimony should only conclude that the suspect cannot be excluded from the possibility of inflicting that bite. But, according to forensic dentists, if a bite mark is the only physical evidence against the suspect and the claim is that they are the only person who could have made that bite, that is junk not science.

Bite mark testimony has been responsible for numerous wrongful convictions. One notable case is that of Kennedy Brewer. Brewer was convicted of raping and killing a three-year old girl who was found in lake with several marks on her body that forensic odontologists deemed to be bite marks. It is unclear whether these marks could have come from animals or bugs living in the lake or whether the marks had any scientific integrity after the body had decayed in a body of water. Nevertheless, bite mark testimony convicted Kennedy Brewer of capital murder and sent him to death row. When Brewer was exonerated through post-conviction DNA tests, another innocent man was also able to be exonerated. Levon Brooks was serving his sentence for a very similar rape and murder. When the real perpetrator was found through DNA in Kennedy Brewer’s case, he was found to be responsible for the additional rape and murder that Brooks was convicted of.

Another notable case of wrongful conviction due to the influence of bite mark testimony is that of Ray Krone. After testimony in court from a bite mark expert saying that Krone’s teeth matched a bite mark on the victim, Krone was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. This bite mark analysis was the only physical evidence linking him to the crime. Ray Krone was released in 2002, after 10 years in prison, following DNA evidence proving his innocence. These men were fortunate enough to have their innocence proven. But, there are still countless others sitting in jail convicted of crimes because of the power of bite mark evidence testimony.

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Exoneration Anniversary: Jason Krause

Taylor Thornton — March 01, 2018 @ 12:00 PM — Comments (0)

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Happy One Year Exoneration Anniversary to Jason Krause!

On June 24, 1994 an 18 year old man named Charles Thurman was shot and killed in his Jeep alongside his three friends Terry Eckerman, Amanda Miller, and Stacy Clark in Arizona. His friends testified that he had been causing his Jeep to backfire intentionally at the time when he was fatally shot. The shooting occurred near the home of 39 year old Jason Krause who at the time was out hunting skunks with his .22 caliber rifle. When he heard the car backfire he believed that he heard gunshots so he dropped to the ground at which point he believed that his gun accidentally fired. At least 12 people in the area that were interviewed by police said they heard gunshots that they believed to be coming from the Jeep. But when police told Krause that Thurman’s friends in the car with him reported that there was no guns in the car he told them that he must’ve been the one to shoot Thurman.

Krause was charged with second-degree murder and three counts of attempted second-degree murder. Eckerman, Miller, and Clark all testified in court that there were no guns in the car despite the .22 caliber shell casings found on the floor of Thurman’s Jeep. Another important piece of testimony came from FBI Special Agent Earnest Peele who testified as an expert in comparative bullet lead analysis (CBLA). Peele testified that the bullets found in Thurman’s body and his tires were indistinguishable from those found in Krause’s home.

When it came time for Jason Krause to take the stand he admitted that he had been out hunting skunks with his .22 caliber at the time. He said he heard what he believed were several gunshots and the sounds continued to get closer. Krause testified that he was terrified and he hit the ground, at which time his riffle fired while the Jeep passed by. He admitted that he “must have shot that boy” but he did not recall how it happened.

In May of 1996 Krause was acquitted of second-degree murder but convicted of manslaughter and three counts of attempted manslaughter. He was sentences to 10 years and 6 months in prison and served his entire sentence.

In 2007, one year after Krause’s release, the FBI started a CBLA task force after shredding any validity of CBLA as a credible forensic science. In 2008 they sent a letter to the County Attorney’s office stating that the testimony Peele gave in Krause’s trial could not be supported by the FBI because it was not supported by science. Thus, Jason Krause reached out to the Arizona Innocence Project.

A post-conviction petition was filed by his attorneys in 2012 to overturn his conviction based on the invalid CBLA testimony. At an evidentiary hearing, one expert testified that it would have been impossible for Jason Krause to have been the one to fire the fatal shot that killed Thurman. Another expert testified that the fatal shot came from the back seat. The defense argued at the hearing that it simply was not possible that Jason Krause fired the fatal shot to Thurman’s head from 50 feet away as his Jeep sped by. His trial attorney argued that if he had known the lack of validity for CBLA, he would not have argued for an accidental shooting at trial.

In 2013 the petition was denied by Judge Rick Williams because, in his opinion, this information would not have changed the jury’s opinion. He stated that Krause’s confession led the jury to convict. However, the Arizona Court of Appeals granted Krause a new trial in 2015. The prosecution tried to appeal this decision but they were denied. Finally, on March 1st 2017, the charges against Jason Krause were dismissed when the prosecution denied to retry the case.

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After Exoneration: The Value of a Life

Taylor Thornton — February 22, 2018 @ 12:00 PM — Comments (0)

It’s hard to put a price on the time lost behind prison walls. It is impossible to determine the monetary value of strained and broken relationships, birthdays and Christmases spent alone, years of lost wages, mental and physical suffering, or the missed opportunities to raise your own children or grandchildren. When a human life is so deeply damaged by such a grave injustice, it is necessary for the state to repair that damage to the best of their ability.

Only 32 states and the federal government have laws in place that define exactly how much money is awarded for wrongful convictions. Often this comes in the form of set amounts for each year served, but that number can vary greatly from state to state. The amount will also cap at a certain amount in some states and in many cases these cap at much too low a number. In Wisconsin, for example, there is a bill currently in state legislature aimed at fighting the very low cap of $25,000 for their wrongful conviction rewards.

As far as the other 18 states that make up our country, individuals in these states must fight for their own compensations by passing private bills or filing civil lawsuits if the former fails. This can lead to the incredibly unjust result of these exonerated people receiving no compensation at all if they are unable to get a bill passed or succeed in a civil suit. Even for those who do not win, they must still venture into this battle for justice after they have already had to battle for their own freedom. This is simply unjust and adds insult to injury.

In addition to money, they need help when they are released. Money does play a large role, if the compensation is large enough they can secure a place to live and not have to worry about seeking out employment, at least not for a while. But, they are still being thrown back into a new and unfamiliar world to start essentially from scratch. The average time served for a wrongful conviction is 14 years, and a lot can change in that time. While the freedom of being released is undeniably wonderful, for many of those released that is simply the beginning of a new set of struggles and problems for them. It is more than enough of a hardship to try to readjust to life in the real world outside of the horrors endured behind prison walls. But, for many innocent people, they have no time to think about this upon their release because they have to worry about where they are going to live, how to get a job as many of them still remain with criminal records despite proving their innocence, many have to battle to earn back the custody of their children, and unfortunately many have to fight for any sort of compensation for their wrongful convictions, something that should come automatically.

Along with a substantial monetary compensation for the time taken away from the victims of wrongful convictions, the state needs to provide additional services. Mental and physical health services are needed for those leaving prison. Therapy is essential to help deal with the psychological damage of years spent away from family and friends for a crime they did not commit. In addition, prison presents a high risk for the spread of diseases and proper health services are necessary to evaluate the conditions of these people upon their release. Services are also needed to help them find affordable housing and a job that will employ them in spite of their records. The scars of their wrongful convictions often still serve as roadblocks for them to achieve these basic human necessities, despite their exoneration.

These services are needed to help victims to just initially get back on their fight. But, they need to go even more in-depth. These victims will need to be provided legal assistance to help them get their criminal records clear of their charges once they have been proven innocent. These charges will continue to hold them back from jobs, housing, and relationships as long as crimes that they are not guilty of remain on their record. They will also need legal assistance to fight for monetary compensation in many cases, to regain access to their children, or to sue if their constitutional rights were violated in the process of this wrongful conviction.

For those wrongfully convicted of a crime, finally being released from prison is likely to be the best day of their life. But, it is unfortunately not the end of their nightmarish experience.

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Reasons For Exoneration: Inadequate Legal Defense

Victoria Inzana — October 27, 2017 @ 12:00 PM — Comments (0)

On October 14th, 2016, Jules Letemps was exonerated from prison. He had been charged with sexual assault and kidnapping. At trial, his defense attorney failed to analyze the deposition of the forensic expert during the trial. This deposition contained details of the testing of semen which was found not to have belonged to Letemps, although the forensic expert could not be sure due to the amount of dilution the semen had undergone. During his incarceration, Letemps obtained the help of Centurion Ministries who fully examined this deposition, where experts in serology concluded that the forensic expert had applied an incorrect standard of testing the dilution of the semen. The experts employed by Centurion also excluded Letemps as the source of the semen- which was supposed to have been obtained by the attacker. The new evidence found by Centurion Ministries, combined with Letemps’ original alibi created so much doubt around his conviction that two days before Letemps’ retrial, he was exonerated.

A large problem that defendants have when at trial is obtaining an adequate defense. This post in the blog series Reasons for Exoneration, will focus on the inability of defense lawyers to properly represent their clients. Often states employ inexperienced, overworked, and sometimes incompetent defense lawyers due to a lack of funds to compensate lawyers for their work.

Should a defendant be convicted of a charge and request post-conviction help on the grounds of inadequate defense, and if an Innocence Project representative has the ability to prove inadequate defense (failure to investigate or sins of omission, for example), then the exoneree has not received a fair trial, has had their rights violated, and it is possible that they will be granted a new trial or the charges against them could be dropped altogether, as in the case of Jules Letemps.

The American Bar Association (ABA) has just recently completed an investigation into the Louisiana Public Defender system in February of 2017. During this investigation, the “Delphi Method” was used to determine the number of hours a defense lawyer should be spending on cases in order to present an adequate defense in court. This method consists of expert panels of public defenders and private defense lawyers estimating the amount of time that should be spent on a case. For a low-level felony case, lawyers should be spending an estimated 21.99 hours to investigate. For a felony case carrying a sentence of life without parole, the consensus was that a defense lawyer should be investigating the case for 200.67 hours. At their current rate, Louisiana state Public Defenders only have the capacity to be handling 21 percent of their workload effectively.

Due to this serious issue of inadequate defense, states such as Louisiana and Utah are currently being sued for a failure to meet the constitutional rights of their low-income defendants.  For example, in Louisiana Orleans Parish Chief District Defender Derwyn Bunton and Lousiana State Public Defender James T. Dixon Jr. are being sued after the creation of a waiting list for cases, since there are not enough public defenders to “ethically, constitutionally, or within standers handle those cases” which fall beyond the limited number set by Bunton. The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana are suing on the grounds that this waiting list violates defendants’ Sixth Amendment right to counsel and the 14th Amendment right to due process and equal protection of the laws. In the past, other states have been sued such as New York, Washington, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Idaho, California, and Missouri on similar grounds. Should the problem of inadequate defense remain unresolved, there will likely be more states to be sued in the coming future.

Some proposals to reform this broken system include increased funding for Public Defender’s offices and court-appointed attorneys, and to enact and abide by standards set for workload limits, professional independence, and training requirements. In 2004, Virginia led the nation in the number of executions per capita. Reform was passed after a study completed by a law professor tied the decline of death penalty cases to lack of defense lawyers. This prompted the state legislature to create a system of regional defense offices to handle trial-level capital cases. Since 2005, the average sentencing for a death penalty case doubled from one to two days, to four days. On top of that, Virginia hasn’t executed anyone since 2011. The “new” Virginia death penalty is never imposed, a death sentence is so freakish that it raises constitutional concerns. The reform in Virginia and other evidence presented in this article reinforces the words of Stephen Bright, “[The death penalty is] not imposed upon those who commit the worst crimes, but upon those who have the misfortune to be assigned to the worst lawyers.”

 

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Today in Wrongful Conviction History: December 14th

Alejandra de la Fuente — December 14, 2016 @ 11:11 AM — Comments (1)

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Today is the exoneration anniversary of Philip Bivens, Larry Ruffin, and Bobby Ray Dixon.

In 1979, all three men were wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of a woman in Forrest County, Mississippi. All three gave confessions to the police under the threat of the death penalty. Despite the inconsistencies in their confessions with each other and with the evidence in the case, they were sentenced to life in prison.

In 2010, the Innocence Project New Orleans and co-counsel Rob McDuff obtained DNA testing that effectively excluded all three of the men convicted and instead pointed towards a different man altogether.

Sadly, Ruffin died in prison in 2002 and Dixon passed away from lung cancer in November of 2010. Neither got to witness their official exoneration on December 14th, 2010 when a Forrest Count Grand Jury declined to indict the three men.

In January of 2013, a federal wrongful conviction lawsuit was filed against the Forrest County law enforcement officials for coercing the three men’s confessions. Although Bivens passed away in 2014, the state agreed to pay $500,000 to the estate of Ruffin and $375,000 each to the estates of Bivens and Dixon in 2015. Earlier this year, Forrest County has settled the federal lawsuit for a total of $16.5 million.

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Wrongfully Convicted Man Released after 24 Years in Prison

Alejandra de la Fuente — October 06, 2016 @ 3:16 PM — Comments (0)

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Daryl Holloway, 48, has been released from Green Bay Correctional Facility on October 5th, 2016.

Holloway was convicted in 1993 on two counts of sexual assault and two counts of armed burglary. Now, new DNA testing shows that there were errors in previous DNA testing used during the case “that raised a question whether the results they were getting were reliable,” said Keith Findley, co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project to Fox 11 News.  Therefore, Milwaukee County Judge Thomas McAdams signed the court order vacating both the conviction and the sentence on Tuesday.

“This has been a long thing. I lost family members and different things. I’m trying to rebuild my life now. I came in mid-twenties. Man, I’m almost 50 now. My whole life has changed,” said Holloway after he was released. Despite the uphill battle, Holloway is positive about the road ahead and says his long-term plans might involve studying law.

For now, he encourages victims of wrongful conviction to keep pushing forward. “Keep fighting,” he said. “Don’t give up. It’s like my mama told me. If you’re right, stand up. If you’re wrong, lay down.”

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Man Awarded $15 Million in Wrongful Conviction Settlement

Alejandra de la Fuente — October 03, 2016 @ 1:23 PM — Comments (0)

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After spending 20 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit, Rodell Sanders has received a 15 million dollar settlement in compensation for his wrongful conviction in the 1993 murder of Philip Atkins in Chicago Heights.

On December 15th, 1994, Atkins and his girlfriend, Stacy Armstrong, were shot and left for dead in Chicago Heights. Due to Armstrong’s eyewitness testimony (despite the attacker being tall and thin and Sanders being 5’8” and 200 pounds) and a jailhouse informant who later revealed he received cash payments for testifying, Rodell Sanders was arrested and convicted to 80 years in prison.

This, however, didn’t stop him from giving up. Sanders spent years sending out Freedom of Information requests to learn more about his own case and review trial transcripts. “I didn’t want to die in prison. I wanted to make it back out to my family, and I wanted to expose the Chicago Heights Police Department for exactly what they were,” Sanders told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Sanders’ perseverance, courage, and diligence paid off because, years later, the chief of police in Chicago Heights during the time of the case was convicted, along with six other police officers, of bribery and extortion for taking money from gang leaders and using their position of power to take out the gang’s competitors.

Once this new information reached the public, Sanders dedicated himself to his exoneration and making the state grant him a re-trial. Sanders poured over law books and trial transcripts all to write his own appeal in efforts to get his case back on the court floor. With the help of the University of Chicago’s Exoneration Project, Sanders returned home to his family in July of 2014 after two separate re-trials.

“I don’t know if you can really say it makes things right because I can never get back those 20 years they’ve taken from me,” Sanders said to the Chicago Tribune. “There are many, many things that I’ve lost, and they can never be given back, so no, it doesn’t make it right.” However, at the very least, it allows victims of wrongful conviction to be able to rebuild their lives, families and hope in a new and sometimes unfamiliar world. Now, Sanders works for Loevy & Loevy, the very law firm that represented him during his fight for compensation. He dreams of helping other people who have been wrongfully convicted seek justice.

State compensation for wrongful convictions is an up-hill battle and Sanders’ success can be seen as an exception, not the norm, to the trying efforts of many to receive compensation for their decades spent behind bars. Currently, only 13 states provide any services for exonerees after they have been released from prison. If you want to help the efforts of expanding state compensations and encourage the justice system to give back to its victims, follow the link and sign the pledge!

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Man Wrongfully Convicted of Rape and Robbery Denied Exoneration

Alejandra de la Fuente — September 30, 2016 @ 12:24 PM — Comments (0)

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Lawrence McKinney was freed from prison in 2009 after DNA evidence overturning his 1978 conviction in Memphis, Tennessee. He was wrongfully convicted of rape and burglary and sentenced to 100 years for the rape and 10-15 for the burglary. After 31 years in prison, Lawrence finally saw the promise of freedom in the horizon. However, despite being released and having his record expunged, Lawrence was not officially exonerated of his conviction.

Now, Lawrence’s efforts have been tarnished by a Tennessee parole board who claims that the evidence isn’t sufficient for them to recommend the governor formally exonerate him and make him eligible for compensation. The vote was 7-0 against his innocence, reports AP.

Lawrence’s legal team, which includes Lorna McCulsky from the Innocence Project, states that they plan to request the exoneration directly from Gov. Bill Haslam, bypassing the usual (but not required) board recommendation process. If McKinney is exonerated, he would be eligible for compensation up to $1 million dollars due to his wrongful conviction. Tennesee has only paid compensation to two previous exonerated men before and so, Lawrence’s uphill battle continues as he fights after decades of injustice.

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