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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Alejandra de la Fuente — January 14, 2015 @ 3:15 PM — Comments (0)
For any released prisoner, regardless of guilt or innocence, the transition from jail to freedom is difficult. Ex-prisoners must re-adapt to the demands and social norms of every day life, all while dealing with the stigma that having been incarcerated brings. Yet, while many prisoners who are released on parole or at the expiration of their sentence have access to social workers, parole officers, halfway houses, and other services designed to guide them through this difficult transition, prisoners who are found innocent and exonerated are not eligible for these services. Keith Findley of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, in regards to the case of Forest Shomberg, who was exonerated in 2009 without access to any transitional services, sums up the issue nicely—
“If you’re guilty of a crime, you get more support from the state when you’re released than if you’re innocent.”
Although there are methods in place for exonerees to receive monetary compensation, either through state wrongful conviction compensation statutes or by filing civil rights claims, this is often a lengthy process that may not prove to be fruitful (as discussed in this previous blog post). In the meantime, the exoneree is left penniless and without the ability to support themselves. Frank Graves, exonerated in 2010 after being incarcerated for 18 years, laments
“I walked out from solitary confinement out onto the streets with nothing.”
This scenario is all too common for the wrongfully convicted in Florida, as the state releases exonerees with nothing more than the possessions they had on them when they entered the prison and a one-way bus ticket. The state does not acknowledge their own wrongdoing, or the difficulties that the exoneree will soon be facing in the outside world.
For example, exonerees often struggle to afford legal fees, medical bills, counseling, and other services that are necessary to get back on their feet. They face emotional challenges such as post-traumatic stress disorder or feelings of alienation from society and family members, as exemplified in this New York Times article about exoneree Jeffrey Deskovic. And because records are not always expunged and the charges for which the exonerees were wrongly convicted often received much public attention, exonerees face difficulties proving themselves worthy of employment, making it even more difficult to succeed.
In other words, the battle isn’t over once the innocent are exonerated; there is still much to be done to ensure their successful reintegration into society. One step being taken by the Innocence Project of Florida is the Exoneree Support Fund, which provides exonerees with support, food, clothing, shelter, and health services during their transition from incarceration to freedom. IPF was the first innocence organization to have a full-time social worker on staff to provide assistance to exonerees and to manage the Exoneree Support Fund. We have been fortunate to have been funded for the next three years by the Archibald Foundation of Tallahassee in support of the Exoneree Support Fund. By recognizing and addressing the difficulties inherent in the transition to freedom, we assert that we still care about the wrongfully convicted even when they are no longer behind bars.
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Alejandra de la Fuente — September 19, 2014 @ 9:42 AM — Comments (1)
When the American system of justice allows an innocent person to be wrongfully convicted and imprisoned, someone else is getting away with murder. Murder or another crime — but the point is that laws and policies throughout the United States limit access to state-of-the-art DNA testing for inmates who claim innocence. On September 18, 2014, the Newark Star-Ledger Editorial Board published an editorial titled, “End the absurd bureaucracy around DNA testing.”
Given the incredible power of DNA to exonerate the innocent and expose the guilty, it’s alarming that a mountain of red tape still impedes its use.
The fact that, out of the 317 exonerations due to exculpatory DNA crime scene test results cited in the editorial, 153 of those results enabled police and prosecutors to identify and catch the real perpetrator, barriers to current DNA testing only serve to destroy innocent lives and let the guilty walk scot-free. As the Star-Ledger editorial notes:
This is not only a problem for the wrongly imprisoned, it’s a threat to public safety.
In Florida, past laws impacting post-sentence DNA testing were fraught with time limits for filing petitions and limitations on how long physical evidence from crime scenes was preserved. In 2006, Florida legislators removed those time limits and extended the time period for preservation of evidence. And to this state’s credit, all DNA test results conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have the ability to be run through both the state’s DNA database and the FBI’s CODIS. In New Jersey, the reliance on private labs for post-sentence testing means that the real perpetrator’s DNA may not be run through CODIS for a possible match ensuring that the true culprit will never be identified.
Gerald Richardson, a 2013 exoneree who was represented by the Innocence Project in New York, will testify before the legislature in New Jersey advocating that the state require post-sentence DNA tests to be compared with CODIS. Not only would identifying the real perpetrator speed the timeframe in which the falsely convicted are released from prison, but public safety would be improved by getting the true criminal off the streets. Our laws and policies should enhance Americans’ safety, not endanger it.
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Alejandra de la Fuente — August 06, 2014 @ 3:58 PM — Comments (0)
Michael Phillips’ 24-year nightmare is finally over. In 1990 in a Dallas motel room, a young white woman was brutally raped by a black man wearing a mask. At the time of the assault, Phillips was sleeping in his own room at the motel, but that fact proved inconsequential. Police dragged him out of bed at gunpoint, he was then“identified” in a police lineup, and convicted of a crime he did not commit. He then spent the next 12 years of his life paying the price of a crime committed by another man. Worst of all, he was unable to be with his father when he died, simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But this was just the beginning of his hardships.
Michael Phillips was released from prison in 2002. However, that was hardly an improvement in his life. Yes, he may had been physically freed, but according to the State of Texas, he was still a convicted rapist. Not just any rapist, but a black man who raped a 16-year-old white girl. He was forced to register as a sex offender and to live with the intense social stigma associated with that title. There was now nowhere he could go where he would not be looked upon as a monster. His life was effectively ruined. This is the quiet tragedy of a false conviction: not only was Phillips wrongfully incarcerated in prison for 12 long years that he can never reclaim, but he then had to live as an ex-con/sexual predator once freed. His wrongful conviction did not just rob him of the the time he served, it stole a quarter-century of this innocent person’s life. Whatever possible future Michael Philip was heading toward in 1990, it was destroyed by the very justice system that was supposed to protect him. Phillips life will forever be defined by a series of tragic mistakes, oversights, and possible prejudice.
On July 24th, 2014, Michael Phillips was at long last exonerated by a Dallas judge. After 24-years of prison, 24-years of shame, and after living decades of injustice, Mr. Phillips’ is finally recognized as the innocent man that he always was. Unfortunately, Phillips is now a 57-year old in a wheelchair slowly dying from Sickle Cell Anemia. He will never get his life back. Yes, the state will give him some money to compensate for their mistake, but money will not buy back one second of Mr. Philips’ life. People are only given one precious life to live in this world. Our legal system cannot continue to play so lightly with human lives. These are not mistakes which can be fixed. Mr. Philips is human being, and while his life may have been broken by an unfortunate series of events, he still has to keep on living it. This is the core reason why the post-conviction innocence movement is so critical. We cannot keep allowing innocent lives to be wrecked because of mistakes.
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Alejandra de la Fuente — May 22, 2014 @ 12:26 PM — Comments (0)
On this day eight years ago, Orlando Boquete regained his rightful status as a free and innocent man after spending 13 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. With the assistance of the Innocence Project, Orlando was finally able to secure an exoneration for a rape he did not commit and restore the justice which had been denied to him.
It was June 25, 1982 when a Stock Island, Florida woman was sexually assault in her bedroom by a bald, Latino man with no shirt. Within minutes of the incident police had stopped a group of Latino men for questioning at a nearby convenience store. Within that group of Latino men, there was only one who meet the description of being shirtless and bald – Orlando Boquete. He was taken into custody and later “identified” by the victim, while sitting in a patrol car parked 20 feet away. Despite Orlando’s solid alibi of having been at home with his family at the time of the crime, his identification by the victim proved to be enough for a conviction and 50-year sentence.
However, Orlando was quite determined to not have years of his life robbed away for a crime he did not commit. In 1983 he escaped from prison and spent 10 years avoiding the punishment which had been wrongly assigned to him. Unfortunately, his freedom was once again cut short when he was apprehended and re-incarcerated in the early 90s. In 2003 he filed a motion to have DNA from the crime tested for the first time. In 2005 the DNA results proved that the assailant was not Orlando Boquete and he had been wrongfully convicted. He was exonerated on May 23, 2006 and was released from custody on August 22nd of the same year.
We spoke to Orlando for the writing this post, and he was happy to report that things have been going well in his post-exoneration life. He is currently living in the Naples area, where he is enjoying his long-deserved freedom. Currently, he is working on obtaining U.S. citizenship, as well as his much-deserved compensation for the years he spent wrongfully imprisoned.
In his free time he enjoys spending time around athletes and being in an environment which supports athletics. At the time of our phone call he was very excited to be supporting a friend and fellow Cuban athlete who was preparing for an upcoming sporting event. On a less happy note (but one that highlights the long-term impact of wrongful convictions), he stated that while he was happy about his upcoming anniversary, he will not be able to truly celebrate until he is once again able to see his family in Cuba. Sadly, due largely to his conviction and issues relating to it, Orlando has not been able to see his family for 35 years. However, he was very excited about the fact that he will be moving to Tallahassee in a month. He stated that he is making the move to be closer to the Innocence Project of Florida, whom he calls “his family”.
We are truly happy for Orlando and we are very excited to celebrate the anniversary of justice being restored in his life.
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Alejandra de la Fuente — March 28, 2014 @ 10:23 AM — Comments (0)
There were 25 exonerations nationwide in the first quarter of 2014, which set the pace to break the record of exonerations yet again. Five exonerations took place in New York, more than any other state, and other states who had at least one exoneration include Michigan, Maryland, Louisiana, Illinois, Texas, Hawaii, California, District of Columba, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, and Virginia.
Nine of these cases were murder cases and nine were cases where no crime in fact even occurred, over one third of the total for the first quarter. Glenn Ford was exonerated in Louisiana in February after spending 30 years on death row. He brought the death row exoneree total to 106 people.
The first quarter shows us that 2014 will be a promising year in undoing wrongful convictions. Check out the article from the Exoneration Registry here to learn more about the first quarters success.
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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 — 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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Alejandra de la Fuente — September 13, 2013 @ 2:28 PM — Comments (0)
California Innocence Project Exoneree and NFL-hopeful Brian Banks was released from the Atlanta Falcons during a pre-season cut to the 53-man team. Banks was one of ten players released. Banks is neither upset nor dismayed. He noted his performance on the field was behind that of his peers because of his absence from the game and he put everything he had out there on the field.
Banks looks forward to free agency as well as other opportunities. He recently posted on his twitter account:
“As most have heard, my time with the Atlanta Falcons has come to an early end. I want to thank Mr Blank, Dimitroff,& Smith for such an amazing and unforgettable opportunity. This experience has shown me a piece of life that was once taken, and where things (football wise) would have been if it wasn’t for the 10 years of life loss.”
Banks has not announced any plans to continue playing football though he has tweeted about speaking engagements and other events he may be available for. Banks is the keynote speaker at the Innocence Project of Minnesota’s annual benefit on October 17th.
There have also been tweets about a potential documentary of his life story. Whatever the future holds for Banks, we hope for success for him as he continues to spread his story of exoneration and innocence.
More information about Brian Banks can be found at ABC News , the NFL, and The National Registry of Exonerations, as well as IPF’s blog Plain Error.
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Alejandra de la Fuente — September 06, 2013 @ 2:50 PM — Comments (0)
New York exoneree Jeffery Deskovic was recently awarded $5.4 million dollars for his wrongful conviction and imprisonment in a murder/rape case. Deskovic was convicted when he was 16 years old and served 15 years in prison after being forced to confess by police and a hired polygraph investigator. Deskovic was told if the DNA test came back negative then he would be cleared as a suspect and freed. The DNA tests returned without Deskovic’s DNA present, and yet he remained in custody because of his false confession.
Jeffery spent almost half of his life imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. The Peekskill Common Council board recently awarded him $5.4 million in return for the years spent in jail. Since being exonerated in 2011 with the help of the Innocence Project, Jeffery has earned his Masters Degree in Criminal Justice, started a foundation in his own name, and is working to further the exoneration of others who are wrongfully imprisoned.
Deskovic’s foundation has helped many already and will continue to help those in need. They offer services for recent exonerees who are often without anyone to turn to as well as research into wrongful incarceration cases.
More information about Deskovic can be found at The Innocence Project, Deskovic Foundation, and Lohud.com.
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