Posts Tagged ‘jailhouse snitches’

Florida Innocence Commission Meeting

Alejandra de la Fuente — February 17, 2012 @ 12:44 PM — Comments (0)

On Monday Feb. 13, 2012, the Florida Innocence Commission met at the Supreme Court of Florida. The meeting focused on two of the major contributing factors of wrongful convictions: informants/jailhouse snitches and improper/invalid scientific evidence. The first several hours of the meeting were spent discussing the various options available to the Commission with regard to snitches.

The Commission considered giving recommendations for a set of detailed jury instructions in the case of informant testimony, instituting a rule requiring pretrial screenings to determine the reliability of informants, and amending the discovery rules in the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure (Rule 3.220). Ultimately, a majority of the Commission decided against recommending  pretrial reliability hearings. Commission member Mary Barzee-Flores asserted that it would be inappropriate for the courts to exclude witnesses from testifying because they were deemed unreliable. She said, “it is in the province of the jury to determine whether or not a given witnesses testimony is reliable.” The Commission was, however, in favor of creating a special jury instruction to be used in cases with informant testimony. The Commission moved to recommend the use of an instruction informing juries that some witnesses, like informants or snitches, may have been offered certain things (such as safety from prosecution in another case), in exchange for their testimony and  should thus be treated with more caution than the testimony of other witnesses.

The Commission also moved to have a subcommittee that has previously discussed amending the discovery Rules of Criminal Procedure to continue discussing the language to be used in amending that rule.

The next meeting will take place in Orlando on March 12 at 9:30 a.m. The Commission will continue discussing improper/invalid science and the possibly reforms to prevent their use as evidence in trials. The commission will continue meeting until June 2012, when they will release their final report detailing their findings and recommendations.

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Questionable Membership

Alejandra de la Fuente — October 03, 2011 @ 11:19 AM — Comments (3)

While many of us are culturally unified by various issues and experiences encompassing race, class, and gender there are others who, once upon a time, belonged to organizations which none of us will ever aspire to join, submit a membership card, or inquire about annual dues. The alliances are headed by various state-approved entities where rules and regulations of the guild are determined and outcomes asserted according to a set of guidelines, mandates, and directives. Organizations oftentimes have prominent affiliates and are located in various districts, townships, and provinces across the land, and though most clubs are fraternal, women can also become members if it has been deemed that they, too, meet certain criteria.

Sometimes, however, memberships are deemed to have been instituted in error. Too late, says the various committee chairs: Your intake cannot be retracted. We will in fact move forward.

Five men, Larry Griffin, Leo Jones, Ellis Wayne Felker, Jesse Tafero, and Cameron Todd Willingham, were members of a club which no free person wants to join. Their shared experiences were their executions amid questionable “evidence” related to various crimes.

Two of the men, Jesse Tafero and Leo Jones, were from Florida. Tafero, executed in 1990, maintained his innocence in the 1976 murder of two law enforcement officers at a rest stop off of 1-95 in Broward County. His execution garnered nationwide attention because of its “botched” handling. His state-approved killing was particularly violently, due to the malfunction of the (now-defunct) electric chair. Writing in response to the May 4, 1990 execution, Justice Leander Shaw said that Tafero’s electrocution was a “violent scene with smoke and flames spurting from his [Tafero’s] head.” Only after three attempts did the State successfully meet its objective.

Jones, convicted in 1981 of killing a Jacksonville police officer, was executed in 1998 amid claims of innocence. His “confession,” he maintained, was coerced by the investigating officers who took his “statement.” Several witnesses later came forward in support of his claim of innocence, and court documents in the case supported his assertion.

Convicted in 1981 and executed in 1995 for the murder of Quinton Moss in Missouri, Larry Griffin garnered the support of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and other advocacy groups came to his defense. Although he was executed in 1995, his case was re-opened ten years later. After years of legal wrangling, appeals, and protests by supporters of a new trial, the St. Louis Circuit Attorney, following an extensive case review in 2007, concluded that Griffin was guilty of the crime for which he had been sentenced, and that the State of Missouri had not in fact executed an innocent man. Questions remain, however, regarding his innocence.

Attorneys for Ellis Wayne Felker, executed in1991 at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center (GDCC) in Jackson, Georgia, were refused a new trial for Felker despite having received a plethora of previously unrevealed documents which could have led to a new trial or exoneration. Felker was granted a temporary reprieve (from May-November 1996) due, most likely, to the Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. The State of Georgia certainly could not be marred with the ugliness of an execution during such a global presence. The GDCC was the site of the recent execution of Troy Anthony Davis.

In Texas, which has the renowned feature of being included among the nation’s top five states for executions (Virginia, Oklahoma, Alabama, Ohio are the others), Cameron Todd Willingham’s case comes back into the national spotlight, presumably because of  Governor Rick Perry’s quest for the Republican Party’s nomination for President of the United States. In the face of overwhelming evidence that points to Willingham’s innocence relating to the death of his three daughters in Corsicana, Texas, in 1991, Governor Perry has been met with questions regarding his refusal to allow a probe of the Cunningham case during the height of the litigation.

While it is seriously unfortunate that Griffin, Jones, Felker, Tafero, and Willingham have the dubious distinction of having belonged to fraternities that no one wants to join, what’s more regrettable is that factors that assisted in their membership are continuously being utilized in various courts across the nation, including (faulty) eyewitness testimonies, false confessions, flawed legal counsel, jailhouse snitches, and the withholding of pertinent evidence from defense attorneys.

Our jobs on the outside are to continue the dialogue and to work to eliminate factors which invariably lead to the exclusive memberships.

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IL State Attorney Calls DNA Match “Red Herring” & Other News

Alejandra de la Fuente — August 16, 2011 @ 10:48 AM — Comments (1)

Two cases, ten defendants, and 20 years locked up for someone else’s crime. The Chicago Tribune (Steve Mills) reports that, in both of these two 1990s Cook County, Illinois rape/murder cases, DNA evidence existed right from the start to exonerate the accused. However, false confessions that were quickly recanted contributed to wrongful convictions and the false imprisonment of the accused. Many of these men are still behind bars because the office of State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez is “downplaying” new DNA evidence identifying someone else.

Recently uncovered DNA evidence in both cases pointed to men whose names or records were already in the criminal justice system for similar crimes (including one who was a suspected serial killer).

Prosecutors initially opposed the new round of DNA testing, as well as entering the results in a national law enforcement databank to check for matches. Alvarez dropped the opposition after inquiries from the Tribune, but the office downplayed the importance of any DNA match, saying in court papers it would be a “red herring.” is demanding immediate action by Illinois State officials according to Rashad Robinson at Jack and Jill Politics. We will update information as it becomes available on both cases.

Inmate who claims innocence wonders what he has to do to gain parole. Ron Sylvester in the Wichita Eagle details Ronnie Rhodes predicament after being denied parole for the eighth time for a 1981 murder he claims he did not commit. Evidence that could have been DNA tested has disappeared from Wichita police custody. Despite work done by students at the Washburn School of Law questioning reliability of eyewitness testimony and the quality of Rhodes’s legal representation as well as 20 letters supporting granting him parole, The Prisoner Review Board once again said “no”.

Rhodes who has been in prison for 30 years said, “It’s like every time, they come up with new reasons for turning me down.  It’s frustrating.”

The review board declined comment.

Now it’s the law in California. Defendants cannot be convicted solely on testimony proffered by jailhouse informants reports Bob Egelko in SFGATE.

SB687 by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, applies to cases in which an inmate, often in exchange for leniency, testifies that a cellmate confessed to a crime. The bill, effective next year, will require prosecutors to corroborate that testimony.

Leno praised Governor Jerry Brown for signing this legislation into law. Similar laws exist in 17 other states. Leno noted, “Without the safeguards created in this legislation, the potential for the miscarriage of justice when informant testimony is involved is just too high.”

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Exonerated From Death Row: A Public Forum on Tuesday Oct 19th

Alejandra de la Fuente — October 18, 2010 @ 2:20 PM — Comments (0)

We are excited that Florida A&M University’s Essential Theatre will be performing the stage play The Exonerated on October 22 – 24. Told in their own words, The Exonerated exposes the real life experiences of six Americans who were sentenced to death row for crimes they did not commit. For additional information about the production, read more.

In an effort to heighten awareness of this important issue, the Essential Theatre and FAMU’s Pre-Professional Law Program have partnered to offer “Exonerated From Death Row:  A Public Forum.” The discussion will focus on the areas that typically lead to wrongful convictions:

  • Eyewitness mis-identification,
  • Improper forensic evidence,
  • False confessions or admissions, and
  • Use of informants standing to gain from their testimony.

The forum is scheduled for Tuesday, October 19, 2010 on the Florida A&M University campus.  The forum will begin at 11:00 am and end no later than 1:00 pm. It will take place in the Charles Winter Wood Theatre (located in Tucker Hall) at 515 Orr Drive.

Panel members include:

  • LeRoy Pernell, Dean, FAMU College of Law;
  • Seth E. Miller, Esq., Executive Director, Innocence Project of Florida;
  • Alan Crotzer, Florida DNA Exoneree;
  • David Keaton, Exoneree, Member of the Quincy 5; and
  • Kent Spriggs, Esq., Spriggs Law, PA.

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The Florida Actual Innocence Commission

Seth — December 15, 2009 @ 9:00 AM — Comments (10)

This sounds like something every state should have but most states, including Florida, do absolutely nothing to study the cases where someone is later freed based on DNA or other evidence of actual innocence. The innocent person gets out, there is lots of hoopla and it is a wonderful event for them, their family, and their supporters.  But when the lights of the news cameras go out and the buzz from the exonerations fade, all we are left with is the same criminal justice system that wrongfully convicted these individuals in the first place.

IPF Board Member and former ABA president, Sandy D’Alemberte is aiming change all that.  With the support of IPF and dozens of high-profile, esteemed Florida attorneys supporting him, Sandy has filed a petition with the Florida Supreme Court to create an Actual Innocence Commission that can study cases of wrongful conviction, find out how and why they happened, and make recommendations for reform based on those findings.

A St. Pete Times editorial states:

On Friday, a group of renowned attorneys that includes former Florida Supreme Court justices, former presidents of the American Bar Association and former Florida Bar leaders, petitioned Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Peggy Quince for the formation of an actual innocence commission. The request is modeled after a similar undertaking in North Carolina that brought together judges, police, prosecutors, defense lawyers, victims’ advocates and academics for a two-year review of procedures in the criminal justice system. The commission isolated factors that helped lead to wrongful convictions and recommended changes.

. . .

An innocence commission would comprehensively evaluate investigatory and court procedures, including those for eyewitness identification in cases like Bain’s, and suggest new safeguards. According to the Innocence Project of Florida, witness misidentification contributed to almost 80 percent of the 245 convictions later overturned by DNA testing nationwide.

We should not allow the canard that we have the best criminal justice system int he world to block efforts for reforming a system that is clearly broken.  Wrongful convictions are proof that the system needs help.  A truly healthy criminal justice system is one that recognizes its faults and endeavors to fix them.

This Innocence Commission is a wonderful idea that could pave the way to curing much that is wrong with Florida’s system and it is one we should all support.

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More About Snitch Testimony in Dillon

Seth — November 05, 2009 @ 10:50 AM — Comments (0)

As we chronicled here on Tuesday,  Roger Dale Chapman, who testified during William Dillon’s 1981 trial that Dillon made a jailhouse confession, attended Dillon’s compensation hearing on Monday to set the record straight.  The news reports don’t really do this riveting moment justice.  So I wanted to recount what occurred from my perspective at counsel’s table:

  • While Dillon was on the stand, he was asked about his time in the county jail.  He noted that while he in jail after arrest, he was in a large cell with upwards of 20 inmates and a story about the Dvorak murder came on the TV.  Many people asked him about it and Bill stated that he told them “I had nothing to do with that there.”
  • Dillon also stated that he did not know Roger Dale Chapman, and therefore didn’t know if he had ever spoken with him at the jail.  The first time he found out about Chapman was when Chapman was on the stand testifying to the jailhouse confession at trial.
  • Then Dillon was dismissed and counsel called Roger Dale Chapman to the astonishment of the hearing officers and just about everyone in the room.
  • Chapman stated that he was in the county jail after being falsely accused of rape.  A Sheriff’s Office Agent, Thom Fair, came to him in the jail and made him an agent of the State for the purposes of soliciting damaging admissions from Dillon.  Fair threatened Chapman with jail time if he didn’t comply.
  • Chapman then stated that he went into the “bullpen” where Dillon was being held with many other inmates and, when the story of the murder came on the TV with a picture of Dillon, he asked Dillon whether he did it and Dillon protested his innocence vehemently.
  • Several days later, Fair came back to the jail to meet Chapman.  At this point Fair already knew that medical testing came back which demonstrated that Chapman could not have committed rape.   Yet, when Chapman stated that Dillon didn’t give him anything and maintained his innocence, Fair held out his hand and stated “I have your life in the palm of my hand and if you don’t give me something on Dillon, I can make that rape charge come back.”
  • Fair also told Chapman that they had Dillon as their “fall guy.”
  • Chapman then stated that he didn’t have anything to say so Fair decided to record a statement by Chapman which would implicate Dillon, only when Fair asked the questions about the specifics of the crime, another investigator held up the answers so Chapman could parrot them back for the recording and the eventual transcribed statement.
  • Dillon’s counsel also entered into evidence secret handwritten notes from Dean Moxley, the Chief Assistant State Attorney, indicating that Chapman may have been made an agent of the State and that they already gave him a bond reduction and they should probably enter into a deal with him.
  • Chapman then testified at trial that Dillon confessed to him in jail with detail about the crime.  Chapman’s rape charge was dropped in exchange.
  • After this testimony, Chapman apologized to Dillon for contributing to his wrongful conviction.

Obviously, none of this was turned over to the defense before trial and at trial, the State insisted that there was no deal.

This is the most pernicious kind of misconduct.  Law enforcement had their mind made up and then just needed to fabricate the evidence to fit that preconceived notion.    We call this tunnel vision.

This misconduct seems to have been the norm in Brevard County in the 1980s and the John Preston+snitch formula worked for the State in Dedge and Dillon, and we’ll find out whether it worked in the case of Gary Bennett.

Either way, this is the beginning of the pulling back of the curtain of the muck that regularly served to cause wrongful convictions in Brevard.  I suspect it won’t be the last we hear.

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Snitch admits to lying in Dillon’s case

Alejandra de la Fuente — November 03, 2009 @ 12:42 PM — Comments (1)

Roger Dale Chapman, a jailhouse snitch whose testimony helped to convict William Dillon in 1981, admitted to lying on the stand and apologized to Dillon at yesterday’s compensation hearing.

Chapman was facing sexual battery charges of his own when former Brevard County sheriff’s homicide agent Thom Fair asked Chapman to gather information on Dillon’s involvement in the murder of James Dvorak. When Chapman came back stating that Dillon denied all involvement, Fair promised him dropped charges in his own case if he lied and testified against Dillon. DNA evidence has since proven Dillon’s innocence and exonerated him after 27 years in prison.

Chapman showed sincere remorse toward Dillon during his testimony yesterday, who in turn comforted him by letting him know he understood the circumstances and forgave him.

“Chapman apologized to me in front of everybody,” Dillon, who teared up during the testimony, said after the hearing. “He explained what he had to gain. I was emotionally perplexed, but I know he was pressed into it. I don’t necessarily blame him. He didn’t know me. Fair intimidated him.”

I have met a couple of Florida’s exonerees, including Bill Dillon, and I have to remark on how amazing it is to me that they are so forgiving. After all the wrongs that were made against them, they don’t hold grudges. Al Crotzer said during his June testimony before the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security: “Many in my position would be bitter and burdened by all that was taken during the wrongful incarceration. But I don’t have time for that.” – and he’s right. It’s the realization after losing a quarter century of your life that time is precious and it shouldn’t be wasted with anger. In addition to enjoying the time they have now, they work toward preventing wrongful incarcerations from happening to others. It is truly admirable.

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Florida passes snitching reforms

Alejandra de la Fuente — May 11, 2009 @ 12:15 PM — Comments (0)

On Thursday, Charlie Crist signed Rachel’s Law, requiring law enforcement agencies to ” create guidelines for the use of confidential informants.” The eponymous Rachel Hoffman was a Florida State University grad arrested for possession of marijuana and ecstasy who, rather than face jail time, agreed instead to serve as an informant in a drug buy. While attempting to purchase drugs and a handgun in an undercover sting, Rachel was murdered.

Her death sparked increased scrutiny into the use of police informants. Several bills were introduced into the Florida Legislature in an attempt to regulate and oversee the use of wired informants by Florida police departments. From the St. Petersburg Times:

“Rachel’s Law” calls on agencies to take into account a person’s age and maturity, emotional state and the level of risk a mission would entail. Police also would be barred from promising an informer more lenient treatment; only prosecutors and judges can do that.

Not included are several provisions Hoffman’s parents said could have prevented their daughter’s death, including barring anyone in a drug treatment program, as 23-year-old Rachel was, from going on undercover drug buys.

Grits for Breakfast has more, including this highlight:

My favorite part: Law enforcement must “Provide a person who is requested to serve as a confidential informant with an opportunity to consult with legal counsel upon request before the person agrees to perform any activities as a confidential informant.”

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New Study: Providing Incentives to Snitches Increases False Information

Alejandra de la Fuente — March 26, 2009 @ 11:00 AM — Comments (0)

From TalkLeft:

The results of the first behavioral study to investigate whether people will provide false secondary confessions raises significant concerns about the use of such evidence when informants are offered incentives. The study was conducted by psychological researchers at the University of Arkansas.

A “secondary confession” is a polite name for snitching. A news article on the study is here. The study is now published in the Journal of Law and Human Behavior in an article titled “Snitching, Lies and Computer Crashes: An Experimental Investigation of Secondary Confessions.”

Bottom line: “[A]n incentive increased the rate of false rather than true secondary confessions.”

The blog also has a fuller explanation of how the study worked, but the bottom line is the bottom line. The authors of the study provide these suggestions:

The concern is partly based on confessions being assumed to be the end-all and be-all of trial evidence, when at least in the case of secondary confessions they should be treated as hearsay,” Swanner said.

She and Beike suggested several safeguards, including video recordings of all interviews and interrogations of informants and suspects as well as pretrial hearings and expert testimony to allow jurors to better assess the validity of secondary confessions entered as evidence.

“It is essential for jurors, prosecutors and judges to be informed about the potentially biasing nature of incentives to confess,” they concluded. “Snitches may indeed lie or come to believe a falsehood about another to be the truth. Jurors must be able to consider this possibility as they make their verdicts.

To learn more about what can be done to prevent false confessions as well, read our page here.

Visit IPF’s Website here; sign up to volunteer here; contribute to our work here.

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From a friend of Tompkins

Alejandra de la Fuente — March 12, 2009 @ 9:56 AM — Comments (0)

Michael Lambrix has been on death row in Florida for 26 years. Today one of his journals is posted on the Death Row Journals blog here. He expresses sadness and disbelief over Wayne Tompkins’ execution on February 11 of this year. Having known Tompkins personally, and referring to him by his Native American name “Grey Cloud,” Lambrix explains that Tompkins’ conviction was based entirely on circumstantial evidence, and he explains his more general misgivings over death sentences that are obtained all the time with such scant evidence. This was a particularly well-written section:

But nobody can deny that our judicial system is far less then perfect. In recent years at least 25 prisoners on Florida’s death row alone have been found to have been wrongfully convicted and then judicially exonerated and released from prison. Recently the ‘Innocence Project” has announced that just in the last decade they have proven the innocence of at least 200 men through DNA evidence. This undeniable virtual epidemic of injustice should compel any person of moral conscience to question the validity of any conviction based upon wholly circumstantial evidence. The fact is that as a civilized society we owe it to ourselves to insist that if we are going to put a person to death, there can not be any question of guilt. To allow any execution of a person whose guilt [is] in question will inevidently [sic] result in the execution of an innocent person.

The Maryland Senate took hesitant steps recently to assure that death sentences could only be handed down in cases where there was biological evidence, a taped confession, or a taped crime. That is a meaningful step, but it does not go far enough.

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