Posts Tagged ‘James Bain’

My Experience at Innocence Project of Florida’s 2016 Steppin’ Out Spring Gala

Kate Mathis — June 16, 2016 @ 1:00 PM — Comments (0)

Innocence Project of Florida’s annual Steppin’ Out Spring Gala on May 12 was a huge success this year. The major fundraising event for the project generated over $70,000 in funds that will go towards litigation efforts in IPF’s fight to free the wrongfully convicted in Florida prisons.

Serving as a Criminal Justice Communications Intern at IPF since the beginning of January 2016, I was looking forward to the event in the months leading up to it for several reasons. I used to complain about having to write papers for classes, but in my position as an intern, I research topics related to wrongful conviction and write blog posts and articles about them throughout the day. I came to love something I once groaned about because through writing countless pieces about the issue of wrongful conviction in this country, not only have I greatly improved my writing skills, but I have also learned so much about the topic and have a newfound admiration for the innocence movement. I have learned about hundreds of exonerees and read their tragic stories of how the criminal justice system literally took their lives away from them, and in turn have written a number of articles about a handful of them. I knew that I would finally be able to meet a few of the courageous men I had written about at Steppin’ Out, which is one of the main reasons I was quick to volunteer for and attend the event.

I think I speak for the majority of the innocence movement when I say that we look at exonerees as celebrities, on par with the likes of any famous movie or sports star. But unlike most Hollywood A-listers, exonerees did not earn their fame by starring in movies or being really good at a sport; they earned it solely through their courage and determination to prove their innocence—no matter how long it took. After Netflix released Making a Murderer last December, Steven Avery became a household name practically overnight. The nation, and now even the world, was astonished and disgusted with the injustices Avery had experienced. And while his story finally brought the long-time issue of wrongful conviction to widespread public attention, Avery’s story is just one of thousands. Take, for example, James Bain, who was exonerated in 2009 with the help of IPF after spending 35 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit. Thirty-five years. To put that into perspective, since James went to prison in 1974 and before his release, the text message was invented, terrorists attacked our country on 9/11, and Americans elected the nation’s first African American president. At the time of his release, James had served the most time wrongfully incarcerated of all the DNA exonerees across the country.

James was just one of the few exonerees that attended Steppin’ Out and that I had the pleasure of briefly meeting. Also in attendance was Orlando Boquete, who I was particularly excited to meet because of all the great things I had heard about him through staff members at IPF. Orlando actually managed to escape from his wrongful conviction twice, and although that makes him ineligible for compensation, he was able to fulfill his dream of becoming a U.S. naturalized citizen on March 27, 2015. The moment Orlando walked into the gala event, he lit up the entire room with his positive, outgoing, and warm presence. To have such a great attitude and outlook despite everything he has been through is truly amazing. Other Florida exonerees also in attendance included Seth Penalver, who was exonerated from death row in 2012, and William Dillon and Derrick Williams, who were exonerated through the efforts of IPF.

Some of the wrongfully convicted from other states also attended Steppin’ Out, including Clay Chabot and Richard Rosario. I was especially excited about meeting Richard, who actually had his conviction overturned recently on March 23. A series about Richard’s story was even featured on Dateline NBC. Having written a couple blog posts about him due to his recent release from prison and the series about him, it was surprising to see him at the event, but just as exciting nonetheless. Watching all of the exonerees interact with each other was such a unique experience, and it was truly rewarding to observe first-hand a bond they share that only they can understand.

Another main reason I was excited to attend Steppin’ Out was because Sister Helen Prejean was being honored at the event. I first have to thank Gordon Waldo, whose capital punishment class I took during my Spring 2015 semester at the Florida State University. Within the first couple weeks of class, he showed us the film Dead Man Walking, in which Susan Sarandon stars as Sister Helen, and depicts her first time serving as a spiritual advisor for an inmate on death row. Later on in the semester, Mr. Waldo dedicated an entire section of the course to innocent people awaiting the death penalty and showed us a few different films about the wrongfully convicted and the innocence movement. His capital punishment class is where I learned that someone could go to jail for a crime they did not commit, and also where I learned about innocence projects and the amazing pro-bono work that they do to free the wrongfully convicted. Had it not been for Mr. Waldo’s class, I may not have known about the issue of wrongful conviction and the innocence movement until much later, and perhaps I would have never applied to be an intern at IPF. Therefore, I credit the irreplaceable and incredible experience I have had interning at IPF to Mr. Waldo. He actually attended Steppin’ Out, and I was extremely happy for him that he was able to meet the remarkable woman whose movie he has shown in his capital punishment class for several years.

Often called the “Mother Teresa of Death Row,” Sister Helen is known for her extensive work in advocating against the death penalty, and continues to touch lives with her selfless passion for helping others. She is one of the nicest, most humble, and welcoming human beings I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, and to even be in her presence was truly an honor. Upon accepting her Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte Commitment to Justice Award, Sister Helen delivered a speech that left not a single dry eye in the room. Listening to her stories and experiences was inspiring and perhaps even life changing, and it seems almost impossible that one person could be so selfless and caring. One part of her speech in particular resonated with me. After commending the exonerees for their bravery and relentless efforts to prove their innocence and how happy they must be now that they are finally free again, Sister Helen asked, “but what about the people advocating and fighting for them and the people working at innocence projects?” She went on to tell the exonerees and other patrons in attendance to imagine how great the lawyers and other members of innocence organizations must feel, knowing that their efforts to free the wrongfully convicted were worth it because they were victorious. Although I am just an intern and play no direct role in litigating cases or securing exonerations, I think that even one more person who learns more about the criminal justice system, necessary reforms, and especially the problem of wrongful convictions can make a difference. In addition to my internship at IPF, Sister Helen’s speech inspired me to want to remain an active member in the innocence movement and to one day hopefully make a difference—no matter how small—in at least one person’s life.

Overall, to sum up my first experience at the annual IPF Steppin’ Out Spring 2016 Gala, it was humbling, to say the least.

Here are a few photos from the event:

Exonerees Orlando Boquete and Richard Rosario

Exonerees Orlando Boquete and Richard Rosario

Sister Helen Prejean

Sister Helen Prejean

From left to right: IPF Executive Director Seth Miller, exoneree James Bain, exoneree Orlando Boquete, IPF Staff Attorney Melissa Montle, exoneree William Dillon, IPF Assistant Director Toni Shrewsbury, exoneree Clay Chabot, Sister Helen Prejean, IPF Director of Social Services Anthony Scott, death row exoneree Seth Penalver, exoneree Richard Rosario, exoneree Derrick Williams, IPF Investigator Jennie Nepstad

From left to right: IPF Executive Director Seth Miller, exoneree James Bain, exoneree Orlando Boquete, IPF Staff Attorney Melissa Montle, exoneree William Dillon, IPF Assistant Director Toni Shrewsbury, wrongfully convicted Clay Chabot, Sister Helen Prejean, IPF Director of Social Services Anthony Scott, death row exoneree Seth Penalver, wrongfully convicted Richard Rosario, exoneree Derrick Williams, and IPF Staff Investigator Jennie Nepstad

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IPF Exonerees Speak to Students about their Wrongful Convictions

Kate Mathis — March 03, 2016 @ 4:00 PM — Comments (0)

On Wednesday, February 24, two of Innocence Project of Florida’s (IPF) very own exonerated clients spoke to students at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee (USFSM) campus about their wrongful conviction experiences. The panel was hosted by USFSM, IPF, and the Evelyn M. Duvall Family Studies Initiative. Exonerees James Bain and Derrick Williams presented during the panel, among others.

On the night of March 4, 1974, a nine-year-old boy was taken from his home, brought to a nearby baseball field, and raped. When the boy returned home following the rape, he was wearing only a t-shirt and underwear. Upon describing his assailant and that he identified himself as Jimmy, the victim’s uncle implicated 19-year-old James Bain, who went by Jimmy at the time. Bain was a student at the high school where the uncle served as assistant principle. The victim then identified Jimmy Bain as his attacker to the police form a photo lineup containing a school photo of Bain. Despite having an alibi and the lack of confession, Bain was arrested for the crime.

A full description of the crime and Bain’s trial can be accessed here.

Despite all the testimony presented by the defense, Bain was convicted of rape, breaking and entering, and kidnapping and handed a life sentence.

While serving time, he filed four motions for DNA testing, all of which were denied. His fifth motion was originally denied, but an appeals court overturned the denial. Bain’s case was then accepted by IPF, with Bob Young, General Counsel for the 10th Judicial Circuit Public Defender, serving as co-counsel. Bain’s motion for DNA testing was finally accepted, and victim’s underwear were sent to a private laboratory in Ohio for testing. Results concluded that Bain was excluded from having left the semen in the victim’s underwear, proving that someone else was the victim’s attacker.

Bain was declared actually innocent and released from prison on December 17, 2009. Having been arrested when he was only 19-years-old, Bain was 54 when he was finally released from prison. He spent 35 years in prison for the crimes he did not commit, one of the longest sentences served by a DNA exoneree nationwide.


On August 6, 1992 at 5:30 PM, a woman arrived at her home where she saw a black male on her porch holding a white cloth. After a physical altercation, the man drove both of them to a nearby orange grove. After vaginally and orally raping the victim, the assailant tied her up and then exited the vehicle to smoke one of the victim’s cigarettes. During that time, she managed to untie herself and she drove away with her attacker’s cloth and shirt still in the vehicle, leaving him in the orange grove.

Originally, the victim described her assailant as standing 5’6” to 5’8” tall, with a scar near his stomach. Derrick Williams was 5’11” with a scar on the center of his back. The victim also stated that she did not get a good look at the attacker, nor did she look at his back. During a photo lineup, the victim was shown 33 photos, two of which were photos of Williams. Noticing the occurrence of these two photos, the victim identified Williams as her attacker.

Williams was convicted of kidnapping, sexual battery, robbery, grand theft motor vehicle, and battery and received to consecutive life sentences.

A full description of the crime and Williams’ trial can be accessed here.

IPF accepted Williams’ case after his sister-in-law wrote to the organization in August of 2006 seeking help for her relative. A full description of Williams’s case and IPF’s post-conviction representation of Williams can also be viewed in the link above.

Williams was exonerated and released from prison on April 4, 2011 after spending 18 years in prison for crimes he did not commit.

Bain received $1.7 million from the state of Florida in compensation for his wrongful conviction, while Williams has yet to receive any.

Both exonerees discussed their wrongful incarceration struggles. Bain told listeners:

“I tried and tried, ladies and gentlemens, to get my case heard. But each time, it was a failure. Each time.”

Williams also lamented his time in prison:

“I cried many days, many days about ‘Why this happened to me? Why this happened to me?’ But there’s only one person you got to ask that question to.”

Pointing upwards, Williams went on to explain how he got through his struggles:

“God, what’s going on in my life? When God do open doors for you, you make the best of it…. There come a time in life when things happen to you. You don’t look at the bad, you look at what’s bringing you forward.”

Along with Bain and Williams, the panel also included presentations about their own perspectives from Robert Cromwell, a retired FBI agent and president of IPF’s board of directors, Larry Eger, a public defender for the 12th Judicial Circuit, and Harriet Hendel, a retired educator and an IPF board member.

Cromwell also explained to listeners that eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful conviction and that eyewitnesses are not reliable, especially if they are of a different race than the person they saw committing a crime. He also commented on the criminal justice system, stating that:

“Something that I learned through my career that I didn’t necessarily know when I was a criminal justice student is this not a level playing field that we’re working with. The criminal justice system is not a level playing field. I saw it as a cop, I saw it as a NCIS agent, I saw it as a FBI agent. A lot of things need to change and there are a lot of things that could be done better.”

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Two FL Exonerees to Speak this Sunday

Anna Fitzpatrick — June 21, 2013 @ 9:30 AM — Comments (1)

This Sunday, June 23rd, Florida exonerees James Bain and Derrick Williams will be speaking at Impact Church in Tampa, FL. Combined, these men spent 53 years in prison, with James Bain serving the longest sentence of any of the DNA exonerees nationwide.

The event begins at 2:30 pm. The church is located at the following address:

8019 N Himes Ave Suite 102

Tampa, FL 33614

If you’re in the area we hope you can make it out!

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Life on the Outside

Jessica — March 01, 2013 @ 5:37 PM — Comments (1)

After serving seven years in a prison for a crime he did not commit, Ronald Ross walked out into the free world on February 22, 2013. Wrongfully convicted of attempted murder in 2006, Ross spent seven unnecessary years behind bars. Yet his lawyers claim that he has no desire to retaliate against the justice system. Ross would rather focus on regaining his life.

Ross spoke with about his new life on the outside. Ross claims to ABC , “I’m just like a newborn baby, got to take one step at a time.” The lawyers of the Northern California Innocence Project worked diligently on Ross’ case in order to exonerate him from a wrongful conviction. The challenges for Ross may, unfortunately, become more difficult before becoming any easier.

It is difficult to imagine the psychological toll of a wrongful conviction. It was loosely described to me as if one is relocated to a foreign country where the language and the customs are very different. Nothing is remotely the same, therefore the brain must learn to adapt to the foreign environment creating new physical pathway of thought processes. In an exceedingly new environment, one has no choice but to ask for help in order to function. The Innocence Project of Florida employs a social services professional who specifically works with the exonerees to ease the transition from behind bars to life on the outside. These wrongfully convicted individuals spent many years, even decades, in prison.

James Bain, exonerated by the Innocence Project of Florida in 2009 after 35 years of wrongful incarceration, said he was very worried about transitioning from his life in prison to life on the outside but felt a sigh of relief when he found out that IPF would provide him transitioning services. He states that the transition was incredibly difficult but is glad IPF was there for support after his exoneration.

Serving time in prison can feel like being frozen in time. While the world continues to grow and advance, those convicted must remain separate, and thus causing a disconnect between life before and after prison. Inmates may experience similar anxieties and thoughts, however, the experiences of one inmate are never exactly the same as the other. Every life, every case, and every exoneration is highly individualized. The successful assimilation back into society depends greatly on the social and familial support system.

Having a family for support during the entire process has shown to increase the success of the individual. Since the wrongfully convicted individual is not the only one affected, this year Steppin’ Out with The Innocence Project of Florida is paying tribute the family members who lost a loved one for decades to a wrongful conviction. Join James and other exonerees on April 5, 2013, from 6-9 p.m. at the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Miami, Florida. Click here to find out more about Steppin’ Out 2013.

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“I loved the parties and chasing the pretty girls.”

Jessica — January 18, 2013 @ 4:24 PM — Comments (0)

Being young is a time for mistakes and successes along with a carefree attitude; no one should ever have this experience taken from them, especially when it involves a wrongful conviction. Unfortunately many people have suffered at the hands of an imperfect criminal justice system. Not only have these wrongful convictions affected the lives of these men and women, but also their families as well as those of us who care about the justice system. William Dillon and James Bain are only 2 of 302 people who have been exonerated using DNA testing nationwide; these men featured in Unlock the Truth are incredible human beings who faced overwhelming odds and came out of prison grateful rather than bitter.

If you have never watched Unlock the Truth, please take the time now.

My personal reaction to Unlock the Truth is difficult to explain. As a senior in college, I am 21 years old with much ahead of me in the coming years. It continually rings in my head, “I loved the parties and chasing the pretty girls.” This should have been the only worry in William Dillon’s mind; yet he was faced with a life sentence for a murder he did not commit at the young age of 22. James Bain was only 19 when he was wrongfully convicted of rape and kidnapping; the lives of these young men were taken away for crimes neither of them committed.

I think about the dilemmas I face in my life and how trivial each and every one is compared to what William and James faced when they were my age. I can’t imagine the confusion, the anger or the hopelessness. The accounts of their incarceration as well as the toll it took on their families was the most emotional part of Unlock the Truth. William Dillon’s father questions, “What did I do wrong as a dad?” just as James Bain’s sister claims, “Every time we went to see him, I would go but I didn’t want to go because I knew he wasn’t coming back.” The struggle and strife these families endured is painful and understanding the unnecessary pain is challenging. Fortunately these families were reunited after decades lost.

Organizations such as the Innocence Project of Florida and all of the innocence projects around the world give the wrongfully convicted hope. Dillon repeats, in his account, as tears roll down his face, “I thank them very much because without them, it won’t happen, it won’t happen, it won’t happen.”

The process of exoneration is a long and daunting task; however without the persistence and the perseverance of those who working to correct these injustices, Dillon is right – “it just won’t happen.” From attorneys and legal interns to volunteers and fundraisers, every person has the ability to help unlock the truth for the wrongfully imprisoned.

Let us know what you thought after watching Unlock the Truth.

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A Week of Outreach

WSainvil — October 26, 2012 @ 11:26 AM — Comments (0)

Spreading awareness about IPF and wrongful convictions is crucial in the fight against injustices found in the legal system. A community that is knowledgeable about wrongful convictions is one that will be able to recognize the causes, effects and the harm they cause to innocent persons and society. For this reason IPF spent the week of the October 14th, spreading awareness about our project throughout Florida.

On the 16th Jackie Pugh, James Bain and Robert Cromwell visited Florida Southern College in Lakeland. Pugh, IPF’s development coordinator,  spoke to an audience of over 60 people about IPF and the work that we do.

Cromwell, an IPF board member and retired FBI Special Agent in Charge, spoke about reforms that are necessary to correct two of the causes of wrongful convictions – witness misidentification and false confessions .

“What can I do about yesterday? I can only live for today,” James Bain said to the audience filled with students, professors and community members.

He spent an hour answering questions that revealed after spending 35 years in prison, he has done nothing more than move forward with his life. He shared with the audience how he met his wife and being a father to a six month old son named James Jr.

A similar presentation was held at Rollins College in Winter Park on Oct. 17th. Pugh introduced IPF to the audience. She was accompanied by William Dillon who gave the guests a first hand account of his wrongful conviction and how his exoneration has affected his life.

Our last stop was at Stetson University in DeLand Fla on the 19th. IPF was invited by the Bonner Program to give a presentation.

Photos of James Bain at Florida Southern via

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RSVP to Step Out for Justice with IPF

Chelsea — April 11, 2012 @ 12:28 PM — Comments (2)

RSVP today to reserve your spot to step out and support the innocence movement and sponsor fairness in our justice system. The evening will feature a special VIP reception where you’ll get to meet and speak with some of Florida’s exonorees, a magnificent silent auction, dinner with keynote speaker Professor Larry Marshall, an awards ceremony, and more.

Buy your ticket for justice today!

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Steppin’ Out with Florida’s Exonorees

Chelsea — February 28, 2012 @ 5:56 PM — Comments (2)

Steppin’ Out with the Innocence Project of Florida is your opportunity to meet many of Florida’s exonerees who spent two or three decades wrongfully imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. Chat with them one-on-one at the VIP reception. Hear their inspiring stories of hope and perseverance.

You’ll get to know Derrick Williams, Alan Crotzer, Orlando Boquete, James Bain, William Dillon and others.  Learn what life is like after exoneration for them and their families.

William Dillon will perform several songs from his CD including Black Robes & Lawyers.  He wrote all of the songs on the CD during his 27.5 years of wrongful incarceration.

Buy your tickets today and step out for justice for the many others remaining in prison yet completely innocent.

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Mike Farrell: Human Rights Activist

Anne — February 01, 2012 @ 11:34 AM — Comments (0)

Mike Farrell, actor and life-long opponent of capital punishment, often and passionately speaks about the inhumanity of state-sanctioned killings and our collective response to it.  He believes that there are “appropriate sanctions that protect society and punish wrongdoers without forcing us to stoop to the level of the least among us,” and he is hopeful that public response against capital punishment “will at least give [people] pause in their support for death.”

Among a myriad of reasons for his belief that capital punishment should be abolished, Farrell sees the abolishment as a cost-effective measure, arguing that a life sentence “spares us the barbarity of killing our own [as well as it] it teaches our children that violence will be punished, but not by emulating the violent.” We shouldn’t be willing, he asserts, to “continue to share the killing stage with some of the world’s worst human rights violators.”

In a recent  interview, Farrell  discusses his work over the years, what he sees as a viable alternative to capital punishment, and what he views as some of the greatest barriers to its repeal in the United States.

Anne:   What experiences, if any, helped shaped your views on the need for the abolishment of the death penalty?

Mike Farrell:  Working with a program for ex-offenders in the 60s took me into prisons for the first time. The soul-crushing dehumanization in these institutions troubled me deeply. I wondered how anyone whose life experience had been so miserable that he or she had responded by acting out in a violent or anti-social way and [who] ended up in one of these places could ever be expected to get better under the circumstances that were present.

I had been taught as a child that “thou shall not kill,” and I took it to heart. Believing that killing was wrong, I thought it was just as wrong for the state to do it as for an individual to do it, so I signed petitions and spoke against the death penalty in conversations but was not particularly active on the issue. After the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in the Gregg Decision (in 1976), I was contacted by Reverend Joe Ingle, who ran the Southern Coalition on Jails and Prisons. I was doing a television show at the time and Joe asked me to help him head off what he saw as a coming avalanche of killing by the State. Joe took me to my first Death Row, at Tennessee State Prison, and introduced me to a number of abolitionists with whom he worked. That began what has become thirty years of working to abolish capital punishment.

Anne:  Do you believe that a person convicted of a heinous crime and sentenced to death is capable of being rehabilitated if given a life sentence without the possibility of parole?

MF:  Absolutely. Of course it depends on the individual, but I believe in the ability of human beings to transform their lives. I’ve worked with many people over the years whose life experience has been so immiserating that it defies belief, but I’ve seen them overcome circumstances and experiences that defy the imagination and become powerful, meaningful, and productive citizens.

Let me quickly add  that though I absolutely believe in the capacity of even the most damaged individual to transform his or her life, I realize that some may be so bent by the cruel circumstances of their experience that it would not be safe to release them into society. For that reason, I believe we should maintain the penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole as a last resort.

Anne:  If you are aware of the Troy Davis case (Georgia, September 2011), where worldwide attention–and much controversy–surrounded his execution, what response do you have to those who believe that Davis “got what he deserved” for his involvement in the killing of the off-duty police officer, despite overwhelming evidence that pointed to Davis’ innocence.

MF:  I corresponded with Troy and knew his sister. Bless them both. I think it was a huge miscarriage of justice that the State of Georgia refused to stop the execution in spite of the serious doubts about his guilt and the international outcry against his execution. Those who support his having been executed, in my view, either do not fully understand the facts of the case or are blinding themselves to reality. Both views are further evidence of why we must stop this hateful process [of state-sanctioned killings].

Anne:  Your involvement in the anti-death movement is long and varied. Can you discuss one or two particular cases wherein the convicted person’s repetitive claims of innocence led to a re-evaluation of their case and their (subsequent) sentencing to life without parole?

MF:  Well, let’s be clear: The re-evaluation and re-sentencing of someone usually results when it is proven in court or demonstrated to a head of state that while the individual may be guilty, the circumstances of the crime, the mitigating factors in the individual’s life or the changes he or she has demonstrated while incarcerated show that death is not appropriate.

However, in some instances it’s not the proverbial ‘half a loaf.’ In the internationally known Pennsylvania case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the federal court threw out the death sentence because of an error by the trial judge and ordered the Philadelphia District Attorney to either re-try the penalty phase of the case or agree to a sentence of life without parole. The D. A. appealed the decision and recently lost, so Abu-Jamal’s sentence has been changed to life without parole. For many people who believe him innocent, that is not a satisfactory conclusion to the matter.

I, for one, feel that Mumia Abu-Jamal never received a fair trial and deserves one. I can’t comment on his guilt or innocence since there are contradictory allegations and many contrasting “facts” that pollute the case, but it’s quite clear to me that he deserves a fair trial and will not–and should not–be content with a life sentence.

Anne:  In Florida, there have been thirteen men who have been exonerated through DNA evidence. One of the men, Frank Lee Smith, died in prison (after having served 14 years behind bars) before his scheduled release date. Another man, James Bain, has the dubious distinction of having served, at 35 years, the nation’s longest sentence behind bars for a crime he did not commit. Has your work involved any aspect of court-ordered DNA evidence, and, if so, how has such DNA evidence impacted your work on capital punishment cases?

MF: I believe the DNA test in Frank Lee Smith’s case proved him innocent after he died in prison. That is a ghastly error and should move the people of the State of Florida to demand an end to capital punishment. I don’t see DNA [however] as the ‘magic bullet’ that will solve all the issues pertinent to capital punishment, but  innocence projects are doing a fine job of using it to demonstrate–in over 250 cases so far–that wrongful convictions take place regularly.

It’s important to point out, though, that fewer than twenty of their [Innocence Projects across the nation] DNA exonerations have been for people sentenced to death. That’s because murders often take place without any traceable DNA (blood, semen or tissue) being left at the scene by the perpetrator.

Anne:  In your work as an advocate against capital punishment, what do you see as some of the greatest barriers to its repeal in the United States? People’s attitudes? The courts’? An eye-for-an-eye mindset by victims’ families? People’s religious views?

MF:  All of the above. Many of our nation’s citizens have been frightened into averting their eyes from a horrendously broken system by prosecutors’ stories and a sensationalistic press, both of which emphsize blood, gore and violence. Out of fear and revulsion, they go along with it, assuming the condemned are ‘getting what they deserve,’ and that ‘they [the accused]  don’t deserve to live.’  These attitudes are bolstered, in some instances, by fundamentalist religious teachings, a vague notion that the Bible supports it, or a belief that the court and the law in general are handling things well enough, despite the fact that they are not.

Anne:  Statistics show that people of color are disproportionately sentenced to death more frequenty than others accused of the same crime. Can you address the issue of racial disparities associated with death penalty sentencing among minorities and what perhaps accounts for such disparities?

MF:  There’s no question that racism taints the use of the death penalty and everyone who pays attention knows it. Despite the Supreme Court’s unwillingness to face it in the McClesky Case many years ago, the rise and growing interest in the Racial Justice Act in this country is evidence of the inevitability of the exposure of the rampant racism in the criminal justice system and ultimately the end of the death penalty.

NOTE: This is the first part of a two-part interview with Mike Farrell. Farrell is perhaps best known as “Captain B. J. Hunnicutt” from the CBS show M*A*S*H, where he appeared from 1975-1983.

Farrell is actively involved in numerous abolition and human rights organizations, including: the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty; the Human Rights Watch, where he served as Co-Chair of the California Committee from 1994-2005; the Committee to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal, which he co-chaired with Ossie Davis from 1994-2002; and the ACLU, for its “active and effective opposition to the death penalty.” An activist in every aspect of the word, he was recently bestowed the Donald Wright Award for “Special Contributions to the Criminal Justice System” by the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice. He is the second person to receive the award who is neither an attorney or judge.

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Exoneration, Compensation & Reforms – National News Round-up

Jackie — August 05, 2011 @ 4:26 PM — Comments (1)

It’s no new trial in 20-year-old rape case and the first exoneration for Hawaii Innocence Project. Lila Fujimoto of The Maui News reports it was high fives all around as charges were dismissed against a wrongfully convicted man. Alvin Francis Jardine III served 20 years for the 1990 knife-point rape of a woman in her Haiku home until newly tested DNA evidence showed otherwise.

Said one of Jardine’s attorneys, William Harrison, “Everybody was ecstatic. Obviously, Alvin is overjoyed over the dismissal, as well as the whole Innocence Project. We have put a lot of time in this case because of Alvin, because we believe in him and believed in his cause. We believe it is a case of actual innocence.”

First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rivera, however, is not so sure.”We do not feel that the DNA evidence in any way exonerates the defendant,” he said. Rivera asserted that the prosecutor’s office decided to seek the dismissal after talking with the victim. “We did meet with her a couple of times,” Rivera said. “She, in turn, consulted with her own family. We made the determination that it would be in the best interests of the victim not to go forward and retraumatize her through a fourth trial 20 years after he’s already been convicted.

Florida’s James Bain currently holds a record no one would want. He served more time behind bars as an innocent man than any other wrongfully convicted exoneree…35 years for the rape and kidnapping of a nine-year-old boy until DNA evidence proved he didn’t commit the crime. Released in 2009, Bain refuses to let his time in prison hinder his enjoyment of the rest of his life.

Florida Innocence Project Executive Director Seth Miller notes that Bain has adjusted “remarkably well” to his new unconfined life although … “he will always have a lot of catching up to do.”

Bain recently got a boost to that enjoyment having recently received $1.75 million in compensation from Florida for his wrongful conviction. Bain said that, while there’s not enough money in the world to pay him back for time lost, it will help his future. He’s working to earn his GED so he can find work according to Ray Reyes in The Tampa Tribune.

“It will never be enough,” Bain said. “But what I do have at my disposal helps a lot when it comes to taking care of me and my family.”

Bain has purchased a brand new home and plans to wed his girlfriend in September with the added opportunity of being a stepfather to her young daughter reports Jason Geary at

Kudos to the Massachusetts State Senate for taking on court reorganization and DNA testing reforms.

On court reforms. quotes State Senator Michael Moore. “The Senate last week addressed a number of vital issues that had been lingering for some time,” Moore said. “The court reorganization will generate cost-savings and ensure equity and transparency in the hiring of court personnel. Finally, critical progress was made by the Senate regarding… the use of DNA evidence.”

The article notes, “The court reorganization legislation establishes a civilian court administrator to run the general administration of the Trial Court and brings transparency to hiring and promotion practices at the Department of Probation. Under the legislation, the civilian Court Administrator will be responsible for the general administration of the Trial Court, including reviewing and approving the hiring of non-judicial employees, administering appropriations and expenditures, negotiating contracts and leases, and any other inherently non-judicial administrative functions.

The Court Administrator will also be required to identify core administrative functions and create cost-savings and efficiencies by consolidating certain administrative activities of the various departments of the Trial Court.

On DNA. Finally, Massachusetts became the 49th state to allow defendants to obtain and test evidence after conviction for use in seeking a new trial. The bill, which was developed with the input of current and former prosecutors, police officials, defense attorneys and judges, would help exonerate wrongfully-convicted people and convict individuals who have gone free for decades. The bill would allow individuals who have been convicted of a crime to file a motion with the courts requesting access to evidence for forensic testing that could prove their innocence. The bill requires evidence to be kept for the duration of a defendant’s sentence.”

Present in the Massachusetts Senate chamber to watch passage of this historic legislation was Betty Anne Waters, the sister of exoneree Kenneth Waters. Ms. Waters worked for 18 years (including earning a bachelor’s, masters, and law degrees) to finally secure freedom for her brother with the help of the Innocence Project. Her story is the subject of the movie Conviction in which Hillary Swank portrays the main character.

State Senator Katherine Clark reports on the website Malden that the new DNA statute will also “help secure convictions of individuals who have gone free for decades.”

Ms. Waters joined Massachusetts State Senators on the chamber floor in a rare show of emotion. Unfortunately, her brother enjoyed just six months of freedom when he died in a tragic accident; but the wrongly convicted will continue to benefit from this legislation for many years to come.

21 years after convicting the wrong man, Hartford officials finally get it right. David Cameron reports in the Hartford Courant that Pedro Miranda was recently convicted of the 1988 murder of Carmen Lopez. The caveat to this case is that Miguel Roman spent over 20 years in prison wrongfully convicted of the same crime before he was exonerated in 2009. Why? Roman was the victim of a mishandled police investigation, a lying jailhouse snitch, and a prosecutor who in his zeal chose to ignore testimony at Miranda’s trial from an FBI analyst that the victim’s body contained DNA that was not a match to Roman.

Police and prosecutors honed in on Roman even though both Miranda and Roman had been at the victim’s apartment and were suspects. The testimony from the jailhouse informant (who was facing up to 20 years for larceny and burglary charges) sealed the deal. After he testified, he was sentenced to time served and released. This article notes that:

“The Innocence Project reports that in more than 15 percent of the 272 wrongful convictions overturned with DNA evidence an informant or jailhouse snitch testified falsely against an innocent defendant.”

Says Cameron,” The man who murdered Carmen Lopez has finally been arrested, convicted and sentenced. But there is one last piece of unfinished business in this tragic case. The state can’t return the 20 years that were taken away from Miguel Roman. But it can at least provide some compensation as it did to James Tillman for his wrongful conviction and long incarceration.”

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