Posts Tagged ‘Jimmy Ates’

Innocence Project in the St. Pete Times: A lifeline for imprisoned innocent

Alejandra de la Fuente — April 27, 2009 @ 11:10 AM — Comments (0)

[Mark Wallheiser, Special to the St. Petersburg Times] Innocence Project of Florida executive director Seth Miller and lawyer Bobbi Madonna meet with associates on potential cases. In the background is the whiteboard used in weekly lectures given to law school interns.

The Innocence Project of Florida received some press today in the St. Petersburg Times, Florida’s largest newspaper, that explores the arduous process we go through to select our cases.

The process is a lot like sifting for gold. Of the 3,000 inmates who have asked for help since the office opened six years ago, 90 percent have received rejection letters. Rarely do the lawyers find someone like Wilton Dedge or Alan Crotzer, both wrongly convicted of rape.

Ironic turn of phrase – since we certainly don’t want to compare innocent people in prison to gold, being a good thing in any way, but sifting and deciphering and contemplating are all appropriate ways of imagining the process.

The entire article is worth a read, and it is somewhat brief.

Update: Our story is on A1 in the St. Pete Times today! Here is a PDF of the front page.

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Texas bill allows defendants to challenge their convictions based on junk science

Alejandra de la Fuente — April 23, 2009 @ 10:57 AM — Comments (0)

Per the Innocence Project’s blog today, “A bill passed by the Texas Senate this week would provide an avenue for prisoners to challenge convictions based on discredited forensic science.” They reference a story in the Marshall News Messenger that begins,

Criminals who were sent to prison — or sentenced to death — based on discredited scientific evidence would be given a new way to challenge their convictions under a bill passed this morning by the Texas Senate.

In recent years, an increasing number of arson and gunshot convictions in Texas have triggered alarm as new technology proved earlier evidence wrong, and convictions were cast into doubt — including at least one case in which the prisoner was executed.

The measure by state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, would allow discredited scientific evidence that figured in a criminal conviction to be considered by an appeals court in order to establish the innocence of a defendant…

Advancements in forensic testing — DNA, ballistics and arson — have led to new evidence being uncovered in several cases in Texas. Whitmire said that led him to file the bill, which clarifies how discredited scientific evidence can be used in court appeals.

In December 2008, we worked to overturn Jimmy Ates’ conviction, based largely on fraudulent FBI bullet lead analysis. Since then, the National Academy of Sciences has issued a scathing report, decrying the sorry state of forensic science labs around the country.

We know well how junk science can contribute to a wrongful conviction – indeed, the Innocence Project in New York says that junk science contributed to over half of the nation’s first 225 DNA exonerations. We applaud steps like these being taken in Texas, and hope that a new incredulity toward and accountability regarding forensic science will spread to other states and jurisdictions.

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Interview with LBN Studios on Jimmy Ates

Alejandra de la Fuente — January 28, 2009 @ 10:42 AM — Comments (0)

Have a look at this video posted on YouTube, it contains an interview with IPF’s Executive Director Seth Miller about the release of Jimmy Ates.

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Photos from Jimmy Ates’ Release

Alejandra de la Fuente — January 14, 2009 @ 3:45 PM — Comments (1)

IPF Executive Director Seth Miller and Legal Director David Menschel talk to a reporter outside the Okaloosa County Courthouse after Jimmy Ates’ conviction is vacated.

IPF Staff Attorney Bobbi Madonna and Director of Social Services Anthony Scott talk outside the Okaloosa County Courthouse.

Jimmy Ates and his daughter embrace moments after he is released from jail.

Jimmy Ates and his daughter moments after he is released from jail.

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Nobody Could Have Predicted

Alejandra de la Fuente — December 25, 2008 @ 6:34 PM — Comments (0)

Though they had no data to support their conclusions, for years cops in lab coats testified that they could match a bullet from a crime scene to a box of bullets owned by a criminal defendant. As it turns out, they were wrong.

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Judge Overturns Jimmy Ates’ Conviction: Use of Junk Science Leads to Release

Alejandra de la Fuente — December 18, 2008 @ 4:32 PM — Comments (0)

Press Release
December 17, 2008

Today, pursuant to an agreement between the State and defense, First Judicial Circuit Judge William Stone vacated the conviction of Jimmy Ates. Mr. Ates will walk out of the Okaloosa County Jail later today after serving ten years in prison for the 1991 murder of his wife, Norma Jean Ates, in Baker, Florida. He is the first person in the nation to have a conviction overturned based on the FBI’s disavowal of Comparative Bullet Lead Analysis (CBLA).

“We’re thrilled that the State is finally recognizing the mistake that it made and taking this first step towards justice for Jimmy Ates,” said Bobbi Madonna, Staff Attorney for the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF).

Jimmy Ates is just one of roughly 1500 individuals nationwide whose cases were tainted by CBLA, which the FBI now concedes is a junk science. An FBI review of about 115 of those cases has found that CBLA testimony compromised the integrity of at least 80 trials—16 in Florida alone.

CBLA is a procedure by which scientists claim to be able to link bullets to a particular batch or box on the basis of their chemical composition. In Ates’ trial, FBI Analyst Kathleen Lundy testified that the bullets retrieved from the victim’s body matched the bullets found in the Ates’ family utility room, and therefore they came from the same batch. This testimony had no scientific basis. “Lundy was a fraud peddling a junk science and without that testimony, Jimmy Ates would never have been convicted,” said David Menschel, Legal Director of IPF. Lundy testified about CBLA in at least six other Florida cases.

The State’s case against Jimmy Ates has been suspect from the beginning. Initially, Okaloosa County State Attorney, Curtis Golden, refused to prosecute because the case lacked sufficient evidence. In a highly unusual move, Gov. Lawton Chiles assigned the high-profile case to Duval County State Attorney Harry Shorstein, who also refused to prosecute. Six years after the murder, armed with the FBI’s new CBLA analysis, a third State Attorney prosecuted Jimmy Ates.

Based on the new evidence that has emerged since trial, William Cervone, the special prosecutor assigned to the case, conceded that Ates’ conviction cannot stand. “Bill Cervone deserves praise for righting this wrong, and we hope and expect that other Florida prosecutors will follow his example in other CBLA cases,” said Seth Miller, Executive Director of IPF.

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The State Uncharacteristically Admits Wrongdoing in Ates Case

Alejandra de la Fuente — December 15, 2008 @ 5:03 PM — Comments (0)

On the heels of Bill Dillon’s vacated conviction comes another Florida case about to hopefully see retrial.

Jimmy Ates was convicted in 1998 of killing his wife, Norma Ates. His conviction came seven years after the fact, and after two other prosecutors had refused to take the case because of scant evidence.

Jimmy Ates has been in jail for 10 years. However, on October 31st of this year, the State filed their response to a recent motion by Ates for post-conviction relief. They did something extremely rare, which was to concede two compelling reasons why Ates is entitled to a new trial.

First, the prosecutors at the time relied almost entirely on the analysis of bullet lead found in Ates’ home. (The idea being that the bullets that killed his wife matched in elemental composition a batch of bullets that Ates owned, therefore one of his bullets killed his wife, therefore, he killed his wife.) The science behind such analysis has since been abandoned by the FBI, one of its main proponents. Because that testimony, now known to be flawed, was the vital piece of incriminating evidence against Ates, the State agreed that he should receive a new trial. (What the State is left with now is a haphazard patchwork of circumstances that fails to convincingly link Ates to the murder of his wife.)

Magnifying the importance of the metallurgical evidence, then-prosecutor Rod Smith embellished the bullet lead claims until they appeared to be of astounding probative value. In his closing argument, Smith stated,

Of all the millions and billions of bullets that are made by any given company in any given time frame, the bullets that killed Norma Jean were manufactured from the same batch that were found in the box in the back room.

Unfortunately for Smith, the science used at the time has since been discredited, and even the conclusions of the FBI analyst would not have supported a statement as strong as his. Instead, and because of this, his closing argument was misleading and false.

Secondly, the State admitted that a fingerprint lifted from the scene of the crime was not disclosed to the defense during preparations for trial. Even more material to Ates’ defense is that the fingerprint did not come from Ates or the victim, or from any of the police officers who could have left their print while investigating the scene, or from two other known suspects.

On top of all this, the FDLE officer who filed the report denied lifting any important prints from the utility room while he was on the stand. We would like to believe that this officer was simply mistaken, that he had not been informed that this particular print came from the utility room, or that he had honestly forgotten since his analysis. Instead, though, we know that the prosecution had tested the print in question against several officers’ prints as recently as two weeks before the trial. This leads one to believe that the State did, in fact, know about these prints, and knew they could be a problem for their case. When the FBI analysis came back negative for any matches, they brushed it under the rug.

These both are cogent reasons for Ates to receive a new trial. While the FBI bullet-lead science was contentions at the time, it was widely accepted in courtrooms across the country until recently. We now know it to be bunk. In the case of the mystery fingerprint, it seems to have been purposely concealed by some element of the prosecution. The FDLE officer who took the stand appears to have been either terribly mistaken, or, more likely, lying, when he testified there were no prints of value in the utility room.

While Ates’ case represents a sad miscarriage of justice, the miraculous thing about this case is that the State has disclosed its own wrongdoing.

According to an article,

Staff attorney Scott Reagan is reviewing [the State’s response]…

Reagan said the prosecutor’s request for a new trial is extremely rare and “carries a lot of weight.”

Indeed it does, given the adversarial nature of the justice system in which the State in particular is oftentimes most interested in saving face rather than procuring real justice. It’s lamentable that this breach of justice occurred in the first place, but refreshing that the State had the moral fortitude to come clean when confronted.

This quote from the end of the State’s response is telling:

In the context of the cumulative effect of the errors identified by the defendant, and the circumstantial if not “close” nature of the evidence in this case, no one should be confident in the accuracy of the verdict in this case.

Accordingly, it is the state’s belief that the defendant should be granted a new trial. [emphasis added]

We eagerly await the outcome of Ates’ hearing on December 17th of this year. Hopefully the State Attorney’s office will continue this pattern of behavior, do the right thing, and drop the charges.

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