Posts Tagged ‘Luis Diaz’

Innocent Children Fall Victim to Wrongful Convictions

Alejandra de la Fuente — July 30, 2013 @ 10:19 AM — Comments (1)

In recent years with a growing number of exonerations of innocent individuals, there needs to be a discussion about who is effected by wrongful convictions. Of course the individual who is incarcerated for a crime he or she did not commit is considered victim number one, but where do the victim’s children fall on that extensive list?

sad_black_girlAccording to the the KIDS COUNT Data Center, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation providing information regarding the well-being of children and families in the United States, 24,718,000 children live in single parent households. That number represents 35 percent of the children in the nation. In Florida, 1,493,000 kids are living with a single parent, which is 39 percent of the children in the state and the number continues to grow yearly.

In 1980, Luis Diaz  – father of three – was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a crime he was adamant he was innocent of. Twenty-five years later, with the help of the Innocent Project of Florida and the Innocence Project, Diaz was exonerated. At the time of of his conviction, Diaz’s three children were ages 6, 8 and 14.

white and black girlCHAT First: Children and Teens First, a website developed by the Children and Families in Transition Project, reports the ages of Diaz’s children were crucial ones for their development. Children in the age group 5 to 8 frequently miss the parent they are not spending time with deeply and can become highly emotional resulting in early depression, and teenagers between the ages of 12 to 18 are more likely to react in anger due to the absence of a parent.

It would be an immense reach to blame wrongful convictions as the primary cause of children growing up with single parents, because numerous circumstances play a part. However ripping a father away from his children at such an acute time in their development to have him labeled as a murderer or rapist is more than cruel; it is also avoidable. Children of Diaz and many of the exonerees were robbed of the chance to have their fathers watch them in school plays, congratulate them for A’s on report cards, send them off to school dances and to create lifelong memories during family vacations; the question remains why.

Imprisoned at age 22, William Dillion had the opportunity to have children of his own ripped away from him after spending 27 years in prison due to a miscarriage of justice. As Dillion mentions the injustice of fatherhood being hijacked from the palms of his hands in Unlock The Truth, his voice cracks, his chin drops, and his eyes water with emotion, and the questions remains, why?

On April 4, 2011, Derrick Williams became the 13th Florida DNA exoneree, but not before serving 18 years in prison for a crime he was innocent of, and almost two decades away from his son Omar Edwards.

Why should innocent children grow up without a parent if they don’t have to? Why should a man be robbed of the the opportunity to be a father if he is willing and able to take on that responsibility? The answer to these questions are buried beneath bad lawyering, prosecutorial misconduct, eyewitness misidentification, unreliable or limited science as well as other elements that make up the body of causes of wrongful convictions. Unlocking the truth can no longer be the job of one, but must be the duty of many. It is truly a myth that only innocent prisoners are effected by wrongful convictions and now that we are aware of the far reach of wrongful convictions, we must do our part to help correct this growing issue, if not for ourselves, then for the innocent children.

Preschool Daycare




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Father’s Day

Alejandra de la Fuente — June 14, 2013 @ 1:06 PM — Comments (1)

As the son of a single mother, Father’s Day is different for me. It is also different for the children of the wrongfully imprisoned. Like most Father’s Days I will be presenting my mom with a card that reads “Happy Father’s Day,” and a bouquet of flowers that express the love and appreciation I have for her. It, however, is not for the reasons you may think. My father passed away when I was one year old and my mother raised me to be the man that I am today.

A situation like mine has no one to blame because the circumstances leading up to my father’s death were completely out of human control.  But what about the children whose lives are impacted every day by the yearning for a father who has been imprisoned for a crime he did not commit?

This Sunday as we wake and celebrate Father’s Day with elaborate gifts, great food, and the men who have been father figures in our lives, take a moment to reflect on the countless children who will not being able to wish their daddy a happy Father’s Day or the men whose chance to have children of their own was stolen.

Think of men like William Dillon, a man who spent 27.5 years in prison before his exoneration, who had the opportunity to start a family of his own ripped away from him due to a eyewitness misidentification and jailhouse snitch among other things. This Father’s Day, think of men like Luis Diaz, who while serving a life sentenced missed the chance to create memories with his three children for 26 long years. This Father’s Day we should think of the innocent men serving time for crimes they did not commit, but we should also think of the innocent children who are missing out at a chance to wish their dad a Happy Father’s Day.


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Mother’s Day: A Harsh Reminder for Innocent People in Prison

Alejandra de la Fuente — May 10, 2013 @ 10:48 AM — Comments (1)

This Sunday families will gather together to celebrate the women who gave them life. But for the wrongfully convicted, Mother’s Day serves as another reminder of the life that was stolen from them by inequities embedded in the criminal justice system. Many wrongfully convicted people spend decades serving a prison sentence they do not deserve, and subsequently miss countless opportunities to spend time with their mothers, fathers, children, and spouses.

Alan Crotzer, a Florida DNA exoneree, bore the weight of this cross when he lost his mother fives years before his exoneration in 2006. In an interview with the IPF, Alan spoke about his mother’s unwavering faith in his innocence and how she inspired him to continue to fight for his freedom. Alan lost spending the last twenty years of his mother’s life with her due to his wrongful imprisonment. Countless other wrongfully imprisoned have faced similar losses.

Florida DNA exoneree Luis Diaz was wrongfully convicted in 1980 and sent to prison when his three children were only five, seven and thirteen years old. He served 25 years in prison until post-conviction DNA testing provided proof that he was wrongfully convicted. By the time he was released, his children were not only grown but married with children of their own. Luis was denied the ability to raise his own children and his children were denied their father for most of their childhood. Each holiday was a harsh reminder that this family was missing a parent.

These two men represent a fraction of the innocent people in prison who are locked away from their families and their freedom everyday.

We hope you celebrate lives of your mothers, wives and daughters. We applaud their tireless efforts. We also ask that you let your thoughts also turn to those who have had their lives stolen from under them by a wrongful conviction and are waiting to come home.

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Eyewitness Misidentification: The Most Unreliable Form of Evidence

Alejandra de la Fuente — November 28, 2012 @ 11:06 AM — Comments (0)

Between 1977 and 1979 the Bird Road Rapist haunted State Road 976 in Florida, attacking over 25 women.

In 1980 Luis Diaz, a husband and father of three, was named the Bird Road Rapist and convicted of eight charges of rape. The identification and testimonies from eight victims landed Diaz with multiple life sentences.

During the 26 years he was imprisoned, Diaz maintained his innocence and was adamant that he was innocent of all charges. As his story began to travel, suspicions about the case began to surface, notably because Diaz didn’t match the original description given by the witnesses.

Even though two witnesses recanted their statements, it wasn’t until 2005 that Diaz was exonerated as a result of DNA testing.

“Eyewitness misidentification is the most unreliable form of evidence; however, it’s the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions, accounting for 75 percent of convictions that have been overturned by DNA Evidence.”  -Innocence Project

More than a third of the cases with eyewitness testimony involved multiple eyewitnesses. In Luis Diaz’s case, eight women identified him as their attacker, and all eight were wrong.
Exoneree Misidentifications

Research and Science

In most criminal cases, an eyewitness is crucial to the outcome of the trial. A strong witness could essentially lead to a win. However, the research has shown that many inaccuracies lie within the practice.

During the past 30 years, psychologists have found several variables that contribute to eyewitness misidentification.  Here are a few of their findings:

Estimator vs. Systematic Variables

Gary A. Wells, an American psychologist, has conducted extensive research on eyewitness memory and identification. His Applied Eye-Witness Testimony research, in which he differentiates estimator and systematic variables, has been highly cited and used to further understand the errors of eyewitness identification.

Estimator Variables are aspects of eyewitness identification that can’t be controlled by the criminal justice system. It includes where the crime took place, visibility, and if a weapon was present during an assault. Research has shown that victims tend to focus more on the weapon than the assailant’s face during an attack.

Another major estimator variable is race. It has been noted that it’s more difficult to identify a stranger of a different race than one’s own. For example, white Americans have more trouble identifying black Americans than they do whites and vice versa. The reasoning relies more on exposure to other races rather than prejudices.

Systematic Variables are aspects that can be controlled by the criminal justice system. It includes the way lineups are conducted, how police interact with the witness, and other identification procedures. The research behind systematical variables is far more advanced than estimator variables because it is more valuable to understand what the legal system can do to prevent misidentification.

Controlling Systematic Variables

The U.S Department of Justice released Eyewitness Evidence: A Guide for Law Enforcement  in 1999 that could help improve the facilitation of identification procedures. The guide suggests how investigators should conduct themselves and the investigation from initial report of the crime to the documentation of line up results.  The research conducted has made an impact that has lead to some changes; however, in order to fully control systematic variables, there are many reforms still needed.

Sequential vs Simultaneous Lineups

Sequential lineups are conducted when the witness is shown one member of the lineup at a time, whereas, in simultaneous lineups all members are presented at the same time. Research has found less errors are made when a sequential line up is administered.

A negative factor eliminated with sequential lineups is relative judgement.  During lineups witnesses tend to compare lineup participants with one another instead of their memory of the assailant. This leads the witness to choose a person who resembles their assailant more than the others, but not the person who resembles the assailant in their memory.

Eliminating Biased Lineups

There are many different elements that contribute to a biased lineup such as line up size, fillers, and who administrates it. Luckily, there are solutions that can eliminate most biases that can lead to a misidentification.

“A lineup is biased when a witness with a poor (or absent) memory is able to guess the identity of the suspect at a rate greater than chance expectation” -Roy S. Malpass and Colin G. Tredoux

A correct lineup size and arrangement is critical to achieve a non-biased line up. The Eyewitness Evidence: A Guide for Law Enforcement suggest a minimum of five fillers during a lineup. A filler is a person who is not a suspect but is used in a lineup to eliminate errors. All fillers should match the witness’s description. A lineup will become biased when the suspect stands out among all the other members participating.

Double Blind Administration

History has shown that there are some officers of the law who are completely bias in their line of work; however, this isn’t true for all police. Even the most honorable officer can influence a witness without intentionally doing so.

Wells first suggested double blind lineups in 1988; both scientists and the Innocence Projects around the country agree it’s one of the best way to eliminate biases.

A double blind administration is one where the person administering the lineup has no idea who the suspect is. Sometimes detectives can send nonverbal signs (a smile or a frown) to a witness during the procedure and is completely unaware that he is doing so.

In a double blind the lineup, most of the nonverbal communication will be eliminated because the administrator is as unaware as the witness that the suspect may or may not be included in the lineup.

Picking Cotton

In 1985 Ronald Cotton was convicted on two counts of rape and two counts of burglary. He was sentenced to 54 years in prison.

One of his victims, Jennifer Thompson,made it a priority to study her assailant’s face during her attack. She wanted to to memorize as much about him as possible so when the time came, she would be able to identify him.

However, just like in the Diaz case, Thompson was wrong and DNA evidence is what finally proved Cotton’s innocence.

“I had contributed to taking away 11 years of this man’s life, and if indeed we had been wrong–I felt so bad.” -Jennifer Thompson

Even after it was proven that Cotton was innocent and the real perpetrator, Bobby Poole, was identified, Thompson still had difficulties accepting the fact that Cotton wasn’t her attacker.

“I don’t know. The DNA tests, the science tells me that we had the wrong guy. It was Bobby Poole. Ronald Cotton says it is not him, it was Bobby Poole. They do look very similar, it is almost frightening how similar they look to each other… I don’t know. I really don’t know. I have to accept the answer that has been given to me and put faith in our system.”

Bobby Poole            Ronald Cotton

Today, Thompson and Cotton travel the United States pushing for legal reforms. They have published a book together, Picking Cotton, which goes in depth about the experiences of both authors.

A Step Forward for Florida

In Florida eyewitness misidentification was a contributing factor in 10 out of 13 (77 percent) of the DNA exonerations, two points higher than the national average.

On Dec. 29, 2011, the Committee on Standard Jury Instruction in Criminal Cases proposed a set of instructions to be given to jurors on eyewitness identification. The proposal was adopted by the Florida Supreme Court on Nov. 21, 2012.

Instructions are to be given to jurors if eyewitness identification is a disputed issue and if requested. Jurors are asked to consider the credibility of the witness by questioning any inconsistent identifications made by the witness, if the difference in the offender’s and eyewitness’s race or ethnic group may have affected the accuracy of the identification, whether the identification was based on the witness’s memory or a result of influences or suggestiveness, and six other factors.

When the proposal was made, the Innocence Project of Florida filed comments pointing out the inadequacies of the instructions.The comment filed reads:

While the committee’s proposed jury instruction touches on a number of important considerations for a jury evaluating eyewitness evidence, the proposed instruction is inadequate in two principle ways: (1) it is not a cautionary instruction as it doesn’t warn the jury of the dangers inherent in eyewitness evidence, nor (2) does it provide any comprehensive guidance on how jurors should weigh certain factors arising in cases with eyewitness evidence.

Although there is more that can be done, IPF’s CEO, Mike Minerva, acknowledges that this is a step in the right direction.

Your Thoughts

The science and facts prove that convicting a person solely on an eyewitnesses identification and testimony can be faulty. Yet, people are still are convicted based on one person’s identification. What changes to eyewitness identification do you think should be implemented in order to prevent innocent people from being imprisoned?

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Steppin’ Out with Florida’s Exonorees

Alejandra de la Fuente — 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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Award Recipients Announced: Holland & Knight and Martin J. McClain, Esq.

Alejandra de la Fuente — February 24, 2012 @ 5:31 PM — Comments (1)

At our first annual gala on April 27, 2012 we will be giving two very special awards to honor some of the people who inspire IPF with their commitment to justice and the innocence movement.

We are proud to announce that the Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte Commitment to Justice Award will go to Holland & Knight LLP. Holland and Knight has a long history of providing substantial assistance to the Innocence Project of Florida. Holland & Knight’s work on our behalf included taking on the bulk of the pro bono representation of our first 40 cases in 2003 to prevent those clients from being time barred by the DNA testing deadline then in effect. Holland & Knight was also the counsel of record in the Luis Diaz and Chad Heins cases, both of which led to exonerations. These are but a few examples of the continuing contributions to the cause of justice made by Holland & Knight over a span of decades, and we are thrilled to be able to honor them for those contributions.

The Frank Lee Smith Innocence Award will go to Martin J. “Marty” McClain. Marty is the post-conviction attorney who represented Frank Lee Smith, in whose name this award is given. Marty also represented Juan Melendez in his post-conviction case. Melendez is a non-DNA Florida exoneree who was on death row and now is an anti-death penalty advocate living in New Mexico. Marty has been tirelessly representing inmates on death row, innocent and guilty alike, since the 1980s. He was chief assistant and director of litigation at the Office of the Capital Collateral Representative and has continued his representations of those on death row in Florida and elsewhere since leaving that office. He is currently in private practice in Ft. Lauderdale. His sterling advocacy is a primary reason that Frank Lee Smith was proven innocent.

“Marty’s work as a post-conviction litigator representing death row inmates has earned him the deserved reputation as a top defender of those in peril of execution.  Among his many successes over the past two decades is the bittersweet posthumous exoneration of Frank Lee Smith. We are so pleased to honor Marty in this way,” said Michael Minerva, IFP’s CEO.

Congratulations to both of our awardees! We’re excited to see them at the gala in April, and will hopefully see you!

Get your tickets to step out with IPF and support justice.

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Exoneree Compensation Roundup

Seth — February 22, 2011 @ 4:04 PM — Comments (0)

Lots going on in the world of compensation for exonerees.  This issue regained some traction in the last few weeks with an article in the Orlando Sentinel, which we discussed here.  This has led many to openly question why so many guys who were so clearly wrongfully convicted and incarcerated won’t be compensated. The editorial staff of the Orlando Sentinel, notes in an editorial entitled Florida’s Dirty Hands:

Sure, it’s a tough budget year for Florida. But what a lame excuse for failing to right a terrible wrong.

Three years ago, the Legislature passed a bill authorizing payments for people who are wrongly convicted and sent to prison. The measure designated payments of up to $50,000 for each year they were erroneously locked up. That’s a pretty fair price for wrongfully denying someone their liberty.

The problem is the so-called “clean hands” provision — a provision which, as the Orlando Sentinel reported Sunday, has meant that none of the 12 men cleared by DNA has received a nickel. Some now live in poverty.  The “clean hands” provision bars the state from paying anyone who has a previous felony conviction prior to the wrongful incarceration. Even if the person served his time for that earlier conviction, then was later wrongly imprisoned for decades for a crime he did not commit, he still can’t collect.

What a glaringly obvious injustice.

Fred Grimm, of the Miami Herald, has a much more bombastic take on this law:

All this talk about compensation for wrongful convictions. Not in Florida. Not for the likes of Anthony Caravella.

Why, it’s Caravella who owes Florida — $71.93 a day. Comes to $682,615.70 for the 26 years Anthony mooched room and board off the Florida penal system, taking up valuable prison space for a crime someone committed.

The lousy freeloader. He’s damn lucky the Florida Legislature doesn’t send him a bill.

. . .
Florida did pass a Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act three years ago, after an embarrassing slew of convictions were reversed, most after DNA testing. The law authorized paying innocents $50,000 for every year spent behind bars. It was an “illusory impact,” said Seth Miller, director of the Florida Innocence Project. Miller said the law included a “clean hands” provision that disqualifies a wrongfully convicted prisoner with a prior felony conviction.

“Clean hands” proved to be brilliant money saver for Florida (the only state with such a proviso). Cops don’t find their patsies on the membership rolls of the chamber of commerce. Miramar police knew Caravella from a string of juvenile offenses – the same crimes that now preclude him from compensation.

None of the dozen convicted men cleared by DNA testing in Florida have received compensation. A Sun Sentinel reporter found several afflicted with poverty, living off food stamps. Caravella had spent time in a homeless shelter. Only one, James Bain, who did 35 years of hard time, qualifies under “clean hands” and will likely get his money.

After all, William Dillon, who did 27 years on a trumped up murder conviction, had been busted in 1979 for possession of a single Quaalude. Of course, he’s out of the money. In a Kafka-like twist, Orlando Boquete, who did 13 years for a murder and robbery he didn’t commit, doesn’t qualify because he managed to escape prison while serving his wrongful sentence. Luis Diaz, the so-called Bird Road Rapist of Miami-Dade County who, as it turned out, wasn’t, did 25 years. Sorry, Luis. No money.

The list goes on; ruined lives for whom wrongful incarceration compensation remains an illusionary concept. Sorry guys but fairness . . . that’s a budget buster.

Fred makes the good point that these victims of wrongful incarceration don’t have any political clout.  They don’t have money to hire a lobbyist and they don’t have powerful backers with influence.  Without that, there is little chance for the law to be changed to give them some redress.

Two additonal points on compensation:

  • James Bain did a sit-down interview with Channel 10 news in Tampa (w/ video), which led to questions of the new Attorney General about why her office had been sitting on his application for compensation for the last five months.  Not surprisingly, a little scrutiny moved things along and it looks like Mr. Bain’s compensation will be paid imminently.

  • However, it is not all good news for exonerees seeking compensation.  Texas exoneree Anthony Graves, who spent 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, will not receive his compensation for wrongful incarceration because of a simple error in the order exonerating him.  Even though the prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge all agreed that Graves was “actually innocent,” these magic words required by the Texas compensation statute, were omitted from the judge’s order.  His lawyers are trying to remedy this but they are getting little help from the prosecutor or the Governor.

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