Posts Tagged ‘post-conviction’


Malcolm Scott and De’Marchoe Carpenter Mark First Successful Exoneration for Oklahoma Innocence Project

Kate Mathis — June 13, 2016 @ 1:00 PM — Comments (0)

After spending two decades behind bars for a crime they did not commit, a judge finally granted two Tulsa County men post-conviction relief. Malcolm Scott and De’Marchoe Carpenter were convicted over 20 years ago for the 1994 murder of Karen Summers. The 19-year-old was standing among a group of people outside a house party in September of that year when she was killed in a drive-by shooting. The men, both 18-years-old at the time, were convicted of first-degree murder, along with other charges in relation to the crime, and were sentenced to life and an additional 170 years in prison.

Their findings of actual innocence were largely based on the work of Eric Cullen, a Tulsa-based private investigator who started working on the case in 2006. Cullen discovered new evidence supporting Scott and Carpenter’s claims of innocence, including the confessions of three men who admitted to Summers’ murder and recantations from eyewitnesses who has testified against the pair during trial.

At a preliminary hearing, a man named Michael Wilson, who was charged with murder in the Summers case, testified that he had held the gun for Carpenter after the shooting. That testimony resulted in Wilson’s murder charge being reduced to accessory after the fact. Wilson was later convicted for a 1995 murder, and was sentenced to death. Billy Don Alverson and Richard Harjo, who was 16 at the time, were convicted as his co-defendants. Harjo was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, and Alverson received the death penalty and was executed in 2011. At a hearing in January, Harjo testified that Wilson had shot at a crowd of people in retaliation to being shot days before by a member of the Hoover Crips, whose gang members were among the crowd, and that police investigating the murder of Summers never contacted him.

In February and March of 2014, Scott and Carpenter submitted applications for post-conviction relief, claiming that after their trials, witnesses disclosed new evidence that proves they were not involved in the 1994 murder. That evidence includes video and confessions from Wilson’s execution-bed, where he claimed to be the actual shooter in the Summers case. After the Oklahoma Innocence Project accepted the case in 2011, they recorded a video interview with Wilson, in which he told a lawyer that he fired the shots that killed Summers. Wilson also admitted that Alverson and Harjo accompanied him in a vehicle. The video was played during a January hearing regarding the relief applications. During the hearing, attorneys representing Scott and Carpenter also argued that their clients’ trials were based heavily on two eyewitnesses’ testimonies that they later recanted in signed affidavits.

That hearing was held on January 29, in which District Judge Sharon Holmes scheduled a ruling for her decision regarding Scott and Carpenter’s post-conviction relief applications. She stated that by March 1, after she received proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, she would reach a ruling and scheduled it for Wednesday, April 13. During that hearing, however, Holmes postponed the ruling and rescheduled it for May 4. But after years of waiting and several postponements, Holmes finally set Scott and Carpenter free on Monday, May 9.

Despite prosecutors saying that they plan to appeal Holmes’ ruling, Scott and Carpenter’s overturned convictions are a victory for all. Not only are the men now free after wrongfully spending 20 years behind bars, but Cullen can also celebrate the win after working on the case for 10 years at no cost. It was one of the first cases he and his company accepted, and also the longest. Both men, unbeknownst to each other, responded to pamphlets that Cullen sent to Oklahoma prisons in 2006 that advertised his post-conviction relief work. Believing in their innocence, Cullen was intrigued by their case, stating that both men gave detailed descriptions of their innocence and even included information such as who he could talk to that would confirm their stories. In addition, Scott and Carpenter’s case is the first successful exoneration for the Oklahoma Innocence Project.

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The Innocent Prisoner’s Dilemma: The Everton Wagstaffe Case

Marianne Salcedo — September 26, 2014 @ 10:09 AM — Comments (0)

Since January 1992, Everton Wagstaffe has refused to leave prison in New York on probation because that would require him to admit guilt of a crime of which he has steadfastly maintained innocence. Many state legal systems explicitly require an admission of guilt as a condition for parole. In states such as Florida, the admission of guilt is implicit, requiring the convicted to acknowledge their culpability and demonstrate remorse for their crime and for the people they have wronged. Some prisoners, who have claimed innocence have gone ahead and admitted guilt in order to be eligible for release, but find that they are prevented from pursuing their claims of innocence later because they admitted guilt at the parole hearing. This is the innocent prisoner’s dilemma. Northwestern University law professor Daniel Medwell calls it a true Catch 22.

Wagstaffe was convicted in 1992 of the kidnapping and death of a 16-year old girl whose body was found on a Brooklyn street. He spent nearly 23 years in prison protesting for his freedom. On September 17, 2014, Wagstaffe’s conviction was finally reversed by a panel of New York state appeals court judges who found that prosecutors were not forthcoming with evidence that would have shown that detectives and an eye witness to the crime had misled the jury. There had been no other evidence other than the witness’s testimony, which during the recent review of the investigation documents it was discovered that the witness had  been prompted and coached.

Like some other wrongfully convicted exonerees who refused early release because of their integrity, Wagstaffe declined to accept release on parole or probation rather than admit that he had anything to do with the crime. For the time being, he remains in state prison.

Considering the growing number of conviction reversals and exonerations throughout the United States, the “act of grace” that parole boards function as, needs to consider the possibility of false convictions and allow parolees the ability to pursue their claims of innocence after they are released without penalty.

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Letting the Guilty Walk Free

Marianne Salcedo — September 19, 2014 @ 9:42 AM — Comments (1)

When the American system of justice allows an innocent person to be wrongfully convicted and imprisoned, someone else is getting away with murder. Murder or another crime — but the point is that laws and policies throughout the United States limit access to state-of-the-art DNA testing for inmates who claim innocence. On September 18, 2014, the Newark Star-Ledger Editorial Board published an editorial titled, “End the absurd bureaucracy around DNA testing.”

Given the incredible power of DNA to exonerate the innocent and expose the guilty, it’s alarming that a mountain of red tape still impedes its use.

The fact that, out of the 317 exonerations due to exculpatory DNA crime scene test results cited in the editorial, 153 of those results enabled police and prosecutors to identify and catch the real perpetrator, barriers to current DNA testing only serve to destroy innocent lives and let the guilty walk scot-free. As the Star-Ledger editorial notes:

This is not only a problem for the wrongly imprisoned, it’s a threat to public safety.

In Florida, past laws impacting post-sentence DNA testing were fraught with time limits for filing petitions and limitations on how long physical evidence from crime scenes was preserved. In 2006, Florida legislators removed those time limits and extended the time period for preservation of evidence. And to this state’s credit, all DNA test results conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have the ability to be run through both the state’s DNA database and the FBI’s CODIS. In New Jersey, the reliance on private labs for post-sentence testing means that the real perpetrator’s DNA may not be run through CODIS for a possible match ensuring that the true culprit will never be identified.

Gerald Richardson, a 2013 exoneree who was represented by the Innocence Project in New York, will testify before the legislature in New Jersey advocating that the state require post-sentence DNA tests to be compared with CODIS. Not only would identifying the real perpetrator speed the timeframe in which the falsely convicted are released from prison, but public safety would be improved by getting the true criminal off the streets. Our laws and policies should enhance Americans’ safety, not endanger it.

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DNA Evidence Clears Two men in 1983 North Carolina Murder Case

Justin Hirsche — September 03, 2014 @ 4:03 PM — Comments (0)

After spending 30 long years in prison, two brothers in North Carolina were exonerated Tuesday by a North Carolina Judge. Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown were both released from prison today They had been found guilty of the heinous rape and murder of an 11-year old girl. The two African American men were 15 and 19 at the time of the murder are both considered intellectually disabled. After long hours of unethical interrogation with no lawyer present each separately confessed to the crime, by signing statements written for them by police officers. But when they were sent to trial they recanted all of their statements confessing to the crime. Key evidence was left unaccounted for at the time of the trial. A similar murder had been committed in the same town within a month of the brother’s arrest, and a local man, Roscoe Artis, had confessed to the rape and murder of an 18-year old. Artis lived just a block from where the victim’s body had been found yet he was not seen as a suspect. A cigarette butt found near the vicitim’s body was tested  to see whose DNA would show up on it — there was not a match for either of the exonerees — but their was a match for Roscoe Artis’s DNA. Artis is currently serving a life sentence for his other rape and murder.

Leon Brown was sent away for life and Henry Lee McCollum received the death penalty with no evidence connecting them to the crime, but because they confessed to it under duress they had a huge chunk of their lives stolen. This just furthers the evidence that just because someone confesses to a crime when they are under immense pressure, that does not mean they are guilty of said crime. Roughly 25 percent of those wrongly convicted of crimes have admitted guilt during their initial interrogation, the only way we can stop this cruel treatment is to change the way we interrogate suspects and make sure all interrogations are videotaped. Over the past 23 years there have been over 2,000 exonerations in the United States and with the great news of today we can add two more to that ever growing list.

McCollum and Brown were defended in their search for the truth by Center for Death Penalty Litigation.

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The Changing Nature of Exonerations

Hannah Beery — March 11, 2014 @ 12:49 PM — Comments (0)

Across the country the “face of exonerations” are changing, and changing quickly. Last year in the United States there were 83 exonerations. Only 13 of these were based on DNA evidence. Ultimately, DNA is useful in only 5-10% of all cases, usually the ‘who dunnit’ type cases. Surprisingly, women make up the fastest growing population in prisons, and most cases involving female crimes are not DNA case, according to an article by TIME Magazine.

So what can we do to help the other 90% of cases?

Well, Texas has taken on this problem by passing legislature recognizing faulty forensic evidence as a basis for post-conviction release.

In Chicago, a federal judge issued a ruling finding “actual innocence” in a case based on shaken baby syndrome. Without the presence of DNA evidence, Jennifer Del Prete proved that it was impossible a jury could have found her guilty of murdering the child in her care. This has developed the idea that shaken baby syndrome is “more of an article of faith than a proposition of science”, according to U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly. Del Prete has not yet been exonerated, but it is likely she will be. When this happens her case is expected to follow in the footsteps of the non-DNA exonerations we had in 2013.

Recognizing the fact that not all wrongful conviction cases involve DNA, everyone in the criminal justice process must understand that wrongful convictions involve misidentifications, false confessions, and invalid forensic science, and be open to other avenues to prove actual innocence. While many states have taken this first step, there are also many who haven’t.

Check out this article from TIME Magazine by Deborah Tuerkheimer, Professor of Law at DePaul University College of Law, that goes more in-depth on this particular exoneration topic and was used as a resource for this blog post.

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For the Exonerated: Years Taken and Nothing Given Back

Henry Thompson — September 03, 2013 @ 12:45 PM — Comments (0)

Many of those who are exonerated of crimes they did not commit often leave prison and enter a world where they are alone. Many exonerees that are without the care of family or friends, some of whom have been in prison for 10 or 20 or more years, struggle with re-integrating into society. The lack of support given to them by the prison system and their state government is appalling and needs to be addressed by a larger audience.

Recent exoneree Johnnie O'Neal  seeks compensation for his incarceration.

Recent exoneree Johnnie O’Neal

Not only do many exonerees need counseling upon their release but more often than not exonerees rightfully seek compensation for time served. Exonerees are given no assistance in seeking out legal expertise needed to help with their problems. One such man who was recently exonerated from a New York prison is Johnnie O’Neal. O’Neal served 28 years for a rape he did not commit. In a case of mistaken identity, O’Neal was arrested and sent to prison in 1985 and was denied parole on multiple occasions, because he denied ever committing the crime. O’Neal was initially released in 1998 on parole and had subsequent minor parole violations.

With the help of the Legal Aid Society in New York, O’Neal’s wrongful conviction was rectified in 2013. After being labeled a violent sex offender for more than 10 years, the Legal Aid Society helped reopen the case in 2010 and O’Neal was exonerated three years later on July 15, 2013.

O’Neal has stated that he will bring a lawsuit against those responsible for his wrongful incarceration and the subsequent difficulties he experienced in supporting himself as an ex-convict and an accused sex offender.

O’Neal’s case draws attention to the lack of support for and acknowledgement of the problems exonerees face upon their release. O’Neal now must search out the right course of action to somehow gain redress for his his time served and opportunities lost.

More information on Johnnie O’Neal’s case can be found at the New York Daily News and the Innocence Project. Further information on state compensation statutes and exoneree support can be found in the Innocence Project’s compensation report Making Up For Lost Time: What The Wrongfully Convicted Endure And How To Provide Fair Compensation.

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Former Police Captain Exonerated After 15 Years in Ohio Prison

Jessica — January 30, 2013 @ 10:33 AM — Comments (0)

Persons who have been wrongfully convicted often speak of what kept them going while incarcerated. Some find hope through music, their families, or higher powers. For Douglas Prade, it was a diary. In it contained the names of all the students who worked on his case during the past ten years. Every year he would add new names and cross out previous ones, giving him hope that one day he would be a free man.

After many years of appeals and applications for post-conviction DNA, Prade was declared innocent and walked out court a free man on January 29, 2013 for the murder of his wife. Congratulations to all involved. The Ohio Innocence Project worked feverishly for years in order to produce a compelling case with DNA results against the State of Ohio for his wrongful conviction.

Margo Prade was a highly respected doctor and Doug Prade was a police captain awaiting a promotion to become Akron, Ohio’s newest police chief.

In November of 1997, Dr. Margo Prade was found fatally shot in her car outside her medical facility in Akron. Testimony from two eyewitnesses that placed him at the scene of the crime as well as a forensic dentist claiming the bite mark on Margo’s jacket belonged to Doug, left him with little hope.

In 1998, Judge Mary Spicer sentenced Douglas to a life in prison for aggravated murder.

As one of the largest high profile murder cases in Ohio, Douglas Prade maintained his innocence. Douglas filed multiple applications for post-conviction DNA testing. In 2010, testing was granted; the Court declared new methods had arose which had invalidated previous DNA testing done in the murder case. After expert testimony and questioning was completed, Judge Judy Hunter claimed, “the evidence was clear and convincing.” The DNA testing performed on the sleeve of Margo’s lab coat eliminated the possibility of Douglas as the victim’s killer. In that moment, the Court overturned his convictions and was ordered to be released from prison.

Congratulations to Douglas Prade and to the Ohio Innocence Project as their hard work and dedication made this exoneration possible.

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Weekly Update: Post-Conviction DNA and Eyewitness Reforms, but Innocent Men Still Behind Bars

Chelsea — February 09, 2012 @ 5:59 PM — Comments (0)

Innocent Man Remains on Death Row

Tyrone Noling has been held on death row in Ohio since February 21, 1996. Noling has maintained his innocence since that day.

In the mid-1990s Tyrone Noling was convicted of the murders of Cora and Bearnhardt Hartig, an elderly couple. Noling was convicted in 1995, five years after the murders actually occurred, and was not linked to the crime by anything other than several eyewitnesses; eyewitnesses, mind you, that did not come forward until several years after the crime. Three witnesses placed Tyrone at the scene of the crime and claimed to have heard him confess to the murders. All three witnesses have now claimed that they only gave these statements because they were threatened by prosecutorial investigator Ron Craig.

Tyrone has filed for various appeals and continues fighting to prove his innocence, but the state of Ohio seems, for reasons unknown, to want to keep him on death row. In spite of the fact that there  is no physical evidence linking him to the murders and that all witnesses have recanted, Tyrone still has not been granted a new trial. Read more here.

Massachusetts Post-Conviction DNA Testing Bill Approved

A bill that will bring Massachusetts up to speed regarding prisoners’ right to post-conviction DNA testing. Up until this point Massachusetts has been one of four states without measures allowing prisoners access to this testing, thereby limiting the ability for innocent people to prove that they were wrongfully convicted. Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly explains that, “in order to become eligible for post-conviction access to DNA evidence, an individual serving a sentence must win a motion before a judge that shows the evidence could possibly result in an acquittal.” The bill, which the Senate approved last July, was unanimously approved by the House yesterday and is now headed to the governor’s desk.

Virginia Takes Its Time Freeing an Innocent Man

Bennett Barbour was convicted in 1978 of a rape that he did not commit. Barbour only served 4 1/2 years of his 18 year sentence (he was convicted of robbery, as well), as he made parole the first time he came up for consideration. However, he was not proven innocent until several weeks ago when the Virginia Department of Forensic Sciences finally released the information that DNA testing proved Barbour was innocent. The Department of Forensic Sciences has been working on DNA testing many old cases as a part of their post-conviction DNA project. This project seeks to expose wrongful convictions and solve some cold cases.Unfortunately, it would seem that the releasing the information that Mr. Barbour was innocent was not a priority, as the department had the DNA results for 18 months before they informed Mr. Barbour. Read more here.

Retired Connecticut Supreme Court Justice David Borden Pushes for Eyewitness Identification Reform

Connecticut is currently in the process of adopting various measures to reform eyewitness identification. A law was passed last year that mandates that police use a double-blind procedure in conducting lineups. This double-blind procedure refers to conducting a line-up where the administrator does not know who the suspect is and the witness is told that the officer does not know who the suspect is. This decreases the possibility of police officers influencing, accidentally or otherwise, the witnesses selection. The law added a caveat though, stating that law-enforcement should adopt this procedure “where practicable.” The law also set up a task for to investigate eyewitness identifications; the task force is headed by former Connecticut Supreme Court Justice David Borden and has recommended that police start using sequential photo lineups as opposed to side-by-side lineups. Read more here.

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News This Week: Exoneration is Only Half of the Battle & DNA Reform

Chelsea — January 31, 2012 @ 4:43 PM — Comments (1)

Exonoree Scott Fappiano Struggles After His Name Is Cleared

In 1985 Scott Fappiano was wrongfully convicted of the rape of a police officer’s wife in the Brooklyn Supreme Court. He was 23 when he was incarcerated, and remained in prison until he was proved innocent by DNA evidence and exonerated at the age of 45.

For Fappiano, like many other exonorees, exoneration was only the first step in the battle of getting his life back. Since his release, Fappiano has dealt with multiple substance abuse issues as a result of his anxiety and post traumatic stress that he developed as a result of  his wrongful incarceration. Fappiano now faces more jail time for crimes he admits to having committed as a member of the reputed Colombo crime family in New York. Fappiano’s attorney argues that his ordeal with the criminal justice system has already taken a huge toll and is asking the court for leniency. Read more here.

UPDATE: Fappiano received a light sentence for his use of extortion and violence in collecting a debt. On Wednesday he was sentend only with the month that he had already served  before making bail. He will also have to pay a $40,000 fine and serve 180 hours of community service.

Pennsylvania Legislature Considers Compensation Laws for Exonorees

Pennsylvania’s legislature is discussing wrongful convictions, their causes and potential remedies including compensation for exonerated victims. Currently, Pennsylvania is one of 28 states that does not compensate its exonorees once they are released from prison. According to an article from Pennsylvania’s Innocence Institute, exonorees receive less assistance reentering into society than do parolees. Parolees can receive help finding house, with job training, and then help with finding jobs.

Not so with victims of the justice system.

Exonoree Danny Tyus lost everything during his time behind the jailhouse door; his children no longer recognize him as their father, and he lost his house, his car, and all of his financial holdings. It seems incredibly backwards that if wrongfully convicted people serve their sentence and are eventually let out on parole then they would have access to a litany of resources to aid in their reentry to society, yet those proven innocent, those who have served time for crimes that they never committed, are sent out without any help or guidance. Are we to encourage criminal behavior? Or just to reward those who stay silent and suffer in spite of their innocence.

The proposed compensation legislation would provide $50,000 per year spent in prison to exonerated citizens. Hopefully Pennsylvania’s legislature will move forward on the road towards legal reform and pass the bill, soon.

Jackson, MS Exonoree Receives Settlement Result of Police Misconduct

Cedric Willis sued the city of Jackson, MS, as well as four police officers. His suit finally paid off with the city agreeing to a $195,000 settlement with Mr. Willis. Cedric has already been rewarded $500,000 in compensation for his wrongful incarceration to be paid by the state over 10 years.

Willis served 12 years in jail for a homicide and three counts of robbery, none of which he committed. His suit argued that Jackson police officers acted unprofessionally by lying about eyewitness testimony that led to Willis’s arrest and ultimately his conviction.

Willis’s attorney Rob McDuff was disappointed with the settlement, but cites a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding eyewitness identification as making this sort of case difficult to win.

Hopefully this settlement and Willis’s previous compensation will aid in his transition back into society. Read more here.

Law & Order Star Mariska Hargitay Endorses  DNA Database Expansion

Last week New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his desire to make New York the first state to expands its DNA database to improve the justice system. Currently, DNA is collected from only about half of defendants convicted of a crime. Cuomo’s initiative would expand that collection to cover all crimes, which he says would aid in solving and preventing future crimes as well as exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals.

Law & Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay released a video yesterday expressing her support for this initiative. Hargitay, who has played New York Detective Olivia Benson for over a decade, said that this role opened her eyes to the realities of sexual and physical abuse that occurs in this country every day. In her video she focuses on how the expansion of the DNA database would bring healing and justice to the survivors of sexual and physical assaults.

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Chicago Exonoree Thaddeus Jiminez Wins $25 million for wrongful conviction

Thaddeus “TJ” Jiminiez, spent 16 years in a Chicago prison for a murder he did not commit. Now, three years after Jiminez was exonerated and received his certificate of innocence, he won a civil suit against the city of Chicago and was awarded $25 million. His attorneys believe this award to be the largest ever received from a wrongful conviction civil suit.

At 13-years-old Jiminez was convicted of the murder of 19-year-old Eric Morro. The murder was believed to have been a gang-related shooting. Jiminez was freed after a witness recanted and police examined a recording of another man confessing to the shooting.

Unfortunately, this decision may not be the end of the ordeal for Jiminez. A spokesman for Chicago’s law department Roderick Drew said that the city is exceptionally displeased with the outcome and will be exploring all available options.

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Weekly Update

Chelsea — January 19, 2012 @ 11:56 AM — Comments (1)

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo called for an expansion of the DNA database in his State of the State speech this month. His call would expand DNA collection to include all felony convictions and all penal law misdemeanors, expanding the DNA database which currently only collects samples for less than half of all criminal convictions in New York state.

Not surprisingly, both the District Attorney’s office and other law enforcement offices support this plan. But according to an article in the Poughkeepsie Journal, “civil libertarians oppose the legislation because they believe it would infringe on people’s rights and they don’t think there is enough oversight and quality control in the system.”  While the focus of this proposed expansion seems to be that an expanded DNA database would allow for greater and more effective prosecution, the revelation of wrongful convictions that this would bring about was also mentioned. Read more here.

A week has passed without any movement on William Dillon’s Compensation Bill. The bill was passed by the Senate last week, and was read in the House last Tuesday but has made no progress since then. We’re hoping that the House will take up and pass this bill soon, to get Dillon the compensation owed to him.

Thomas E. Haynesworth of Richmond, VA, is facing a similar battle with obtaining the compensation that he expected after serving 27 years for a rape he did not commit. Haynesworth has received a proposal for a compensation package, one that could potentially be worth more than $800,000, but he was disappointed with this amount. In Virginia, exonorees are not entitled to compensation but must have that compensation approved by the General Assembly. They may receive up to $40,000 per year served in prison, but there is a cap of 20 years. So, Haynesworth cannot receive compensation for the full amount he time he spent as an innocent man in prison. While this situation is not ideal, Haynesworth is lucky at least to be dealing with this issue in Viginia, one of only 27 states that provides compensation to their exonorees. Read more here.

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