Posts Tagged ‘prison’

Please Give Generously to the Innocence Project of Florida

Alejandra de la Fuente — December 16, 2014 @ 5:27 PM — Comments (0)

My end-of-year appeal to you is short and heartfelt. Through your generous donations, the Innocence Project of Florida frees innocent men and women from Florida prisons.

Today, our exonerees shout the joy of freedom, but most were serving life sentences. Without you and the Innocence Project of Florida, they might have died in prison with no one ever to hear them or help them.

All of them were young with their lives ahead of them; all of them had mothers and fathers; all were shackled and locked up. Collectively, Florida’s 14 DNA exonerees were imprisoned for more than a quarter of a millenium (268 years) for crimes they did not commit. For a very long time, no one heard their cries.

We hear them. The Innocence Project of Florida currently has more than 30 cases in litigation and we are anticipating up to three new exonerations in 2015. We receive hundreds of requests from prisoners each year — but we cannot help them without you.

For the sake of every innocent man and woman who is spending this holiday season locked up in prison hoping for a miracle, please donate generously to the Innocence Project of Florida. Do not let them spend another year behind bars.

Thank you. I wish you a happy and peaceful New Year— and one that is filled with miracles!

Seth Miller, Esq.
Executive Director

Charitable Giving,exoneration,Innocence Project of Florida,justice,prison, , , , , ,

Fraud Warning: Taking Money from the Vulnerable

Alejandra de la Fuente — September 30, 2014 @ 12:16 PM — Comments (0)

There are unscrupulous folks out there posing as legitimate innocence organizations who are targeting people in prison and their vulnerable mothers, wives, and other family members in order to take their money.  If this sounds harsh, consider the flyer below that was received by the Innocence Network.

Flyer received from Project Innocence of America

There is no such “Project Innocence of America,” or the other group to which the flyer asks for $1,000 checks to be made out, “Probable Grounds For Action.”  Another known imposter is “The Innocence Network at Bailey Law.” To incarcerated people and their anxious and distraught wives, mothers, children, and grandmothers, these bad guys guarantee release from prison in “five to eight years.” What the prisoners and their families will be is $1,000 poorer with no results.

Please NEVER SEND MONEY for legal services to anyone claiming to be an innocence organization.  ALL legal services provided by organizations like the Innocence Project of Florida, who are bona fide members of the Innocence Network, are FREE.

Please note the warning on our website and on most innocence organizations websites: “Fraud Alert: We have heard that there are people who fraudulently represent themselves as working for the Innocence Project of Florida, promising legal representation in exchange for money. These people do not work for the Innocence Project of Florida. If you believe you have been contacted by such a person, please contact us. The Innocence Project of Florida provides all legal representation for free. While we rely on charitable donations to support our work, we never solicit money for our services from our clients.”

If you or a loved one are approached by an organization posing as an innocence organization and asking for money to represent an incarcerated person, contact us or the Innocence Network so that we can take appropriate action against these dishonest endeavors.

exoneration,Innocence Project of Florida,post-conviction,prison,Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

DNA Evidence Clears Two men in 1983 North Carolina Murder Case

Alejandra de la Fuente — 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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Two Men at the Mercy of the Courts

Alejandra de la Fuente — September 05, 2013 @ 8:00 AM — Comments (0)

In the news last week were two men who have both claimed to be innocent of the crimes for which they have been convicted for more than 35 years. The battle for justice is over for both of them, but for very different reasons. On August 28th, Anthony McKinney died while attempting to prove his innocence and regain his life.  On August 29th, Milton Scarborough was given back his life and released from prison after 36 years of denying his guilt.

On August 29th, 2013 Milton Scarborough, 73, of Pennsylvania, was released from prison for a murder he was convicted of in 1976. Scarborough was not found innocent and his conviction still stands as he was released through a deal made between him and the courts. Scarborough has been challenging his wrongful conviction case at the state and federal level, as well as denying his guilt for decades without success. Scarborough contends that with DNA testing he would be exonerated of his crime. A Pennsylvania Superior Court decision noted that the absence of Scarborough’s DNA at the crime scene does not ensure that he was not present at the crime. About a month after this decision was made to not fund DNA testing for Scarborough, however, Lycoming District Attorney Eric R. Linhardt announced that Scarborough would be released to his family. He will be monitored by the courts for the duration of his sentence as a condition of the agreement. If Scarborough would have won an appeal, to retry him would have been difficult and expensive for the state to pursue due to a lack of witnesses and valid testimonies.

On Wednesday August 28, just one day before Scarborough’s release, a man who was desperately trying to prove his innocence died while still in prison. Anthony McKinney was found deceased in his cell yesterday with the cause of death yet to be determined, though foul play is not suspected. McKinney was arrested in 1978 for the murder of a security guard. At 18 years old, McKinney pled guilty after being beaten with pipes by police. Although there were witnesses who stated that McKinney was not present at the murder scene, Anthony McKinney stayed imprisoned for 35 years.

1377717885-mckinneyUnfortunately judges never heard McKinney’s case due to six years of delays and controversies. Karen Daniel, the lead attorney for Anthony McKinney and an attorney for the Center for Wrongful Convictions stated “The criminal justice system failed Anthony.”

In McKinney’s case, his imprisoned life led to his untimely death at age 53. McKinney is a victim of the backlog of cases upon cases that are waiting at the door of courthouses around the country. Along with the large amounts of time taken to prove innocence, prosecutorial bias can slow the process as well.  The Illinois court system failed in its duty to provide justice for all people.

These two cases reflect the priorities of these two justice systems. In either case, the courts and the prosecution had motives for either responding to an inmate’s cries for justice or ignoring them. These actions, as all of the actions of any public official, should be constantly monitored and judged on the basis of fairness and justice.

More information about Scarborough’s case can be found The Patriot News (1) while information of Anthony McKinney can be found at The Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Reader.

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The Real. The Authentic. The Bona Fide.

Alejandra de la Fuente — May 10, 2012 @ 9:48 AM — Comments (0)

While many of us might enjoy the cerebral pleasures that films may bring into our busy—and sometimes over-extended—lives, we, typically, are not privy to the real-world, everyday realities of what goes on in courtrooms, jails, prisons and associated legal institutions across the nation, unless, of course, we are professionally associated with a specific legal case (or cases).

Our lives are most often not directly affected with the burdens associated with individuals incarcerated in county, state and/or federal facilities. Some of the quiet mantras or prejudices those of us on the “outside” may sometimes harbor might suggest a private, subtle reservation: those on the “inside” most likely engaged the act for which they have been imprisoned. No Questions Asked.  End of Story.

With the influx of cable television and “reality” shows, and cable programming’s prominent place in our living rooms, viewers are sometimes left to decipher the good, the bad and the ugly from the fictional, false and artificial.

Herewith are ten solid films and programs which address real, authentic and bona fide matters of wrongful convictions, false imprisonment, eyewitness identification, recantations, forensic evidence, prosecutorial misconduct and related issues:

  • The Exonerated (2006): Starring Danny Glover, Susan Sarandon and Aidan Quinn. The film tells the story of six individuals who were exonerated after being sentenced to death. (The film is Court-TV’s film version of the play of the same name.)
  • Conviction (2010): Starring Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell. “Conviction” presents the true-life story of a woman determined to prove her brother’s innocence for a crime for which he has been falsely convicted.
  •  American Justice: Programs include “Lying Eyes” (2001); “Another Man’s Crimes” (2007); “The Green Beret Murder Mystery” (2000). Bill Kurtis serves as the show’s host.
  • Dead Men Talking (1998): The program covers the National Conference on Wrongful Conviction and the Death Penalty. The show includes a discussion with Barry Scheck, Rolando Cruz, Dennis Williams, and Kirk Bloodsworth.
  • After Innocence (2005): After Innocence tells the dramatic and compelling story of the exonerated – innocent men wrongfully imprisoned for decades and then released after DNA evidence proved their innocence. Focusing on the gripping stories of seven men, including a police officer, an army sergeant and a young father that were sent to prison for decades – in some cases death row – for crimes they did not commit, After Innocence explores the emotional journeys these men face when thrust back into society with little or no support from the system that put them behind bars.
  • ABC (Prime Time): False Confessions (2006): The program focuses on the phenomenon of false confessions and interrogation tactics that can lead people to confess to crimes they did not commit. The cases of John Restivo, Dennis Halstead, and John Kogut, who were exonerated through DNA evidence in New York.
  • Murder on a Sunday Morning (2001): This Oscar-winning documentary follows the defense case of an African American teenager wrongly accused of robbing and murdering a white tourist in Florida. The film focuses on racism and misconduct in the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
  • The Trials of Darryl Hunt (2006): The story of Darryl Hunt’s decades-long fight for justice after being wrongfully convicted of rape and murder. The film follows Hunt’s multiple appeals and chronicles the police misconduct that contributed to the 20 years Hunt spent in prison for a crime he did not commit. The documentary was short-listed for an Academy Award for best documentary.
  • Dallas DNA (2009): A program presented by Investigation Discovery highlights the Conviction Integrity Unity, a division of the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office dedicated to clearing innocent inmates through post-conviction DNA testing.
  • A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life (2011): A film by Werner Herzog, the documentary tells the story of two death row inmates in the United States. Conversations were filmed at the prison facilities in Livingston and Huntsville, Texas, with the accused: Michael Perry and Jason Burkett. Herzog maintains that he doesn’t present a position on the issue of the death penalty, but he does have “a story to tell.”

Many of these videos are available for purchase through this website along with several books also dealing with wrongful conviction from A portion of the proceeds are returned to IPF. Click here to review and purchase.

exoneration,justice,post-conviction,prison,Uncategorized, , , ,

The Value of a Human Life

Alejandra de la Fuente — June 20, 2011 @ 4:12 PM — Comments (1)

You often hear the phrase that it’s impossible to place a value on a human life. I would argue that, in fact, “the impossible” occurs every day. Actuaries employed by insurance companies are paid to calculate a premium value for a human life based on an individual’s risk factors determined, in part, by race, gender, and socioeconomic status. I would also argue that some law enforcement officials assign a life’s value when they over-zealously investigate some crimes – especially homicide – while putting others on the back burner.

The death of an upstanding citizen or high profile individual, for instance, usually garners the force of the justice system more vigorously than that of a homeless person or one previously convicted of a crime, petty or otherwise. I would also argue that law enforcement, and society in general, care less about wrongful conviction if the defendant is from meager or questionable circumstances than if he is not.

One has only to watch the endless popular parade of real-life crime documentaries on television. Routinely, programs such as “Dateline” and “48 Hours” feature articulate, well-connected families that know how to use the media to keep alive the investigations of crimes perpetrated against their loved ones. Reruns of “Cold Case Files”, on the other hand, often spotlight crimes against powerless families who mourn the loss of their loved ones until some investigator takes up their case because he or she is assigned to close out old crime files or the agency gets a grant to run DNA tests on exhibits in its evidence locker.

There are obvious dangers in applying a crass cost-benefit analysis to either rushing to flawed judgment in prosecuting individuals accused of crimes or prematurely abandoning the pursuit of justice, however. Even ignoring the suffering of the wrongly accused, let’s focus on the financial costs to communities that house or execute the wrong person.

This came to mind recently as Governor Scott signed into law the end of the Commission on Capital Cases, thus terminating the sole Florida statutory body assigned the responsibility of reviewing capital convictions. He did it to save the State of Florida $400,000, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. However, he apparently did not consider other financial consequences to the State.

I’m talking about real, identifiable expenses including taxpayer costs to prosecute, house, clothe, feed, provide medical care, and (God forbid) put to death the wrongly convicted. And what of the appeals’ process costs footed by the State? Not to mention the court costs incurred by using resources to further clog court dockets by diverting funds to pursue the wrong person. Furthermore, since the actual perpetrator may still be at large, the State might be spending money to investigate and prosecute crimes that could have been prevented had we taken more care to prosecute the right person.

Finally, what about compensation costs once we discover that we got it wrong in the first place? Especially in view of what the Tallahassee Democrat reiterates – that…”since 1973… Florida has exonerated more inmates sentenced to death than any other state.”

These facts seriously call into question the direction our State is taking leaving us asking why?

justice,prison,Uncategorized, , , , ,

Without Words – In 60 Seconds

Alejandra de la Fuente — June 17, 2011 @ 10:21 AM — Comments (2)

It is impossible to understand the loss that occurs during a wrongful incarceration and even more difficult to communicate to those who have never been down that road. However, two recent FSU graduates, Michelle Kinne and Michael Dorfman, undertook the challenge of creating a public service announcement for IPF that succinctly demonstrates the loss and the need for our work. We want to share with you their work.

We want to thank Michelle and Michael for their efforts, creativity, and hard work. Hopefully, you’ll see this PSA on TV stations around Florida and their work in years to come.

We hope you’ll share this with your family and friends.

Innocence Project of Florida,justice,prison, , , , ,

Where’s the Outrage?

Alejandra de la Fuente — June 10, 2011 @ 12:22 PM — Comments (1)

I’ve never been arrested –falsely or otherwise. Nobody I love has ever been imprisoned. So why does it bother me so much that, at this very moment, persons who are perfect strangers to me are doing time for someone else’s crime?

I think I know.

Being put in a cage for a wrong you didn’t commit is one of the worst things that can possibly happen to you. Even though some might not share my passion for this injustice in a world where injustice runs rampant, all would agree that having that happen to them is, in a word, unspeakable. So where’s the public outcry?

To date, Innocence Projects nationwide have helped exonerate more than 270 persons wrongly convicted of crimes. With this in mind, why don’t “we the people” clamor for more safeguards to prevent egregious injustice like this from continuing? With existing DNA testing, the truth is often accessible. So why do prosecutors continue their efforts to suppress the truth? And where’s the outrage when they do?

I believe once-prized beliefs are under siege — namely truth, compassion, courage, and selflessness. They’ve become unfashionable, un-cool and are often trumped by self-importance, shallowness, selfishness, and complacency. The State of Florida, for example, had a chance to reverse this trend during this legislative session. But it did not.

Our elected leaders lacked the political will to say to say “Yes” to improving police photo identification procedures. They rejected efforts to set up reviews for death penalty cases. And they said “No”  to compensating Bill Dillon, who ripped out the fixtures in his cell because it was all he could do to vent his hopelessness and frustration at forfeiting more than 27 years of his life for a crime he didn’t commit.

Shame on our leaders for their callous disregard of upholding the pursuit of justice and readdressing an injustice that has been brought to their attention. And shame on all of us for not displaying more outrage directed at pressuring them to more effectively uphold the values we profess to hold dear.

Collectively, as citizens of our nation and, most specifically, our state, we have to do better.

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A Personal Reflection

Alejandra de la Fuente — December 16, 2010 @ 1:05 PM — Comments (3)

I have been with the Innocence Project of Florida for about five months now. I am not an attorney nor do I have a background in law enforcement or criminal justice. I am responsible for our fundraising efforts to support the work done by IPF every day – helping to find and free people who have been wrongfully convicted primarily using DNA testing. And what an honor it is. The following poem was included in a Christmas card we received from one of our clients – a young man of 22 who has been incarcerated for 10 years. (Yes, my numbers are right…he’s 22 and has been imprisoned for 10 years).

So many things in the line of duty
Drain us of effort and leave us no beauty
And the dust of the soil grows thick and unswept
And spirit is drenched in tears unwept
But just as we fall beside the road
Discouraged with life and bowed down with our load
We life our eyes, and what seemed a dead end
Is the street of dreams where we meet a friend

Well, it tugged on my heart. I hope it touches yours.

Innocence Project of Florida,prison, , ,

The Problem and the Solution

Alejandra de la Fuente — August 25, 2010 @ 9:00 AM — Comments (0)

Flickr user Sean Munson.

While the Innocence Project of Florida was celebrating the first step toward an exoneration for Derrick Williams, many Americans – and people all over the world – were reading the Economist‘s most recent cover story, Rough Justice in America. The multi-part series details the endemic problems in America’s justice system, the gruesome statistics of which will be old news to many of us in the criminal justice community. (One in 100 Americans behind bars; imprisoning several times more people than Germany or Britain by population; increasingly harsh sentencing laws for nonviolent crimes; etc.) But the article was peppered with anecdotes that, as always, help to put a human face on the problem.

A 65-year-old man who imported orchids for a living, indicted for smuggling because his suppliers kept sloppy paperwork, and prosecuted as the “kingpin” of a smuggling ring. He was thrown in prison with an alleged murderer and two alleged drug dealers.

A depressed drug addict, busted in a dawn raid and sentenced to 7 years in prison. (The drug laws in Massachusetts are harsher on drug dealers than they are on armed rapists, the article notes.)

A three strikes offender in Alabama who eventually received a life sentence when the straw that broke the camel’s back was theft of a bicycle. And on, and on.

The Economist says most problems with the justice system can be traced to three systemic flaws: “First, it puts too many people away for too long. Second, it criminalises acts that need not be criminalised. Third, it is unpredictable. Many laws, especially federal ones, are so vaguely written that people cannot easily tell whether they have broken them.”

The human face of the problem, well illustrated by the cover story, is horrifying and frustrating. But America, not for the first time, has also been made into an international curiosity by being featured on the cover of the reputable British magazine. It is imperative that we as a country start searching for solutions, and what the Economist‘s article lacks is a mention of the progress is being made.

Flickr user sylvar.

Enter S.714, the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2010, introduced by Jim Webb (D-VA), which would establish “a National Criminal Justice Commission to undertake a comprehensive review of all areas of the criminal justice system.” The first charge of such a commission would be to make “recommendations for changes in oversight, policies, practices, and laws designed to prevent, deter, and reduce crime and violence, improve cost-effectiveness, and ensure the interests of justice.”

The bill has been heralded as promising from criminal justice advocates, and enjoys the support of the LAPD, The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), Human Rights Watch, and other organizations, both in law enforcement and in criminal defense. The remarkable agreement between parties on this bill speaks to the true size and scope of the problem it is designed to address.

An analogous bill was introduced into the House of Representatives by William Delahunt (D-MA), and was passed by the House on July 27th. The bill has been placed on the calendar in the Senate, and awaits further action there. We can hope that it finds similar support in the Senate as it did in the House. If so, it would await signature by President Obama, and would represent a ray of light in the struggle for criminal justice. The bill is the most promising measure in recent memory, and it seems that reasonable people are finally coming together to declare that “Enough is enough,” and it is time to fix our broken justice system.

Ryan Jenkins is a doctoral student in philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder and a guest contributor to Plain Error. Photos by Flickr users Sean Munson and sylvar.

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