Posts Tagged ‘witness misidentification’

Exoneration Anniversary: Jerry Miller!

Taylor Thornton — April 23, 2018 @ 4:47 PM — Comments (0)

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Happy Exoneration Anniversary Jerry Miller!!

On October 1, 1982 Jerry Miller was convicted of rape, robbery, and kidnapping and sentenced to 45 years following the brutal attack of a woman entering her vehicle in a Chicago, Illinois parking garage. Despite his alibi and the victim being unable to accurately identify her attacker, Miller was convicted based primarily on the identification by employees of the parking garage who had seen the true assailant.

In 2005 the Innocence Project took on Miller’s case. A slip worn by the victim at the time containing DNA was tested and Jerry Miller was able to be excluded. At that time, the Cook County State Attorney’s Office joined the Cook County Public Defender’s Office and the Innocence Project in filing a joint motion to vacate Jerry Miller’s conviction. The DNA testing was also able to identify the true attacker when the profile was entered into the FBI offender database. Happy 11 years of freedom Jerry Miller!!

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Exoneration Anniversary: Megan Winfrey and Victor Larue Thomas!

Taylor Thornton — April 17, 2018 @ 10:48 AM — Comments (0)

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Happy Exoneration Anniversary Megan Winfrey!!

In 2008 Megan Winfrey was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 2004 murder of Murray Burr in Coldspring, Texas. Her conviction was based on circumstantial evidence, primarily scent evidence from bloodhounds employed by the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Department who allegedly “alerted” to Megan as well as her brother and father. In February of 2013 Megan Winfrey was acquitted when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the dog scent evidence was insufficient. Megan was released on April 17, 2013 when the state was denied their petition to retry her. Happy 5 years of freedom Megan Winfrey!

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Happy Exoneration Anniversary Victor Larue Thomas!!

Victor Thomas was sentenced to three life terms on June 15, 1986 for the beating and raping of a worker during the robbing of a convenience store in Waxahachie, Texas. Thomas’ conviction rested on his identification by the victim and her testimony in court. After writing numerous letters from behind bars trying to get help, state District Judge Gene Knize took notice of Victor. Judge Knize appointed Victor an attorney, asked the Ellis County District Attorney’s Office to re-investigate the case, and asked for DNA testing. DNA testing excluded Victor from being the attacker and he was released in June of 2001. Finally, Texas Governor Rick Perry pardoned him on April 17, 2002. Happy 16 years of freedom Victor Larue Thomas!!

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Exoneration Anniversary: Derrick Williams

Taylor Thornton — April 04, 2018 @ 11:54 AM — Comments (0)

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Happy 7 year exoneration anniversary Derrick Williams!!

In March of 1993 Derrick Williams was found guilty of kidnapping, sexual battery, robbery, grand theft auto, two counts of battery and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in prison. Williams’ conviction was based strongly on the misidentification of the victim in court.

The victim was attacked inside of her car in her driveway in Palmetto, Florida at 6pm on August 6, 1992. The attacker drove the victim to an orange grove where she was raped, robbed, and beaten before she managed to escape. When the victim worked with police to create a composite sketch, one officer thought that the sketch looked like Derrick Williams. The officer recognized Derrick from his acquittal in a very similar 1981 case of abduction and rape in a Florida orange grove. Williams’ photo was placed in a photo lineup where the victim identified him and she subsequently identified him in a live lineup. Despite his alibi which was corroborated by many witnessed brought by the defense, and the holes in the prosecution’s case, Derrick Williams was convicted on March 19, 1993.

Following his conviction, with the help of the Innocence Project of Florida, Derrick was able to request DNA testing of a shirt that the attacker had worn and later used to cover the victim’s face during the attack. The t-shirt was found in the victim’s backseat after the incident. Despite the negligent destruction of much of the physical evidence in Williams’ case by incineration, they were able to test sweat and skin cells on the collar of the t-shirt. These tests were able to exclude Williams as a possible contributor of this DNA. The Innocence Project of Florida filed a motion for post conviction relief based on the new DNA evidence and the unlawful destruction of exculpatory by the police. Following a two day evidentiary hearing Derrick Williams was granted a new trial on March 29, 2011. On April 4, 2011 the prosecution dismissed the charges and Derrick Williams was released.

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New Evidence Spotlights Misidentification

Alejandra de la Fuente — May 30, 2012 @ 10:59 AM — Comments (0)

New Trayvon evidence reveals witness (misidentification issues

Recently released evidence from the Trayvon Martin case brings the witness identification fallacies to the public forefront. Too bad no intuitive journalistic research was spent inspecting this evidence all along. Maybe in interest for themselves, the media can consider the following witnesses’ story changes as an excuse for their one-sided reporting the story. Doing so would bring the topic of witness misidentification to the public discussion.

“I know after seeing the TV of what’s happening, comparing their sizes, I think Zimmerman was definitely on top because of his size,” said Witness 12, a younger mother who witnessed the incident from her home in the neighborhood. Six days after her initial March 20 interview, during which she expressed her inability to distinguish who was on the ground and who was on top, she stated the above quote. Her observation of size was newly introduced in this second interview. Considering what the psychology of misidentification has suggested, her already hazed memory of the situation could have been morphed by her “seeing the TV of what’s happening.” TV media all out pitched against Zimmerman.

But the identifications all assess different, yet still unclear, conclusions from the same evidence. Witness 13 maintained the same story over both of his interviews, that upon seeing Zimmerman immediately after the shooting of Treyvon, he seemed matter-of-fact that he shot him, not shellshocked.

A good listing of the changes in witnesses’ stories can be found here. The second halves of articles from The New American and The Tampa Bay Times detail the relevance of witness misidentification. Maybe in days to come, these will become new articles’ main subjects.


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2011 Florida Legislative Action Alert

Alejandra de la Fuente — March 22, 2011 @ 2:11 PM — Comments (0)

Every year, the Florida legislature considers hundreds of bills, few of which affect the work of the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF). This year, legislators have filed three bills that you might want to keep your eye on.

Eyewitness Identification Reform
Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions. To date, of the 267 people who have been exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing, 80% of those individuals’ convictions were caused, at least in part, by a mistaken identification. This issue is also at the forefront of the work of the Florida Innocence Commission.

Senator Joe Negron (R–Palm City) has filed SB 1206 and Representative Perry Thurston (D–Ft. Lauderdale) has filed HB 821. These bills provide a comprehensive, uniform, statewide reform package for removing the suggestiveness from witness identification procedures. Specifically, the bills provide that

  1. Live lineups and photo lineups be composed in a manner that diminishes their suggestiveness,
  2. These procedures be administered in a “double-blind” fashion, which means that neither the witness nor the administrator knows whether the suspect is in the lineup,
  3. The lineup participants must be shown to the witness sequentially rather than simultaneously,
  4. Proven instructions must be given before the lineup is administered and no confirmatory comments should be made during or after the lineup procedure, and
  5. Agencies without manpower to comply with certain aspects of the legislation may use prescribed cost-effective measures to still blind the administrator of the lineup.

On Monday, March 21, the Florida Innocence Commission voted to support Negron’s proposal.  If passed, this legislation would bring Florida in line with states like North Carolina and Ohio, who have passed similar laws. Most importantly, this legislation would move us closer to having uniform justice in criminal investigations, regardless of geography.  Please call Senator Negron at (850) 487-5088 and Rep. Thurston at (850) 488-1084 to thank them for their leadership on this issue.

The bill has been referred to committees in both houses.  It will have to pass out of these committees before it would be considered on the floor of each house and then signed by the governor.  The first committee stop is Criminal Justice on the Senate side and the Criminal Justice Subcommittee on the House side.

Call both Senate Criminal Justice Chair Sen. Greg Evers (R-Crestview) at 850-487-5000 and House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chair Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) at 850-488-4335, and ask them to put SB 1206 and HB 821, the Witness Identification Reform Act, on the next meeting agenda for their respective committees.  Make sure to tell them that this bill will help solve crimes and prevent wrongful convictions. In order to have a chance to pass this thing this session, we need to get these bills calendared as soon as possible.

After the bill gets calendared, we will send you a new action alert on how to help persuade the members of the committee to pass the bill.

Unanimous Jury Verdicts in Capital Sentencing
Florida is the only state in the nation which requires a unanimous jury verdict to convict someone of capital murder and make them eligible for the death penalty, but then requires only a majority jury vote to sentence them to death. Identical bills filed by Senator Thad Altman (R–Melbourne) and Representative John Patrick Julien (D–North Miami Beach) would change that, if passed.

SB 1066 and HB 979 would require a jury to come to a unanimous verdict during capital sentencing proceedings in order for the judge to be able to sentence the defendant to death. This bill will save Florida from exorbitant spending on years of capital appeal and post-conviction proceedings. Currently, the closer a jury sentencing vote is to a 7-5 majority vote for death, the more likely the Florida Supreme Court is to overturn the death sentence and start the process all over again.

Most importantly, a higher standard for imposing a death sentence will help prevent those innocent individuals wrongfully convicted of capital murder from being wrongfully incarcerated on death row and possibly executed.

Please call Senator Altman at (850) 487-5053 and Representative Julien at (850) 488-7088 to thank them for sponsoring such an important bill.

The bill has been referred to committees in both houses.  It will have to pass out of these committees before it would be considered on the floor of each house and then signed by the governor.  The first committee stop is Criminal Justice on the Senate side and the Criminal Justice Subcommittee on the House side.

Call both Senate Criminal Justice Chair Sen. Greg Evers (R-Crestview) at 850-487-5000 and House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chair Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) at 850-488-4335, and ask them to put SB 1066 and HB 979 on the next meeting agenda for their respective committees.

Wrongful Conviction Compensation
In 2008, the Florida Legislature passed the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act, which set up a streamlined process to pay exonerees $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration as well as provide them access to tuition-free education. While the Act was a step in the right direction, it came with a number of provisions which have had the effect of excluding most of Florida’s exonerees from compensation.

Specifically, the Act included a “Clean Hands” provision, which excludes from compensation those individuals who were convicted of a felony prior to or during their wrongful incarceration. This provision denies compensation to Bill Dillon, who was convicted of felony possession of one Quaalude pill two years before being wrongfully convicted for murder and spending 27 years wrongfully incarcerated. It also excludes Orlando Boquete who had the audacity to escape from his wrongful incarceration, which is a felony.

For the past two legislative sessions, bills have been sponsored to amend this Act. Senator Arthenia Joyner (D–Tampa) has sponsored a similar bill (SB 250) this year. Unfortunately, SB 250 does not address the clean hands provision, nor does it help more innocent people get compensated.  Also, it does not have a companion bill in the House.

Please call Senator Joyner at (850) 487-5059, thank her for caring about this issue, but urge her to amend the bill to remove the clean hands provision which further victimizes Florida’s exonerees.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee as its first stop.  You can call Senator Anitere Flores (R-Miami) at 850-487-5130 and ask her to put the bill on her committee agenda at the next meeting.

Call to Action
Change in our criminal justice system cannot happen unless we stand together and demand it. Call your local legislators to let them know that these issues are important to you and urge their support for these reforms.

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March Video Update

Alejandra de la Fuente — March 07, 2011 @ 5:54 PM — Comments (2)

In this video report, Executive Director Seth Miller provides an update on the 2011 Florida Legislative session. Three bills have been filed that will affect the work of IPF and wrongful convictions in Florida. Information about each bill, its sponsor and number are presented in the video and summarized below.

We are asking you to call your legislators to let them know that these issues are important to you and urge their support for these reforms.

Eyewitness Identification Best Practices

  • SB 1206, sponsored by Sen. Joe Negron (R-Palm City); can be reached at (850) 487-5088
  • HB 821, sponsored by Rep. Perry Thurston (D-Ft. Lauderdale), can be reached at (850) 488-1084

Unanimous Jury Verdicts in Capital Sentencing

  • SB 1066, sponsored by Thad Altman (R-Melbourne), can be reached at (850) 487-5053
  • HB 979, sponsored by Rep. John Patrick Julien (D-North Miami Beach), can be reached at (850) 488-7088

Wrongful Conviction Compensation Revision

  • SB 250, sponsored by Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa), can be reached at (850) 487-5059

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February Video Blog Update

Alejandra de la Fuente — February 07, 2011 @ 1:00 PM — Comments (0)

Welcome to the first video blog of 2011.

In this edition, Seth Miller, IPF Executive Director, provides an update on the Derrick Williams case, the work of the Florida Innocence Commission and a fundraising event sponsored by the FSU Student Bar Association and the ACLU.

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Video Update on IPF Activities

Alejandra de la Fuente — November 18, 2010 @ 11:23 AM — Comments (4)

This is our November 2010 video update on activities at the Innocence Project of Florida. In this edition, Executive Director Seth Miller talks about the movie Conviction, how it parallels the stories of many Florida DNA exonerees and the opportunities we have had to share this movie with many of our friends and supporters around the state.

On November 22, the Florida Innocence Commission will hold its second meeting to address the matters that lead to wrongful conviction. At this meeting, the Commission will address witness misidentification. Seth discusses IPF’s work to help the Commission understand current procedures used for witness identifications.

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Press Conference Regarding Derrick Williams’ Innocence

Alejandra de la Fuente — July 28, 2010 @ 1:07 AM — Comments (1)

Once again, IPF attorneys Seth Miller and Melissa Montle are onto a wrongful conviction.  DNA test results proving the innocence of Derrick Williams who had been convicted of an August 1993 kidnapping and rape in Palmetto, Manatee County, FL were released by a Fairfield, Ohio laboratory on Monday, July 26, 2010.  In addition to that, the IPF has unveiled other factors plaguing Williams’ case, including witness misidentification, the damaging and destruction of the evidence while it was under the care of Manatee County Sheriff’s Office (MSO), and the MSO’s denial of that neglection to the press (IPF Press Release).  The following is a round-up of the press conference held on July 27, 2010 in regards to this development:

DNA test on evidence could overturn 1993 rape conviction of Palmetto man (Herald Tribune)

DNA used to contest Palmetto man’s conviction in 1992 rape (The Tampa Tribune)

Attorneys:  DNA evidence exonerates inmate (MyFOX Tampa Bay)

Innocence Project demands release of Palmetto convict (Bradenton Herald)

Innocence Project says man convicted of rape should be freed (ABC Action News)

Innocence Project out to free Manatee man (BayNews 9)

Is convicted rapist innocent?  Attorneys say DNA proves it (WTSP 10 News)

Will new evidence set Manatee County man free? (ABC 7)

Group says DNA proves Palmetto man didn’t rape woman in 1992 (Tampa Bay Online)

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