Posts Tagged ‘wrongful incarceration’


More Binge-Worthy Media of the Innocence World

Taylor Thornton — April 09, 2018 @ 3:44 PM — Comments (0)

For a long time it seems that the public has had an interest in crime. Crimes that are particularly violent, scandalous, or just simply awful always seem to capture the attention of the American public. This is why there are dozens of shows about murder, crime solving, and the minds of criminals. There are whole channels dedicated to such programs, like Investigation Discovery, where viewers can find programs like Wives with Knives or Nightmare Next Door.

In recent years, however, there has been a growing popularity for media not just involving crime but for those stories involving wrongful convictions. Bringing light to wrongful convictions and how they happen can only serve to help stop this from happening. The more aware and mindful the public is on how easily a wrongful conviction can happen and the type of damage it can cause, the more careful people will be. That being said, here are six more binge-worthy series, films, and podcasts from the world of wrongful convictions.

If you like any of these, be sure to check out our previous binge-worthy media post for eight more!

Series:

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To start with an obvious one that was touched on in our last post about this, the Netflix original Making a Murderer is one of the most popular series relating to wrongful conviction. This series follows the story of Steven Avery, sentenced to life in prison for the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach, and his teenaged nephew Brendan Dassey, also sentenced to life for the same murder. Steven Avery was previously a client of the Wisconsin Innocence Project who helped exonerate him of his 1985 conviction of sexual assault and attempted murder. After serving 18 years for this wrongful conviction, Avery was free only two years before being arrested once again. This time, he is arrested for murder. To watch the trailer click here.

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Another more recent series is the 2017 docuseries I am Innocent. This series tells the stories of the victims of wrongful conviction in New Zealand. It also seeks to reveal the cracks in their justice system that cause these. This series can be streamed now on Netflix.

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The 2017 A&E series The Murder of Laci Peterson calls into question the conviction and death sentence of Scott Peterson. This series brings back to the forefront one of the most infamous and high profile cases of the last twenty years over a decade after Laci Peterson’s Christmas Eve disappearance. Through interviews with reporters, family and neighbors, this series revisits the national fascination with Laci Peterson’s disappearance, how Scott Peterson became the most hated man in America, and what the police might have overlooked in order to convict Scott Peterson. For a trailer for this series click here.

Films:

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This 1988 film is an older one but still a must-watch for wrongful conviction junkies. The Thin Blue Line follows the story of Randall Adams, a man sentenced to death for a murder that he did not commit. The film shows a series of reenactments of the crime and interviews about the case with attorneys, police, and witnesses. The title refers to a statement by prosecutor Doug Mulder in his closing arguments for this case that police are the “thin blue line” that separates society and anarchy. To watch the trailer for this film click here.

Pocasts:

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Podcasts are a medium that grows more popular each day, and with this growth comes it’s fair share of wrongful conviction topics. This first podcast is called Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom. In this podcast, the stories of all different exonerees are told based on the files of the lawyers who worked to exonerate them. In addition, the men and women themselves who were wrongfully convicted are interviewed. Click here to stream this podcast on Revolver podcasts.

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This last binge-worthy podcast is Accused: The Unsolved Murder of Elizabeth Andes.  If you’re interested in going more in depth into a case than just one episode, this might be the right podcast for you. This series, as the title indicates, goes through the 1978 murder of Elizabeth Andes in her own home. The police decided they knew within hours who had committed this crime.  Follow this case episode by episode to decide if you agree and whether or not a killer walked free. Stream this podcast here.

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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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There is No Time Limit on True Innocence

Taylor Thornton — April 02, 2018 @ 2:20 PM — Comments (0)

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Exculpatory evidence is any piece of evidence that gives favor to the accused party in a criminal case. This evidence, if strong enough, could exonerate the defendant from any guilt. But, what happens when powerful exculpatory evidence is uncovered after an innocent person has already been wrongfully convicted of a crime that they did not commit? That depends on a number of factors. One of these factors, unfortunately, can include how much time has passed.

A statute of limitations is a law that dictates the amount of time following some event within which legal proceedings may be initiated. In the case of presenting new evidence to exonerate a wrongfully convicted person, depending on the state that person lives in, there may be a time limit on presenting that new exculpatory evidence. In Florida, under rule 3.850 of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure you only have two years following a sentencing to file a Motion to Vacate Sentence based on, for example, a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. However, there are exceptions to that time limit, an important one being newly discovered evidence. This could include a witness recanting their testimony, a Brady violation like when the prosecution withholds evidence from the defense that could be favorable to the defendant, or new DNA results. The request for DNA testing, under rule 3.853, has no time limitations in the state of Florida.

In comparison to some other states, Florida’s rules might seem very fair. In Alabama, for example, those convicted of a capital crime can apply for DNA testing if it was not done at their original trial but that request must be made within a year of their conviction. It should not be assumed that prisoners are fully aware of these statutes and the workings of the legal system as a whole as the general public typically is not. Placing that time limit on DNA testing can leave an innocent person in prison not knowing they need to file that motion within a certain period of time. There are also other constraints on DNA testing that differ among states like only allowing DNA testing for death row inmates, not allowing DNA testing to inmates who had confessed, or those who entered a guilty plea. All of these restrictions put a limit on true justice.

While states like Florida that do not time bar the right to DNA testing and offer various exceptions to their two year time limit seem very fair in comparison to many other states, it should be called into question whether any restrictions should exist at all. It is fair to say that dragging out court cases for years and giving unlimited appeals would cost an unreasonable amount of time and resources for the criminal justice system and the courts. But it is also quite fair to say that an innocent person sitting in prison for a crime that they did not commit should not simply run out of time to prove their innocence. If a person is truly innocent and suffering the awful punishment of imprisonment for actions they never committed there should always be an option for them to try to prove their innocence. At the very least, no states should place a time restraint on the testing of DNA, one of the most powerful pieces of evidence the accused can have.

One state showed last month that they may agree with this notion. On Monday March 12, 2018 the Governor of Wyoming signed a bill into law that allows wrongfully convicted people to introduce non-DNA evidence at any point following their convictions. This contrasts their previous window of two years to introduce non-DNA evidence and an unlimited amount of time to introduce DNA evidence. Hopefully this new law will serve as an example for the rest of the country to allow for more options for the wrongfully convicted.

It is important to remember that when a person is wrongfully convicted of a crime, that a criminal is left out on the street. When options for exoneration are limited, especially DNA evidence that has the potential to definitively exonerate someone and point directly to a true guilty party, it allows for a criminal to continue to walk free. The potential for tedious and costly wastes of time and resources in the court system is a valid concern. But, it is hard to say that these costs are more important than an innocent person’s right to prove their innocence. There should be no time limit on innocence.

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Certificates of Innocence for the Exonerated?

Taylor Thornton — March 21, 2018 @ 12:12 PM — Comments (0)

Certificates of actual innocence are the highest form of expunging one’s criminal record. These certificates go beyond just sealing the charge from the party’s criminal record but also recognizes that the charge should have never existed and the party should have never been arrested in the first place. A certificate of actual innocence is only available to those who were convicted of crimes that they were later found innocent of.

A certificate of innocence is important to exonerated individuals because a mark on a criminal record can unfortunately persist to damage their life even following an exoneration. Having charges on one’s criminal record can bar exonerees from many parts of life and can damage their career, their image, and that of their family. A criminal record can keep them from being able to rent a home, from getting a good job, from being approved for a loan, and much more. An exonerated individual should not continue to suffer such struggles after they have already suffered a false arrest or conviction. An innocent person should never suffer the damages for a crime they did not commit.

It seems obvious that those found innocent and exonerated of false convictions deserve certificates of innocence, at the least, as a step to begin rebuilding their damaged lives. However, this is not so simple in many states. Following a massive scandal in Chicago surrounding police Sergeant Ronald Watts, numerous convictions have been overturned. It was found that this sergeant’s corruption was responsible for numerous wrongful convictions and those were subsequently overturned last year with more cases expected to surface as time goes on. A number of men who served time in prison because of these false convictions have received formal certificates of innocence as is laid out in Illinois statute.

However, an issue has come up for some of Sergeant Watts’ victims. According to Illinois statute, certificates of innocence can only be rewarded to those who actually served time in prison for their wrongful convictions. This has left five innocent men, who were only sentenced to probation in their cases, denied these certificates. These men are planning to appeal their cases to a higher court, but as it currently stands in Illinois statute they do not have a right to a certificate of innocence unless they spent time in prison.

This is a serious flaw in the system that allows innocent people to fall through the cracks. While few things can compare to the damage done by serving time in prison, a criminal record of any kind comes with the same stigma and societal damages. Even though these men avoided the harsh punishment of incarceration they still endured the struggles of being on supervision and they can still be barred from access to things like homes and jobs because of their records. An innocent person deserves their innocence regardless of what level to which they have suffered. The state is denying these men a fully cleaned slate simply because they were not damaged enough in the eyes of the courts. Any damage done to an innocent citizen because of a crime they never committed is too much damage. Every exoneree deserves formal innocence declared by the courts.

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Exoneration Anniversary: Jason Krause

Taylor Thornton — March 01, 2018 @ 12:00 PM — Comments (0)

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Happy One Year Exoneration Anniversary to Jason Krause!

On June 24, 1994 an 18 year old man named Charles Thurman was shot and killed in his Jeep alongside his three friends Terry Eckerman, Amanda Miller, and Stacy Clark in Arizona. His friends testified that he had been causing his Jeep to backfire intentionally at the time when he was fatally shot. The shooting occurred near the home of 39 year old Jason Krause who at the time was out hunting skunks with his .22 caliber rifle. When he heard the car backfire he believed that he heard gunshots so he dropped to the ground at which point he believed that his gun accidentally fired. At least 12 people in the area that were interviewed by police said they heard gunshots that they believed to be coming from the Jeep. But when police told Krause that Thurman’s friends in the car with him reported that there was no guns in the car he told them that he must’ve been the one to shoot Thurman.

Krause was charged with second-degree murder and three counts of attempted second-degree murder. Eckerman, Miller, and Clark all testified in court that there were no guns in the car despite the .22 caliber shell casings found on the floor of Thurman’s Jeep. Another important piece of testimony came from FBI Special Agent Earnest Peele who testified as an expert in comparative bullet lead analysis (CBLA). Peele testified that the bullets found in Thurman’s body and his tires were indistinguishable from those found in Krause’s home.

When it came time for Jason Krause to take the stand he admitted that he had been out hunting skunks with his .22 caliber at the time. He said he heard what he believed were several gunshots and the sounds continued to get closer. Krause testified that he was terrified and he hit the ground, at which time his riffle fired while the Jeep passed by. He admitted that he “must have shot that boy” but he did not recall how it happened.

In May of 1996 Krause was acquitted of second-degree murder but convicted of manslaughter and three counts of attempted manslaughter. He was sentences to 10 years and 6 months in prison and served his entire sentence.

In 2007, one year after Krause’s release, the FBI started a CBLA task force after shredding any validity of CBLA as a credible forensic science. In 2008 they sent a letter to the County Attorney’s office stating that the testimony Peele gave in Krause’s trial could not be supported by the FBI because it was not supported by science. Thus, Jason Krause reached out to the Arizona Innocence Project.

A post-conviction petition was filed by his attorneys in 2012 to overturn his conviction based on the invalid CBLA testimony. At an evidentiary hearing, one expert testified that it would have been impossible for Jason Krause to have been the one to fire the fatal shot that killed Thurman. Another expert testified that the fatal shot came from the back seat. The defense argued at the hearing that it simply was not possible that Jason Krause fired the fatal shot to Thurman’s head from 50 feet away as his Jeep sped by. His trial attorney argued that if he had known the lack of validity for CBLA, he would not have argued for an accidental shooting at trial.

In 2013 the petition was denied by Judge Rick Williams because, in his opinion, this information would not have changed the jury’s opinion. He stated that Krause’s confession led the jury to convict. However, the Arizona Court of Appeals granted Krause a new trial in 2015. The prosecution tried to appeal this decision but they were denied. Finally, on March 1st 2017, the charges against Jason Krause were dismissed when the prosecution denied to retry the case.

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Man Finds Love Amidst Wrongful Conviction

Alejandra de la Fuente — April 08, 2016 @ 10:00 AM — Comments (0)

Despite a few difficulties, thanks to some unusual circumstances, one Johannesburg man has been lucky enough to experience somewhat of a positive outcome due to his wrongful conviction. Boswell Mhlongo was released last year with help from the Wits Justice Project after serving 13 years in two maximum-security prisons for murdering a police officer—a crime that he did not commit.

While he was serving time, Mhlongo completed his matric, which is comparable to honor-level courses in the United States. Matric is the highest level of graduation in South Africa and is required in order to attend a university in the country. He also took several computer science courses, as well as creating a profile on an online dating website. That dating site is where he met the love of his life, Mavis.

Mavis, learned that Mhlongo was incarcerated when he tried to explain where he was after several days of her talking with him. Although he was not the first prisoner she had met through online dating, her instincts encouraged Mavis to trust him and she agreed to meet with Mhlongo. Not knowing anything about prison and hoping to have a place to sit down and talk, she struggled to get in because of what she was wearing. Their first meeting finally took place, however, and the rest is history.

Following Mhlongo’s release, by the end of 2015 the couple was married. They have continued to face setbacks, however. They still do not live together because they have been unable to find jobs in the same province, as it is difficult for Mhlongo to find one. He has to explain why there is a 13-year gap in his career, to which interviewers then get scared and fear for their lives when they hear the word “murder.” Now 37-years-old, Mhlongo was eventually able to find work training mechanics in the northwest.

Although he is finally free, Mhlongo says he is still angry with not only the system that wrongfully imprisoned him, but also with some of the relatives who abandoned him. He stated that his wrongful conviction destroyed him and that despite knowing what kind of person he is, he does not know why his family members could not trust him that he was innocent.

Mhlongo is considering taking legal action, even though no amount of financial compensation will ever be enough to replace the time he lost during his wrongful incarceration.

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Innocent Man Gains Freedom After Nearly 30 Years of False Conviction

Alejandra de la Fuente — February 19, 2015 @ 5:15 PM — Comments (0)
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Image Courtesy : LA Times.

Christopher Abernathy, 48, claimed his freedom one more time after the Cook County State’s Attorney lifted his life sentence. The last year DNA test had excluded Abernathy from previous DNA evidence obtained many years ago. He was 18 when he was arrested in the rape and murder of 15-year-old Kristina Hickey, who disappeared Oct.3, 1984. Back in the ‘80s, Abernathy signed an admission of guilt – which Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez called “quite thin”, since Abernathy has a “diminished mental capacity”. So for now, the killer of Kristina Hickey has still not been identified.

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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!

Sincerely,
Seth Miller, Esq.
Executive Director

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Motivated by Innocence, Jabbar Collins Awarded $13 Million

Alejandra de la Fuente — October 22, 2014 @ 10:56 AM — Comments (0)

Jabbar Collins was wrongfully convicted at age 20 of the murder of a rabbi in New York.  Highly motivated by his innocence, Collins, who dropped out of school when he was 16, spent countless hours in the prison library learning what he needed to know to request case documents and trial transcripts and represent himself pro se.  Last summer, with the help of his lawyer, Collins was awarded a $10 million settlement by New York City and another $3 million by the State of New York.

Attorney Joel Rudin, who represents Collins, says the $13 million total ties the record amount for a wrongfully convicted defendant in New York City.

In 1994, Collins was arrested for the murder of a rabbi in Brooklyn, New York, during a robbery.  The three witnesses who testified against him had been coerced and bribed by the prosecutor, although during Collins’ trial, the defense was assured that these confidential informants received nothing in exchange for their testimony.

Although a rogue prosecutor eager to “solve” a high-profile slaying is blamed for Collins’ conviction, his case provided support for claims that the office of former Brooklyn district attorney Charles J. Hynes didn’t adequately rein in prosecutors who broke the rules.

Under Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, who ran his election campaign on the promise that he would clean up the string of wrongful convictions and other shenanigans that occurred during Hynes tenure, the City and State of New York have paid out nearly $20 million and are currently being sued for more than $200 million.

 

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California Woman Exonerated After 17 Years

Alejandra de la Fuente — October 13, 2014 @ 5:08 PM — Comments (0)

On Friday, October 10, 2014, Susan Marie Mellen was formally exonerated of murder in Torrance, California, after spending 17 years wrongfully incarcerated.  A combination of an unreliable witness, who was well known as a habitual liar by the police, and mistakes made by the police detective, who was also responsible for a 1994 case that resulted in the convictions of two men who were subsequently exonerated.

“I believe she is innocent,” California Superior Court Judge Mark Arnold said. “For that reason I believe in this case the justice system failed.”

Despite what Mellen called a “cruel punishment” where she cried herself to sleep each night, she did not give up hope.  Amazingly, she holds no grudge against those who wrongfully convicted her with a sentence of life without parole.  She said, “I always forgave my enemies.  Even your haters, you have to forgive them and sometimes you have to thank them because they bring you closer to God.”

Mellen was arrested in 1997 for killing a homeless man who was staying in the same house where Mellen was living.  A woman known for giving baseless tips to the police testified that Mellen had confessed to the crime — and it was on her testimony that Mellen’s conviction rested.  Through representation by Innocence Matters, Mellen’s conviction was overturned and she was at long last exonerated.

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