Ohio Innocence Project Nets Another Triple Win; Defendants to Be Freed After 18 Years in Prison

From University of Cincinnati press release:

UPDATE:  All 3 inmates were released the same day as this press release

Legal advocacy from the Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati has helped set three men wrongfully imprisoned for murder on the path to freedom.
Date: 3/26/2015 11:00:00 AM
By: Sherry English
Phone: (513) 556-0060

Photos By: Ohio Innocence Project and Mark Bealer

UC ingot   CINCINNATI — Today three men are one step closer to freedom after being wrongly incarcerated for 18 years. Derrick Wheatt, Laurese Glover and Eugene Johnson had their convictions for the 1995 murder of Clifton Hudson Jr. thrown out after nearly a decade of legal advocacy from the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP).

Derrick Wheatt in court
Derrick Wheatt, shown here, Laurese Glover and Eugene Johnson had their convictions thrown out with help from the Ohio Innocence Project at UC. (Mark Bealer photo)

Judge Nancy Margaret Russo, Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, threw out the conviction, granted a new trial and set bond. The OIP expects bond to be met today, which will result in their clients’ immediate release.

Their impending freedom comes after a key eyewitness recanted her testimony and the revelation that information from police reports that cast doubt on the defendants’ guilt had not been disclosed to the trial team years earlier. Today’s win marks the second triple exoneration for the Ohio Innocence Project, which operates out of the University of Cincinnati’s Rosenthal Institute for Justice in the College of Law. When the trio are released, the OIP will have freed 23 people on grounds of innocence, who together served more than 500 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

“We’re excited about today’s event, but even more excited for our clients,” said Mark Godsey, the Daniel P. and Judith L. Carmichael Professor of Law and Director, Lois and Richard Rosenthal Institute for Justice/Ohio Innocence Project. “They have been fighting to prove their innocence for nearly 20 years. They had tried for exoneration twice before, and had come close in the past. OIP has worked on the case since 2006, and are happy to be with them as they finally taste their long-sought freedom.”

The OIP represented defendants Wheatt and Glover; Johnson was represented by attorneys Brett Murner and Jim Valentine. Additionally, co-counsel on this case was Carmen Naso, Senior Instructor of Law, and the law students at the Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic, Case Western Reserve School of Law in Cleveland, Ohio. The OIP at UC and Kramer Law Clinic partnered on this case and plan to work together on additional cases in the future.

“UC donors who contributed to the UC OIP’s tremendous success provided case workers with the funds needed to facilitate their pursuit of justice,” said UC Foundation President Rodney M. Grabowski. “Since its founding in 2003, more than 600 donors have contributed more than $5.3 million toward the OIP’s efforts. We are forever grateful for their generosity.”

supporters of longtime inmates gather in the courtroom
Supporters of Derrick Wheatt, Laurese Glover and Eugene Johnson gather in the courtroom after the news came that the trio’s convictions have been thrown out.

A Murder Many Years Ago
On Feb. 10, 1995, in East Cleveland, Ohio, 19-year-old Clifton Hudson Jr. was found murdered, shot multiple times. At the time, witnesses reported seeing a person wearing dark clothing and a dark hat at the scene. Three juveniles — Wheatt, Glover and Johnson — happened to be near the scene. But, they emphasized, when the shooting started, they sped off. All three later provided the police with descriptions of the shooter that matched the basic descriptions given by other witnesses. But in a twist of events, they were charged with the crime.

A year later in 1996, the three were convicted of Hudson’s murder, based on their presence at the scene and identification by Tamika Harris, then a 14-year-old. Harris originally reported to police that she saw the shooter get in and out of the defendants’ truck; but, she insisted, she never saw the shooter’s face. It was this tip, though, that led to the group’s initial arrest.

At the trial, Harris changed her story, admitting that she never saw the shooter actually get in or out of the truck. She testified, however, that she could positively identify Eugene Johnson as the shooter. Additionally, the prosecution found what it alleged to be gunshot residue on Wheatt and Johnson. They offered to completely drop charges against Glover if he testified against his friends and also offered Wheatt probation for his testimony. Both refused and continued to assert their innocence. Unfortunately, they were convicted; Wheatt and Johnson were sentenced to 18 years to life in prison; Glover was sentenced to 15 years to life.

Finding Grounds for a New Trial
Through the years the three men continued to maintain their innocence. Then in 2004, Johnson’s attorneys, Murner and Valentine, filed a motion for a new trial on the grounds that Harris had recanted her testimony. Now an adult and in nursing school, she admitted she could not see the shooter’s face from where she stood and that she never saw anyone get in or out of the truck.

three defendants enter the court room
From left, Eugene Johnson, Derrick Wheatt and Laurese Glover enter the courtroom at the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas in Cleveland. (Mark Bealer photo)

She relayed that when she went to the police station years earlier, the officers told her they had found the people responsible, showed her photos of the three defendants, and asked which of the three was the shooter. Harris said she picked the one whose jacket was closest to the one she saw: Johnson’s. Though the trial court granted a new trial on this basis, it was overturned on appeal, in part because of the alleged gunshot residue evidence.

Two years later in 2006, the OIP accepted the case. Attorneys and fellows spent hundreds of hours reviewing evidence, interviewing potential witnesses and filing motions. In fact, Brian Howe, now the attorney of record, previously worked on this case as an OIP fellow.

In 2009, OIP attorney David Laing filed another new trial motion based on advancements in knowledge about gunshot residue. Specifically, the type of testing used in 1995 is known to be particularly prone to false positives from other items, and is no longer used by the FBI.  Further, recent studies showed the high likelihood of gunshot residue contamination from police sources, especially when the tests are not performed on scene or immediately upon arrest. This motion, however, was denied.

Late in 2013 a break in the case came when the OIP received the police reports. The reports included information that was not raised at the original trial, including the existence of two witnesses who confirmed that the shooter came from a nearby post office lot, not the defendants’ truck.  One of those witnesses even claimed he recognized the shooter as a sibling of one of his classmates. The reports also showed that unknown people in a different car had shot at the victim’s brother just days before the crime, and that someone had threatened the victim himself the day before the murder. There was no known connection between any of those threats and the defendants.

The OIP, on behalf of the defendants, filed another new trial motion on the basis that this information was never disclosed to the defense. A hearing on the motion was held on Jan. 29, 2015, led by OIP attorney Brian Howe and the Kramer Clinic’s Carmen Naso. “The evidence at the hearing was overwhelming,” said Howe. “None of these men should have ever been convicted.”

three defendants and their defense team in court
The Ohio Innocence Project has worked for nearly a decade to show that Eugene Johnson, Derrick Wheatt and Laurese Glover were wrongfully convicted. (Mark Bealer photo)

A Day Worth Waiting For
“This has been a long day coming for Mr. Johnson, Mr. Wheatt and Mr. Glover,” said Howe. “I know it must be an incredible feeling. It is particularly important and gratifying for me because I worked on the gunshot residue motions as an OIP fellow. It’s incredible to see all of our hard work come to fruition.”

Special thanks to the many individuals who spent hundreds of hours working on this case over the years. The list includes attorneys: Brian Howe, David Laing, and Carrie Wood; and student fellows: Shabnam Allen, Nicole Billec, Amanda Bleiler, Scott Brenner, Chris Brinkman, Chris Brown, Eric Gooding, John Hill, Matt Katz, Eric Kmetz, Amanda Rieger, Bryant Strayer, Queenie Takougang, and Brandon Brown, Amanda Sanders and Shaun McPherron, who spent significant time in East Cleveland last summer canvassing the neighborhood speaking to witnesses.

Breaking News: Amanda Knox Exonerated!!!!!!

Story here

UK’s Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) subject of critical report.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission of England and Wales (Scotland has their own Commission) has been the subject of a recent inquiry by the UK Parliament’s Select Justice Committee (see here). The inquiry received 47 written submissions and heard oral evidence from a select group of experts, lawyers and campaigners on miscarriages of justice. The Committee today released it’s highly critical report that can be read here….  It made a series of recommendations including increased funding from government, but also that the CCRC ‘relax’ it’s narrow interpretation of the ‘real possibility’ test when referring cases back to the Court of Appeal. There have been media reports highlighting the critical tone of the report:

Miscarriage of justice review body is dismissed as the Court of Appeal’s ‘lap dog’ in hard-hitting report

The report concluded:

19. We conclude that the CCRC is performing its functions reasonably well, and we have identified areas for improvement, but we were struck by the disparity between what critics believe it to be doing and what it claims that it is doing. At times there was complete disagreement, even on objective and factual matters. This indicates that at the very least the CCRC has a problem with public perception, including with the awareness of applicants as to what it can do for them and of all stakeholders, including applicants, their representatives, and others, as to how it operates. The CCRC will never convince its most vociferous detractors, but it could be doing more to ensure that its work and processes are well understood. (Paragraph 54)

20. The level of successful referrals from the CCRC shows that it remains as necessary a body now as when it was set up. We received very little evidence advocating its abolition, and even its strongest critics have said that they simply want it to improve. The existence of the CCRC is not enough in and of itself; it must be given the resources and powers it requires to perform its job effectively. The fundamental constitutional principle on which our criminal justice system rests and which the Commission exists to uphold is that the guilty are convicted and the innocent go free. (Paragraph 55)

Waiting is a Beast

Below is a link to a 17 minute video. This is Prof. Theresa Newman giving a recent TED Talk. She is co-director of the Duke Law Wrongful Convictions Clinic.

I have had the distinct honor and privilege of working with this lady on a number of wrongful conviction cases in North Carolina. She is one of those people who we should have many, many more of in this world.

Interestingly, I was deeply involved in both the cases she talks about. And I can say that, for all of us, the decision in Derrick’s case was truly a gut punch, as you will see. Unfortunately, this came at the same time that we lost “Al’s” case here in Ohio. Al had documentation and witnesses to prove he was in NY City at the time the murder was committed in Lorain, OH; but because of false eyewitness testimony, he was convicted – and the conviction was upheld.

We relish being able to talk about the successes, the exonerations, but they are truly rare compared to the number of wrongful convictions that exist. This is a heartwrenching business.

Prof. Newman talks about establishing a new paradigm for resolving wrongful conviction cases; but the wait will be long, and . . . . . . .

Waiting is a Beast

 

Debra Milke Speaks

Today, Debra Milke, exonerated after 22 years on Arizona’s death row for the murder of her 4 year old son, appeared and spoke at a press event.

See her very eloquent press conference statements here. And see the remarks from her attorney, Lori Voepel, here.

PBS’s Recent Segment on SBS (Shaken Baby Syndrome)

A Disputed Diagnosis that Sends Parents to Prison for Abuse.

Last evening (3/23/15), PBS aired a segment that takes a critical look at the diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome. The story features Kate Judson, who is the Innocence Network SBS Litigation Fellow, and who has been doing phenomenal work in not only helping those wrongfully convicted of SBS, but also in trying to bring the medical and legal communities together to achieve a true scientific understanding of the causes and symptoms.

See the 10 minute video here.

Prosecutor Apologizes for Wrongful Conviction of Glenn Ford

Wow, a rare event…Kudos to Marty Shroud….

From NYDailyNews.com:

The lead prosecutor who locked wrongfully accused Glenn Ford in a “hell hole” at Angola’s death row in Louisiana in 1984 has apologized for a “miscarriage of justice.”

Then-33-year-old A.M. (Marty) Stroud III celebrated his successful conviction of Ford with a round a booze with his friends, a memory he now calls “sick” in a public apology published this week.

Stroud only blames himself, according to his Shreveport Times guest column.

“I was arrogant, judgemental, narcissistic and very full of myself,” Stroud wrote. “I apologize to Glenn Ford for all the misery I have caused him and his family.”

A judge freed Ford from the Lousiana State Penitentiary a year ago when evidence, believed to have been suppressed during the trial, surfaced exonerating him from the all-white jury’s decision in the murder of a nearly blind Shreveport watchmaker, Isadore Rozeman.

He was the longest-serving inmate on the state’s death row to be let go.

But Ford’s first injustice gave way to another.

The state is denying his request for compensation typically bestowed upon those wrongfully convicted because he did not prove he is factually innocent, according to a lawsuit.

Even if he wins his compensation, he may not reap the benefits, but his decendants, an adult son and grandchild, might. He is battling stage-four lung cancer and doctors believe he has only months to live.

Another lawsuit claims “indicators of cancer” were found in 2011 while he was incarcerated, but he was denied proper medical care, according to USA Today.

“Glenn Ford deserves every penny owned to him,” Stroud added, using his apology to advocate on Ford’s behalf and calling for the abolishment of capital punishment, an “anathema to any society that purports to call itself civilized.”

Stroud admittably mocked Ford during sentencing, he revealed, and said Ford wanted to stay alive to prove his innocence, which he considered “an affront” to the jurors.

“He showed no remorse, only contempt for your verdict,” Stroud recalled saying in court.

The jury relied on few articles of evidence for a conviction after detectives accused Ford, Rozeman’s landscaper, of shooting and then robbing the 68-year-old business owner.

No murder weapon was ever recovered.

The new evidence discovered in 2013 showed Ford was not at the scene of the crime, nor did he participate in it.

“Had I been more inquisitive, perhaps the evidence would have come to light years ago,” Stroud said.

A motion filed last year said the evidence would have saved Ford from an arrest and indictment in Rozeman’s death.