New Doubts are Cast on Shaken-Baby Diagnoses

Here is a recent article from the Boston Globe on developments in the diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS/AHT), and their relation to the justice system. See the article here.

One more step on the road to scientific truth, but it’s going to be a long journey. To paraphrase Nobel physics laureate Max Planck, “Science advances one funeral at a time.”

Another Success For Knoops Innocence Project in the Netherlands…

From website:

The Supreme Court of the Netherlands decided on Tuesday (26 May 2015) to reopen the case against Martien Hunnik and referred the case to the Court of Appeals for a new trial. Martien Hunnik was convicted in 1984 for killing the Hilversum record label boss, Bart van de Laar, in 1981.

Hunnik was convicted for manslaughter and sentenced to two years imprisonment and “TBR”, a closed treatment facility for mentally ill offenders with diminished criminal responsibility. In the Netherlands, there is a gradual system of accruing criminal responsibility to mentally ill offenders; therefore it is possible to impose both a prison sentence and to order treatment in a mental facility.

Hunnik, who is represented by Mr. Knoops and Ms. Vosman of the Knoops’ Innocence Project, was convicted on the basis of false confessions he made in January 1983 and which he retracted in April of that year. Behavioral research demonstrated that Mr. Hunnik, at the time of his false confessions, had the tendency to confabulate and to distort the facts. Mr. Hunnik himself says he was mentally ill at that time and in search of attention.

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

A Profile in Courage – Ricky Jackson’s 39 Years in Prison

This past Wednesday, I was privileged to be present when Ricky Jackson addressed a group of people at the University of Cincinnati. In November, 2014, Ricky, along with two of his boyhood friends, the Bridgeman brothers, was exonerated of a murder he did not commit, and for which he spent 39 years in prison, including 2 1/2 years on death row.  See the previous WCB coverage of this here. I was so moved, that I felt compelled to write about my impressions.

Ricky spoke at some length about his experiences, his feelings about it all, and his perspectives and future plans.  I must say he is eloquent, articulate, intelligent, compassionate, humorous, and possessed of humility. He is the kind of person I would be honored to call a friend.

I won’t try to relate the details of his case or his experiences. For that, please check the link cited above, and the links within that article.  But know that I sat there in wonder as he spoke about all this without the slightest trace of anger, resentment, or bitterness. How a person can endure what he did, and come out of it with his attitude and perspective is just about incomprehensible to me.

I have to wonder also what this man might have accomplished during those 39 years had he not been in prison. Those 39 years were stolen not just from Ricky Jackson, but from us – all of us – because this is a man who clearly has the ability to have a positive influence on other people and on society as a whole. I’m sure Ricky has very definite knowledge of what this has cost him, but we’ll never know what this has cost us. And on top of that . . . the real murderers are still out there.

And of course, this begs the question – how many more Ricky Jackson’s are there still in prison in this country?

 

Court tosses convictions but won’t say couple is innocent

No matter how much evidence of innocence might exist, it is sometimes next to impossible to get the courts to fully admit error. That’s what happened yesterday, when Dan and Fran Keller, who were convicted on “satanic daycare abuse” charges in 1992, finally had their convictions overturned by Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. While the court ruled that the Kellers were wrongly convicted, the Austin American-Statesman reports here, it just couldn’t come around to admitting the Kellers, who were released in 2013, were actually innocent.  The Kellers plan to continue their fight.

1,600 U.S. Exonerations Highlight Unacceptable Error in Criminal Justice

The National Registry of Exonerations has announced a chilling milestone, the 1,600th known exoneration in the United States since 1989. The tally of persons known to have been convicted of crimes they did not commit has grown rapidly from the Registry’s launch three years ago. The 1600th exoneration, that of Michael McAlister, occurred last week.

Maurice Possley’s Registry report on Michael McAlister (here) provides the telling details — case unique and yet familiar — of a tragic miscarriage. Police and prosecutors would come to doubt McAlister’s guilt and subsequently joined a long effort to correct this stubborn error. Continue reading

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

These Are the Wrongful Conviction Cases That Haunt Me

I’ve been doing “innocence work” for seven years now.  So …. just what is it that I do? I am Science & Technology Advisor to the Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati College of Law and to the Duke Law Wrongful Convictions Clinic at Duke University. This means I advise on cases that include factors involving science and/or technology – usually forensics. I will also advise any innocence organization or agent that requests my input, and I do this pro bono. I do some other stuff too, like write for this blog, but those are the roles in which I get involved in case work.

During this seven year period, I’ve had personal involvement – meaning I’ve actually done work – in 63 cases in eight states and two foreign countries; and have had exposure to the details of probably 100 more cases on top of that. I’ve been privileged to be a small piece of the puzzle in five exonerations; and, in four cases, my work has contributed to confirming that the defendant was actually guilty. We consider confirming guilt to be a good outcome, because it means that justice has been properly served. We’re not trying to get everybody out of prison – only the people who are actually innocent.

We relish talking about the successes, the exonerations, but nobody ever hears about the failures. I count a failed case as one in which, based upon careful and intensive study of all the facts, testimony and evidence, we (I) are absolutely confident that the defendant is actually innocent; but our efforts to exonerate have not succeeded, and there’s really nothing more we can do. Sadly, the failures occur much, much more frequently than the successes. There are no good data for this, but in my experience, an exoneration takes years of time (average about 7), thousands of hours of total effort by a great many people, and, in some cases, thousands of dollars. And the failures can take just as much as the successes, if not more.

Most of the cases I’ve worked remain “open,” at least technically, but there are some for which we have seemingly come to the end of the legal road, and there’s little, if anything, that can still be done. There are five of these cases, in particular, that keep me awake at night, because I get so outraged and frustrated by the injustice. I thought I would share them with you, so you might get some idea of what the people doing innocence work have to deal with on a daily basis. Since these cases are unresolved, I will not reveal any names, dates, or places, and will provide only sketchy details of the incidents involved, but you’ll get the idea.

Continue reading

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

New Research Elevates Concerns over Snitch Testimony

Testimony from jailhouse informants has been a known factor in wrongful convictions, and new data indicates the use of this risky evidence has been more frequent in the worst crimes, according to the May 2015  report of The National Registry of Exonerations. While snitch testimony has been a factor in 8% of exonerations across all crimes, it has been a contributor to wrongful conviction in 15% of murder exonerations and in 23% of death penalty exonerations.

Snitch testimony is compelling to a jury but often unreliable because it can be compromised by incentives for the informant to lie. A factor in 119 of 1,567 known exonerations (tallied from 1989 up to March 17, 2015), the new data reveals the risk not only of convicting the innocent but also of enabling the guilty to escape justice and continue perpetrating the most heinous of crimes. An accompanying consideration: Jailed snitches have been compensated for their testimony with reduced sentences, another risky practice.

Access The National Registry of Exonerations May newsletter (here).

Exonerees Earn Law Degrees; Become Innocence Attorneys

Many exonerees, upon release from prison, undertake some form of innocence work. After all, being wrongfully convicted and incarcerated has to qualify as one of the most profoundly life-altering events a person can endure. So it’s not surprising that many dedicate the rest of their lives to trying to fix the broken system that wronged them so terribly.

There are even some who go on to earn a law degree, so they can confront the system in a personal and “head-on” way. Several of these “JD-carrying” exonerees were featured in the recent edition of the American Bar Association Journal.  See the article from the ABA Journal here.

 

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Magazine Editor Says “Innocence Fraud”–When Innocence Organizations Free Guilty People–Is a Threat…

I’m posting this because it’s important to always understand fully the fear that threats to the status quo create:

From PRWeb.com:

‘Innocence Fraud is Real’ Warns Crime Lab Report’s Chief Managing Editor

This and other preliminary findings of a study titled ‘The Innocence Audit’ were delivered by John M. Collins Jr., the Chief Managing Editor of Crime Lab Report, at the annual symposium of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) on Thursday, April 30, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

The ends cannot justify the means when the means are fraudulent.

Washington, D.C. (PRWEB) May 06, 2015

A stern warning was issued to crime laboratory administrators that some post-conviction exonerations may have been secured by innocence activists using malicious tactics, or ‘innocence fraud’, creating potential public safety threats as convicted felons are released from prison.

The comments were made by John M. Collins Jr., the Chief Managing Editor of Crime Lab Report, in a speech detailing the preliminary findings of a study titled ‘The Innocence Audit’ at the annual symposium of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) on Thursday, April 30, 2015. The event was held at the Wardman Park Marriott in Washington, D.C.

“Exonerations are extremely serious,” Collins told the audience of approximately 150 guests on the final day of the symposium. “For our criminal justice system to go back and say that the decision of a judge or jury who decided to put a particular individual in prison [was wrong] . . . and suddenly say that the individual shouldn’t be there – and is therefore free to return to life in the public – is very, very serious.”

Collins cited the 2003 exoneration of Steven Avery in Wisconsin as evidence of the public safety significance of exonerations. After being convicted of a 1985 rape in Manitowoc County Circuit Court (86-1831-CR), Avery was released from prison 18 years later with the help of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. But in 2005, two years after his exoneration, Avery was again convicted in Manitowoc County (05-CF-381) for the brutal killing of a young female Auto Trader Magazine photographer.

Collins said the strongest audience reaction seemed to come from his showing of crime scene photographs from the 1991 murder of Jacquetta Thomas in North Carolina. A white Nissan Pathfinder belonging to Gregory Taylor was found stuck in mud within close proximity of the victim’s body. Gregory Taylor was eventually convicted in 1993 in Wake County Superior Court (92CRS7128, 92CRS30701), but exonerated in 2010 and awarded $4.6 million dollars in post-conviction relief. Despite considerable evidence against him, Taylor was exonerated following what Collins argued was a coerced confession of a wayward prison inmate who had a history of confessing to crimes he didn’t commit.

Collins, who has studied overturned convictions for over a decade, also urged new research priorities to better understand what causes erroneous convictions. Among his recommendations was a call to evaluate drug use and addiction on the part of erroneously convicted felons, which Collins says is a “clear and consistent trend” worthy of study.

In the mean time, Collins hopes that The Innocence Audit will open people’s eyes to what goes on behind the scenes when activists are fighting to secure exonerations. “Our study is producing evidence that Innocence Fraud is real,” Collins says. “But it can be corrected with education and better standards of care for post-conviction activists and litigators. The ends cannot justify the means when the means are fraudulent.”

Crime Lab Report, now in its 9th year, is an independent quarterly publication focusing on media and industry affairs in forensic science. It is edited and distributed by the Forensic Foundations Group, which is based near Lansing, Michigan.

For more information about The Innocence Audit, or to make a donation in support of Crime Lab Report’s ongoing research, please visit http://www.crimelabreport.com/innocenceaudit.

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Innocence Network Award Winners…

Each year at the annual conference (which was just held in Orlando the past few days), the Innocence Network gives out a few national awards.   Here are this year’s winners….

2015 Journalism Award to Radley Balko, Washington Post, for his series on bite mark evidence

2015 Champion of Justice Award to Bryan Stevenson, of the Equal Justice Initiative

Lifetime Achievement Award to Edward Blake, Forensic Science Associates

Weekend Quick Clicks…

Innocence Network Conference

Sorry for the lack of posting this week.  We have all been down at the Innocence Network conference in Orlando.  Here is the schedule and other details:

https://innocencenetwork2015.topi.com

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Weekend Quick Clicks…