CCRC decides to fast-track review of Chis Evan’s high-profile conviction, but no clear reasons given

The UK Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has decided to prioritise its review of Chris Evan’s high-profile conviction. The Guardian reports that:

It would normally take around 18 months for the commission, which has a staff of 90, to examine a claim of miscarriage of justice. Instead, the commission has taken the unusual decision to examine Evans’s case within weeks. [...] However, [the CCRC spokesman] said that, after a request from Evans’s legal team to prioritise the case, “in line with our published policy on prioritisation, and in relation to the facts of the case and the issues raised in Mr Evans’s application to us … we now expect our substantive investigation to begin within the next few weeks.”

Problem is when the CCRC does not give any clear reasons as to why it chose to prioritise this case, particularly when it is has a huge existing back-log and this is high-profile case.

Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) – Bad Science and the Race for Massachusetts Governor

In an op-ed piece that will appear in tomorrow’s (10/19) print edition of the Boston Globe, Lee Scheier takes former prosecutor Martha Coakley to task for her “deft misuse of science” in the SBS conviction of Louise Woodward, a British nanny who was working for the Eappen family when their 8-month-old son Matthew died in 1997.

Coakley is currently running for governor of Massachusetts, and recently set up a photo op with Deborah Eappen, Matthew’s mother, trying to defend her record on “protecting children.”

This quote from the article:  “Coakley’s odd invocation of this case demands that we look at the facts. What cannot be lost in all of this political maneuvering is the truth about the Woodward case and all the thousands of shaken-baby cases before and since Woodward. The truth is that Martha Coakley’s deft misuse of science actually came very close to sending an innocent caretaker to prison for life.” (emphasis mine)

See the Boston Globe op-ed here.

Thanks to Dr. John Plunkett for passing this along.

Texas Appeals Court Grants New Trial … but Lets Prosecutor “Off the Hook”

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has granted Hannah Overton a new trial based upon her claim of  “ineffective assistance of counsel” (IAC).  She has served seven years of a life sentence for capital murder in the death of her 4-year-old stepson who died of a sodium overdose (salt poisoning).  She truly did have ineffective assistance of counsel, because her attorney did not present the videotaped deposition of a salt poisoning expert saying that the overdose was likely unintentional, and there was nothing she could have done.

But here’s the part of the story that really gets me.  Overton had also filed a claim that the prosecution had withheld exculpatory evidence (Brady violation), and the court was presented with both the IAC claim and the Brady claim.  In it’s ruling, the court declined to rule on the Brady claim, saying it was unnecessary since they had granted a new trial based upon the IAC claim.  They let the prosecutor off the hook.

Story from KRIS TV (Corpus Christi, TX) here.

For a current update, see the KRIS site here.

David McCallum and the late William Stuckey exonerated of murder

After 29 years in prison, David McCallum was exonerated yesterday  of a murder he did not commit. Kings County (NY) Supreme Court Justice Matthew D’Emic also exonerated William Stuckey who died in prison in 2001. It took an army of advocates over many years — including the late Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who had also been wrongfully conviction of murder — to finally overturn this miscarriage.

As teenagers McCallum and Stuckey falsely confessed to the murder of  Nathan Blenner, who died of a single gunshot wound to the head. McCallum and Stuckey quickly recanted the confessions. Although the confessions were filled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies, the men were convicted and lost all appeals. Over the years, McCallum refused parole rather than admit guilt to a crime he did not commit. His struggle was recorded in a recently released documentary, “David & me.”

Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, whose Conviction Review Unit investigated the case, recommended this exoneration, and has now cleared convictions in ten cases, said in a Wall Street Journal Report (here), “I think the people of Brooklyn deserve better, and I think we should not have a national reputation as a place where people have been railroaded into confessing to crimes they did not commit.”

Congratulations to Mr. McCallum and to the family of William Stuckey. The nation should be grateful for the persistence and hard work of all who contributed to this reversal including Steven Drizin of the Center on Wrongful Convictions (Chicago), Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and Ken Klonsky, Innocence International (Toronto), Oscar Michelen of the New York law firm of Cuomo, LLC, Professor Laura Cohen of the Rutgers-Newark Law School’s Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic, and King’s County District Attorney Kenneth Thompson  and his Conviction Review Unit team.

 

On DNA, Prosecutors Can’t Handle the Truth…

From the DetroitNews:

By Dave Moran, clinical professor of law and the director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School.

On Sept. 8, my client Jamie Peterson walked out of a jail in Kalkaska, exonerated by DNA after 17 years in prison for a murder and rape he did not commit.

The DNA testing not only excluded Peterson but matched another man, Jason Ryan, who will stand trial later this year.

I am thrilled that Peterson is finally free. But I am also angry that the previous Kalkaska County prosecutor, aided by a local judge, managed to prevent the DNA from being tested and the real perpetrator from being identified for 12 years, even though they knew the DNA did not match Peterson. For 12 long years, Peterson remained in prison and Jason Ryan remained free because the prosecutor did not want to know the truth.

Peterson was convicted of the 1996 rape and murder of Geraldine Montgomery even though the male DNA recovered from her rape kit did not match him.

At trial, prosecutor Brian Donnelly repeatedly insinuated that another stain found on Montgomery’s shirt would match Peterson if it could only be tested. Since none of the physical evidence matched Peterson, he was convicted entirely on a series of wildly inconsistent confessions he had made to the police, who knew that he was mentally ill.

By 2001, DNA testing had improved to the point that the stain on the shirt could be tested. Further, the CODIS system had come online so that the unknown male DNA from the rape kit could be compared to state and national databases of thousands of convicted felons.

One would think that the prosecutor would want to know the identity of the unknown male whose DNA was in Montgomery’s rape kit. But no, Donnelly fought for 12 years to keep the DNA from being tested.

When the issue went to court in 2002, Judge Alton Davis issued a baffling opinion concluding that since DNA wasn’t used to convict Peterson, there was no reason to find out whose DNA was inside and on the victim’s body. Donnelly continued to successfully resist repeated requests for DNA testing for another decade.

When I think about how Donnelly and Judge Davis fought the DNA testing in the Montgomery case, I’m reminded of Jack Nicholson’s line in A Few Good Men, “You can’t handle the truth!” Rather than risk learning the uncomfortable truth that an innocent man might have been convicted, they chose to not find out who left DNA inside and on Geraldine Montgomery the night she was savagely murdered.

Finally, a new prosecutor, Michael Perreault, was elected in 2012, and to his great credit, he readily agreed to DNA testing when we and the Center on Wrongful Convictions approached him. The testing was performed in 2013, and it proved that all of the male DNA, including the stain on the shirt, came from the same man. A CODIS search quickly identified that man as Jason Ryan, who had been in the pool of original suspects in 1996. Ryan was finally arrested last December.

But the kind of obstruction we saw with Peterson continues to happen in other cases.

On Sept. 2, just six days before Jamie Peterson walked free, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by Oakland Circuit Judge Rae Lee Chabot that blood found on and near a murder victim, Robert Meija, shouldn’t be DNA tested even though the prosecution conceded that the blood type did not match Meija or Gilbert Poole, the man convicted of Meija’s murder. Despite the Cooley Innocence Project’s investigation that pointed to another suspect and its offer to pay for the testing, the Oakland County prosecutor opposed testing, making the same argument that was used to deny Peterson testing: since the blood wasn’t used to convict Poole, why should we test it now to find out who left the blood?

It’s so easy to answer that question. We should test that blood because the DNA may very well hit on a person who remains at large and who has continued to commit other crimes. There was only one perpetrator in the Poole case. Identifying a complete stranger to Poole, as Ryan was to Peterson, would strongly suggest that the wrong man is in prison.

The bottom line is this: Why doesn’t the Oakland County prosecutor want to know whose blood was found at the scene of a vicious murder? More broadly, why are some prosecutors so afraid of the truth? And why are some Michigan judges willing to help them hide the truth even when it means leaving violent criminals free to commit more crimes?

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Man convicted in case for which Bennett Barbour of Virginia had originally been wrongfully convicted of rape
  • Three months after murder charges against a Kentucky woman were dismissed by the state’s Court of Appeals, the state’s attorney ruled Tuesday that she won’t face a new trial. The Courier-Journal reported that Susan Jean King spent six years behind bars for a 1998 murder after pleading guilty, even though she didn’t commit the crime, because of pressure from a state police detective who told her she faced life in prison. She was released in 2012 before she had served out her sentence.
  • Alaska AG denies claims of delay in Fairbanks Four wrongful conviction case
  • Exoneree seeking compensation, and hedge funds, are common allies against GM
  • Oklahoma touts new $71,000 death chamber
  • Wrongful convictions help sway Justice Minister of Zimbabwe to say “No executions under my watch.”

Exoneration in California Yesterday

MellenYesterday, Susan Mellen was released from prison after doing 17 years for a murder she did not commit.  She was serving a term of life without the possibility of parole.

Thanks in large part to the work of the organization Innocence Matters, a year-long investigation revealed that she was convicted solely on the basis of testimony from a woman who was proven to be a pathological liar, and that the defense at her trial had not researched that, and it was not presented in her defense.

The judge took only two minutes to vacate her conviction and dismiss her case. He was quoted as saying, “Ms. Mellen is not only not guilty. I believe, based on what I’ve read, that Ms. Mellen is innocent.”  “The justice system failed.”  The prosecution cooperated.

See the DAILY BREEZE story here.