Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Michelle Byrom Was Abused For Years & Then Almost Executed — But She’s Not The Only One

From: Refinery29

By: Vanessa Golembewski

In the tranquil town of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, there’s a small house with an inviting backyard. There’s a sheepdog, Chelsea, who lovingly greets guests as soon as they get out of the car. There’s a porch full of garden knickknacks; faux frogs hidden in succulents, some tomatoes lined up underneath colorful wind chimes. And there, sitting peacefully in a wheelchair on a quiet July morning, is Michelle Byrom — a woman the state of Mississippi nearly executed — who is seeing her first few weeks of freedom after 15 years on death row.

Michelle’s story sounds like something out of a spy novel. She was convicted of a murder-for-hire plot against her abusive husband, Edward Byrom Sr., in 1999. According to prosecutors, Michelle paid Joey Gillis — a friend of her son — to murder Edward Sr. Her son, Edward Byrom Jr., confessed to shooting his father, unable to take his verbal, mental, and physical abuse any longer. But in an effort to protect Edward Jr., Michelle told law enforcement that she took full responsibility for her husband’s death.

Judge Thomas Gardner convicted Michelle of capital murder in 2000. If her husband was so abusive, prosecutors argued, why didn’t she just leave him? Judge Gardner sentenced her to death by lethal injection. She spent 15 years on death row at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl. During that time, she maintained her innocence. Her son even confessed to shooting his father to a court-appointed psychiatrist. But that confession was not weighed at trial. Edward Jr. even pointed police to the murder weapon, testing positive for gunpowder residue on his hands and shirt. Yet Michelle remained on death row. Then, hours before her scheduled execution in March 2014, the Mississippi Supreme Court — at last acknowledging the incompetence of her defense and spotting exculpatory evidence that wasn’t admitted at trial — vacated her conviction. Michelle was transferred to Tishomingo County Jail in Iuka, where she awaited a new trial. Except, she never had that trial. Her attorneys told her if she plead no contest on June 26, she could walk away right then and there. So, she did.

Days after Michelle’s release, I sent her a letter to a P.O. box listed through one of her support groups. I asked if I could come interview her, and two weeks later she called me to say she was ready to tell her story. So I flew down to Nashville, drove a rental car to Murfreesboro, and got to know a woman who’s seeing what the world looks like after 15 years cut off from society.

The world has changed a lot since Michelle was first incarcerated. She’s still in a period of adjustment during which she’s surprised by little things most people never notice, like the carpool lane on the highway or the disappearance of video rental stores. But, despite all this change and progress, for women like Michelle who have suffered — or are suffering — domestic violence in Mississippi, the world looks as bleak as ever.

The Night Of The Arrest
After Edward Sr. was found dead, the sheriff came to question Michelle, who was in the hospital being treated for pneumonia and under heavy medication. “Listen, we are going to be able to pull enough together,” the sheriff told her, according to official case documents. “Don’t leave [Edward Jr.] hanging out there to bite the bullet.” Michelle — in a drug-induced haze and wanting to protect her son — took the blame. “I will take all the responsibility,” she told the sheriff, and made up something about asking Gillis to shoot Edward Sr. She was arrested there in the hospital and brought to prison wearing just two hospital gowns: one on her front and one on her back.

The details of her trial are disheartening. No witnesses — including a court-ordered psychiatrist — were called to testify in her defense. Michelle claims she knew some of the jury members personally. (Her son played baseball with one male juror. Another female juror was in Michelle’s Sunday school class.) Key evidence — like her son’s confession to the murder — was never shown to the jury. In an article he penned for The Jackson Free Press days before Michelle’s scheduled execution, former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz wrote that Michelle’s trial was “riddled with errors.” Diaz’s assessment of Michelle’s unfair trial is lengthy, but the highlights include that “basic trial and appellate responsibilities were neglected or inadequately performed,” “necessary objections were not made,” and — perhaps most upsetting — “the appeal filed on [Michelle’s] behalf relies in large part on unsupported assertions and vague innuendo, and falls below what I consider professionally acceptable.”

Had the state Supreme Court not overturned her conviction, Michelle would have been the first woman executed in the state of Mississippi since World War II.

A Life Of Abuse (& Where Mississippi Fails Women)
By the age of 15, Michelle had left her home in Yonkers, NY, to become a stripper. Shortly after, when Michelle was 17, she met Edward Sr., who was 32 at the time. “Back then, I was looking for a father figure,” she told me. They dated, had Edward Jr., and were married five years later. But, before long, her marriage became a relationship in which she was horrifically abused and isolated from her friends and family.

“He made sure I didn’t have money. He made sure I kept away from my family, [by] hundreds of miles,” Michelle said. She didn’t bring any of her female friends around because, when she did, Edward Sr. always “wanted something to do with them,” she explained to me. “And I don’t really know what else I could have done. Anywhere I would have went he would have found me, and he would have hurt anybody that tried to help me.”

Michelle’s stories about her husband are hard to stomach. In addition to regular beatings, isolation from her friends and family, and the overarching fear Edward Sr. instilled in her, to keep her from leaving, he forced her to have sex with other men and videotaped it for his own pleasure. Michelle claims he once suspected her of having an affair with the exterminator, so he forced her to ingest a block of rat poison, pouring whiskey down her throat after each bite.

It’s a shocking story, but Keith A. Caruso, MD, a forensic psychiatrist, claimed in his court-ordered psychiatric assessment that Michelle has Munchausen syndrome, after having been abused all her life, and was ingesting the poison herself in an attempt to escape her abuser. This is common in abuse victims, so it’s understandable that this was his conclusion.

I asked him if, hypothetically, there’s a possibility that a domestic violence victim’s symptoms could simply present as Munchausen’s, but in reality be extreme abuse. “Hypothetically, symptoms could be caused by abuse,” he told me over the phone. “But if that is the case, the person should have told their lawyers, as it could possibly be considered imperfect self-defense.” Michelle couldn’t possibly have known that legal intricacy, but it points to yet another item on a list of things Michelle’s defense team could have done better.

Compounding that is the fact that Mississippi is a notoriously difficult place to find help as an abused woman. In fact, it’s not a great place to be a woman in general. In 2012, a study based on data from the National Women’s Law Center, National Partnership for Women & Families, and the National Network to End Domestic Violence named Mississippi the worst state for women to live.

According to this study, 22% of women were living below the poverty line and only 21% were college-educated. Mississippi is one of four states to have never had a woman in Congress or as governor. The state legislature is just 15% female. The state also has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy, but just one abortion clinic — on the brink of closure. A 2014 Violence Policy Report named Mississippi the fifth in the country for the most women murdered by men.

Michelle was aware of the limited resources that were available to her in 1999 in Mississippi, but she said there was “no way” she could have utilized them. “It would require me to leave the house, and anybody that helped me in any way would be in serious trouble,” Michelle said. “He had ways to get to people.”

And yet, the prosecution’s major argument against Michelle was one that’s unfortunately familiar to many survivors of domestic violence: If your husband was abusing you, why didn’t you just leave? Why didn’t you just get out of it? Michelle did leave — many times. But, Edward Sr. would always find her. “And when the beatdowns came, they were bad.” Even afterward, her doctors — all male — would just advise her to go to a shelter.

But, in 1999, the only domestic violence shelter serving Tishomingo County, where Michelle lived, is in Tupelo — over an hour’s drive from her home in Iuka. And in 1999 — a time when the internet and cell phones were not readily available, especially to women in Michelle’s circumstances— the best way for Michelle to get help would be through her friends and neighbors. Even today, in 2015, that shelter in Tupelo remains the only one in the county.

To put that in perspective, consider this: Vermont, which has a population of about 600,000, has 12 domestic violence shelters. Mississippi, with a population of almost three million, has 13 shelters.

In Mississippi, doctors are always mandated reporters for children, required to report to authorities when they believe abuse or neglect is at play. But, for adults, they’re only mandated reporters in certain circumstances. Those circumstances are if there’s a gunshot or knifing, or if the adult is deemed a “vulnerable person.” That is, if they are mentally or physically handicapped. Doctors can also make decisions to report abuse on a case-by-case basis if they feel there’s a larger threat to the safety of the hospital or public safety in general. Otherwise, an adult woman with signs of abuse is considered capable of leaving an abusive relationship. Michelle, diagnosed as mentally ill by Dr. Caruso over the course of her trial, was never reported to authorities, likely lost in the shuffle of the many doctors she saw over the years — who were arguably the only people who could have realistically helped her.

Her Experience In Prison
With all this in mind, it’s clear that Michelle should never have been sent to death row. According to her, she’s not alone in her circumstances. She said it seemed like a lot of her fellow inmates were in prison for self-defense against their abusers. Michelle mentioned, for example, Rachel Moore — who’s currently serving a life sentence in Mississippi for shooting her abusive husband. After Rachel’s husband beat her one evening, she grabbed a shotgun. She fired a warning shot into the air and gave him several verbal warnings to stay away from her. When he continued to approach her, she shot him.

Judge Gardner was also the trial judge for Moore. “Judge Gardner has a big problem with domestic violence,” Michelle said. “I think he has a problem with females, period. I don’t know if he’s married or not. If he is, I feel sorry for his wife.”

Neither the Mississippi Attorney General’s office nor the Mississippi Department of Corrections could provide me with numbers regarding how many women are in Mississippi prisons for retaliating against their abusers. However, Amnesty International pointed me to a source that says, “85 to 90% of women in prison have a history of being victims of violence prior to their incarceration, including domestic violence, sexual violence, and child abuse.” According to the MSDOC, as of August 3, 2015, there are 1,722 women in Mississippi prisons.

Michelle’s conviction was overturned just hours before her scheduled execution in March 2014. She learned the news from Lisa Jo Chamberlin, the other woman on death row. “I came out of the shower and she said, ‘Shell, you’re on the news! You’re not gonna die! You got a new trial.’” Michelle didn’t believe her at first, but once she saw it on TV she knew it was real. “About five minutes later, here come the law library people with the papers, and there on the top: new trial. I told the woman, ‘Bend down here, I’m gonna give you a hug.’” Everybody in the zone celebrated.

That celebration speaks to a sort of tenuous camaraderie among the inmates. In fact, Michelle still keeps in touch with some of her former fellow inmates. She was fortunate to have a good relationship with both the guards and the other prisoners. “I never had to worry about getting attacked,” she said. “Most of the inmates and the guards had my back.”

Still, Michelle said she has no good memories of prison. But there were certainly moments when she laughed. Like one Halloween when she used her makeup kit to make her face look like that of a witch and scared a couple of the guards. Or the way she earned credits toward her seminary degree while serving her sentence. She recently finished all three seasons of Orange Is the New Black, which she says resembles nothing of real prison life. But she does identify with Red and the maternal role she sometimes plays to younger inmates. “The characters are pretty good.”

There were a lot of people pulling for Michelle’s release. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty published a blog post campaigning for her removal from death row. A lengthy discussion of Michelle’s story appeared in The Atlantic. People who had never even met Michelle, but knew she wasn’t receiving justice, started Facebook groups in her support, like Justice for Michelle Byrom and Help Save Michelle Byrom.

Diaz, the former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice, was particularly active in getting Michelle’s conviction overturned. His opinion wasn’t considered in the Supreme Court’s upholding of Michelle’s sentencing, however. At the time, he was under indictment from federal prosecutors who were accusing him of bribery. He was later acquitted and cleared, but because of the pending investigation, his vote didn’t count and he was forced to step aside.

Diaz told me he wrote a dissent in 2003 pointing out the errors in her case, including the ineffectiveness of her attorneys and her lack of real representation. “It was shocking,” he told me over the phone. “Whoever represented her at trial did a horrible job.” He had similar words for whoever filed her first appeal. It wasn’t until her post-conviction proceedings that Diaz felt she finally had proper attorneys on her side. “There’s no doubt that, had she had adequate representation [earlier], she would never have received the death penalty in this case.” This opinion was later adopted by the majority.

Days before Michelle’s execution, a reporter from The Jackson Free Press asked Diaz if he’d like to write an article about the situation in his own words. “I had to speak out and say something,” Diaz said of his decision to write it. “I couldn’t just sit there and let the state of Mississippi execute a woman that I had previously thought didn’t deserve execution.” It isn’t lost on Diaz that 11 years is a long time to wait for another Supreme Court review. “That’s 11 years of this woman’s life spent on death row, when I think it could have been…she shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

After Michelle’s conviction was overturned in March 2014, she was transferred to Tishomingo County Jail, where she was to await a new trial. But, 15 months went by and no trial date was set. So when she was offered a no contest plea deal, she took it. For Michelle, that meant she didn’t get a guilty conviction, but is still considered a felon.

The Innocence Project, an organization that helps those who are wrongly imprisoned, usually only takes cases that can use DNA evidence to exonerate someone. So it wasn’t the right fit for Michelle. But its communications director Paul Cates was able to shed some light on why people like Michelle would inevitably take a no contest plea. “It’s an unfortunate case because they’re not really giving someone a real option there,” he told me. Michelle said she didn’t fully understand what it would mean to plead no contest. All she knew was that she could walk away right then and there. “It’s definitely an issue we’re concerned about, but at the end of the day it’s understandable how someone, after waiting for so many years and who’s been denied justice for so long, could take a plea against their best interest in order to get out of prison.” Michelle is a free woman, but is still seen as a felon because of her plea.

According to Amnesty International’s senior death penalty campaigner James Clark, nationally, the average time spent on death row is 20 to 25 years. Michelle spent just 15 there before the state of Mississippi was ready to execute her. In other states, like Virginia, it can be even faster — just six or seven years. Some say having a prisoner serve an unnecessary amount of time before executing them is like having them serve two sentences: one of many years in prison, another of death. Conversely, having more time before an execution would allow for potential exoneration.

Michelle’s story coincides with an important moment in the national conversation about the death penalty. Many lethal injection cases have been botched in recent years, according to Clark. Sometimes this means the person is experiencing pain, but showing no visible signs of it due to a paralyzing element in the drug. Other times this means the paralyzation didn’t take, and the person is showing outward signs of pain. “Most states have lost their supply of lethal injection drugs because many pharmaceutical companies that produce them have stopped manufacturing them, or have restricted their supply,” Clark told me on the phone. He said that, despite companies’ requests that these drugs not be used for the death penalty, the states’ departments of corrections do it anyway.

A New Beginning
When Michelle was released from prison on June 26, her brother Kenny picked her up. She moved in with him and his wife Paula in their home in Tennessee. (Though, on the way they stopped for a Whopper at Burger King — a meal Michelle said was “better than sex.”) Over a Bloomin’ Onion at The Outback Steakhouse — a snack high on Michelle’s bucket list — she talked about her readjustment to the outside world.

Indeed, the world looks different to her now, though not entirely unfamiliar. She’s been introduced to things like text messaging and Facebook. She has an email address and a Samsung tablet — her first-ever touchscreen device. One of her new favorite songs is Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass.” Why? “She’s bringing booty back.”

Still, her prison lifestyle lingers. Michelle eats usually only once a day, and sleeps just a few hours each night. She has Lupus and is mostly dependent on her wheelchair and her brother to get around. (She also doesn’t have a driver’s license.)

Because of her disability and her status as a felon, Michelle probably won’t find much work. And, at the age of 57, suffering from Lupus, perhaps she shouldn’t be expected to go out and find work.

Kenny and Paula’s home, and Michelle’s room in it, is much different from her maximum-security cell. Their walls are covered with pictures of their ever-growing family and inspirational quotes: Live, laugh, love reads one decoration.

She has laugh lines on her face from her nearly constant smile. She hopes to be a grandmother. She may attend her son’s wedding later this year.

She misses her husband at times. “When this all started happening, I kept thinking he was gonna pop out and say, ‘Haha, gotcha.’ This is some kind of joke,” she said. “I still think about him. We did have some good times.” That’s the kind of woman Michelle is: one who seeks out the silver lining, even when the cloud is feeding you rat poison.

I asked Michelle what advice she would give herself if she could go back to 20 years ago. “Watch what you wish for,” she said. “I wished that I were out of the situation I was in and it came through, just not the way I intended it to happen.” But even this grim truth was punctuated by her infectious laugh.

While in prison, she became quite spiritual. Part of that spirituality is her forgiveness of those who have wronged her. “I can forgive these people,” she said, “but I can’t forget. I do think that they’re going to have to ‘fess up to what they did, and they’re gonna have to face God one of these days.”

Michelle was told there isn’t any additional legal action she can take, since she pled no contest. I asked her if she’s considered filing a complaint against Judge Gardner to the Mississippi Commission for Judicial Review. “I was told it would be a waste of time,” she wrote to me in an email after our visit. “No judge is going to go against another judge.” Even the satisfaction of trying isn’t enough to tempt her, as she sees the state of Mississippi as an impenetrable force. “Who down South would go against a judge from the South?” she wrote.

Instead, Michelle is focusing her efforts on the positive things she can do to help others. She’s considering becoming a motivational speaker for those experiencing domestic violence. “I’d left many times, and why didn’t I just keep going?” she said. ”But just because I didn’t succeed doesn’t mean somebody else who tried couldn’t.”

Ultimately, Michelle is protective to the bone. It’s that very tendency to safeguard others that likely landed her in prison in the first place. And it’s that same instinct that made her ask, in our final email exchange, “Well, what did you think of poor Rachel Moore’s story?”

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Modern Forensics vs. Good Old-Fashioned Texas Justice: The Trials of Ed Graf


By Jeremy Stahl

Ed Graf was a bad employee. While working at Community Bank in Texas in the 1980s, he allegedly embezzled from his employer, eventually paying the bank more than $75,000 to avoid prosecution. Ed Graf was a bad husband. His ex-wife, Clare, would call him “the most possessive person I’ve ever known.” Clare’s best friend, Carol Schafer, said her husband, Earl, saw Graf having sex with another woman the night of Graf’s bachelor party. Ed Graf was, according to Clare and her family, a bad father. Two of Clare’s family members accused him of beating his adopted stepsons, Joby and Jason, with a board and belt.

In 1988, a Texas jury found that Ed Graf was also a murderer. Prosecutors argued that two years earlier, on Aug. 26, 1986, Graf had knocked out Joby, 9, and Jason, 8, and placed the boys in the back of their family shed. Graf had then spread gasoline, locked the shed, and set the boys ablaze. The two inseparable, athletic, blond-haired brothers died of smoke inhalation and severe burns in the backyard of their home. The address was 505 Angel Fire Drive.

On the day of the fire, Graf broke the news to his wife, telling Clare that both boys had been lost in the blaze. But Graf had been informed that the body of one child had been found, not both. It was one of many pieces of circumstantial evidence that prosecutors would pile up to present Graf as a calculating, greedy, and callous monster who murdered the children in a desperate attempt to keep his troubled marriage together.

Other small clues seemed to point to Graf’s guilt. Multiple witnesses say they saw a gasoline container on the porch, not far from the kids’ bikes. Graf also acted strangely after the fire. He suggested the boys be buried in one coffin, according to multiple witnesses. He didn’t offer his wife consolation, or apologize that they died in his care. A few weeks after the fire, Graf returned about $50 worth of Joby and Jason’s new school clothes that he had previously insisted they keep the tags on. There was more of what others saw as signs of foreknowledge. The normally meticulous Graf, who was said to keep lists for everything, neglected to buy the boys’ cereal or fill Jason’s Dimetapp prescription the week of their deaths.

In addition to the circumstantial evidence, prosecutors were able to present motive. Weeks before the fire, Graf had taken out $100,000 worth of combined life insurance on the boys if they were to die in an accident. The policies had been mailed out the day before the fire.

The real motive, prosecutors argued, was to get the boys—a source of regular bickering between Graf and his wife—out of their lives. His wife testified that shortly before the fire, she had threatened to leave him over his strict discipline of Joby and Jason, sons from a previous marriage, and to take their newborn third son, Edward III, with her.

The case was still largely circumstantial, though. The thing that likely clinched Graf’s conviction was the scientific testimony of a pair of forensic examiners. Joseph Porter, an investigator with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, testified that, based on his analysis of photos of the remains of the scene, the door of the shed must have been locked from the outside at the time of the fire, which would indicate foul play. He also said there were obvious charring patterns on the floor of the shed left by an accelerant. “The fire was definitely incendiary,” Porter declared. The prosecution’s other expert, a top fire investigator from New York known for his report on the Osage Avenue fire, a notorious fire set by Philadelphia officials that destroyed a primarily black neighborhood, was brought in to testify that there was “no doubt” that this was arson.

If the fire was intentionally set, then Graf was the only suspect with means, motives, and opportunity. Even if there was no direct evidence connecting him to the crime, the circumstantial evidence and the word of two arson experts was enough. The jury deliberated for four hours before pronouncing him guilty of capital murder.

The jurors then had to decide the punishment. The district attorney, Vic Feazell, said that the “facts of the case cry out” for the death penalty—two boys burned alive, murdered by a trusted parent.

Defense attorney Charles McDonald gave an impassioned plea that the jurors had convicted an innocent man and would make the injustice irreversible if they chose execution over life in prison. “I’m asking for this man’s life because if you did make a mistake there’s going to be some folks, somewhere down the line, it may be years … but maybe the mistake can be corrected,” McDonald argued. “If you take this man’s life, there ain’t no way to ever correct it.” The jurors must have found this argument compelling, because they spared Ed Graf’s life.

Twenty-five years later, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decided that a mistake had, in fact, been made. The investigators who testified the fire was arson used what in the years since has been discredited as junk science. A state review panel set up to examine bad forensic science in arson cases said that the evidence did not point to an incendiary fire. A top fire scientist in the field went one step further: The way the boys had died, from carbon monoxide inhalation rather than burns, proved the fire couldn’t have been set by Graf spreading an accelerant, and was thus likely accidental. The defense’s theory was that the boys, who multiple witnesses said had a history of playing with matches and cigarettes, had set the fire themselves, attempted to put it out, and been quickly overcome by carbon monoxide poisoning.

The reason Ed Graf’s case was reviewed a quarter of a century after he barely escaped the death chamber was because of one man: Cameron Todd Willingham. He was convicted, based on similarly faulty scientific evidence and the testimony of a jailhouse informant who later recanted and said he was bribed, of murdering his three children by setting their home on fire two days before Christmas in 1991. Willingham was executed 11 years ago. Only after Willingham’s death was it revealed publicly that the forensic evidence used to convict him was bunk. In 2009, the New Yorker’s David Grann wrote a groundbreaking article describing Texas’ flawed case against Willingham. The story sparked a national uproar over forensic science and the death penalty.

Then Texas did something surprising. While the state has not budged in its use of the death penalty—just last year topping 500 executions since the state brought back capital punishment in 1982—it has reinvented itself as a leader in arson science and investigation. A new fire marshal, Chris Connealy, revamped the state’s training and investigative standards. He also set up a panel comprised of some of the top fire scientists in the country to reconsider old cases that had been improperly handled by the original investigators.

Graf’s case was one of the first up for review, and it was determined that the original investigators had made critical mistakes. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed, overturning the original conviction.

Graf’s successful appeal proved that Texas was serious about correcting past forensic errors, but his story was far from over. Prosecutors in Waco were not convinced of his innocence. They felt that they had enough evidence to reconvict. Just because the forensic science was flawed didn’t change the fact that, in the eyes of prosecutors, Ed Graf was a bad employee, a bad husband, and a bad father—a man capable of murdering his adopted children.

So there was a new trial, and Graf became the first man in Texas to be retried for an arson murder that had been overturned thanks to advances in fire science. His new trial set up a clash between modern forensics and the old way of pursuing criminal justice in Texas, a state where prosecutors have often gone to questionable lengths to win convictions against high profile murder defendants—including multiple men later proved innocent.

Prosecutors in Graf’s retrial spared no effort to win a second conviction in a strange and dramatic retrial last October. The trial’s surreal and unforeseeable conclusion would have a profound impact not just on the fate of Ed Graf, but on the lives of other prisoners who in the wake of the Willingham case held out new hope that their convictions might be overturned and their innocence acknowledged…

Continue reading on at Chapter 2 New Memories

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Prosecutors seek acquittal at a retrial hearing in Osaka (Japan)

From the Japan Times:

Prosecutors seek acquittal of man found guilty of raping girl

Kyodo, Aug. 19, 2015

Prosecutors sought an acquittal on Wednesday in a retrial hearing of a man in his 70s who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for rape and indecent assault.

The man, who had served three and a half years in prison, and his lawyer filed for a retrial last September based on new evidence. He was released last November and the Osaka District Court decided to launch a retrial in February.

The girl had admitted to giving false testimony, and a hospital record was found denying the sexual assault.

The hearing was concluded on Wednesday and the court will hand down its decision on Oct. 16.

During the hearing, the man pleaded not guilty and urged police, prosecutors and judges to look into why the false accusation was made.

The defense counsel criticized the courts that found him guilty for failing to detect the girl’s lie.

Police arrested the man in 2008 and the Osaka District Court found him guilty in 2009. The ruling was upheld by the Osaka High Court and was finalized by the Supreme Court.

Special Report (Wrongful Convictions): Time to shine a light on the innocent

From the Irish Examiner:

Anne Driscoll, Innocence Project

I know a man named Angel who spent 21 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. During his incarceration, both his mother and the mother of his children died and he exhausted all his appeals. He was fated to die in prison without any chance of parole.

He was fortunate enough, however, to be freed this spring after a 10-year investigation by the Justice Brandeis Law Project of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University convinced a judge in Massachusetts to throw out his conviction.

If only this was an isolated story of injustice.

Back in the Second World War era in New Inn, Co Tipperary, Harry Gleeson was a fiddler, a farmhand, and a greyhound handler, a quiet but well-liked man. He was hanged in 1941 for the murder of a neighbor, Moll McCarthy, all of which was both scandalous and newsworthy at the time.

And when news of Harry’s exoneration of that murder broke earlier this year, it also garnered enormous press coverage. However, behind the headlines, what many people in smartphone-era Ireland don’t understand is that what happened to Harry — being convicted of a crime he didn’t commit — can happen to anyone, anywhere, still today.

What happened to Harry — being convicted of a crime he didn’t commit — can happen to anyone, anywhere, still today.

Prior to the late 80s, it was assumed that if someone was convicted, they were most likely guilty. However, with the introduction of DNA evidence in courts in the UK in 1987 and in the US in 1988, this forensic tool demonstrated unequivocally that the justice system doesn’t always work and thus the birth of the innocence movement occurred.

That began in 1992 as the Innocence Project in New York City has now grown internationally to include 68 separate innocence projects under the aegis of the Innocence Network, including the Irish Innocence Project, founded by Griffith College dean of law David Langwallner in 2009.

Research over the past two decades since has revealed that about 2.3% to 5% of all convictions are wrong and that eyewitness misidentifications, faulty science, police or prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective counsel, false confessions, or snitch evidence are the most common contributing factors.

The toll such a miscarriage of justice takes is nearly incalculable.

And any wrongful conviction is always a double miscarriage of justice, as an innocent person has been convicted and the guilty person has not been held accountable, often free to commit more crimes.

Since 2009, the Irish Innocence Project — the only innocence project in Ireland and providing all its services for free — has trained nearly 100 student caseworkers from Griffith College, Trinity College, and DCU, working under the supervision of pro bono lawyers, to investigate cases believed to be wrongful convictions and uncover new evidence — the basis of establishing a Miscarriages of Justice claim in the Irish courts.

And their work has paid powerful dividends.

  • This year, Minister of Justice Frances Fitzgerald expressed regret and sympathy for the wrongful hanging of Harry Gleeson. This is our first exoneration and the first time in Irish history for such a posthumous presidential pardon has been made;
  • A High Court decision defined the mechanism for post-conviction access to DNA testing — something every state in the US provides for;
  • We are, this month, offering submissions in a case before the Greek Supreme Court;
  • We hosted the Irish Innocence Project International Wrongful Conviction Conference and Film Festival on 26-27 June 2015 at Griffith College Dublin featuring addresses by Dr Mary McAleese, Guildford Four defence lawyer Gareth Peirce, Innocence Project co-founders Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, and In the Name of the Father director Jim Sheridan and drew 200 delegates from 15 countries, including the attorney general of Thailand;
  • The Irish Innocence Project and the Italy Innocence Project now co-direct the European Innocence Network, which will vet and validate new and developing innocence projects as the movement expands.
    English jurist William Blackstone recognised the dire consequences of a wrongful conviction when he said: “It is better that 10 guilty people escape than that one innocent person suffer.”

We are attempting to better balance those scales of justice. It is an aim that none other than Sean McBride dedicated his life to. McBride was Harry Gleeson’s junior counsel and it is believed that his experience representing an innocent, but ultimately doomed man, was the genesis of his later role in the founding of Amnesty International.

That aim continues in the founding of the nnocence Network and its expansion beyond the US with the European Innocence Network, where the Irish Innocence Project has taken a lead and dedicated itself to investigate injustices, right them whenever possible and prevent other Harry Gleeson cases from happening.

The Irish Innocence Project is a Revenue-approved charity that provides all its services for free and relies on donations to do the work it does. For more information or to donate, please visit

Anne Driscoll is the Journalist Project Manager of the Irish Innocence Project, a 2013-2014 US Fulbright Scholar and the senior reporter of the Justice Brandeis Law Project at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University in Massachusetts.

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

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Documentary on Scientifically Flawed FBI Hair Comparison Evidence

We’ve reported here before about the fact that FBI agents have been giving scientifically unsupportable testimony regarding hair comparison evidence for decades. Please see  Hair Analysis Evidence About to Join CBLA as “Junk Science.”

This Monday, August 17th at 10pm ET/7p PT, Al Jazeera’s Emmy Award-winning “Fault Lines” investigates how the FBI used the flawed science of microscopic hair analysis to help convict thousands of criminal defendants.

In this new episode, “Under the Microscope: The FBI Hair Cases,” Fault Lines correspondent Josh Rushing and team travel to Savannah, Georgia to meet Joseph Sledge. In 1978, Sledge was convicted of murder, partly based on FBI testimony that his hair was “microscopically alike in all respects” to hairs found at the crime scene. He was released this January, after serving 37 years in prison, when DNA testing proved the hairs used at trial were not his.

As “Fault Lines” reveals, Sledge is among at least 74 Americans who were exonerated after being convicted of a crime involving the forensic science of microscopic hair analysis. “There was no physical evidence tying Joseph to the crime, and the microscopic hair comparison was the closest they could come,” attorney Christine Mumma of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence said of Sledge’s case.

Before the advent of DNA testing, the FBI used the technique of hair analysis for decades. Al Jazeera America interviewed former FBI hair examiner Morris Samuel Clark, who said he testified hundreds of times in court about hair evidence, and that FBI microscopic hair comparisons were based on “16 different characteristics.”  However, with no database with which to compare hairs, Clark conceded that the FBI could not account for how hair characteristics are distributed in the general population.

“The hairs on your head are quite different depending on where they’re selected,” said Dr. Terry Melton, founder of Mitotyping Technologies, a Pennsylvania-based DNA lab. “Microscopy is a very subjective science, and DNA is exactly the opposite.”

In 2012, Dr. Melton’s DNA lab helped overturn convictions for two Washington, D.C.-area men: Kirk Odom, arrested for rape when he was 18 years old, and Santae Tribble, arrested for murder when he was 17.  Sandra Levick, the public defender who represented both Odom and Tribble in their appeals, said, “We had all 13 of the hairs that the FBI had examined [in Tribble’s case] sent off [for DNA testing.]” DNA-testing revealed that one of the hairs used at trial belonged to a dog.

In 2012, these high-profile exonerations finally compelled the Department of Justice to conduct a thorough review. In cases reviewed thus far, they have found that 26 out of 28 FBI examiners made false claims at trial. “We can now say, based on a statistically sizable sample of cases they have reviewed, [the FBI] were wrong 95% of the time,” said David Colapinto, an attorney at the National Whistleblower’s Center.

As of April 2015, the Department of Justice says it has reviewed about 1,800 cases – but in 40% of them, it closed the review due to lack of documentation. Officials from Justice and FBI declined to speak on camera for “Fault Lines” but publicly, they say they will notify defense counsel in cases they have reviewed, while declining to release the names of the defendants to the public. But with at least 14 defendants in question already executed or deceased of old age, is justice working too slowly?

Fault Lines’ “Under the Microscope: the FBI Hair Cases” premieres on Al Jazeera America on Monday, August 17th at 10 p.m. Eastern time/7 p.m. Pacific.

Al Jazeera America can be seen around the U.S. on Comcast Channel 107, Time Warner Cable, Dish Channel 216, DirecTV Channel 347, Verizon Fios Channel 614 and AT&T U-Verse Channel 1219.

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

When Innocence Is No Defense

The ancient Greek playwright, Euripides, once wrote, “Ours is a world in which justice is accidental, and innocence no protection.”

Interestingly, there is an op-ed piece in the NY Times today with the title “When Innocence Is No Defense.”

This quote from the article: “What is most troubling (about the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision) is that the issue of innocence becomes irrelevant if there has been a failure of due diligence. In effect, the ruling elevates finality over justice to the point that an innocent person can be imprisoned, even executed, because of errors made by his lawyer. Absent a constitutional safety net, an innocent person convicted after a procedurally adequate trial is out of luck.” (Highlighting is mine.)

See the NY Times op-ed piece by Julie Seaman here.

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Tradition-bound U.S. system mired in scientific illiteracy, author says

The American legal system assumes that innocent people don’t confess to crimes they didn’t commit. It also assumes that eyewitness testimony is reliable and that jurors are impartial even though scientific research shows otherwise.  Therein lies the cause of many wrongful convictions.

“The legal system is resistant to change and resistant to paying attention to scientific research,” Adam Benforado, author of the book Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice, tells Wired magazine. You will find the informative story here.