Author Archives: Mark Godsey

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

R.I.P. Hurricane Carter…

That’s the story of the Hurricane,
But it won’t be over till they clear his name
And give him back the time he’s done.
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world.

-Bob Dylan

The legendary Hurricane Carter passed away yesterday at 76.

NY Times article

From The Nation

Rest in peace…

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Knoops Innocence Project Exonerees Compensated by Government

High Court of Justice of the Dutch Antilles agrees to pay USD 1.97 million compensation to Nozai Thomas and Andy Melaan (Spelonk case)

On 11 April 2014, the High Court of Justice ofAruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten and of Bonaire, Saint Eustatius and Saba (Dutch Antilles) rendered a judgment granting compensation to two exonerees for a miscarriage of justice which took place in 2005.

In 2006, the High Court of Justice at Bonaire affirmed a conviction of the District Court in 2005 against Nozai Thomas and Andy Melaan for murdering two brothers and sentenced them to respectively 8 and 24 years imprisonment.

The wrongful conviction came to light as a result of an initiative of drs. Lucio Ricardo, a psychologist working at the Dutch Antilles, who believed in the innocence of the two men. In 2009-2010 the former Dutch police detective Mr. Gosewehr and the criminologist dr. Timmerman, concluded that the two men were wrongfully convicted. The case was subsequently submitted by them to the Knoops’ Innocence Project (director Carry Knoops-Hamburger).

The Knoops’ Innocence Project has been working pro bono on the case since 2011 and initiated new research, in order to establish a “new fact”, which is necessary to have a case reopened in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Research by the Netherlands Forensic Research Bureau [Nederlands Forensisch Onderzoeksbureau, NFOB] and Digital Investigations revealed that Thomas’ was working at his computer during the night of the murders in 2005. New research also revealed that Thomas had confessed under extreme police pressure and that his confession was most likely to be false. Telecom research furthermore revealed that Melaan could not have been at the crime scene during the night of the murders.

On 1 July 2013 the High Court of Justice ordered a new trial and on 14 November 2013 both men were officially exonerated. Mr. Thomas spent 4.5 years in prison and Mr. Melaan 8 years.

On 11 April 2014 the High Court of Justice granted the following amounts of compensation:

-        Nozai Thomas: USD 677.430

-        Andy Melaan: USD 1.292.687

The High Court of Justice multiplied the standard amount of financial compensation for wrongfully convicted persons with factor five, while taking the following aspects into consideration:

-        Knoops’ advocaten tried to obtain compensation through the Prosecutor General, which would have prevented the two men to go to court for compensation and which would have allowed them to gain swift rehabilitation;

-        The fact that the prosecution did not prove to be willing to settle the compensation claim, while the prosecution – in light of the experience the Kingdom of the Netherlands has with wrongful convictions – should have been aware of the impact on the exonerees of such a miscarriage of justice. The fact that the prosecution proved to be unwilling to settle the claim, impacted upon the exonerees who still felt that they had to proof their innocence towards society;

-        Both exonerees proved to be extremely traumatized and showed signs of PTSS;

-        The uniqueness of the case demanded a higher compensation than the standard amount.

-        Other factors that contributed to a higher amount of compensation were:

o   Extensive media coverage;

o   The fact that the accused suffered from stigmatization in the Bonairean community;

o   Impact of the wrongful conviction on the lives of Melaan and Thomas (both exonerees suffer from PTSS);

o   The young age of Melaan and Thomas during their detention;

o   Severe psychological damage, which will have a lasting impact on their lives;

o   Police pressure during the interrogations (which had resulted in a false confession by Thomas)

Importantly, the judges of the High Court of Justice granted compensation that is commensurate with the standard of living in “the Netherlands”; if they would have applied the Dutch Antilles standard, the amount would have been lower.

Andy Melaan and Nozai Thomas perceive the compensation as a form of rehabilitation and reparation for the suffering inflicted upon them. The compensation will be deposited in a fund, which will be managed by third parties and used for their – and their family and children’s – future. Melaan and Thomas are committed to helping other wrongfully convicted persons on the Dutch Antilles and beyond.

Knoops’ Innocence Project

Prof. G.G.J. Knoops
Mrs. C.J. Knoops-Hamburger (director Knoops’ Innocence Project)
Ms. M. van Woudenberg
Ms. Pascalle Dingemanse (local counsel)

Launch of Oregon Innocence Project…

The Oregon Innocence Project had its launch party last night.  It was a full house with a lot of excitement and energy.  Here is an article about the event.  Good luck to the Oregon Innocence Project!

Justin Brooks and Amanda Knox at the launch party of the Oregon Innocence Project

Justin Brooks and Amanda Knox at the launch party of the Oregon Innocence Project

Innocence Network Conference…..

It’s time for the annual Innocence Network Conference, this year in Portland, Oregon.  All the innocence leaders from around the U.S. (and world) are currently descending on this beautiful city in the mountains for 3 days of learning and sharing.  Find details about the conference here

The Changing Face of Exonerations….

From Time Magazine, by Deborah Tuerkheimer:

For all the understandable weight we give DNA evidence, it is of little if any use for the vast majority of the wrongfully convicted.

These figures point to a hard truth: For all the understandable weight we give DNA evidence, it is of little if any use for the vast majority of the wrongfully convicted. While DNA remains the focus of exoneration efforts around the country, and all states have passed laws that provide for post-conviction access to testing, experts estimate that only 5% to 10% of all criminal cases involve such evidence. If we are to make meaningful progress towards freeing innocent people now serving time—a population some now place at more than 100,000—we need new laws designed to target miscarriages of justice that lack DNA evidence.

Taking such steps is especially critical for women, who make up a fast-growing segment of the nation’s prison population. Women’s alleged crimes of violence—often involving children or romantic partners—do not typically hinge on the whodunit question of identity that DNA is so useful in resolving. To the contrary in such cases, the more common question is whether a crime was even committed, with one salient example being the increasingly discredited diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome. (Notably, “no crime” cases comprise another category on the increase, accounting for a whopping 22% of this year’s exonerations.)

Happily, recent years have seen the beginnings of a movement to grapple with these issues. In a curious twist, it is Texas—not a state generally associated with progressive criminal justice reform—that is leading the way. Last fall, the state passed the nation’s first law recognizing faulty forensic evidence (aka junk science) as a basis for post-conviction relief. The underlying logic is simple: as science evolves and past scientific testimony is seen in new light, we ought to revisit those convictions that have been cast in doubt.

The first to successfully invoke the Texas junk science law werethree women convicted in 1998 of sexually abusing a child. Days later, another woman was separately released after serving 21 years for sexually abusing multiple children–one of the many satanic ritual day care scandals of the 1990s, often rightly compared to the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century. Without the new legislation, these women would still be behind bars.

Another sign of this trend came last month, when a federal judge in Chicago issued a ruling finding “actual innocence” in a case based on shaken baby syndrome. Even without DNA to prove her innocence, 43-year-old Jennifer Del Prete was able to show that, based on current science, no reasonable jury could possibly find her guilty of murdering the baby in her care. As U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly wrote in his 97-page opinion, it’s now apparent that the diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome is arguably “more an article of faith than a proposition of science.”

These incisive words reflect the growing consensus among experts that the neurological symptoms once viewed as conclusive proof of a caregiver’s guilt may well have natural causes, including congenital defects, metabolic disorders, infectious diseases and autoimmune conditions. Such “mimics of abuse” have attracted growing attention in the five years since I began studying the criminal justice system’s treatment of shaken baby syndrome. But our law’s approach to unwinding injustice remains both far too fluky and far too delayed.

If Del Prete is ultimately exonerated—as appears not unlikely—her case will be in keeping with the demographic trend away from a reliance on DNA. Yet in so many ways, hers is also a cautionary tale. Del Prete is now almost a decade into a 20-year prison sentence. And, notwithstanding the finding of “actual innocence,” she will remain incarcerated, at least for now. Federal law allows state prisoners to challenge the constitutionality of their convictions, but the grounds are narrowly defined. In the Alice in Wonderland world of federal criminal procedure, the judge who found her claims of innocence entirely credible was not permitted to vacate her conviction, since innocence is not a basis for relief. The ruling simply means she can move forward to challenge her conviction on separate constitutional grounds.

Such troubling cases underscore the need to reform our laws to better address the realities of all wrongful convictions. We need new avenues for post-conviction relief that reflect what we now know about the common causes of false convictions: false confessions, lying informants, eyewitness misidentification, and invalid forensic science. And we owe it to those wrongly convicted to move far more quickly—to recognize the moral imperative of overcoming the inertia of injustice.

Deborah Tuerkheimer, a Professor of Law at DePaul University, is a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan who has written widely on rape and domestic violence. She is currently a Public Voices Faculty Fellow with the OpEd Project. Her bookFlawed Convictions: “Shaken Baby Syndrome” and the Inertia of Injustice (Oxford University Press) is forthcoming in April.

 

A Perfect Storm Brewing for Fire Investigators in Court

Terry-Dawn Hewitt and Wayne J. McKenna have posted the above-titled article on SSRN.  Download here.  The abstract states:

The genesis of this piece comes from a trend the authors have observed in three separate but related areas, which we believe are converging into a perfect storm for fire investigators. These are: 1) the ongoing movement by courts across the nation to scrutinize more closely the reliability of expert testimony, 2) a growing apprehension about wrongful convictions stemming from faulty forensic evidence and problems in fire investigations, culminating in the revolutionary report published by the National Academy of Sciences, and; 3) the continuing development of industry standards that are raising the bar for fire investigators. Part I describes each of these forces, and then Part II demonstrates how together they are creating a mounting pressure on fire investigation experts to defend their qualifications and the reliability of their opinions in court, particularly insofar as analyzing the fire scene and interpreting fire patterns is concerned.

 

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Federal Public Defender in Oregon, Steven Wax, takes huge pay cut to be first legal director of Oregon Innocence Project
  • Cameron Todd Willingham, executed by Texas though innocent, will not get posthumous pardon.  Outrageous, but unfortunately consistent with what I’ve seen from the robotic parole and pardon boards around the country.
  • City of Cleveland agrees to compensate exonerated clients of Ohio Innocence Project and The Innocence Project, Thomas Siller and Walter Zimmer.
  • Ohio Innocence Project exoneree Glenn Tinney sues prosecutors for his wrongful conviction.

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

WCBlog named #11 out of more than 125 Criminal Law Related Blogs…

Rankings by stats here….More than 125 blogs were evaluated, and the top 50 were ranked.  Wrongful Convictions Blog ranked #11.  Good job by all the contributing editors…..

Swirls and Whorls: Litigating Post-Conviction Claims of Fingerprint Misidentification after the NAS Report

U of Washington Professor, and director the Innocence Project Northwest, Jackie McMurtry has posted the above-titled article on SSRN.  Download here.  The abstract states:

The National Research Council of the National Academies’ 2009 report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward (“NAS Report”), noted that “[t]he number of exonerations resulting from the analysis of DNA has grown across the country in recent years, uncovering a disturbing number of wrongful convictions — some for capital crimes — and exposing serious limitations in some of the forensic science approaches commonly used in the United States.” The evidence can include the comparisons of bite marks, hairs, voiceprints, earprints, and fingerprints.

This article provides a brief outline of latent fingerprint evidence as it is currently presented in courts. Latent fingerprint individualization was rapidly accepted as forensic identification evidence, largely without question — and before being validated through scientific research. Legal challenges only began in the 1990s. Although the NAS Report’s discussion of fingerprint identification raises many questions, petitioners who claim to have been wrongly convicted because of it will still face substantial hurdles.

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Sarah Pearce Freed in Idaho after nearly 12 years in prison

Sarah Pearce hugs her aunt as she leaves the Canyon County, Idaho Jail.  Her mother and champion Anita Brown looks on.

Sarah Pearce hugs her aunt as she leaves the Canyon County, Idaho Jail. Her mother and champion Anita Brown looks on.

From Idaho Innocence Project press release:

After over twelve years of incarceration, Sarah Pearce’s quest for freedom ended today when she was granted post-conviction relief in the District Court of Idaho’s Third Judicial District. Sarah (31) was convicted of six felonies in 2003, including aiding and abetting the 2000 attempted murder of Linda LeBrane. She was sentenced to a fifteen year determinate period of incarceration with an indeterminate life sentence. Sarah has always steadfastly maintained her innocence.

After over five years of litigation, post-conviction relief was granted in the form of Sarah being resentenced to time served. Sarah said she looks forward to spending time with her family, jogging, attending school, and volunteering for the IIP.  At the hearing Pearce said “This is a tragic misidentification … I did not commit this crime, but all the same I was punished for it. The experience goes almost too deep for words. I will try to walk away from this taking more from it than it has taken from me.”

The Idaho Innocence Project (IIP) and her attorneys have been working to free Sarah since 2007. A petition for post-conviction relief was filed in 2008 after IIP staff and volunteers obtained affidavits from several trial witnesses suggesting that another suspect, not Sarah, was LeBrane’s female attacker. Sarah’s petition was later amended to claim that her constitutional rights were violated when it was discovered that Canyon County law enforcement officers withheld a rescored polygraph examination of the very same female suspect.

Sarah appeared today in the same Canyon County courtroom where she was originally convicted and sentenced. She was accompanied by her attorneys—Scott Fouser (Fouser Law Offices, P.A.), Jared Hoskins (IIP), and Steve Andersen (Andersen Banducci, PLLC)—her family, several IIP representatives and volunteers who have assisted with the case including Dr. Greg Hampikian (founder and Director of the IIP at BSU), Rick Visser (Former IIP attorney), Debbie Thompson, Ginny Hatch, Leon Rothstein, Joy Garrison, and Mikel Hautzinger. Dr. Charles Honts, professor of psychology at BSU volunteered as a polygraph expert on Sarah’s case.

The IIP has had its funding drastically cut after it was not awarded a competitive Department of Justice grant this year but continues to offer DNA support to attorneys litigating cases of actual and demonstrable innocence.  Donations to the Idaho Innocence Project can be made online: http://innocenceproject.boisestate.edu

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…