Category Archives: DNA

Is Texas Going to Execute Another Innocent Person?

If you have been paying attention at all, you know that the Texas death penalty machine has been operating at full tilt – 508 executions since 1982, with 16 in just 2013.  This includes the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, and it had become abundantly clear, even before his execution, that Willingham was actually innocent.

Texas is now getting ready to execute Rodney Reed for a murder that it is likely somebody else committed.  This could be confirmed by simple DNA testing of items from the crime scene, and has been requested by his attorney and The Innocence Project.  But the state of Texas has steadfastly refused to do the testing, and in a hearing held just last Tuesday, a Texas judge has ruled that no further DNA testing is warranted.  See the report on that hearing by The Intercept here.

CNN has posted a story by Dan Simon about the case, and you can read that story here.

This from the CNN story:

“Why on earth, one wonders, would Texas battle fiercely against conducting the testing? Would it be naive to propose the state should welcome it?

The answer cannot be the meager costs of running the tests or the negligible time they would take to run. Nor could the state claim to be acting out of respect for the victim’s loved ones — a dubious justification from the outset — given that numerous members of her (the victim’s) family are campaigning publicly on Reed’s behalf.

The best explanation for the state’s aversion to the testing may be the dread of learning the truth. The prospect of finding that Reed is innocent would deliver a resounding condemnation of the state’s criminal justice process — its detectives, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, jurors and appellate courts.”

There is significant case detail in the original story by The Intercept, which you can read here.

Open Records Policies Shine Light on Misconduct, Injustice

Dallas County (TX) District Judge Mark Stoltz issued findings of fact and conclusions of law last week before recommending that the murder convictions of Dennis Lee Allen and Stanley Orson Mozee be overturned. The two men were subsequently released after each had served 15 years in prison. The judge’s findings will now go before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for review. ABC News WFAA 8 reported (here) that the two are expected to be exonerated.

Allen and Mozee were convicted of the 1999 murder of Reverend Jesse Borns Jr., who was found stabbed outside his workplace, a retail store. No physical evidence linked the men to the crime. The conviction was won on the unrecorded confession of Mozee — who immediately recanted and claimed he was coerced into signing the police-written statement — and the testimony of two jailhouse informants. The informants denied under oath at trial that they were promised compensation for their testimony. Continue reading

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

  • South China Morning Post:  Reduction in number of crimes eligible for death penalty move in right direction
  • Recent exoneree Michelle Murphy discusses life outside of prison
  • Innocence Project (Cardozo) says DNA clears Minnesota man of murder; prosecutors disagree
  • The Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled the state’s program that provides compensation to inmates wrongfully convicted of crimes covers not only time behind bars but also house arrest.

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Jennifer Thompson Promotes the Justice for All Act

Jennifer Thompson has been featured on the WCB before.  She authored, along with Ronald Cotton, the book Picking Cotton.  Ms. Thompson incorrectly identified Ronald Cotton as the man who raped her, and Cotton spent 11 years in prison before DNA proved he was not guilty.  After his release, Ronald and Jennifer became friends, and co-authored the book, which chronicles the events of the rape and the wrongful conviction.

Ms. Thompson has recently written an op-ed for The Hill in support of reauthorization of the Justice for All Act to ensure that post-conviction DNA testing remains accessible.

See the original posting on The Hill here.  The text of her piece appears below:

October 26, 2014
Harm multiplies when the innocent are wrongly convicted
By Jennifer Thompson

In June of 1995, I found myself on a journey I never wanted, never asked for and never would have wished on another human being. I learned that the man whom I had identified in court as my rapist – the man whose face, breath and evilness I had dreamt about for 11 years – was innocent. The man whom I believed had destroyed me that night, who had stolen everything from me, and whom I hated with an all-consuming rage had lost 4000 days, eleven Christmases, eleven birthdays, and relationships with loved ones. And on June 30th of 1995, Ronald Cotton, the man I had hated and prayed for to die, walked out of prison a free and innocent man.

My rage and hatred had been misplaced. I was wrong. I had sent an innocent man to prison. A third of his life was over, and the shame, guilt and fear began to suffocate me. I had let down everyone — the police department, the district attorney’s office, the community, the other women who became victims of Bobby Poole, and especially Ronald Cotton and his family.

Several years after Ronald was freed, I received a phone call from Bobby Poole’s last victim. I remember hearing her story about what happened to her and realizing that we all had left him on the streets to commit further crimes – rapes — that we possibly could have prevented if Ronald had not been locked up for something he had never done. The knowledge that Mr. Poole had been left at liberty to hurt other women paralyzed me and sent me into a backward spiral that took years to recover from. This journey has taught me that the impact of wrongful convictions goes so much further than a victim and the wrongfully convicted. The pool of victims from 1984 was huge – me, Ron, the police department, our families, and the other women who became victims of Bobby Poole all suffered.

This case crystalized for me why it is so important to have laws in place that protect the innocent. Those laws would be important enough if they only protected the innocent, but they do so much more. They also protect the potential victims of real perpetrators, the families and children of the wrongfully convicted person, and – ultimately – the victim who learns the truth.

The Justice for All Act, which is up for reauthorization by Congress, allows men like Ronald to obtain post-conviction DNA testing that can lead to their freedom and to the conviction of the guilty. Without access to such testing, innocent men will remain in prison, real perpetrators will remain free, and new victims will have to experience the same horrors and indignities that I did. I urge Congress to pass the Justice For All Act now so that we can live in a world where the truly guilty are behind bars and the innocent are free.

Thompson is the co-author with Ronald Cotton of the book Picking Cotton, a memoir they wrote together after DNA testing proved that Cotton had been wrongly convicted of raping Thompson as a college student.

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…