Category Archives: Freedom’s Heroes

First-of-its-kind Exoneration Expected in Dallas

Michael Phillips, an African American man falsely convicted of sexual assault, told everyone he was innocent, but after his attorney advised that he would be better off pleading guilty than risking conviction at trial, and after he then served out his 12-year prison term, he never thought his name would be cleared. However, on July 25, 2014, at 9 a.m. Mr. Phillips, 57, in a wheel chair due to sickle cell anemia, is expected to be exonerated in Criminal District Court 3 at the Frank Crowley Courts Building in Dallas, Texas.

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins’ ongoing initiative to review untested rape kits revealed that Michael Phillips was innocent. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, this is the first time in the United States an exoneration of this nature has occurred…as a result of a district attorney’s systematic testing without active request by a defendant. Continue reading

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Paying Tribute to Innocence Movement Visionary Rob Warden…

This is an article about the event last Friday honoring the career of Rob Warden…Congratulations Rob!

From Northwestern University:

Leaders who reframed death penalty debate come together to honor Rob Warden

May 5, 2014 | by Hilary Hurd Anyaso

CHICAGO — When the Center on Wrongful Convictions (CWC) at Northwestern University School of Law opened in 1999, wrongful convictions were viewed as anomalies. There from the beginning, Rob Warden, the co-founder and executive director of the CWC, will be honored for his award-winning work at a symposium that marks his imminent retirement.

In the tribute to Warden, the symposium also will feature other leaders whose relentless work over the years has led to a sea change in the national discourse about the death penalty, shifted public perception and policies about wrongful convictions and resulted in hundreds of exonerations.

Co-hosted by the Center on Wrongful Convictions and the School of Law’s Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, “Champion of Justice: A Symposium to Celebrate Rob Warden’s Quest to Free the Innocent” will be held from 1:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 9, at Northwestern University School of Law, 375 E. Chicago Ave., Thorne Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

Barry Scheck, professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and co-director of the Innocence Project, widely known for its use of DNA evidence to exonerate the wrongfully convicted, will give the keynote address at 4:45 p.m.

Larry Marshall, co-founder of Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions and currently a professor at Stanford Law School, will deliver the opening address at 1:40 p.m.

(Marshall led the 1998 landmark National Conference on Wrongful Convictions and the Death Penalty. Journalists from around the world came to Northwestern Law to cover the historic gathering that for the first time brought together dozens of people released from death row with scholars, activists and lawyers in a highly publicized examination of wrongful convictions.)

The symposium will feature a number of tributes to Warden, including those given in a video sponsored by Kirkland & Ellis and the Cohen Law Group. Warden also will be interviewed on stage and receive a tribute from exonerees.

Marshall will lead a panel discussion on how innocence changed the death penalty debate; a sexual assault survivor who misidentified her attacker will give a presentation; and a panel discussion on the causes of wrongful convictions and reform initiatives will be led by Steve Drizin, a clinical professor and assistant dean at the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern Law who has done leading work on false confessions.

For more information about the event, see http://www.law.northwestern.edu/cwc.

CLE credit will be available for this event.

ABOUT ROB WARDEN

Warden, an investigative journalist whose reporting has helped to free scores of innocent men and women, co-founded the CWC with Larry Marshall, a former Northwestern Law professor, in the spring of 1999. The CWC was founded in the wake of the historic conference on wrongful convictions and the death penalty held at Northwestern University School of Law in November 1998. The conference, which gathered together the largest ever number of exonerated death row inmates on the stage of the School of Law’s Thorne Auditorium, focused the country and the world on the risk of executing the innocent and helped to reframe the debate about the death penalty.

During the 15 years since the founding of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, the work of Warden, Marshall and the CWC staff and attorneys influenced then-Illinois Gov. George H. Ryan’s decision first to declare a moratorium on the death penalty and then to grant clemency to all of the remaining Illinois death row inmates in January 2003. The Illinois legislature’s decision to abolish the death penalty and Gov. Pat Quinn’s decision to sign the abolition bill into law would never have happened were it not for the work of Warden and the CWC.

Under Warden’s leadership, CWC work also has spurred wide-ranging reforms aimed at preventing wrongful convictions. Most recently, Warden was an invited guest of Illinois State Rep. Scott Drury when Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law a bill expanding the requirement that interrogations of homicides be electronically recorded to include other serious felonies. Warden has been a prodigious scholar since arriving at Northwestern, publishing numerous law review articles and several books on subjects related to wrongful convictions and the death penalty. He also has been instrumental in the creation of a network of innocence clinics around the country.

In May 2012, the National Registry of Exonerations, the most comprehensive collection of exonerations in the United States ever assembled, was launched with a report covering 873 exonerations from 1989 through February 2012. Since then, the registry has added exonerations at a rate exceeding 200 per year. Warden has played a pivotal role in the formation of this joint project of the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989 — cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence.

Pat Vaughan Tremmel, associate director of media relations, contributed to this story.

- See more at: http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2014/05/paying-tribute-to-an-advocate-for-the-wrongfully-convicted.html#sthash.9O8YBCIl.dpuf

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Stranger Raises 35k for Exoneree….

From ABCnews:

When Alex Sutaru heard the story of Jonathan Fleming, a Brooklyn man exonerated after doing nearly 25 years in a New York prison for a murder he didn’t commit, he knew he had to act.

“This is somebody that wasn’t guilty of a crime; he was wrongfully convicted,” Sutaru said. “After the hell he’s been through for the past 24 years he came out with a positive attitude and said he wants to live the rest of his life, go to school, be positive and today’s the first day of the rest of my life.”

Fleming had been freed three weeks ago by a key piece of evidence — a phone receipt in the case files all along that put him at Walt Disney World with his children when the murder was committed in New York.

Though his release was astounding and a long time coming, Fleming was returned with no home, no job and no money.

“I had about $93 in my account so that’s all I was given when I got out of prison, $93,” Fleming said. “I’m living from house to house with my cousins.”

Amazingly, even after all of the hardship he endured, he expressed not one ounce of resentment.

After being asked how he could not be angry after such an ordeal, Fleming said, “I just have to move forward. I’m just so happy to be out and I don’t want to live that way.”

So Sutaru, a 32-year-old Wall Street banker, moved by Fleming’s demeanor and his story, went online and created a fundraising campaign.

Click here for more information on the campaign.

Within days the campaign raised nearly $35,000 from more than 600 people in 14 countries. The money will help Fleming afford a place to live and food to eat as well as get him on his feet while he looks for a job.

“I think people recognize that donating a little they can help this person integrate back into society and build a life for himself that was wrongly taken away from him,” he said. “People are good. There is some bad out there but most people are good.”

On Monday, Fleming and Sutaru met for the first time.

“I want to thank you, man, I really do, I want you to know that, it really means a lot that you did this for me,” Fleming said. “You’re a wonderful man to do this for me. I appreciate it.”

“People, you know, I never thought they’d do this for me,” he told ABC News. “I look at things really different now, I really do, I look at things real different.”

 

 

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…

  • 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.

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Breaking Chains in France

ImageFrom  NY exoneree, Fernando Bermudez:

 
        There’s a little known fact about the Statue of Liberty: broken chains around the statue’s ankle symbolize the historical fact that America broke free from British oppression and the tyranny of the king to establish a democratic republic.
 
        For me, my recent lecture in France symbolizes broken chains upon my exoneration in 2009 after over 18 years in 7 maximum security prisons in New York state. Like my lectures throughout Italy, Germany, Japan and America, I expose the consequences of wrongful convictions to help prevent their harm. Besides lending my life passion and purpose this also eases — stage fright, be damned! — my symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, like anxiety and sadness, that affect me as if still incarcerated.  Yet within my professional standards to deliver original lectures each time, my difficulty in crash-coursing French was admittedly learning which letters not to pronounce. Thus accomplished, my wife Crystal and I joined Project Innocence France, led by prominent criminal defense attorney, Sylvain Cormier, to advance newly discovered evidence standards via congressional support in France.
 
        As I stood before a crowded, nationally televised auditorium at the Lyon III School of Law, my presentation compared Alexander Dumas’s Count of Monte Cristo to my very real experience with prosecutorial misconduct in America. According to the National Registry of Exoneration, prosecutorial misconduct is responsible for about 21% of 1,100 registered wrongful convictions in America during 1989-2012. This includes my 1991 arrest where my pro bono legal team and I proved a prosecutor’s knowing use of perjured testimony with coercion and threats against teenage witnesses, resulting in my case becoming the first Latin-American man proven “actually innocent” in NY state legal history without DNA-evidence.
 
        To encourage current and future Project Innocence France law student interns to fight all causes of wrongful convictions, however, I discussed that in 1787 the Charity Judiciary Association became the first French association of lawyers, nobility and business folk devoted to fighting wrongful convictions, prompting King Louis the 16th to voice support. Smiling, Charity Judiciary members present also agreed that Alexis de Tocqueville’s take in “Democracy In America” that solitary confinement harms prisoner health is still empirically supported after he visited Sing Sing prison in 1836, the same prison that released me in 2009. Refocusing, I concluded with how the Statue of Liberty’s symbolism has grown to include freedom and democracy as well as the international friendship between France and America and other countries to secure human rights around the world, and why law students should help stop wrongful convictions.
 
        Then came fun beyond shaking hands and my private encouragement to law students wherever their fight against wrongful convictions occurs. As the culinary capital of the world, France offered gastronomical delights from fresh rum crepes and foie gras to fine quality blue cheeses and buttery snails, one splashing a restaurant window from over-squeezed snail tongs launching it. Moreover, beyond the Rhone and Saone Rivers lay the Gallo-Roman Museum where an ancient Roman amphitheater overlooking Lyon’s cobbled streets teemed with shoppers, beautiful accordion music and occasional beggars dressed like goats clacking and bleating for money. Paris, too, was equally impressive by speeding train two hours away with its Arc de Triomphe, Avenue des Champs-Élysées and Notre-Dame Cathedral that Crystal and I explored while kissing by pedaled taxi. Our trip concluded by visiting Zurich, Switzerland where subway police allowed public drinking and drunkenness with stern, watchful looks that seemed to limit Swiss nightlife fun to just that.
 
        Was this trip worth it before my own drunk-with-sleep, jet-lagged return to America? Yes! For me, lecturing throughout the world with cultural explorations lends additional meaning, purpose and joy amid my broken chains and the losses and pain that I still feel after my wrongful incarceration. I believe, as my first pro bono attorney, MaryAnn DiBari, has always encouraged, that innocent men and women who are wrongfully convicted must step out of Lady Liberty’s broken chain and look to God for the light of love and liberty that exonerates them and helps heal  our wounds. While I lost over 6,700 days of freedom in prison as an innocent man, I have more reasons to make the most of whatever days I have left. 
 
        For encouragement, I keep the poet Emma Lazarus’ sonnet “The New Colossus (1883) in mind. Engraved on bronze plaque on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, it says: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” to which I add: And your innocent in prison who deserve liberty, justice and equality!
 
        This, as the French would say, is my “raison d’ etre, or reason for existence, everyday, every journey, to scatter more apple seeds for justice to help stop wrongful convictions.
 

Wrongful Convictions Symposium in Chicago will Honor Rob Warden

The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern School of Law will recognize its co-founder and longtime executive director Rob Warden as a “Champion of Justice,” at a Wrongful Convictions Symposium on May 9, 2014. The Symposium—to be held at Thorne Auditorium from 1:30 to 6:30 p.m.— is described as “a celebratory event to honor Rob Warden’s quest to free the innocent.” It is free and open to the public.

Barry Scheck, Co-Founder of the Innocence Project, will be the keynote speaker. The program will also include two panel discussions and a conversation with Warden and Eric Zorn, columnist for the Chicago Tribune. A reception will immediately follow.

Rob Warden, recipient of more than fifty journalism awards, is one of the leading pioneers in exposing the conviction of the innocent. He has dedicated much of his career to investigative journalism focused on cases of claimed injustice. His work has not only prompted the freeing of the wrongfully convicted, but also the expansion of awareness of the scope of conviction error. He has increased our understanding of the causes of and contributors to miscarriages of justice, and he has been at the forefront of exposing the risk of error in death penalty cases.

Lawrence Marshall, a former Northwestern law professor who co-founded the Center on Wrongful Convictions with Warden in 1999, credits Warden with contributing to the elimination of the death penalty in Illinois. At a conference in 1998, Warden helped highlight more than two-dozen persons who had been freed from death row. This sobering display of miscarriages in death penalty cases influenced then-Governor George Ryan in his decision to place a moratorium on the Illinois death penalty in 2000. It was abolished in the state in 2011.

Read more on Warden here, here, here, and here.

According to Dan Hinkel’s article in the Chicago Tribune (here), Warden, 73, has no intention of leaving the work of researching, writing, and advocating for an improved criminal justice system. The seemingly tireless journalist, author, and advocate intends to be a force in eliminating the death penalty nationwide.

Mr. Warden’s work has had an inestimable impact on the lives of those freed from prison after wrongful conviction and on our understanding of how the criminal justice system can come closer to its promise of fair and accurate justice for all. The upcoming symposium will provide an opportunity to celebrate and thank an inspiring original, an accomplished writer and advocate, a true American hero.

John Raley to Judge: Never Again Show Poor Judgment on DNA

First, a disclaimer: John Raley is one of my heroes.

When John Raley met Michael Morton and became convinced of Morton’s innocence, Raley committed to doing whatever he could as a pro bono lawyer to bring truth to a terrible injustice. It would take years. Morton had been convicted of the 1986 bludgeoning murder of his wife Christine and sentenced to life in prison. But he was unwavering in claiming his innocence. And as it turned out, he was telling the truth.

Justice was delayed for Morton for twenty-five long years, six years longer than his exoneration could have taken if prosecutors had been cooperative in the review of this case. Unfortunately, Raley, Morton, and Innocence Project lawyers met only obstruction from the Williamson County (Texas) prosecutors.

Two of the “hard-on-crime” officials who were instrumental in the original conviction or in delaying the post-conviction search for truth, paid a price for their decisions. In a guest column (here) in the Austin American Statesman, Raley has asked a third official, now a judge, to take responsibility for his role. Continue reading

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

click
  • The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently awarded the William O. Douglas Award to UW law professor Jackie McMurtrie for her nearly 20 years of work toward bringing justice to wrongly convicted individuals with the Innocence Project Northwest.
  • In more Jackie McMurtrie news, an editorial in this week’s Seattle Times praised the efforts made by attorneys and law students at the Innocence Project Northwest Clinic at the University of Washington School Of Law in their pursuit to overturn a King County man’s wrongful conviction.  Way to go Jackie!
  • California Innocence Project exoneree Brian Banks, and NFL player, signed a movie deal to tell his story
  • Bad ballistics evidence may have caused a Quebec judge to be wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife
  • Scrapping the corroboration requirement in Scotland could cause more wrongful convictions
  • Exoneree Martin Tankleff settles wrongful conviction suit for $3.4 million.
  • Illinois exoneree Alan Beamon has wrongful conviction lawsuit dismissed

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

click

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

click

Changes at Center on Wrongful Convictions Reveal the Power of a Few

As reported in the Chicago Tribune today (here) and in a release from Northwestern University Law School, Rob Warden, co-founder and executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law will retire at the end of the academic year. He has served fifteen years leading the Center’s pioneering efforts. With the dedicated assistance of others, he and the Center on Wrongful Convictions have freed the innocent and have been influential in prompting a staggering list of policy reforms. Continue reading

Brian Banks Released from Falcons, but his Impact Continues

As reported yesterday by USA Today (here), Brian Banks was one of ten players cut from the roster of the Atlanta Falcons on Friday. Legions of fans—football followers or not—were cheering Banks on in his uphill bid to play with the NFL, an effort delayed ten years by a false accusation, wrongful conviction, prison, and his eventual exoneration when his accuser admitted the sexual assault never happened. USA Today called his determined effort the “summer feel-good story.” Continue reading

Ohio to Assist Ex-cons Seeking Work; The Peculiar Place of the Exonerated

Getting a job with prison on your resume isn’t easy. That’s an understatement, but tomorrow ex-offenders in Ohio will get free advice—including information on starting a business and finding the resources to return to school—and even free proper business clothing to help them get back into the workplace. The event, free and open to ex-offenders, will be held at Columbus State Community College. Thanks to several government agencies involved and to Ohio Development Director David Goodman for this initiative. Goodman also sponsored Senate Bill 77, the bill that enacted best practice reform aimed at reducing wrongful conviction.

Which brings to mind the peculiar place of the exonerated. One would presume that tomorrow’s program would also welcome those wrongfully convicted, because, unfortunately, many still face the stigma of prison even though they did not deserve to be there. Continue reading