Category Archives: Freedom’s Heroes

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…

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  • 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…

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Friday’s Quick Clicks…

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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

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

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  • Exoneree Brian Banks launches blog on Atlanta Falcons training camp
  • DOJ waives procedural bars in FBI hair analysis case reviews with Innocence Project
  • The Oklahoma Innocence Project is working to overturn the conviction of a man imprisoned for the 1984 kidnapping and murder of convenience store clerk in Ada.  The Innocence Project at Oklahoma City University’s School of Law announced Wednesday its plan to file an application for post-conviction relief in the case of 48-year-old Karl Fontenot, one of two men initially sentenced to die for the 1984 killing of Donna Haraway. It is the first case the project has sought to overturn since it was created in 2011.  After two separate trials, Fontenot is currently serving life without parole.
  • Forensics on trial

Fourth of July Celebration Should Embolden Policy Advocates

To all Americans: Happy Fourth of July!

Americans love our Independence Day celebration in summer’s glow, and we don’t lose sight of it’s meaning amidst the holiday fun. A giant waving American flag silhouetted by cracking fireworks and accompanied by favorite patriotic songs punctuate a genuine celebration of a great, unique, and wondrous nation.

Like America itself, our celebration is brash, bold, and colorful. There’s a touch of rebellion in the in-your-face young men and women playing to the camera crew during live coverage of the fireworks, but we know young faces like these have always responded to threats to the freedoms we celebrate today. Continue reading

California Innocence Project Wins Exoneration in Sexual Assault Case

An emotional Uriah Courtney, 33, became the eleventh person to be exonerated through the efforts of the California Innocence Project (CIP), with assistance from students at the California Western School of Law, yesterday. Courtney had served eight years of a life sentence in prison for a 2004 rape and kidnapping of a sixteen-year old girl in Lemon Grove, California.

The exoneration was possible because evidence from the crime was retained and could be retested with more advanced DNA technology. The results not only eliminated Courtney but linked to another man, who closely resembled Courtney, and lived within three miles of the crime. Continue reading

Cops Hold the Key to Freeing the Innocent…

From takepart.com:

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Is there common ground between law enforcement and the Innocence Project?

You bet there is! I’m standing on it, and the Innocence Project is very well aware of it.

At times, however, I’m not so sure law enforcement is aware of the common ground, or is willing to publicly acknowledge it.

I’ve come to this conclusion with more than 30 years of investigative experience, 17 years with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, four years with the Riverside County District Attorney’s office, and eight years as a private investigator, including three of my private investigator years volunteering and working with the California Innocence Project.

For the majority of my law-enforcement years, I was farmed out to the FBI, DEA, Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, and numerous other federal, state and local agencies.

A common belief I’ve heard many times in each of these organizations, from “seasoned” law-enforcement officers and investigators, is a bizarre and tweaked version of their job description: “It is not my job to help clear or exonerate somebody” or “It’s the defense attorney who needs to come up with evidence proving that their client is innocent.”

Incredibly, this whole twisted belief that innocence is not an investigator’s concern seems to magnify itself after an individual has been convicted…even in the face of new evidence thatclearly exonerates a person.

I was fortunate in my early years of law enforcement: I had great field-training officers and law-enforcement role models who made sure I understood our true role in law enforcement.

Whenever I heard this twisted version of our job description, I was always more than willing to share what I was taught and truly believe on this topic: “Your job Continue reading

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

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Amanda Knox case spawns new breed of activists

Seattle Weekly tells how the controversial case of Seattle native Amanda Knox opened the eyes of many people for the first time to how justice can go awry. Some of those who rallied to Knox’s defense have moved on to other interests. But others have expanded their advocacy to other cases, such as those highlighted at http://www.injustice-anywhere.org. You can read the story here.

Two Police Chiefs Honored at National Innocence Conference in Charlotte, NC

From the Innocence Blog:

The Innocence Network honored two innovative police chiefs last week at the annual Innocence Network Conference held in Charlotte, North Carolina, for their work to reform the criminal justice system to prevent wrongful convictions: William G. Brooks, III, Chief of the Norwood, Massachusetts Police Department, and Darrel Stephens, former Chief of the Charlotte Police Department.

The Innocence Network presented Chief Brooks with the 2012 “Champion of Justice” award. The award is given to public servants who go above and beyond in their efforts to free the wrongly convicted or reform the criminal justice system to prevent wrongful convictions. Previous honorees include Jim Petro, former Ohio Attorney General, and Jim Trainum, retired detective with the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.

During his acceptance speech, Chief Brooks reflected on the openness of most of the law enforcement officers towards reforms to prevent wrongful convictions:

“Not a single police officer has approached me following our presentations [on eyewitness identification] to say that he disagrees with what we have said. Without exception, we hear police officers tell us that they favor these reforms.”

Chief Brooks has been a police academy instructor for over 25 years and an educator on police lineup reforms for five years. In that time, he has partnered with Innocence Network members to train law enforcement personnel about scientifically supported best practices and to instruct thousands of officers nationwide about the importance of implementing criminal justice reforms to prevent wrongful convictions. Chief Brooks’ work in Connecticut and Michigan contributed to statewide adoption of eyewitness identification best practices in both states. In his home state, he sits on the Supreme Judicial Court’s Police Practice Committee, which is set to issue recommendations in the coming months. Chief Brooks concluded his remarks by saying, “I am honored to receive this award, and you have humbled me with it.”

The Innocence Network also selected Darrel Stephens, former Police Chief of the Charlotte Police Department, to deliver the keynote address. As police chief, Stephens implemented reforms that are proven to decrease mistaken eyewitness identifications. He also helped implement these reforms statewide, putting North Carolina at the forefront of a national trend in reforms to eyewitness identification procedures to prevent wrongful convictions. Stephens currently serves as the Executive Director of the Major City Chiefs Association and a Board Member of the Innocence Project.

During his keynote, Stephens spoke about police agencies across the country implementing reforms to help prevent wrongful convictions:

“There are hundreds of police departments that have or are taking the steps…to minimize the potential for wrongful convictions. New York City announced last year that it would begin videotaping interrogations. Laws in 18 states and the District of Columbia require it. More police agencies are adopting best practices in eyewitness identification and improvements are being made in forensics. And both police and prosecutors are increasing their participation in wrongful conviction cases.”

 

 

Friday Quick Clicks…