After 29 years in prison, David McCallum was exonerated yesterday of a murder he did not commit. Kings County (NY) Supreme Court Justice Matthew D’Emic also exonerated William Stuckey who died in prison in 2001. It took an army of advocates over many years — including the late Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who had also been wrongfully conviction of murder — to finally overturn this miscarriage.
As teenagers McCallum and Stuckey falsely confessed to the murder of Nathan Blenner, who died of a single gunshot wound to the head. McCallum and Stuckey quickly recanted the confessions. Although the confessions were filled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies, the men were convicted and lost all appeals. Over the years, McCallum refused parole rather than admit guilt to a crime he did not commit. His struggle was recorded in a recently released documentary, “David & me.”
Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, whose Conviction Review Unit investigated the case, recommended this exoneration, and has now cleared convictions in ten cases, said in a Wall Street Journal Report (here), “I think the people of Brooklyn deserve better, and I think we should not have a national reputation as a place where people have been railroaded into confessing to crimes they did not commit.”
Congratulations to Mr. McCallum and to the family of William Stuckey. The nation should be grateful for the persistence and hard work of all who contributed to this reversal including Steven Drizin of the Center on Wrongful Convictions (Chicago), Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and Ken Klonsky, Innocence International (Toronto), Oscar Michelen of the New York law firm of Cuomo, LLC, Professor Laura Cohen of the Rutgers-Newark Law School’s Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic, and King’s County District Attorney Kenneth Thompson and his Conviction Review Unit team.
The Arson Research Project says that 30 men and women have been exonerated from wrongful arson convictions since 1991. More than half of them were exonerated from life sentences or from death row. In the case of one Texas inmate, Cameron Todd Willingham, the research project says, such forensic error led to the execution of an innocent man.
To help prevent such tragedies in the future, the Arson Research Project, which is affiliated at Monterey College of Law, has published an excellent report, Anatomy of a Wrongful Arson Conviction, which you can download here.
The center’s director, Paul Bieber, presents a good video summary on wrongful arson convictions and the difficulty reversing them, here.
- The Exonerated (the play) in ebook format
- From the AP: The Texas state fire marshal has volunteered to turn over more than a decade of his office’s casework to advocates so they can examine them for wrongful convictions. Fire Marshal Chris Connealy has been working with the Innocence Project of Texas for more than a year to review old cases. But now he’s sent 24 cases from 2002 to 2004 to the Innocence Project so the Lubbock-based group can vet his office’s work, with a pledge to turn over all of his more recent case files. He says it’s an important step for the public “to have confidence in the criminal justice system.” Several high-profile arson cases have come under scrutiny in Texas, including that of Cameron Todd Willingham, executed for the fire deaths of his three daughters.
- Oscar nominated director to direct The Brian Banks Story
- Two new books about wrongful conviction by Morrison Bonpasse
- Summary of Amanda Knox appeal
- The latest from the Innocence Project of Singapore
A key factor in the dubious conviction of Texan Kerry Max Cook in a 1977 rape and murder case was testimony of a police officer that the age of Cook’s fingerprints at the victim’s apartment near Cook’s put him there at the time of the murder. The officer later admitted that he knew his testimony was not supported by science but that the prosecutor pressured to make the statement anyway.
Now the prosecutorial science fiction of the 1970s may be on thee verge of becoming a scientific fact. As Discovery News reports here, Dutch scientists say they have discovered how to accurately date fingerprints. If true, the discovery could let police place a suspect at the scene at the time a crime was committed or help defense investigators prove that the prints were left there well before or after the event.
“The methods of the Icelandic police weren’t unique. They convinced themselves that a group of petty criminals on the fringes of society were a gang of hardened killers. But they didn’t find the evidence to back up their hunch, they were left with just the confessions that were extracted after months of solitude and mental torture.”
That’s the conclusion of a remarkable BBC News multipedia presentation here about how six young people in Iceland confessed to two murders in the mid-’70s despite a total lack of evidence or memory of the crimes.
When the National Academy of Sciences issued a seminal report on the sad state of forensic science five years ago, many hoped it would quickly lead to reforms and fewer wrongful convictions. That hasn’t happened — at least so far.
In a comprehensive review here, Chemical & Engineering News reports that ”little has been done to shore up the discipline’s scientific base or to make sure that its methods don’t result in wrongful convictions. Quality standards for forensic laboratories remain inconsistent. And funding to implement improvements is scarce.”
Even worse, the journal says, some are beginning to wonder if much will be done in the new future without continued advocacy from reform-minded scientist and their allies. The fight is far from over.
Amna M. Qureshi from the U of Ottawa has posted the above-titled article on SSRN. Download here. The abstract states:
Demeanour evidence is relied on by the justice system in one of the most important assessments at a trial, namely to assess the credibility of witnesses including complainants and accuseds. This use has also been the source of recent controversy in the case of R v NS where a sexual assault complainant was ordered to remove her niqab before she would be allowed to testify. This paper examines the common law assumption that witnesses in common law criminal courts are required to testify with their faces visible and the origins of this assumption. This paper argues that based on strong social science research the reliance on demeanour cues can be a distracting and unreliable method to assess credibility and increases the potential for wrongful prosecutions and convictions, reduced access to justice for marginalized groups and has a detrimental effect on the truth-seeking function of a trial as whole.