Category Archives: Life after exoneration

Are the FBI’s flawed hair matches wrong only when DNA proves it?

Kevin Martin’s exoneration in Washington, D.C., this week, as reported here, proved once again that FBI hair analysis is flawed and inaccurate. Martin was the fifth person to have his conviction overturned because of inaccurate hair analysis by FBI agents. That bodes well for others convicted on such evidence where, as in Martin’s case, biological evidence still exists that can be subjected to DNA testing.

But what about those cases in which there is no evidence to test? Will prosecutors still defend cases that were greatly based on FBI hair comparisons even after the FBI conceded in 2013 that microscopic hair analysis was not based on sound science?

The Massachusetts case of George Perrot is a good example of a case with great merit despite the lack of DNA. Perrot has been incarcerated for almost 29 years for a 1985 rape of elderly woman in Springfield greatly because of the testimony of an FBI agent that a single hair found on the victim’s bed matched a known sample of Perrot’s hair.

Perrot, who was only 17 at the time, has insisted on his innocence ever since his arrest. In 2001, his conviction was overturned because of numerous prosecutorial errors, but the conviction was reinstated by a higher court because of the supposed strength of the microscopic hair evidence used against him.

Never mind that the rape didn’t occur on the bed where the hair was found. Never mind that the victim repeatedly refused to identify Perrot as the rapist because, she stated, the rapist was clean-shaven and had short hair and Perrot had shaggy hair and a beard. Never mind that the series of rapes of elderly women in which Perrot was the purported perpetrator continued after his arrest. The hair “match,” the court said, was more important.

In a motion filed earlier this month, Perrot’s pro bono attorneys from the Ropes & Gray law firm, argue that the FBI’s acknowledgment that its examiners provided scientifically unsupported testimony justifies a new trial for Perrot.

Unfortunately, the attorneys could not locate the biological evidence in the case for DNA testing to bolster Perrot’s innocence claim the way Kevin Martin’s attorneys were able to. There are dozens of people like Perrot out there convicted with hair-comparison testimony who can’t use DNA testing to prove the testimony wrong.

That doesn’t make them any less innocent, but prosecutors and the courts may not see it that way. Of the 106 convictions in the 1980s and 1990s in the District of Columbia that included an FBI hair match that have thus far been reviewed, prosecutors said only Martin’s supported a “viable” claim for innocence. If it hadn’t been for DNA, Martin’s claim probably wouldn’t have viewed as viable at all.

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David Ranta Family Sues NYPD for $15M Over Wrongful Conviction

David Ranta spent 23 years in prison for a murder he did not commit – as a consequence of false eyewitness identification, a bogus lineup, a jailhouse snitch, and police tunnel vision.

The David Ranta case has been previously reported on this blog here, here, here, and here.

The David Ranta family is now suing the NYPD for $15 million for their suffering.  See the Huff Post story here.

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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.”

 

 

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An Exoneree’s Veritas Against Wrongful Convictions

From Exoneree Fernando Bermudez:

NY Exoneree, Fernando Bermudez, visited Harvard Law School April 17, 2014, as part of a Prison Studies Project sociology class entitled, “From Plantations to Prisons”.

Speaking in a packed room to standing ovation, Bermudez discussed his unjust conviction and his struggle against Post Traumatic Stress Disorder while reflecting on his fight to prevent wrongful convictions through best practices and accountability. However, Mr. Bermudez and his wife also consider their social justice work a family affair. “Bringing our children to some of my lectures allows them to better understand the consequences of wrongful convictions while encouraging their work to reduce this human rights problem,” Bermudez says. “Nor does it hurt that exploring colleges and universities with them enhances their future academic options.”

Mr.Bermudez served over 18 years in New York State maximum security prisons following his wrongful conviction in the shooting death of Raymond Blount in 1991. He was found actually innocent based on police and prosecutorial misconduct in late 2009 with assistance from pro bono attorneys from Washington, D.C., New Jersey and New York.
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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…

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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.
 

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