Category Archives: Life after exoneration

Tuesday’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.

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Is forensic odontology too unreliable?
  • Exoneree Johnathan Montgomery takes it one day at a time
  • Missouri considers eyewitness identification reform and DNA preservation bill
  • Greg Wilhoit, a former Oklahoma death-row inmate from Tulsa and nationally-known anti-death penalty advocate whose story was included in author John Grisham’s “The Innocent Man,” died Feb. 14 in Sacramento, Calif., family members said. He was 59.  Full article here
  • Upcoming symposium at the Penn Quattrone Center:  A Systems Approach to Conviction Integrity

Friday Quick Clicks…

  • A Final Farewell to Greg Wilhoit, Who Survived Oklahoma’s Death Row
  • New book released:  I am Troy Davis
  • A Pittsburgh man serving three life terms deserves a new trial in the death of three city firefighters, but the retrial will be delayed while prosecutors appeal the judge’s decision.  When Greg Brown was convicted of arson in a 1995 blaze that killed three Pittsburgh firefighters, prosecutors said no witnesses were promised money in exchange for testimony.  Allegheny County Judge Joseph Williams on Wednesday ruled 36-year-old Gregory Brown Jr. deserved the new trial because prosecutors didn’t reveal that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms paid one witness a $5,000 reward.  That witness testified he wasn’t promised any money for his testimony, which Williams said could have been used to impeach his credibility had Brown’s defense known about the reward.  Full story….

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman plans to unveil legislation Wednesday that would make it easier for people wrongfully convicted of crimes to recover damages from the state.  Schneiderman’s Unjust Imprisonment Act would strip away restrictions in state law that block claims from people who were coerced into false confessions or who pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit.  Full article here.
  • Pennsylvania Innocence Project hiring an investigator
  • Another chance for the U.S. Supreme Court to say no to prosecutorial misconduct
  • Missouri considers eyewitness id and videotaped interrogations reform
  • Opening of sealed records in Orange County, CA shows improper use of informants

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

  • In Florida, bill to compensate death row exoneree James Joseph Richardson passes first test in the Senate
  • Despite request of Senators from both parties, Obama Administration says it is unlikely to posthumously pardon heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson for racially motivated conviction
  • During the full-day workshop held Monday, February 17, 2014 at the 66th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) in Seattle, Washington, Andrew Sulner, Barry Scheck, and other distinguished experts will provide attendees with concrete examples and a clear picture of how cognitive and motivational bias can affect the outcome of forensic investigations and lead to miscarriages of justice in both criminal and civil cases, and how lawyers can exclude or impeach expert testimony that may have been tainted by bias.  More here….
  • Edgar Coker Jr. exonerated by U of Virginia clinic
  • Exoneree Ryan Ferguson talks about adjusting to normal life

UK Parliamentary debate on definition of a ‘miscarriage of justice’

There have been recent moves by the government in the UK, to severely restrict access to compensation for victims of miscarriages of justice. There has rightly, been (muted) outrage about the proposed requirement that the person claiming compensation had to prove their ‘innocence’ to be eligible for compensation. (see post here…)


“A statutory definition was first attempted by the government as part of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which originally stated a miscarriage of justice has occurred if new evidence must “show beyond reasonable doubt that the person was innocent of the offence”. When the bill progressed to the House of Lords, peers voted to defeat the government and change the wording so that the new evidence “shows conclusively that the evidence against the person at trial is so undermined that no conviction could possibly be based on it”.

The debate on the amendment and the definition of a ‘miscarriage of justice’ is available here….  For those of us involved in miscarriages of justice in the UK, this is essential viewing – and those interested in how authorities approach these issues. It is a long debate, but very very interesting! There has been limited reporting so far of the debate – but you can see one article here…

Wrongly jailed in UK may not get redress

Monday’s Quick Clicks…


Friday’s Quick Clicks…


Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • The 2013 holiday season meant a great deal to Brandon Olebar, who, after 10 years of wrongful incarceration, got to enjoy the festivities with his family for the first time in over a decade. Olebar’s release comes thanks to the efforts of the Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW).  More….
  • In NY, Robert Jones, who has been imprisoned for 19 years for a murder he says he didn’t commit, hopes to be released after State’s key witness says she was pressured to identify him as the perp.
  • In Massachusetts, doctors believe Brian Peixoto was wrongfully convicted of child murder in an alleged junk medical science case.

Exoneree, LaMonte Armstrong, Receives Full Pardon

LaMonte Armstrong was exonerated in North Carolina in 2012 for a murder he did not commit.  He wrongfully spent 17 years in prison.  His exoneration came largely as a result of the efforts of professors Theresa Newman and Jim Coleman and the Duke Law Wrongful Convictions Clinic.

Yesterday, LaMonte received a call from NC Governor Pat McCrory telling him that he had been granted a full pardon.  This will allow LaMonte to seek up to $750,000 from the state of North Carolina for his wrongful imprisonment.

Read the full  Raleigh News & Observer story here.  And you can see the WFMY TV news story here.

Exoneree Brian Banks Receives Honorary Lott IMPACT Trophy

This past week, a tuxedo-clad Brian Banks walked on a red carpet, along with his amazingly supportive mother, to receive an honor he could not have imagined when he was sitting in prison for 5 years, wrongfully convicted of rape.   When it was his turn to speak, a room full of some of the best current and past college and pro football players gave him a standing ovation.  Then, they listened to Brian give an inspirational speech, committing to a life helping others who have been wrongfully convicted as he held the Lott IMPACT Trophy ®. , an honor given to defensive football players with both incredible personal character as well as athletic performance.

lott trophy

Prior winners have included David Pollack, Demeco Ryans, Daymeion Hughes, Glenn Dorsey, James Laurinaitis, Jerry Hughes, J.J. Watt, Luke Kuechly, Manti Te’o, and Anthony Barr, all great athletes, but none with a story as compelling and heartbreaking as Brian’s.

Before he was falsely accused of rape, Brian was one of the most highly recruited high school football players in the country.  Before his senior year, he had already committed to play for Pete Carroll at USC, a path most likely to lead directly to the NFL.  Instead, the false accusation led to five years in prison and five on parole as a convicted sex offender.

After his exoneration, Brian fought to get back his dream of playing in the NFL.  I personally watched him work out day after day, determined to prove himself worthy to each team that gave him a tryout, making the most of every chance he had to get back to the game he loved.  That dream was fulfilled this past Fall as he played throughout the preseason for the Atlanta Falcons.

The trophy Brian received this past week was named in honor of Ronnie Lott, a two time All-American USC football player and College Football Hall of Fame inductee.  Ronnie won four Super Bowl rings with the San Francisco 49ers, took ten trips to the Pro Bowl, and earned a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  He was known for his character both on and off the field.

Who knows what path Brian’s life would have taken had he not been wrongfully convicted.  He might hold NFL records and titles like Ronnie, instead of holding the trophy named after him.  Regardless, the past is the past and Brian’s future is bright.  He is on a path with a higher calling beyond individual glory.  He has already helped in two exonerations beyond his own and he will continue to help others whose lives have been taken away by our justice system.

Follow me on Twitter:  @JustinoBrooks

Professor Justin Brooks
Director, California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101

For more information please see:,

Monday’s Quick Clicks…


Documentary Demonstrates that Michael Morton’s Case is Not Unique

Michael Morton’s remarkable story of wrongful conviction for the 1986 murder of his wife Christine, his 25 years of incarceration, and his exoneration, will be told to a national audience when the documentary “An Unreal Dream,” written and directed by two-time academy award nominee, Al Reinert, premiers on CNN tomorrow night, Thursday, December 5, at 9:00 p.m. ET and PT. According to CNN (here) the documentary seeks to “demonstrates that Morton’s story is not unique.” Continue reading

Monday’s Quick Clicks…


Friday’s Quick Clicks…

  • CCRC’s referral of George case back to court of appeals a boost for the university-based Innocence Projects in the UK
  • Pending bill in Scotland could increase wrongful convictions
  • Exoneree Dwayne Dail gets $7.5 million compensation from state
  • The last of the Scottsboro boys exonerated
  • Derrick Deacon’s first days of freedom
  • Exoneree Christopher Scott uses compensation money to build a business, help others
  • Arizona adopts wrongful conviction provision of ethical rules for prosecutors

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…


Exoneree on a Lecture Tour in Japan

From Fernando Bermudez:

 I Cannot Take Off My Straw Sandals

                                                                                       By Fernando Bermudez

 Strong Hugs. Wiped tears. Repeated reassurances. Through the eyes of my children, my emotional return from Japan reflected more accomplishment than exhaustion after lecturing in 9 Japanese cities from Tokyo to Okayama throughout October 2013. In sharing my 18-year wrongful incarceration story in New York until exonerated in 2009 (due to mistaken eyewitness identifications and police and prosecutorial misconduct), my lectures at Japanese bar associations and universities urged Japan to abolish its death penalty and reduce relying on confessions to secure Japan’s 99% conviction rate, which have caused several wrongful convictions and exonerations in Japan due to false confessions.


Fernando Bermudez in Hiroshima

Continue reading