Category Archives: Recantations

Delaware Supreme Court Grants New Trial to Death Row Inmate

Jermaine Wright, who has resided on death row following his conviction of the 1991 murder of Phillip Seifert at a liquor store just outside of Wilmington, Delaware, was granted a new trial yesterday. The Supreme Court of Delaware unanimously agreed with Wright’s contention that undisclosed exculpatory and impeachment evidence cumulatively amounted to a reversible Brady violation.

“Wright is not entitled to a perfect trial, but he is entitled to a fair one where material exculpatory and impeachment evidence is disclosed and not suppressed,” wrote Justice Ridgely.

The case history in the opinion explains that no physical or forensic evidence connected Wright to the crime. The State presented no “murder weapon, shell casings, the getaway car, or eyewitness to identify Wright.” Continue reading

Even a “Disney World” Defense Can’t Overcome a (False) Eyewitness

Jonathan Fleming was convicted of murder in New York in 1990.  He was just recently exonerated and released after spending 24 years in prison for the murder he did not commit.  The story has recently been reported on this blog with the Fox News story here.  You can also read the CNN story here and the AOL story here.

Fleming had an alibi for the time of the crime.  He was at Disney World with his family.  The hotel staff remembered him, his family vouched for him, and he had a hotel receipt for a collect phone call from the hotel on August 14, 1989 9:27 p.m., which was just 4 1/2 hours before the shooting in New York.  But despite all that, because he was identified by an “eyewitness,” he was convicted.  Quoting the CNN story, “The prosecution … produced a witness who said she saw Fleming commit the crime.”

The reason that I wanted to highlight this particular case is because it’s yet another example of how eyewitness testimony, even though false or mistaken, will trump a solid alibi.

This is not a rare occurrence. Data from the National Registry of Exonerations shows that false or mistaken eyewitness identification is a contributing factor in 43% of wrongful convictions.

And to top it off, in this particular case, the phone call receipt was found in the prosecution’s case file, but was never produced – can you spell “Brady violation?”   And — the “eyewitness” was offered a deal for her testimony, and then recanted 2 weeks after the trial; but of course, her recantation was not allowed by the court.

Does this stink, or what?!  I’m tempted to launch into a much broader exposition on the failings of the justice system, but will save that for a future post on “the nature of innocence work.”

Cook County State’s Attorney Urged to Reconsider Indicting Witness Who Recanted

In an op-ed piece (here) in the Chicago Sun-Times, Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, is urging Cook County (IL) State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to reconsider her decision to seek to indict on a perjury charge Willie Johnson, after he recanted his 1994 testimony, which led to the conviction and life sentencing of the Center’s client, Cedric Cal.

Johnson was the sole survivor of a gang-related drive-by shooting that killed two of his friends. He was wounded nine times but survived and named Cal and Albert Kirkman as the shooters. In recanting his testimony seventeen years later in 2011, Johnson said that he knew all along that the two he fingered were not the perpetrators. He claimed that if he had identified the actual shooters back in 1994, he would have put himself and his family in danger. Continue reading

Michigan Man Who Falsely Confessed Charged with Lying to Police

This one is mind boggling.

A mentally ill Lansing, Michigan man, Kosgar Lado, under interrogation by police, momentarily confessed to shooting a man.  Even though he subsequently withdrew that statement later in the interrogation, he was charged with the murder.  After further investigation, the police determined that Lado was not the shooter, and the murder charges were dropped.  But now the prosecutor has charged Lado with felony lying to the police!

Read the LSJ.com story here.

And here’s something else about this story.  The police chief commented to the media that officers went “above and beyond” in confirming that Lado was not the shooter.  B-A-L-O-N-E-Y!  The police have an official duty and an ethical obligation to pursue the facts to determine if their suspects are actually innocent.  I would say they were just doing their job.  The police are normally all too willing to determine if a suspect “might be” guilty, and then turn it over to the prosecutor; and false confessions are one of the major ways they do this.  It’s well known that the mentally ill and the mentally deficient are at high risk of making false confessions.

Thanks to WCB follower Jeremy Praay for forwarding this story.

Anthony Graves, Exonerated Death Row Inmate, to File Grievance Against Former Texas Prosecutor Charles Sebesta

AGraves

Yet another case of egregious prosecutorial misconduct.

Anthony Graves was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for a gruesome multiple homicide that occurred in Somerville, TX in August of 1992.  He was ultimately exonerated and released from prison in 2010.

The prosecutor in the case, Charles Sebesta, under intense public pressure for a conviction of Graves with a death sentence, ignored all evidence pointing to his innocence,  pressed ahead, and, as the special prosecutor appointed to handle Graves’ retrial said, “Sebesta manufactured evidence, misled jurors and elicited false testimony.”  The special prosecutor laid the blame for Graves’ wrongful conviction squarely at the feet of Sebesta.

Anthony Graves and the Houston law firm of Bob Bennett & Associates will file a grievance with the Texas Bar’s Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel seeking sanctions against Sebesta for his central role in Graves’ wrongful conviction and imprisonment.

Read the case statement of facts here – Statement-of-Facts.

You can see the full press packet here.

And read the Texas Monthly story here.

Editorial PS:  I think it’s tragic that Mr. Graves has to pursue redress through the Bar Association.  He should have remedy available through the courts.

Jerome Morgan Wins New Trial in New Orleans

With the help of the New Orleans Innocence Project, Jerome Morgan, who has spent 19 years in prison for a murder termed the “sweet 16 birthday shooting,”
has been granted a new trial.

The prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence in the case, and in Judge Darryl Derbigny’s order he states, “the evidence presented before this court is wrought with deception, manipulation, and coercion by the New Orleans Police Department,” and that “such newly discovered evidence undermines the confidence of the verdict and is fit for a new jury’s judgment.”

Additionally, two prosecution witnesses have recanted, and it was also determined that Jerome had ineffective assistance of counsel.

Read the New Orleans Times-Picayune story here.

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

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  • 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.

Man Paroled after 18 Years in Prison; Another Brooklyn Murder Conviction Unravels

Sundhe Moses, 37, was granted parole on October 31, 2013, without meeting the usual requirements. Moses didn’t acknowledge guilt, take responsibility, or express regret for the crime for which he was convicted and imprisoned for the past 18 years. Instead, he said he was innocent. While it’s very unusual for a claim of innocence to be an effective parole argument, the evidence supporting his claim was convincing enough for the parole board to grant Moses’ release. Continue reading

With Today’s Release of the San Antonio Four, Texas Now On the Cutting Edge of Efforts to Free the Innocent

From the Huffington Post:

Today in Texas, four wrongfully convicted women–known as the “San Antonio Four”–had their convictions overturned and were freed. This came about thanks to the latest in a line of innovations Texas lawmakers and the Innocence Project of Texas have devised to help the wrongfully convicted. Often thought of as a rough-and-tumble, “Hang ‘Em High” state–and still leading the nation in capital punishment–Texas is surprisingly now a trendsetter for innocence reforms.

The four women exonerated today–Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhough, Anna Vasquez, and Cassandra Rivera–were caught up in the infamous line of ritualistic child sex abuse hysteria cases of the 1980s and early 1990s. Many of these cases involved allegations against day care workers, and many experts now believe that most of the convicted were innocent victims of the witch-hunt mentality prevalent in that era…………

Read entire article here….

Rob Warden provides a must-read opinion on recantations

If you have ever wondered why courts often believe original witness testimony over a recantation and thereby deny a new trial, read Rob Warden’s insightful opinion piece on recantations published in the Chicago Sun-Times (here).

Not only does Warden explain why Illinois courts have often sided with original testimony, but he also provides ample evidence that this common confidence in an original statement has been upended by numerous cases in which the recantation proved to be the truth.

Warden, Executive Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law, provides the foundation for erroneous confidence in original testimony, at least in Illinois. An Illinois Supreme Court decision eighty-two years ago included this statement: “Recanting testimony is regarded as very unreliable, and a court will usually deny a new trial based on that ground where it is not satisfied that such testimony is true.”

Warden points out that the exoneration of Gary Dotson—often referenced as the first DNA-proven exoneration—could have been expedited by four years if Illinois courts had believed the recantation of Dotson’s accuser.

Citing data from the National Registry of Exonerations, he notes, “Since the Dotson case, recantations in 26 other Illinois cases similarly have proved true — often more belatedly than in the Dotson case…The longest delay occurred in the Ford Heights Four case, in which authorities ignored the key accuser’s recantation for 18 years — from June 1978 until DNA proved it truthful in June 1996.”

Warden writes that the Illinois Supreme Court now has two cases before it that provide opportunity to correct now-debunked confidence in original testimony over recantation, but even more important, to remind judges that whether the recantation is the truth or not, is not even the question before them. (Again, read Warden’s opinion piece.)

The National Registry of Exonerations has issued preliminary findings on an ongoing study of recantations (here) that should dispel the myth of the sanctity of original testimony everywhere.

This report indicates that “25% of exonerations include recantations by prosecution witnesses or victims; 82% of these recantations occur in murder and child sex abuse cases. In murder cases, the recanters are usually ‘eyewitnesses’ who were pressured by law enforcement to give false testimony. In child sex abuse cases, most are ‘victims’ who were pressured by family members or child welfare investigators to accuse the defendants of crimes that never happened.”

I believe that logic also defies the myth that original testimony should always be considered more reliable than a recantation…and supports the notion that when a significant witness recants, the courts should take seriously the question of whether or not the recantation undermines confidence in the verdict.

Here’s my logic: In which situation is a person more incentivized to lie? The original testimony or when recanting?

Many circumstances prompt a suspect, inmate, or person in a compromised position to lie. In cases in which a recantation has turned out to be the truth, the witness often had a compelling reason for the original lie.

Perhaps the crime never happened but the “victim” lied as a cover-up for personal behavior that might cause shame, embarrassment, or sanctions, as in the Dotson and other similar cases. Perhaps false testimony came from a person who was originally a suspect in the crime, but deflected arrest or achieved a lesser charge and sentence by fingering another. Perhaps an inmate capitalized on an opportunity to win consideration in exchange for providing testimony that helped make a case.

The incentives to recant are often less apparent. Recanting requires publicly admitting that you were either mistaken or you lied and perjured yourself. This could invite criminal charges or a civil law suit.

While it is not always clear why a witness recants, many who recant say that they have been motivated by conscience or a desire to set the record straight, to right a wrong that has been very costly to another, or to finally restore truth.

These, of course, are also worthy motivations for our courts.

Journalists Never Gave Up on Haunting Case of Innocence

On June 28, 2013, Daniel Taylor, 38, walked out of prison after serving more than 20 years for murders he did not commit. He couldn’t have committed the crimes. Taylor was in jail the night of the murders. He’d been arrested and held there following a fight in a park. But despite his unique and compelling alibi, police and prosecutors used his false confession to convict him and others. Taylor might likely still be in prison if it weren’t for his letter written to Steve Mills, a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He and his reporting partner on articles about wrongful conviction, Maurice Possley, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, were not only intrigued, they became committed to proving Taylor’s innocence. But they never imagined it would take twelve years. Read this remarkable story of determination, hard work, and patience (here) in The Atlantic.

Sweden’s worst miscarriage of justice?

Sweden, often looked upon as an aspirational model for criminal justice reformers, looks set to finally admit that it has wrongly convicted a mentally ill psychiatric patient of a series of murders after he confessed to the crimes. Bergwall, now 63 years,  ‘confessed’ to dozens of macabre killings (including cannibalising his victims) during the 1990s.  He was convicted – with apparent ease – of at least 8 murders, despite little or no evidence beyond his detailed confessions. Now, the authorities are dropping all charges against him, after he retracted all of his confessions in late 2008. The Swedish Attorney General has admitted:

“That a person has been convicted of eight murders and later been declared innocent, that is unique in Swedish legal history…It has to be considered as a big failure for the justice system.”

The story is receiving international attention, being reported as far afield as China and Auspg-32-sweden-aptralia. Read more here….(Incl. a GQ magazine article)

The Serial Killer Has Second Thoughts: The Confessions of Thomas Quick

Swedish serial killer who raped and ate his victims to be freed – because he made it all up

Swedish ‘serial killer’ cleared of all charges despite confession

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

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A Tale of Two Moms

Alice Leong and Leomia Myers have something in common. They both have suffered the pain of watching their sons wrongful convictions. For one of them, the suffering is over. Her son, Brian Banks, is now an NFL linebacker. The other still suffers everyday with her sons wrongful incarceration http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/05/14/california-innocence-project-marches-for-mothers-of-wrongfully-convicted
innocencemarch.aliceandleomiebrian and his mom

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

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  • Actor Martin Sheen said Thursday he won’t stop backing a man’s bid to be exonerated in a 1998 killing, although prosecutors have concluded the case was sound.  Sheen said in a statement he was outraged by the Manhattan district attorney’s recent decision in the case of Jon-Adrian Velazquez, who was convicted of killing a retired police officer. Some witnesses have since backtracked, but prosecutors say an 18-month-long review didn’t turn up enough proof to clear Velazquez.  “I promised Jon-Adrian that I would not give up the fight to see him walk out of prison a free man and I repeat that promise today,” Sheen said in the statement, provided by Velazquez’ lawyers, who filed papers Thursday asking a judge to dismiss the case.  “He is an innocent man, wrongfully convicted. May justice prevail,” Sheen added.
  • A central New York man who spent nine years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of trying to kill his wife has won $5.5 million in damages from the state.  Syracuse-area media outlets report a state Court of Claims judge ordered the payment to 46-year-old Daniel Gristwood of Pennellville. The judge ruled in 2011 that state police coerced him into falsely confessing in 1996.  Gristwood was released from prison in 2005 after another man admitted attacking the sleeping Christina Gristwood with a hammer.
  • A review of Amanda Knox’ new book
  • After wrongful conviction in Nicaragua, Jason Puracal wants to work to change the system

Justice System Should Heed Victim’s Views in False Accusation Case

The past five years have been an unthinkable nightmare for Johnathon Montgomery and his family. Montgomery was sentenced to 60 years in prison after a young woman in her late teens accused him of sexual assault, which she said occurred years earlier when Montgomery was 14 and she was 10 years old. Montgomery spent four years in a Virginia prison before the woman recanted and admitted the crime never happened.  False accusation and false witness are not new to those who have studied DNA-proven wrongful convictions, but how our system responds to one who recants such a damaging lie deserves thoughtful consideration. Continue reading

Court of Appeals Orders Release of Imprisoned Chicago Mother

As reported (here) in the Chicago Tribune, Nicole Harris will be freed no later than noon on Monday from Dwight Correctional Center as a result of two court actions. She’s served seven years of a 30-year sentence after being convicted of murder in the death of her four-year-old son, Jaquari.  As reported on this blog and the Chicago Tribune (here), last October a federal appeals court, ruling that Jaquari’s older brother, Dante—five at the time—should have been permitted to testify, reversed Nicole’s conviction. On Wednesday, the 7th Court of Appeals ordered Harris’s release from prison. Continue reading

NCIP Scores Exoneration in Oakland…

The Northern California Innocence Project is on the verge of an exoneration in Oakland….

From SFgate.com:

A man who has spent nearly seven years in prison for a shooting in West Oakland is on the brink of being released after his attorneys argued he was the innocent victim of shoddy police work and lying witnesses who have since recanted.

Alameda County prosecutors, who put 51-year-old Ronald Ross in state prison for attempted murder and assault with a firearm, conceded Friday that his conviction should not stand and said they would ask a Superior Court judge to free him.

“The district attorney doesn’t have confidence the verdict was fully supported given all of the circumstances,” said Assistant District Attorney Micheal O’Connor.

Friday’s developments mean that Ross, who has been serving a sentence of 25 years to life at San Quentin State Prison, is probably days away from the end of an unusual and lengthy legal saga.

Ross, who had no record of violence, was arrested by Oakland police after the shooting victim, Renardo Williams, picked him out of a lineup of six photos, Ross’ attorneys said.

Bedside lineup

They said police showed the lineup to him at his hospital bedside three days after he was shot in front of his apartment at the Campbell Village complex on April 15, 2006.

Ross’ attorneys said he had been included in the lineup because of a loose connection – his mother had, years earlier, lived in the same building as a woman Continue reading

Can Ohio Handle the Truth About the Tyrone Noling Case?

From The Atlantic:

There are four hard truths in Tyrone Noling‘s unenviable life. The first three form a part of his past that he can never get back: bad choices and decisions he made, or that were made for him, which have put him where he is today. The fourth truth is the biggest part of his present, and will surely determine his future — or whether he even has a future. Noling is on Ohio’s death row, and has been since 1996, for a crime he says he didn’t commit; a crime to which he is linked by so little reliable evidence that a federal appeals court last year went out of its way to express “concern” about the accuracy of Noling’s conviction.

The first truth in Tyrone Noling’s life is that an elderly couple named Cora and Bearnhardt Hartig were murdered in their home in 1990. The second is that Noling, then a teenager, was convicted of the murders despite passing a lie detector test — even though there was no physical evidence linking him to the Hartigs and the witnesses against him, co-defendants, were so unreliable that prosecutors initially dropped the charges against him. The third truth about Noling is that Ohio won’t allow his attorneys to DNA test a cigarette found at the scene, evidence, the defense suggests, which might determine who might have killed the couple.

The fourth truth is unfolding now. Last Tuesday, for about half an hour, the Supreme Court of Ohio heard oral argument in the Noling case. His lawyers are asking the justices to recognize a broad application of a new state law designed to encourage DNA testing in cases like these. Prosecutors, claiming the butt is Continue reading

Michael Hash Sues Current and Former Public Officials after Wrongful Conviction

Michael Hash, who served nearly 12 years in prison before U.S. District Court Judge James C. Turk granted his release on a Habeas Corpus ruling, has filed a lawsuit in federal district court in which he is seeking damages to be awarded—as reported in The Free Lance-Star of Fredricksburg (here)—“in such amounts as the Court and jury find fair and reasonably supported by the evidence and that will deter such conduct by defendants in the future.” Hash has asked for a jury trial.

The defendants named in the lawsuit are former Culpeper (VA) County Commonwealth’s Attorney Gary Close; three Culpeper Sheriff Continue reading