Category Archives: Uncategorized

Launch of Oregon Innocence Project…

The Oregon Innocence Project had its launch party last night.  It was a full house with a lot of excitement and energy.  Here is an article about the event.  Good luck to the Oregon Innocence Project!

Justin Brooks and Amanda Knox at the launch party of the Oregon Innocence Project

Justin Brooks and Amanda Knox at the launch party of the Oregon Innocence Project

COMPENSATION ORDERED IN WRONGFUL CONVICTION CASE LINKED TO PABLO ESCOBAR IN COLOMBIA

The Colombian Administrative Supreme Court (Consejo de Estado) has granted Pablo Enrique Zamora and his family 1,000 million pesos for the pain and suffering caused by his wrongful conviction and subsequent ten-year incarceration.

Pablo-EscobarEnrique was thought to be involved in the murder of the well-known journalist Guillermo Cano Isaza, head of the daily newspaper El Espectador. His tragic death took place in 1986, the murder allegedly ordered by the leader of the Medellin Cartel, Pablo Escobar, in response to the newspaper’s strong position against his drug trafficking criminal activities.

After nine years of investigation, in a procedure fraught with irregularities, Enrique, and two others, were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and subsequently sentenced to sixteen years in prison. However, after Enrique served ten years in prison, the Supreme Court of Colombia exonerated and released him, concluding that he had been wrongfully convicted.

In its ruling the Colombian Administrative Supreme Court (Consejo de Estado) recognized that, at the time, the judicial authorities were moved by the intense pressure of the media that surrounded the case and that the evidence was not probative. The court also ordered the Judicial Branch to implement judicial training to try to prevent wrongful convictions in Colombia.

Follow me on Twitter:  @JustinoBrooks

Professor Justin Brooks
Director, California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101
jpb@cwsl.edu

For more information, please see:

http://www.semana.com/nacion/articulo/asesinato-de-guillermo-cano-el-condenado-inocente-recibira-1000-millones/377849-3

http://www.freemedia.at/awards/guillermo-cano.html

http://www.eltiempo.com/justicia/ARTICULO-WEB-NEW_NOTA_INTERIOR-13624035.html

http://www.globaljournalist.org/stories/2000/07/01/guillermo-cano-colombia/

http://www.vanguardia.com/actualidad/colombia/247858-indemnizaran-a-condenado-injustamente-por-la-muerte-de-guillermo-cano-isa

http://www.elcolombiano.com/BancoConocimiento/E/el_crimen_de_guillermo_cano_de_lesa_humanidad/el_crimen_de_guillermo_cano_de_lesa_humanidad.asp

http://www.noticiasrcn.com/nacional-justicia/condenan-nacion-equivocacion-caso-guillermo-cano

http://www.caracol.com.co/noticias/judiciales/8203ordenan-indemnizar-a-hombre-condenado-por-homicidio-de-guillermo-cano/20140220/nota/2090555.aspx

DNA Proves A Man Innocent Too Late To Release Him From Prison

Based on an exculpatory DNA test report, the Criminal Section of the Supreme Court of Spain has posthumously exonerated Antonio Guile Martínez, who was wrongfully convicted of robbery and sentenced to two years and eight months in prison.

Guile was convicted April 2011 of robbery and mayhem by the Criminal Trial Court in Seville, Spain. The victim identified Martínez as the person who broke her car window to steal her purse and with whom she struggled to stop the theft.  She positively identified him three times: in a photo array, a live line-up, and finally, during trial.

Martínez was exonerated March 21, 2014, after it was discovered that a blood sample obtained from the window of the victim’s car belonged to another person. Sadly, this crucial information was discovered a year and a half after Guile’s conviction and after Guile died in the prison.

Once again, misidentification proves to be a global problem leading to wrongful convictions.

Follow me on Twitter:  @JustinoBrooks

Professor Justin Brooks
Director, California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101
jpb@cwsl.edu

For more information, please see:  http://www.otrosi.net/article/el-supremo-absuelve-un-preso-que-falleci%C3%B3-en-prisi%C3%B3n-mientras-cumpl%C3%ADa-condena-por-un-robo-qu

Three cities to start reviewing criminal-justice mistakes

It’s been a common refrain in the innocence movement that when an airliner crashes there is an intense investigation on how it happened to prevent similar crashes, but when a wrongful conviction occurs the criminal-justice system does nothing to prevent a recurrence.

Well, that’s about the change. According to The Crime Report, the major criminal-justice players in Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Baltimore have agreed to develop a system to review cases that went wrong or almost went wrong in an attempt to keep similar mistakes from happening again. Stephen Handelman writes about the project, which will be supported in part by the National Institute of Justice, here.

A Perfect Storm Brewing for Fire Investigators in Court

Terry-Dawn Hewitt and Wayne J. McKenna have posted the above-titled article on SSRN.  Download here.  The abstract states:

The genesis of this piece comes from a trend the authors have observed in three separate but related areas, which we believe are converging into a perfect storm for fire investigators. These are: 1) the ongoing movement by courts across the nation to scrutinize more closely the reliability of expert testimony, 2) a growing apprehension about wrongful convictions stemming from faulty forensic evidence and problems in fire investigations, culminating in the revolutionary report published by the National Academy of Sciences, and; 3) the continuing development of industry standards that are raising the bar for fire investigators. Part I describes each of these forces, and then Part II demonstrates how together they are creating a mounting pressure on fire investigation experts to defend their qualifications and the reliability of their opinions in court, particularly insofar as analyzing the fire scene and interpreting fire patterns is concerned.

 

The Trouble With Shaken Baby Syndrome

Here is yet another heart-rending story about how a child abuse pediatrician’s blind dedication to the mistaken medical dogma of Shaken Baby Syndrome tore apart the lives of innocent parents and their children, and brought them to financial ruin.

Read the Seattle Met Magazine story here.

WCBlog named #11 out of more than 125 Criminal Law Related Blogs…

Rankings by stats here….More than 125 blogs were evaluated, and the top 50 were ranked.  Wrongful Convictions Blog ranked #11.  Good job by all the contributing editors…..

Police lying: an endemic international problem?

It is starting to feel in the UK like ‘another day, another story of police lies’. In what feels like just a few months we have had media coverage of (to mention just a few) scandals where, for example, police have been caught falsifying reports of an altercation that they ‘witnessed’ when they were not present (see Plebgate scandal...). We have the ongoing revelations over police lies and their coercion of others to lie in the Hillsborough disaster cover-up (see Hillsborough inquiry...). It is suspected that these tactics were honed during the Miner’s Strike when striking miners were ‘fitted up’ (see Miners Strike….). Such tactics clearly have continued for years with many undercover police officers lies leading to convictions  (see undercover policing....) as well as the recent revelation that high profile victim Stephen Lawrence’s family were put under police surveillance during the inquiries into the police failures after Stephen’s murder (to try and discredit the family and their campaign for justice). This all comes on top of the almost run-of-the-mill stories of police ‘collusion’ with one another after fatal police shootings, with the introduction of body-worn cameras to enable the police to be ‘more transparent’ about fatal shootings. In fact, the introduction of police body-worn cameras has been posited as a boon for police as it will cut down on false allegations from the public. However, is it perhaps more likely that police body-worn cameras may serve to make the police more honest? Will they be able to lie with camera footage of the real altercation readily available?

0In Omagh, Northern Ireland, the introduction of CCTV cameras in the town has led to the uncovering of police lies leading to miscarriages of justice – with solicitors claiming that miscarriages may be ‘endemic’: increasingly, CCTC footage is being shown to demonstrate that the police account of events is unreliable – even untrue (see story here…) Of course this has not been a good week either for police south of the border in Ireland, having been found to have been illicitly tape recording phone calls made to police stations (see here…). The other side of the world, in New Zealand, they are calling police lies and false evidence which have led to convictions as ‘failings’ and ‘sloppy police work’ (see here…Police failures led to wrongful conviction).

We have all known for years that there are ‘rotten apples’ and that wrongful convictions have often had police misrepresentations, if not outright corruption and lying, at their heart. However, the question must surely now be asked: is lying among the police an endemic international problem? If so, what can be done about it? These questions are already beginning to be murmured in corners of the UK, I think it is now time to get such questions out in the open. These are challenging times for the police, and if we are not to lose trust in them completely, I believe some hard questions must be asked and answers demanded.

 

Tragedy in the Middle East

Photo credit: Osama Faisal/AP

Photo credit: Osama Faisal/AP

The California Innocence Project represents the Huangs with the David House Agency.

Today, the Qatari criminal justice system continued its absurd disregard for due process, equity, and common sense in the case of Matthew and Grace Huang, two Americans whose 6 year-old adopted daughter Gloria tragically died of complications relating to her early upbringing in impoverished Ghana. Qatari prosecutors accused the Huangs of murder, based on a theory of starvation in order to harvest and sell her organs, and were seeking the death penalty for Gloria’s death. They were sentenced to three years in prison, convicted of—actually, nobody knows what they were convicted of, because the judges never said.

Matthew and Grace Huang are United States citizens who moved to Qatar with their children, Gloria, Josiah, and Emmanuel in 2012. Matthew had been relocated by an American company which had won a contract to complete infrastructure projects for the Qatari government in preparation for the 2022 World Cup. Matthew and Grace are Asian-American; their children, all adopted, are from Africa. Gloria was the youngest of their three children, adopted as a young child from Ghana, in West Africa. Her experience as a child born into extreme poverty in Ghana was emotionally and psychologically traumatic for her, and she suffered from a number of medical issues, including a severe vitamin deficiency, digestive problems, and a pronounced eating disorder which occasionally caused her to refuse food for days at a time. But children are resilient, and Matthew and Grace are unbelievably patient parents. Despite her upbringing, Gloria began to get better after living with Matthew and Grace, putting on weight and suffering from fewer and fewer episodes of disorder.

Unfortunately, Gloria died in 2013 of causes that will likely never be fully known or understood, but were clearly connected to her upbringing and health care in Ghana prior to her being adopted by the Huangs. Qatari authorities thought otherwise. They believed Matthew and Grace were guilty of murder. They alleged the parents adopted Gloria, raised her for two years in their family, and traveled with her and their other children to Qatar—all so that they could eventually perform medical experiments on her, starve her to death, harvest her organs, and sell them on the black market.

In support of this outlandish theory, the prosecution relied on “secret” evidence, undisclosed to the family or their legal team, which the prosecution said showed the Huangs were guilty. Police officers testified under oath to things which were patently and demonstrably untrue—that Gloria had no access to running water, that she had no bed in her bedroom, and that the Huangs shackled or restrained Gloria in her room as punishment or discipline. Pictures of Gloria’s bedroom and the officers’ own police reports show how unrelated the officers’ testimony was to reality, but they did not change their stories. A Qatari medical examiner testified he knew, based on his autopsy and from the samples he took, that the cause of death must have been starvation; a second autopsy by an American examiner showed no samples were ever taken from the body, and the cause of death could not have been starvation.

This ordeal has been an unbelievable nightmare for the Huang family. They lost their child. They spent eleven months in jail awaiting trial for murder. They faced down a possible death sentence. They have now been wrongfully sentenced to three years in prison for a crime they did not commit. One of the strangest parts of the Huangs’ story is that the judges who sentenced them today did not state they were guilty of any crime. This decision should be immediately reversed and they should be allowed to return to the United States to be with their other children, who have been without their parents for more than a year. This tragedy cannot stand.

Follow me on Twitter: @JustinoBrooks

Professor Justin Brooks
Director, California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101
jpb@cwsl.edu

 

Former Judge Blows the Whistle on Police and Prosecutors

Stuart Namm was a judge in Suffolk County, NY.  When he became suspicious of, and started questioning, actions by police and prosecutors in criminal cases he became the victim of political reprisal and personal intimidation that ultimately forced him off the bench.

This quote from a recent Long Island Newsday story about Judge Namm both provides a “bottom line” to the story, and also echoes points that have been previously stated on this blog about the problems with politically elected prosecutors and judges (see here):

For Namm, the moral of his story is that elected trial judges are too compromised by politics to speak out against injustices they see.  ‘What happened in Suffolk County happened because trial judges are elected in the political system,’ he said. His fellow judges wouldn’t get involved because they were worried about the need to get re-elected, he said. And after how his tenure ended, he said they were right to be worried.”

Read the Long Island Newsday story here.

Sarah Pearce Freed in Idaho after nearly 12 years in prison

Sarah Pearce hugs her aunt as she leaves the Canyon County, Idaho Jail.  Her mother and champion Anita Brown looks on.

Sarah Pearce hugs her aunt as she leaves the Canyon County, Idaho Jail. Her mother and champion Anita Brown looks on.

From Idaho Innocence Project press release:

After over twelve years of incarceration, Sarah Pearce’s quest for freedom ended today when she was granted post-conviction relief in the District Court of Idaho’s Third Judicial District. Sarah (31) was convicted of six felonies in 2003, including aiding and abetting the 2000 attempted murder of Linda LeBrane. She was sentenced to a fifteen year determinate period of incarceration with an indeterminate life sentence. Sarah has always steadfastly maintained her innocence.

After over five years of litigation, post-conviction relief was granted in the form of Sarah being resentenced to time served. Sarah said she looks forward to spending time with her family, jogging, attending school, and volunteering for the IIP.  At the hearing Pearce said “This is a tragic misidentification … I did not commit this crime, but all the same I was punished for it. The experience goes almost too deep for words. I will try to walk away from this taking more from it than it has taken from me.”

The Idaho Innocence Project (IIP) and her attorneys have been working to free Sarah since 2007. A petition for post-conviction relief was filed in 2008 after IIP staff and volunteers obtained affidavits from several trial witnesses suggesting that another suspect, not Sarah, was LeBrane’s female attacker. Sarah’s petition was later amended to claim that her constitutional rights were violated when it was discovered that Canyon County law enforcement officers withheld a rescored polygraph examination of the very same female suspect.

Sarah appeared today in the same Canyon County courtroom where she was originally convicted and sentenced. She was accompanied by her attorneys—Scott Fouser (Fouser Law Offices, P.A.), Jared Hoskins (IIP), and Steve Andersen (Andersen Banducci, PLLC)—her family, several IIP representatives and volunteers who have assisted with the case including Dr. Greg Hampikian (founder and Director of the IIP at BSU), Rick Visser (Former IIP attorney), Debbie Thompson, Ginny Hatch, Leon Rothstein, Joy Garrison, and Mikel Hautzinger. Dr. Charles Honts, professor of psychology at BSU volunteered as a polygraph expert on Sarah’s case.

The IIP has had its funding drastically cut after it was not awarded a competitive Department of Justice grant this year but continues to offer DNA support to attorneys litigating cases of actual and demonstrable innocence.  Donations to the Idaho Innocence Project can be made online: http://innocenceproject.boisestate.edu

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

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  • 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

Exonerations still exceedingly difficult to achieve

The National Registry of Exonerations’ announcement this week that 2013 was a record year for exonerations in the United States is an encouraging sign, as Nancy Petro reported here. The registry’s report also offers lots of good data, of which Phil Locke published a good analysis here, on which to base reforms.

But all this good news belies the fact that exonerations are still exceedingly difficult to achieve. And while the registry is correct in reporting that some law-enforcement agencies and prosecutors are more cooperative in identifying and correcting wrongful convictions, it’s important to note that is still the exception to the rule.

Most of that cooperation comes in cases in which DNA testing might provide definitive answers. But with the number of such cases waning as DNA testing becomes common during criminal investigations, innocence investigations are becoming harder as they move to cases without DNA, and they are often resisted by authorities with maddening arguments and stonewalling worthy of Richard Nixon.

But even when there is DNA to test, there is still resistance in some corners of the United States, as Andrew Cohen explains in The Atlantic. “There are … two relevant facts worth noting that are not synthesized into the exoneration report’s analysis,” Cohen says. “The first is that not all states are equal when it comes to prioritizing exonerations. Some simply care less about justice for the wrongfully convicted than others. … The second point that needs to be made in the shadow of the report is that some states today are moving against the flow. Lawmakers in at least two states, Alabama and Tennessee, are seriously considering measures that would tighten appellate deadlines in capital cases, making exonerations harder to achieve.”

Cohen’s sobering words, which you can read here, are a reminder that there is much work still to be done in the exoneration movement.

Breaking: Deon Patrick Exonerated in Illinois…

The first Illinois exoneree of 2014.  Story here.

Satanic ritual abuse panic seems to be unraveling

Child-abuse hysteria has produced hundreds, if not thousands, of wrongful convictions over the past 30 years. One of the most virulent strains of this hysteria was the one that started it: Satanic ritual abuse. Linda Rodriguez McRobbie offers a hopeful update here that suggests that the last vestiges of this panic are unraveling. But immense damage was done, and if the lessons left behind aren’t learned, there will be more panics and more innocent people sent to prison for crimes they didn’t commit or that didn’t even occur.

Failure to Investigate: A Particularly Bad Problem Within the Flawed Mexican Justice System

Jail cellsFailure to investigate is well known to be a major cause of wrongful convictions.  Whether it is the police, prosecutors, or defense attorneys, when claims are innocence are not diligently looked into, often the wrong person is convicted and the guilty go free.  Even more reprehensible are situations where a crime wasn’t even committed and an innocent person is incarcerated.

In Mexico, failure to investigate is sometimes due to negligence, but often as a result of police corruption.  And, when the system does not mandate a speedy appearance in front of a judge, the failure to investigate can lead to lengthy incarceration without any evidence.

Take the case of Guillermo Verduzco.   On September 20, 2013, in Mexico City, police arrested him for violent assault.  Verduzco was forced to spend nearly three months in jail before he was even allowed to see a judge.  After grueling months of waiting to be heard, the judge ruled the crime never took place and ordered his case be dismissed.  The alleged victim, Víctor Alberto Martínez, claimed Verduzco stole his cell phone during the assault, but he couldn’t describe the phone or even give his phone number to prove the phone’s existence.  Martínez claimed he was stabbed, but there were no injuries or a knife found. And, Verduzco had four solid alibi witnesses.

The defense made numerous attempts to hold a hearing for Verduzco after his arrest, but the hearings were rescheduled because neither the police nor the victim appeared.

To make matters worse, the media has reported that only four hours after Verduzco was arrested, a group of people, accompanied by the police, appeared at Verduzco’s home to claim it as their own saying they were the “new owners” of the home “because it was abandoned.”  Verduzco was forced to move to Ciudad Juárez in Chihuahua and claims he can no longer live in his home because of police threats.

Failure to investigate causes wrongful arrests and convictions around the world. In Mexico, these failures have particularly bad consequences when a defendant must wait months for a day in court and there is little confidence the police will conduct an unbiased investigation.

Follow me on Twitter:  @JustinoBrooks

Professor Justin Brooks
Director, California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101
jpb@cwsl.edu

For more information, please see:  http://www.animalpolitico.com/2013/12/juez-determina-que-policias-fabrican-delito-para-inculpar-un-inocente/#axzz2o7kPk2Xi

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Innocence March Returns to Sacramento to Ask Governor Brown for 12 Christmas Presents

Justin Brooks leading the march.

On December 20th, 6 months after the 712 mile Innocence March, families and friends of the California 12 returned to Sacramento to once again ask for clemency and remind the Governor that their loved ones still sit behind bars this holiday season.   As many of you know, this time of year is the toughest to be in prison, especially when you are innocent.  The Governor has been known to grant “Christmas Clemencies.”  Please check out the stories of the California 12 at www.innocencemarch.com and email the governor at http://bit.ly/JVtxrd to respectfully ask him to grant clemency to the 12 so they can be home with their families this Christmas.  The simple act of sending this email might be the best present you give this year!  Please ask your friends to do the same!  Happy Holidays!

Justin Brooks and Brian Banks

Justin Brooks and Brian Banks

 

Justin Brooks and supporters of Keira Newsome.

Justin Brooks and supporters of Keira Newsome.

 

Exoneree Uriah Courtney with CIP Attorneys Alissa Bjerkhoel, Justin Brooks, and Michael Semanchik

Exoneree Uriah Courtney with CIP Attorneys Alissa Bjerkhoel, Justin Brooks, and Michael Semanchik

 

Alissa Bjerkhoel with the parents of Kimberly Long

Alissa Bjerkhoel with the parents of Kimberly Long

Parents of Uriah Courtney, CIP Exoneree

Parents of Uriah Courtney, CIP Exoneree

CIP Attorneys Justin Brooks, Alissa Bjerkhoel, and Michael Semanchik.  All marched the 712 miles for the Caliofornia 12.

CIP Attorneys Justin Brooks, Alissa Bjerkhoel, and Michael Semanchik. All marched the 712 miles for the Caliofornia 12.

Exoneree Uriah Courtney with CIP Attorneys Alissa Bjerkhoel, Justin Brooks, and Michael Semanchik

Exoneree Uriah Courtney with CIP Attorneys Alissa Bjerkhoel, Justin Brooks, and Michael Semanchik

 

Follow me on Twitter:  @JustinoBrooks

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

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

Indian man freed by Delhi High Court after 14 years in prison

Bhupender Singh walked free on Friday after the Delhi High Court acquitted him of the 1999 murder of the wife of his former employer. Singh had been convicted in 2006, after fingerprints were found in his employers house. The fingerprint evidence was highly contentious, and never dealt with satisfactorily, but the High Court has now decided that Singh can go free, because there was not sufficient evidence for the conviction.

Read more here… HC acquits man of murder 14 yrs after he was jailed

CNN Premier of Michael Morton Documentary Rescheduled

News coverage following the passing of Nelson Mandela has prompted the rescheduling of “An Unreal Dream,” the true account of Michael Morton’s wrongful conviction of the murder of his wife, Christine; his 25 years of wrongful incarceration; and his exoneration. The documentary will premier instead this Sunday evening, Dec. 8, at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on CNN TV. See details here.

As part of its focus on the Morton case, CNN reports on five cases identified as “high-profile exonerations” (here). In addition to the case of Michael Morton, the article highlights the exonerations of Brian Banks, Douglas Prade, Clarence Harrison, and James Bain.