Category Archives: Uncategorized

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Tradition-bound U.S. system mired in scientific illiteracy, author says

The American legal system assumes that innocent people don’t confess to crimes they didn’t commit. It also assumes that eyewitness testimony is reliable and that jurors are impartial even though scientific research shows otherwise.  Therein lies the cause of many wrongful convictions.

“The legal system is resistant to change and resistant to paying attention to scientific research,” Adam Benforado, author of the book Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice, tells Wired magazine. You will find the informative story here.

Exoneree Band Rocks it out in Cleveland

Exoneree Band2The Exoneree Band performed live last week in guitarist Raymond Towler’s hometown, Cleveland, Ohio. Among the concert attendees were several students from the Ohio Innocence Project who traveled from Cincinnati to Cleveland to see the band play. The band features Raymond Towler (Ohio) on guitar; William Michael Dillon (Florida) on guitar and vocals; Antoine Day (Illinois) on vocals and drums; Eddie Lowery (Kansas) guitar and vocals; Ted Bradford (Washington) on bass; and Alan Northrop (Washington) drums. Each member was once imprisoned for a crime they did not commit. Collectively, they served over 100 years for these crimes before being exonerated.

Thembekile Molaudzi Update

Earlier this month Wits Justice Project client Thembekile Molaudzi was released from prison after his conviction for murder and robbery was reversed by the Constitutional Court of South Africa. Molaudzi served eleven years of a life sentence, during which time he was subjected to torture and forced into solitary confinement.

See below for recent new stories and podcasts featuring Molaudzi and Carolyn Raphaely, the journalist who investigated his case and helped prove his innocence.

Podcasts

Kaya FM – Today with  John Perlman: https://soundcloud.com/kayafm959/today-with-john-pelman-7-jul-2015-thembekile-molaudzi-in-prison-after-falsely-accused-of-murder?in=kayafm959/sets/today-with-john-perlman-23-april-2014

Cliff Central, Host Gary Herzberg, on “Laws of Life”

TV

ENCA – Thulasizwe Simelane

Articles

Innocent man’s long walk to freedom – The Star

For Thembekile Molaudzi, justice delayed was justice denied – Daily Maverick. Also appeared in All Africa

Wrongful Arrest: 11 Agonising Years Behind Bars – EWN

Wrongfully Arrested Man Opens Up About 11-year Imprisonment – EWN

Man Finally free after 11 years of wrongful imprisonment – North Eastern Tribune

Onskuldige Pta-man vry na 11 jaar agter tralies – Nuusneus

Former Ohio Innocence Project Fellow Catlin Wells Describes Her Experience

Catlin Wells, a rising 3L at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, dedicated an entire year of her life to the Ohio Innocence Project. During that time she witnessed six overturned convictions, the most to occur in any single year for the OIP. After being asked to write about her experience, Catlin found  it difficult to describe the profound impact working at the OIP had on her.

I thought about what I would put on a resume, but I couldn’t figure out how to reduce a whirlwind of a summer internship into a few bullet points […] I used the control A function to delete my draft and started over, this time trying to think about what I would tell if I had to turn my experience into one of those thirty second networking elevator speeches. “My name is Catlin, and I…” I couldn’t finish that one either.

Last week, I watched Ricky Jackson, a man who spent thirty nine years in prison for a crime that he did not commit, walk out of the jail doors and into life as a free man. Surrounded by a sea of microphones and questions, Ricky shrugged off questions about systematic injustice and the twelve year old whose testimony led to his incarceration. “I’m just glad to be out. I’m glad to be free.” At lunch a few hours later, Dean Gillispie, a Dayton exoneree, looked at Ricky and asked him if he’d used the bathroom yet. “Those sinks,” Dean said, “they just turn on by themselves.” When Ricky laughed, Dean gestured towards a line of exonerees and said, “It’s hard to get used to, but we’ll take care of you. You’re our brother now, you’re one of us. ”

Nothing follows the “I” of my elevator speech because what I am doing is not about me. My job is not about accumulating credentials, but about a man who, after almost four decades in jail had the compassion to forgive the kid who put him there. It’s about Dean, his line of brothers, and the other innocent men and women who still sit behind bars waiting until they too can throw their hands up and say, “I’m free.”

This article was featured in the Winter edition of the Dayton Federal Bar Association Newsletter. Read the full article here.

New child-abuse panic could cause wrongful convictions, prof warns

Child-abuse hysteria has spurred hundreds of wrongful convictions and even more destroyed lives in the past 30 years — first with sexual-molestation charges and then the bad science of shaken-baby syndrome. Now comes ”medical child abuse,” an outgrowth of the Munchausen syndrome by proxy panic. And Maxine Eichner, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, says the ill-founded concept is starting to cause similar harm. You can read her astute warning here.

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

In Ghana, a newspaper reporter is suing the government for 2 million Ghanaian Cedi ($500,000 USD) for wrongful imprisonment…

In Scotland, family members of the Lockerbie bombing victims lose bid to overturn the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi…

In the US, President Obama has signed a bill that will expand clemency powers to allow the release of nonviolent drug offenders…

Judge identifies 12 huge lies about Justice in America…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Adnan Syed of “Serial” podcast seeks evidentiary hearing on new alibi evidence…

new bill designed to strengthen the UK court system’s ability to overturn wrongful convictions has been presented to Parliament…

A year after being exonerated, Kevin Martin files $30 million compensation suit against the District of Columbia for the 26 years he spent wrongfully imprisoned…

Illinois exoneree Darrell Williams finally gets a shot at playing in the NBA

South African Constitutional Court Orders Immediate Release of Wrongfully Imprisoned Man

With help from the Wits Justice Project, South African  Thembekile Molaudzi was released from prison last week after serving 11 years for the 2002 murder of Dingaan Makuna, a Mothutlung policeman. The only evidence implicating Molaudzi was the confession of another man also accused of the crime. After a long battle, the Constitutional Court overturned Molaudzi’s conviction, issuing him a Warrant of Liberation that called for his immediate release.

DNA testing isn’t perfect, and it could get worse, experts say

DNA testing is the gold standard in forensic science, and it has been used to free hundreds of innocent inmates since 1989. But it has also falsely implicated other innocents, and it likely will do so even more as labs push the technological envelope to solve crimes, the Marshall Project reports here. Add human error to the equation, and you have the recipe for potential disasters.

The Irish High Court Issues a Ruling on Prisoner Access to Forensic Material

The Irish High Court recently ruled that it did not have jurisdiction to grant John Gerard McDonagh access to forensic materials collected during the murder investigation of Siobhán Hynes. McDonagh seeks the materials in a effort to prove himself innocent of Hynes’ rape and murder which took place in 2001.

According to the Court, access to these materials must be sought through the Garda Commission or the Director of Public Prosecutions. McDonagh is also entitled to seek access through the Court of Appeals.

In honor of the International Conference on Wrongful Conviction’s taking place in Ireland this week, here is a link to the Gaelic version of the article above.

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

USA Today discusses the post-release struggles of Jonathan Fleming who served 24 years of a life sentence before his murder conviction was overturned…

Last Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada denied Réjean Hinse compensation for the eight years he spent wrongfully imprisoned…

The DC Prisoners’ Project announced as one of 22 organizations to receive  DC Bar Foundation Legal Services Grant…

The West Virginia University College of Law Launches First National LL.M. Program in Forensic Justice

WVU-Law In conjunction with the Forensics & Investigative Science Department and the West Virginia Innocence Project, The West Virginia University College of Law, is launching the first national LL.M. in Forensic Justice. The one-year degree responds to the 2009 National Academy of Sciences Report on Forensic Sciences and the need for these scientific disciplines to be validated, and for lawyers to better comprehend how findings are used in the courtroom. Courses will be taught by both law faculty and forensic & investigative science faculty on topics such as Impression and Trace Evidence, Forensic Quality Assurance, and Foundations of Criminalistics. All courses are specifically created and structured for attorneys and for the use of science in the courtroom. Applications are now being accepted.
For more information, visit: http://law.wvu.edu/forensic-llm; or contact Valena Beety at: valena.beety@mail.wvu.edu.

New Zealand starts new ‘Innocence’ Panel

untitledSince the high profile exoneration of Teina Pora (see here…) and lots of calls for reforms in New Zealand, including a body to look at miscarriages of justice, the newly created New Zealand Public Interest Project (NZPIP) has now started work. A charitable organisation, it plans to look into cases as well as wider concerns about the operation of the NZ criminal justice system. The body already has a queue of high profile cases in which a prisoner is claiming innocence. While good news…. it is not a government backed (or funded) body… which should have been the response to growing concerns about the justice system in New Zealand.  One hopes that if they can bring attention, and overturn, further miscarriages of justice, the government will take the issue seriously and set up a funded body. Read more here….

Many innocent people languishing in NZ jails says legal group fighting miscarriages of justice

Panel to investigate miscarriages of justice

Miscarriage of justice investigation panel launched

Vietnam: Government debates problem of wrongful convictions

In yet another encouraging sign the the ‘problem’ of miscarriages of justice is starting to be taken more seriously globally – the National Assembly of Vietnam has this week been debating the issue of wrongful convictions. In a courageous move, auntitled standing committee looking at wrongful convictions and compensation, admitted that while most investigations and prosecutions were carried out in adherence with rules and upheld human rights, there were some ‘weaknesses and shortcomings’. The report states that between October 1, 2011 to September 30, 2014, there were 71 wrongful convictions – a rate of 0.02 per cent. Although a ‘small’ number, they admitted: “Some serious cases created extreme anxiety among the public, eroding many people’s confidence in our justice system and damaging the prestige of our law enforcement agencies.”. However, with 80% of trials in Vietnam taking place with NO defence counsel, and the country still reportedly ‘trying hard’ to eradicate torture and coerced confessions, it may be questionable how the figure of 71 was reached… and it’s accuracy. Despite this scepticism, it is still heartening that such reports are being published. Read more here…

Miscarriages of justice in Vietnam are serious: legislators

NA debates wrongful convictions

 

Lawyers blame ‘groupthink’ for Sweden’s worst​​ miscarriage of justice

imagesA case that I have highlighted previously here… has been examined by some of the best legal minds in Sweden and they have concluded that there were no ‘systemic’ failures that led to a mental health patient being wrongly convicted of over 30 murders. Instead, they blame a culture of ‘trust’ which meant that critical questions were not asked of investigators and psychiatric personnel involved. There was insufficient scepticism of supposed confessions and no care was taken over the possibility of false memories. While the report seeks to ensure that mistakes are not repeated, ultimately the report leaves all involved individually blameless so no-one has been held to account. This may result in the case rumbling on for some time yet in the Swedish media. Read more here (including a link to the full report)…

Lawyers blame groupthink in Sweden’s worst​​ miscarriage of justice

UK’s restrictive compensation scheme for exonerees upheld by High Court

In a long running issue over exoneree compensation in the UK – or the lack of it – that I have blogged on previously (here…,here… and here)  Sam Hallam and Victor Nealon, who spent 24 years in prison between them, have now lost their argument that UK law wrongly restricts compensation in miscarriage of justice cases. Hallam and Nealon’s solicitors had judicially reviewed the government decision to not compensate them for the years they spent imprisoned when innocent.untitled

The Secretary of State for Justice denied Nealon compensation for his years in jail, on the grounds that the Court of Appeal’s verdict  – which said that  “the fresh evidence has not ‘demolished’ the prosecution case” – meant that he was not a victim of a miscarriage of justice. In Hallam’s case – his appeal judgement partially laid the blame for his wrongful conviction at his door as the phone evidence that exonerated him 7 years after his conviction had been in his possession.

On Monday, Nealon and Hallam lost their bid to persuade British judges to accept that denying compensation broke the European Convention on Human Rights. The case is the first legal challenge to be heard to the decision to narrow eligibility grounds for compensation, which effectively requires people to prove that they did not commit the crime.

Wrongfully jailed men lose high court actions in battle for compensation

Irish man fails in compensation bid against British government

Victor Nealon falsely imprisoned for 17 years denied compensation

 

FBI crime lab admits to errors in DNA profiles

There are lies, damn lies and statistics.

The Washington Post reports that the FBI has notified local crime labs that it has discovered errors in data used by forensic scientists in thousands of cases to calculate the chances that DNA found at a crime scene matches a particular person.

The FBI is downplaying the significance of the problem, but a scientist who identified errors 10 years ago in the DNA profiles the FBI analyzed to generate the population statistics data called the consequences of the disclosure appalling and said they could have led to wrongful convictions. You can read the story here.

Court tosses convictions but won’t say couple is innocent

No matter how much evidence of innocence might exist, it is sometimes next to impossible to get the courts to fully admit error. That’s what happened yesterday, when Dan and Fran Keller, who were convicted on “satanic daycare abuse” charges in 1992, finally had their convictions overturned by Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. While the court ruled that the Kellers were wrongly convicted, the Austin American-Statesman reports here, it just couldn’t come around to admitting the Kellers, who were released in 2013, were actually innocent.  The Kellers plan to continue their fight.

1,600 U.S. Exonerations Highlight Unacceptable Error in Criminal Justice

The National Registry of Exonerations has announced a chilling milestone, the 1,600th known exoneration in the United States since 1989. The tally of persons known to have been convicted of crimes they did not commit has grown rapidly from the Registry’s launch three years ago. The 1600th exoneration, that of Michael McAlister, occurred last week.

Maurice Possley’s Registry report on Michael McAlister (here) provides the telling details — case unique and yet familiar — of a tragic miscarriage. Police and prosecutors would come to doubt McAlister’s guilt and subsequently joined a long effort to correct this stubborn error. Continue reading