Mark GodseyDaniel P. & Judith L. Carmichael Professor of Law, University of Cincinnati College of Law; Director, Center for the Global Study of Wrongful Conviction; Director, Rosenthal Institute for Justice/Ohio Innocence Project | Email | Profile
Justin BrooksProfessor, California Western School of Law; Director, California Innocence Project | Email
Cheah Wui LingAssistant Professor, Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore Email | Profile
Daniel EhighaluaNigerian Barrister; Project Director, Innocence Project Nigeria Email
C Ronald HuffProfessor of Criminology, Law & Society and Sociology, University of California-Irvine Email | Profile
Phil LockeScience and Technology Advisor, Ohio Innocence Project and Duke Law Wrongful Convictions Clinic Email
Dr. Carole McCartneySenior Lecturer, School of Law, University of Leeds; Founder, University of Leeds Innocence Project | Email | Profile
Nancy PetroAuthor and Advocate
Kana SasakuraAssociate Professor, Faculty of Law, Konan University; Visiting Scholar, University of Washington School of Law; Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW)
Dr. Robert SchehrProfessor, Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice, Northern Arizona University; Executive Director, Arizona Innocence Project Email | Profile
Shiyuan HuangAssociate Professor, Shandong University Law School; Visiting Scholar, University of Cincinnati College of Law Email | Profile
Ulf StridbeckProfessor of Law, Faculty of Law, University of Oslo, Norway
Martin YantAuthor and Private Investigator Email | Profile
Category Archives: Uncategorized
Sunday’s New York Times hits the nail on the head in an editorial here in which it laments that violations of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 50-year-old Brady rule, which requires prosecutors to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense, remain ”widespread.” The Times might be overly optimistic, however, in its belief that open-files reforms like those adopted in North Carolina and Ohio that require full disclosure of law enforcement’s investigative files in a case will necessarily solve the problem.
Such rules will work only if prosecutors and law enforcement agencies follow them, and that’s far from guaranteed. In an Ohio case I am currently investigating, for example, information about the identification of an uncharged suspect was disclosed only after we learned from a witness that she had picked the man out of a photo lineup. The identity of a second suspect, which a co-defendant says she gave to both a detective and the prosecutor before she pleaded guilty, has still not been disclosed, nor has a summary of her statement that the only other person charged in the crime was not involved.
Defense attorneys and investigators should remain skeptical that prosecutors will always follow open-discovery rules any more than they always follow the Brady rule.
They should also be aware that another reform — the use of blindly administered sequential photo lineups — can still lead to misidentifications in the era of social media. In this same case, a witness admitted that she and others looked up the defendant’s photo on Facebook once they learned his name, which made picking out his photo later fairly easy. She now admits she was wrong.
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
Today was Day 17 of the Innocence March. We’ve walked more than 200 miles and are working our way through Santa Barbara County. Aside from some sunburn and blisters, we are all doing fine. The walk through Camp Pendleton, and the areas with no sidewalks along Route One in Orange County, have probably been the toughest days. Walking around the Long Beach refineries in the rain was not pleasant at all. On the other hand, we have had some amazing days. Having 300 friends and family members join us on Day 1 was awesome. Walking with CIP exoneree Adam Riojas and his wife and baby in Oceanside, while he told us about his current life as a minister, was an incredibly moving experience, as was walking with Guy Miles family through Long Beach. Guy’s elderly parents and uncle struggled to walk as far as they could while his wife walked the full 20 miles. We had a great rally in Santa Monica with exonerees, family members, CIP staff, and students, and on Mother’s Day weekend we walked with Brian Banks and his mom.
I feel very good that this march is doing everything we hoped for. We’ve raised awareness through the media and public speaking events. We’ve met incredible people along the way, my favorite being the Mexican farmer who insisted on giving us free fruit and letting us use the bathroom in his home when he heard what were were doing. We’ve had people honking their support the whole way up the coast. Most important, we’ve obtained a meeting with the Governor’s Chief of Staff to present our petitions.
Below is some of the media coverage we’ve received so far and some photos from the march. Thanks to Pam, Hank, and Ian for their help coordinating the media effort. Happy trails. jb
Major Blogs about March:
Videos we’ve made about the march:
From the Innocence Project of Florida:
This Sunday families will gather together to celebrate the women who gave them life. But for the wrongfully convicted, Mother’s Day serves as another reminder of the life that was stolen from them by inequities embedded in the criminal justice system. Many wrongfully convicted people spend decades serving a prison sentence they do not deserve, and subsequently miss countless opportunities to spend time with their mothers, fathers, children, and spouses.
Alan Crotzer, a Florida DNA exoneree, bore the weight of this cross when he lost his mother fives years before his exoneration in 2006. In an interview with the IPF, Alan spoke about his mother’s unwavering faith in his innocence and how she inspired him to continue to fight for his freedom. Alan lost spending the last twenty years of his mother’s life with her due to his wrongful imprisonment. Countless other wrongfully imprisoned have faced similar losses.
Florida DNA exoneree Luis Diaz was wrongfully convicted in 1980 and sent to prison when his three children were only five, seven and thirteen years old. He served 25 years in prison until post-conviction DNA testing provided proof that he was wrongfully convicted. By the time he was released, his children were not only grown but married with children of their own. Luis was denied the ability to raise his own children and his children were denied their father for most of their childhood. Each holiday was a harsh reminder that this family was missing a parent.
These two men represent a fraction of the innocent people in prison who are locked away from their families and their freedom everyday.
We hope you celebrate lives of your mothers, wives and daughters. We applaud their tireless efforts. We also ask that you let your thoughts also turn to those who have had their lives stolen from under them by a wrongful conviction and are waiting to come home.
Several years ago I got an unusual request. A former prison warden wanted to volunteer for the California Innocence Project. I was cautious at first, but soon learned what a great resource and great person Jim Allen is. Read here what he thinks about the plight of the wrongfully convicted.
Today is Day 11 of the California Innocence Project’s 660 mile march from San Diego to Sacramento to ask Governor Jerry Brown to give clemency to 12 of our innocent clients. Mike Semanchik, Alissa Bjerkhoel, and I have walked 152 miles so far…many more miles to go. From the RV where I am sleeping at night, I wrote the following blog about 3 of our cases and the first week of our journey.
Andre Davis, convicted of rape and murder in Illinois, has been exonerated but once again, a prosecutor could not bring herself to apologize despite clearcut DNA evidence. This was just brought to my attention by Rob Warden, who provided the following link to the news story:
One of the 8,000 graduating students at Ohio State University to whom President Barack Obama gave the commencement address yesterday had a lot longer journey than most to get to that point. Virginia LeFever’s plans to get a bachelor’s degree in nursing were interrupted in 1990 when she was convicted of killing her husband, greatly because of the novel theory of an expert who lied about his credentials. When LeFever’s conviction was overturned in 2011 and she was released from prison, she started looking for a job and applied to continue her studies at OSU.
Getting into college proved to be easier than getting a job. Although LeFever’s criminal record had been ordered sealed, it still came up in background reports until the source was identified and the records were removed from its database. LeFever also had to overcome difficulties getting her nursing license fully reinstated. Now that she has her degree and a license, LeFever hopes to get a nursing job and start graduate work so she can become a nurse practioner. But it’s taken a two-year struggle and the help of her dedicated attorneys to get to the point that she hopes to be able to get a decent-paying job.
LeFever is not alone. As The New York Times reports here, “sealing or clearing a criminal record after a wrongful conviction is a tangled and expensive process” that many exonerees have difficulty getting through.
In addition to committing to spending on GOOD science (see my earlier post here… ), governments have a responsibility to provide free legal representation to those who cannot afford it. This responsibility however, is being increasingly shirked by many governments, who see legal aid (as it’s called in the UK) as a cost that can be cut. This is dangerous territory. One of the leading causes of miscarriages of justice is poor legal representation. In addition, if a defendant has NO, or very poor, legal representation, little can be done to challenge other defects in the criminal process and flawed evidence leading to wrongful convictions. In the UK, there are also major concerns that the lack of funding for lawyers will lead to many more legal professionals opting out of doing any criminal legal aid work, or doing so in such numbers (to make it worth their while financially) that they will merely be able to offer the most basic of services, with great temptation to get suspects to ‘plead’ early to avoid spending more time than necessary on making a defence. See some commentary on the cuts here…
The cuts are combined with measures such as ‘Best Value Tendering’, where legal firms must submit the lowest bid in order to secure rights to defend suspects – an immediate attack on quality. In response, the government is trying to introduce ‘QASA’ – Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates. The introduction of this scheme has already led to unprecedented action among the legal profession and seems set to incite strike action soon. There are also suggestions being made that volunteer legal advice centres – including those set up in law schools, can pick up the work. Putting an incredible burden on these resource-poor and inexperienced individuals.
Similar plans to cut legal aid are moving ahead across Australia too:
In the UK in particular, legal aid is being cut from certain individuals altogether, with prisoners no longer eligible. Proper legal representation is not a luxury. It will not be long before any economic benefits at all are wiped out by the increased costs of failed trials and wrongful convictions.
The documentary by Ken Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns about the wrongful convictions of ”The Central Park Five” received high praise today from what some might consider an unlikely source — conservative columnist George F. Will.
As a critic of the overreach of government, though, Will has expressed concern in the past about the abuse of power by police, prosecutors and the courts. And he says what happened to the five innocent young men in the media-fueled hysteria created in the aftermath of a horrific rape and assault of a young woman in 1989 is a cautionary tale of government excess that should give conservatives pause.
”A society’s justice system can improve as a result of lurches into officially administered injustice,” Will writes. ”The dialectic of injustice, then revulsion, then reform often requires the presentation of sympathetic victims to a large audience, which ‘The Central Park Five’ does.”
Will goes on to say that ”this recounting of a multifaceted but, fortunately, not fatal failure of the criminal justice system buttresses the conservative case against the death penalty: Its finality leaves no room for rectifying mistakes, but it is a government program, so . . .”
You can read Will’s eloquent column here.
With recent posts on this blog detailing further great news from Europe on developing Innocence Projects (see here… on France, see here… on Belgium, here… on Netherlands), it certainly feels like the ambition of those in the US to spread the word of innocence internationally is proving fruitful. South Australia is celebrating (finally) getting a body to investigate miscarriages of justice – the first in Australia. There have been notorious miscarriages of justice in that State, and many others waiting to see the light of day. They may now have a chance – let’s hope it’s not too long before the other States and Territories follow suit:
Meanwhile, just in the last few weeks I have read the following news items from around the world – perhaps the media is starting to get with the programme?
In China, authorities have apologised ‘deeply’ for wrongly convicting 2 men of rape and murder (including a death sentence that was commuted). They have ordered inquiries into the investigation and conviction of the men. DNA testing led to another man who was executed in 2005 for another killing. Read here:
There are hopes that the revelation of wrongful convictions – including the execution of innocence individuals – in China will lead to the cessation of the death penalty
In Israel, an interesting and detailed article looks at the re-opening of the notorious murder of a child at school (the Zadorov case). It re-caps on previous high-profile miscarriages of justice in Israel and their causes:
In New Zealand, calls are being made by political party leaders for a pardon in an infamous case where a 17 year old was questioned by police for five days without a lawyer. Teina Pora has spent 20 years in prison for murder – a murder where another man was convicted (on DNA evidence) of raping, but not killing, the victim. The case has always attracted accusations of racism in the treatment of Pora.
One can only hope that the spread of media interest in, and political motivation to tackle wrongful convictions, continues.
Following the successful launch in January of 2013 of the French Project Innocence based in Lyon, a new innocence organization is in the early stages of development in Belgium. In a lecture delivered at the University Libre in Brussels, Belgium, attorney Marie Bodart explained to students and faculty the need for an innocence organization in Brussels. While there is skepticism among some in the legal community regarding the need for post-conviction innocence work there due to the perceived differences between common law adversarial and inquisitorial legal systems, criminal defense attorneys recognize the need for an innocence organization given investigation and procedural error. Attorney and innocence project advocate, Ms. Bodart spent the fall of 2012 as a visiting attorney working in Flagstaff, Arizona with the Arizona Innocence Project at Northern Arizona University where she studied investigation and post-conviction litigation, as well as ways to facilitate the operation of an innocence organization. Here’s a link to an article (in French) about the Belgian initiative published in Le Vif:http://www.levif.be/info/actualite/international/innocence-project-une-initiative-pour-traquer-les-erreurs-judiciaires/article-4000273195452.htm
According to a report released today by the National Registry of Exonerations, for the first time, in 2012 police and prosecutors cooperated or assisted in more than half of the nation’s exonerations (criminal cases in which a person was wrongfully convicted and later cleared of all charges). Of 63 known exonerations last year, law enforcement initiated or cooperated in 54 percent (34 cases), which reflects a sharp increase in historic official support. The National Registry stressed this new record, among other significant emerging trends, in its official update for 2012. Continue reading
The Colorado judge presiding over the trial of accused mass-killer James Holmes raised a lot of eyebrows last week when he ordered Holmes to undergo polygraph testing and a “narcoanalytic interview” if he chooses to use an insanity defense. The results of those tests apparently could be used against Holmes if he is found to be sane and goes to trial.
The problems with polygraph testing are fairly well-known, but the use of a ”truth serum” in criminal cases has been equally troubling. Forensic psychologist Karen Franklin explains why in her Psychology Today blog here.
The case of Melvin Lee Reynolds, who became a suspect in the 1978 abduction, rape and murder of a 4-year-old boy in St. Joseph, Missouri, is a good example of how the use of a ”truth serum” can lead to a wrongful conviction. Reynolds strongly insisted on his innocence. Police eventually persuaded him to agree to be questioned after being injected with sodium amytal, a frequently used ”truth serum.” They then convinced Reynolds that a verbal slip he made during the interview was an admission of guilt, and he signed a confession. Reynolds quickly recanted, but the damage was done. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Two years later, another child disappeared from the same shopping mall where Reynolds allegedly had abducted his victim, and a drifter named Charles Hatcher was charged with the child’s abduction and murder. Hatcher not only confessed to that murder but also the murder of the child Reynolds was in prison for and several others. Hatcher’s confession was far more detailed and accurate than the statement Reynolds gave, and Reynolds was released from prison the day after Hatcher pleaded guilty to the crime in 1982.
Dressing up the long-discredited use of ”truth serum” in a fancy term like “narcoanalytic interview” doesn’t change the fact that it is a highly unreliable procedure that can lead to erroneous conclusions.
The Houston Chronicle reported yesterday (here) that in opening statements in the trial of Mark Alan Norwood, on trial for the 1986 bludgeoning death of Christine Morton, prosecutor Lisa Tanner told jurors that the state will present new evidence connecting Norwood to the crime. Tanner, representing the Texas Attorney General’s Office, said that a .45 Colt pistol that was missing from the Morton home after the murder was located by prosecutors. Norwood allegedly sold the gun, registered to Christine’s husband Michael Morton, to a man who had hired Norwood to work on a home remodeling project. Continue reading
Support for the death penalty in the United States has eroded greatly because of concerns that innocent people might be executed, political scientist Danny Hayes says in a Washington Post blog. You can read his analysis here.
Last Friday a federal jury awarded $13.2 million in compensation to David Ayers, who served 13 years of a life-without-parole prison sentence for a murder that DNA eventually proved he didn’t commit. This should certainly get the attention of Cleveland and Ohio taxpayers if the horror of an innocent person languishing in prison while the true murderer escapes justice is not troubling enough. It should also motivate voters to signal zero tolerance for official misconduct (a recurring contributor to wrongful convictions) and to require implementation of known best practices in criminal justice procedure.
Congratulations and best wishes to Cynthia May Chessman and Michael Morton, who were married Saturday at the First Baptist Church in Liberty City, Texas. The couple has asked that in lieu of wedding gifts, contributions be made to the Innocence Project, the non-profit legal clinic that assisted Morton’s lawyers in proving his innocence after he was wrongfully convicted in the murder of his wife, Christine. Continue reading
David Ayers was a security guard in the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority building where he lived. He was convicted and imprisoned for the brutal murder of a 76-year-old woman who lived in the building.
Detectives investigating the crime quickly focused in on David, because of a number of personal biases, and never looked anywhere else.
I have met David, and heard him speak. He is truly a “gentle” man. His lack of bitterness and deeply-felt desire to make sure this doesn’t happen again is characteristic of the kind of person he is.
See the Cleveland Plain Dealer story here.
Here’s an excellent story from Carol Biliczky of the Akron Beacon Journal. The story was published yesterday and updated today.
Former Akron police Capt. Douglas Prade has been called a cold-blooded murderer.
But to at least one student, he was “one of the darlings of the nursery.”
“Because of the evidence in his case, it never sat well with any of us that he committed the crime,” said Kyle Healey, a former law student at the University of Cincinnati and now a U.S. attorney in Tucson, Ariz.
Healey is part of a chain of UC students in the Ohio Innocence Project that helped to free Prade from prison last month.
It was the 16th time UC law students had done so since the inception of the university’s program in 2003 — a rare success, given that about 800 inmates apply for help each year.
The Ohio Innocence Project is among 64 affiliates worldwide whose work last year exonerated 22 people of the crimes for which they had been convicted.
“We are incredibly selective in the cases we take,” said Carrie Wood, an attorney with the Ohio Innocence Project. “Unless there’s evidence of innocence, we’re not going to file a motion.”
She said the Prade case is among the top two cases that have absorbed the Innocence Project’s time.
At UC, a new crop of 20 second-year law students join the Innocence Project each summer for a one-year stint.
They work in teams, inheriting the previous class’s cases and examining new ones in exchange for $2,500 in full-time work in the summer and four credits in each of the next two semesters.
At any given time, the students are culling applications, interviewing prisoners and witnesses, and strategizing on 300 cases, program director Mark Godsey said.
Potential cases must have new evidence or the possibility of DNA testing.
Even among cases that are pursued, “We’re not thinking all those people are innocent,” Godsey said.
In fact, innocence is rare: The Ohio Innocence Project has gone to court only 24 times on behalf of an inmate.
That includes the students’ first big victory, the Summit County case of Clarence Elkins, who was convicted in 1999 of the rape and murder of his mother-in-law and the beating and rape of his 6-year-old niece. He was freed in 2005.
The three years of work on Elkins’ case paled in comparison to that of the effort for Prade, 66. His case was a staple in the students’ workload for a decade.
Many students on case
Prade’s was one of the first cases students tackled in the program’s inaugural year. By the time he walked out of the Madison Correctional Institution last month, 21 students had worked on his behalf.
Eva Hager Whitehead of Cincinnati remembers going to Akron to visit the crime scene — the parking lot where Dr. Margo Prade was shot six times as she sat in her minivan near her medical office.
Whitehead recalls asking the UC physics department to come up with a way to compute the height of a shadowy figure depicted in a video that a car dealership’s security camera next to the parking lot had captured.
Erik Laursen, a 2005 UC graduate now in private practice in Cincinnati, remembers poring over news accounts, court transcripts and attorney files.
After meeting with Prade for the first time, “I walked out of the prison after spending a better part of an afternoon not believing him, but believing him enough that I really wanted to commit myself,” Laursen said.
Prade similarly impressed other students.
“After I got to know him, I thought, ‘This is worth it. There’s something here,’ ” said Whitehead, who graduated from UC in 2005 and now works as an assistant public advocate in Kentucky.
“Doug has such a presence about him,” said Ryan McGraw, a 2012 UC graduate and attorney in Mason, north of Cincinnati. “He was very composed. He never wanted to get overly excited.”
Bite marks are key
The students’ prospect of success was tied to the evidence that helped to convict Prade in the first place in 1998: bite marks by the killer that left an impression on Margo Prade’s lab coat.
The marks set off “alarms” among student lawyers, who are taught that bite mark evidence falls under the category of junk science.
“Often times,” said Godsey, “it ends up that the person’s innocent.”
Students invested eight years battling the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office to get DNA testing of the bite on the lab coat. The delay infuriated Godsey, especially because the Innocence Project offered to pay for the testing years ago.
“We’ve had plenty of cases where it comes back guilty, and that’s great. That means the system got it right,” he said.
In 2008, the Innocence Project called in the Jones Day law firm in Cleveland, which provided free assistance. Jones Day attorneys Lisa Gates and Dave Alden each estimate they spent 400 hours on the Prade case in 2012 alone, Wood, the Innocence Project attorney, said.
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that the lab coat should be retested using newer methods.
In ordering Prade’s release last month, Summit County Judge Judy Hunter wrote that, “the defendant has been conclusively excluded as the contributor of the male DNA on the bite mark section of the lab coat.”
Summit County is appealing the decision to the 9th District Court of Appeals.
Laursen remembers that he was sitting at his private law practice when he heard the news that Prade had been released.
“I believed the DNA would come back in his favor, and when it did, I was elated,” he said.
Healey called it “a breath of fresh air.”
“I was assuming that if the judge exonerated him, he would stay in prison until a new trial,” Healey said.
Prade visited the law school earlier this month to meet with students and alumni who had worked on his case. He could not be reached for comment for this story.
“It was a nice moment to say hi to Doug again,” Wood said. “He touched all of their lives in some way.”
Two students gave Wood letters to give to Prade, because they couldn’t be there in person.
Working on his case, and others, gave them a first-person taste of being an attorney early in their law school education.
McGraw said the work gave him the chance to interact directly with clients, “a skill that is difficult to develop in law school.”
He said he learned not to get emotionally attached to clients — and he succeeded with two exceptions: David Ayers, convicted of murdering a Cleveland woman and freed from prison with his help in 2011, and Douglas Prade.
So important was Ayers to McGraw that he has a picture of the freed inmate on his office desk at Kircher, Arnold and Dame in Mason.
He aims to get one of Prade, too.
“I felt so strongly they were innocent,” he said. “It’ll be something that stays with me forever.”
Carol Biliczky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3729.