Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • State of Mississippi to make pay outs in more than a dozen wrongful conviction cases
  • Pennsylvania Innocence Project wins new trial for woman convicted 42 years ago on flawed arson science
  • Charges dropped against California Innocence Project client Michael Hanline, who is the longest serving wrongfully convicted Californian
  • Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson honored for courage by DOJ
  • Well-done video from British TV about Ohio Innocence Project’s recent new trial wins for Wheatt, Glover and Johnson based on flawed gun-shot residue evidence and Brady violations
  • New Yorker article on compensation for the wrongfully convicted
  • Exoneree Martin Tankleff mulls run for Congress

The Innocent Citizen’s Justice System Survival Guide

“Ours is a world in which justice is accidental, and innocence no protection.”     Euripedes, 400 B.C.

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I come from a legal family, so even though I did not go into law, I’ve had a closeup view of the justice system my entire life, which is, I think, one of the reasons I decided to devote my post-corporate life to innocence work. I saw too many things happening that were not congruent with my view of what a fair and just system should, and must, be. For the past seven years, I’ve been deeply involved in innocence work, and have become knowledgeable about the details of many, many cases (100’s) of wrongful conviction and wrongful imprisonment. Consequently, I’ve seen many ways in which actually innocent people become tragic victims of what we call “justice.” There are just so many ways the justice system can get it wrong. This has caused me to think about what it is that an innocent person can (and should) do when accusatorially confronted by this thing we call the justice system. [You might want to also read my previous post Why I Think the US Justice System is Broken, and Why It’s Not Getting Fixed.]

If you think being wrongfully charged, indicted, convicted, and imprisoned can’t happen to you, think again. It can happen to anybody. Just ask Debra Milke. The ways this can happen are countless, and despite the system’s best efforts, there are just too many ways the system can possibly get it wrong. I could give you lots of examples, but we won’t try to detail them here – just take a look at the National Registry of Exonerations, and keep in mind these are only the ones that have been so far successfully overturned within the system – there are magnitudes more. This article will try to give you some “suggestions” for what you might do if you find you’re being wrongfully suspected or charged with a crime. For those of you who have had no close interaction with the justice system, you might well think that I’m being radical and that I must come from somewhere in outer space … and you can think that right up until you get scooped into the meat grinder. Let me me just say, “Forewarned is forearmed.”

This article will be in six sections:

I.  Have a Lawyer You Can Call

II. Don’t Talk to the Police

III. The Plea Bargain

IV. Be Ready for Trial

V. Shaken Baby/Child Abuse (Abusive Head Trauma)  [This requires special attention and treatment.]

VI. If You Are Wrongfully Convicted

DISCLAIMER: I am not an attorney, and so cannot give you legal advice. These suggestions are only my personal opinion, and are solely the result of my exposure to the justice system and wrongful convictions over a period of years. They come with no guarantee. Every situation is unique, and you must always exercise your own judgment given the circumstances. They are just intended to get you thinking about how you would handle the situation of being wrongfully accused, and to give you some information about how the system works. I am certain that they cannot cover every possible situation, but hopefully, they will provide an overall, general guide for how you might deal with this. 

Continue reading

FBI Admits Flaws in Hair Forensics

From the Washington Post:

The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.

Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country’s largest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence.

The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison, the groups said under an agreement with the government to release results after the review of the first 200 convictions.

The FBI errors alone do not mean there was not other evidence of a convict’s guilt. Defendants and federal and state prosecutors in 46 states and the District are being notified to determine whether there are grounds for appeals. Four defendants were previously exonerated.

The admissions mark a watershed in one of the country’s largest forensic scandals, highlighting the failure of the nation’s courts for decades to keep bogus scientific information from juries, legal analysts said. The question now, they said, is how state authorities and the courts will respond to findings that confirm long-suspected problems with subjective, pattern-based forensic techniques — like hair and bite-mark comparisons — that have contributed to wrongful convictions in more than one-quarter of 329 DNA-exoneration cases since 1989.

In a statement, the FBI and Justice Department vowed to continue to devote resources to address all cases and said they “are committed to ensuring that affected defendants are notified of past errors and that justice is done in every instance. The Department and the FBI are also committed to ensuring the accuracy of future hair analysis testimony, as well as the application of all disciplines of forensic science.”

Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, commended the FBI and department for the collaboration but said, “The FBI’s three-decade use of microscopic hair analysis to incriminate defendants was a complete disaster.”

“We need an exhaustive investigation that looks at how the FBI, state governments that relied on examiners trained by the FBI and the courts allowed this to happen and why it wasn’t stopped much sooner,” Neufeld said.

Norman L. Reimer, the NACDL’s executive director, said, “Hopefully, this project establishes a precedent so that in future situations it will not take years to remediate the injustice.”

While unnamed federal officials previously acknowledged widespread problems, the FBI until now has withheld comment because findings might not be representative.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a former prosecutor, called on the FBI and Justice Department to notify defendants in all 2,500 targeted cases involving an FBI hair match about the problem even if their case has not been completed, and to redouble efforts in the three-year-old review to retrieve information on each case.

“These findings are appalling and chilling in their indictment of our criminal justice system, not only for potentially innocent defendants who have been wrongly imprisoned and even executed, but for prosecutors who have relied on fabricated and false evidence despite their intentions to faithfully enforce the law,” Blumenthal said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), urged the bureau to conduct “a root-cause analysis” to prevent future breakdowns.

“It is critical that the Bureau identify and address the systemic factors that allowed this far-reaching problem to occur and continue for more than a decade,” the lawmakers wrote FBI Director James B. Comey on March 27, as findings were being finalized.

The FBI is waiting to complete all reviews to assess causes but has acknowledged that hair examiners until 2012 lacked written standards defining scientifically appropriate and erroneous ways to explain results in court. The bureau expects this year to complete similar standards for testimony and lab reports for 19 forensic disciplines.

Federal authorities launched the investigation in 2012 after The Washington Post reported that flawed forensic hair matches might have led to the convictions of hundreds of potentially innocent people since at least the 1970s, typically for murder, rape and other violent crimes nationwide.

The review confirmed that FBI experts systematically testified to the near-certainty of “matches” of crime-scene hairs to defendants, backing their claims by citing incomplete or misleading statistics drawn from their case work.

In reality, there is no accepted research on how often hair from different people may appear the same. Since 2000, the lab has used visual hair comparison to rule out someone as a possible source of hair or in combination with more accurate DNA testing.

Warnings about the problem have been mounting. In 2002, the FBI reported that its own DNA testing found that examiners reported false hair matches more than 11 percent of the time. In the District, the only jurisdiction where defenders and prosecutors have re-investigated all FBI hair convictions, three of seven defendants whose trials included flawed FBI testimony have been exonerated through DNA testing since 2009, and courts have exonerated two more men. All five served 20 to 30 years in prison for rape or murder.

University of Virginia law professor Brandon L. Garrett said the results reveal a “mass disaster” inside the criminal justice system, one that it has been unable to self-correct because courts rely on outdated precedents admitting scientifically invalid testimony at trial and, under the legal doctrine of finality, make it difficult for convicts to challenge old evidence.

“The tools don’t exist to handle systematic errors in our criminal justice system,” Garrett said. “The FBI deserves every recognition for doing something really remarkable here. The problem is there may be few judges, prosecutors or defense lawyers who are able or willing to do anything about it.”

Federal authorities are offering new DNA testing in cases with errors, if sought by a judge or prosecutor, and agreeing to drop procedural objections to appeals in federal cases.

However, biological evidence in the cases often is lost or unavailable. Among states, only California and Texas specifically allow appeals when experts recant or scientific advances undermine forensic evidence at trial.

Defense attorneys say scientifically invalid forensic testimony should be considered as violations of due process, as courts have held with false or misleading testimony.

The FBI searched more than 21,000 federal and state requests to its hair comparison unit from 1972 through 1999, identifying for review roughly 2,500 cases where examiners declared hair matches.

Reviews of 342 defendants’ convictions were completed as of early March, the NACDL and Innocence Project reported. In addition to the 268 trials in which FBI hair evidence was used against defendants, the review found cases in which defendants pleaded guilty, FBI examiners did not testify, did not assert a match or gave exculpatory testimony.

When such cases are included, by the FBI’s count examiners made statements exceeding the limits of science in about 90 percent of testimonies, including 34 death-penalty cases.

The findings likely scratch the surface. The FBI said as of mid-April that reviews of about 350 trial testimonies and 900 lab reports are nearly complete, with about 1,200 cases remaining.

The bureau said it is difficult to check cases before 1985, when files were computerized. It has been unable to review 700 cases because police or prosecutors did not respond to requests for information.

Also, the same FBI examiners whose work is under review taught 500 to 1,000 state and local crime lab analysts to testify in the same ways.

Texas, New York and North Carolina authorities are reviewing their hair examiner cases, with ad hoc efforts underway in about 15 other states.

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • A prosecutor in Virgnia says the right things and appears to “get it”
  • Great editorial on eyewitness ID reform in Missouri by Rebecca Brown
  • In Ohio, Ricky Jackson and five other death row exonerees speak at State House against capital punishment

Center for Prosecutor Integrity – Innocence Summit – June 12, 13

This from Ed Bartlett, Director of the Center for Prosecutor Integrity:

I’m pleased to report that we have now finalized the program for the 2015 Innocence Summit, to be held June 12-13 at the National Airport — Crowne Plaza in Arlington, Virginia. The Summit will feature an All-Star line-up of forward-thinking prosecutors, Innocence Network leaders, civil rights advocates, researchers, journalists, and others. These are some of the highlights:

  • On June 12, the Summit will lead off with a panel of four prosecutors who have challenged conventional wisdom and forged new models of prosecutorial practice.
  • The Friday evening banquet speaker will be former United States Attorney Joseph diGenova, a man who never hesitates to speak his mind!

On Saturday, I’m personally looking forward to Mara Leveritt’s presentation, “Death Threats and More: A Reporter Shares True-Life Experiences Investigating Criminal Justice Abuses.”

And I haven’t said anything about the impressive range of workshops…and networking opportunities….and more.

Check it out: http://www.prosecutorintegrity.org/summit/  Looking forward to seeing you June 12-13!

See the Summit schedule here.

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Is Shaken Baby Syndrome the New Satanic Panic?

LA Weekly has just published an article titled ‘Is Shaken Baby Syndrome the New Satanic Panic?‘ The article highlights many frightening parallels between today’s SBS prosecutions and those of so-called satanic ritual child abusers in the 1980’s.

The article also features information from the recent documentary film by Susan Goldsmith ‘The Syndrome.’

Having closely followed the satanic ritual abuse panic of the 80’s, I found reading this story to be downright creepy. If you follow the SBS situation at all, this is a must read.

See the LA Weekly story here.

Hannah Overton Capital Murder Case Dismissed

See our previous post on the Hannah Overton case here.

Hannah Overton was convicted for murdering her 4-year-old stepson by salt poisoning. Given the evidence that the prosecutor had early on, and did not disclose to the defense, Overton never should have been charged in the first place. This was a “crime” that never happened.

See the KRIS TV (Corpus Christi, TX) story here.

Thanks to Camille Tilley for passing this story along.

Interview With Debra Milke’s Attorney

Here is a 25 minute interview with Debra Milke’s attorney.

It is fascinating and riveting.

And keep in mind, while you watch this, that our justice system did this.

See our previous post on the Milke case here.

And thank you to Camille Tilley for posting this in the comments. I felt it deserved ‘headline’ status.

 

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • A former Death Row inmate who was wrongfully convicted of a double murder after a Chicago cop withheld or fabricated evidence against him, then was left fuming when a federal jury awarded him just $80,000 in damages, is getting another chance to win the $18 million he says he deserves. Former El Rukn gang member Nathson Fields was last year denied a fair trial of his lawsuit against the City of Chicago, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly ruled late Monday.Authorities hid a “bonanza” deal that allowed a key witness for the city to get out of prison early after he testified against Fields last year, Kennelly ruled in ordering a new trial.  Keep reading….
  • Exonerees are failed twice by the criminal justice system
  • Ohio wrongfully convicted Danny Brown, then it really screwed him
  • Virginia prosecutor:  Innocence man faces life behind bars unless Governor pardons him

Higher Courts Let Prosecutors Get Away With Murder

Mara Leveritt is an Arkansas journalist and author with whom you may already be familiar. She wrote the book Devil’s Knot that chronicles the story of the West Memphis Three, and which was subsequently made into a critically acclaimed movie.

She has recently written an article for the Daily Beast outlining her personal attempts to get the Arkansas Supreme Court to take some kind of action against a prosecutor who convicted, and sentenced to death, an innocent person by withholding evidence from the defense. Her efforts have so far been in vain.

See Mara Leveritt’s article here.

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Death Row Inmate Anthony Ray Hinton Freed after 30 Years in Alabama Prison

Yesterday, April 3, 2015, Anthony Ray Hinton, 58, emerged from a Jefferson County Jail (AL) after serving thirty years on death row for crimes he didn’t commit. Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) Executive Director Bryan Stevenson, author of the national bestseller “Just Mercy – A Story of Justice and Redemption,” had represented Hinton for the past 16 years.

One could make a strong argument that Hinton should never have been indicted for two 1985 murders at Alabama fast-food restaurants. The evidence presented against Hinton, who had no history of violent crime and who always proclaimed his innocence, was scanty. Perhaps even worse, when authorities — prosecutors Continue reading

Amanda Knox Devotes Herself to the Cause of Wrongful Convictions

After her 7 1/2 year nightmare of being wrongfully convicted, and finally being declared innocent, Amanda Knox has announced she will dedicate her efforts to giving a voice to those who have been wrongfully convicted.

See the Seattle Times story here.

 

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Irish Innocence Project Confirms Pardon

From the Irish Times:

Almost 75 years after Harry Gleeson was hanged for murder, Minister Frances Fitzgerald has officially announced the Government’s decision to grant a posthumous pardon.

The Government has determined the conviction was unsafe and will advise the President to exercise his right of pardon under Article 13.6 of the Constitution.

In February 1941, Mr Gleeson was convicted of murdering mother of seven Mary McCarthy, who died of gunshot wounds to the face.

He had found her body lying in a field on his uncle’s farm in New Inn, Co Tipperary the year before.

He was sentenced to death and was executed in Mountjoy Prison in April 1941.

The Attorney General directed an independent review of the case after a submission from the Irish Innocence Project and the Justice for Harry Gleeson Group.

Barrister Shane Murphy SC, who reviewed the case, concluded there were deficiencies in the conviction rendering it unsafe. In his opinion, the conviction was based on unconvincing circumstantial evidence.

“The Government deeply regrets that a man was convicted and executed in circumstances now found to be unsafe. All that can be done now by way of remedy is to clear his name of the conviction, which this pardon will do, in the hope that this will be a proper tribute to his memory,” said a statement from the Department of Justice.

“Equally the Government regrets that this decision leaves unresolved the brutal murder of Ms Mary McCarthy, whose children were deprived of their mother in terrible circumstances.”

The Government expressed sympathy with both families.

“They’ve waited a long time,” said David Langwallner, director of the Irish Innocence Project, an organisation that provides free legal services to people wrongfully convicted of crimes.

The project submitted its case for a posthumous pardon, which included new evidence, to the Department of Justice in 2013.

Langwallner said the pardon is conclusive acknowledgement that, not only was the evidence insufficient, but that Mr Gleeson was innocent.

Grand-nephew Kevin Gleeson said it was an emotional day for his family.

“It’s great to see that, once and for all, the good name of Harry Gleeson has finally been restored. His innocence is no longer an issue and can never be questioned again.

“It’s been a burden and a shadow over our family for the last 74 years. The announcement today goes somewhat to remove that burden and shadow off us.”

Bernadette Gorman, whose father Billy lived and worked with Mr Gleeson, said of the trial: “[My father] was a crucial witness, and he was silenced … He never really got over it.”

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Ohio Innocence Project Nets Another Triple Win; Defendants to Be Freed After 18 Years in Prison

From University of Cincinnati press release:

UPDATE:  All 3 inmates were released the same day as this press release

Legal advocacy from the Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati has helped set three men wrongfully imprisoned for murder on the path to freedom.
Date: 3/26/2015 11:00:00 AM
By: Sherry English
Phone: (513) 556-0060

Photos By: Ohio Innocence Project and Mark Bealer

UC ingot   CINCINNATI — Today three men are one step closer to freedom after being wrongly incarcerated for 18 years. Derrick Wheatt, Laurese Glover and Eugene Johnson had their convictions for the 1995 murder of Clifton Hudson Jr. thrown out after nearly a decade of legal advocacy from the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP).

Derrick Wheatt in court
Derrick Wheatt, shown here, Laurese Glover and Eugene Johnson had their convictions thrown out with help from the Ohio Innocence Project at UC. (Mark Bealer photo)

Judge Nancy Margaret Russo, Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, threw out the conviction, granted a new trial and set bond. The OIP expects bond to be met today, which will result in their clients’ immediate release.

Their impending freedom comes after a key eyewitness recanted her testimony and the revelation that information from police reports that cast doubt on the defendants’ guilt had not been disclosed to the trial team years earlier. Today’s win marks the second triple exoneration for the Ohio Innocence Project, which operates out of the University of Cincinnati’s Rosenthal Institute for Justice in the College of Law. When the trio are released, the OIP will have freed 23 people on grounds of innocence, who together served more than 500 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

“We’re excited about today’s event, but even more excited for our clients,” said Mark Godsey, the Daniel P. and Judith L. Carmichael Professor of Law and Director, Lois and Richard Rosenthal Institute for Justice/Ohio Innocence Project. “They have been fighting to prove their innocence for nearly 20 years. They had tried for exoneration twice before, and had come close in the past. OIP has worked on the case since 2006, and are happy to be with them as they finally taste their long-sought freedom.”

The OIP represented defendants Wheatt and Glover; Johnson was represented by attorneys Brett Murner and Jim Valentine. Additionally, co-counsel on this case was Carmen Naso, Senior Instructor of Law, and the law students at the Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic, Case Western Reserve School of Law in Cleveland, Ohio. The OIP at UC and Kramer Law Clinic partnered on this case and plan to work together on additional cases in the future.

“UC donors who contributed to the UC OIP’s tremendous success provided case workers with the funds needed to facilitate their pursuit of justice,” said UC Foundation President Rodney M. Grabowski. “Since its founding in 2003, more than 600 donors have contributed more than $5.3 million toward the OIP’s efforts. We are forever grateful for their generosity.”

supporters of longtime inmates gather in the courtroom
Supporters of Derrick Wheatt, Laurese Glover and Eugene Johnson gather in the courtroom after the news came that the trio’s convictions have been thrown out.

A Murder Many Years Ago
On Feb. 10, 1995, in East Cleveland, Ohio, 19-year-old Clifton Hudson Jr. was found murdered, shot multiple times. At the time, witnesses reported seeing a person wearing dark clothing and a dark hat at the scene. Three juveniles — Wheatt, Glover and Johnson — happened to be near the scene. But, they emphasized, when the shooting started, they sped off. All three later provided the police with descriptions of the shooter that matched the basic descriptions given by other witnesses. But in a twist of events, they were charged with the crime.

A year later in 1996, the three were convicted of Hudson’s murder, based on their presence at the scene and identification by Tamika Harris, then a 14-year-old. Harris originally reported to police that she saw the shooter get in and out of the defendants’ truck; but, she insisted, she never saw the shooter’s face. It was this tip, though, that led to the group’s initial arrest.

At the trial, Harris changed her story, admitting that she never saw the shooter actually get in or out of the truck. She testified, however, that she could positively identify Eugene Johnson as the shooter. Additionally, the prosecution found what it alleged to be gunshot residue on Wheatt and Johnson. They offered to completely drop charges against Glover if he testified against his friends and also offered Wheatt probation for his testimony. Both refused and continued to assert their innocence. Unfortunately, they were convicted; Wheatt and Johnson were sentenced to 18 years to life in prison; Glover was sentenced to 15 years to life.

Finding Grounds for a New Trial
Through the years the three men continued to maintain their innocence. Then in 2004, Johnson’s attorneys, Murner and Valentine, filed a motion for a new trial on the grounds that Harris had recanted her testimony. Now an adult and in nursing school, she admitted she could not see the shooter’s face from where she stood and that she never saw anyone get in or out of the truck.

three defendants enter the court room
From left, Eugene Johnson, Derrick Wheatt and Laurese Glover enter the courtroom at the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas in Cleveland. (Mark Bealer photo)

She relayed that when she went to the police station years earlier, the officers told her they had found the people responsible, showed her photos of the three defendants, and asked which of the three was the shooter. Harris said she picked the one whose jacket was closest to the one she saw: Johnson’s. Though the trial court granted a new trial on this basis, it was overturned on appeal, in part because of the alleged gunshot residue evidence.

Two years later in 2006, the OIP accepted the case. Attorneys and fellows spent hundreds of hours reviewing evidence, interviewing potential witnesses and filing motions. In fact, Brian Howe, now the attorney of record, previously worked on this case as an OIP fellow.

In 2009, OIP attorney David Laing filed another new trial motion based on advancements in knowledge about gunshot residue. Specifically, the type of testing used in 1995 is known to be particularly prone to false positives from other items, and is no longer used by the FBI.  Further, recent studies showed the high likelihood of gunshot residue contamination from police sources, especially when the tests are not performed on scene or immediately upon arrest. This motion, however, was denied.

Late in 2013 a break in the case came when the OIP received the police reports. The reports included information that was not raised at the original trial, including the existence of two witnesses who confirmed that the shooter came from a nearby post office lot, not the defendants’ truck.  One of those witnesses even claimed he recognized the shooter as a sibling of one of his classmates. The reports also showed that unknown people in a different car had shot at the victim’s brother just days before the crime, and that someone had threatened the victim himself the day before the murder. There was no known connection between any of those threats and the defendants.

The OIP, on behalf of the defendants, filed another new trial motion on the basis that this information was never disclosed to the defense. A hearing on the motion was held on Jan. 29, 2015, led by OIP attorney Brian Howe and the Kramer Clinic’s Carmen Naso. “The evidence at the hearing was overwhelming,” said Howe. “None of these men should have ever been convicted.”

three defendants and their defense team in court
The Ohio Innocence Project has worked for nearly a decade to show that Eugene Johnson, Derrick Wheatt and Laurese Glover were wrongfully convicted. (Mark Bealer photo)

A Day Worth Waiting For
“This has been a long day coming for Mr. Johnson, Mr. Wheatt and Mr. Glover,” said Howe. “I know it must be an incredible feeling. It is particularly important and gratifying for me because I worked on the gunshot residue motions as an OIP fellow. It’s incredible to see all of our hard work come to fruition.”

Special thanks to the many individuals who spent hundreds of hours working on this case over the years. The list includes attorneys: Brian Howe, David Laing, and Carrie Wood; and student fellows: Shabnam Allen, Nicole Billec, Amanda Bleiler, Scott Brenner, Chris Brinkman, Chris Brown, Eric Gooding, John Hill, Matt Katz, Eric Kmetz, Amanda Rieger, Bryant Strayer, Queenie Takougang, and Brandon Brown, Amanda Sanders and Shaun McPherron, who spent significant time in East Cleveland last summer canvassing the neighborhood speaking to witnesses.

Breaking News: Amanda Knox Exonerated!!!!!!

Story here