It has been a remarkable week for Innocence work, and this is only Wednesday.
Yesterday, November 18, Ricky Jackson’s murder conviction was vacated in Ohio after Jackson had spent 39 years in prison. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty acknowledged the case against Jackson had disintegrated when the key witness, who was 12 years old at the time of the crime, recanted. The district attorney does not expect to retry Jackson, 57, who broke into sobs as it became clear that the charges against him were being dropped. He is expected to walk free on Friday.
Ohio Innocence Project lawyers Brian Howe, Carrie Wood, and Mark Godsey represented Jackson, of Cleveland. Attorneys Terry Gilbert and David Mills, who represent Wiley and Ronnie Bridgeman, brothers convicted with Jackson on the same evidence, have sought new trials for the brothers and are expected to now ask McGinty to drop the charges against them.
Also this week, after serving 36 years in prison, Michael Hanline, 69, had his conviction of the 1978 murder of J.T. McGarry overturned in California after new DNA testing of crime scene evidence excluded Hanline. Evidence withheld from the defense also undermined the integrity of his conviction. The Ventura County District Attorney’s Office joined the California Innocence Project’s petition to reverse the conviction.
A hearing before Judge Donald Coleman of the Ventura County Superior Court on Nov. 24 is expected to result in Hanline’s release. While the district attorney signed on to the petition to reverse the conviction, the office has indicated that it will reinvestigate before deciding whether to retry him.
If released as expected, Hanline will be the first of twelve inmates dubbed the “California 12” to be freed. The twelve cases were selected for innocence clemency petitions that were presented to Governor Brown a year and a half ago after a 700+ mile Innocence March by lawyers from the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law.
Justin Brooks, Director of the California Innocence Project, which has worked on the Hanline case since 1999, announced the vacation of Hanline’s conviction, with a revision in the Innocence team’s rallying cry, now, “Free the California 11!”
Congratulations and many thanks to both Innocence Projects and all who worked with them to achieve court-ordered vacations of murder convictions in cases that are thought to have set new state records in length of wrongful incarceration.
In both cases, district attorneys joined Innocence lawyers in acknowledging a miscarriage of justice, and judges utilized their discretion in decisions to vacate convictions. Both cases are heartbreaking and frightening reminders that there is still much work to do to correct past miscarriages of justice, enact best practices in criminal justice process, and elevate the commitment to truth-seeking to prevent wrongful conviction and ensure the integrity of convictions in the first place.