These Are the Wrongful Conviction Cases That Haunt Me

I’ve been doing “innocence work” for seven years now.  So …. just what is it that I do? I am Science & Technology Advisor to the Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati College of Law and to the Duke Law Wrongful Convictions Clinic at Duke University. This means I advise on cases that include factors involving science and/or technology – usually forensics. I will also advise any innocence organization or agent that requests my input, and I do this pro bono. I do some other stuff too, like write for this blog, but those are the roles in which I get involved in case work.

During this seven year period, I’ve had personal involvement – meaning I’ve actually done work – in 63 cases in eight states and two foreign countries; and have had exposure to the details of probably 100 more cases on top of that. I’ve been privileged to be a small piece of the puzzle in five exonerations; and, in four cases, my work has contributed to confirming that the defendant was actually guilty. We consider confirming guilt to be a good outcome, because it means that justice has been properly served. We’re not trying to get everybody out of prison – only the people who are actually innocent.

We relish talking about the successes, the exonerations, but nobody ever hears about the failures. I count a failed case as one in which, based upon careful and intensive study of all the facts, testimony and evidence, we (I) are absolutely confident that the defendant is actually innocent; but our efforts to exonerate have not succeeded, and there’s really nothing more we can do. Sadly, the failures occur much, much more frequently than the successes. There are no good data for this, but in my experience, an exoneration takes years of time (average about 7), thousands of hours of total effort by a great many people, and, in some cases, thousands of dollars. And the failures can take just as much as the successes, if not more.

Most of the cases I’ve worked remain “open,” at least technically, but there are some for which we have seemingly come to the end of the legal road, and there’s little, if anything, that can still be done. There are five of these cases, in particular, that keep me awake at night, because I get so outraged and frustrated by the injustice. I thought I would share them with you, so you might get some idea of what the people doing innocence work have to deal with on a daily basis. Since these cases are unresolved, I will not reveal any names, dates, or places, and will provide only sketchy details of the incidents involved, but you’ll get the idea.

The case of Mr. A.

I started on this case in 2011. Mr. A was convicted of the armed robbery of a retail establishment. Mr. A was (wrongly) identified as the perpetrator by the store clerk. However, post-conviction photogrammetric analysis of still frames from the store’s surveillance camera proved unquestionably that Mr. A could not possibly have been the robber. As an outcome of a motion for new trial, which was denied, the photographic evidence was ruled inadmissible as having been discoverable at time of trial. This ruling was subsequently upheld on appeal. A classic case of placing legal process above justice. Mr. A is still in prison.

The case of Miss B.

I started on this case in 2010. Miss B was convicted of seriously injuring a 2-year-old girl she was babysitting, along with her 2-year-older brother. We have firm belief that the injuries were actually inflicted by someone else. During the trial, the prosecutor played fast and loose with the facts, and defense counsel was unquestionably ineffective. In my opinion, a classic case of bad defense lawyering. Miss B is still in prison.

The case of Mr. C.

I started on this case in 2010.  Mr. C was convicted of murdering his infant daughter by abusive head trauma. Mr. C was alone with the baby when she had the medical event that led to her death, consequently, he was charged and convicted with the crime. This is the standard pattern in SBS (Shaken Baby Syndrome) cases – the last one alone with the child is guilty – automatically.  The autopsy showed that the baby had a skull fracture, which was attributed to abusive head trauma by the medical examiner. Despite the fact that three internationally recognized medical experts testified that the skull fracture was the consequence of a 33-hour forced labor, Mr. C was still convicted by the jury. A photograph of the baby, still in the hospital after delivery, showed a large bump and bruise on her head in the exact location of the fracture. However, the photograph was not discovered until after Mr. C had been convicted, and it was ruled inadmissible. Another example of holding legal process above justice. Mr. C is still in prison.

The case of Mr. D.

I started on this case in 2011. Mr. D was convicted of the brutal murder of a woman by beating and slashing. There was no physical evidence linking Mr. D to the crime, and he was convicted based solely upon the testimony of an “eyewitness” who had been incentivized with thousands of dollars, and who was a proven pathological liar. Mr. D actually had witnesses and documentation proving that he was in another location, 500 miles away, at the time of the murder. This is a typical example of false eyewitness testimony trumping a rock solid alibi. Throughout the entire post-conviction legal process, the courts have chosen to believe the original testimony of the eyewitness. Mr. D is still in prison.

The case of Mr. E.

I started on this case in 2011. Mr. E was convicted of shooting and killing a man during a supposed drug deal gone bad. Mr. E was convicted based largely upon the testimony of an “eyewitness” who was a young female school dropout who occasionally helped drug pushers, and had severe emotional issues. Her testimony was incentivized by a reward, and she had not come forward until weeks after the shooting. A careful situational, temporal, and locational analysis of her trial testimony shows that her testimony was loaded with contradictions and inconsistencies. Regardless, the jury convicted Mr. E. That witness is now an adult, and has cogently recanted her testimony, saying, in fact, she wasn’t even there, and made the whole thing up. The courts have refused to accept the recantation, and Mr. E is still in prison.

_______________________________________________________

There they are. I know it’s difficult to understand completely how troubling these are when you don’t have all the facts, but these are the cases, so far, that cause me the most personal grief. When you get into working on wrongful conviction cases, and really get into them, you find that you become personally invested, and identify with the wrongfully convicted defendant; plus, I’m an empath. Are there more?  Of course, and as time goes on, I’m sure there will be still more. And I hope this gives you at least a little insight into the frustrations and stone walls that people doing this kind of work face every day. They have my undying admiration and respect.

As the situation currently stands, there are many, many people who have livelihoods and careers founded upon the flaws in the justice system, and they would be the last to tell you that things need to change. Changing and fixing those flaws and mindsets will take much time and effort, but change them we must. There are times when the frustration and outrage I feel approach my tolerance limits, and I actually give thought to giving this up — but I can’t. There are egregious wrongs that need to be righted, and I can’t let that go. All we can do is keep up the good fight.

 

 

 

17 responses to “These Are the Wrongful Conviction Cases That Haunt Me

  1. The good fight, indeed. It is a long and tiresome road, fraught with ….mud puddles, jagged rags, and on and on….Jodi Arias…..truly guilty or innocent of anything at all…..needs help….I’ve been trying to help for over two years…..along with a special few others. False memory, incredible corruption, and hated by the entire world as is anyone who supports her in the least….please take a look at my blog and feel free to pass on to anyone….or write to me. Thank you. BTW, I’m not a lawyer, or doctor….just a blogger/human. She needs more brave souls…..

  2. Polygraph tests have a 100% accuracy rate when done properly. Google “The FBI uses polygraphs to eliminate suspects”

    • morrisonbonpasse2024

      David,
      Thanks for your support of the polygraph in the struggle to exonerate the wrongly convicted. In my series of papers, now entitled, “Polygraphs and 250 Wrongful Conviction Exonerations,” I found that polygraphs were accurate 80%+ of the time, and that was without controlling for the quality of the exam or the examiner. See the articles at this page: http://www.bonpasseexonerationservices.com/about.html
      Morrison Bonpasse
      Candidate for the Democratic Nomination for President, 2016 (with the first the three primary issues being the STOPPING and correcting of wrongful convictions.)

  3. Phil,
    Thanks very much for your humane portrayal of the work and frustrations of working in the trenches of the wrongly convicted landscape. It’s a helpful service to let the world know of the vast amount of work that it takes to exonerate a person, and that in too many cases the outcomes are very unsatisfactory. I’ve been working for 12 years for Mr. D, 9 years for Mr. T, and 5 years for Mr. E, and they are still in prison for crimes they did not commit. Someday, they will all be exonerated, but each is an ongoing tragedy until that moment arrives.
    Morrison

  4. Reblogged this on FORENSICS in FOCUS @ CSIDDS | News and Trends and commented:
    Anyone else had cases like this? As a forensic expert, I have my own list.

  5. Thank you, Phil for all the great work you do and for sharing this! It’s important that we recognize how much our losses impact us. I have no doubt, there will be more heartache along the way for me. Though, in this moment, with the exception of my father’s death, I’ve never known a pain greater than the Troy Davis case. The case tortures me. I will never come to terms with the insanity of Georgia’s execution of Troy Davis.

    Yet, if it weren’t for my involvement in Troy’s case, I would have never formed Innocence Matters or met our current and future exonerees. So while there can never be enough exonerations to make up for the obscene injustice that was done to Troy, each exoneration is a tribute to his request that we “continue to fight this fight.”

    It is a good and righteous fight! And it needs to be in the hands of people like you, Phil, who care enough to lose sleep. With much respect and admiration!

  6. Thank you Phil for what you do. I am fighting my own fight for exoneration. My case is so “minor” I could not find anyone willing to help, so I am doing it myself, because in my world, this is HUGE! I read all your posts for inspiration and resourceful information, in that you are priceless!

    While I was wrongly accused of Child Abandonment (a felony in Georgia), I tried to direct appeal. Despite handing my appeal over to the prison mailroom 22 days after the ruling, my appeal was filed (conspicuously) 31 days after that ruling, one day too late.

    As a result, I’m now down to filing a habeas to claim that Georgia’s lack of a “Mailbox Rule” for pro se inmates filing direct appeals is unconstitutional. Georgia does extend a mailbox rule to all habeas petitions and appeals. And the Court of Appeals also acknowledges a mailbox rule. The problem though is that in order to file a direct appeal, an inmate must file it with the trial court, usually the same state court being challenged, accused, or maligned by the claims of the inmate. So, there is of course incentive for abuse. If I had filed both a direct appeal and a habeas on the same day and they arrived the same day, my direct appeal (as happened to me) would be denied as being untimely, while the habeas would be granted.

    I’m doing this all by myself, because my case is so “trivial”, but if my claims are heard and the merits are deemed true, my small case will change things for thousands of pro se inmates who constantly have to overcome procedural hurdles just to have their claims heard. Georgia in particular, has been slow to come around with innocence movements. It seems lost upon that state how the constitutional rights were meant to ensure that anyone who is convicted and loses their liberty, has met with that fate through a trial process with the highest burden of proof. This assures all citizens that, while some guilty persons may allude justice, because there is only some degree of proof available, there shall be no innocent person that loses their liberty, simply because they are undesirable in the eyes of law enforcement, prosecutors and judges.

    Thank you Phil for all you do…it helps keep the silent sufferers like me going. Given the strength to see the fight through to the end!!!

    Dennis Little

    • Dennis,

      Thank you for you input. I’d just like to quote Winston Churchill: “Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.”

      Good luck !!

      Phil

  7. It is impossible get any help when you are represented by a PD and all they want is to get a plea deal that the Prosecutor will take. The help and support needs to start BEFORE the case is in court or before the plea deal. It is obvious the prosecutors do not follow the criminal rules of procedure.
    All the non-profit groups seem to only help those AFTER a conviction. If you want to keep the innocent people out of jail please look at cases before they go to trial.
    Mary

  8. Thank you Sir Phil. Is so difficult to keep going with all this injustice . We won’t give up!!!

  9. No one is looking at wrongful drug convictions. False positives rule the land. Email me if you want to help: kjohn39679@aol.com.

  10. Mental health is a science of the mind (PTSD, Bipolar, Split Personalities, etc.) that was ignored in my case. My ex-wife and her sister were violated by my ex-wife’s father. Both of them were so traumatized, that when allegations came up against me, both were extremely afraid to express his involvement. Although my wife knew of his actions and comments, saw how our son was reacting around him (not wanting to be touched, hugged or picked up by him), she was afraid to tell officials. But when was called in for questioning, her father insisted to be included and was allowed to do so even after receiving complaints from others. My wife felt extremely limited on what she could say with him there, not able to speak freely. I’ve always understood that unless you’re a minor, you’re questioned alone. Where was justice for her, our children as well as me??

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