Christopher Tapp, who spent two decades behind bars for the 1996 rape and murder of Idaho Falls resident, Angie Dodge, is expected to be exonerated this week. As reported in the Post Register, unreliable evidence — a coerced confession and testimony from a witness who later recanted and claimed police pressured her — prompted the jury’s guilty verdict in 1997. But Tapp’s nightmare is expected to end in a hearing before Seventh District Judge Alan Stephens on Wednesday, July 17, thanks to a newer use of DNA, genetic DNA analysis.
In prison Tapp maintained his innocence — the crime scene DNA did not match him — and unsuccessfully petitioned the courts five times for post-conviction relief. His recent sixth petition is supported by a filing from Bonneville County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel Clark, who has asked that Tapp’s conviction be vacated, opining, “There exists clear and convincing evidence that (Tapp) was convicted of a crime he did not commit.”
What caused this reversal of official response to Tapp’s petitions for relief? Genetic DNA analysis led to the identification of Angie Dodge’s across-the-street neighbor, Brian Leigh Dripps, who admitted he committed the crime, acted alone, and had never met Christopher Tapp.
A related news report by Local News 8 ABC reported that Idaho Falls Police Chief Bryce Johnson said genetic investigation led to someone in the Dripps family tree. Utilizing crime scene DNA, a genealogist identified three people in the Dripps family related to the suspect on a genealogy website. Police surveillance enabled retrieval and analysis of a discarded cigarette butt to confirm the DNA match with Brian Dripps. He has been charged with the crime.
Expanded use of DNA in genetic analysis resulting in the identification of the perpetrator is noteworthy in this tragic wrongful conviction case. Additionally, Tapp had agreed in 2017 to a deal with prosecutors in which he would be released from prison on time served with the rape charge dropped, but with the onerous murder conviction remaining on his record. On Wednesday along with Tapp’s expected exoneration, this later travesty of justice will also be rectified.
The Idaho Innocence Project is to be commended for pursuing justice in this case for a decade.
A record 1,639 years were lost in prison by those wrongly convicted and exonerated in 2018, according to “Exonerations in 2018,” the annual report of The National Registry of Exonerations (NRE). The 151 persons exonerated in 2018 spent an average of 10.9 years wrongly incarcerated before exoneration. The report highlights milestones, trends, and the year’s specific exoneration takeaways.
For example, in September 2018 the total number of years lost by exonerees exceeded the milestone of 20,000. As of today, that number is 21,095 lost years for the 2,418 persons known to have been exonerated since 1989.
One highlight of 2018 was an extraordinary 31 defendants exonerated as a result of the scandal in Chicago stemming from an era of police corruption led by Sergeant Ronald Watts in which defendants were framed by police on drug and weapons charges. Reinvestigation of these cases — 30 of which were drug crimes — prompted the exonerations.
The Registry notes contributors to wrongful conviction in each case of exoneration. The 31 Chicago cases were included in at least 107 cases involving official misconduct, a Continue reading
Posted in Compensation/Exoneree compensation, Conviction Integrity Units, Exonerations, Eyewitness identification, False confessions, Police conduct (good and bad), Post-conviction relief, Prosecutorial conduct (good and bad), Reforming/Improving the system, Scholarship, wrongful conviction
Tagged The National Registry of Exonerations
The National Registry of Exonerations’ latest report reveals a staggering 20,080 years lost behind bars since 1989 by victims of wrongful conviction and, in an accompanying report, $2.2 billion in compensation paid to exonerees by governments, even though more than half of exonerees have never been compensated. Radley Balko of The Washington Post provides this informative preview opinion of the soon-to-be-released report. Thanks to the National Registry of Exonerations for revealing indisputable data that continues to be a blaring, heartbreaking call for criminal justice reform.
The National Registry of Exoneration has reported 139 exonerations — cases in which convictions were officially vacated as a result of new evidence of innocence — in 2017. A significant finding in the Annual Report (here) is that in 84 of these cases, misconduct by police, prosecutors, or other government officials factored in the wrongful conviction, an all-time record for official misconduct as a contributor to wrongful convictions later vacated through exoneration. But there was also encouraging evidence of increasing activism in achieving exonerations by prosecutorial offices through the work of Conviction Integrity Units (CIUs).
The annual report provides a detailed analysis of exonerations in 2017. Perjury or false accusation factored in a record 87 cases, 62 percent. Another record 29 or 20 percent of exonerations involved a false confession. And mistaken eyewitness identification impacted a record 37 cases, 26 percent.
Fifty-one defendants were exonerated of homicide, twenty-nine of sex crimes, eighteen of other violent crimes, forty-one of non-violent crimes such as fraud, Continue reading
Posted in Commissions/Innocence Commissions/Governmental Case Review Agencies, Conviction Integrity Units, Editorials/Opinion, Exonerations, Eyewitness identification, False confessions, Police conduct (good and bad), Post-conviction relief, Prosecutorial conduct (good and bad), Reforming/Improving the system, wrongful conviction
Tagged National Registry of Exonerations
Words matter: A one-word change of “could” to “would” in Virginia’s writ of actual innocence law enacted in 2013 was cited in the Virginia Supreme Court’s unanimous opinion last week that vacated the 40-year-old rape conviction of Roy L. Watford III. 58, of Chesapeake. The state high court ruled no jury “would” have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in the light of new evidence.
The language prior to the 2013 change was “could” have found him guilty…
“Writing the unanimous opinion last Thursday, Justice Cleo E. Powell noted that the burden is still a heavy one for someone trying to win a writ of actual innocence.
But, Powell added that while the “could” standard required proof of innocence beyond any reasonable doubt, the “would” standard requires the court to consider if the new evidence, versus evidence of guilt, establishes such a high probability of acquittal that no rational person would have found guilt.”
After twenty-seven years of wearing the label “sex offender,” Darwin Crabtree was relieved of his child molestation conviction yesterday, January 17, by a Butte County Superior Court. Northern California Innocence Project Attorney (NCIP) Paige Kaneb made the motion to vacate Crabtree’s conviction based on new evidence of innocence and bolstered by a newly enacted California law.
The law (Penal Code section 1473.7) allows persons no longer convicted or restrained to pursue a motion to vacate their convictions and stipulates the state’s response: When Continue reading
Samuel Gross has provided an insightful commentary in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 22 vote (6 to 2) in Turner vs. United States, that affirmed the murder convictions of seven men and reaffirmed “a terrible old rule that has done great harm to the accuracy of criminal trials…”
A professor of law at the University of Michigan and founder and Senior Editor of The National Registry of Exonerations, Gross notes that in half of more than 800 exonerations since 1989 in which people had been wrongly convicted of murder, the prosecution had concealed exculpatory evidence at trial.
Students of the law and of wrongful convictions recognize these instances as Brady violations. In 1964, in Brady v. Maryland, the high court ruled that the government is obligated to disclose evidence that is favorable to the defense if it is “material” to the case. “Materiality” was later further defined as having a “reasonable probability” that the outcome of the trial would have been more favorable to the defendant if the evidence had been disclosed.
But can this rule be accurately applied? Is there a better way that could cure this nation’s “epidemic” of Brady violations? Gross answers both questions in his commentary, “How Concealing Key Evidence Convicts the Innocent.”
Yesterday, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal magistrate judge’s ruling that Wisconsin inmate Brendan Dassey’s confession in the rape and murder of Teresa Halbach (featured in the Netflix series “Making a Murderer”) was involuntary. The state Justice Department had appealed and will likely seek a review by the 7th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court. The state also has the option of retrying Dassey within 90 days.
In an Associated Press article, Steven Drizin, an expert on false confessions, Co-founder of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at Northwestern University, and one of Dassey’s attorneys said, Continue reading
“At a time when there are calls for criminal justice reform, it is important to ensure any reforms are based on sound research and data-driven, fact-based information. Calls for re-establishment of the death penalty in Maryland are not based on the aforementioned.” — Karl Bickel
Karl Bickel, a career law enforcement officer and former proponent of the death penalty, has offered a well-researched argument against making any exception to the repeal of Maryland’s death penalty, implemented in 2013. The state has opted for life in prison without the possibility of parole for its worst offenders. House Bill 881, introduced on February 6, 2017, calls for an exception for first-degree murder cases in which the victim is a law enforcement officer, correctional officer, or first responder.
A key issue for Bickel is avoiding the risk of wrongful conviction and execution of an innocent.
Bickel is retired from the Department of Justice, and has been a major city police officer, an assistant professor, and second in command of the Frederick County (MD) Sheriff’s Office.
Read his commentary here
Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States
The National Registry of Exonerations has provided data-supported evidence of significant racial disparity in criminal justice in its report, Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States, released today. Known murder exonerations in the United States since 1989 — cases in which a person convicted of murder was officially cleared based on new evidence of innocence — indicate that innocent African-Americans are about seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder than innocent whites.
In the Registry’s analysis of known exonerations, racial disparities were apparent at many points along the criminal justice process. As examples, blacks convicted of murder are about 50 percent more likely to be innocent than others convicted of murder. Murder convictions resulting in exonerations for blacks were 22 percent more likely to have involved police misconduct than exoneration cases of white murder defendants. Black murder exonerees waited three years longer than white murder exonerees to be released from prison (among those sentenced to death, blacks spent four years longer in prison than white murder exonerees). Continue reading
The year 2016 will go down as a good one for Freddie Peacock. But because it was so long in coming, it surely must be bittersweet. His story illustrates the slow pace and enormous hurdles in correcting criminal justice miscarriages post-conviction. It also calls on our individual and national conscience to make 2017 the year responsible citizens send the message loud and clear to all public and criminal justice professionals that this nation must replace the mantra of “tough on crime” with “smart on crime.” In the Peacock case we learn many lessons about wrongful conviction rarely delivered so clearly by a federal judge.
In August 2016 U.S. District Judge Michael Telesca awarded Freddie Peacock nearly $6.2 million long after Peacock’s conviction of and imprisonment for a 1976 Rochester (NY) rape he didn’t commit. Peacock had sued the city of Rochester and Rochester police. Judge Telesca’s decisions in May (here) enabling Peacock to pursue civil damages and in August (here) determining his damages are instructional for those who believe wrongful convictions are the inevitable rare result of innocent human error. Continue reading
An editorial in The Inquirer (Philadelphia) calls out District Attorney Seth Williams whose Conviction Review Unit has produced more hype than results; warns against assaults on transparency in criminal justice; and applauds public officials who are getting it right. This is the critical role of reputable journalism and media in informing and educating voters. Thank you, Philly.com.
Donald Trump doesn’t acknowledge wrongful convictions proven by DNA and by the credible, delayed confession of a convicted murderer and rapist. Insisting on Friday that the Central Park 5 are guilty of the 1989 high-profile horrific attack and rape of an investment banker jogging in Central Park, he revealed he knows nothing about DNA, the dynamics of false confessions, or contemporary understandings relating to criminal justice and wrongful convictions.
Shortly after the crime occurred Trump paid thousands to run full-page ads in newspapers calling for reinstatement of the death penalty in New York. The ads fueled a fever pitch of outrage over a crime that had already stunned the nation. His insistence on inserting his opinion could only exacerbate tempers in a difficult time of race relations.
In his statement Friday, Trump revealed he is woefully uneducated in the realities of criminal justice miscarriages. This is frightening when the need for criminal justice reform has reached an awareness level great enough to find a place in both the Republican and Democrat national political platforms.
For those who study wrongful convictions and even for the informed everyday citizen, Continue reading
Posted in Editorials/Opinion, Exonerations, False confessions, Junk science, Police conduct (good and bad), Reforming/Improving the system, Uncategorized, wrongful conviction
Tagged Central Park 5, Commentary, current-events, donald trump
On Friday, a Travis County (TX) jury found Mark Norwood, 62, guilty of the 1988 bludgeoning murder of Debra Baker. Norwood was at liberty to commit Debra’s murder, because he escaped justice in the similar murder of Christine Morton two years earlier. Both victims lived in the Austin area.
Christine’s husband, Michael, was wrongfully convicted of his wife’s murder and spent nearly 25 years in prison. Among the many sad outcomes of this wrongful conviction was that the Morton’s three-year-old son Eric lost both his mother and, for 25 years, a normal relationship with his father.
If evidence supporting Michael Morton’s innocence had been shared with the defense, which is required of prosecutors, it is less likely he would have been convicted. The jury did not know that a bloody bandana was found the day after Christine’s murder outside the Morton home along a likely escape route from the property.
The jury didn’t know that little Eric was present during his mother’s murder. He told his grandmother his father wasn’t home and “a monster” was hurting his mommy. Continue reading
The Chicago Tribune has reported that Indiana Governor Mike Pence will continue to delay a pardon decision that would clear the name of a man convicted of and imprisoned for 10 years for a 1996 armed robbery he did not commit. The governor’s general counsel indicated in a letter Tuesday to Cooper’s lawyer that they first must exhaust all judicial options for appeal.
The case against Keith Cooper, 49, fell apart when DNA testing of crime scene evidence linked to a man imprisoned for his part in a subsequent 2002 murder. Eyewitnesses and a jailhouse snitch implicating Cooper and his co-defendant also recanted.
The Indiana Parole Board unanimously recommended more than two years ago that Pence pardon Cooper. The original prosecutor and crime victim shot during the burglary have also urged Pence to grant the pardon. More than 105,000 people have signed a petition supporting the pardon. Continue reading
Jim Petro, former Ohio attorney general, comments today in the Columbus Dispatch on problems with Ohio’s death penalty, including unaddressed recommendations to reduce the risk of executing the wrongly convicted…
A commentary published on September 1 in the Columbus Dispatch…
On Friday, August 12, 2016, U.S. Magistrate Judge William E. Duffin overturned the conviction of Brendan Dassey, one of the defendants highlighted in the documentary ‘Making A Murderer.’ The judge has given the state 90 days to either initiate proceedings to retry him or release him from prison.
In his 91-page decision, the judge concluded:
“The investigators repeatedly claimed to already know what happened on October 31 and assured Dassey that he had nothing to worry about. These repeated false promises, when considered in conjunction with all relevant factors, most especially Dassey’s age, intellectual deficits, and the absence of a supportive adult, rendered Dassey’s confession involuntary under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.”
Law Professors Steven A. Drizin and Laura Nirider of the Bluhm Legal Clinic’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth represented Dassey in the appellate process. The Clinic has represented Dassey since 2008.
View the full decision here.
Read the Center on Wrongful Convictions press release, which includes links to instructive information regarding youth interrogation and false confessions.
A new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, supports the link between sleep deprivation and false confessions. Lawrence Sherman, Director of the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge, has called it a “milestone.” New Science magazine reports, “…legal experts are predicting it will be cited in future court cases.”
From the Study: “Here we demonstrate that sleep deprivation increases the likelihood that a person will falsely confess to wrongdoing that never occurred. Furthermore, our data suggest that it may be possible to identify certain individuals who are especially likely to falsely confess while sleep deprived. The present research is a crucial step toward Continue reading
The National Registry of Exonerations has reported a record 149 known exonerations in 2015 in 29 states, the District of Columbia, federal courts, and Guam. The exonerated had served an average of 14-and-a-half years in prison for crimes they did not commit.
Increasing known exonerations has been a trend over recent years, and the National Registry of Exoneration’s annual report, Exonerations in 2015, includes several new records for 2015: Continue reading