Author Archives: Phil Locke

Prosecutorial and Police Misconduct – A Continuing Travesty

Prosecutorial and police misconduct – we’ve been preaching about those things  on this site for a long time now, and there doesn’t appear to be an end in site – at least not yet.

David Leonhardt of the New York Times just wrote a very illuminating article on this subject, and I append it for you here:

February 16, 2021

Good morning. We look at two men who spent decades behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit.

‘No consequences’

Curtis Flowers’s day typically began around 4:30 a.m., when a prison guard slid a breakfast tray into his cell. The tray often included a biscuit, potatoes, oatmeal or grits — “a bunch of starch,” as Flowers said to me recently, with a quiet laugh.
Sometime after 8 a.m., the guards led him from his cell to a small outdoor pen where he was permitted to exercise, look up at the sky and talk to other death-row inmates in nearby pens. The pen was large enough for him to take three steps in one direction and two steps in another. “Walking in circles, you get dizzy real quick,” Flowers said.
After an hour in the pen — sometimes less — he returned to his cell for the rest of the day. There, he read books, wrote letters, watched television and talked with the guards or fellow prisoners through the bars.
Flowers lived like this for more than 20 years, on death row in Mississippi — despite there being no good evidence that he committed the crime, a 1996 quadruple murder in a furniture store, for which he was convicted.
He was a victim of prosecutor misconduct. A local district attorney, Doug Evans, convicted Flowers on weak evidence that later fell apart: To this day, no witness or physical evidence even puts Flowers at the scene of the crime. The U.S. Supreme Court threw out his conviction in 2019, citing Evans’s blocking of Black jurors. Last year, the state of Mississippi dropped all charges.
When I spoke to Flowers by Zoom recently, I was awed by his grace. He has spent nearly half his life behind bars, and in 2018 was denied a request to attend his mother’s funeral, but he conveys a calm cheerfulness. “Just doing little things to make me happy,” he said, like bass fishing.
Curtis FlowersDavid Doobinin
Still, there was one subject that sparked passion in him: the consequences — or lack thereof — for Evans, as well as for some of his friends still locked up in Parchman Farm prison. Flowers told me that while he believed many people at Parchman were guilty, others are there because of Evans’s misconduct. “It’s terrible,” Flowers said.
Yet Evans remains the top prosecutor for seven Mississippi counties. He “has faced no adverse consequences for his handling of the case,” as Parker Yesko — a member of the “In the Dark” podcast team that exposed the holes in the case — has written.

What would change look like?

In recent years, a movement known as criminal justice reform has sprung up, supported by both conservatives and progressives. Its biggest goal is reducing the number of Americans behind bars — which is currently above two million, giving the U.S. the world’s highest incarceration rate. Another goal is to introduce more accountability for prosecutors and detectives found to have committed misconduct, creating incentives to avoid unjust convictions.
“Prosecutors can misbehave with impunity, facing virtually no consequences even when a judge says they have committed substantive misconduct,” Shaila Dewan, a Times reporter covering criminal justice, told me.
My colleague Jan Ransom has published a gripping account of another case of potential misconduct. It takes place in the Bronx and involves Huwe Burton, whose mother was stabbed to death in 1989, when he was 16. Three detectives coaxed a false confession out of him, using a mix of threats and lies, and he spent almost 20 years in prison. A judge has since exonerated him.
Huwe BurtonElias Williams for The New York Times
Darcel Clark, the Bronx district attorney, is now conducting an inquiry into whether the three detectives’ tactics tainted 31 other homicide cases. The detectives have denied wrongdoing, and Clark has suggested they were following “standard procedure” at the time.
Still, Jan writes, “the inquiry highlights how a new generation of prosecutors in New York and elsewhere is delving deeply into whether deceptive police interrogation tactics might have warped the criminal justice system.” In the Bronx and some other places, prosecutors have formed units to review old cases and tried to bar problematic police officers from testifying.
Prosecutors and police officers have tough jobs and sometimes make honest mistakes, as Nina Morrison of the Innocence Project, which helped free Burton, has noted. But outright misconduct is more frequent than many people realize. It played a role in more than half of the 2,400 exonerations documented nationwide over the last three decades. “For Black men wrongly convicted of murder, the proportion was 78 percent,” Jan writes.
Toward the end of my conversation with Flowers, I asked him what he thought should happen to prosecutors like Evans who have committed misconduct. Flowers replied that they should be subject to the same punishment they have inflicted on others. “It sucks to be behind bars,” he said, “and I don’t think he would want to sit back there.”
For more on Flowers: You can watch a “60 Minutes” segment or listen to “In the Dark,” both of which include interviews with both Evans and Flowers.
For more on Burton: I recommend taking a few minutes to read Jan Ransom’s story.

Ohio Chief Justice Convenes Wrongful Conviction Task Force

One small step.

https://www.wcpo.com/news/crime/ohio-chief-justice-convenes-wrongful-conviction-task-force

 

Amanda Knox Returns to Italy.

Since her initial acquittal in Italy and return to the US in 2011, Amanda Knox has never returned to Italy. She has remained busy getting along with her life, writing, and in supporting movements dedicated to the pursuit of true justice.    Until now.

We wrote about the facts of her case on this blog in 2012 here.

She returned to Italy this past week to speak at the Festival on Criminal Justice sponsored by the Italy Innocence Project in Modena, Italy.

See the CNN story about her return here.

 

Two Florida Men Freed After 42 Years in Prison for a Murder They Didn’t Commit

Clifford Williams and Hubert Myers were convicted of murdering a woman while they were at a party in Jacksonville, Florida. Two women were shot in a nearby apartment, one of them fatally. The men were quickly arrested, convicted and sentenced to life in prison after a 2-day trial.

The state of Florida has recently dropped all charges and freed them.

See the CNN story here:  https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/29/us/florida-wrongful-imprisonment-42-years-murder/index.html

 

 

Wrongfully Convicted; “Beatrice Six” Awarded $28.1 million

“Six people were convicted of a murder they didn’t even remember. Now a county owes them $28 million.”

Six people convicted of brutally raping and killing an elderly woman,  but none of them had any memory of the crime . . . because they were innocent.

And if that’s not bad enough, here’s the really scary part – the police actually convinced three of them that they were guilty!

See the story from the Washington Post:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/03/06/six-people-were-convicted-murder-they-didnt-even-remember-now-county-owes-them-million/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.51ac6b22a0a1

 

Not All Teens Who Confess Are Guilty

We have previously addressed the subject false confession a number of times on this blog. Please see False Confessions – How Can That Happen?  One of the very egregious cases of false confession we talked about was that of Marty Tankleff, who at 17, was manipulated by police interrogators into falsely confessing to the murder of his parents. After 18 years of wrongful imprisonment, Marty became a lawyer; and a law professor.

Marty has recently authored an article on CNN about false confessions by teenagers, who are particularly vulnerable.

Please see the CNN story by Marty Tankleff  here.

 

Exonerated After 45 Years in Prison

He was 27 when he went in. Now he’s 72.

This sets a record for the longest wrongful imprisonment in the US.

https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/30/us/detroit-man-wrongfully-excused-of-murder-released-trnd/index.html

Prosecutor Issues Fake Subpoenas

This absolutely turns my stomach. This insanity has to stop.

See the story from HuffPost here.

 

Wrongfully Convicted Man Gets His Old Job Back with the White Sox After 23 Years in Prison

 

Would that ALL exonerated people were able to re-insert themselves back into society this easily.

https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/26/us/white-sox-hire-wrongly-convicted-groundskeeper-trnd/index.html

 

Lives Shattered by a (False) Allegation?

This from CNN today:

“(CNN)   President Donald Trump took to Twitter Saturday to lament “lives are being shattered” by a mere allegation in the wake of the resignations of former White House staff secretary Rob Porter and speechwriter David Sorensen following allegations of domestic abuse.

” ‘Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,’ the President tweeted.  ‘Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?’ “
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All I can say about this is: “Well, Mr. president, I suggest you take a very hard look at the sex offender registry, because this – lives shattered by a false accusation – is something that our (your) justice system is very good at.”  Just ask Brian Banks, or Courtney Bisbee, or any of the countless others. I’ve written about many of them on this blog.
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And the false-accusation failures of the justice system are not limited to just sex offenses.

Jack McCullough, Exonerated, Sues Prosecutors for “Pervasive Misconduct”

We’ve reported about Jack McCullough on this blog several times previously. See here, here, here, and here.

Prior to having his conviction overturned and being exonerated, this case was touted as the “oldest cold case ever solved.”

It will be interesting to see where this suit goes, since prosecutors are supposed to have absolute immunity to civil suit for actions taken while pursuing their duties as prosecutor. They can, however, be held responsible for criminal actions.

See the CNN story here.

 

Federal Judge Overturns Arizona’s Diaper Changing Child Molestation Law

Arizona’s justice system is truly something to behold. After all, it’s the home of Sheriff Joe Arpaio. And get this – Arizona’s Attorney General and Maricopa County’s Attorney have publicly stated that there are “no” wrongful convictions and “no” Brady violations in Arizona. Really?!   Arizon Bradypdf

But here’s one for the books. Arizona actually has a law that says anyone who knowingly and intentionally touches a child’s genitals is guilty of child molestation – without a requirement of sexual intent. So anyone who changes a child’s diaper or bathes a child can be charged with child molestation. All it takes is a vindictive spouse or partner, or even just a casual witness (eg: changing a baby’s diaper in a public restroom) to make a charge. And as you certainly would guess, numerous innocent parents and caregivers have been ensnared by this law.

When the Arizona legislature wrote and passed the law, they specifically removed the requirement for sexual intent. The governor signed it, and the Arizona Supreme Court upheld it.

Recently Federal District Judge Neil V. Wake, in a testy opinion, ruled the law unconstitutional. See that ruling here.  Thank goodness sanity has prevailed. Hopefully this will eventually lead to relief for all those wrongfully imprisoned by this bogus statute.

Last week Judge Wake also overturned the conviction of Stephen May, a school teacher and swim instructor, who was convicted largely based upon this law’s definition of child molestation.  See the article by Jacob Sullum on Reason.com  here.

See the story by Mark Joseph Stern writing for Slate here.

New Attorney General Jeff Sessions “Tough on Crime”

The newly anointed US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, in his first major address has proclaimed a policy of “tough on crime” – particularly violent crime.

Here we go again – the “war on drugs” redux. How many prosecutors have been elected running on a “tough on crime” platform? I would say most, if not all.

So how do prosecutors “deliver” on their campaign promise of “tough on crime?” They arrest a lot of people, obtain a lot of indictments, secure a lot of convictions, and send a lot of people to prison. The only problem? A lot of these people may be actually innocent. But they’ve been scooped up into the frenzy of proving that law enforcement is “tough on crime.” People get convicted through intimidating and coercive plea bargains, phony evidence and false testimony, bad forensics, and police and prosecutor misconduct.

Criminal prosecution MUST rest upon the foundations of truth, logic, real evidence, and prosecutorial ethics – not upon hysteria hyped by politicians and the media.

You and see the CNN coverage of Mr. Sessions address here.

Book Review: “Forensic Science Reform – Protecting the Innocent”

 

bower-book

For the last 8 1/2 years, I have been working to ‘help’ overcome the devastating effects that incorrect, bogus, and non-scientific forensics has had on our justice system in producing wrongful convictions.  And I’ve also been writing about it on this blog since its inception.

C.M. (Mike) Bowers has teamed up with Wendy Koen to produce a definitive work addressing many of these issues. Mike is forensic dentist who has been at the forefront of debunking the junk science of bite mark analysis. Wendy Koen is a former attorney with the California Innocence Project. Mike also maintains the website CSIDDS dedicated to promoting truth, reason, logic, and actual science in the discipline of forensics.

The data below from the National Registry of Exonerations shows that false or misleading forensic evidence is a contributing factor in 24% of all the wrongful convictions logged by the registry to date.

nat-reg-exon

This book provides substantial reinforcement for the ground-breaking “NAS Report,” published in 2009. Please see:  https://wrongfulconvictionsblog.org/2013/06/29/the-nas-report-aftermath/  However, this book also includes material not covered by the original NAS report. This book is a “must” for the library of anyone committed to ensuring that ALL forensics is based upon true science, logic, reason, and fact.

Justin O. Brookes, Director of the California Innocence Project: “My former brilliant student, Wendy Koen, along with Dr. Michael Bowers (the expert behind the Richards’ exoneration) have written a new book you all should consider ordering–“Forensic Science Reform:Protecting The Innocent.”  It’s an excellent addition to the scholarship in our world and could be helpful to those of you struggling with forensic issues. I’m going to have our library order a hard copy.”

Valena Beety, Deputy Director of the WVU Law Clinical Law Program, chairing the West Virginia Innocence Project: “I’ve just ordered it for our law library at WVU and I anticipate it being a helpful resource. Thank you to everyone involved in making this book happen!”

You can purchase the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Forensic-Science-Reform-Protecting-Innocent/dp/0128027193/ref=mt_hardcover?_encoding=UTF8&me=

Prosecutorial Misconduct is Now a Felony in California

One of, if not the most, frequent occurrences of prosecutorial misconduct is withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense; which prosecutors are required by both law and ethics to share. The state of California has taken this “bull by the horns,” and made withholding evidence by prosecutors a criminal felony.

Under the new law, prosecutors who alter or intentionally withhold evidence from defense counsels can face up to three years in prison.

EVERY one of the remaining 49 states needs to follow this example. This is a major step in establishing the kind of accountability prosecutors MUST face if we are to ever achieve the necessary level of ethical conduct on the part of prosecutors.

See the reason.com story here.

 

“San Antonio Four” Exonerated in Child Rape Case

Yet another classic case of self-serving adults forcing/coercing children to lie about sexual assault that never happened.

This is a scenario that is all too common. In innocence work, we see it regularly; for example, the Courtney Bisbee case.

See the CNN story here.

 

Courtney Bisbee – Released . . . But Not Free.

We have reported extensively on the Courtney Bisbee case here on the blog.

Please see: HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE .

In my 8 1/2 years of doing this work, this is one of the worst travesties of justice I have encountered. And it all took place in that snake pit cesspool of a justice system called Maricopa County, AZ.

Courtney served her full sentence (11 years), and was released from prison on November 17. But she is NOT free. One would think that once you’ve served your full sentence and were released, that would be it; and you should be able to start rebuilding your shattered life, albeit with a prison record, but NO.

Courtney has been fitted with a GPS ankle bracelet, and registered as a sex offender – a life sentence. And get this – she is not even on probation; she’s on parole (“community supervision”) with harsh conditions, just like she’s still considered a prisoner. And indeed, she is still under the custody of the Department of Corrections, which limits her ability to take any kind of legal action. AND THIS IS ALL FOR A “CRIME” THAT NEVER HAPPENED.

Courtney’s habeas petition is still pending before federal court, as it has been since 2012. We can only hope that true justice will ultimately be done.

We’re thrilled that at least Courtney is out of prison, and is being allowed to live with her parents as she works mightily to start putting the pieces back together.

CA Prosecutors Who Withhold or Tamper with Evidence Now Face Felony Charges

Well ….. it’s about time!

This is a “biggy” – a significant step in establishing prosecutorial accountability and exposure to sanctions.

California has just enacted a law that exposes prosecutors who withhold or tamper with exculpatory evidence to felony charges, with up to three years imprisonment.

Please see the LA Times story here.

Now we just need to have this migrate to all the rest of the states and the Department of Justice.

 

Junk Science Reigns ____ So Much for True Science in the Courtroom

We had hope, back in 2009, when the National Academy of Sciences report Forensic Science in the United States; A Path Forward was published, that there might finally be some remedy for all the junk science being used to convict innocent people. The report painted a scathing picture of the lack of true science contained in, and the invalidity of, traditional forensic disciplines; the sole exception being DNA. The report did spawn the creation of the Federal Commission on Forensic Science, which has proven, over the last three years, to be a totally toothless tiger, accomplishing essentially nothing.

Now recently, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has issued an additional report that is highly condemning of current forensic practices. You can see the PCAST report here:  pcast_forensic_science_report_final

HOWEVER, even in light of this recent report, both the FBI and the Department of Justice have stated they have no intention of changing the way they currently address forensics.

Please see the Intercept article, FBI AND DOJ VOW TO CONTINUE USING JUNK SCIENCE REJECTED BY WHITE HOUSE REPORT, by Jordan Smith here.

Justice System Out of Control —- If You Change a Baby’s Diaper in Arizona, You Can Now be Convicted of Child Molestation.

This from a recent story on Slate by Mark Joseph Stern: “The Arizona Supreme Court issued a stunning and horrifying decision on Tuesday, interpreting a state law to criminalize any contact between an adult and a child’s genitals. According to the court, the law’s sweep encompasses wholly innocent conduct, such as changing a diaper or bathing a baby.”

Not only that, but this law places the burden upon the accused to prove that there was no sexual intent. This throws presumption of innocence (innocent until proven guilty) out the window!

“Arizona prosecutors can now dangle the threat of a probable child molestation conviction to coerce any parent of a young child into taking a plea deal on unrelated charges. With the state Supreme Court’s help, Arizona’s child molestation laws have been weaponized into a tool for prosecutorial harassment, allowing the state to target any parent or caregiver—out of spite or malice, or simply to boost their conviction rates.”

Arizona has, once again, proven that the inmates are truly running the asylum. This is so absurd, it would be laughable – if it weren’t so tragic.

Please see the full story on Slate by Mark Joseph Stern here.