Category Archives: Book recommendations/discussion

New Scholarship Spotlight: Prosecution (Is) Complex


Alafair S. Burke

Alafair S. Burke

Alafair S. Burke has posted the above titled-article, a book review of Prosecution Complex, on SSRN.  Download here.  The abstract says:

Post-conviction DNA testing has led to the exoneration of nearly three hundred defendants. As the number of exonerations grows, we are in an era where the once unthinkable is now undeniable. We convict the innocent. We imprison the innocent. We place the innocent on death row. Daniel Medwed brings this reality to life in his captivating book, Prosecution Complex, which carefully documents the myriad ways that prosecutors can contribute to wrongful convictions at every stage of a criminal case. From the charging decision to plea bargaining to trial to post-conviction, Medwed argues, prosecutors face an “ongoing schizophrenia” as they seek to balance dual roles in the criminal justice system, trying to serve both as zealous advocates for the government and as neutral ministers of justice.

This book essay offers three lessons that can be gleaned from Medwed’s central thesis that prosecutors must struggle to balance their dual roles as advocates and ministers of justice. Two of these lessons are for prosecutors: 1) that the protection of justice means not only the protection of the innocent, but also the fostering of a fair process, and 2) that prosecutors can mitigate the possibility that they will contribute to a wrongful conviction by seeking out contrary voices that foster neutral decision-making. The third lesson, aimed at the wrongful convictions movement, is to avoid a language of fault, which has a tendency to focus reform efforts on intentional misconduct and to signal to virtuous prosecutors that they need not worry that they may contribute to a wrongful conviction. Prosecution Complex is a significant book that should be read by any scholar, lawyer, or layperson who cares about criminal justice. But its most essential audience is prosecutors themselves, who hold the key to the most feasible and important reforms in the prevention of erroneous convictions.


Book Review: Manifest Injustice…

UntitledBy Rob Warden for the Chicago Tribune:

Courting reflection on justice


“Manifest Injustice” is an apt, allegorical title for Barry Siegel’s latest book, which makes three points didactically: First, the law can be an ass — to a greater extent than Charles Dickens imagined. Second, when it comes to administering justice, the courts can be at an utter loss. Third, plea bargaining can be just a kinder, gentler form of torture, with the same result — manifest injustice.

Manifest Injustice

By Barry Siegel, Henry Holt, 385

pages, $28

Siegel’s book is journalism at its best, a haunting, lucid, rigorously researched account of a multifaceted tragedy born of the murders of a young couple off a lovers’ lane in the desert near Scottsdale, Ariz., on a warm May night in 1962. Over the next five decades, the case took one vexing turn after another, each time skirting any semblance of common sense.

It is a story of the worst and best of humanity — from a woman whose scorn for her estranged husband led to his conviction for the murders, to a psychopathic killer who repeatedly confessed to the crime, to prosecutors and judges who relied upon a legal principle of dubious applicability to prevent two juries from learning about those confessions, and to dedicated lawyers who relentlessly championed justice for a man they believed innocent.

At the time of the murders, Seigel tells us, Bill Macumber and his wife, the former Carol Kempfert, had been married a little less than a year — happily by all accounts. They lived in Phoenix, where Bill, an Army veteran who had never been in trouble, operated a filling station with his father. In short order, Carol gave Continue reading

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

  • The Innocence Project recently filed a motion on behalf of Texas death row inmate Larry Swearingen seeking DNA testing of crime scene evidence that could support his longstanding claims of innocence. Swearingen, who is scheduled to be executed in six weeks on February 27, has been requesting the testing of the ligature used to strangle the victim, her fingernail scrapings, clothing and other evidence for years. As the motion notes, the current DNA testing statute was expanded by the Texas legislature in direct response to Swearingen’s unsuccessful requests for testing.
  • Will New York implement wrongful conviction reforms?
  • Exoneree Audrey Edmonds talks about her new book
  • Priest exonerated in Wales 350 years after his death

Former death row inmate finally declared innocent

Thirty years after the murders that put him on death row, 22 years after his conviction was overturned and four years after another man confessed to the murders, an Ohio court has finally declared Dale Johnston an innocent man. It’s certainly about time.

In a ruling issued yesterday, Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Richard A. Frye said that the state’s attempt to thwart Johnston’s effort to clear his name was “illogical … absurd (and) mean-spirited.” The story about Frye’s ruling is here. A previous post about Guilty by Popular Demand, Bill Osinski’s excellent new book about Johnston’s case, is here.

Wrongful Conviction and Innocence Work Have No Boundaries

Last year the University of Cincinnati College of Law’s Rosenthal Institute for Justice/Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) hosted the 2011 Innocence Network Conference: An International Exploration of Wrongful Conviction at Freedom Center in Cincinnati (details here). It was the first international conference focusing on the global human rights problem of wrongful conviction. The four-day event (April 7-10, 2011) was an extraordinary gathering of 500 attendees, including scholars, lawyers, and more than 100 exonerees from around the world who met, networked, participated in seminars, and attended addresses on wrongful conviction. Continue reading

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

  • On November 9th, the Temple Law Review and the Pennsylvania Innocence Project will hold a symposium on false confessions
  • Police officers in New York City will soon videotape many more interrogations of suspects because jurors are so used to seeing taped interviews on television shows like “CSI” they’ve come to expect recordings as routine, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said yesterday
  • Review of the 10th Anniversary run of The Exonerated in NYC
  • Exoneree Danny Colon seeks $120 million from NYPD and a prosecutor for wrongful conviction
  • Wrongful convictions still at risk in the UK
  • Book by Damien Echols of the West Memphis 3 is released

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Video:  director Ken Burns talks about his new documentary on the Central Park 5
  • Sarah Palin weighs in on the Jeffrey MacDonald case, which we previously blogged about here, here, and here
  • Cardiff University’s (Wales) Innocence Project is helping an organisation to provide evidence that may assist in a campaign to reform the doctrine of Joint Enterprise (or “Common Purpose”), which critics claim has led to many wrongful convictions in the UK. Described as a “lazy law”, there has seemingly been a marked increase in recent years in joint enterprise convictions. Some say this is due to a misguided attempt to address “gang culture” crimes. Prosecutors are charging multiple individuals all with a major offence rather than charging individuals to reflect more accurately their different involvement. In some cases, it is urged, there should be no charges where someone just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • Recent exoneree Brian Banks signs contract to play professional football in Las Vegas

Jeffrey MacDonald Case: Fatal Vision or Tunnel Vision?

The case of Jeffrey MacDonald, 68, the former Green Beret captain and medical doctor who was convicted of the 1970 murders of his wife and daughters, is getting some important second looks.

See earlier references to the case on the wrongful convictions blog by Martin Yant (here) and Phil Locke (here).

MacDonald, who has now served 30 years in prison, has always claimed innocence. Many know the case through Joe McGinness’s book “Fatal Vision.” A new Continue reading

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • An interview with Oscar winner Errol Morris, author of A Wilderness of Error
  • The Innocence Project of Texas is preparing to grade about 1,200 law enforcement departments statewide on their compliance with a law that requires police agencies to adopt eyewitness identification policies.  “Unless somebody is really grading their papers, nobody knows whether the law is really being implemented,” said Scott Henson, a policy consultant for the Innocence Project. Last year, Texas legislators approved a measure that required police agencies to adopt policies meant to prevent faulty eyewitness identification in criminal cases. Under the law, departments were required to adopt a written policy by Sept. 1. Last week, the Innocence Project sent the departments letters requesting copies of their lineup policies.
  • After Innocence Project of Virginia wins new trial, Virginia says it will go forward with retrial of Justin Wolfe, formerly on death row
  • Illinois Innocence Project receives $590,000 grant from state of Illinois
  • Two of six people wrongfully convicted for the murder of Beatrice resident Helen Wilson are seeking compensation for their wrongful convictions in Gage County District Court this week.Ada JoAnn Taylor and James Dean, both convicted for  the 1985 murder of the 68-year-old Beatrice widow, will present their case to District Court Judge Daniel E. Bryan Jr. in what is expected to be a weeklong trial.  Under a 2009 law passed by the Nebraska Legislature, both Taylor and Dean are seeking full $500,000 compensation for their wrongful convictions.  Taylor served 19 years in prison. Dean served a little more than five years in prison.

Errol Morris examines Jeffrey MacDonald case in new book

Academy Award-winning director Errol Morris, who convincingly documented the innocence of Randall Dale Adams in his 1988 film The Thin Blue Line, has now tackled the bizarre 1970 murder case of Jeffrey MacDonald. Morris’ weapon of choice in this case, though, is a book rather than a movie. In A Wilderness of Error, Morris’ goal isn’t so much to prove MacDonald’s innocence but to indict the legal system that has made it virtually impossible to reach a sound conclusion because of the way the investigation was handled and the subsequent trial and appeals distorted the facts. Wendy Kaminer writes about the book here.

Ohio death-row exoneration featured in new book

One of the most clear-cut non-DNA exonerations in a death penalty case — that of Dale Johnston in Ohio — is now receiving some much-deserved attention in a new book, Guilty by Popular Demand by Bill Osinski.

Although Johnston’s 1984 convictions in the dismemberment murders of his step-daughter and her boyfriend were overturned and Johnston was released in 1990, many in law enforcement still insisted on his guilt. That changed in 2008, when Chester McKnight confessed that he and an early suspect in the case, Kenny Linscott, had committed the murders. McKnight later changed his story to say he committed the murders by himself and that Linscott only helped him dismember the bodies. McKnight pleaded guilty to the murders and Linscott to abuse of corpse charges, removing all doubt that Johnston was involved.

Osinski documents in his book how hysteria created by ill-founded reports of incest and Satantic sacrifices; the misuse of hypnosis on witnesses, and the bogus testimony of a forensic fraud — in this case alleged footprint expert Louise Robbins — can lead to a horrible injustice.

You can read more about the case here and a review of Osinski’s book here.

Johnston is still fighting to win compensation for the years he spent on death row while fighting to prove his innocence. If there is any justice, Osinski’s book will help spur his case to a successful conclusion.

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Review of book The Dreyfus Affair, about a famous wrongful conviction in France
  • Jail “damaged” wrongfully convicted mother Lindy Chamberlain, says her former husband
  • Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project’s Young Professionals group to hold a Cocktails and Conversations event on July 10th with the legal team that freed the West Memphis 3 and exonerees Marvin Anderson and Thomas Haynesworth
  • Supporters of Illinois Innocence Project client Pamela Jacobazzi gathered in front of capital building yesterday to ask Illinois governor to grant her clemency on grounds that the “shaken baby syndrome” science used to convict her has proven to be unfounded

FAILED EVIDENCE: Why Law Enforcement Resists Science

Professor David Harris has published a new book with the title above.

From the book’s website:

Failed Evidence: Why Law Enforcement Resists Science (NYU Press) is a direct challenge to police and prosecution leadership that has failed to come to grips with the insights that science has supplied for routine types of traditional police work. We’ve all heard about the DNA-based exonerations of innocent people: almost 300 over the last two decades.  Failed Evidence starts with this topic, but pushes further.  There is now plenty of science about the basic things that go wrong in eyewitness identifications, in suspect interrogations, and in forensic science.  The science concerning these issues is rigorous, well documented, and replicated; moreover, it tells law enforcement not only what *not* to do in order to avoid miscarriages of justice (e.g., don’t do simultaneous lineups) but how to do the same tasks with much lower risk of mistakes (e.g., use sequential lineups).  Yet, with the exception of DNA work, law enforcement has not embraced science.  Most often, it has actively resisted science.  The question at the center of Failed Evidence is why.  If we can understand why, we will begin to understand what can be done to overcome this resistance, and how to have lasting change in the justice system.  The book contains recommendations for creating this kind of change, as well as examples of situations from states in which breakthroughs have happened.

Buy here

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Short news piece on the Alaska Innocence Project
  • Medill Innocence Project scandal makes the “top 1o” news stories at Northwestern University last year
  • Paradise Lost film series about the West Memphis 3 screening in New Haven, CT
  • Tim Masters writes book about his wrongful conviction
  • Sister of woman slain in the North Carolina case in which Gregory Taylor was wrongfully convicted wants police to reopen the investigation to try to find the real killer

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Video of Barry Scheck and several exonerees speaking out in favor of legislative reform in New York
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit forces government agencies to turn over files in wrongful conviction lawsuit brought by exoneree Chaunte Ott
  • Petitions pouring in from across the U.S. in support of pardons for the Wilmington Ten
  • Illinois Innocence Project looks into arson case
  • New York Bar Association backs recorded interrogatons requirement and double-blind eyewitness identification methods pushed by the Innocence Project
  • New book about the Craughwell Prisoners–several men who were wrongfully convicted in Ireland more than 100 years ago
  • Man exonerated in Cambodia appeals to Prime Minister to make judicial reforms so that it doesn’t happen to others

Two false confessors, friend they implicated declared factually innocent

“There’s no statute of limitations on the truth.”

That is how Steven Drizin of the Center on Wrongful Convictions put it when he forwarded the good news that Michael Crowe and two friends had been declared factually innocent today in the 1998 murder of Crowe’s sister.

Drizin and Rob Warden lead off their excellent book, True Stories of False Confessions, with the story about the outrageous lengths police went to in their relentless effort to persuade Crowe and a teenage friend that they had committed the murder with a third youth despite all the evidence that they did not.

DNA later linked a transient police knew had been in the neighborhood to the crime, and the charges against the teenagers were dropped on the eve of their trial. Today’s ruling wipes clear all records of their arrests.

The Intersection Between Innocence, Expert Witness and Religion:The Case of Rev. Gordon MacRae

The role of expert witnesses in criminal prosecution remain pivotal, to the fair dispensation of justice.  The testimony of an expert might actually be the linchpin, in tilting the decision to convict or acquit an accused person. The real question therefore is, when is an expert not an expert?  How much weight, or probative value, should a judge and/or jury place on the expert testimony of an ‘acclaimed expert’?

We may never be able to know the number of cases or accused persons that have been languishing in prison; who’s conviction(s) were solely reliant on expert testimony that were never really challenged.  Instances like these, remain fertile grounds for defense counsel to truly engage in the ‘battle of the experts’. The quality of legal representation,  the high cost of litigation, and of securing the right experts poses challenges for accused persons and counsel. Rev. Gordon MacRae’s conviction, it seems, appears to harbor some of those lingering doubts.  For a full analysis of the peculiar facts of his case, read article entitled: ‘How Psychotherapists helped send an innocent priest to prison’

The case dwells on the professional and care responsibilities of persons placed in a position of trust; how those responsibilities are discharged; the vulnerability of the care-giver and the carer, especially when it bothers on religion and faith. All of these however must be read against the avalanche of cases involving priest and the laity in the catholic church. Still, the issues in the Rev. Gordon MacRae case, are troubling enough to raise legal and procedural concerns. For one, the psychotherapist’s professional conduct and expertise remain open-ended to further probing questions. For a conviction to be safe, ‘we must clear all shred of doubts’; that is why the burden is ‘primarily’ placed on the prosecution, and the standard of proof is set at a very high bar.

Ten Important Facts About the Wrongful Conviction of Carlos DeLuca, an Innocent Man Executed in Texas…

From the Daily Beast:

Los Tocayos Carlos: An Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution is a haunting chronicle of how Carlos DeLuna, a poor Hispanic man with a history of petty crime and the intelligence of a child, was wrongfully convicted and then executed for the 1983 murder of Wanda Lopez, a convenience-store clerk in Corpus Christi, Texas.  An entire issue of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review has been dedicated to publishing the tale of how DeLuna was put to death and the real killer, a brutal thug named Carlos Hernandez, continued to roam free. The remarkable thing about the narrative is the utter banality of it in what the authors describe as a “case of the obscure accused of murdering the obscure.” Here are 10 of the most gripping and shocking parts of this tragic story.

Ignored By 911

Wanda Lopez was a divorced single mother and high-school dropout who worked the 3–10 p.m. shift behind the register at the Sigmor Shamrock gas station and convenience store. It was in a rough neighborhood inCorpus Christi, located next to a strip club called Wolfy’s. At 8:09 p.m., she called 911 in a panic. She immediately asked “[C]an you have an officer come to 2602 South Padre Island Drive? I have a suspect with a—a knife inside the store … He’s a Mexican. He’s standing right here at the counter.” Instead, the 911operator, Jesse Escochea, who wasn’t supposed to be answering calls and just picked up the phone because everyone else was occupied, quizzed her for 77 seconds because he thought she had “an attitude.” He didn’t dispatch a police car until after Lopez had been fatally stabbed in her chest while asking for help. It later emerged that the reason for her “attitude” was that she had previously called 911 about the same man loitering outside the door and was told to immediately call back if the man entered. If the regular 911 operator had answered, help would have come right away and Wanda Lopez might not have been stabbed.

The Arrest

Eyewitnesses saw two different men running in different directions near the gas station. The only actual witness to the crime saw the stabbing and then watched a Continue reading

UK news item on new book detailing Texan wrongful conviction.

The Guardian has published an article detailing the new book: Los Tocayos Carlos: An Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution, based on six years of intensive detective work by Professor James Liebman and 12 students.. An interesting article on a must-read book:

The wrong Carlos: how Texas sent an innocent man to his death