Category Archives: Exonerations

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Australia – still reliant upon flawed policing techniques.

7762600-3x2-940x627Australia is viewed by many as an idyllic continent, where people can feel safe, and the rule of law prevails. Yet despite being a first world nation, policing can often be outdated and primitive. The use of paid-informants, and the reliance upon supposed ‘jail-house’ confessions has been known to cause wrongful convictions for decades. Yet as recently as 2009, the police of New South Wales used a paid informant to secure a confession from a young vulnerable Sudanese refugee. This supposed confession was obtained while the young man believed the informant had been brought to him to offer support during questioning by the police.

Such tactics not only smack of the worst kind of trickery, they also provide the flimsiest of evidence upon which to base a prosecution. However, this is exactly what the prosecution in the murder case against JB – a Sudanese refugee aged 15 at the time – did. Not only did they rely upon this evidence, they then proceeded to cover it up. It was not disclosed at trial, nor at a subsequent appeal, that the man known as A107 was a police informant, who then avoided his own criminal charges after this assistance with the case against JB.

There is now – belatedly – an inquiry into the police – including the ‘editing’ of contemporaneous notes – and the prosecution (for non-disclosure). This comes 7 years after the jailing of an innocent teenager. The inquiry should be asking why the police, as recently as 2009, were using such methods to try and obtain confessions, and then conspiring to cover their methods up.

Read more here:

Probe launched into wrongful conviction of Sudanese refugee jailed over Edward Spowart murder

 

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Pioneer in innocence movement earns renewed recognition

Before author Erle Stanley Gardner and his Court of Last Resort, before Jim McCloskey and Centurion Ministries, before Barry Scheck and Peter Neufield and their Innocence Project, there was Herbert Maris, a Philadelphia corporate attorney who pioneered prisoner innocence advocacy from the 1920s to the 1950s.
Maris estimated that he freed almost 300 innocent convicts during his 40-year part-time career, but his work is largely forgotten today. The New York Daily News gives Maris his due in an article here.

Monday’s Quick Clicks.

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Johnson, Wheatt, Glover – All Charges Dismissed – After 20 Years

Johnson, Wheatt, Glover – this was the very first case I worked on with the Ohio Innocence Project eight and a half years ago. At the time, it was a GSR case (gunshot residue). The GSR evidence was always highly questionable, but it was a major factor in their conviction. As it turns out, not only was the GSR evidence bogus, but the case is also an example of egregious prosecutorial misconduct.

Please see the story by Maurice Possley on the National Registry of Exonerations website here.

 

Higashi Sumiyoshi Arson Case, Finally Acquitted Today.

I have posted several times about Higashi Sumiyoshi arson case. The Osaka District Court finally acquitted Ms. Keiko Aoki and Mr. Tatsuhiro Boku today.

From the Japan Times:

Retrial acquits Osaka woman, former partner in daughter’s 1995 fire death

Kyodo, Aug 10, 2016

The Osaka District Court acquitted a couple on Wednesday over the 1995 death of an 11-year-old girl, in a long-awaited retrial.

Keiko Aoki, 52, and Tatsuhiro Boku, 50, each served a little over 20 years for the murder of Aoki’s daughter in a house fire in Osaka Prefecture.

In the retrial, the court found no credibility in confessions that the pair allegedly gave during interrogation.

“I was given a complete acquittal. It was a great judgment,” Aoki said after the ruling.

She plans to sue the state for compensation for being deprived of liberty on false grounds. The pair were serving life terms when they secured the retrial.

It is the 10th case since 1975 in which a person sentenced to either the death penalty or life in prison has been acquitted in a retrial, according to the Supreme Court.

In Wednesday’s ruling, presiding Judge Goichi Nishino said none of the confessions made by Boku during investigations could be taken as evidence of guilt. The court similarly found no credibility in Aoki’s confession during investigations.

“There is a possibility that the two were forced into making false confessions after (investigators) instilled fear in them and applied excessive psychological pressure,” the judge said.

The ruling said the fire could have been accidental, adding that Boku’s confession contained nothing that could be considered first-hand insight.

The court also said it was possible that an interrogator coerced Boku into making an “unnatural” and involuntary confession.

But the court did not address the reason for the judiciary’s wrongful conviction, or apologize to Aoki.

Aoki and Boku were retried separately, with their verdicts given on the same day.

Prosecutors decided in March not to pursue fresh convictions against the couple as they could not prove the two were guilty of the crime in the retrial. The move effectively ensured the couple’s acquittal.

Aoki and Boku were convicted by the district court in 1999. Their conviction mainly relied on Boku’s confession that he spread gasoline inside a garage and set it on fire with a lighter.

Aoki and Boku have maintained their innocence throughout the retrials. They requested in 2009 that their cases be retried.

The couple were granted retrials by the court in 2012. The decision was upheld by the Osaka High Court last October and the two were subsequently released from prison.

But doubts were raised about Boku’s confession as evidence, following experiments conducted by both prosecutors and defense lawyers after their sentences were finalized by the Supreme Court in 2006. The experiments indicated the possibility that the garage blaze could have been accidental.

Another key piece of evidence that led to their retrials was an Osaka police diary detailing forceful police questioning.

The defense lawyers presented the diary during Aoki’s trial and also disclosed beforehand a portion of it to reporters.

In her retrial session in April, Aoki told the court she had falsely confessed to her daughter’s murder as she “felt like dying” after a prolonged interrogation by an investigator who continued to shout at her.

The couple were arrested in September 1995 on suspicion of lighting a fire that killed the girl at their Osaka home in July 1995. A life insurance policy had been taken out for the girl, then a sixth-grader in elementary school.

 

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Post Exoneraton Developments in the Debra Milke Case

I hope that by now, everybody knows that Debra Milke, previously convicted and inprisoned in Maricopa County, AZ, for contracting the murder of her young son, has been exonerated.

We’ve posted about the Debra Milke case on this blog several times previously. In chronological order –  here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here(The red link is particularly germane to the subject of this post.)

Pursuant to her wrongful conviction, wrongful imprisonment (22 years on death row), and eventual exoneration, Debra filed suit with five claims against four defendants, including two former Phoenix police officers and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (Bill Montgomery), stating that that she was denied a fair trial and due process of law. The two police officers and the Maricopa County Attorney filed a motion with the court to dismiss the suit. Judge Roslyn O. Silver of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona has denied the motion to dismiss, and is allowing the suit to go forward.

See the story from azcentral here.

You can read the decision by Senior United States District Judge Roslyn O. Silver here:  97-OrderreMotionstoDismiss

 

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Field-test errors may lead to thousands of wrongful drug convictions

At least 100,000 Americans plead guilty every year to drug-possession charges that rely on often-inaccurate field-test results as evidence. At that volume, even the most modest of error rates could produce thousands of wrongful convictions, yet police and prosecutors continue to rely on the tests, Pro Public reports here.

 

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