Category Archives: New Evidence

Two Travesties of Justice and Not a Single Apology in Sight

Anyone interested in criminal justice knows that our system is broken. Two recent cases out of Louisiana highlight just how broken our system really is.

 

The first case is about a now-senior citizen named Wilbert Jones, who was released last week from prison after serving 45 years for a rape he didn’t commit. Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton (twice), Bush (twice), Obama (twice) came and went, while this innocent man languished in prison waiting for a miracle to occur.

 

Mr. Jones was a poor, black teenager in 1972 when he was arrested. He was convicted of abducting a white nurse from a hospital parking lot and raping her, and was sentenced to life without parole. The case against him was weak, resting solely on the nurse’s questionable identification of Mr. Jones made nearly three long months after the rape had occurred.

 

The prosecutor involved in the case appears to have withheld crucial evidence from the defense, including the identity of another man, accused of a rape in a difference case who better matched the nurse’s description of the suspect. This apparently was not uncommon: the prosecutor in Mr. Jones’ case had a reputation of routinely violating his constitutional obligations to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense.

 

It took the Innocence Project New Orleans nearly 15 years to gain Mr. Jones’ freedom. And here’s the kicker. Even though the prosecution has said they will not seek to re-try Mr. Jones, they nonetheless requested that bail be set at $2,000. Even more outrageously, the judge granted the bail motion. Let me repeat: a judge set bail for a 65-year-old man who spent 45 years in prison for a crime he did not commit in a case where the prosecution is not planning to re-try him.

Seriously?

 

Keeping with the theme of outrageous, last week Kevin Smith was released from a New Orleans jail, after serving nearly eight years without ever having been convicted of a crime. In 2010, Mr. Smith was arrested for a non-violent drug offense and placed in the county jail, where he sat, and sat, and sat some more, awaiting his day in court. His case was delayed because of a hurricane, because of a competency hearing, because of motions and who-knows-what else as lawyers for both sides hemmed and hawed about moving forward with the case. In the meantime, Mr. Smith rejected a plea offer of 10 years, which would have ended his sentence in 2015, and finally filed his own motion to be released, arguing that his constitutional right to a speedy trial had been violated. After his lawyers joined his motion, a judge set Mr. Smith free. He earned the dubious honor of having spent the most time in pre-trial detention for a non-violent offense.

 

Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration in the country. It is rife with allegations of corruption and misconduct. It disparately impacts poor people of color. The system is simply not working, and it is time for places like Louisiana to do something about it.

 

Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith are owed far more than an apology by Louisiana. In the meantime, a mea culpa by the State would be a good start.

This piece also appeared in the Huffington Post.

 

Friday’s Quick Clicks

  • This is weird.  Bill pending in Tennessee would allow inmates cleared by DNA testing to bypass the governor and be exonerated by the legislature.  Articles suggest currently governor is only options for such inmates.  A quick look at the Tennessee rules seems to suggest that such a motion could only be brought in the court system if it were made within 30 days of sentencing.  WTH?  That’s awful.  Tennessee needs an innocence organization to fix that situation and get a real “motion for new trial” rule passed in that state.
  • ‘Global epidemic’ of US-style plea bargaining prompts miscarriage warning
  • Oklahoma Commission Issues Report Findings: ‘It is undeniable that innocent people have been sentenced to death in Oklahoma’
  • Exoneree Marty Tankleff passes the NY bar exam!!!

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Exoneration and Freedom for Evin King in Ohio

Today, prosecutors in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland)  vacated the conviction of long-time Ohio Innocence Project client Evin King.  King was convicted in 1995 of murdering his girlfriend despite no direct evidence of guilt (eyewitness or forensic).  He always maintained his innocence, from arrest and trial and then throughout his 23 years of incarceration.

When he is released, which will hopefully be later this week, King will be the 25th person the OIP has freed on grounds of innocence since its founding in 2003.  Together the 25 innocent Ohioans spent more than 470 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.

unnamed

Evin King prison photo

DNA testing confirmed that the semen found in the victim’s vaginal cavity after the attacked matched male skin cells found under her fingernails (a hand-to-hand struggle appeared to have taken place during the attack, as the victim was strangled).  This male DNA in both locations did NOT match Evin King, but rather, an unknown male.
[Watch this moving video of Assistant Clinical Professor Jennifer Bergeron informing Evin King, in prison, that he is about to regain his freedom after 23 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit…]
Prosecutors had for years failed to respond to King’s motions for relief, even after the exclusionary DNA test results were obtained.  And the trial court sat on King’s post-conviction motions for nearly a year-and-a-half before denying relief.  Fortunately, the 8th District Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision last year and sent the case back to the trial court for a hearing, while specifically observing that the DNA evidence supports King’s innocence claim.  On Friday, the OIP learned that after newly-elected prosecutor Michael O’Malley took office in January, he put new prosecutors on the case to look into it with a fresh eye.  When O’Malley was later informed of the details of King’s case from these prosecutors, he ordered that King’s conviction be overturned and that he be released.
OIP Assistant Clinical Professor Jennifer Bergeron has represented King for many years, as did OIP staff attorney and Ohio Public Defender attorney Carrie Wood (now at the Cincinnati Public Defender’s Office).  OIP student fellows on the case include Taylor Freed, Katie Wilkin, Mallorie Thomas, Joe Wambaugh, Bryant Stayer, Steve Kelly, Morgan Keilholz, Jon Walker, Scott Leaman, Thomas Styslinger, John Markus, and Julie Payne.  The Ohio Public Defenders Office, particularly Kris Haines, worked on King’s case as well for many years.  King’s case is another example of the importance of determination and perseverance, as Bergeron, Wood, Haines, and the students never gave up even though at times King’s prospects appeared bleak given the initial stiff resistance of the trial court and the prosecutors.
OIP co-founder and director Mark Godsey said, “While the initial delay in obtaining justice for Mr. King is disturbing, Michael O’Malley and the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office deserve credit for turning this case around and correcting an injustice.  As we have seen in other counties with other cases, prosecutors far too often fight back hard against an exoneration even when the evidence of innocence is strong.  But in several past cases in Cuyahoga County, and today with Evin King’s case, the prosecutors in Cleveland put justice above winning.  O’Malley’s involvement in the case since his recent election, along with his decision to put new prosecutors on the case, may have been the pivotal factor that secured freedom for an innocent man, and we are thankful for his heroic intervention.”

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Maine law makers consider expanding timeframe for inmates to bring innocence petitions with new evidence beyond current one-year limit; prosecutors oppose.
  • New study suggests that when indigent defendants get to choose their public defender, the system works better
  • A new bill under consideration in Montana would require prosecutors to tell defendants that they plan to use an incentivized witness and the terms of the deal made in exchange for testimony. It also would allow defense counsel to request a pre-trial hearing where a judge can weigh the credibility of the testimony and if there is enough other evidence to corroborate the witness’ story. The judge could then choose to bar the testimony as inadmissible or issue a jury instruction, similar to how courts currently review the credibility of some scientific witnesses before a trial starts.
  • Dallas’ exonerees mission to free the wrongfully convicted is the focus of a new film

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Jeffrey MacDonald actual innocence appeal

Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, the former Green Beret surgeon who was first cleared in the murders of his pregnant wife and two daughters and then convicted in 1970, will have what may be his final chance at overturning his conviction after spending the past 36 years in prison for a crime that many experts now believe he did not commit.  Oral arguments before a federal appeals court will commence on January 26.  The crime took place prior to the use of DNA analysis and new DNA evidence and a lot of other evidence, including evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, flawed forensic testimony, and botched crime scene analysis, provides powerful support for his story that intruders killed his family in what was in some ways similar to the “Manson family” murders in that same era.  People Magazine investigative reports will culminate in its major cover story, available on newsstands on Friday, January 20.  Here is a link to the People Magazine digital story today that precedes the cover story:

Former Green Beret Surgeon Jeffrey MacDonald Says There’s Evidence He Didn’t Kill His Family: ‘I Am Innocent’

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Could Jerry Sandusky be innocent?

What if Jerry Sandusky didn’t do it? Hard to believe, right? The evidence against him seemed to be overwhelming. But was it really?
Author Mark Pendergrast argues that much of the sensational 2012 child-abuse case against the notorious former Penn State assistant football coach hinges on flawed repressed-memory theory. In a commentary for The Crime Report here, Pendergrast says it is relatively easy to generate false memories of abuse and documents how that may have occurred in this case.

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Comment on the Nature and State of the (US) Justice System

While writing the latest post about Jack McCullough‘s exoneration, and while reading Courtney Bisbee‘s latest filing with the US District Court for Arizona, I got to reflecting on my experiences with the justice system over the past eight years, and I thought I would share some of my (unvarnished) observations. Clearly, this will be very editorial. It will probably help to understand my comments to know that I am not an attorney. I am an engineer by training, and that’s what I did for my entire working career – until I started doing innocence work pro bono. So I see the justice system with the naivete’ of someone who is an “outsider” and is not a functionary of the system; but I do see the system as someone who has spent his entire life founded in objective truth and logic and fact. Again, this article will be editorial in nature, and represents my views and only my views. It will also be pretty bleak; however, I see no viable path to fixing the monster we’ve created over the course of multiple decades of politics and the frailties of human nature. This has been bottled up inside me for some time, and the cork has finally popped. And just for reference, my definition of the justice system includes the law, legislators, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and the police.

Continue reading

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Jack McCullough Exoneration – The Continuing Update

We’ve been posting here about the exoneration of Jack McCullough in the 1957 abduction and murder of then 7-year-old Maria Ridulph in Sycamore, IL. The current DeKalb County prosecutor, Richard Schmack, felt ethically compelled to review the case, and determined that evidence proved Jack could not be guilty.  Consequently, he filed a motion with the court to dismiss charges with prejudice; meaning that Jack could not be charged and tried for the crime again. For previous posts, please see here, here, here, and here.

Judge William Brady did dismiss the charges, but declined to do so “with prejudice.” This now leaves Jack vulnerable to being re-charged and re-tried. See the latest CNN story here.

And so grinds the justice system. And now with the decision by the judge not to dismiss with prejudice, there is a petition going around Sycamore, IL calling for the appointment of a “special prosecutor.” Despite facts, logic, and reason, people will just not give up their biases, beliefs, and prejudices. And just as an aside, prosecutor Schmack can probably ‘kiss goodbye’ to any chance of being re-elected – all because he did the right thing. Such is politics, and such is the justice system. And we can only speculate about how politics in this ultra-high-profile case may have influenced the decision of the judge.

 

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Colorado Prosecutors Practice ‘Spin’ and Deceit

I have long been dismayed by the state of ethics within the prosecutorial community. Here is just one more example of why. This one stretches the limits of credibility to the point of being sadly laughable.

Between 2010 and 2014, prosecutors in Colorado conducted what was called the “Justice Review Project,” which was federally funded for $2.6 million. The objective was to review over 5,000 convictions to determine if DNA testing could prove any of the defendants actually innocent.

The “Project” consisted entirely of prosecutorial staff, with the exception of the “Review Board,” which did have representation from the legal defense community. However, there was only one case that ever came before the review board, and that case was imposed upon the “Project” by outside defense counsel, which had already paid for independent DNA testing. This one case was also the only one out of over 5,000 that the “Project” determined was suitable for DNA testing. The “Project’s” selection criteria had been set up to allow off-hand disqualification of essentially every case.

The prosecutors then went on to claim (boast) that the “Project” proved that the Colorado justice system is infallible, and that Colorado prosecutors “get it right the first time” all the time. Not only that, but they also had the unmitigated gall to state in their final report on the “Project” that the one case in which DNA was tested (which they had forced on them), and proved innocence, was their “crowning achievement.”

Now the prosecutors are refusing to release (hiding) records of the “Project.” So, the Exoneration Project is suing in Denver District Court to have the records released.

See the Colorado Independent story here.