Category Archives: Prosecutorial conduct (good and bad)

Jack McCullough Exoneration. Case Not “Yet” Closed.

We have previously written about the Jack McCullough case here, here, and here.

Jack was convicted in 2012 of the 1957 abduction and murder of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph in Sycamore, IL. Jack was a neighbor of the Ridulph’s at the time. This used to be called the coldest case ever “solved.”

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. Just this past April, 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. Maria Ridulph’s brother is continuing to seek appointment of a special prosecutor to re-open the case against Jack.

Now, a witness for the prosecution, who was incentivized to testify at Jack’s trial, has come forward to claim the the state did not live up to its part of the deal they made with him.

Well, if you’ve ever doubted the politically-driven and self-serving nature of the justice system, please see the recent CNN story HERE.

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Confessions of an Ex-Prosecutor

“Culture and law conspire to make prosecutors hostile to constitutional rights.”

Ken White is a former prosecutor who now practices criminal defense law. Consequently, he has unique insight into what causes prosecutors to act the way they do. As we have posited on this blog before, it’s not because prosecutors are inherently unethical or evil people (although the position does tend to attract people who seek power). It is the inescapable end result of how the justice system is set up and administered, and how the motivational incentives of the position are structured.

Mr. White has authored an article titled “Confessions of an Ex-Prosecutor,” and you can see that article by Ken White on reason.com here.

This quote from the early section of the article:

“…. nobody taught me to think that way, and nobody had to. I learned it by watching how the system ground up clients indifferently and mercilessly. I learned it by watching prosecutors make the sorts of arguments and decisions I had made, and seeing how they actually impacted human lives. I learned it by watching prosecutorial suspicion—and even paranoia—from the wrong end. I learned it by watching how the system crushed indigent clients, and by how it could destroy the lives of even wealthy clients with minimal effort or cause.”

Until the day that prosecutors are rendered subject to meaningful oversight and sanctions for wrongdoing, and until the day that state-level prosecutors are no longer politically elected, we’re going to be stuck with this problem.

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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.

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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.

 

“The Culture of Conviction” (aka – The Culture of Prosecutors .. or .. The Culture of ‘Winning’)

In our recent post about the exoneration of Jack McCullough (see here), we made special note of the fact that a prosecution is not supposed to be just about ‘winning’ for the prosecutor. It’s supposed to be about seeing that true justice is done. A new article by Radley Balko in the Washington Post is an excellent follow-on to that post.

Please see the recent piece by Radley Balko in the Washington Post here:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2016/04/18/the-culture-of-conviction/

 

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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.

 

More on the Jack McCullough Exoneration

Jack

Photo: Chicago Sun-Times

See our recent post on this case here.

An Illinois judge has freed Jack McCullough from prison, and ordered a new trial. Jack was convicted in 2012 of the 1957 abduction and murder of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph in Sycamore, IL. Jack was a neighbor of the Ridulph’s at the time. This used to be called the coldest case ever “solved.” And I guess we can now call it an “exoneration,” since the prosecutor has indicated his intention to have the charges against Jack dismissed with prejudice; meaning Jack can never be brought back into court for this crime again.

CNN just published an article that includes an interview with Jack. This very insightful comment from that interview:

“People have to realize, it’s not about winning. It’s about justice. And this brave man — I probably shouldn’t talk about him at all — but he put his career on the line for me,” McCullough said. He thought a moment and carefully chose the words that followed:

“It isn’t about winning a case, it’s about justice. And God bless the man who stood up for justice. He’s probably going to pay a penalty for that because to everyone else it’s about winning. But it’s not about winning. It’s about doing the right thing.”

Let me add the editorial note that this is where politically ambitious, politically elected prosecutors get it wrong. It’s not supposed to be about “winning.” It’s supposed to be about seeing that justice is done. But … winning is much more important for your political record than is providing true justice. The prosecutor in this case is a rare and marvelous exception to that rule.

See the CNN story with the interview here.

The Oldest Cold Case Ever “Solved” is Now Still Unsolved. Jack McCullough’s Conviction Overturned.

We have reported on the case of Jack McCullough here before.  Please see:  https://wrongfulconvictionsblog.org/2016/03/25/illinois-prosecutor-says-man-convicted-in-oldest-cold-case-is-innocent/

An Illinois judge has recently overturned Jack’s conviction in the 1957 abduction and murder of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph in Sycamore, IL.

See the CNN story here.

 

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New Report Details Need for Greater Transparency and Accountability for Prosecutors

The Innocence project (NY) has announced the release of a new report calling for greater transparency and accountability for prosecutors.

On the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Connick v. Thompson, which granted prosecutors broad immunity for their misconduct, a coalition of innocence organizations today released a new report, Prosecutorial Oversight: A National Dialogue in the Wake of Connick v. Thompson, calling for greater transparency and accountability for prosecutors. Although prosecutors have long argued that there are sufficient systems in place to guard against misconduct, the report reviewed court findings of misconduct over a five year period for five states, documenting 660 findings of misconduct – a likely undercount given the difficulties in identifying this behavior. Of these cases, we know of only one prosecutor who was disciplined for his misconduct, and that took a change of law by the Texas Legislature. The report, which was produced in conjunction with forums featuring a broad array of criminal justice stakeholders in the five states surveyed, provides a list of recommendations that states should pursue to increase prosecutorial transparency and accountability.
This report was a collaborative effort by several organizations that oversaw the design and implementations of the research process. The organizations primarily responsible were the Innocence Project, the Veritas Initiative at Santa Clara University School of Law, Innocence Project New Orleans and Resurrection after Exoneration. A number of additional organizations also provided support in hosting and presenting the prosecutorial oversight forums. These included the Arizona Justice Project, the Pennsylvania Innocence Project and the Actual Innocence Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law.