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:
Good morning. We look at two men who spent decades behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit.
|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.”
Absolved finally of taking a life, Charles Jackson now has his sights set on saving one.
Charles received the life-changing news at the end of last week that prosecutors in Cuyahoga County had finally decided to dismiss the charges against him for a 1991 double-shooting that left a man dead – a crime for which he had already wrongfully served 27 years in prison.
Charles Jackson this summer with OIP staff attorney Mallorie Thomas.
Last November, a judge in Cleveland overturned his conviction, giving him back his freedom but with the prospect looming that the state could decide to try him again.
The decision to dismiss the charges means that a retrial scheduled to convene this month isn’t going to happen, and that Charles officially joins the ranks of 27 other exonerees freed through the work of the Ohio Innocence Project, based in the University of Cincinnati College of Law.
(He was officially added to the National Registry of Exonerations on Wednesday. You can read his profile with full details of his case at http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/pages/casedetail.aspx?caseid=5605)
It also means he can travel to Jacksonville, Fla., where his nephew, Houston Foster, is now residing.
Houston Foster is suffering with advanced kidney disease, to the point he can no longer work nor travel. After testing this spring following his release, Charles turned out to be a match for donating the kidney that Houston needs.
Now he’s making plans for an extended trip to Florida for the transplant of one of his kidneys to Houston. Continue reading
If you’ve followed the Ohio Innocence Project for an extended period of time, you are probably aware that summer is one of the busiest periods around the OIP offices.
The break between the end of spring semester in May and the beginning of fall semester in August is when students selected as OIP Fellows go through their most intensive period of working on cases that could be candidates for exoneration.
The 22 UC law students who are in this year’s cohort of Fellows have been joined by a group of international law students eager to gain exposure to the innocence movement in the United States. Continue reading
“Very rarely in life are we given a gift as precious as this one. It’s humbling to tell a story from people who have suffered so much, rallied so much and given us so much to believe in, in terms of what they are capable of in the best sense of survival.”
Survival. Perseverance. Justice. Renewal.
It sounds like the stuff of a screenplay. In this case, though, it’s opera, which introduces the creative possibilities of storytelling using music, story and song. The finished product, “Blind Injustice,” makes its world premiere this month. The much-anticipated production by the Cincinnati Opera in Music Hall’s Wilks Studio will have five performances between July 22-27, and all are sold out.
(A special preview event on July 17 at Allen Temple A.M.E. Church in Roselawn will feature several excerpts from the opera, along with a discussion with exonerees whose stories are part of the production and the creative team behind “Blind Injustice.” The July 17 event is free, but tickets must be reserved in advance.)
The opera is an adaptation from a book written by Ohio Innocence Project co-founder and director Mark Godsey. It explores the psychology behind wrongful convictions while also drawing on specific experiences from OIP exonerees.
For the creative team charged with developing the opera, it has been a challenging and emotional process. Continue reading
A landmark moment for wrongfully convicted Ohioans arrived today, promising a measure of justice and smoother integration back into society, when Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed into law House Bill 411.
The new law opens the door for a number of exonerees to receive financial compensation for the years they spent wrongfully imprisoned, and certain hurdles that in the past have thrown the question of compensation being received into question have now been removed from the process.
The Ohio Statehouse
“Protecting the rights and freedom of our citizens is my top priority, and when those rights are violated we have a responsibility to take action,” said Rep. Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron), one of the sponsors of the bipartisan bill, along with Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati).
“Thanks to this bipartisan effort, Ohioans who have been wrongfully imprisoned will soon have a better path forward to reclaim their lives and receive the justice they deserve,” Sykes added.
The bill was sponsored in the Ohio Senate by Sen. John Eklund (R-18th District) and Sen. Vernon Sykes (D-28th District).
The new law specifically addresses those cases where convictions were obtained despite what are known as Brady violations. Those are cases where it is ruled that the prosecution illegally withheld evidence that could point to the real perpetrators of the crime.
“The collaborative effort behind House Bill 411 led to a narrow but important piece of legislation that drew bipartisan support in both chambers of the Ohio Legislature,” said Pierce Reed, program director of the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) and one of the most active advocates in helping the legislation to advance. “After more than a year of debate, the overwhelming majority of legislators recognized the impact of Brady violations on the lives of Ohioans and the need to provide eligibility for compensation to innocent men and women whose convictions were tainted by violations of their fundamental rights to a fair trial.” Continue reading
After a 32-year battle to clear his name, Su Pin-kun can finally claim the title of “exoneree.”
Su’s saga to gain justice has been one of the best known in all of Taiwan. Working with the Taiwan Innocence Project, his full exoneration was finalized with an overturned verdict on Aug. 27.
Su, now age 69, was originally sentenced to serve 15 years after being found guilty on charges of robbery and attempted murder in 1987, based on the testimony of a co-defendant who had pled guilty. Yet Su has steadfastly maintained his innocence from the time of his arrest, despite being subjected to treatment during interrogation that included waterboarding, sounding an air raid siren while it was being held to his ear and repeated kicks to the area of his waist.
Being aware of how Su was being treated, his co-defendant confessed to the crimes to avoid similar punishment. He subsequently recanted both his own confession and absolved Su of any guilt in later court hearings. Continue reading
Robert Rihmeek Williams may be free but millions of other young, black and brown men just like him are not—and that’s no coincidence. After a lengthy legal battle and an outpouring of national support, the 30-year-old Philadelphia rapper better known as “Meek Mill” was released from jail on April 24. The hip-hop star was sentenced last November to two to four years behind bars for a series of minor, non-violent probation violations, following his 2008 conviction for drug and weapons charges. One of the violations included performing a motorcycle stunt while shooting a music video in New York in August 2017.
The sentence sparked mass outrage among fans, celebrities, professional athletes, prison reform activists, and the hip-hop community at large. Hundreds of thousands of people protested in Philadelphia, signed online petitions, and stood behind the #FreeMeekMill campaign. They argued that the harsh punishment was unwarranted and rooted in racism. For many, the hip-hop star became a symbol of discrimination within the U.S. criminal justice system, which predominantly impacts men of color.
Following his release last week, Williams vowed to help others trapped in the cycle of recidivism. “I understand that many people of color across the country don’t have that luxury [to fight justice] and I plan to use my platform to shine a light on those issues,” he tweeted.
Williams’ case is not unusual. According to reports, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. After being convicted of a crime, offenders are then often subjected to parole or probation and years of court-ordered supervision. As a result, even a small violation can send them back to prison for a long time. This policy disproportionately affects African American men who compromise one-third of the 4.6 million Americans currently on parole or subject to probation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Overall, 1 in every 15 African American men are incarcerated compared to 1 in every 36 Hispanic men and 1 in every 106 white men. But, not only are these men being stripped of their time and families, corporations are making billions of dollars in exchange for their freedom.
Read about the corporations making a profit on other’s freedom Here
Greenville man wins settlement after spending 2 years in jail on charge that was dropped
Did Outdated Laws in Louisiana Help Convict an Innocent Man?
Kirk Bloodsworth’s new passion: Championship rings for those who won freedom
The state of Kansas is poised to take a significant step toward righting a grave injustice, the theft of people’s freedom for crimes they did not commit.
On Friday, legislators worked out a compromise, agreeing to award $65,000 per year for every year an exoneree was wrongfully imprisoned.
Initial payments would be up to $100,000 or 25 percent of what is owed. Subsequent annual payments would be $80,000.
The reason is telling. Several Kansas men were wrongfully imprisoned for so long that legislators felt it would take too many years to fairly compensate them without the higher yearly payouts.
Read more about the compensation here.
On March 24, 2018, more than five hundred men and women marched through Memphis Tennessee. Most of them had spent a large part of their lives in prison– a combined 3,501 years among them– for crimes they did not commit.
The march was the closing event for the 2018 Innocence Network conference, a gathering of exonorees and lawyers working on behalf of those wrongfully convicted. Exonorees came from every state in the country and from countries across the globe. They marched with attorneys and advocates and family. They held signs demanding change in the system that had wronged them. Demanding accountability. Demanding, at least, public recognition that innocent men and women were being arrested and convicted by agents acting on the public’s behalf.
Just days before the march, the National Registry of Exonerations at the University of Michigan released a review of the 139 people exonerated in 2017. Of them, well over half were initially convicted as the result of official misconduct, such as officers threatening witnesses, lab analysts falsifying results, or exculpatory information being withheld at trial. This misconduct is statistically more likely to occur in Reading more here
DNA’s Revolutionary Role in Freeing the Innocent
Biases in forensic experts
Fascinating stuff related to confirmation bias and tunnel vision…
In 1975, researchers at Stanford invited a group of undergraduates to take part in a study about suicide. They were presented with pairs of suicide notes. In each pair, one note had been composed by a random individual, the other by a person who had subsequently taken his own life. The students were then asked to distinguish between the genuine notes and the fake ones.
Some students discovered that they had a genius for the task. Out of twenty-five pairs of notes, they correctly identified the real one twenty-four times. Others discovered that they were hopeless. They identified the real note in only ten instances.
As is often the case with psychological studies, the whole setup was a put-on. Though half the notes were indeed genuine—they’d been obtained from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office—the scores were fictitious. The students who’d been told they were almost always right were, on average, no more discerning than those who had been told they were mostly wrong.
In the second phase of the study, the deception was revealed. Read more here.
A classic by the leading memory expert, Elizabeth Loftus. Best 17 minutes you can spend to learn about human memory problems and how they impact the criminal justice system.
Fake media is coming for our memories
The recent exonerations of Eric Kelley and Ralph Lee for a 1993 robbery and murder in Paterson, New Jersey have sparked serious concerns from Attorney General Gurbir Grewal who has decided to take over the investigation from Passaic County Prosecutors. The wrongful convictions of both Kelley and Lee, which were overturned based on new DNA evidence pointing to another man who committed a similar crime, have moved Grewal to consider statewide reforms that would improve how the criminal justice system responds to wrongful convictions in the state. He has also called on Supreme Court Chief Justice James Zazzali to independently review how prosecutors managed Kelley and Lee’s case. The prosecutors defended the convictions of Kelley and Lee rather, yet failed to investigate the man identified by the DNA testing.
“We’re going to supersede the investigation … to ensure public confidence in light of the criticism that has been leveled and the coverage of the matter,” said Attorney General Grewal.
The proposed reforms Grewal has decided to pursue include creating a conviction review unit to examine wrongful conviction claims and help prevent innocent people Read more here
Can Prosecutors Put the Same Gun in the Hands of More Than One Shooter?
John Thompson vs. American Justice
The Power of Prosecutors
Some law enforcement officers stepping up for innocence and pointing to tunnel vision as leading to a wrongful conviction…
His Clients Weren’t Complaining. But the Judge Said This Lawyer Worked Too Hard.
Letter: Probation is prison, minus the metal bars