Category Archives: Uncategorized

More Forensic Laboratory Errors in Australia

In Western Australia, a Corruption and Crime Commission investigation is underway after it has been revealed that a mistake in labelling DNA samples in a laboratory led to the wrongful conviction of a man in 2004. There are lots of aspects to this story that beggar belief. Here are some that we know about already:

  • The original mix-up at the laboratory: DNA found at the scene of a burglary was incorrectly identified as belonging to the innocent man. The DNA actually belonged to a man with the same name and a laboratory worker assigned the DNA test results to the wrong person.
  • The laboratory informed the police of the mix-up after it’s discovery in April 2016 when the real offender was arrested over a separate matter. The police then took a further YEAR to act on this information.
  • The victim initially protested his innocence to police but agreed to plead guilty on the advice of his lawyer who apparently told him that no one was likely to believe him and that he risked a prison sentence if he went to trial.


This laboratory is again under investigation – hot on the heels of another inquiry launched last month after it emerged a forensic biologist for PathWest, Laurance Webb, was sacked because he breached testing protocols four times between 2008 and 2014, including failing to conduct quality control testing and have work peer reviewed (see here….) . There is also an urgent question over why the police took a year to act on the information. One must surely also question the original legal advice to plead guilty – though that is not being mentioned in any of the media reports below:

CCC probe: Man wrongly convicted after DNA bungle

WA cops took a year to clear innocent man

Man wrongfully convicted after DNA mixup

DNA bungle finds WA man wrongly convicted of home invasion in 2004

Synthesized Testimony

From the Blind Injustice Facebook group:

Blind Injustice Chapter 5 titled Blind Memory discusses “synthesized testimony,” which occurs when police officers, many times unwittingly, take advantage of the malleability of human memory to bend and shape witness statements to fit their theory of the case. Many times, the witnesses don’t even realize their memories of the case have been contaminated and altered. From this link:

“But investigators manipulated the children’s often-conflicting narratives, dooming Sanborn to 70 years in prison for a crime that, his attorney claims in a new motion for bail filed last week, he did not commit.”

Victory in Taiwan….

From the Taiwan Innocence Project (news story in English here)


We are very happy to announce that our client Lin Chin-Kui was ordered released from prison on April 21, 2017.
Lin Chin-Kui was convicted for murdering a taxi driver in 2010, and was sentenced to life. In 2013, he reached out to the Taiwan Innocence Project claiming his innocence. 
During the investigation the Project found surveillance footage at the scene showing that the killer had long hair down to the shoulder. The Project contacted Lin’s sister to see if there were any photographs taken around the time of the crime. His sister found a ID photo taken 2 months before the incident, and he had short hair in the photo. Due to common sense, it was impossible for a person to grow hair that long in a two months period. TIP further asked for assistance from an expert in electric and computer engineering, who provided advice on facial recognition. The expert conducted a 3D analysis and concluded that it was highly unlikely that that the person in the footage was Lin. 
In March 2016, the Project filed a motion for retrial, the court granted retrial on April 18 2017. The court also ordered Lin to be released from prison. Lin walked out from prison on April 21, 2017.


Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Indigenous Injustice Again – Conviction Overturned in Australia

imagesI’ve written before about the many injustices that the Indigenous people of Australia face when caught up in the criminal justice system (for example see here…. and here…. and here ). I’ve also had occasion to write about the flawed investigative techniques of Australian police officers (see here… ). Both issues combined to see the wrongful conviction of a young Aboriginal man, convicted of the 2010 manslaughter of 21 yr old Josh Warnecke. However, justice has finally been done with his wrongful conviction overturned after over four years in prison.

Gene Gibson had given police a confession – induced by false evidence – when he was intellectually incapable of understanding the legal process. Gibson had been interviewed without an interpreter (despite having little English language) and no lawyer present. Gibson retracted his confession but was still convicted. He was supported in his efforts to win his freedom by the mother of the victim (who claims to feel ‘hoodwinked’ by the police), and some of Australia’s best legal professionals, working for free.

The Police Commissioner is planning to meet with Gibson after his release to personally apologise. In an earlier investigation into the police handling of the case, a scathing report found the problems with the case were a symptom of wider “failures and weaknesses” in the Western Australian Police handling of major cases. A total of eleven police officers face disciplinary action over their handling of the case.

Read more here:

WA Court of Appeal overturns Gene Gibson conviction for manslaughter of Josh Warneke

Gene Gibson’s manslaughter conviction for Josh Warneke killing thrown out

and earlier reports from 2015 on the police disciplinary action:

WA police stood aside over arrest of Aboriginal man charged with murder

New Facebook Group on Wrongful Convictions Issues…

If you’re interested in staying up on wrongful conviction issues on Facebook, I’ve started a new group called Blind Injustice.   It will also be a place people can discuss these issues, etc. in an open forum.

Join the group here:

More pics of the big exonerations in South Africa

Blogged about yesterday here



Big Win for Innocent Men and the Wits Justice Project in South Africa

From the Daily Maverick:

Before convicted murderers Samuel ‘Sampie’ Khanye and Victor Moyo walked out of Kgosi Mampuru’s spiked prison gates on 24 March, Khanye had just one request which wasn’t granted. He wanted to tell prison director Mabuti Tshele that the Constitutional Court had overturned the men’s life sentences and convictions on four counts – including murder and robbery – and ordered their immediate release: “Officials say all inmates sing the same song and Tshele called me a liar when I said I knew nothing about this crime. After 14 years in jail for a crime I didn’t commit, the Court has proved I’m innocent.”

After struggling to prove their innocence for what seemed a lifetime, an elated Khanye (37) and Moyo (35) were vindicated by order of the highest court in the land. Thanks to the combined efforts of the Wits Justice Project (WJP), human rights attorney Egon Oswald, respected Advocate Carol Steinberg and wrongfully convicted co-accused Thembekile Molaudzi, the men left the prison carrying little else besides a heavy burden of betrayal by the criminal justice system. Ironically, North West Judge President Monica Leeuw, who convicted the men in 2004, also signed their warrant of liberation.

Both men had protested their innocence since their 2003 arrest when they were rounded up as suspects – along with six others – following a botched hijacking and murder of Mothutlung policeman Dingaan Makuna. Hoping truth would prevail, Khanye recently agreed to participate in a prison Victim-Offender Dialogue (VOD) programme, to meet Makuna’s family and “tell the truth” to help both obtain psychological closure.

“I told the truth,” says Khanye, “I said I never committed the murder. When I started crying, Tshele, who was at the meeting, told me to stop shedding crocodile tears and obstructing the course of justice.” Moyo refused to meet the family: “I never killed anyone. I know nothing about this crime. The worst part was no one believed me. I saw a psychologist but all she could tell me was ‘be strong’.”

Failed by the police, the courts, legal aid lawyers, private attorneys and an advocate appointed by the Johannesburg Bar Council, Khanye and Moyo can expect no compensation from the State. Nor will Leeuw shoulder any legal consequence for the lost years and shattered dreams of five co-accused men – including Khanye and Moyo – she convicted and sentenced to life in 2004. (The men’s convictions have subsequently all been overturned by the ConCourt.)

“I’m excited but I’m scared to face the real world,” Moyo said outside the prison gates. “I’ve been here a long time and everything is different now.” Luckily, Khanye and Moyo can turn to “old-timer” exonerees Molaudzi, Boswell Mhlongo and Disco Nkosi for support, as they attempt to rebuild their broken lives in the weeks ahead. Mhlongo and Nkosi’s convictions were the first to be overturned in a precedent-setting 2015 ConCourt case.

Mhlongo and Nkosi’s exonerations paved the way for Molaudzi, who spearheaded the long battle to prove the men’s innocence, to appeal his own conviction, and motivated Khanye and Moyo to fight for their freedom. “When Thembekile left prison, he promised he’d do everything in his power to help us,” Khanye says. “He’s a man of his word. Whatever he says, he fulfils.”

It was Molaudzi who first alerted the WJP to Khanye and Moyo’s predicament and persuaded Khanye and Moyo to lodge their ConCourt appeal. This was no easy feat. For starters, Legal Aid was unwilling to assist them and neither could afford R6,000 to print 25 copies of their trial record as required by the court. “My brother gave me R3,000 and I earned R60/month as a cook in prison,” Khanye says, “and I saved every cent my brother and sister gave me for toiletries.”

“I only managed six copies,” Moyo explains. “That’s why I was the second applicant and why we lodged a joint application. I come from a poor family. My father was killed in a hit-and-run a car accident two years before our arrest and my mother lived in a shack when I went to prison. There was no one to help me. My mother was an only child. I have no aunty or uncle. Only she and two of my five siblings stood by me….”

Eventually the men scraped the money together. Assisted by Johannes Mogoba, a fellow-inmate studying law with Unisa, Khanye and Moyo lodged a joint ConCourt application for leave to appeal in April last year. The final ugly twist in the men’s unfortunate tale came after the ConCourt asked the Johannesburg Bar Council to appoint an advocate to represent the men on a pro bono basis and prominent Johannesburg advocate Naome Manaka took on the case last July.

Initially overjoyed, the men’s excitement was short-lived. Manaka never consulted with her clients or informed them of progress, and mostly would not take their calls. The ConCourt fared no better in its attempts to chivvy Manaka along. In spite of letters sent to her on behalf of Justice Johan Froneman and three subsequent letters from the Registrar of the Court asking when submissions would be filed, Manaka failed to respond or even meet her own deadlines. Nor did Manaka respond to four requests by the WJP for comment.

More than five months after Manaka’s appointment, Khanye heard fortuitously via the prison grapevine that she had submitted heads of argument on his behalf to the court: “One of my co-accused heard from his legal representative Advocate Laurence Hodes. I phoned Manaka and asked to see the papers. She said she never had copies, not even in her computer.”

Manaka claimed the delays resulted from the fact that the court was unable to provide her with trial transcripts – an easily rectifiable situation had she consulted her clients, or taken up repeated offers by the WJP to provide her with the transcripts and other documentation.

By the end of January this year, the two inmates were desperate and Molaudzi asked the WJP to obtain copies of Manaka’s submissions from the court. To their horror, they discovered Manaka had only made submissions on Khanye’s behalf, she had conflated and confused the two men’s alibis, the arguments contained material discrepancies and she hadn’t dealt with all the relevant issues. “Manaka just wanted to get rid of our case,” Moyo notes. “She never cared about us, or our freedom….”

Moyo sought solace in prayer, going down on his knees sometimes five times a day. The men knew only too well that the ConCourt was the last port of call in a protracted legal battle to prove their innocence. With their liberty at stake and buoyed by the support of the WJP, who roped in attorney Oswald to help, the two indigent inmates took an extraordinarily brave decision: They instructed the Bar Council to terminate Manaka’s mandate and requested the urgent appointment of alternative counsel.

Steinberg, who last month successfully argued the Sassa matter in the ConCourt on behalf of Corruption Watch, stepped into the breach and lodged replacement heads of argument three weeks later. A few days later, the State conceded that Khanye and Moyo should never have been convicted and the court ordered their immediate release with formal judgment to follow.

The five men’s freedom rested on complicated legal arguments relating to the admissibility of extra-curial evidence of a co-accused which the ConCourt deemed unconstitutional after Mhlongo and Nkosi’s appeal. All five were convicted on the recanted, uncorroborated hearsay evidence of Accused Number One whom a full bench of the NW High Court deemed “a reckless liar”.

A bungled SAPS investigation failed to produce gun residue, independent witnesses, fingerprints or any other form of tangible evidence linking the five men to the crime. In Khanye and Moyo’s cases, identification parade evidence was so poor the court disregarded it. And Khanye told the court during a trial-within-a-trial that he was forced to make a statement after being tortured by the police.

“The police assaulted and beat me until I agreed to co-operate,” the former Brits golf caddy says. “They put my head inside a car tyre tube and covered my face so I couldn’t breathe. Then they beat me with a hosepipe and broomstick. They tortured us for two days, also with electric shocks, to make us confess. They said they wouldn’t stop torturing us unless we told the magistrate what they said. In the end, I signed the statement they gave me.”

Two weeks before the conclusion of their nine-month trial, Khanye was subjected to suffering of a different order: His 55-year-old father, Elsas, had a fatal heart attack and the “high-risk offender” was not allowed to attend his funeral.

“The police kept saying I was the murderer and I was very badly assaulted,” Moyo recalls. “They gave me a statement and told me what to say but I refused. I was at a 21st party in Polokwane. I knew nothing about the murder and had never been to Mothutlung. I brought three people to testify who were at the party. It didn’t make any difference. The court accepted three statements of Accused Number One which all contradicted each other…”

When the men arrived at Kgosi Mampuru C-Max after sentencing, they claim they were forced to strip naked, assaulted, shocked with electric shock shields and tortured for no apparent reason in front of female warders. After their transfer to Kokstad’s eBongweni C-Max prison, designed to house the country’s most dangerous criminals, they were assaulted and tortured again.

Throughout their ordeal, Khanye and Moyo leant heavily on Molaudzi for emotional and practical guidance as they struggled to obtain their transcripts that were needed to appeal their case. Eight years after their conviction, prison warder Levy Maphakane took pity on Molaudzi and asked the WJP for help. Prior to this, the Legal Aid advocate who initially represented Molaudzi claimed his office burnt down and he’d lost all his records.

After a second Legal Aid advocate failed to find the records, Molaudzi, Khanye and Nkosi’s families raised R18,000 between them and paid private attorneys to find the records, even though indigent inmates are entitled to these documents at State expense. When the attorneys eventually delivered the transcripts two years later, more than half the 1,023 page record – including the most crucial evidence – was missing. “We didn’t commit a crime,” Molaudzi says, “a crime was committed against us…”

After repeated requests, Leeuw finally agreed to retranscribe the records and the men were in a position to appeal their case – a constitutional right and a delay Justice Edwin Cameron subsequently described as “egregious”. Their appeal was dismissed by a full bench of the NW High Court. Subsequent Supreme Court appeals were also dismissed without reason.

Despite Molaudzi’s indefatigable personality and constant attempts to buoy their spirits, the men were growing increasingly despondent. Mhlongo had twice attempted to end his life and a third attempt landed him in a six-month coma. “There were many times when I lost hope and thought I can’t continue – especially when Boswell tried to commit suicide,” Moyo says. “He left a note telling his mother it was better for him to die. I felt the same. If it weren’t for my mom who stood by me and my son, Jimmy, who is now 14, I’d have killed myself long ago…

Clearly, Dingaan Makuna and his family were not the only victims of a monstrous crime.

Unlike Moyo, Khanye never saw his mother for two years before his release: “I didn’t want her to visit. Every time she came she cried the whole time until visiting hour was over. I disappointed my whole family. If I wasn’t in this mess, maybe my father would still be alive?”

Fourteen years later, five men and their families are proof of the human cost of judicial error, the fallibility of an increasingly dysfunctional criminal justice system and the fact that not only guilty people find themselves behind bars – especially if they’re poor. “It’s not only me and Victor in prison for nothing,” Khanye says. “There are many, many others….” Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. DM

Raphaely is a senior journalist with the Wits Justice Project (WJP) based in the journalism department of the University of the Witwatersrand. The WJP investigates miscarriages of justice and human rights abuses related to the criminal justice system.

Photo: After 14 years behind bars for a crime they did not commit, Sampie Khanye and Victor Moyo were welcomed at the prison gates by their lawyer Egon Oswald, Wits Justice Project’s Carolyn Raphaely and one of their also wrongfully convicted co-accused Thembekile Molaudzi. (Photo:Roz Berzen)

Front: Previously wrongfully convicted Thembekile Molaudzi in blue t-shirt

Middle: Wits Justice Project’s Carolyn Raphaely and wrongfully convicted just released Sampie Khanye.

Back: Wrongfully convicted just released Victor Moyo and lawyer Egon Oswald


Passing of TX exoneree Billy Smith

By Mike Ware, executive director, IPTX
On March 25, 2017, Billy Smith passed away in Dallas, Texas. Billy was one of the Dallas DNA exonorees who spent 20 years in prison for a crime for which he was proven innocent by DNA. Billy spent the ten years after his release from prison working tirelessly to improve the Texas criminal justice system and to obtain the release of other wrongfully imprisoned persons.
The tragedy of Billy’s wrongful imprisonment was compounded by the way he was treated by the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office. In 2001 Billy filed a request for a DNA test to prove his innocence. For the next five years the District Attorney’s Office fought against Billy receiving this test. In 2005 a unanimous opinion from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered the DNA test to proceed in Billy’s case. The court’s opinion, in strong and clear language, recognized that the District Attorney’s Office never had a legitimate basis to oppose Billy receiving the DNA test. The DNA test was then performed, proving Billy’s innocence and in 2006 he was finally released from prison.
The resistance to Billy receiving a DNA test was by the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office prior to Craig Watkins taking office as District Attorney in 2007 and establishing the nations first District Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit. Since it’s inception the Dallas County Conviction Integrity Unit has identified other wrongfully imprisoned persons who were also denied DNA testing under the previous District Attorney’s administration and worked to ensure that innocent persons are not in prison.
Nevertheless it is important that we not forget what the “old days” were like. Under the attitude and approach taken by the Dallas District Attorney’s Office when Billy was fighting to prove his innocence, justice took a back seat to protecting and upholding convictions. And that attitude and approach is still prevalent in prosecutor’s offices throughout Texas and the entire country. Even some Dallas County prosecutors believe the District Attorney’s Office should go back to the old way of doing things. It will be a fitting tribute to Billy Smith if his case is cited as a cautionary tale of what goes wrong when prosecutors forget that their job, above all else, is to do justice.

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Injustices multiplied

From: Post Register

Christopher Tapp was finally freed from prison after more than 20 years. Prosecutor Danny Clark has released a statement in which he attempts to explain the actions of his office in dropping all counts of rape against Mr. Tapp, but leaving in place the murder conviction (with a deadly-weapon enhancement). Clark’s statement unfortunately does not explain this split, which is peculiar since all of the same forensic evidence used to dismiss the rape charge equally demonstrate that Mr. Tapp had nothing to do with the murder of Miss Dodge. The DNA analysis requested by the Idaho Innocence Project has produced clear results that exclude Mr. Tapp from everything tested. The tests also exclude all of the other suspects that were part of the prosecution theory of the crime. More importantly, the scientific evidence tells a very clear story—one that was totally ignored by the prosecutor’s statement.

Mr. Tapp is not on any of the evidence in this case, but one man is—in every single profile. First of all, his semen was recovered from the victim’s body—before Mr. Tapp’s trial. We now know, through testing requested by the Chris’s legal team (and the victim’s mother), that the same man left a pubic hair on the victim’s face. In DNA analysis completed during the last year—requested by the government—we have also learned that the same single perpetrator contributed DNA to clothing the victim was wearing—both her sweatpants and her sweatshirt. Most recently, in conjunction with a request by the IIP, the prosecutor had key items of the prosecution’s theory tested using the most modern techniques available (including MVac). This is key, since the confession that was spoon-fed to Mr. Tapp (in exchange for an immunity agreement) had Mr. Tapp contacting the victim and her possessions in three places. He held down her hands, he stabbed her once through her shirt and wiped his hands on the shirt, and he moved her teddy bear. It was clear from the crime scene that she had been stabbed through her shirt, and that the teddy bear had been moved. Fortunately, the clothing and bear were preserved, and swabs from the victim’s hands had been taken but never tested.

We agreed with the prosecution that these were the key items that should be analyzed with the most modern technology possible. These items would either show the truth of the prosecution’s theory, or finally put it to rest. When the results were known, they produced a clear picture of what happened. None of the state’s suspects (including Chris Tapp) were on any of the evidence, but in a remarkably clear set of results, the semen donor was consistently on all of them. We now know who moved Angie’s teddy bear, left DNA on her shirt, and restrained her—leaving his DNA on each hand.

For 10 years, we have fought to demonstrate in open court that Mr. Tapp is innocent of murdering Angie Dodge. During that same time, the county continued to test evidence in this case (apparently looking for Mr. Tapp’s DNA). We had just received the final results, when Chris Tapp was offered a deal. He could be freed, without the delays of hearings, a new trial, and possible appeals by the county. Apparently, the prosecutor had realized the absurdity of Mr. Tapp’s rape conviction given all the DNA results, and agreed to drop the rape conviction. But those same results also clear Mr. Tapp of murder. The state tested Miss Dodge’s sweatpants, nightshirt, the pubic hair, her hands and the teddy bear—not just for evidence of rape, but because those are all the places they concluded the murderer had touched.

There is nothing wrong with having an opinion about how a murder was committed, it is the first part of reasoning: hypothesis. But to ignore one’s own results, is to employ neither science nor common-sense. Could the paradox of Tapp’s murder conviction have anything to do with an exoneree’s right to sue? A right which Mr. Tapp had to surrender as part of his deal with the county.

The courtroom is about the whole truth and nothing but the truth. A prosecutor’s obligation is to seek justice, not to uphold convictions. Indeed, the prosecutor has an ethical obligation to see that wrongful convictions are overturned, and Mr. Clark fulfilled that duty in dropping the rape charge against Mr. Tapp after 20 years. But the first lesson of logic is that half-truth is not truth. Justice for Chris Tapp is not simply finding him not-guilty of rape or murder, it is finding ¬¬¬him not-guilty of rape and murder. The DNA did not say that he was not-guilty of rape, it said he was not on any evidence—and another other man was. That man held down both of Angie Dodge’s hands, he left semen on her body and a pubic hair on her face, his DNA is on the shirt through which she was stabbed, and he moved her teddy bear. One man is on every piece of evidence in this case—not just the rape evidence. Rape and murder. Truth and nothing but the truth. You cannot remedy one injustice with another.

Hampikian, Ph.D. is a professor of biology and criminal justice at Boise State University and director of the Idaho Innocence Project. Cummins, Esq., is an attorney with the Idaho Innocence Project.

Exoneree Luther Jones Receives Posthumous Award at NCIP Justice for All Dinner

The Northern California Innocence Project recently honored exoneree Luther Jones with the Cookie Ridolfi Freedom Award at the annual NCIP Justice for All Dinner. Jones spent 20 years incarcerated for a crime he did not commit before being exonerated and released in February 2016. Sadly, Jones passed away in December, only 10 months after being freed. According to the program, Jones’ “story of exoneration, release and compensation encapsulates many aspects of the challenges of wrongful conviction and importance of innocence work.” Jones’ son, Ko’fawn, accepted the award on his father’s behalf.

Please take a look at the video below, honoring Jones memory and spreading awareness about his case.

Wicklander-Zulawski Discontinues Reid Method Instruction After More Than 30 Years

World leader in interview and interrogation services  Wicklander-Zulawski and Associates will no longer be teaching the Reid technique. The Company announced it’s decision Monday in press release  citing as a motivating factor the percentage of DNA exonerations since 1989 that have involved false confessions. President and CEO Shane Sturman further explained:

“It’s human nature to deny and defend oneself. Confrontation is not an effective way of getting truthful information,” said WZ President and CEO Shane Sturman, CFI. “Rather than primarily seeking a confession, it’s an important goal for investigators to find the truth ethically through a respectful, non-confrontational approach.” Sturman added, “WZ has dedicated instructional blocks to educate detectives on the causes of false confessions and the risks of utilizing improper interrogation methods. In future classes, WZ will only discuss the Reid Method in effort to highlight potential risks posed in obtaining a false confession, or to illustrate the major advantages of using the WZ Non-Confrontational Method.”

“Because of the possible abuses inherent in the confrontational Reid style, we believe it is time to move away from the practices of the 1970s when it was developed,” Sturman concluded. “While the Reid Method has been successful in solving crimes over the years, there are serious pitfalls and significant risks associated with the incorrect application of the technique. WZ will remain a progressive, evolving organization dedicated to partnering with academics, attorneys, researchers, corporations, and law enforcement agencies around the world to ensure the tools we are teaching are ethical, moral and legally acceptable.”

Click here to read the full press release.


Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

National Registry of Exonerations Releases Two Enlightening Reports

Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States

The National Registry of Exonerations has provided data-supported evidence of significant racial disparity in criminal justice in its report, Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States, released today. Known murder exonerations in the United States since 1989 — cases in which a person convicted of murder was officially cleared based on new evidence of innocence — indicate that innocent African-Americans are about seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder than innocent whites.

In the Registry’s analysis of known exonerations, racial disparities were apparent at many points along the criminal justice process. As examples, blacks convicted of murder are about 50 percent more likely to be innocent than others convicted of murder. Murder convictions resulting in exonerations for blacks were 22 percent more likely to have involved police misconduct than exoneration cases of white murder defendants. Black murder exonerees waited three years longer than white murder exonerees to be released from prison (among those sentenced to death, blacks spent four years longer in prison than white murder exonerees). Continue reading

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

‘Home and Away’: differential reporting on miscarriages of justice in the UK?

_40085152_justicefigure203Miscarriages of justice (as wrongful convictions are more commonly referred to in the UK) rarely feature in the national media in the UK. This has been noted for many years now. If a case is sufficiently high-profile or has some peculiarity (i.e. involves a footballer or other ‘celebrity’), then it may merit a short piece in a national newspaper. Most will only make a paragraph or two in a regional newspaper if lucky supporters can provoke the interest of a local journalist. The overwhelming majority get no media coverage at all. This is not because of a lack of miscarriages of justice (our Criminal Court of Appeal is as over-run with work as ever, as is our Criminal Cases Review Commission), but a perceived lack of public interest. Perhaps domestic miscarriages lack the ‘drama’ of an exoneration in the US (we lack the ridiculously lengthy sentences for a start). The contrast is becoming increasingly stark, with ‘Making a Murderer’ lawyers ‘on tour’ in the UK speaking to rapturous crowds, while campaigners for domestic cases struggle to be heard. In just one example: a leading national newspaper this week has a major splash on an exoneration in the US, that has a small ‘home’ angle that can be exploited:

“Innocent man jailed for 24 years after being framed over British tourist’s murder in New Orleans is freed by two lawyers who exposed a jaw-dropping fit-up that shames the US legal system.”

Yet look at the coverage of a shocking (but all too common) miscarriage of justice in the UK – a story in a local paper: Exclusive: Sheffield milkshake shop owner’s three-year nightmare in fight to clear name over child sex attack

While clearly anecdotal, yet again today I have had to correct a law student who is interested in studing miscarriages of justice after watching US TV shows, who thought that they were an “American thing”. Students seem astonished when I point out that we have our own miscarriages of justice they could study. Perhaps the media could play their part in actually reporting on ‘home’ miscarriages of justice rather than just seeking those instances we can revel in shaming the US for ‘away’ cases.

Serious concerns about forensic science standards in the UK.

banner_scientist2In England and Wales, since the closure of the Forensic Science Service, forensic testing has been undertaken by a number of private companies. At the time of the privatisation, many warned that introducing a profit-motive into forensic science could have perverse outcomes. Many were concerned about falling standards and ‘bargain basement’ outfits doing shoddy work. Some of these concerns look to have been justified, with news this week that two men have been arrested after the discovery that they have manipulated alcohol/ drug test results used in both the criminal and family courts. The media have reported that almost 500 cases are being reviewed to see if an injustice has occurred. Already, there is one reported instance of a case being dropped because the results of the drug tests cannot be relied upon (First case dropped since forensic science blunders as CPS says it cannot proceed)

While the news of the arrests and falsified rest results have received wide coverage, (see here…. and here… and here…) it comes hot on the heels of a critical report by the Forensic Regulator that iterates that “standards may be at significant risk” (see here. ). The 2016 Annual Report details major failings in the previous year, and warns of the financial pressures that are putting forensic quality at risk, with many police forces still not fully signed-up to minimum standards. Read the report here….    The press release stated that: A lack of funding to improve forensic science is jeopardising the integrity of the criminal justice system. Read the press release here….

With financial pressures on companies, and pressures on workers within those companies to ‘perform’, the risks to forensic science integrity in the UK is obvious. However, it is not limited to the UK and also encompasses all forensic evidence – as concerns grow about the quality of digital forensics in the US as just one example: Bargain Basement Digital Forensics Examiners – Too Good to be True.

The lesson – one that those dealing with wrongful convictions have known for years – is that forensic science cannot be done ‘on the cheap’, and attempting to do so puts the entire legal system in jeopardy.

Mystery and thriller writers tell the stories of the wrongfully convicted in new book

From The ABA Journal

They’ve confessed to murders they didn’t commit, were mistakenly identified by unreliable witnesses, and have been convicted on phony evidence and false testimony. Many endured decades in prison before the truth would set them free.

Every one of the wrongfully convicted has a compelling story, and a group of top-notch mystery and thriller writers was recruited to help tell some of those tales in a new book, Anatomy of Innocence: Testimonies of the Wrongfully Convicted.

The book was developed by author and Loyola University Chicago law professor Laura Caldwell and Los Angeles author and tax attorney Leslie Klinger. They wanted to illuminate the fear, the frustration and, ultimately, the faith that these people experienced before they were eventually exonerated.

“They’re just heart-wrenching, every one of these stories,” Klinger says. “It’s amazing to see the strength of these survivors.”

“It shows that it can happen to anyone,” Caldwell adds.

Caldwell, author of the Izzy McNeil mystery novel series, also is the founder of Life After Innocence, a Loyola law school course that helps exonerees navigate through some of the legal and social challenges they face after release. A portion of the book proceeds will benefit the program. Klinger is the editor of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, among other books.

Caldwell and Klinger came up with the idea for the book while chatting at a mystery writers’ conference. Because each wrongful conviction story was long and often convoluted, they decided to ask writers to cover different phases of the experiences, from arrest to exoneration to readjusting to life after prison.

“We thought: Let’s have these masters of storytelling, who already have a deep understanding of criminal procedure and know how to drive a plot, and give them a snapshot of the story to cover and write about,” Caldwell says.

Caldwell and Klinger ran the idea by some of their mystery-writing colleagues. “When we explained the project, people jumped on board,” Klinger says. “No arm-twisting was necessary.”

The resulting stories are chilling and heartbreaking. They evoke the feeling of helplessness that many of the wrongly convicted experienced while also celebrating persistence and endurance. In the opening chapter, S.J. Rozan tells the story of California law student Gloria Killian, who thought she was being helpful by talking to detectives about an acquaintance’s murder and wound up charged and jailed for the crime.

At the end of the book, Caldwell writes about how Illinois exoneree Juan Rivera, who served about 20 years for a murder and rape he did not commit, savors being the father of a baby girl and watching the sun rise each morning.

Lee Child is among the big-name authors. He writes about Kirk Bloodsworth, the first person exonerated based on DNA evidence. Child was a natural choice to chronicle Bloodsworth because a fictional character from Child’s books, Jack Reacher, comes from a military background like Bloodsworth does, Caldwell says.

Chicago novelist Sara Paretsky writes about David Bates, who was 18 when police picked him up on suspicion of murder, handcuffed him to a wall and put a typewriter cover over his head. Bates confessed out of desperation, hoping to straighten it all out later. It was 11 years before he was exonerated. “The powerlessness he felt at his torturers’ hands sweeps through his body, paralyzing him,” Paretsky writes.

The book also includes a never-before-published essay by playwright Arthur Miller, who had taken up the cause of a wrongfully convicted man from Connecticut named Peter Reilly. At 18, Reilly confessed under pressure to murdering his mother in 1973.

All these stories shed light on the unthinkable—going to prison for a crime you didn’t commit.

“We are not trying to indict the American justice system,” Klinger says. “This is a human system. I hope this will bring it more attention.”

This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Tales of Innocence: Mystery and thriller writers tell the stories of the wrongfully convicted.”