Innocence harder to prove than guilt…

Marissa Bluestone of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project discusses how proving innocence post-conviction is so much larger burden than a prosecutor proving guilt at trial.  True words never spoken.   Read or listen here

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Learn about what The Exoneree Band is up to these days
  • The Ohio Innocence Project exonerees Rickey Jackson, Nancy Smith and Clarence Elkins on yesterday’s episode of The Doctors, talking about PTSD
  • Article spotlighted how bad interrogation techniques lead to false confessions
  • Innocence movement hero Jennifer Thompson speaks up about how new legislation in Alabama could hurt the innocent
  • Son speaks out about mom’s wrongful conviction

Mother’s Day

Here is a link to a Dateline NBC episode about OIP client Nancy Smith, who served 14 years in prison. She was a single mother of 4 when she was ripped away from her children and put behind bars for a crime she didn’t commit. But she endured, and always remained a mother, as mothers will do. A caring, loving mother, trying desperately to do everything she could help her children from prison. When the truth came to light and she was released, she spent her freedom watchingher grandchildren (all but 1 were born when she was in prison) while their parents worked. 

Mothers are sacred, and wrongful conviction touches even the sacred mother like Nancy Smith. Happy Mothers Day to you Nancy Smith.

And Happy Mother’s Day to all the wrongfully convicted moms who have been exonerated, or who are still in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. And Happy Mother’s Day to ALL mothers who miss their children today because they are behind bars.

Weekend Quick Clicks…

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Podcast of recent exoneration in South Africa, with exoneree, lawyer, and journalist who broke the story.
  • Zaruhi Mejlumyan, a journalist who is creating the Armenian Innocence Project, wins award for her advocacy work surrounding wrongful convictions
  • Take the quiz…..How much do you know about America’s guilty plea problem?
  • Profile of Innocence Project Northwest in Seattle
  • Can a surgical procedure help minimize PTSD in exonerees?
  • More on plea bargaining as a national problem
  • Meet the innocent couple who found love after death row

URGENT: Northern California IP needs your help today….

Timely call to action at end of this post….MUST BE DONE TODAY

Tomorrow (Tuesday), Maurice Caldwell has his first hearing before the California Victim Compensation Board. The Board may be his only and best chance to receive compensation.  Although compensation is mandated by statute in the state of California, compensation is not automatic–it must be granted by the Board, which is comprised of political appointees.

The facts overwhelmingly show that Maurice is innocent.  Still, he must prove his innocence again in order to be compensated for the 20 years he spent wrongfully convicted.  Even though his conviction has been overturned, the actual perpetrator has confessed, the DA has dismissed the charges, and a federal court acknowledged there is evidence that a police officer fabricated the false evidence that led to the charges against Maurice, Maurice must still demonstrate that he “more likely than not” did not commit the crime.  Worse still, he must do so in an administrative hearing where he lacks subpoena power to bring witnesses to testify, the rules of evidence do not apply, and witnesses may only testify by skype if the Attorney General agrees.  In Maurice’s case, that means the real perpetrator who has confessed cannot be brought from prison – where he is now serving a life sentence for yet another murder – to testify in front of the Board.

As early as 1990, witnesses told law enforcement that Marritte Funches had shot and killed the victim.  In 2007, Funches confessed and provided details only someone familiar with the crime would know.  Funches has repeatedly sworn that Maurice was not present or involved in the crime.  Multiple witnesses have now identified Funches and another man, Henry Martin, as the actual shooters, and all have said that Maurice was not there.  Martin has said that he would talk if given immunity.  Three alibi witnesses have sworn that Maurice was inside an apartment with them when the shots were fired.

There was also false testimony by an incentivized witness.  The only witness who implicated Maurice was his next-door neighbor, Mary Cobbs.  Cobbs initially told police the shooters did not live in the neighborhood.  Police orchestrated a series of improper procedures that made clear Maurice was their suspect, and offered to move Cobbs and her children out of the drug-infested housing projects if she testified as a witness.  Only then did she change her story and identify Maurice, whom she admitted she knew because he lived next door.  Cobbs was rewarded with a new apartment in a safer area, $1000, a trip to Disneyland, and a job. She even received a key to the City of San Francisco.

Finally, the police officer who fabricated the evidence that led to Maurice’s wrongful conviction had a clear motive against Maurice.  A few months before the shooting, Maurice told the police officer that he was filing a complaint against him for excessive force in an unrelated incident.  The officer has admitted that he threatened to kill Maurice in response. That same officer then fabricated the evidence that caused the homicide inspectors to focus solely on Maurice as a suspect in the Acosta murder, and also orchestrated the improper identification procedures that led Cobbs to falsely identify Maurice.  At the time of these events, the officer knew he was under investigation for Caldwell’s complaint.  Although a supervisor recommended sustaining the complaint one month before the shooting, it was dismissed after Caldwell was convicted.

Even so, Maurice faces an uphill battle toward compensation and readies himself to try prove a negative – that he did not commit this crime.  Maurice spent 7,494 days fighting to prove he was wrongfully convicted and did so.  The United States Supreme Court, in Colorado v. Nelson, just reaffirmed that exonerees like Maurice are presumed innocent like every other citizen.  Everyone who does post-conviction work knows how hard it is to get back to that innocence after the State has pronounced you guilty.  But rather than compensate him for his wrongful conviction, the State of California requires he now prove a negative before it gives him even one penny for the two decades he spent behind bars for a conviction it has already recognized was wrong.

Want to help Maurice? There are three key things you can do:

  1. Write a letter of support to the Board on Maurice’s behalf.  Please see the attached information about Maurice’s case, the FAQ’s about the compensation process, and the sample letter below.  Please email a copy to NCIP Associate Director tfries@scu.edu.

 

  1. Join us at the hearing on Tuesday, May 9 at 9:30am in Sacramento, at the following address:

California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board

400 R Street,

Sacramento, CA, 95811

  1. Attend the full California Victim Compensation Board Meeting—the date and time are currently TBD, but we will keep you posted with more details as we receive them.

Weekend Quick Clicks…

Conviction Tossed in Another Chicago False Confession Case

Here’s a great email to receive this week—from David Owens, attorney for Patrick Prince…

Mates:
I’m a little late in reporting, but last Thursday, in an exceptionally courageous decision, a Cook County judge granted post-conviction relief to Exoneration Project client, Patrick Prince. After a evidentiary hearing, Judge Wilson found that we’d met the actual innocence standard and vacated Prince’s conviction. The opinion can be found here, and is attached. Still unsure whether the state will seek a retrial or dismiss the charges.
Mr. Prince has been imprisoned since 1991, when he was just 19. There was one—and only one–piece of evidence that tied him to the crime: a confession notorious Chicago Detective Kriston Kato coerced out of him after an evening of interrogation and abuse. Detective Kato has been accused of abusing more than 30 people (indeed, witnesses and not just defendants), nearly 1/3 of whom were never charged, acquitted, or had their convictions overturned.
An additional “Chicago style” wrinkle:  In Chicago, after a suspect agrees to give a statement, a “Felony Review” Assistant State’s Attorney comes to the police station to memorialize the confession, even if it’s 5 in the morning as it was in this case. Then, the felony review ASAs testify—almost identically from case to case—at suppression hearings that the defendant seemed fine, not abused, was treated well by the police, etc. It is completely bogus, and a part of the deep corruption here. These felony review ASAs must play ball with the detectives, or they don’t move on to the trial division, which is what leads to the homicide division and, of course, later being elected as a Cook County judge….
This is why I described the opinion as courageous.  In this case, the felony review ASA was a women named Dominica Stephenson.  Ms. Stephenson is a sitting judge in the same building as our judge. She was represented in the hearing by “Special State’s Attorneys” from Skadden. Truly remarkable. If that weren’t enough, Detective Kato is married to a different sitting judge in the building who parks next to Judge Wilson. So, in addition to the legal hurdles we had to overcome, we had to persuade our judge to ignore the political pressure of  26th and Cal. It is not lost on me that this opinion would have been impossible had he been a former ASA in Cook County.
A final note that makes this case pretty great: University of Chicago law students were involved at every step—from intake, to pleadings, and to putting on witnesses in our evidentiary hearing. In addition to the great news for our client, it was truly rewarding to see the students learn so much, and gain an appreciation for the importance of this work hands on.
Cheers,
David Owens
Earlier coverage of case here.

Getting guilty police/ prosecutors to pay compensation to victims of wrongful conviction?

20170504150130-2Vietnam: in a recent wrongful conviction case, where a man spent 18 years in prison for a murder he did not commit (along with many of his relatives), a large compensation package has been agreed. Interestingly however, this compensation is to be paid after a ‘compensator’ agrees who was responsible for the miscarriage of justice, and how much each they must then contribute to the compensation sum.  So potentially, the police and prosecutors involved in the case will have to pay – from their own pockets – towards the compensation. Some details are to be found here…

Staff liable for compensation payouts in miscarriage of justice it states that: The Ministry of Finance has just proposed that the People’s Supreme Court ask those involved in the miscarriage of justice that saw Huynh Van Nen convicted to pay out compensation for their wrongdoings.

The police, courts and prosecutors have all apologised for their role, but it seems that this will be insufficient – they will also now have to pay compensation. One wonders if such a measure may act as a powerful deterrent for those in a position to prevent/ overturn wrongful convictions in the future. Alternatively of course, it could ensure that those that have been involved in wrongful convictions have an even more powerful motivation to ensure it is never uncovered. For many victims of wrongful conviction, one of their greatest complaints is that those who were involved in the injustice are never held to account. There are few apologies, and certainly fewer disciplinary measures taken – nevermind prosecutions. Vietnam is perhaps taking a radical approach to punishing those involved. How the ‘compensator’ apportions blame , or even tries to determine how to apportion blame, would be most interesting to know.

 

A very moving story about the final days of Darryl Hunt…

…He was a celebrated exoneree who so sadly committed suicide.

Story here.

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Breaking News: Exoneration in Michigan

From an email sent by Dave Moran:

The Michigan Innocence Clinic is thrilled to announce the exoneration and release today of our client, Marwin McHenry, who served more than four years for a shooting he did not commit.

Mr. McHenry’s conviction of assault with intent to murder and other charges arose from an incident that occurred in Detroit in July 2012 as two groups of young women (the Bohanens and the Woodwards) prepared to fight in the street. Just as the two groups approached each other, a man stepped out from a car and opened fire, wounding one of the Bohanens. The victim told the police that she believed the shooter was the brother of one of the Woodwards, but the police showed her instead a photo of Marwin McHenry, and she picked him as the shooter. Two other Bohanens also picked Mr. McHenry’s photo. There was no evidence against Mr. McHenry other than these eyewitness identifications.
At trial in 2013, the defense presented one of the Woodwards, who testified that her brother (Bosley) was the shooter, but Mr. McHenry was convicted and sentenced to 16-27 years. At a post-verdict motion for new trial, the defense presented Bosley’s mother and another sister, who also swore that Bosley was the shooter, but the judge found them not credible.
Finally, Bosley himself went to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, spoke to an investigator, and swore under oath that he was the shooter. The prosecutor’s investigator interviewed other witnesses, including some on the other side of the Bohanen-Woodward feud, who confirmed that Bosley was the shooter and had repeatedly admitted the shooting to others. The prosecutor’s investigator also arranged for the key witnesses, including Mr. McHenry, to take polygraphs.
In light of all of this evidence, Kym Worthy, the Wayne County Prosecutor, agreed that Mr. McHenry’s conviction should be vacated and the charges dismissed. The judge signed the order this morning, and Mr. McHenry was released and picked up by his family about 1:00 p.m.
In addition to the prosecutor’s investigators, two of our students, Sarah Precup and Brooke Theodora (both of whom will graduate on Friday), did terrific work on this case speaking with witnesses, drafting pleadings, and counseling the client.
Dave Moran
Michigan Innocence Clinic

Weekend Quick Clicks…

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!!!

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.

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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.
 

 

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Thursday’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.”