Tag Archives: Center on Wrongful Convictions

Appeals Court Concurs: Brendan Dassey’s Confession Was Involuntary

Yesterday, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal magistrate judge’s ruling that Wisconsin inmate Brendan Dassey’s confession in the rape and murder of Teresa Halbach (featured in the Netflix series “Making a Murderer”) was involuntary. The state Justice Department had appealed and will likely seek a review by the 7th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court. The state also has the option of retrying Dassey within 90 days.

In an Associated Press article, Steven Drizin, an expert on false confessions, Co-founder of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at Northwestern University, and one of Dassey’s attorneys said, Continue reading

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

David McCallum and the late William Stuckey exonerated of murder

After 29 years in prison, David McCallum was exonerated yesterday  of a murder he did not commit. Kings County (NY) Supreme Court Justice Matthew D’Emic also exonerated William Stuckey who died in prison in 2001. It took an army of advocates over many years — including the late Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who had also been wrongfully conviction of murder — to finally overturn this miscarriage.

As teenagers McCallum and Stuckey falsely confessed to the murder of  Nathan Blenner, who died of a single gunshot wound to the head. McCallum and Stuckey quickly recanted the confessions. Although the confessions were filled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies, the men were convicted and lost all appeals. Over the years, McCallum refused parole rather than admit guilt to a crime he did not commit. His struggle was recorded in a recently released documentary, “David & me.”

Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, whose Conviction Review Unit investigated the case, recommended this exoneration, and has now cleared convictions in ten cases, said in a Wall Street Journal Report (here), “I think the people of Brooklyn deserve better, and I think we should not have a national reputation as a place where people have been railroaded into confessing to crimes they did not commit.”

Congratulations to Mr. McCallum and to the family of William Stuckey. The nation should be grateful for the persistence and hard work of all who contributed to this reversal including Steven Drizin of the Center on Wrongful Convictions (Chicago), Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and Ken Klonsky, Innocence International (Toronto), Oscar Michelen of the New York law firm of Cuomo, LLC, Professor Laura Cohen of the Rutgers-Newark Law School’s Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic, and King’s County District Attorney Kenneth Thompson  and his Conviction Review Unit team.


Cook County State’s Attorney Urged to Reconsider Indicting Witness Who Recanted

In an op-ed piece (here) in the Chicago Sun-Times, Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, is urging Cook County (IL) State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to reconsider her decision to seek to indict on a perjury charge Willie Johnson, after he recanted his 1994 testimony, which led to the conviction and life sentencing of the Center’s client, Cedric Cal.

Johnson was the sole survivor of a gang-related drive-by shooting that killed two of his friends. He was wounded nine times but survived and named Cal and Albert Kirkman as the shooters. In recanting his testimony seventeen years later in 2011, Johnson said that he knew all along that the two he fingered were not the perpetrators. He claimed that if he had identified the actual shooters back in 1994, he would have put himself and his family in danger. Continue reading

Wrongful Convictions Symposium in Chicago will Honor Rob Warden

The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern School of Law will recognize its co-founder and longtime executive director Rob Warden as a “Champion of Justice,” at a Wrongful Convictions Symposium on May 9, 2014. The Symposium—to be held at Thorne Auditorium from 1:30 to 6:30 p.m.— is described as “a celebratory event to honor Rob Warden’s quest to free the innocent.” It is free and open to the public.

Barry Scheck, Co-Founder of the Innocence Project, will be the keynote speaker. The program will also include two panel discussions and a conversation with Warden and Eric Zorn, columnist for the Chicago Tribune. A reception will immediately follow.

Rob Warden, recipient of more than fifty journalism awards, is one of the leading pioneers in exposing the conviction of the innocent. He has dedicated much of his career to investigative journalism focused on cases of claimed injustice. His work has not only prompted the freeing of the wrongfully convicted, but also the expansion of awareness of the scope of conviction error. He has increased our understanding of the causes of and contributors to miscarriages of justice, and he has been at the forefront of exposing the risk of error in death penalty cases.

Lawrence Marshall, a former Northwestern law professor who co-founded the Center on Wrongful Convictions with Warden in 1999, credits Warden with contributing to the elimination of the death penalty in Illinois. At a conference in 1998, Warden helped highlight more than two-dozen persons who had been freed from death row. This sobering display of miscarriages in death penalty cases influenced then-Governor George Ryan in his decision to place a moratorium on the Illinois death penalty in 2000. It was abolished in the state in 2011.

Read more on Warden here, here, here, and here.

According to Dan Hinkel’s article in the Chicago Tribune (here), Warden, 73, has no intention of leaving the work of researching, writing, and advocating for an improved criminal justice system. The seemingly tireless journalist, author, and advocate intends to be a force in eliminating the death penalty nationwide.

Mr. Warden’s work has had an inestimable impact on the lives of those freed from prison after wrongful conviction and on our understanding of how the criminal justice system can come closer to its promise of fair and accurate justice for all. The upcoming symposium will provide an opportunity to celebrate and thank an inspiring original, an accomplished writer and advocate, a true American hero.

First Innocence Project Dedicated to Women Launched Today in Chicago

The Center on Wrongful Convictions (CWC) at Northwestern Law has been instrumental in exonerating four persons in a category that represents less than seven percent of the more than 1,000 persons who have been exonerated in the United States: Women. Today, the Center will launch its new Women’s Project, the first Innocence Project dedicated to the special needs and circumstances of women who have been wrongfully convicted.

A press conference at 10:00 a.m. in Northwestern Law’s Bluhm Legal Clinic will be followed by an event and reception at the law school at 6:00 p.m. tonight in Lincoln Hall. CWC Lawyer Karen Daniels, one of the leaders of the project, and exonerees Audrey Edmunds, Gloria Killian, Joyce Ann Brown, and Julie Rea, as well as others who have been instrumental in establishing the Center, will discuss its work and goals.

“Women fighting wrongful convictions face special challenges,” said Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions. Continue reading

Anniversary of Troy Davis Execution Prompts Discourse

Tomorrow, September 21, is the one-year anniversary of the controversial execution of Troy Davis in Georgia. (See report from a year ago here.) Since 1989 DNA has revealed that wrongful conviction—the conviction of a person totally innocent of the crime—does happen, and more frequently than most Americans believe. That reality begs the question of whether or not an innocent person has been executed in the United States. Troy Davis’s execution elevated this question Continue reading

Texas District Judge Recommends New Trial; Incriminating Statements “illegally obtained”

“For our justice system to work it must make two important promises to its citizens: A fundamentally fair trial and an accurate result. If either of these two promises are not kept, our system loses its credibility, our citizens lose their faith and confidence in our court system and eventually our decisions and laws become meaningless. Just as it is important to keep jury decisions intact, judges have a duty to set things right. It is this court’s recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that the applicant Daniel Villegas’s request for a new trial should be granted.”

With these words from Texas District Court Judge Sam Medrano Jr., supporters of Daniel Villegas, 35, cheered yesterday and he wiped away tears. Medrano’s 78-page opinion strongly criticized the evidence used to convict Villegas, imprisoned Continue reading

The Buffalo News urges New York to Compensate for Wrongful Conviction

DeJac Peters, who was convicted of second degree murder in the strangulation death of her 13-year-old daughter in 1993, is listed in the National Registry of Exonerations compiled by Northwestern Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions and Michigan Law. Maurice Possley’s Registry report provides details of the case that resulted in Peters’ 14 years of wrongful imprisonment and her ongoing pursuit of state compensation in New York.

Peters was convicted on the testimony of a friend who was facing a potential life sentence in another crime and Dennis Donahue, a man she had dated, who was an early suspect in the case. When, in late 2007, testing revealed male DNA in a blood Continue reading

Advocacy of State’s Conference of District Attorneys: A Disservice to North Carolina, Justice

North Carolina has added a new restriction to its compensation law for those wrongfully convicted: Those who plead guilty are no longer eligible. Denying compensation to those who “contributed” to their conviction by entering a guilty plea has been a common argument from those who seek to minimize the state’s responsibility in miscarriages of justice or deny compensation to those who have had years of their lives stolen through wrongful conviction. But, it’s an argument that should no longer have credibility.  Continue reading

Important Court of Appeals Ruling Yesterday May Inform Other Arson Appeals

The Indiana Court of Appeals vacation of the arson conviction of Kristine Bunch, who spent 16 years in prison after a mobile home fire killed her young son, will likely be raised in other arson convictions.  More on this case here  and here. The court cited advances in fire science that discredit forensic testimony used in this and many arson cases. Bunch is now presumed innocent. Prosecutors must decide if they will re-try her. The Indiana Attorney General’s office disagrees with the ruling and has 30 days to ask the Court of Appeals to rehear the case or appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court. The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law and former federal prosecutor Ron Safer and his colleagues at Schiff Hardin, who worked pro bono, championed this case.

Innocence Project Legal Directors Praise State’s Attorney and Police for “Model Response”

In a Chicago Tribune article today here, John Hanlon, legal director of the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project, and Steven Drizen, legal director of the Center on Wrongful Conviction at Northwestern Law praise Kane County (IL) State’s Attorney Joe McMahon and Aurora Police Chief Greg Thomas for pursuing truth even after a conviction, which resulted in the vacation of the murder conviction of Jonathan Moore. Key to this “model response”: Not having tunnel vision or defending a conviction in the face of significant new evidence, but instead dedicating resources—and “fresh” investigators—to a reinvestigation.