Tag Archives: Nancy Petro

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks..

Governors Should Take Pardons Seriously

A commentary published on September 1 in the Columbus Dispatch


Ohio to Assist Ex-cons Seeking Work; The Peculiar Place of the Exonerated

Getting a job with prison on your resume isn’t easy. That’s an understatement, but tomorrow ex-offenders in Ohio will get free advice—including information on starting a business and finding the resources to return to school—and even free proper business clothing to help them get back into the workplace. The event, free and open to ex-offenders, will be held at Columbus State Community College. Thanks to several government agencies involved and to Ohio Development Director David Goodman for this initiative. Goodman also sponsored Senate Bill 77, the bill that enacted best practice reform aimed at reducing wrongful conviction.

Which brings to mind the peculiar place of the exonerated. One would presume that tomorrow’s program would also welcome those wrongfully convicted, because, unfortunately, many still face the stigma of prison even though they did not deserve to be there. Continue reading

The Cost of a Brady Violation: Cuyahoga County Defends $42 Million Lawsuit

Cuyahoga County (OH) Prosecutor Bill Mason has hired Ned Searby, a former federal prosecutor, to defend the county and county officials in a $42 million dollar wrongful imprisonment lawsuit filed by Joe D’Ambrosio, who spent twenty years on death row before his conviction was overturned in 2006. A federal judge ruled that prosecutors had withheld evidence that might have exonerated him.

As establish in Brady v Maryland, prosecutors are obligated to turn over to the defense any evidence that might support the defendant’s innocence. Failure to do so is a Brady violation and can be reversible error, as it was in this case.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports here that Searby will charge the county no more than $745,000 for the defense legal fees.

D’Ambrosio, freed two years ago, was not acquitted of the murder, and the Continue reading

Wrongful Conviction Also Victimizes Victims

Convicted murderer Charles Wilhite has an unusual advocate: the niece of murder victim, Alberto Rodriguez. Marialyn—who requested that the Boston Globe not reveal her last name due to safety concerns—rallied in support of Wilhite on Saturday, May 5, 2012, in Springfield, Massachusetts, because she believes Wilhite was wrongfully convicted of killing her uncle.

As reported here, a key witness in the trial now claims that a Springfield detective and the assistant district attorney pressured his testimony. The witness has recanted his identification of Wilhite as the killer. A decision on whether or not his original testimony will stand is expected today from Hampden Superior Court Judge Peter A. Velis. Continue reading

Innovative Colorado DNA Initiatives Pay Off

On October 1, 2009, Colorado Attorney General John W. Suthers, announced that the state had received a $1.2 million federal grant to start a program that would seek to identify wrongful convictions through DNA testing. Today, April 30, 2012, Robert Dewey, 51, is expected to be the first person to be exonerated through the testing. He has served more than 16 years for a crime he said he never committed. A Colorado imprisoned felon is a new suspect in the case. Read about this case, reported earlier on this blog by Mark Godsey with news link here, and also here.

This exoneration is just one of the beneficial results of the Colorado Justice Review Project. Working with the Denver District Attorney’s Office, the University of Denver College of Law, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the Colorado Public Defender’s Office, the federally funded project has enabled review of more than 5,000 past rapes, Continue reading

Governors Can Make Adjustments in Justice

A long-shot for those claiming innocence who’ve run out of options in the United States is a governor’s pardon or commutation. The process, slowed by inherent political risk, usually requires persistent advocacy with credible indications of an error (or other reason for a correction), multiple advocates, and a lack of objection from key players in the justice system. In Maryland, after serving 28 years in prison, Mark Farley Grant has been granted a sentence commutation Continue reading

Law Schools: Add Wrongful Conviction to Core Curriculum

“Like many people, I [once] accepted one of the myths,” said Jeffrey Rosen, the New Republic’s legal affairs editor and law professor at George Washington University. The Los Angeles Times called Rosen “the nation’s most widely read and influential legal commentator.” A legal book author, he is a summa cum laude graduate of Harvard College, was a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University, and is a Yale Law School graduate. One of his specialty areas is criminal procedure. Yet, he recently humbly admitted that he’d gained a new understanding about our criminal justice system, namely, that it convicts the innocent far more often then most imagine.

Continue reading

“Ripple Effect” of Wrongful Conviction Highlighted by Judge

“…For 21 years, you woke up and went to sleep knowing that an innocent man, Kenneth Ireland, was sitting in prison,” said Connecticut Superior Court Judge David P. Gold in sentencing Kevin Benefield to the maximum 60 years in prison for the 1986 rape/murder of Barbara Pelkey.

Judge Gold referenced, as reported in a New Haven Register article here, the “ripple effect” of the crime that robbed Pelkey’s four children of their mother, financial and emotional security, and their father, who Continue reading

Exonerated Man to Receive Payment From Police Officers Allegedly Responsible For Coerced Confession

Harold Hill was exonerated in 2005, after 12 years in prison, for a rape/murder conviction based on a confession he says was beaten out of him. As reported here in the Chicago Tribune, two police officers allegedly involved in this and other similar coerced confessions will personally pay part of a $1.25 million settlement with Hill by the City of Chicago.

The officer’s payment of $7,500 each is a small part of the settlement, but it was important to Hill. Rather than receiving payment from a “faceless” government Continue reading

Exonerated Former Death Row Inmate is Living Proof of Wrongful Execution Risk

Ray Krone was a former supporter of the death penalty in the U.S. when he believed that it was fair punishment for the worst-of-the-worst monsters in our society. That was before he was wrongfully portrayed by police and prosecutors as one of those monsters.

A seven-year postal worker, who had served in the military and had no criminal record, Krone was wrongfully convicted on dubious bite mark evidence of the murder of a 36-year-old Phoenix woman in a bar where she worked.  He was sentenced to death and spent more than ten years in prison before crime scene DNA proved his innocence and linked to Kenneth Phillips, an incarcerated felon who had lived near the victim.

Ray Krone, the 100th death row inmate freed due to innocence since reestablishment of the death penalty in the U.S. in 1976, now works for Continue reading

Police Departments, We Have a Problem: An Erosion of Trust

Aurora (IL) Police Commander Kristen Ziman was both surprised and a bit offended by praise heaped on the Aurora Police Department for its reinvestigation of a case that prompted the exoneration of Jonathan Moore. Moore had served twelve years for murder when new evidence suggested that he wasn’t the perpetrator. Ziman didn’t think the decision to reinvestigate the case was unusual. It’s the kind of integrity her department shows every day. Doing the right thing, she reasoned, should not be so exceptional as to receive widespread recognition and praise.

What garnered all of the attention? Continue reading

Wrongful Conviction: A Worthy Topic for Continuing Legal Education

The Innocence Project model—the free legal clinic that utilizes DNA analysis of crime scene evidence to prove the innocence of the wrongfully convicted—has now been widely duplicated across the United States and the globe. While most Innocence Project clinics are attached to law schools and rely upon selected law students who earn academic credit and hands-on legal experience in challenging post-conviction efforts, wrongful conviction per se is not an emphasis in the curriculum of most law schools. It’s therefore troubling but not surprising that many lawyers are unfamiliar with the primary causes of wrongful conviction, the implications wrongful convictions have had on the reliability of important forms of evidence such as eyewitness testimony and confessions, and recommended reforms that can reduce conviction error.

After all, the lessons of DNA are relatively recent. Just two decades ago most Continue reading

Clemency Consideration in California May Shed Light on Shaken Baby Case

Shirley Ree Smith, 51, spent 10 years in a California prison after being convicted in the alleged shaken baby death of her infant grandson 15 years ago until the U.S. 9th Circuit Court  of Appeals reversed her conviction in 2006 based on a lack of “demonstrable support” of the prosecution’s theory. The U.S. Supreme Court urged the 9th Circuit to reconsider and has ordered the lower court to reinstate the conviction, but the ruling also noted that clemency—now being considered by Gov. Jerry Brown—might be appropriate for Smith, due in part to lingering doubts about her guilt.

The L.A. Times reports  here that Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley has called upon three experts to review the autopsy reports, evidence and testimony Continue reading

Recent Rulings Suggest Prosecutorial Immunity Has Boundaries

U.S. District Court Judge Joe Billy McDade has ruled that two McLean County (IL) prosecutors are not immune from all claims of alleged misconduct in a lawsuit filed as a result of the wrongful murder conviction of Alan Beaman. Beaman served 13 years for the murder of  his former girlfriend Jennifer Lockmiller before the Illinois Supreme Court overturned his conviction. Pantagraph.com reports here that Judge McDade’s ruling is consistent with a recommendation from federal Magistrate Judge Byron Cudmore that prosecutors James Souk and Charles Reynard were immune from claims related to their prosecutorial roles but that immunity does not extend to their involvement in the case before arrest.

Beaman’s lawsuit alleges that the prosecutors conspired with Normal (IL) police officers and a McLean County Sheriff’s officer in framing Beaman for the murder. Continue reading

A Suggestion for Virginia: Step Up Efforts to Locate Convicted Persons Excluded by DNA

Last Wednesday, James Moses Glass, 56, was indicted for the 1978 rape of a William & Mary coed. For more than 25 years this crime wrongfully defined Bennett Barbour as a rapist. He served 4-1/2 years in prison, which cost him his marriage, marred his relationship with his daughter, and labeled him a violent felon. Two years ago, as a result of Virginia Governor Mark Warner’s 2005 order to retest all DNA samples obtained from 1973 to 1988, Barbour was excluded as the rapist. The DNA instead linked James Glass to the crime. Glass was in the database due to a 1979 rape conviction in New York. But, if it weren’t for a private attorney’s pro bono efforts, Barbour might never have known that the innocence he has always claimed finally had been proven.

According to a Richmond Times-Dispatch article here 76 felons have been excluded as the source of the DNA evidence in their cases, but as of January of this year, 29 of those still assumed living had not been notified of these results. It seems that Virginia hasn’t been very successful in notifying those who would benefit most from the results (or apparently of notifying the crime victims or of reinvestigating the cases where conviction error is suspected).  Private Continue reading

U.S. News Programs Explore Systemic Wrongful Conviction Issues

Millions of Americans had their eyes opened to two important criminal justice issues—prosecutorial misconduct and wrongful conviction compensation—as national television news programs explored topics related to wrongful conviction last night, Sunday, March 25, 2012. Ohio Innocence Project Director Mark Godsey previously announced these programs on this blog. If you missed them, see the video link here to the 14-minute segment of CBS’s 60 MINUTES with Michael Morton, who spent 25 years in prison before DNA proved he didn’t murder his wife. The piece explores the case that has prompted a rare judicial inquiry into allegations of prosecutorial Continue reading

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.

Following Stevens Trial Report, Senator Introduces Legislation for New Federal Disclosure Standards

With the backing of the American Bar Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Civil Liberties Union, among others, legislation introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowsk (R-Alaska) seeks to create a new national standard for prosecutorial disclosure of evidence in federal cases. This comes in the wake of the scathing 524-page report recently unsealed that concluded prosecutors in the Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) case “intentionally withheld and concealed significant exculpatory information.”

In an article in Roll Callthe longstanding newspaper of Capital Hill, Peter Awindenbert, a partner at DLA Piper, said this issue goes well beyond this case: Continue reading

What should Americans expect of public officials AFTER a wrongful conviction?

In most endeavors a costly mistake results in immediate efforts to identify what went wrong and how it can be prevented. Curiously, in the criminal justice system, officials too often respond to the tragic error of convicting an innocent with defensiveness and denial. Such miscarriages of justice should prompt important improvements in the system, but these will be derailed or hard won until Americans clarify our expectations of officials after justice stumbles.

Following a wrongful conviction, public officials can go a long way toward restoring trust in the system by following a 7-step process—mandated by both decency and public relations 101—that includes (1) honestly acknowledging that a Continue reading