Tag Archives: Nancy Petro

Will Florida governor seek review of cases involving discredited witness?

Governor Rick Scott has formally apologized “on behalf of the state of Florida” for the 27 years William Dillon spent in prison for a crime he did not commit.  He has also signed a claims bill of $1.35 million.  It took another three years of Dillon’s life to navigate the process of getting compensation from the state. But Dillon remains unsettled over the thought of others wrongfully convicted by the now deceased John Preston, Brevard County authorities’ go-to witness whose German shepherd had quite a nose. Preston claimed he could pick up a scent in the middle of a lake Continue reading

The galvanizing Troy Davis case taught lessons beyond death penalty

Massive attention in America and internationally on the Troy Davis case appropriately focused on the death penalty, but this case was a call to action regardless of one’s position on capital punishment. The troubling uncertainty that followed Troy Davis to the death chamber on September 21, 2011, should prompt widespread recognition that the U.S. criminal justice system can do better, and Americans must require it.

When Davis’s guilt was called into question following the recantation of most key witnesses, thousands protested but were unable to stop the train that had left the station twenty years earlier. That’s when a jury, after weighing evidence Continue reading

New York Times urges open files in U.S. federal cases

A New York Times editorial yesterday properly urged that the Justice Department require federal prosecutors’ files be open to the defense. While Brady v Maryland requires disclosure of exculpatory evidence, too often prosecutors at all levels skirt this requirement and courts dismiss the undisclosed information as not “material,” a subjective call that can be flawed as revealed in many DNA-proven wrongful convictions.

As the editorial points out, 96% of federal cases are resolved in plea bargains. The lax application and court enforcement of Brady  puts defendants at the considerable disadvantage of not knowing the evidence against them in plea negotiating. The editorial advocates an open files federal rule, which would be an important example for the states.

Ohio and North Carolina were mentioned as two states that now have open files rules. At the state level this requires leadership; Ohioans can thank the late Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, who championed this rule change, adopted by the high court’s rules committee in July 2010.

After a wrongful conviction, shouldn’t there be a reinvestigation?

“As far as we know, not a single effort has been made to apprehend the actual perpetrators of that homicide. Including an admitted confession from a perpetrator, who after having been named as a perpetrator in this offense – law enforcement made no effort to apprehend him – he went ahead and killed another person. He is currently incarcerated in Nevada for having shot and killed a taxi driver there. I don’t understand law enforcement’s abdication of their responsibility here.” Linda Starr, Legal Director of the Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) was referencing the case of Maurice Caldwell in an interview with Rina Palta of NPR’s KALW local public radio in San Francisco.

In about 45 percent of DNA-proven wrongful convictions, the real perpetrator is also identified. But, what about cases in which the DNA excludes the wrongfully convicted but does not find a match in state or national criminal DNA databases? Or what about cases such as that of Maurice Caldwell, who spent 20 years in prison before Superior Court Judge Charles Haines, ruling that Caldwell had been represented by ineffective counsel, ordered a new trial. His attorney has since been disbarred for his conduct in other cases.

Caldwell, who steadfastly maintained his innocence, was convicted of murder on the testimony of a sole witness, now deceased. The identification procedure was Continue reading

U.S. Federal Judge Denies Prosecutorial Immunity

Federal Judge Elaine Bucklo has denied prosecutorial immunity to former Illinois Assistant State Attorney Mark Lukanich in a law suit brought by Ronald Kitchen who spent 21 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Kitchen’s confession was extracted during the reign of disgraced imprisoned former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, notorious for torturous interrogations. Kitchen says that Lukanich was aware of his torture because he was nearby during the interrogation. The judge has ruled that Lukanich’s alleged role was part of the investigative part of the case and therefore not covered by prosecutorial absolute immunity.

Nearly a year ago, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, Judge Bucklo wondered aloud why the City of Chicago had sent an army of lawyers to fight the law suit brought by Kitchen. “I don’t understand this case. Why don’t you settle? [Kitchen] was declared innocent. Burge is in jail. Have you tried to settle this?” she asked. The Tribune editorialized that the longer Chicago refuses to settle multiple cases relating to the coerced confessions, the more the reputation of the city would suffer.


Tipping Point: Is America finally saying no to prosecutorial overreach?

This week Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson ordered a special “court of inquiry” into former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson’s alleged misconduct in his prosecution of Michael Morton, proven innocent of murdering his wife after he served … Continue reading