Tag Archives: recantations

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Juan Silva, who falsely confessed in order to protect his son, to be released from prison

In Michigan, Adam Stevens’ second-degree murder conviction overturned

Jack Edward Sagin of California loses latest appeal for innocence

In Florida, witness who helped send Andre Bryant to prison has recanted

New book sheds light on possible miscarriage of justice in the trial of Rajesh and Nupur Talwar who were convicted of killing their 13 year-old daughter…

Rape Conviction Vacated with Support of Prosecutor

Quentin Carter, 40, maintained his innocence throughout nearly 17 years in prison following his conviction of the 1991 rape of a 10-year old child. He was likely denied parole numerous times because he would not express remorse for a crime he didn’t commit.

Carter was 16 when convicted. He was released in 2008 but was registered as a sex offender with all the restrictions this designation carries.

Kent County (MI) Prosecutor William Forsyth was instrumental in vacating Carter’s wrongful conviction, which occurred by order of a judge last Thursday. Continue reading

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

Rob Warden provides a must-read opinion on recantations

If you have ever wondered why courts often believe original witness testimony over a recantation and thereby deny a new trial, read Rob Warden’s insightful opinion piece on recantations published in the Chicago Sun-Times (here).

Not only does Warden explain why Illinois courts have often sided with original testimony, but he also provides ample evidence that this common confidence in an original statement has been upended by numerous cases in which the recantation proved to be the truth.

Warden, Executive Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law, provides the foundation for erroneous confidence in original testimony, at least in Illinois. An Illinois Supreme Court decision eighty-two years ago included this statement: “Recanting testimony is regarded as very unreliable, and a court will usually deny a new trial based on that ground where it is not satisfied that such testimony is true.”

Warden points out that the exoneration of Gary Dotson—often referenced as the first DNA-proven exoneration—could have been expedited by four years if Illinois courts had believed the recantation of Dotson’s accuser.

Citing data from the National Registry of Exonerations, he notes, “Since the Dotson case, recantations in 26 other Illinois cases similarly have proved true — often more belatedly than in the Dotson case…The longest delay occurred in the Ford Heights Four case, in which authorities ignored the key accuser’s recantation for 18 years — from June 1978 until DNA proved it truthful in June 1996.”

Warden writes that the Illinois Supreme Court now has two cases before it that provide opportunity to correct now-debunked confidence in original testimony over recantation, but even more important, to remind judges that whether the recantation is the truth or not, is not even the question before them. (Again, read Warden’s opinion piece.)

The National Registry of Exonerations has issued preliminary findings on an ongoing study of recantations (here) that should dispel the myth of the sanctity of original testimony everywhere.

This report indicates that “25% of exonerations include recantations by prosecution witnesses or victims; 82% of these recantations occur in murder and child sex abuse cases. In murder cases, the recanters are usually ‘eyewitnesses’ who were pressured by law enforcement to give false testimony. In child sex abuse cases, most are ‘victims’ who were pressured by family members or child welfare investigators to accuse the defendants of crimes that never happened.”

I believe that logic also defies the myth that original testimony should always be considered more reliable than a recantation…and supports the notion that when a significant witness recants, the courts should take seriously the question of whether or not the recantation undermines confidence in the verdict.

Here’s my logic: In which situation is a person more incentivized to lie? The original testimony or when recanting?

Many circumstances prompt a suspect, inmate, or person in a compromised position to lie. In cases in which a recantation has turned out to be the truth, the witness often had a compelling reason for the original lie.

Perhaps the crime never happened but the “victim” lied as a cover-up for personal behavior that might cause shame, embarrassment, or sanctions, as in the Dotson and other similar cases. Perhaps false testimony came from a person who was originally a suspect in the crime, but deflected arrest or achieved a lesser charge and sentence by fingering another. Perhaps an inmate capitalized on an opportunity to win consideration in exchange for providing testimony that helped make a case.

The incentives to recant are often less apparent. Recanting requires publicly admitting that you were either mistaken or you lied and perjured yourself. This could invite criminal charges or a civil law suit.

While it is not always clear why a witness recants, many who recant say that they have been motivated by conscience or a desire to set the record straight, to right a wrong that has been very costly to another, or to finally restore truth.

These, of course, are also worthy motivations for our courts.

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